You will find an introduction and outline of Daniel, here.
Here is a prayer to use before reading:
From the Book of Common Worship:
Eternal God, your wisdom is greater than our minds can attain, and your truth shows up our learning. To those who study, give curiosity, imagination, and patience enough to wait and work for insight. Help us to doubt with courage, but to hold all our doubts in the larger faith of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
An Outline of Daniel (based on Towner)
I. The Public History: Tales about Daniel and his friends 1:1-6:28
II. The Private History: Dreams and visions recounted by Daniel
A. 7:1-28 The vision of “one like a son of man”.
B.8:1-27 The vision of the ram and the he-goats
C.9:1-27 The meaning of seventy years:
9:1-19 Daniel’s prayer.The first year of Darius was 538 BCE. It is unusual for one book of the Bible to cite another book, but here Daniel does, Jeremiah 25:11-12;29:10. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. This prayer is similar to prayers in Ezra 9:6-15 and Neh 1:5-11 and 9:6-37. Fasting, sackcloth and ashes are symbols of mourning. The prayer begins with confession. The curse of verse 11 is a reference to Deut 28:15-45.
9:20-27 Gabriel’s Response: Seventy weeks are interpreted to mean 70 week of years (70×7) or 490 years. The 7 weeks is 49 years and 62 weeks are 434 years. 49 years is the time of the Babylonian exile (587-538 BCE). 62 weeks represent the 434 years of the Persian and Hellenistic period. The anointed one in verse 25 is either Zerubbabel or Joshua the High Priest (Ezra 3:2). The deposed (Cut off) anointed one is Onias III who was deposed by Antiochus in 175 BCE. The desolator in verse 27 is Antiochus who desecrated the Temple. Antiochus received support from Jason the high priest and other members of the upper class.
D.10:1-12:13 The great apocalypse of Daniel: There last chapters are one vision.
10:1-9 Daniel’s vision The third year of Cyrus is 535 BCE. Daniel’s actions signify mourning and repentance, and occurred during Passover. Note the reference to Daniel’s Babylonian name.
10:10-21 The angel Gabriel’s encouragement: Angel’s typically say “do not fear” to those to whom they appear. Verse 13, in the ancient world it was believed that war on earth also meant war in heaven. Michael is the Jewish patron angel and the prince of the kingdom of Persia is the patron angel of Persia. The angel touching Daniel’s lips reminds us of the prophet Isaiah.
11:1-39 A Visionary Review of History
11:2-13 Succession of Kings: Historically, there were more than four kings. The last king is likely Artaxerxes. The warrior king is Alexander the Great, his kingdom was broken into four parts. The king of the south was probably Ptolemy l and of the north Antiochus ll. The king of the north in verse 13 is Antiochus lll.
11:14-20 The campaigns of Antiochus lll. The Ptolemies and the Selucids (Antiochus) continued to fight until 198 BCE when the Selucids defeated the Egyptians (Ptolemy) and took control of Judea. The well fortified city was Sidon and its fall allowed Antiochus lll to take control of Judea. Antiochus lll betrothed his daughter Cleopatra l to Ptolemy Epiphanies in 197 BCE. Verese 18-19 Antiochus 111 tried to capture the coastlands of Asia Minor but was defeated by the Romans and in 187 died at Elymais. Verse 20 Seleucus IV succeeded Antiochus. To help pay Roman tribute, Seleucus sends an official to Jerusalem to seize the temple treasury. He fails, see 2 Macabees 3 for the story.
11:21-28 The contemptible person is Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Verses 22-24 describe his southern campaign where he deposed the high priest Onias lll and replaced him with Jason. Verses 25-28 describe his Egyptian campaign. In 169 he invaded Egypt and captured Ptolemy VI. He left Egypt and on his way home, sacked Jerusalem and plundered the Temple.
11:29-39 Kittim is Rome who forced Antiochus Epiphanes to leave Egypt. He then attacked Jerusalem again in 167 BCE, setting up a pagan altar to Zeus Olympios in the temple (the abomination that makes desolate) Verses 32-35 describe the Jewish resistance movement. The god beloved by women was Tammuz. The god of fortresses is Zeus Olympios.
11:40-45 The End Time: Now the chapter moves into speculative material. Before this, an interpretation of history was presented.
12:1-13 Michael’s Victory. This is the first clear reference to resurrection, a final judgment and eternal life in the Bible. In verse 4 the book is sealed. The answer to the question “how long?” receives more than one answer, 3 1/2 years, 1290 days and 1335 days. The book ends with the promise that Daniel will rise at the end of the days.
The books of Maccabees 1-2 tells the history from the death of Alexander the Great until Anticohus Eupator. First Maccabees is considered an accurate historical source, often corroborated by other sources.
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of Daniel.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Levine, Amy-Jill “Daniel” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version.Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. (2010-01-20) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Towner, W. Sibley “Daniel” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. “Daniel”in The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol 7, Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1996.