The Stories of Daniel: Are They Midrashim?

Some scholars have characterized the genre of Daniel 1-6 as a kind of midrash because the stories in Daniel are very similar to that of the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Hartman and DiLella, for example, say that the “wise courtier” is a “specific type of midrash” (Hartman and DiLella, 55). If so, we need to ask the question: What does midrash mean? The wikipedia defines Midrash as follows:

The term midrash can also refer to a compilation of homiletic teachings (commentaries) on the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), in the form of legal and ritual (Halakha) and legendary, moralizing, folkloristic, and anecdotal (Aggadah) parts.”

This definition indicates that midrash can be understood as an interpretation of older scripture. The book of Jubilees would be regarded as an exegetical midrash. John J. Collins states that the reference of the Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27) can be only considered as a midrash on the Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jer 25:11-12) in the book of Daniel, and argues that the stories of Daniel 1-6 are not midrash (Collins, 40). Thus, the question is this: Do the stories in Daniel 1-6 reinterpret or retell the Joseph story? 

Collins argues that the stories of Daniel are neither an interpretation nor a retelling of the Joseph story. He concludes that “the influence of Genesis is only one factor among many in the shaping of the tales” (Collins, 40). I agree with Collins’ conclusion that the stories in Daniel 1-6 are NOT an interpretation of the Joseph story, BUT they represent an influence of the Joseph story. This is not same as we can see in the case from the book of Jubilees. It is noteworthy, therefore, to notice the similarities between the two stories with the verbal correspondences which indicate that the author of Daniel was influenced from the story of Joseph. The affinities between the Joseph story and the stories of Daniel can be seen as follows:

  • Both Joseph and Daniel are taken into captivity
  • Both are courtiers of foreign kings
  • Both are good-looking (Gen 39:6; Dan 1:4)
  • Both are siad to have a divine spirit (Gen 41:38; Dan 5:11)
  • The interpretation of dreams rests with God (Gen 40:8; Dan 2:28) 8)
  • God makes known what will come to pass (Gen 41:25; Dan 2:28) 8)
  • Both are decorated with a chain around their neck (Gen 41:42; Dan 5:29)


Collins, John J. Daniel. Hermeneia.  Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Hartman, Louis F. and Alexander A. DiLella, The Book of Daniel AB. 23; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978.

Why Did Alexander the Great Like the Book of Daniel?

Josephus records that when Alexander the Great arrived to attack Jerusalem, Jaddua the High Priest went out to meet him and showed him a copy of the book of Daniel, wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians (Ant. 11.337):

And when the book of Daniel was showed him, wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended; and as he was then glad, he dismissed the multitude for the present, but the next day he called them to him, and bade them ask what favors they pleased of him.

The biblical references where Alexander saw might be Daniel 7:6; 8:3-8, 20-22; 11:3. Alexander supposed that himself was the person intended in the book of Daniel. He was so impressed by this that instead of destroying Jerusalem, so that he entered the city peaceably and worshipped at the Temple.

What does this account tell us? It tells us a very interesting point. The book of Daniel was understood as a prophecy by Josephus. For example, Josephus identifies the reference of the great horn in Daniel 8 as Alexander the Great. He regards Daniel as “one of the greatest prophets,” distinguished by the fact that he not only prophesied future things but fixed the time at which they would come to pass and also prophesied good tidings (Collins, 84). But the book of Daniel does not belong to the Prophets but to the Writings in the Hebrew Bible.

Reference List

Collins, John J. Daniel. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Josephus, Flavius ; Whiston, William: The Works of Josephus : Complete and Unabridged. Peabody : Hendrickson, 1996, c1987.

Why is Nebuchadnezzar Portrayed as an Animal?

In his recent article, Christopher B. Hays asks the following question: “Why is Nebuchadnezzar portrayed as an animal?” (“Chirps from the Dust: The Affliction of Nebuchadneaar in Daniel 4:30 in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context,” JBL 126/2 [2007]: 3-25). His answer is that the animals of Dan 4:30 (MT) can symbolize demons and the dead in ancient Near Eastern texts. Nebuchadnezzar’s portrait as an animal (MT Dan 4:30) and his recovery (MT Dan 4:36) reveals the movement from affliction to salvation (thanksgiving). But Hays did not discuss the reason of why the author of Daniel 4 shows the movement by using the type of animal imagery.

The tale of Nebuchadnezzar’s affliction and his recovery reveals the main theme of the Aramaic tales in Daniel: the acknowledgement of the God of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar is afflicted by divine powers becuase he does not give glory to God. Dan 4:30 (NRSV) reads:

Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty? 

The conclusion of Daniel 4 is the restoration to the king of his royal splendour “for the glory of my kingdom” (Dan 4:33). His former glory made him supreme ruler of the world, but his new position will be different. Nebuchadnezzar is recovered by dvine powers becuase he acknolweges that he has to give glory to the God of Israel. Dan 4:34 (NRSV) reads:

When that period was over, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me. I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored the one who lives forever. For his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation.

