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Literature / Book of Daniel

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The Book of Daniel takes place during Babylon's conquest of Judah. The young males are shipped off to Babylon to be reeducated, and Daniel and his friends promise to stay faithful to each other and to God as they are taken into enemy territory. Their blessings from the Lord earn them the favor from the kings, but also make them many enemies in the court.

The Protestant canon version of Daniel is twelve chapters long. The Story of Susannah, The Idol Bel and the Dragon, and The Song Of The Three Children (which are deuterocanonical books, also known as the Apocrypha) are all adapted from the Vulgate version of Daniel, which extended the chapter count to fourteen.

Not to be confused with the 1971 novel The Book of Daniel by E. L. Doctorow, or the 2006 television series of that name.

Structure of the Book of Daniel:

  • Introduction to Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel chapter 1)
  • Daniel and his friends reveal both King Nebuchadnezzar's dream and its interpretation (Daniel chapter 2)
  • Daniel's three friends in the fiery furnace (Daniel chapter 3; Catholic Bibles may also include the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Children)
  • King Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the big tree and its interpretation (Daniel chapter 4)
  • Daniel interprets the writing on the wall (Daniel chapter 5)
  • Daniel in the lion's den (Daniel chapter 6)
  • Daniel's vision of the four beasts (Daniel chapter 7)
  • Daniel's vision of a ram and a goat (Daniel chapter 8)
  • Daniel's prayer for his people and the "70 weeks" (Daniel chapter 9)
  • A heavenly messenger visits Daniel (Daniel 10:1-11:1)
  • The visions of the kingdoms to come (Daniel 11:2-39)
  • The "time of the end" (Daniel 11:40-45)
  • The resurrection of the dead (Daniel chapter 12)
  • The story of Susannah (Daniel chapter 13, Catholic Bibles only)
  • Daniel and the priests of Bel (Bel and the Dragon 1:1-22; Daniel 14:1-22, Catholic Bibles only)
  • Daniel kills the dragon (Bel and the Dragon 1:23-30; Daniel 14:23-30, Catholic Bibles only)
  • Daniel in the lion's den again (Bel and the Dragon 1:31-42; Daniel 14:31-42, Catholic Bibles only)

This book provides examples of:

