Monday, 7 May 2018

Structure of Sefer Daniel

Recently I began a project to learn sefer Daniel with the 929 site. Daniel is a book that always held a certain appeal for me, perhaps because of the memorable stories, perhaps because of the strange allure of Aramaic language and Babylonian culture. As such, for the past few weeks I've been working my way through the book, so this will hopefully be the first of a few posts on the topic. Note: I'm dedicating this series to my father, Zwi ben Yakov. May Hashem grant him a speedy and successful resolution to his current medical issues.

High Level Structure

Let's begin with the high-level structure of Daniel. The book has 12 chapters, which I have summarized as follows:

Ch. Topic Narrator Hero Lang Time Period{King/Year}
1 Children in Court 3rd Person Daniel+3 Heb Yhykm/3->Neb.->Koresh/1
2 Dream of the Statue 3rd Person Daniel Arm, Heb Nebuchadnezzar/2
3 The Fiery Funace 3rd Person 3 Arm Nebuchadnezzar/?
4 Dream of the Great Tree Nebuchadnanezzar Daniel Arm Nebuchadnezzar/?
5 The Writing on the Wall 3rd Person Daniel Arm Belshazar/?
6 The Lion's Den 3rd Person Daniel Arm Darius the Mede/1->Cyrus
7 Dream of 4 Beasts 3rd Person Daniel Arm Belshazar/1
8 Dream of Ram + Goat Daniel Daniel Heb Belshazar/3
9 Prayer for Jerusalem Daniel Daniel Heb Darius the Mede/1
10 Vision of Angels P1 3rd Person Daniel Heb Cyrus/3
11 Vision of Angels P2 3rd Person Daniel Heb Cyrus/3
12 Vision of Angels P3 3rd Person Daniel Heb Cyrus/3

As you can see, Daniel is a rather Eclectic work of literature. It's chapters comprise different languages, different timelines, different narrators, even different heroes. Is this a literary choice, reflecting the virtual Ziggurat of Babylonian culture the exiled Judeans found themselves thrown into? Does it reflect a history of editing and revision, as new stories were added to an existing text? Or is simply a collection of Daniel's writings, written at different periods over the course of a long life?

What is generally agreed upon is that the Book of Daniel is divided into two distinct parts:

Daniel Part 1

The first 6 chapters take the form of Court Tales, which Oxford Reference defines as:
A popular genre of the Persian and Hellenistic periods...that emphasize the wisdom of the courtier, often in settings of danger
They seem to be in chronological order, at least in that they begin with King Nebuchadnezzar, move to Belshazer, and end with Darius. The stories are written mostly in Aramaic, with a third-person narrator, and Daniel as the protagonist. The exceptions are:

  • Chapter 1 and the beginning of ch. 2 are in Hebrew
  • Chapter 1 features all four companions, and Chapter 3 features the 3 others(Daniel is conspicuously missing)
  • Chapter 4 is written from the perspective of Nebuchadnezzar, who relates his dream and Daniel's interpretation
One final point is that these stories seem form a cohesive unit, with intertextualities between them, such as:
  1. The 3 companions seem to be mentioned in Chapter 1 only because they are the heroes of Chapter 3
  2. In Chapter 5 the Queen recommends the King to Daniel, apparently based on his success in chapters 2, 4
  3. The Golden statue in Chapter 3 is implicitly Nebuchadnezzar's response to the interpretation of the dream in Chapter 2
  4. Chapters 1-4 all involve King Nebuchadnezzar and create a continued dialogue between him and God
  5. The chapters seem to come in similar pairs: 4 and 5 are visions of the downfall of haughty kings, while 3 and 6 are courtly intrigues to bring down Daniel and his companions based on their religious devotion

Daniel Part 2

The last 6 chapters are a collection of four dreams/visions Daniel has seen. They are a less cohesive unit than the first part of the book:
  • The first vision is in Aramaic, the other 3 are in Hebrew
  • The first and forth visions are written in first-person, while the second and third are in 3rd person
  • Besides that, the different visions don't seem to reference or build-on one another
The general theme of these visions is the rise and fall of Babylonian, Persions, Greek, and Roman empires according to God's decrees, as well as the rebuilding of Temple in Jerusalem and return of the Judean exiles.

Chapter 7

Rabbi Yonatan Grossman argues that Chapter 7 actually belongs to the first part of the book. One reason he gives for this is that it is written in Aramaic, just like chapters 2-6. The other reason it that chapters 2-7 thereby form a chiastic structure.

  • Ch1: Children in Court
    • Ch2: Dream of 4-Part Statue(represents 4 Empires)
      • Ch3: Fiery Furnace(Daniel's companions are tested)
        • Ch4: Dream of the Great Tree(downfall of haughty king)
        • Ch5: The Writing on the Wall(downfall of haughty king)
      • Ch6: Lion's Den(Daniel is tested)
    • Ch7: Dream of 4 Beasts(represents 4 Empires)

What emerges is a series of stories about lone Israelite exiles surviving among the Babylonian/Persian court. Rather than being subsumed by or trampled under the dominant culture, they hold to their faith and even thrive, dwelling among the halls of power, while their host Empires rise and fall by God's decree.

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