Book of Daniel

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"Susanna and the Elders" by Artemisia Gentileschi (1610)
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Daniel is an Old Testament book about and supposedly by Daniel (an advisor to the King) who foretold the future. It combines six chapters about the court of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, with a further six chapters of vague prophecy. There are also a few apocryphal chapters which may or may not be present in your Bible.

Daniel is not technically a prophet in the Jewish sense, since he talked with angels not God, and since he talked to future generations not the current generation. The last half of Daniel describes the destruction of the world and the coming of the Messiah. For Christians, this carries important events that must pass before Jesus can come to the Earth.

Famous stories from the Book of Daniel[edit]

  • King Nebuchadnezzar throwing Shadrach, Mishach, and Abedniego into the fiery furnace where they survived by praying to their God (the God of the Jews).
  • Daniel ate nothing but vegetables for 10 days, and ended up in better health than the courtiers who ate royal food during that time — thus proving the benefits of veganism.
  • "The Writing on the Wall", this saying comes directly from the story of king Belshazzar seeing writing appear on the wall that he cannot interpret but which Daniel explains tells of the destruction to come.
  • The story of Susanna is canonical for Catholics and Eastern Orthodox but not Protestants. The beautiful, virtuous heroine is falsely accused of getting it on with a young man, but she is defended by someone called Daniel who disproves the allegations when her accusers disagree over what tree she was getting it on underneath. The story, with its opportunity for painting a sexy lady in a biblical context, is a popular subject in Western art, from Artemisia Gentileschi to Thomas Hart Benton.
  • "Bel and the Dragon" is another deuterocanonical tale, fine for Catholics but not Jews or Protestants, in which Daniel performs various clever tricks including making a dragon explode.
  • God made Nebuchadnezzar eat grass like a cow. (Daniel 4:33). Modern day belief is that poor Nebuchadnezzar suffered from boanthropyWikipedia, rather than anything God inflicted on him.


Chapters 2 and 7-12 describe various visions involving a great image whose brightness was excellent (ch 2); four beasts from the sea (ch 7); a ram and a one-horned goat representing the Medes and Persians and the Greeks (ch 8); a revision of Jeremiah's prophecy that Jerusalem would be ruined for 70 years, which is upgraded by Gabriel to a massive 490 years (ch 9); and a war between Greece and Persia (ch 10-12). All of these have been widely studied by would-be prophets of doom attempting to predict the end of the world. It is claimed by some to able to prophesy to the day when that the messianic redeemer would appear and the execution of that figure.

Based on the prophecies, which run up to around 167 BCE, the book's composition is conventionally dated to between 167 and 164 BCE.[1]

The prophecy found in Daniel 2[edit]

The prophecy of the 'future' kingdoms in Daniel 2 is found in verses 31-41. King Nebuchadnezzar has a vision in verses Daniel 2:31-33 of a 'great image' whose 'head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, and his feet 'part of iron and part of clay'.

  • The head of gold is explicitly identified as King Nebuchadnezzar. (Daniel 2:37-38)
  • The 'breast and his arms of silver' is identified as an "inferior" kingdom to follow Nebuchadnezzar. (Daniel 2:39)
  • The 'belly and his thighs of brass' is identified with 'a third kingdom which shall rule over all the earth.' (Daniel 2:39)
  • The 'legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay' is identified with a 'fourth kingdom (that) shall be strong as iron' but 'the kingdom shall be divided.' (Daniel 2:40-41)
  • The image was broken into pieces by 'a stone (that) was cut out without hands.' (Daniel 2:34)

Having metal associated with kingdoms or generations was a common ancient motif. The earliest example that has survived comes from Hesiod's Works and Days which dates to around 700 BCE. In II 106-201, Hesiod tells of a tale about "how the gods and mortal men sprang from one source."

  • The First of all the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a golden race of mortal men.
  • Then they who dwell on Olympus made a second generation which was of silver and less noble by far.
  • Zeus the Father made a third generation of mortal men, a brazen race… Their armour was of bronze, and their houses of bronze, and of bronze were their implements.
  • And again far-seeing Zeus made yet another generation, the fifth… For now truly is a race of iron.[2]

This is the same progression of metals seen in Daniel 2.[note 1] A similar metallic motif is found in Zoroastrianism:

  • DenkardWikipedia 9: 7:1-5 — 'the four periods in the millennium of Zartosht.' First, the golden, that in which OhrmazdWikipedia displayed the religion to ZartoshtWikipedia. Second, the silver, that in which VishtaspWikipedia received the religion from Zartosht. Third, the steel… Fourth, the period mingled with iron.[3]
  • Zand-i Wahman yasnWikipedia 1:1-11 — 'Zartosht asked for immortality from Ohrmazd. Then, Ohrmazd showed the wisdom of all-knowledge unto Zartosht. Through it, he saw the trunk of a tree, on which there were four branches: one of gold, one of silver, one of steel, and one of mixed iron...' Ohrmazd (Ahura Mazda) then explained to Zartosht (Zoroaster) that "the four branches are the four periods which will come." Gold = King VishtaspWikipedia, Silver = ArdashirWikipedia, Steel = KhosrawWikipedia and mixed iron = the evil sovereignty of the demons.[4]

Both the DenkardWikipedia and the Zand-i Wahman yasnWikipedia postdate Daniel but are thought to draw from an old Avestan tradition.[5]

The prophecy found in Daniel 7[edit]

The prophecy of the 'future' kingdoms/beasts in Daniel 7 is found in verses 3-7.