  • A God Am I:
    • Nebuchadnezzar reflects on the splendor of his city and how he built it all. God responds to his pride by temporarily driving the king insane and causing him to think he's an animal.
    • Darius is encouraged to sign an edict saying that for the thirty days only he may be prayed to.
  • Against My Religion: The Jewish prohibitions on eating non-Kosher food, bowing before idols, and praying to anyone other than God create some conflicts when Daniel and friends follow their consciences.
  • Artistic License – History: Chapter 11-12 fall into this according to many biblical scholars. The chronology is increasingly accurate up until around 167 BCE, at which point it diverges greatly from actual history, both in the death of King Antiochus IV(who actually died in Persia, not in the Levant) and the rise of the Maccabees(which isn't even mentioned) before the End of Days in chapter 12(which arguably did not occur in the 2nd century BCE). This is often used to argue that Daniel was written around 167 BCE, not 500 BCE, by many scholars.
  • Attempted Rape: Susanna is nearly assaulted by two elderly men who were so smitten by her beauty that they tried to rape her while she was alone taking a bath. They end up accusing her of having improper relations with somebody else that they witnessed when they bring her before the judges.
  • Batman Gambit: The officials that give Darius said decree count on Daniel being too faithful to stop praying to his God, even in secret.
  • Blasphemous Boast: Daniel 11:37 speaks about a coming king (usually interpreted by Bible students as The Antichrist) that will not regard "the god of his ancestors" or "the one dear to women" nor regard any god, but will magnify himself above them all.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: In some translations, King Belshazzar of Babylon became so frightened of the hand writing on the wall the Portent of Doom that he urinated in his robes.
  • By the Hair: In Bel and the Dragon, when Daniel is put into the lion's den, an angel of God grabs Habakkuk the prophet by the hair while he is making dinner and delivers him, dinner and all, to Daniel to sustain him while he is imprisoned with the lions.
  • Call-Back: To Jeremiah, when Daniel in chapter 9 realizes at that point that the 70 years that was prophesied for Israel to remain in exile from their homeland has come to its conclusion.
  • Clear My Name: The story of Daniel saving Susannah's honor from two false accusers.*
  • Court Mage: This was Daniel's job, as well as the Babylonian magicians in the book. The difference is that Daniel has access to information from God, so his supernatural abilities work while the Babylonians fall short.
  • Defiant to the End: Daniel and his friends repeatedly refuse to obey any royal commands that involve worshiping other gods, even when they're specifically told they'll be executed if they don't. Fortunately, God delivers them each time.
  • Delusions of Doghood: King Nebuchadnezzar was given the mind of a beast (a rare mental condition known as boanthropy), as foretold from a dream he had that Daniel had interpreted for him, which lasted for seven seasons.
  • Deus ex Machina: Our heroes get supernaturally delivered from, among other things, a lion's den and a burning fiery furnace.
  • Dirty Old Man: The two elders eyeing Susanna and accusing her of impropriety to cover their tracks in the book of Susanna.
  • Divine Conflict: In Chapter 10, Daniel fasts and prays for 21 days to get a message from God, and after 21 days an angel arrives with the message, though he tells Daniel that, although he was sent to deliver the message on the first day that Daniel prayed to God, he was held up by "the prince of Persia" (interpreted by certain Christian Bible students as a demonic force occupying that area), and that it required the assistance of the Archangel Michael to defeat the prince and continue with his message delivery.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Nebuchadnezzar seeing what looks like "a son of the gods" inside the furnace has been theorized in traditional Christian interpretation to be an early appearance of Jesus. Daniel later meets with a "son of man" sent from heaven, who Christ identifies himself as in the Gospels.
  • Fed to the Beast: In Chapter 6, when King Darius' advisers have the king set up a law that nobody could make a prayer or a petition to any god or higher authority but the king himself for thirty days, and anyone breaking the law would be put into a den of lions, Daniel was caught by the same advisers praying to his God in private, and the king was forced to put Daniel in the den to suffer this kind of punishment. Fortunately, Daniel was spared this fate by God closing the mouths of the lions, and because of this the king freed Daniel and instead put his accusers and their families into the lions' den to be suddenly devoured before they reached the bottom of the den.
    • This supposedly happens to Daniel again in one of the three stories from Bel And The Dragon, and again Daniel gets divine help for a rescue.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Daniel chapter 8 foretells of Alexander the Great 200 years in advance, with verses 7-8 referring to a male goat (symbolizing Greece) and a ram (Persia and Media): "I saw himnote  reach the ram and rage at him; he struck the ram and broke its two horns, and the ram was powerless to withstand him. He threw him to the ground and trampled him, and there was none to deliver the ram from his power. Then the he-goat grew very great, but at the peak of his power his big horn was broken. In its place, four conspicuous horns sprouted toward the four winds of heaven." In verses 21 and 22: "And the buck, the he-goat—the king of Greece; and the large horn on his forehead, that is the first king. One was broken and four came in its stead—that [means]: four kingdoms will arise out of a nation, but without its power." After his death, the Empire was divided in four amongst his generals into the kingdoms of the Ptolemies (Egypt), Seleucids (Persia and Mesopotamia, later Syria), Attalids (Turkey), and the Antigonids (Macedonia and Syria).
    • Daniel 9:24-26 is believed to be talking about the coming of Jesus Christ in most Christian interpretations, with verse 27 referring to the coming of The Antichrist.
