Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback

Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Background Image

Book of Daniel

Click to enlarge

Daniel, Book of.—In the Hebrew Bible, and in most recent Protestant versions, the Book of Daniel is limited to its proto-canonical portions. In the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and many other ancient and modern translations of Holy Writ, it comprises both its proto- and its deutero-canonical parts, which two sets of parts have an equal right to be considered as inspired, and to be included in a treatment of the Book of Daniel. As in the Vulgate nearly all the deutero-canonical portions of that prophetical writing form a kind of appendix to its proto-canonical contents in the Hebrew text, the present article will deal first with the Book of Daniel as it is found in the Hebrew Bible, and next, with its deutero-canonical portions.

PROTO-CANONICAL PORTIONS.—(I) Contents.—The Book of Daniel, as it now stands in the ordinary Hebrew Bibles, is generally divided into two main parts. The first includes a series of narratives which are told in the third person (chaps. i-vi), and the second, a series of visions which are described in the first person (chaps. vii-xii). The opening chapter of the first series may be considered as a preface to the whole work. It introduces to the reader the Hebrew heroes of the book, Daniel and his three fellow-captives, Ananias, Misael, and Azarias, and records the manner in which these noble youths obtained a high rank in Nabuchodonosor‘s service, although they had refused to be defiled by eating of the royal food. The second chapter relates a disquieting dream of the king which Daniel alone was able accurately to set forth and interpret. Nabuchodonosor‘s dream was that of a great statue made up of various materials and broken in pieces by a small stone which became a mountain and filled the whole earth. Daniel‘s interpretation was to the effect that the several parts of the statue with their various materials symbolized as many monarchies with their respective power, while the stone which destroyed them and grew into a great mountain prefigured a universal and everlasting kingdom which would break in pieces all the other kingdoms, and which, of course, is no other than that of the Messias.

The next section (iii, 1-30; Vulgate, iii, 1-23, 91-97) narrates how Daniel‘s three companions, having refused to worship a colossal statue set up by Nabuchodonosor, were cast into a highly-heated furnace in which they were preserved unharmed, whereupon the king issued a decree in favor of their God and promoted them to places of dignity. The following section (iii, 31-iv; Vulgate, iii, 98-iv) contains Nabuchodonosor‘s letter to all peoples and nations, recounting his dream of a mighty tree hewed down at God‘s bidding, and its interpretation by Daniel, together with its fulfilment in the form of a seven years’ madness which befell the king, and the recovery from which was the occasion of his thankful letter. The fifth chapter (Heb. Bible, v-vi, 1) describes Baltasar‘s profane banquet, the mysterious handwriting on the wall, Daniel‘s interpretation of that writing, and the overthrow, on that same night, of Baltasar‘s kingdom. In the sixth chapter Daniel is represented as the object of the special favor of Darius the Mede, and also of the persistent jealousy of the other officers of the Crown, who finally succeed in having him thrown into the lions’ den, because of his faithfulness in praying to God three times a day; upon Daniel‘s miraculous preservation, Darius decrees that all in his kingdom should “dread and fear the God of Daniel“.

The second main part of the book in the Hebrew Bible (vii-xii) is taken up with four visions which Daniel describes in the first person. The first of these visions (ch. vii) is referred to the first year of Baltasar‘s reign, and offers a close parallel to the dream set forth and explained in the second chapter of the book. The nightly vision was of four several beasts coming out of the sea, and symbolical of the Gentile powers judged in due time by “the Ancient of days”, and finally replaced by the universal and everlasting Messianic kingdom. Like the first, the second vision (ch. viii) is ascribed to the reign of Baltasar, and represents worldly powers under the figure of animals. Daniel sees a ram with two horns (the Medes and the Persians) pushing victoriously towards the west, north, and south, until it is struck by a he-goat (the Greeks) with a great horn (Alexander) between its eyes. This great horn is soon broken in its turn, and gives place to four others (the Greek kingdoms of Egypt, Syria, Macedonia, and Thrace), from one of which grows out a “little horn”, namely Antiochus Epiphanes. This prince is not, indeed, named by the Angel Gabriel, who explains the vision to Daniel, but is clearly designated by the description of the doings of the “little horn” against the host of heaven and its prince (God), desecrating “the sanctuary”, interrupting the daily sacrifice for about three years and a half, and finally “broken without hand”.