Thus, the author of Daniel 4 reveals the main theme of the narrative in Daniel 4 through the transition from Nebuchadnezzar’s affliction to his restoration.

Reference List

Hays, Christopher B. “Chirps from the Dust: The Affliction of Nebuchadneaar in Daniel 4:30 in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context.” JBL 126/2 (2007): 3-25.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream in Daniel and Alexander’s Dream in Josephus

The Letter to the Hebrews begins with the multiple forms of the divine revelation: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways (πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως) by the prophets (Heb 1:1, NRSV).” What does the phrase “the various ways of the divine revelation” mean? One of the ways that God reveals himself to humans is “dream” or “vision.” Indeed, the dream is the best way to convey a divine message to humans. In the Old Testament, the divine message is revealed in dreams to Jacob (Gen 28:12-15; 31:10-13), to Laban (Gen 31:24), to the Midianite soldier (Judg 7:13-15), to Solomon (1 Kgs 3:5-14), to Samuel (1 Sam 3:3-14), and to Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:1-45; 4:4-27). The dream narratives in the Old Testament are conceived principally as a means of conveying divine messages both “good” and “bad,” such as the divine deliverance and judgment.

Josephus also accounts Alexander’s dream in Antiquities of the Jews 11.334-35. Among the biblical dream narratives, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel can be compared to Alexander’s dream in Josephus in terms of common themes and features.

Tae Hun Kim discusses the similarities of the two dreams as follows (Kim 2003, 430):

  1. The dreamer is a great pagan king who previously had not been particularly well-disposed toward the Jews.
  2. A positive change in his attitude toward the Jews is effected by his dream and its fulfillment, and great honor is given to the Jews as a result.
  3. A human-like figure (an angelic watcher in Dan 4:13; Jaddua himself in Ant. 11.334) appears and delivers an oral message, though in a different way.

Kim also shows how the two dreams are different in themes and features (Kim 2003, 430):

  1. In Antiquities Alexander is not presented as particularly hostile to the Jews. Nebuchadnezzar, however, destroyed Jerusalem and exiled the Jews. Nebuchadnezzar’s change of attitude toward the Jews thus is much more dramatic.
  2. Alexander’s dream is a divine encouragement and promise of blessing; there is no punitive element in his dream. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream foretells a divine castigation and punishment.
  3. Alexander had a specific dream that answered specific concerns he already had in mind, and thus the dream functioned like an oracle, i.e., a divine response to Alexander’s question regarding the outcome of his imperial plan. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is an unsolicited vision of pending disaster, which does not address him personally or cater to his concerns.
  4. The message of Alexander’s dream was sufficiently clear that he could readily understand it without the aid of a dream interpreter. The identity of the dream figure still eluded him, yet Alexander did not call for a dream interpreter. But the dream message addressed to Nebuchadnezzar was so cryptic that Daniel had to be brought in to explain to the king the meaning and the repercussions of his vision.

After the comparison of similarities and differences of the two dreams, Kim concludes as follows:

Both dream narratives share a common theme, i.e., a great pagan king becomes the protector of the Jews by means of a divinely-inspired dream, and the honor of the Jews is greatly increased as a result. In this sense, both dreams essentially function as a propaganda piece for the Jews (Kim 2003, 431).

Does the dream of Daniel function as a propaganda piece for the Jews? Does the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 reveal an optimist tendency toward the foreign king? I think the theme of Daniel is not to express a propaganda for the Jews, but to insist that the Most High God is only one real God. The dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 is probably a polemical exaggeration. This theme also occurs in the tradition of Nabonidus in Prayer of Nabonidus (4QProNab; 4Q242). As a result, the dream of Daniel 4 reveals not only a possibility of conversion of a pagan king, but it also expresses the acknowledgment of the Most High God.

Reference List

Kim, Tae Hun. “The Dream of Alexander in Josephus Ant. 11.325-39.” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period. 34 no 4 (2003): 425-442.

What does the Vision of Daniel 7 Mean?

I attended the class of Graduate Biblical Seminar at LSTC today because one of the students presented his term paper on Daniel 7. At the begining of the class, Dr. Ralph Klein invited us to think about two intersting questions: What do we know about the divine council? What does this vision really tell us?

Chapter 7 recounts Daniel’s vision (7:1-14) and its interpretation (7:15-28). The contents of Daniel 7 can be summarized as follows:

Daniel sees four beasts arise from the sea. The beasts are then described. Thrones are set and an Ancient of Days takes his place, the books are opened and the judgment begins. The fourth beast is killed and his body burnt with fire, while the rest are allowed to live for a time although their dominion is taken away. Then “one like a Son of Man” comes with the clouds of heaven and is given everlasting dominion and all peoples are to serve him (Gardner 2001, 244).

