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SIDIC Periodical XI - 1978/3
Daniel: Jewish and Christian Commentary (Pages 04 - 07)

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The Book of Daniel: Its significance and meaning
Asher Finkel


Rabbi Asher Finkel, a native of Jerusalem, received his doctorate from the University of Tuebingen and is now on the faculty of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies of Seton Hall University (New Jersey, U.S.A.). He is the author of The Pharisees and the Teacher of Nazareth (Leiden: Brill 1974).

The book of Daniel in light of the apocalyptic section (11:2-12:4) reflects a knowledge of historical events from Darius II to Antiochus IV. The final composition seems, therefore, to have been prepared in the early Hasmonean period, a view held by the philosopher Porphyry of the third century C.E. (as cited by Jerome in his Commentary on Daniel) . The rabbinic tradition also maintains (Bab. Talmud Bava Batra 15 a) that Daniel was included in the Scriptures by the members of the Great Synagogue. These were religious representatives of the Jewish theocratic state who met on different critical occasions from the days of Ezra (Neh 8-10) to the days of Simeon the Hasmonean (I Macc 14:28 ff). During the Persian period, these men were responsible for the canonization of the prophetic works with the inclusion of Ezekiel and the Minor Prophets. Their view is preserved as a canonical ending to Malachi (3:22-24), which reaffirms the divine authoritative nature of the Pentateuch. It also recognizes the cessation of prophecy in their days (compare Seder Olam Rabba 30), the reason for closing the second part of the canon, for they anticipate the restoration of prophecy through the return of Elijah on the Great Day of the Lord. This seminal eschatological view affects the early Christian understanding of the historical association between the Baptist's ministry and the coming of Jesus.

During the early Hasmonean period hagiographical works were collected and preserved (II Macc 2:14). The recent composition called Daniel was admitted into the Hagiographa, and the original edition of the Maccabees preserved allusions to this work (I Macc 1:14, 54; 2:58, 59; 9:27). Within a century Daniel was recognized and cited as Scriptures by the Essenes (Qumran texts), early Christians (Mt 24:15) and the Pharisees (Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:3). Its impact on the different religious movements was immeasurable. Like Daniel in his reflection on and projection of Jeremiah's text on the seventy years in exile (9:2, 24-27), the Essene teachers too employed a form of pesher interpretation. They projected the prophetic words on events and persons current in their days, while utilizing symbolic expressions (Kittim = Romans; Ephraim = Pharisees; Manasseh = Hasmoneans and Judah = Essenes), for they viewed the Scriptures as divine disclosures to be interpreted like dreams by the Maskil.2 The Essene teacher was called Maskil, a title so frequently mentioned in Daniel. The former like the latter claimed to have received divine insight. The early Christians expressed their faith in the parousia through Jesus' eschatological promise of the Son of Man on the clouds, the original vision of Daniel 7:13. The Pharisaic doctrine of resurrection and future reward and punishment is already expressed in Daniel 12:2,3,13.

Apocalyptic literature

The three religious movements were deeply influenced by the angelology (patrons of nations, the archangel Michael and Gabriel), the historiosophy (four kingdoms and the community of the holy ones) and the chronosophy (seventy weeks and three and a half years) of Daniel. The apocalyptic form introduced in Daniel indeed dominated the visionary's interpretative expression of subsequent Christian and rabbinic works. Following the destruction of the Second Temple, apocalypses appeared (such as Fourth Ezra, the Syriac Baruch and the New Testament Book of Revelation) and the visions of Daniel were interpreted in view of the catastrophe (Mk 13:14, parallels and Jerome's Commentary on Daniel in the name of the Hebrews). For Daniel offered from beyond the human realm a disclosure of historical changes marked by tribulation and upheaval. His vision required angelic interpretation. This encouraged others to seek a further visionary or auditory interpretation in the face of catastrophic changes. Daniel's apocalypse as a cognitive response to change and crisis bred apocalypses in later critical times.