The next chapter contains the prophecy of the seventy weeks, which is referred to the first year of Darius, the son of Assuerus. As Daniel was supplicating God for the fulfilment of His promises of mercy in Jeremias, xxix, 10 sq., or xxv, 11, he was favored with the vision of the Angel Gabriel. The heavenly messenger explained to him how the seventy years of desolation foretold by Jeremias should be understood. They are seventy weeks of years, falling into three periods of seven, sixty-two, and one weeks of years, respectively. The first period, one of seven weeks, or forty-nine years, will extend from the going forth of “the word” for the rebuilding of Jerusalem to “an anointed one, a prince”. During the second, of sixty-two weeks or four hundred and thirty-four years, the Holy City will be built, though “in straitness of times”. At the end of this period “an anointed one” will be cut off, and the people of a prince who shall come will “destroy” the city and the sanctuary; he will make a firm covenant with many for one week (or seven years), and during a half of this week he will cause sacrifice and oblation to cease and the abomination of desolation to be set up, until he meets with his fate. The last vision, ascribed to the third year of Cyrus, is recorded in chapters x-xii. Its opening part (x-xi, 1) gives a description of the vision with a reference to Media, Persia, and Greece. The second part (xi, 2-45) announces many events connected with four Persian kings, with Alexander and his successors, and more particularly with the deeds of a king of the north, i.e. Antiochus Epiphanes, against Egypt, the Jews, the Temple, etc., until he should come to an end. The conclusion of the vision (xii) declares how Michael (the guardian angel of Israel) will deliver the people. Mention is made of a resurrection of the dead, followed by rewards and punishments. For 1290 days, or about three and one half years, the daily sacrifice will cease and the abomination of desolation will be set up. Blessed is he who continues steadfast till 1335 days.

(2) Object and Unity.—From these contents it readily appears that the Book of Daniel has not for its object to give a summary historical account of the period of the Babylonian Exile, or of the life of Daniel himself, since both its parts profess to give only a few isolated facts connected with either the Exile or the Prophet’s life. From the same contents it can also be readily seen that the object of that sacred writing is not to record in substance prophetical addresses similar to those which make up the works ascribed to distinct prophets in the Old-Testament literature. In respect to both matter and form, the contents of the Prophecy of Daniel are of a peculiar kind which has no exact parallel in Holy Writ, except in the Apocalypse of St. John. In Daniel, as in this last book of the Bible, one is in presence of contents whose general purpose is undoubtedly to comfort God‘s people under the ordeal of a cruel persecution, chiefly by means of symbolical visions bearing on “the time of the end”. This is the obvious purpose of the four visions recorded in the second part of the Book of Daniel (chaps. vii-xii), and also of Nabuchodonosor‘s dream as given and explained in the second chapter of the first part of that inspired writing: the persecution therein in view is that of Antiochus Epiphanes, and the Jews are to be comforted by the assured prospect both of the fate that awaits their oppressor and of the setting up of God‘s universal and eternal kingdom. Nor have the narratives in chapters iii-vi a different general purpose: in each and in all of them the generous and constant servants of the true GodDaniel and his fellow captives—triumph in the end, while their oppressors, however mighty or numerous, are ultimately punished or made to acknowledge and promote the glory of the God of Israel. This apocalyptic object of the Book of Daniel is admitted by most scholars of the present day, and is in harmony with the place assigned to that sacred writing in the Hebrew Bible, where it appears not among “the Prophets”, or second great division of the original text, but among “the Writings”, or third main division of that text.

As apocalyptic writings usually bear the impress of compilation, one might not unnaturally be tempted to regard the Book of Daniel—whose apocalyptic character has just been described—as a compilatory work. In fact, many scholars of the last century—some of whom were Catholic—have set forth positive grounds to prove that the author of the book has actually put together such documents as could make for his general purpose. At the present day, however, the opposite view, which maintains the literary unity of the Prophecy of Daniel, is practically universal. It is felt that the uniform plan of the book, the studied arrangement of its subject-matter, the strong similarity in language of its two main parts, etc. are arguments which tell very powerfully in favor of the latter position.