    • Daniel chapter 11 foretells events that the kings in the coming years will do in regard to the history of God's people Israel, including the appearance of King Antiochus IV and his setting up the "appalling abomination" in the deuterocanonical books of 1st and 2nd Maccabees, and possibly the appearance of The Antichrist, as interpreted by certain Christian Bible students.
  • Forgot I Could Change the Rules: Averted. King Darius attempts this to try saving Daniel from his sentence, but is reminded by his advisors that even the king cannot annul his own decrees once they are passed. This causes a problem when he's tricked into passing a law that ends up ordering the death of his favorite advisor Daniel.
  • Gainax Ending / Genre Shift: The first half of the book chronicles the adventures of Daniel and his friends in Babylon. The latter half of the book is about visions Daniel receives of the future, which get just as odd as the Book of Revelation.
  • God Test: More of a Prophet Test in this case. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream and decides not to tell the magicians and diviners what his dream is, but instead tells them to tell him both the dream and its interpretation so that he can trust that their interpretation is true. When the magicians and diviners tell him this is impossible for mortal man to do, Nebuchadnezzar orders that the magicians and diviners would be put to death. Daniel and his three friends plead for some time so that they will make known to the king both the dream and its interpretation, and when God makes both known to Daniel and his friends, and they tell both to the king, the king declares them to be true prophets and gives them greater honor in his kingdom.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: The fate of one of Susannah's accusers, as Daniel faces him in court by asking him a question:
    "Now then, if you really saw this woman, tell me this. Under what tree did you see them having sex?"
    He said, "Under a clove tree."
    Daniel said, "Right! You lied! It's on your own head! Already God's angel has orders to cleave you down the middle!" (Susannah 1:54-55, Common English Bible)
  • Heaven and Hell: Daniel 12:2 is believed by some Christians that the dead will be resurrected and some will awaken to everlasting life while others to "reproaches, to everlasting abhorrence".
  • Heel–Faith Turn: Daniel does this for the sake of the nation Israel in his prayer to God in chapter 9, calling for God to forgive Israel for their collective sins against Him.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Darius's advisors trick him into ordering Daniel to be thrown into a den of lions. God intervenes to ensure that Daniel is unharmed. When Daniel is found alive, Darius orders those same advisors to be thrown to the lions instead. The lions kill them before they even reach the ground of the den.
  • Holy Is Not Safe: In Chapter 5, King Belshazzar had the idea of he and his royal court members drinking wine from the gold vessels that were taken from God's Temple and praising the gods of gold and silver. In response, God had a hand write a message on a wall which Daniel interpreted as the Babylon king's kingdom being finished, his being weighed on the scales and found deficient, and his kingdom being given over to the Persians and the Medes, which all happened in one night.
  • Honor Before Reason: Several times by the protagonists, even when their life is on the line. When ordered to bow to a large statue, the three friends refuse to bow. When told that praising God and not the king will be punished with death, Daniel openly prays anyway and is arrested.
    • After walking through the blistering furnace and getting saved by an angel, for everyone to see, it would be more unreasonable not to obey God's laws.
  • I'm Having Soul Pains: In Daniel chapter 10, when the angel comes to tell him of things to come (the bulk of chapter 11), he says to the angel, “My lord, because of the vision, I have been seized with pangs and cannot summon strength. How can this servant of my lord speak with my lord, seeing that my strength has failed and no spirit is left in me?” (Daniel 10:16-17) The angel touches and comforts Daniel to give him strength to endure what he is about to hear.
  • Irrevocable Order: Daniel's rivals in the Medo-Persian Kingdom use this against King Darius and Daniel when he signed and sealed an order that anybody who prayed to any god or higher authority other than the king for thirty days would be thrown into a den of lions, and Daniel was caught praying to the Lord by his rivals, looking to get rid of him once and for all. The king couldn't go against his own order by the law of the Medes and Persians, so he had Daniel cast into the den of lions, but fortunately God spared Daniel's life and thus the tables were turned against his adversaries.
  • Keep the Reward: When Daniel was called by King Belshazzar of Babylon to interpret the writing on the wall in chapter 5, promising to reward him by even making him "the third ruler of the kingdom", Daniel tells the king to give the reward to someone else, yet he will interpret the writing. Daniel still gets rewarded, though it doesn't last for very long as the message for the king from the writing on the wall was fulfilled that very night.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Nebuchadnezzar orders everyone to bow to his statue. Everyone goes along with it except Daniel's friends.
  • Magic Music: If going by the additions to the text such as the Song of the Three Children, the praises of God sent up by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego brought forth God's protection on them in the form of "the Fourth Man" whom King Neubchadnezzar saw in the flames among the three.
  • Man on Fire: The guards who put Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the furnace were consumed by the flames as they threw the three captives in. Fortunately, the "fourth man" in the furnace (interpreted by Christians as a pre-incarnate version of Jesus) protected the three Jews in the flames so they came out looking no worse for wear as when they went in.
  • Meat Versus Veggies: Daniel and friends persuade the guards to let them have a vegetarian diet instead of the rich Babylonian food the other captives are served. As a result, they turn out healthier and stronger than all their meat-eating colleagues. The intended Aesop probably has less to do with the virtues of going veggie than with avoiding animal products being the easiest way to keep Kosher.
