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Daniel in the lion's den, from a 19th century Sunday School Bible card

Daniel was a Jew who, with his friends, was taken captive while still a young boy and carried off to Babylon. As slaves, the four were all probably castrated, according to the custom of the Babylonians. Daniel's name translates to "God is my judge" with "El" being one of the many ineffable names of God. Like Joseph, who was a slave in Egypt, Daniel had extraordinary visions, and was skilled in dream interpretation. The Book of Daniel is a compilation of 10 stories about Daniel and his visions. Chapters 1-6 were probably written during the Hellenistic period in the 5th to 3rd centuries BCE; and, except for Chapter 1, which was written in Hebrew, they were originally in Aramaic. During the the Maccabean era, between 167 and 164 BCE, the text was enlarged by the addition of the visions described in chapters 7-12, which were written in Hebrew.

  • Chapter 1: During the reign of King Jehoiakim, God allowed Jerusalem to fall into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. Sacred vessels were stolen from the temple and young boys were kidnapped by the invaders and brought to the king's court to serve as slaves; among them were Daniel and his companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who were given new Babylonian names -- Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They refused to eat the King's food, because the meat was not slaughtered in a kosher manner according to Jewish law.
  • Chapter 2: Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, which none of his wise men could describe or interpret, so he sentenced them all to death, but God showed Daniel that the dream was of a giant statue with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron and clay. Daniel interpreted this as four successive kingdoms, which would be superseded by God's kingdom. The King acknowledged Yahweh as God and granted Daniel power over a province of Babylon
  • Chapter 3: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow to a golden statue of King Nebuchadnezzar and were thrown into a fiery furnace, where an angel protected them. They emerged alive, and Nebuchadnezzar again acknowledged Yahweh as God.
  • Chapter 4: Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a huge tree that was suddenly cut down. Daniel interpreted this as Nebuchadnezzar himself falling into madness for seven years, until he would again acknowledge God; this all came to pass, and the King's sanity was restored.
  • Chapter 5: King Belshazzar, the son of king Nabonidus and grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, held a feast at which he desecrated the stolen Jewish temple vessels by using them to offer praise to Babylonian gods. Just then, the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace opposite the lamp stand, so that the king could see the hand as it wrote. The king's face darkened, and his thoughts alarmed him; the joints of his loins were loosened and his knees knocked together. He called loudly for the exorcists and diviners, saying "Whoever can read this writing and tell me its meaning shall be clothed in purple and wear a golden chain on his neck, and shall be made the third most powerful person in the kingdom." The writing that was inscribed was "mene, mene, tekel, uparsin" ("counted, counted, weighed, divided"). Daniel successfully interpreted the message as, "God has counted your kingdom and brought it to an end; you have been weighed on the scale and found to fall short; your kingdom has been divided and will go to the Medes and the Persians." Daniel was given the golden chain, promoted as promised -- and on that same night, King Belshazzar was murdered and Darius the Mede became the ruler of the kingdom. It is from this Biblical story that we derive the modern idiom of "reading the writing on the wall."
  • Chapter 6: King Darius kept Daniel in high office, but jealous courtiers convinced the king to forbid worship of non-Babylonian deities for 30 days. Daniel continued to pray to God three times a day, facing Jerusalem, so Darius reluctantly threw him into a den of captive lions. God shut up the mouths of the lions, and Daniel was unharmed, much to the king's relief. The king then cast Daniel's jealous rivals into the lions' den, together with their wives and children, where they were killed and eaten. Darius acknowledged Daniel's God as one whose kingdom will never be destroyed.
  • Chapter 7: Daniel had a visionary dream in which four beasts arose from the sea. The fourth beast had 10 horns, and crushed the Earth. God, in his form as The Ancient of Days, destroyed the beast and gave dominion to "one like a son of man." This was interpreted as four kingdoms, of which the fourth would have 10 successive kings, leading to a war against the "holy ones" for "a time, two times and a half," after which the "holy ones" would rule unendingly.
  • Chapter 8: Daniel had a vision of a ram with two horns of unequal length and a goat with a single horn who came from the West and destroyed the ram. The goat's horn broke off and four smaller horns replaced it; one horn grow larger than the others and disrupted the daily temple sacrifices in Jerusalem and desecrated the sanctuary for 2,300 days. The Archangel Gabriel interpreted this dream to Daniel, saying that the ram symbolized the Medes and Persians, the goat was Greece, and the "little horn" would be a wicked king.
  • Chapter 9: Daniel meditated on the words of the Prophet Jeremiah that the Jerusalem would be desolate for 70 years; Gabriel explained that the 70 years stood for 70 "weeks" of years, or 490 years, an era during which the Temple would first be restored, and then later defiled by a "prince who is to come."
  • Chapters 10, 11, and 12: Daniel had a vision an angelic man who said that he was at war with the "prince of Persia," and was being aided by Archangel Michael. The man then described many future battles involving the kingdoms of Egypt, Persia, and Greece.

Daniel's enslavement and mutilation was foretold by the prophet Isaiah to King Hezekiah when he said, "They (Hezekiah's descendants) shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon." As a castrated slave, Daniel never married, but he lived to be very old, for Rabbinic sources state that he was still alive during the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus (also known as Artaxerxes) and that he was among the many captive Jews killed by Haman, the king's evil prime minister, as described in Book of Esther. Although he is acknowledged as an inspired dream interpreter, was faithful to God, and was guided and guarded by God's angels and archangels, Daniel's own visions have not come to pass, and so he is not generally considered to be a prophet among the Jews. For this reason, in the Jewish Bible or Tanakh, his book is not included among the Neviʾim (the Books of the Prophets), but only in the Ketuvim (the Writings). It is not known to whom Jesus was referring when he said, "A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house," but he may as well have been speaking of Daniel, because, with the exception of the Jews themselves, all Jewish-derived religions consider Daniel to have been a prophet. To many Christians his visions are taken as true predictions of the future, and some Protestants place great attention on attempting to correlate the final six chapters of the Book of Daniel with contemporary world events in order to prepare themselves for the end-times. He is called Saint Daniel by Roman Catholics, and his feast day is July 21st. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition and among some Lutheran denominations the feast day of Saint Daniel the Prophet and the Three Young Men falls on December 17th. Many Muslims also consider him to have been a prophet and in the teachings of the Baháʼí Faith, he has that status as well. His tomb is a place of pilgrimage for people of many traditions; it is located in the ancient city of Susa (called Shushan in the Bible), in Iran.


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