(3) Authorship and Date of Composition.—Once it is admitted that the Book of Daniel is the work of one single author, there naturally arises the important question: Is this sole writer the Prophet Daniel who composed the work during the Exile (586-536 B.C.), or, on the contrary, some author, now unknown, who wrote this inspired book at a later date, which can still be made out? The traditional view, in vigour chiefly among Catholics, is to the effect that the whole work, as found in the Hebrew Bible, should be directly referred to Daniel, whose name it bears. It admits, indeed, that numerous alterations have been introduced into the primitive text of the book in the course of ages. It maintains, nevertheless, that both the narratives (chaps. i-vi) wherein Daniel seems to be described by some one else as acting as recorded, and the symbolic visions (chaps. vii-xii) wherein he describes himself as favored with heavenly revelations, were written, not simply by an author who was contemporary with that prophet and lived in Babylon in the sixth century B.C., but by Daniel himself. Such difference in the use of persons is regarded as arising naturally from the respective contents of the two parts of the book: Daniel employed the third person in recording events, for the event is its own witness; and the first person in relating prophetical visions, for such communications from above need the personal attestation of those to whom they are imparted. Over against this time-honored position which ascribes to Daniel the authorship of the book which bears his name, and admits 570-536 B.C. as its date of composition, stands a comparatively recent theory which has been widely accepted by contemporary scholars. Chiefly on the basis of historical and linguistic grounds, this rival theory refers the origin of the Book of Daniel, in its present form, to a later writer and period. It regards that apocalyptic writing as the work of an unknown author who composed it during the period of the Machabees, and more precisely in the time of Antiochus IV, Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.).

The following are the extrinsic testimonies which conservative scholars usually and confidently set forth as proving that the Book of Daniel must be referred to the well-known Prophet of that name and consequently to a much earlier date than that advocated by their opponents. Christian tradition, both in the East and in the West, has been practically unanimous from Christ’s time to the present day in admitting the genuineness of the Book of Daniel. Its testimony is chiefly based on Matthew, xxiv, 15: “When therefore you shall see The abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place: he that readeth let him understand”, in which passage Christ treats Daniel‘s visions as true oracles, and expressly names that Prophet as their writer. In so doing, it is argued, Christ endorsed and confirmed by His authority the view which was then received among the Jews, and which regarded Daniel as the author of the book which bears his name. Jewish tradition, both during and before Christ’s time, bears also distinct witness to the genuineness of the Prophecy of Daniel. In his “Antiquities of the Jews” (Bk. XI, ch. viii, §5), the learned Jewish priest and Pharisee, Josephus (about A.D. 40-100), writes: “When the Book of Daniel was shown to Alexander the Great (d. B.C. 323), wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended”. Before the Christian Era, the First Book of the Machabees (written very early in the first century B.C.) shows acquaintance with the Septuagint version of the Prophecy of Daniel (cf. I Mach., i, 54, with Dan., ix, 27; I Mach., ii, 59, 60, with Dan., iii, vi), whence it is inferred (I) that at that date the Book of Daniel must have been for some considerable time rendered into Greek; and (2) that its composition must have preceded this translation by some considerable time more, so that its origin under Antiochus Epiphanes is hardly probable. Again, the Sibylline Oracles (Bk. III, verses 388 sqq.), supposed to have been written about 170 B.C., contain an allusion to Antiochus IV, and to the ten horns of Dan., vii, 7, 24, and therefore point to an earlier date than that which is proposed by the advocates of the recent theory. More particularly still, the Septuagint translation of the Pentateuch, made about 285 B.C., exhibits in Deut., xxxii, 8, a doctrine of guardian angels which it has apparently borrowed from the Book of Daniel, and thus tends to prove the existence of that inspired writing long before the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. Finally, according to Josephus (Contra Apion, VIII), the Old Testament Canon of the Jews of Palestine, which has always included Daniel among “the Writings”, was closed by Esdras (middle of the fifth century B.C.), that is to say, at a date so near the composition of the book that its genuineness could then be easily ascertained, and would naturally be the reason for the insertion of the work into the Palestinian Canon.

