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
E. 5:1-31 The handwriting on the wall
King Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus who was the last Neo-Babylonian ruler. He was regent when Nabonidus was absent. Drinking to pagan gods out of the ritual vessels from the Temple is sacrilege. A hand appears and writes on the wall and no one, not even the king’s wise men can read it. The queen (the only woman to speak in the book) remembers that Daniel what been able to interpret dreams in the past. The queen is probably Belshazzar’s mother or grandmother, perhaps the widow of Nebuchadnezzar since she was apparently the only one who remembered Daniel. The king knows Daniel is one of the exiles, but doesn’t understand Daniel’s faith since he refers to “the holy gods”. In verse 17 Daniel refuses the king’s gifts and gives a recap of Nebuchadnezzar’s life and the part the “Most High God” played. Daniel explains why the hand wrote on the wall and then interprets the writing. Mene is a large weight and the related verb is “to count” or “to number”. Tekel is one sixtieth of a mene and its related verb means “to weigh”. Parsin is the plural of “peres” which is a half shekel and its related verb means “to divide”. The weights match the descending values of the metals of the statue in2:32. Interestingly, Belshazzar does not seem disturbed by what Daniel has told him, even though he was frightened earlier by the handwriting. We don’t know who Darius the Mede is. He is unknown outside this reference. Cyrus the Persian is the one who overthrew the Babylonian empire in 539 BCE. Darius I, a Persian not a Mede rulesd from 522-486 BCE.
F. 6:1-28 Daniel and the Lion’s Den:
Daniel, like Joseph and Mordecai in other stories, impresses the king and rises in power. Again there is a plot, as in chapter 3 which requires prayer to the king. Here as in the book of Esther, the kings decree cannot be changed. However in reality this was unlikely to have been the way decree’s worked. Daniel continues to pray to God, his disobedience to the edict is discovered. Darius is upset and cannot save Daniel. Daniel is taken to the lion’s den and stays overnight there. In the morning Daniel is safe because he was (v22) blameless before God and before the king. Darius, like Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4 makes a decree about the power of God.
II The Private History: Dreams and Visions recounted by Daniel: Now instead of interpreting others’ dreams, Daniel has visions. The text shifts from third person narration to a first person account by Daniel.
A.7:1-28 The vision of “one like a son of man”.
Verses 1-8 The first vision: Four beasts from the sea. The sea is associated with chaos in biblical texts. The beasts symbolize the kingdoms of Babylon, Media, Persia and Greece. Some interpreters think the beasts symbolize, Babylon, Persia, the empire of Alexander, and Rome. Creatures of mixed types ( lions with eagle’s wings, etc) are common in late prophetic and early apocalyptic literature. The ten horns (v 7) may be a round number for the kings of the Selucid empire from Seleucus I until Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The little horn is Antiochus IV.
Verses 9-14 The heavenly throne room: The Ancient One, literally “Ancient of Days” is God. The one like a human being can also be translated as “son of man” and can be the faithful community, the angel Michael, Gabriel, Judas Maccabeus, or Daniel. The son of man can also mean ‘human being” and therefore here would be in distinction from the earlier animal like depictions of the nations. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus calls himself “son of man”.
Verses 15-28 The interpretation: Daniel needs to have the vision interpreted for him by one of the attendants. Antiochus IV Epiphanes was the first hellenistic king to refer to himself as divine on coins. The sacred seasons and the law refer to Jewish practices which were disrupted by Antiochus. The time, two times and half a time are about three and a half years which was roughly the time of Antiochus’ persecution.
B. 8:1-27 The vision of the ram and the he-goats:
Verses 1-14 The second vision: This vision is two years later than the previous vision. This is the chapter where the text returns from Aramaic to Hebrew. The two horns of verse 3 are Media and Persia. The ram and the goat may be a reference to a zodiac sign. The goat is also a symbol for Alexander the Great. Verse 8, Alexander died in 323 BCE and four generals divided his empire ( the four prominent horns). The little horn of verse 9 is again, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The beautiful land is Israel or Jerusalem. Antiochus actions were of cosmic significance. The prince of the host (v 11) may be the angel Michael. Antiochus violated the Temple and stopped worship there replacing the Temple offerings with sacrifices to Zeus.
Verses 15-27 Gabriel’s interpretation: Daniel bows before Gabriel where he had not bowed before Babylonian kings and idols. The period of wrath is the time of foreign domination. Verse 25, “not by human hands”, God will act against the arrogant ruler.
What would you say the lessons of the tales of chapters 5 and 6 are? What might the visions of chapters 7 and 8 mean to the original readers?
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.