  • 'The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings' (Daniel 7:4)
  • 'And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it' (Daniel 7:5)
  • 'After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.' (Daniel 7:6)
  • 'After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.' (Daniel 7:7)

In Daniel 7:17, it is explained that 'these great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.' In Daniel 7:25 the fourth beast 'shall wear out the saints of the most High' and in Daniel 7:22 the Ancient of Days comes to the rescue.

Dr. John J. Collins,Wikipedia Dr. Michael Heiser,Wikipedia and other biblical scholars have connected Daniel 7 with the Baʿal CycleWikipedia discovered in the ruins of Ugarit in the 1920s. In the Baʿal Cycle, Baal[note 2] fights against YamWikipedia which is a sea and river god thought to represent chaos. Yam's beastsWikipedia are the sea monsters TanninWikipedia, LotanWikipedia, and "Šlyaṭ of the seven heads."[6][7] Lotan is thought to be associated with the biblical Leviathan.

Daniel 7 is also interconnected with the book of 1 Enoch.

Interpretations of Daniel 2 and Daniel 7[edit]

The are numerous different interpretations as to which kingdoms or kings were being talked about in these passages. The first recorded debate on this subject occurred between St. JeromeWikipedia and the Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry.Wikipedia Speaking of Daniel 2, St. Jerome argued the first empire was "the Babylonian," the second was "the empire of the Medes and Persians" the "third empire signifies the Alexandrian empire, and that of the Macedonians, and of Alexander's successors," and "the fourth empire… clearly refers to the Romans." Porphyry took the position that "whatever is foretold concerning Antichrist at the end of the world was actually fulfilled in the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes,"Wikipedia a Hellenistic Greek king of the Seleucid Empire who Jews led the Maccabean revolt against.[8]

The Roman Empire schema promoted by St. Jerome represents a traditional view held by Jewish and Christian Historicists, Futurists, Dispensationalists, and Partial Preterists.Wikipedia Dr. Michael Heiser refers to this as the popular dispensational view. He goes on to explain that the majority scholarly view is closer to that of Porphyry. The four kingdoms in this view are the Babylonian, the Median, the Persian, and the Greek. Moreover, the kingdom that resulted from the Maccabean Revolt was what was represented by the stone that was cut out without hands. A minority scholarly opinion holds that kings, not kingdoms, were being refereed to and the four kings were Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede, and Cyrus the Great.[9] Both the majority and minority scholarly opinions are contingent on the fictional Darius the MedeWikipedia considering it was Cyrus the Great and the Persians, not the Medes, who defeated NabonidusWikipedia[note 3], his son BelshazzarWikipedia, and the rest of the Neo-Babylonians. The author of Daniel devotes Chapter 6 to this Darius the Mede character.

Daniel 7 has a number of different interpretations as well. St. Jerome maintained his Babylon, Persian, Greek, Roman view.[8] Some traditionalists maintain this view as well, arguing the ribs in the bear's mouth are the nations of Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt conquered by Persia, the four heads of the leopard represent the four divisions of Greece and the swiftness of its conquests, and the fourth beast represents the Romans who crush their foes.[10] Porphyry "assigned the last two beasts… to the one realm of the Macedonians and… claimed that the leopard was Alexander himself, and that the beast which was dissimilar to the others represented the four successors of Alexander, and then he enumerates ten kings up to the time of Antiochus, surnamed Epiphanes, and who were very cruel."[8] According to Dr. Heiser, the majority and minority scholarly opinions for Daniel 2 are maintained in Daniel 7.[9]

The fighting of the fourth beast is closely linked with 1 Enoch and Son of Man eschatology. Francis T. Glasson argues that Daniel 7 is based off of 1 Enoch 14[11] and Matthew Black argued for Daniel 7's dependence on the Similitudes of 1 Enoch (37-71).[12]. Robert Maddox instead argued that having the Son of Man within the judgment tableau of Daniel 7 led to its association with Similitudes of 1 Enoch.[13] A hybrid position is possible. Given that 1 Enoch 14 is older than the Similitudes, 1 Enoch 14 could have influenced Daniel 7 and Daniel 7 could have influenced the Similitudes.

Fifth Kingdom or Empire[edit]

The schema of the four kingdoms, however defined, has led to various claims about a Fifth Kingdom, successor of the four great kingdoms of antiquity. This Fifth Kingdom is usually regarded as blessed by God, and often associated with millenarian ideas, possibly ushering in the end times in accordance with the Book of Revelation. Various present and future realms have been nominated.

The Fifth Monarchists were an English Christian group during the English Civil War and Commonwealth that followed, which believed they were establishing the Kingdom of God. This was part of a tendency of millenarian thought associated with the Civil War and 1666: Year of the Beast.

The Fifth EmpireWikipedia (Quinto Império) is a Portuguese idea claiming that Portugal's colonial empire was the successor to those described by Daniel. It was first promoted by António VieiraWikipedia, the 17th century Portuguese priest, writer, and courtier. Later it was revived perhaps ironically by the Portuguese modernist poet Fernando PessoaWikipedia in his book Mensagem (Message).

See also[edit]


  1. If one chooses to be nit-picky, one could point out that brass is an alloy of copper and zinc and bronze is an alloy consisting mainly of copper combined most often with tin, but how likely is it that this distinction survived translation from 700 BCE to whenever Daniel was written?
  2. The word Baʿal also means lord.
  3. Nabonidus was the actual last king of the Neo-Babylonians. Belshazzar was at most a co-regent.