Daniel has long been famous for its depth and complexity, but who would have guessed that we would be uncovering new insights even in the 21st century? It has become increasingly clear that the Book of Daniel is structured thematically, as well as chronologically, according to a chiastic pattern—a poetic arrangement found both in biblical literature and in other literary works of the ancient world.
Daniel’s Chiastic Structure
The Book of Daniel consists of two interlocked chiasms, structuring and defining the two halves of the book. Much like a trick picture, their structure leaps off the page once we know what to look for. Not only do the halves exhibit a chiastic form, but that form has been highlighted through the use of language and literary genre. That is, the Book of Daniel switches languages and literary genres to notify us that we are moving from one chiasm to the other.1
The First Chiasm: Daniel 1:1–7:28
The Book of Daniel opens with a Hebrew introduction to five Aramaic court tales. Then something notable takes place: the Aramaic chiasm concludes, but it does so with an entirely new genre, setting, and style, indicating that we have not only come to the conclusion of the first chiasm but have simultaneously entered into the second one (figure 1).
|Introduction 1: Prologue (1:1–21)
|A Four Gentile kingdoms and the kingdom of God (2:1–49).
|B The King sees God’s servants rescued (3:1–30).
|C The King is judged for blasphemy (4:1–37).
|C’ The King is judged for blasphemy (5:1–31).
|B’ The King sees God’s servant rescued (6:1–28).
|A’ Four Gentile kingdoms and the kingdom of God (7:1–28).
and the introduction of the second chiasm (chapter 7).
Two Chiasms, Two Introductions
The first chapter of Daniel is recognized as being related to yet distinct from the chapters that follow. Being a narrative, it directly connects and introduces us to the tales we read in chapters 2–6, yet it stands out from these chapters in two key ways.
First, the chapter is not a court tale, at least not in the sense of the other narratives. The court tales of chapters 2–6 focus on Daniel and his peers in their specific service for a king. In all of these cases, the king has a distinct need that these Hebrew courtiers meet through their godliness and wisdom. In this first chapter, however, the Hebrew youths are not courtiers but students, and their own need is what is prominent rather than the need of the king.
This difference may seem negligible, but it shows up prominently when we compare the conclusion of chapter one to all of the other narratives. Each narrative of chapters 2–6 concludes with public recognition of God’s supremacy as displayed in the specific events of the chapter. By contrast, the ending of the first chapter is both private and summative, hinting that more is come without disclosing precisely what will happen next:
And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.Daniel 1:19–21
The distinctiveness of this chapter is also emphasized by the fact that it is written exclusively in Hebrew, in contrast to the narratives that follow, which were written in Aramaic.2 When viewed within the context of the entire book, chapter one is found to be an introduction to the Aramaic chiasm that constitutes the first half of the book. This fact becomes especially clear when we consider its counterpart, chapter seven (see figure 1). But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we must look at the Aramaic chiasm that Daniel chapter one guides us into, an endeavor we will take up in our next post.
2. It may be argued that the first three and a half verses of chapter two are written in Hebrew, but we have already noted that the entrance of Aramaic in 2:4b is of symbolic significance. The remaining 45 verses are Aramaic, and the whole passage is thematically and chiastically joined to chapters 3–7. Therefore, it is not an oversimplification to categorize chapter two as an Aramaic court tale.