To strengthen the inference drawn from these external testimonies, conservative scholars appeal to the following direct and indirect intrinsic grounds. Throughout the second part of his book Daniel speaks in the first person and thereby gives himself implicitly as the writer of chapters vii-xii. Nay more, in the words: “Then he [Daniel] wrote the dream and told the sum of the matters”, we have a statement which ascribes expressly to him the writing of the first vision (chap. vii) and, implicitly, that of the subsequent visions, which are indissolubly bound up with the opening one. Now, if the visions described in the second part of the book were recorded by Daniel himself, the same thing must be admitted in regard to narratives which make up the first part of the book (chaps. i-vi), because of the acknowledged unity of the work. And in this way direct intrinsic evidence is considered as making for the Danielic authorship. The indirect intrinsic grounds point in the same direction, inasmuch as they tend to show that the author of the Book of Daniel was (I) a resident in Babylon; (2) one who wrote in the period to which the Prophet Daniel belonged; and (3) one who is best identified with that Prophet himself. The first of these positions, it is said, is borne out by the close acquaintance which the author evinces in the historical portion of the work (chaps. i-vi) with the manners, customs, history, religion, etc. of the Babylonians: the minute details he refers to, the local coloring of his descriptions, his exact references to facts, are such as only a resident in Babylon could be fairly supposed to possess. It is likewise borne out by a comparison of the form of Daniel‘s prophecies in chapters vii-xii with the general surroundings of one living in Babylon and with the Babylonian monuments in particular: the imagery of Daniel‘s vision in the seventh chapter, for instance, is nearly the same as that found on monuments in the ruins of Ninive; and in chapters viii, 2 (Heb. text), and x, 4, the river-banks are most appropriately given as the scenes of Daniel‘s visions. While thus very familiar with Babylonia, the author of the Book of Daniel betrays no such special knowledge of Persia and Greece as would be natural to expect if, instead of living in the sixth century B.C., he had been a contemporary of Antiochus Epiphanes.

This absence of distinct knowledge of the times subsequent to the Babylonian period has sometimes been urged to prove the second position, viz. that the writer belonged to that period, and to no other. Oftener, however, and more strongly, the linguistic features of the Book of Daniel have been brought forth to establish that second position. It has been affirmed, on the one hand, that the Hebrew of Daniel, with its numerous Aramaisms, bears a close affinity to that of Ezechiel, and is therefore that of the period of the Exile; and, on the other hand, that the Aramaic portions of Daniel (ii, 4-vii) are in wonderful agreement with those of Esdras, while they are distinguished by many Hebrew idioms from the language of the earliest Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament. In particular, the easy transition from the Hebrew to the Aramaic (ii, 4), and the reverse (viii, 1 sqq.), is explicable, we are told, only on the supposition that the writer and the readers of the book were equally familiar with both; this free handling of both languages suits not the Machabean age but that of Daniel, or of the Exile, in which both tongues were naturally in equal use. The intrinsic grounds making for the last position, viz. that the author of the Book of Daniel is best identified with the Prophet of that name, may be summed up in this simple statement: while no other seer during the Babylonian Exile has been, and indeed can be, named as the probable recorder of the visions described in that inspired writing, Daniel, owing to his position at the court of Babylon, to his initiation into the wisdom of the Chaldees, and to the problem of his calling as God had shown it to him, was eminently fitted at that time for writing the prophecies which had been imparted to him for the comfort of the Jews of his time and of subsequent ages.

Scholars who have examined closely and without bias the details of the foregoing external and internal evidence have come to the conclusion that this evidence shows that rationalistic critics are decidedly wrong in denying totally the historical character of the Book of Daniel. At the same time, many among them still question the absolute cogency of the extrinsic and intrinsic grounds set forth to prove the Danielic authorship. These latter scholars rightly reject as untrue the statement of Josephus, which refers the close of the Old Testament Canon to the time of Esdras; and in the well-known bias of the same Jewish historian for magnifying whatever concerns his nation they have a valid reason for doubting his assertion that the prophecies of Daniel were shown to Alexander the Great when this prince passed through Palestine. The alleged reference to Daniel‘s expressions in the Septuagint version of Deuteronomy they easily explain as a later gloss, and the actual acquaintance of the First Book of the Machabees with the Prophecy of Daniel they not unnaturally regard as compatible with the non-Danielic authorship, and indeed with the composition of the Book of Daniel in the time of Antiochus IV. As regards the last external testimony in favor of the genuineness of that sacred writing, viz. Christ’s words concerning Daniel and his prophecy, these same scholars think that, without going against the reverence due to Christ’s Person, and the credence due His words, they have a right not to consider the passage appealed to in Matt., xxiv, 15, as absolutely conclusive: Jesus does not say explicitly that Daniel wrote the prophecies that bear his name; to infer this from His words is to assume something which may well be questioned, viz. that in referring to the contents of a book of Holy Writ, He necessarily confirmed the traditional view of His day concerning authorship; in point of fact, many scholars whose belief in Christ’s truthfulness and Divinity is beyond question—such Catholics, for instance, as Father Souciet, S.J., Bishop Hanneberg, Francois Lenormant, and others—have thought that Christ’s reference to Daniel in Matt., xxiv, 15, does not bear out the Danielic authorship as it is claimed by conservative scholars chiefly on the basis of His words.