Daniel's pseudonymic character points to the phenomenon of the coalescence in the visionary's experience. Daniel of the days of Antiochus IV coalesces with Daniel of the Persian period, who again is one with the Judean deportee in the days of Nebuchadnezzar. The latter assumes the personality of Joseph, the king's interpreter of dreams in exile, and adopts the name of hoary wise man of the ancient Near East (Ezek 14:14 and the Ugaritic tale of Aqhat). The same phenomenon is indicated in the later apocalyptic works. They assume the personality of Daniel and adopt the names of biblical figures. They, like Daniel, achieve pietistic ecstasy through a vigil of prayer and fasting while reflecting on the Scriptures or on questions of theodicy. They receive mythological, individual images from a symbolic realm that need to be projected on the historical human plane, punctually in time and collectively in meaning. They seek guidance from an angelus revelator in translating a dream-consciousness into a historical awareness. These manifestations of symbols and the interpretations of events were rooted in a biblical religious system that governed the lives of the apocalyptists.

In Daniel 7, for example, the symbolic vision consists of four individual beasts and an individual man. Their projection on the historical world bespeaks collective nations as beastly empires and a community of holy ones as a human kingdom. The beast points to war, destruction and conquest in an aggressive history where the strongest dominates. The beast emerges from the sea, the chaotic great deep. In the biblical tradition it represents the stage prior to the appearance of God's light. The beastly empires did not confess a faith in the biblical God. The human form in contrast appears on the clouds and represents a holy community, the biblical model (Ex 19:6). The individual images in succession portray a sequence in time. As projected on the historical plane the sequence relates to the succession of empires. For the later apocalyptists and their interpreters, the projection shifts from empire to empire. The fourth beast becomes Rome for the period of the destruction of the Second Temple.

Apocalypse, however, embraces not only historiosophyand eschatology but also theosophy (the disclosure of the heavenly palaces and God's throne) and cosmosophy (the disclosure of the works of creation). Theosophic and cosmosophic revelations appear during the Hasmonean period as Enochic works.3 The former relates to the tannaitic Work of the Merkabah (the divine chariot in view of Ezek 1) and the latter to the Work of Creation (in relation to Gen 1). These traditions were transmitted and developed alongside the historiosophic apocalypse (compare the theosophic and historiosophic material in Rev 4,5 and 6-22 respectively). The tannaitic commentary to Daniel 2:21,22 suggests a similar association.

"He (God) gives wisdom to the wise", that is Joseph the righteous. "And knowledge to those who have understanding", that is Daniel. "He reveals the deep", that is the deep dimension of the Merkabah. "And the hidden", that is the Work of Creation. "He knows what is in the darkness", that is the punishment due to the wicked in Gehenna. "And the light dwells with Him", that is the reward due to the righteous in the future (Seder Olam Rabba 30, the end).

Daniel's historiosophic apocalypse seems to have emerged in Hasidean circles.4 They supported the Maccabean revolt and gave rise to Essenism and Pharisaism. These movements promoted an eschatological view of life as expressed by an apocalyptic consciousness, even though they differed in its realization. This points to the significance of Daniel's composition for the Jewish community. On the one hand, it reflected the views of the Hasideans, the pietists of pre-Maccabean days. Their total commitment to God even in death paved the way for religious and political independence, an earthly opportunity for messianic fulfillment. On the other hand, it deepened the heilsgeschichtlich dimension of Jewish existence, for Daniel offered a universal history of redemption in which those who serve God and uphold the covenant play a central role, both in exile and in their land. Daniel extends the limits of the earlier Prophetic views of history. He also bridges the religious concerns of the Diaspora Jewry with those who lived in Judea. This is clearly reflected in the composition of the book, which shifts from the heroic tales of Jewish martyrs in exile to the visions of a Judean who is concerned about the historical events affecting his land and the Temple.

Daniel 1 to 6

The book of Daniel is a collection in two parts. The first part (chs. 1-6) consists of tales about Judean deportees (1,3,6) and accounts of Babylonian kings' dreams and actions (2,4,5). The Judeans, who were in the service of the king, remain steadfast in their faith in God and in their religious practice. They are rewarded following their ultimate trials by fire or in a lion's den. In the service of the king they become eunuchs (so Jerome and the rabbis) and their reward is not gained through bio-social means (Is 56:4,5). Their example comes to encourage the Diaspora Jews to reject idolatry and not to seek only material rewards. It teaches that true adherence to God even unto death reaps perpetual reward. Daniel advances the notion of "serving the Master without receiving reward", which was formulated by Antigonos (Mishnah Avot 1:3). His teaching reflected the Hasidean position, which is said to have resulted in the Pharisaic-Sadducean schism (Avot de R. Nathan 1,5). Significantly Daniel promotes a service of God in prayer with no sacrifices. The exilic experience gave rise to the synagogue in place of the Temple. Eventually both institutions existed side by side in Judea, as the New Testament and the archeological evidence suggest.