The most intriguing element of Daniel 7 is the use of imagery: Four Beasts; the Ancient of Days; Holy Ones; the Son of Man; and the People of Holy Ones of the Most High. The imagery of Daniel 7 takes place in the idea of a heavenly court which was widespread in the ancient Near East. Thus, many scholars have attempted to explain the imagery of Daniel 7 in relation to its ancient Near Eastern background. John J. Collins, for example, discusses two major backgrounds of the imagery: a Babylonian background and a Canaanite background.

During the class period, we heavily discussed the parallels of the imagery of Daniel 7 and the Baal cycle, which accounts the story of the conflict between Baal and Yamm (CTA 2). The following chart shows how both texts are compared:   Baal Cycle and Daniel 7

The first imagery is common in both texts. El is called ‘ab šnm, which is most frequently taken as “Father of Days” in plural form. This is similar in sense to “Ancient of Days” (עַתִּיק יוֹמִין) of Daniel 7 (Collins 1993, 290). Baal is subordinatd to El while Son of Man (בַר אֱנָשׁ) is subordinated to the Ancient of Days. El is losing power and passing his power to Baal in the Baal cycle. The Son of Man was given power and dominion by the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7. But the second imagery clearly shows the differences of both texts. The Ancient of Days takes power and dominion away from the four beasts and gives them to the Son of Man and the people of Holy Ones of the Most High in Daniel 7 (מַלְכוּתָ‍ה וְשָׁלְטָנָ‍א וּרְבוּתָ‍א דִּי מַלְכְוָת תְּחוֹת כָּל־שְׁמַיָּ‍א יְהִיבַת לְעַם קַדִּישֵׁי עֶלְיוֹנִין, v. 27). The description of the individual beasts cannot be explained from the Baal cycle. 

The Baal cycle is a possible source. But the imagery of the Baal cycle is not what Daniel 7 exactly describes. The main theme of Daniel 7 is the divine response or the divine judgment to the earthly imperial kingdoms. As an apocalpytic, Daniel 7 reveals the divine decision that God judged the kingdoms and decided to give the kingdom and dominion to the Son of Man. Regarding the divine decision, there are similar passages in the Old Testament. 1 Sam 15:26-28 is not a divine council, but it is a divine decision. In Psalm 82:1-2, as a heavenly council, God assigns the punishment against all nations. As a result, Daniel 7 declares not to rely upon the human power because the power of the earthly kingdoms has taken from them to the Son of Man. Daniel says, “Now, be faithful! Why are you worring about beasts?” This is an exciting theological discourse.

Reference List

Collins, John J. 1993. Daniel. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Gardner, Anne E. 2001. “Another Look at Its Mythic Pattern.” Biblica 82: 244-52.

Two Versions of the Story of Susanna: Old Greek and Theodotion

Susanna is a typical example of Jewish novelistc literature during the Second Temple period; it is a story in the Bible. Where then do we find the story in the Bible? Whereas Susanna appears as Daniel 13 in the Old Greek version (OG), the Theodotion version (Ɵ′) places it before Daniel 1. Susanna is not there in the Theodotion version by accident, but it is there because of its significance. Some scholars argue that the story takes place before Daniel 1 in the Theodotion version becuase the story functions as introduction to Daniel in the Theodotion version, the hero of the book (Doran 1988, 864).

In general, the OG version (LXX) is much less polished than the Theodotion version; and Theodotion’s version is somewhat longer than the OG. For these reasons, the translations in the NRSV and NAB basically follow the translation of Theodotion rather than the OG version. Some scholars believe that the Theodotion version made a separate Greek translation of a different Semitic text (Vorlage) rather than making an editorial revision of the Old Greek because of the use of Semitisms and the simple paratactic syntax (in OG Susanna, over fifty clauses begin with καί; for details, see John J. Collins, Daniel, Hermeneia [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993], 427). The differences of the two versions are as follows:

  • Focus of Character: OG-Two Elders; Ɵ′- Susanna.
  • Aspect of the Story: OG- Details of her bathing are much less elaborated; Ɵ′- Enhancing the drama and the psychological/erotic aspects of the story.
  • Epilogue: OG- An exhortation to search for more youths like Daniel; Ɵ′- Susanna’s relatvies give praise and Daniel becomes great.
  • Minor Elaborations in Ɵ: v. 11 adds that the elders were ashamed of their lust; vv. 20 and 21 fill in the words of the elders to Susanna; vv. 24-27 have the servants rush into the garden and learn of the accusation; v. 39 explains why the young man escaped; and v. 41 makes the death sentence explicit.
  • Point of View: OG- Focus of oriented toward social issues and categories; Ɵ′- Emphasis on individual character and ethics.

