This Book takes its name, not from the author, who is actually unknown, but from its hero, a young Jew taken early to Babylon, where he lived at least until 538 B.C. Strictly speaking, the book does not belong to the prophetic writings but rather to a distinctive type of literature known as “apocalyptic,” of which it is an early specimen. Apocalyptic writing enjoyed its greatest popularity from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D., a time of distress and persecution for Jews, and later, for Christians. Though subsequent in time to the prophetic, apocalyptic literature has its roots in the teaching of the prophets, who often pointed ahead to the day of the Lord, the consummation of history. For both prophet and apocalyptist Yahweh was the Lord of history, and he would ultimately vindicate his people.
This work was composed during the bitter persecution carried on by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167-164) and was written to strengthen and comfort the Jewish people in their ordeal.
The Book contains stories originating in and transmitted by popular traditions which tell of the trials and triumphs of the wise Daniel and his three companions. The moral is that men of faith can resist temptation and conquer adversity. The characters are not purely legendary but rest on older historical tradition. What is more important than the question of historicity, and closer to the intention of the author, is the fact that a persecuted Jew of the second century B.C. would quickly see the application of these stories to his own plight.
There follows a series of visions promising deliverance and glory to the Jews in the days to come. The great nations of the ancient world have risen in vain against Yahweh; his kingdom shall overthrow existing powers and last forever. Under this apocalyptic imagery are contained some of the best elements of prophetic teaching: the insistence on right conduct, the divine control over events, the certainty that the kingdom of God will ultimately triumph. The arrival of the kingdom is a central theme of the synoptic gospels, and Jesus, in calling himself the “Son of Man,” reminds us that he fulfills the destiny of this mysterious figure in the seventh chapter of Daniel.
The added episodes of Susanna, Bel, and the Dragon, found only in the Greek version, are edifying short stories with a didactic purpose.
These three sections constitute the divisions of the Book of Daniel:
- Daniel and the Kings of Babylon (⇒ Daniel 1:1-⇒ 6:29)
- Daniel’s Visions (⇒ Daniel 7:1-⇒ 12:13)
- Appendix ((Dan)Sus 13; Bel 14)
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came and laid siege to Jerusalem.
The Lord handed over to him Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and some of the vessels of the temple of God, which he carried off to the land of Shinar, 1 and placed in the temple treasury of his god.
The king told Ashpenaz, his chief chamberlain, to bring in some of the Israelites of royal blood and of the nobility,
young men without any defect, handsome, intelligent and wise, quick to learn, and prudent in judgment, such as could take their place in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the language and literature of the Chaldeans;
after three years’ training they were to enter the king’s service. The king allotted them a daily portion of food and wine from the royal table.
Among these were men of Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
2 The chief chamberlain changed their names: Daniel to Belteshazzar, Hananiah to Shadrach, Mishael to Meshach, and Azariah to Abednego.
3 But Daniel was resolved not to defile himself with the king’s food or wine; so he begged the chief chamberlain to spare him this defilement.
Though God had given Daniel the favor and sympathy of the chief chamberlain,
he nevertheless said to Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king; it is he who allotted your food and drink. If he sees that you look wretched by comparison with the other young men of your age, you will endanger my life with the king.”
Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief chamberlain had put in charge of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,
“Please test your servants for ten days. Give us vegetables to eat and water to drink.
Then see how we look in comparison with the other young men who eat from the royal table, and treat your servants according to what you see.”
He acceded to this request, and tested them for ten days;
after ten days they looked healthier and better fed than any of the young men who ate from the royal table.
So the steward continued to take away the food and wine they were to receive, and gave them vegetables.
To these four young men God gave knowledge and proficiency in all literature and science, and to Daniel the understanding of all visions and dreams.
At the end of the time the king had specified for their preparation, the chief chamberlain brought them before Nebuchadnezzar.
When the king had spoken with all of them, none was found equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; and so they entered the king’s service.
In any question of wisdom or prudence which the king put to them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his kingdom.
4 Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
2  The young men are given Babylonian names as a sign of their adoption by the king.
3  This defilement: the bread, meat, and wine of the Gentiles, which were unclean (⇒ Hosea 9:3; ⇒ Tobit 1:12; ⇒ Judith 10:5; ⇒ 12:1-2) because they might have been offered to idols or prepared over firewood taken from a sacred grove. Only raw vegetables and water were safe from this danger (⇒ Daniel 1:12).
4  The first year of King Cyrus: the year of this Persian king’s conquest of Babylon, 539/8 B.C.