Having thus shown, to their own satisfaction, the inconclusive character of the external evidence, or mainstay in favor of the traditional view, the opponents of the Danielic authorship endeavor to prove that internal evidence points decisively to the late origin which they ascribe to the Book of Daniel. Briefly stated, the following are their principal arguments. As it is now found in the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Daniel contains historical references which tend to prove that its author is not an eyewitness of the events alluded to, as would be the case if he were the Prophet Daniel. Had this author lived during the Exile, it is argued, he would not have stated that “in the third year of the reign of Joakim, king of Juda, Nabuchodonosor, king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem, and besieged it” (Dan., i, 1), since this conflicts with Jeremias, xxxvi, 9, 29; he would not have repeatedly used the word “Chaldeans” as the name of a learned caste, this sense being foreign to the Assyro-Babylonian language, and of an origin later than the Exile; he would not have spoken of Baltasar as “king” (v, 1, 2, 3, 5, etc., viii, 1), as the “son of Nabuchodonosor” (v, 2, 18, etc.), since it is ascertained that Baltasar was never king, and that neither he nor his father had ally blood-relationship to Nabuchodonosor; he would have avoided the statement that “Darius the Mede succeeded to the kingdom” of Baltasar (v. 31), since there is no room for such a ruler between Nabonahid, Baltasar‘s father, and Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon; he could not have spoken of “the Books” (Dan., ix, 2—Heb. text), an expression which implies that the prophecies of Jeremias formed part of a well-known collection of sacred books, which assuredly was not the case in the time of Nabuchodonosor and Cyrus, etc. The linguistic features of the book, as it exists in the Hebrew Bible, point also, it is said, to a date later than that of Daniel: its Hebrew is of the distinctly late type which followed Nehemias’ time; in both its Hebrew and its Aramaic portions there are Persian words, and at least three Greek words, which of course should be referred to a period later than the Babylonian Exile.

Not satisfied with the merely negative inference that the Book of Daniel was not composed during the Captivity, the opponents of the Danielic authorship strive to reach a positive conclusion as to the date of its origin. For this purpose, they examine the contents of that inspired writing, and they think that by viewing both its parts in the light of history, they are led to refer definitely its composition to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. It can be readily seen, we are told, that the interest of the visions which make up the second part of Daniel culminates in the relations subsisting between the Jews and Antiochus. It is this prince who manifestly is the subject of Dan., viii, 9-13, 23-25, and who is very probably “the little horn” spoken of in Dan., vii, 8, 20, 21, 25, while events of his reign are apparently described in Dan., ix, 25-27, and undoubtedly so in xi, 21-45; xii, 6, 7, 10-12. Whoever bears this in mind, it is argued, is led by the analogy of Scripture to admit that the book belongs to the period of Antiochus. The rule is that “even when the prophets of the Old Testament deliver a Divine message for far distant days, they have in view the needs of the people of their own day. They rebuke their sins, they comfort their sorrows, they strengthen their hopes, they banish their fears. But of all this there is no trace in Daniel, if the book was written in the time of Cyrus. Its message is avowedly for the time of the end, for the period of Antiochus and the Machabees“. And this inference is confirmed by the fact that the narratives told in the first part, when studied in reference to the events of Antiochus’s reign, are found to impart lessons especially suited to the Jews of that period. The question of eating meat (Dan., i. 8 sqq.) was at that time a test of faith (cf. I Mach., i, 65 sq.; II Mach., vi, 18 sqq.; vii). The lessons of the fiery furnace and the lions’ den (Dan., iii, vi) were most appropriate in the time of the Machabees when the Jews were ordered on the pain of death to worship foreign deities (cf. I Mach., i, 43-54). The accounts of the humbling of Nabuchodonosor (Dan., iv) and the fate of Baltasar (Dan., v) were also particularly calculated to comfort the Jews so cruelly oppressed by Antiochus and his officers. Such a view of the date of the Book of Daniel is in harmony with the apocalyptic character of the whole work, and can be confirmed, it is said, by certain facts in the external history of the book, such for instance as its place among “the Writings” in the Palestinian Canon, the absence of all traces of Daniel‘s influence upon the post-exilic literature before the Machabean period, etc. Despite the fact that some of these arguments against the Danielic authorship have not yet been fully disproved, Catholic scholars generally abide by the traditional view, although they are not bound to it by any decision of the Church.

