Three of the most famous stories in the Bible are recorded in the book of Daniel: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the fiery furnace, the handwriting on the wall at Belshazzar's feast, and Daniel in the den of lions. Yet beyond these stories the book is a mystery to many—recording dreams, visions, and their interpretations which are difficult to understand. The central message of Yahweh's power and ultimate triumph is clear, however, and is as relevant today as it was in the time of Daniel.

The name "Daniel" means "Yahweh is my Judge," and the book is named after the author and principal character.

Author: The authorship and date of Daniel are two of the more contested issues in the field of biblical studies (see Date, below). Daniel claimed to write this book (Dan 12:4LEB), and he used the autobiographical first person from Dan 7:2LEB onward. The Jewish Talmud agrees with this testimony, and Christ attributed a quote from Dan 9:27LEB to "Daniel the prophet" (Mat 24:15LEB).

Daniel was a Jewish youth of noble birth carried off to Babylon in the first captivity under Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C. He became a member of the Babylonian royal service early in his captivity and spent most of his career as a high-ranking advisor to Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar's successors seem to have given Daniel less prominence, but after Babylon was conquered by the Persians, Daniel achieved considerable importance again under King Darius.

Daniel is one of the few well-known biblical characters about whom nothing negative is written. His life was characterized by faith, prayer, courage, consistency, and lack of compromise. This "greatly beloved" man (Dan 9:23LEB; Dan 10:11LEB, Dan 10:19LEB) was mentioned three times by his sixth-century-B.C. contemporary Ezekiel as an example of righteousness.

Date: Babylon rebelled against the Assyrian Empire in 626 B.C., overthrew the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in 612 B.C., and became master of the ancient Near East when it defeated Egypt at the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. Later that year, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar subdued Jerusalem and took prominent citizens of the city as hostages to Babylon, a group that included the young Daniel.

Daniel ministered for the full duration of the Babylonian captivity as a prophet and government official, and he continued on after Babylon was overcome by the Medes and Persians in 539 B.C. His prophetic ministry was directed to the gentile courts of Babylon and Persia, as well as to his Jewish countrymen. Zerubbabel led a return of the Jews to Jerusalem in the first year of Cyrus, and Daniel lived and ministered at least until the third year of Cyrus (536 B.C.; Dan 10:1LEB). Taking the statements of the book at face value, Daniel's book would appear to have been written by the ninth year of Cyrus (c. 530 B.C.).

Largely because of the extensive visions in Daniel concerning the empires which succeeded the Babylonian empire and a conviction that predictive prophecy is impossible, many critics have argued that Daniel is a fraudulent book written in the time of the Maccabees in the second century B.C., not in the sixth-century as the book claims. There are, however, strong reasons for accepting the sixth century date.

The argument that predictive prophecy is impossible, and therefore that the sequence of empires depicted in chapters 7 and 8 was written during the second-century-B.C. period of Greek domination, involves a dogmatic rejection of the supernatural. Furthermore, this argument for a second-century date assumes that the four empire nations depicted are Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece. It is apparent, however, that Daniel speaks of a combined Medo-Persian empire (Dan 5:28LEB), and that the description of the fourth empire fits Rome, which achieved dominance long after the alleged second-century-B.C. date of writing, rather than Greece.

Although it is claimed that the Aramaic portion of Daniel (chs. 2-7) is late Aramaic, recent studies have shown that Daniel's Aramaic is actually an example of early Imperial Aramaic—a form consistent with a sixth-century-B.C. date. In addition, the presence of fragments of the text of Daniel among the Dead Sea Scrolls—fragments which apparently date to the Maccabean period—does not allow sufficient time for a work supposedly written in the Maccabean period to have become widely accepted as Scripture.

Though some argue that there are historical errors in Daniel, and that these errors argue for a late date, recent evidence has demonstrated the historical accuracy of Daniel. While some questions remain, none pose an insuperable difficulty for a sixth-century-B.C. date.

Themes and Literary Structure: Daniel, the "Apocalypse of the Old Testament," presents a surprisingly comprehensive sweep of prophetic history. After an introductory chapter in Hebrew, Daniel switches to the Aramaic language in chapters 2-7 to describe the future course of the gentile world powers. Then in chapters 8-12, Daniel reverts to Hebrew to survey the future of the Jewish nation under gentile domination.

The theme of Yahweh's sovereign control in the affairs of world history clearly emerges and provides comfort to the future church, as well as to the Jews whose nation was destroyed by the Babylonians. The Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans will come and go, but Yahweh will establish His kingdom through His redeemed people forever.

Another theme of this book is the emphasis on separation to Yahweh, with Daniel as the ultimate example. From his decision not to eat the king's food (Dan 1:8-16LEB), to his refusal to pray to the king (Dan 6:4-24LEB), Daniel displayed such an uncompromising spirit that spectacular opportunities were opened for Yahweh to display His power on Daniel's behalf.