  • Meaningful Rename: The Hebrew boys are all given Chaldean names, to enforce their assimilation into Babylonian culture by stripping them of their Hebrew identities (Daniel was renamed Belteshazzar, Hananiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach, and Azariah became Abednego). Yet Daniel is the only character of the four who is still referred to by his original name in the narration.
  • Murder by Cremation: Nebuchadnezzar threatens to have Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego executed by throwing them into a burning fiery furnace. They're only saved by Deus ex Machina.
  • Musical Episode: Daniel chapter 3 in Catholic editions feature the Song Of The Three Children, also known as the Prayer of Azariah.
  • Not Afraid to Die: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, about to be burnt for refusing to worship an idol, cheerfully inform the king that they believe their God will protect them, but even if He doesn't, they still won't worship the king's gods.
  • Odd Name Out: Daniel's three friends, Shadrach, Mesrach, and Abednego. Justified as their names were changed by the Babylonians. Their given names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, which are clearly Jewish. Daniel himself was renamed Belteshazzar, but since he became Prime Minister, he earned the right to be known as Daniel, even in Babylon.
  • Phony Psychic: King Nebuchadnezzar, when he has a disturbing dream that he wants the interpretation of to be known to him, suspects that his magicians and diviners are this, so he withholds telling them the dream and instead tests them by having them tell both the dream and its interpretation.
  • Portent of Doom: The "writing on the wall" that King Belshazzar had Daniel translate — Mene, mene, tekel, u-Pharsin — meant that his kingdom was going to come to an end. And surely enough, it was fulfilled on the very same night.
  • Reverse Whodunnit
    • The deuterocanonical (or apocryphal, according to Protestants) extended Book of Daniel has a story of Susanna, a woman falsely accused of adultery. Daniel proves that Susanna is innocent using detective methods.
    • In the extended Book of Daniel, we have a story of Bel and the Dragon. In that story, Daniel exposes the lies of Bel’s priests. It is one of the earliest examples of Locked Room Mystery.
  • Royal Decree: King Darius's advisors try to get rid of Daniel by manipulating the king into issuing a decree that anyone who worships a god or man other than Darius must be thrown into the lions' den. As expected, Daniel is caught praying to the Hebrew God, and since Persian decrees are unalterable, there is nothing Darius can do about it. Fortunately, God prevents the lions from eating Daniel, and Darius has the advisors thrown in, instead.
  • Rule of Seven:
    • When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar's idol, saying that God will either deliver them from his hands or let them die as martyrs, the king ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual before the three Jews were thrown into the fire.
    • King Nebuchadnezzar is told that he would be driven from his kingdom, eating grass like the wild ox, until "seven seasons" pass before his kingdom is restored to him.
    • The prophecy of "seventy sevens", or "seventy weeks", in Daniel 9:24-27, where Daniel's people and his city are "to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy."
  • Scam Religion: The religion of the Babylonian god Bel is presented this way in one of the stories in the Apocrypha. The priests have a racket going serving their idol huge amounts of food at public expense, claiming that their god eats it (actually, they do this themselves). Daniel exposes the priests' deceits to the king, who then goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against them.
  • The Smart Guy: Daniel (aka Belteshazzar) was a brilliant scholar and a top-notch administrator.
  • Sexual Extortion: One of the judges, who accused Susannah of improper relations behind her husband's back, was himself accused of extorting sex out of his clients through intimidation, as mentioned by Daniel in Susannah 1:57.
  • Stereo Fibbing: Two men accuse Susannah of committing adultery under a tree. Daniel separates them and asks each what kind of tree it was. They are exposed as liars when they give different answers.
  • Take a Third Option: In Daniel chapter 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego declare to King Nebuchadnezzar that if so, God is able to deliver them from the king's hand when he threatens to put them into the furnace for not bowing down and worshiping the king's image, but if God desires not to deliver them, they still wouldn't bow down to the king's image and would be happy to die for God's sake. It is God that chooses the third option by delivering the three Jews through the flames instead of from them, sending down the fourth man into the furnace to watch over them and to protect them from the flames.
  • True Companions: Daniel (Belteshazzar), Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego).
  • Unicorn: Not the mythical beast commonly associated with the unicorn we know of today, but Daniel does see in one of his visions a goat with a single horn between its eyes.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: When Nebuchadnezzar has a dream he wishes his magicians to interpret, he decides to test their truthfulness by declaring he will not tell them what his dream was, they must tell him. Knowing that lying would be suicide, the magicians angrily respond that this is impossible and no one but the gods can do this. The king orders them to be all executed.
    • Perhaps Nebuchadnezzar was on to something. If the gods of the magicians were real, they would already know the details of the king's dream. As it turns out, Daniel and his three friends interpret the dream having been told by God Himself.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: The Portent of Doom which Daniel translated for King Belshazzar of Babylon told him his days and his kingdom were about to end soon.

Alternative Title(s): Prayer Of Azariah, Book Of Susannah, Bel And The Dragon