These first chapters of Daniel address both the Jews in exile and those in Jerusalem by promoting liturgical life (6:11) and the pursuit of righteous deeds (4:24). This also became the distinctive response of Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple (Avot de R. Nathan I, 4; II, 8). The tannaitic tradition maintains that such a development is reflected in the example of Daniel.

We find that Daniel pursued works of lovingkindness. What were these works of lovingkindness which Daniel pursued? If you wish to say that he brought sacrifices in Babylonia, it is already stated: "Beware lest you offer your sacrifices in every place that you please" (Deut 12:13,14). What then were the works of lovingkindness that Daniel pursued? He prepares the bride (for the wedding), accompanies the dead and gives alms to the poor. He prays three times daily and his prayer is received in favor, as it states in Daniel 6:11 (ibid. I, 4; cf. Tosefta Berakhot 3:8).

The performance of righteousness is charity (so the parallelism in Dan 4:24), whereas the examples imitatio Dei are called works of lovingkindness (see Pal. Targum to Gen 35:9 and Deut 34:6). These two forms of praxis (righteousness and lovingkindness) along with the verbal form of prayer, mark the religious life of the Hasideans from the days of Daniel to tannaitic times.' These forms were incorporated into the life of the Essenes, early Christians and the rabbis apart from the Temple and its cult.6

The first part of Daniel reflects a religious consciousness that worship is due to God alone. It therefore relates the kings' dreams and actions as a theological demonstration: All human power, as life itself, is dependent on God's will. The sin of the Babylonian rulers lies in their arrogance or self-aggrandizement (so Is 14:4-23). Thus, confession of the living God as an act of humility is attributed to the king (3:31-33; 4:31,32). This is demonstrated by the example of Nabonidus' departure from the royal city to Teiman in the Arabian desert.' The tale of the king's debasement begins and ends with the confession, and his name is transcribed as Nebuchadnezzar, the earthly cosmocrator of the Babylonians (Esther Rabba to 1:9). The example of Nabodinus is contrasted with that of his son and co-regent Belshazzar. The latter's arrogant action, according to Daniel, led to the fall of the Babylonian empire. The confession by a gentile also betrays the Jewish proselytizing efforts among the idolators in Diaspora. This development is mentioned in Isaiah 56:4. The exilic community assumes a pedagogic role in God's name, as preached by Deutero-Isaiah (a light unto nations and a witness-people). Jewish proselytism continued throughout the Second Temple period (Esther 8:17; Mt 23:15). It provided the fertile ground for the spread of Christianity!' The first chapters of Daniel again advance the practice of exilic Jewry as it was also maintained by the Judean community.

The king's confession consists of an acceptance of divine judgment (4:34 = Ps 111:7) and the recognition of God's omnipotence (3:33; 4:31 = Ps 145:13). The latter appears in a psalmic Hallel (Bab. Talmud Shabbat 118 b; Berakhot 4 b), which was chanted responsively by the community. The Qumran Psalm scroll preserves the antiphonal doxology: "Blessed be his name for ever and ever." This was the practice in the Temple (Mishnah Yoma 3:8) and Daniel records the doxology in Aramaic (2:20). Significantly the Egyptian Hallel (Ps 115) is associated in the rabbinic tradition with the martyrological confession of the Three Youths. The apocryphal addition to Daniel records a different song of praise by the Youths, with the doxology: "Be praised and highly exalted for ever."

