The Heart of Daniel

A nerdy friend once suggested I get a tattoo (wait, would this disqualify him from being nerdy?) that says “I heart Daniel,” and, from the trenches of commentary writing, I have to say Daniel is the man who gets most of my time these days. Though, let’s be clear: I’m not writing a commentary about Daniel the man. The book isn’t about him. It’s about God. And while there’s plenty to be said about Daniel as a model of faithfulness, if that’s all we take away from the book, we’ve missed the point.

We’re in Daniel 7, and it’s a remarkable chapter for many reasons. It stands as the heart of the book, the chapter that holds the entire thing together. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Understanding what makes Daniel 7 remarkable begins with knowing what makes it stand out in the book. Daniel 7 is unique for several reasons. The first we’ve already talked about: the shift from easy-breezy narrative to wild and wacky apocalyptic, an unsettling world we’ll live in for the rest of the book. A second notable feature of the chapter you may miss if you (1) don’t read the entire book in one sitting and/or (2) are not a grammar nut: the grammar shifts from third-person (Daniel is “he/him” in chs. 1-6) to first-person (Daniel is “I/me” in chs. 7-12). A third aspect of the chapter is that it marks the shift from stories about Jews in exile (chs. 1-6) to visions about the Jews’ future back in the land (chs. 7-12).

All these changes in chapter 7 (genre, grammar, perspective) have made lots of people want to divide the book neatly in half: the first half is third-person narrative stories set in exile, and the second half is first-person apocalyptic visions about the Jews’ future.

It would be nice if things were this easy. 🙂 Chapter 7 may be part of the first-person-apocalyptic-visions-about-Jews-back-in-the-land half of the book (chs. 7-12), but it’s also tied to the first half of the book such that you can’t simply split the book between chapters 6 and 7. Here’s how chapter 7 is tied to the first half of the book, particularly, chapters 2-6:

  • Language: Chapter 7 is in Aramaic, like chapters 2-6. Chapters 8-12 switch back to Hebrew (like ch. 1)
  • Structure: Chapter 7 is part of the (Aramaic) chiasm of chapters 2-7. Chapter 7 relates to chapter 2 (and chs. 3 & 6 are related, and chs. 4 & 5 form the heart of the chiasm. You remember all this, don’t you?)
  • Contents: Chapter 7 takes another look at the four empires we first met in chapter 2 . Nearly every commentator I know reads the two chapters as complementary.

So, you can see we have a problem. Or, rather, a “problem.” You simply can’t divide this book. Chapter 7 won’t let you. It is the hinge on which the book turns, and its message of hope puts everything that follows in perspective…something we are wont to lose, often.

2 responses to “The Heart of Daniel”

  1. Ah, chiastic structure! What a joy to come across an old friend again!

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