(4) Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks.—Several sections of the Book of Daniel contain Messianic predictions the general import of which has been sufficiently pointed out in setting forth the contents and object of that inspired writing. One of these predictions, however, claims a further notice, owing to the special interest connected with its contents. It is known as the prophecy of the seventy weeks, and is found in an obscure passage (ix, 24-27), of which the following is a literal rendering: “24. Seventy weeks [literally, heptads] have been decreed upon thy people and thy holy city, to close transgression and to make an end of sins, and to expiate iniquity, and to bring in ever-lasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy [literally: holiness of holinesses]. 25. Know then and discern: from the going forth of the word to build again Jerusalem until an anointed one, a prince, [there are] seven weeks, and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again [with] broad place and moat, and that in straitness of times. 26. And after the sixty-two weeks an anointed one will be cut off and he will have no … [Heb. VAN LV; Sept. kai ouk estai]; and the people of a prince who shall come will destroy the city and the sanctuary, and the end thereof [will be] in a flood, and until the end [shall be] war, a sentence of desolations. 27. He will make a firm covenant with many for a week, and for half a week he shall cause sacrifice and oblation to cease, and instead thereof [`L KNV, a more probable reading than the present one: `L KNP ‘upon the wing’] the abomination that makes desolate, and that until the consummation and that which is determined be poured upon the desolator.”

The difficulty of rendering this passage of the Hebrew text is only surpassed by that of interpreting its contents. Most commentators admit, indeed, that the seventy weeks are weeks of years, which fall into three periods of 7, 62, and 1, weeks of years, respectively, but they are still at variance with regard to both the exact starting point and the precise terminus of the seventy weeks. Most of them, too, regard the prophecy of the seventy weeks as having a Messianic reference, but even all Catholic interpreters do not agree as to the precise nature of this reference, some among them, after Hardouin, S.J., Calmet, O.S.B., etc., seeing in the contents of the prophecy a typical reference to Christ, in preference to the literal one which has been, and is still, more prevalent in the Church. Briefly stated, the following are the three principal interpretations which have been given by Dan., ix, 24-27. The first is the ancient view, which may be called traditional, and which maintains that the prophecy of the seventy weeks refers directly to the appearance of Christ in the flesh, His death, His establishment of the New Covenant, and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. The second is that of most recent scholars, chiefly non-Catholic, who refer the whole passage directly to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, with (Christians generally) or without (Rationalists at large) a typical reference to Christ. The third is that of some Fathers of the Church and some recent theologians who understand the prophecy in an eschatological sense, as a prediction of the development of the Kingdom of God from the end of the Exile to the fulfilment of that kingdom at Christ’s second Advent.

(5) Text and Principal Ancient Versions.—One of the chief reasons of the obscurity which surrounds the interpretation of Dan., ix, 24-27, is found in the imperfect condition in which the original text of the Book of Daniel has come to us. Not only in the prophecy of the seventy weeks, but also throughout both its Hebrew (Dan., i-ii, 4; viii-xii) and its Aramaic (ii, 4-vii) sections, that text betrays various defects which it is easier to notice and to point out than to correct. Linguistics, the context, and the ancient translations of Daniel are most of the time insufficient guides towards the sure restoration of the primitive reading. The oldest of these translations is the Greek version known as the Septuagint, whose text has come down to us, not in its original form, but in that given to it by Origen (died about A.D. 254) for the composition of his Hexapla. Before this revision by Origen, the text of the Septuagint was regarded as so unreliable, because of its freedom in rendering, and of the alterations which had been introduced into it etc., that, during the second century of our era, it was discarded by the Church, which adopted in its stead the Greek version of Daniel made in that same century by the Jewish proselyte, Theodotion. This version of Theodotion was apparently a skillful revision of the Septuagint by means of the original text, and is the one embodied in the authentic edition of the Septuagint published by Sixtus V in 1587. In Dr. H. B. Swete’s edition of the Septuagint, Origen’s revision and Theodotion’s version are conveniently printed side by side on opposite pages (vol. III, pp. 498 sqq.). The version of the proto-canonical portions of the Book of Daniel in the Latin Vulgate is St. Jerome’s rendering from practically the same He-brew and Aramaic text as is found in the current Hebrew Bibles.