Daniel 7 to 12

The liturgical background to Daniel is clearly marked in the second part of his work (chs. 7-12). This part consists of two visions and their interpretation (7,8) and two auditions (9:22-27; 10:11-12:4), separated by an account of Daniel's prayer (9:4-19). The prayer opens with an address to God (so Deut 10:17; Jer 32:18; Neh 9:32 and the Amidah) and an appeal to a theopathic love expressed in a covenantal relationship (so Deut 7:9; Neh 9:32). It continues with a confession of sins and the acceptance of divine judgment in light of the Mosaic Admonition (Dan 9:11-13 points to Deut 29:20 in light of ch. 28). It concludes with intercessory supplication, lamenting the desecration of the Temple.

The pollution of the Temple by Antiochus IV, with the introduction of the desolating sacrilege (the statue of Zeus Olympios) in the place of daily sacrifices, was a severe religious crisis. This resulted in a deep lament experience for Daniel (9:2,3) which was expressed in action (a period of fasting and acts of mourning), reflection on the Scriptures and prayer. The agonizing situation produced a dialectical response. On the one hand, Daniel accepts the divine judgment in view of the Admonition tradition. "The Lord our God is righteous in all the works which he has done" (9:14). On the other hand, Daniel ponders why the omnipotent God does not intervene in light of the prophetic promise. "Seventy years are to be completed for the desolation of Jerusalem" (9:2 --= Jer 25:12). The rabbinic tradition notes that in Daniel's address to God, the appellation "Mighty One" is missing. For "Daniel raised the question: Foreigners have subjugated his sons, where are his mighty acts?" (Bab. Talmud Yoma 69 b).

Daniel also mourns for three weeks during the month of the pilgrimage festival of Passover (10:2-4). He abstains from partaking in the wine, the meat and the bread, the chosen items for the festival. For the celebration of the biblical drama of redemption has turned into a period for lament and mourning. Passover time was charged with great religious expectations in the life of Israel. The redemptive event of the past shaped the destiny and the eschatological orientation of the biblical society. The deep sense of salvation in history, which Daniel has shared, gives rise to serious disturbing questions in the face of national religious crisis. Daniel does not question the existence of God but seeks guidance from the providential Presence. He has entered into a period of lament. Lament expresses the completeness of grief and despair that results from the sense of God's absence in the history of his people. It also gives rise to the plenitude of faith and hope as reflected in the inner yearning for a return of God's presence.

Source of wider vision

This polarity in the experience of lament produces an apocalyptic consciousness that recognizes the enduring presence of God in a heavenly realm. It widens the perimeters of salvation in history to universal proportions, for it views the history of mankind from a divine plane. Salvation is not limited to a particular time nor a particular promise that was fulfilled in the past. God's presence on the earthly plane remains elusive 10 The scheme of divine salvation encompasses the totality of human history. God's presence is durative in the heavenly realm, but on earth he is manifested punctually. The insight gained by Daniel has greatly influenced the biblically oriented people who in later critical times faced similar agonizing questions. Daniel's theology of the Presence plays a central part in the birth of an authentically ecumenical consciousness to be shared by Judaism and Christianity.

1. P.M. Casey, "Porphyry and the Origin of the Book of Daniel", Journal of Theological Studies 27 (1976), pp. 15-33.
2. A. Finkel, "The Pesher of Dreams and Scriptures", Revue de Qumran 4 (1963), pp. 357-370.
3. See J.T. Milik, The Books of Enoch: Fragments of Qumran Cave 4, New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.
4. Louis Hartman and Alexander Di Lella, The Book of Daniel (Anchor Bible), Garden City: Doubleday, 1978, pp. 43-45.
5. See Adolph Buechler, Types of Jewish Palestinian Piety, New York: Ktav, 1968 (reprint).
6. Geza Vermes in Jesus the Jew (New York: MacMillan, 1973) relates this type of charismatic Judaism to the ministry of Jesus.
7. J.T. Milik, "Triere de Nabonide' et autres ecrits d'un cycle de Daniel, fragments de Qumran 4", Revue Biblique 63 (1956), pp. 407-415. A translation may be found in G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Penguin Books, 1975, p. 229.
8. J. Klausner, From Jesus to Paul (Hebrew edition), 1951.
9. James A. Sanders, The Psalms Scroll of Qumran Cave 11. Discoveries in the Judean Desert IV, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965, p. 66.
10. See Samuel Terrien, The Elusive Presence: Toward a New Biblical Theology, New York: Harper and Row, 1978.


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