The Book of Daniel and its Historical Setting
The book of Daniel is made up of two parts, the story of the court of King Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel’s visions.  It is also made up of different sections in different languages.  In fact it switches languages more than any other book in the Bible.  These facts have led many scholars to believe that the book was not written by one person, or even during one period of time (REDDITT 1).

   The story of the book itself begins among the Babylonian conquest of the holy land.  The kingdom of Medes had weakened the Assyrian empire and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon seized on the opportunity to gain control of Israel.  Therefore the book of Daniel (like much of the Old Testament) is set during a time of the Jews in exile (Sullivan 3).

   Like many of the books written during an exile the character of Daniel himself is meant to led those Jews lost among the pagans back to the one true Hebrew God.  It accomplishes this through apocalyptic visions such as the following:

“I, Daniel saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, and four great beasts come up out of the sea, different from one another.  The first was like a lion and had eagles’ wings.  Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being; and a human mind was given to it… And was told, ‘Arise, devour many bodies!’ (Daniel 7:2-4 and 5)”

   The use of this language is not only to scare lapsed Jews into piousness, it also serves as a reassurance to those who have remained faithful that God has not forgotten them, and one day the Lord will rise up and bring them justice.  As Elizabeth Dyer put it in U.S. Catholic, “Apocalyptic literature often functioned in times of crisis to assure the hearer of God’s reliable power,” and the Lord’s ability to “ultimately rescue the faithful” (Dyer 2).
The most famous of Daniel’s reassurances to his fellow Jews is the story of his time in the lion’s den.  The story begins with a writing appearing on the wall of the King Belshazzar’s (Nebuchadnezzar’s son) palace.  Daniel was summoned to interpret it.  He rejects the king’s gifts and tells Belshazzar that he has not humbled himself before God and that God had “numbered the days of your kingdom” (Daniel 5:26).  Belshazzar thanks Daniel, but later the king’s advisors plot against Daniel and convince the king to sentence him to a death in the lion’s den.  After Daniel is able to survive a night in the den, he is triumphant. He has proven that faith in God protects the believer even in the most dire circumstances.  As the writer(s) of Daniel put it, “My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before Him (Daniel 6:22)”.

Daniel’s Purpose

   The literary themes of the book of Daniel hold out several important ideas for us today.  First, Daniel is not a book with any historical “lessons” to preach to its readers (Sullivan 7).  The book's existence is for the most part simply to edify God.  However, through Daniel’s actions in putting God before himself several important concepts are offered.
First is the humility of the faithful before God. The place of God at the head of all things shows the Yahwistic leanings of the Books’ authors (Redditt 3).  This is important today because even among God-fearing Christians, the placement of God is not often before themselves let alone others.
Second are the necessity of truth and the idea of the Lord as truth.  When Daniel is called on to interpret dreams or other visions, he speaks truthfully, often to his own detriment.  Granted, the apocalyptic scenes in the later chapters are not very accessible to readers, but the Daniel speaks truthfully all the same.


The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989)

Sullivan, R.S.C.J., Kathryn. “An Introduction to the Book of Daniel” The Old Testament Reading Guide: The Book of Daniel and The Book of Jonah, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1975)

Dreyer, Elizabeth. "Apocalypse Now and Then," U.S. Catholic Vol. 63/Issue 3, March 1998 Ebscohost April 3, 2000.

Redditt, Paul L. "Daniel 11 and the Sociohistorical Setting of the Book of Daniel," Catholic Bible Quarterly Vol. 60/Issue 3, July 1998 Ebscohost April 3, 2000.