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Book of Daniel  

Anathea E. Portier-Young

Extant in three main ancient editions, the book of Daniel is a Jewish text composed c. 165 bce. Major themes are divine and human sovereignty, allegiance, identity, knowledge, and eschatology. The bilingual Hebrew and Aramaic version preserved in the Masoretic Text (MT) comprises twelve chapters and is one of the earliest examples of the apocalypse literary genre. Chapters 1–6 contain court legends about four Judean captives in Babylon—Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael (renamed Belteshazzzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego)—during the reigns of four kings: Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus. Daniel excels as an interpreter of dreams and visions, yet as the four Judeans rise to positions of power, they must choose between loyalty to king and loyalty to God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are sentenced to death in a fiery furnace for refusing to worship an idol, and Daniel is thrown into a pit of lions for praying to his deity. Yet each of the four experiences divine deliverance. In chapters 7–12, Daniel recounts a series of apocalyptic visions and discourses foretelling a sequence of empires and the concomitant subjugation, suffering, resistance, and deliverance of the Judean people. The ancient Greek versions of the text, Old Greek and Proto-Theodotion, differ in various respects from MT Daniel, most notably in their inclusion of the tales of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Azariah, and the Song of the Three Youths. The book of Daniel influenced the development of Jewish and Christian eschatology, including beliefs about resurrection and judgment after death. Early Christian art and liturgy drew on the tales in Daniel to express hope of salvation. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus identifies himself with the “one like a human being” (commonly translated “son of man”; Dan. 7), implicitly identifying the kingdom he inaugurates with the kingdom of the holy ones that succeeds the four empires in Daniel’s vision.