DEUTERO-CANONICAL PORTIONS.—The Hebrew and Aramaic sections of the Book of Daniel, thus far dealt with, are the only ones found in the Hebrew Bible and recognized by Protestants as sacred and canonical. But besides those sections, the Vulgate, the Greek translations of Daniel (Septuagint and Theodotion), together with other ancient and modern versions, contain three important portions, which are deuterocanonical. These are: (I) the Prayer of Azarias and the Song of the Three Children, usually inserted in the third chapter between the twenty-third and the twenty-fourth verses; (2) the history of Susanna, found as ch. xiii, at the end of the book; (3) the history of the destruction of Bel and the dragon, terminating the book as ch. xiv. The first of these fragments (Dan., iii, 24-90) consists of a prayer in which Azarias, standing in the midst of the furnace, asks that God may deliver him and his companions, Ananias and Misael, and put their enemies to shame (verses 24-45); a brief notice of the fact that the Angel of the Lord saved the Three Children from all harm, whereas the flame consumed the Chaldeans above the furnace (46-50); and a doxology (52-56) leading on to the hymn familiarly known as the “Benedicite” (57-90). The second fragment (ch. xiii) tells the history of Susanna. She was the faithful wife of a wealthy Jew named Joakim, and resident in Babylon. Accused falsely of adultery by two unworthy elders whose criminal advances she had repelled, she was sentenced to death by the tribunal before which she had been arraigned. As Susanna was led forth to execution, Daniel, moved by God, remonstrated with the people upon permitting without sufficient inquiry the condemnation of a daughter of Israel. He examined himself the two pretended witnesses separately, and proved their testimony to be self-contradictory. In fulfilment of the Law of Moses (Deut., xix, 18, 19), the two elders were put to death, “and Daniel became great in the sight of the people from that day, and thenceforward.” The last deuterocanonical part of Daniel (ch. xiv) contains the narrative of the destruction of Bel and the dragon. It recounts first the clever manner in which Daniel undeceived the king, Cyrus, who regarded a Babylonian idol, called Bel, as “a living god” that actually ate ample offerings, whereas these were really consumed at night by the pagan priests and their families: in consequence, these impostors were put to death, and Bel and its temple destroyed. It records, in the second place, how Daniel caused to die a great dragon that the Babylonians worshipped, and that the king wished him to adore as “a living god”. Enraged at this, the people forced the king to deliver Daniel to them, and cast the Prophet into a lions’ den. Daniel remained there unharmed for six days, and fed by the prophet Habacuc who was miraculously transported from Judea to Babylon. On the seventh day, the king having found Daniel alive in the midst of the lions, praised aloud the God of Daniel and delivered the Prophet’s accusers to the fate which Daniel had miraculously escaped.

The Greek is, indeed, the oldest form under which these deutero-canonical parts of the Book of Daniel have come down to us; but this is no decisive proof that they were composed in that language. In fact, the greater probability is in favor of a Hebrew original no longer extant. It is plain that the view which regards these three fragments as not originally written in Greek makes it easier to suppose that they were from the beginning integrant parts of the book. Yet, it does not settle the question of their date and author-ship. It is readily granted by conservative scholars (Vigouroux, Gilly, etc.) that the last two are probably from a different and later author than the rest of the book; while it is maintained, on the contrary, by nearly all Catholic writers, that the Prayer of Azarias and the Song of the Three Children cannot be dissociated from the preceding and the following context in Dan., iii, and that therefore they should be referred to the time of Daniel, if not to that Prophet himself. In reality, there are wellnigh insuperable difficulties to such an early date for Dan., iii, 24-90, so that this fragment also, like the other two, should most likely be ascribed to some unknown Jewish author who lived long after the Exile. Lastly, although the deuterocanonical portions of Daniel seem to contain anachronisms, they should not be treated—as was clone by St. Jerome—as mere fables. More sober scholarship will readily admit that they embody oral or written traditions not altogether devoid of historical value.

But, whatever may be thought concerning these literary or historical questions, there cannot be the least doubt that in decreeing the sacred and canonical character of these fragments the Council of Trent proclaimed the ancient and morally unanimous belief of the Church of God.


Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!