As Collins insists, even though the diferences should not be exaggerated, the differences of the focus of character and epilogue in both versions cannot be negelected becuase the different emphsis reflects their different social settings. John C. Endres analyzes the diffrent settings of the two versions as follows:

The OG version, which is more oriented toward social issues and categories, is often connected with Alexandria, whereas Theodotion, with its emphasis on individual character and ethics, seems more reminiscent of the Hellenistic novella, which also emerged in Diaspora settings (parallel to the Babylonian setting of the story).

The story of Susanna, especially in Ɵ′, is an interesting tale for the study of Diaspora community: God is mentioned or alluded to 15 times in the book’s 64 verses. At two points (vv. 5 and 53), the Jewish scriptures are quoted or paraphrased. From begining to the end, religious interest and elements pervade the story.

The story of Susanna has influenced literature, music, and art. The scene of naked Susanna at her bath, who is being taken advantage of by two wicked judges, is a perfect example for the criticism of the relationship between sex and power. The fesco in Siena by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1502) is one of my favorite images because the artist Martini depicts that Susanna seems protected not only by her sanctity but also by the thick hedge separating her from the two elders on the left.

Reference List

Collins, John J. 1993. Daniel. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Doran, Robert. 1988. “The Additions to Daniel.” Pages 863-71. Harper’s Bible Commentary

Endres, John C. 2000. “Daniel, Additions to.” Pages 321-13. Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible.

Moore, C. A. 1992. “Susanna: A Case of Sexual Harassment in Ancient Babylon.” BR 8/3.

Stories in Daniel: More than a Life-Style for Diaspora

The stories of Daniel have inspired great works of art and music as well. The stories are staples in many church school curricula that they represent as models of courageous faith. In his article, W. Lee Humphreys (“A Life-Style for Diaspora: A Study of the Tales of Esterh and Daniel,” JBL 92 [1973]: 211-23) describes a reason why the stories have inspired: The stories in Daniel and Esther project a life-style for diaspora that affirms the possiblity of participating fully in the life of a foreign nation. His arguement has influenced many scholars who study the function of the stories. However, one would argue that the stories of Daniel present something more than a “life-style for diaspora.” For example, John J. Collins accepts Humphreys’ argument basically but understands differently:

The life-style proposed for the diaspora, then, was one of active participation in gentile life but without compromising the distinctive requirements of Jewish tradition (Collins 1992, 51).

I ask the following questions for understading the purpose of the stories: What is meant by “a life-style for diaspora?” What is the function of the stories? Do the stories really present “a life-style of diaspora?”

The stories in Daniel (1-6) are called “diaspora novellas” or “court stories” becuase the stories are assumed to have derived from the life of the Jewish eastern diaspora after the time of the exile in 586 B.C.E.: Daniel 1 describes Daniel and his three friends’ trial by diet; Daniel 2 accounts for Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream; Daniel 3 tells us Daniel’s three friends’ faith in the Jewish faith; Daniel 4 describes Daniel’s another interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream; Daniel 5 narratates Daniel’s interpretation of the mystic writing; and Daniel 6 accounts for Daniel’s faith in the Jewish practice.

It is very clear that setting of the stories is the foreign court. Indeed, Daniel and his three friends are diaspora. But the purpose of these stories is not to state the participation of the Jews in the life of a foreign nation. Rather, the stories show how the Jews kept their identify and struggled with the succeeding empires (the Babylonian Empire, the Persian Empire, and the Greek Empire). Indeed, what we see in the stories is that the attitude of Daniel and his three friends toward the empire is not positive at all. For example, the empires are represented by beasts in Daniel 2. Moreover, we see the idea that the empires will be destroyed by God because God is only the one who establishes and deposes the kings. Daniel and his three friends resist against the political and religious values of the empire. Daniel Smith-Christopher views the stories as hostility to the empire as follows:

It will be the perpective of this commentary, however, that the athors of Daniel 1-6 did not aspire actually to work for the foreign emperor. Rather, the emperor’s court served as an ideal setting for a political and religious folklore that speaks of surviving and flourishing (Smith-Christopher 1996, 20).

As Smith-Christopher insists, the stories of Daniel do not simply represent a “life-style for diaspora.” Daniel and his three friends do not aspire to work for the foreign emperor. Rather, they resist against the social-political value of the empire.

Reference List

Collins, John J. The Court-Tales in Daniel and the Development of Apocalyptic. JBL 94 (1975): 218-34.

Collins, 1993. Daniel. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 

Humphreys, W. L. A Life-Style for Diaspora: A Study of the Tales of Esther and Daniel. JBL 92 (1973): 211-23.

Smith-Christopher, Daniel. 1996. Daniel. NIB VII. Abingdon Press. 

Towner, W. S. The Poetic Passages of Daniel 1-6. CBQ 31 (1969): 317-26.