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Outline of Daniel

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There are generally two ways to outline Daniel, the traditional/content approach and the linguistic approach.1 

The traditional approach:

chapters 1-6: historical
chapters 7-12: prophetic

The linguistic approach:

chapter 1-2:4a: introduction (in Hebrew)
chapters 2:4b-7: Aramaic (referring to Gentiles)
chapters 8-12: Hebrew (referring to Jews)

One immediate question about the linguistic approach is whether the language shifts indicate a shift in content or are used for some other reason.  We will argue below that they are a sufficient indicator of the content.  Further, understanding the text as a twofold division (history, prophecy) seems hardly to have been a viable option for the initial readers.  The most remarkable thing they would have noticed would have been the shift between Hebrew and Aramaic.  Only from the perspective of a translation are we not able to see this clearly.

I prefer the linguistic approach for a number of reasons.  First, according to Harrison, "the devices of enclosing the main body of a composition within the linguistic form of a contrasting style so as to heighten the effect of the work was commonly employed in the construction of single, integrated writings in the corpus of Mesopotamian literature" (pp. 1109-1110 of his Old Testament Introduction).  Thus, chapters 2-7 of Daniel, being in Aramaic, fit in well with the literary devices of the day, suggesting that they are a unit within the book.

Second, as Harrison also points out, "While the narratives and visions are set in general chronological order, the visions commence before the stories come to an end" (p. 1127).  The point is that we cannot always make a clear distinction between the prophetic sections and the  historical sections (an argument against the traditional view).  For example, Daniel 2:29-45 is Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, even though this is put in the historical section by the traditional view.  Needless to say, it seems forced.

Third, chapters 2 and 7 afford interesting parallels in their prophecies of Gentile empires.  Although there are several differences, there are also incredible similarities.  It is hard to resist the conclusion that such a parallel was intended by the author; if so, then the Aramaic section of Daniel is bracketed--both in language and in content.

Fourth, consider the evidence suggested by Freeman (Old Testament Prophecies, 263-64):

. . . the key to the book is its linguistic structure.  Hebrew is used in Daniel 1:1-2:4a; 8:1-12:13, while Aramaic is found in 2:4b-7:28.  The reason for this peculiarity would seem to stem from the fact that Daniel had two distinct, although related, messages to deliver.  One was a message of judgment concerning the defeat and final overthrow of the Gentile world powers of whom Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus were at present the chief representatives.  The other was a message of consolation and hope concerning the future deliverance for God's people, the nation of Israel.  The first passage Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Near East, was appropriate for the prophet's message concerning the future history of the Gentile kingdoms.  The second message, which is exclusively directed to the Hebrew people, is appropriately in Hebrew.  What concerned the Gentiles was written Aramaic, the commercial and diplomatic language of the time.  That which concerned the people of Israel was written in Hebrew, although on the basis of chpater 1, which is an introduction to the book, the entire prophecy would, when written down by Daniel, be addressed to the Jewish people.

Finally, the book may quite satisfactorily be organized in a more detailed fashion along these lines.  Note that in the following outline the Aramaic section constitutes a chiasmus (or reverse parallel) while the Hebrew section involves a straightforward parallel.2

1:1-2:3a

Introduction:  This section functions, in part, as a sort of de ja vu reminder of Joseph, designed to establish Daniel as trustworthy before his people even though he is a high-ranking government official.

2:4-7:28

Prophecies related to Gentiles (Aramaic)

2:4b-49

A

Prophecy of four world empires

3:1-30

B

God's power to deliver his servants (from fiery furnace)

4:1-37

C

God's judgment on a proud ruler (Nebuchadnezzar)

5:1-31

C'

God's judgment on a proud ruler (Belshazzar)

6:1-28

B'

God's power to deliver his servant (lion's den)

7:1-28

A'

Prophecy of four world empires

8:1-12:13

Prophecies related to Jews/or, Israel in relation to the Gentile kingdoms (Hebrew)

8:1-27

A

(Antiochus) Antichrist and prophecies about Gentiles

9:1-27

B

The end times and the Jews

10:1-11:45

A

Antiochus-Antichrist and prophecies about Gentiles

12:1-13

B

The end times and the Jews

A few conclusions are in order.  First, when an author gives such a major clue as a shift in the very language he uses to communicate his message, the wisest course of action is to allow such to shape the outline of the book.  Second, the Aramaic section of the book contains an interesting chiastic pattern in which the various parts mirror each other.  To some degree, we should expect the corresponding chapters also to interpret one another.  Thus, as we intimated earlier, the prophecies in chapter 2 need to be read in the light of the prophecies of chapter 7, and vice versa.  Third, at the same time, the chiastic parallels do not necessarily indicate precisely the same message.  For example, in chapters 4 and 5, the judgments on the proud rulers differ in severity and outcome.  Fourth, the chiastic pattern in Daniel illustrates a phenomenon not often observed by modern-day interpreters.  Few New Testament scholars today see chiasmus in that corpus, for example, even there is strong evidence that many books are arranged on a chiastic pattern (e.g., Galatians, Titus, Romans, Ephesians, etc.).  As many as one third of the Psalms have been arranged chiastically as well.  In the least, we ought to be open to this organizational principle, especially in places where a more traditional outline ends up in a dead end.


1 There are, to be sure, other approaches, such as found in Gleason Archer, Old Testament Introduction, 377-79 (twelve main divisions).

2 The following outline also implicitly argues for the literary unity of the book, suggesting that one author penned it.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines