The book of Daniel can be divided into two main sections, chapters 1-6 which tells the story of Daniel as “court narrative” which show Daniel living as a faithful Jew in the courts of foreign kings. These chapters of Daniel can be thought of as ancient Jewish short stories similar to the stories of Jonah, Esther, and Tobit. Notice the similarities between the stories of Joseph and Mordedai as Daniel navigates life in a foreign court. Daniel is a wise man, and a dream interpreter who is an observant Jew and does not compromise his faith even though he lives in the courts of foreign kings. While the stories are set in the time of Babylonian exile and just after the fall of Babylon (539 BCE) they were probably written during the late Persian period (450-333 BCE) or early Hellenistic period (333-170 BCE). These stories serve as examples, with Daniel as role model, how faithful Jews could survive and live under foreign rule. In addition how can Jews maintain the belief in a sovereign God when they live under Gentile rule?
The second half of the book, chapters 7-12 are a series of visions which Daniel sees. In the first half of the book, Daniel is the one who interprets dreams, now he is the recipient of dreams and visions. In these chapters he learns history from Babylonian empire in the sixth century BCE, the Persian empire and into the Empire of Alexander the Great in the late fourth century. As well as the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the early second century who attacked Jewish life and the Temple. Scholars think, that because of the detailed descriptions, this part of the book was written in the Maccabean revolt (167-164 BCE). This makes the book of Daniel the latest book in the Hebrew Bible. The author in the second part of the book, uses the ancient figure of Daniel and his visions to encourage confidence in God and God’s plan during the Maccabean time.
From a literary perspective, the book of Daniel sets in between traditions. For the prophets, the Day of the Lord was a time of crisis which brought an new age into being. This new age was a familiar world, with houses and vineyards. Apocalyptic literature presents the Day of the Lord as a cosmic event. The future world is radically different than the present world. Daniel does not set out a fully mature apocalyptic vision but stands in between the more realistic visions of the prophets and the apocalyptic visions of Enoch, 2 Esdras and Revelation.
Daniel is also interesting because from 2:4b to the end of chapter 7 the book is in Aramaic. The rest of the book is written in Hebrew. Aramaic was the common language of the Persian and early Hellenistic periods. Hebrew experienced a revival in the second century BCE. Scholars do not have a good explanation as to why the book was written in the two languages. In addition we have other stories about Daniel in other texts, Susanna, The Prayer of Azariah and The Song of the Three Jews, and Bel and the Dragon. These books are part of the biblical cannon for Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. They are considered part of the Apocrypha by Protestant churches. They have no canonical status in Judaism. There are also stories about Daniel in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The combination of folk story and apocalyptic vision may initially seem odd. But the two parts of the book hold together in their belief that God is in control of history. The book contains both advice and consolation.
An Outline of Daniel (based on Towner)
I. The Public History: Tales about Daniel and his friends 1:1-6:28
A. 1:1-21 Four Jewish Heroes do well in Babylon
B. 2:1-49 Daniel, interpreter of dreams
C.3:1-30 The Fiery Furnace
D.4:1-37 Daniel, spiritual counselor to a mad king
E. 5:1-31 The handwriting on the wall
F. 6:1-28 Daniel and the Lion’s Den
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
D.10:1-12:13 The great apocalypse of Daniel
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.