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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Literary Form and Structure.

1.

Two genres are contained in Daniel. One is the story, narrated in the third person, represented by chs. 2–6 ; the other is the vision report, narrated in the first person (with Daniel the speaker). Ch. 4 is unusual in being a story narrated in the first person by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and ch. 1 , which contains a little story about Daniel and his friends, seems to have been composed especially to link Daniel with the biblical history and to introduce the characters in the following stories.

2.

The stories fall into two types: deliverance stories and interpretation stories. Deliverance stories (chs. 1, 3, 6 ) relate some miraculous preservation or rescue of the hero or heroes. Interpretation stories (chs. 2, 4, 5 ) focus on the hero's remarkable ability to explain a puzzling sign, whether a dream or writing on a wall. The two genres combine in important ways to present a single theme: the God of Daniel is the omnipotent lord who controls history, setting up and removing earthly rulers and empires, but also rescuing his people from the power of those kings and teaching them the limits of their sovereignty. He is thus the only sure source of knowledge about the future, and through him Daniel can predict what will happen in the future. All these stories, set in a foreign court and concerning the success of a wise courtier over his rivals, represent a well-known genre in the ancient Near East (see Wills 1990 ). In the Bible the genre is also represented in the stories of Esther and Joseph.

3.

The visions of chs. 7–12 focus on that future. Already in ch. 2 Daniel has foretold a sequence of four mighty kingdoms which will culminate in a great and everlasting kingdom. In four visions (chs. 7, 8, 9, and 10–12 ) he narrates how he saw visions which are subsequently interpreted to him by a heavenly being as being symbolic of the rise and destruction of these kingdoms. The one exception here is ch. 9 , where Daniel is puzzled not by a vision but by a word of the prophet Jeremiah concerning the length of the desolation of Jerusalem. The final vision consists for the most part of a monologue from the interpreting heavenly messenger, Gabriel, about the history of the last kingdom, which will culminate in great distress for Daniel's people, though they will in the end be saved—or at least the righteous of them.

4.

The visions, at any rate, may accurately be called ‘apocalypses’, the main feature of which is the revelation of heavenly secrets, usually to a great figure of the past. These secrets may be about the origin of evil, the workings of the universe (sun, stars, winds), or the future. The prime example of this in the Bible is Revelation, which draws some of its inspiration from Daniel. However, Daniel as a whole is not an apocalypse.

5.

Of the history of the composition of the book we have numerous clues but little consensus. Most of the stories appear once to have been independent compositions. One attractive theory is that chs. 2–7 formed an Aramaic collection (in a concentric pattern, ch. 2 matching ch. 7, ch. 3 matching ch. 6, and ch. 5 as a centre). There are signs of editorial expansion in most chapters, and linking between them, such as the addition of ch. 1 , and the provision of datings to each chapter, so that both stories and visions run from Nebuchadnezzar to Cyrus. Chs. 8–12 must have come from a fairly narrow period, between the desecration of the Temple (167 BCE) and its restoration (163).

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