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Daniel’s First Chiasm: Part Two

The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.” Daniel 2:47

A Prominent Pattern

Chiastic Parallelism is an ancient poetic form that balances similar thoughts in order to impress those concepts on the reader. Much like the two lines forming the Greek letter chi (Χ), chiastic form puts synonymous thoughts in an equal yet opposing arrangement, creating an intriguing outline for us to follow. Daniel’s Aramaic chiasm (1–7) presents us with three themes set in an a, b, c, c’, b’, a’ pattern, and centers on a core subject: Gentile responsibility to the God of gods (figure 1)1.

Introduction 1: Prologue (1:1–21)Narrative BeginsHebrew Ends
A Four Gentile kingdoms and the kingdom of God (2:1–49).NarrativeAramaic
B The King sees God’s servants rescued (3:1–30).NarrativeAramaic
C  The King is judged for blasphemy (4:1–37).NarrativeAramaic
C’ The King is judged for blasphemy (5:1–31).NarrativeAramaic
B’ The King sees God’s servant rescued (6:1–28).NarrativeAramaic
A’ Four Gentile kingdoms and the kingdom of God (2:1–49).Visions BeginAramaic Ends
Figure 1: Daniel’s first chiasm (chapters 1–7)
and the introduction of the second chiasm (chapter 7).

Three Themes, One Message

The Aramaic chiasm opens with King Nebuchadnezzar struggling to understand an enigmatic vision given to him through a sequence of dreams (2:1–3). The emperor’s wise men proclaim their readiness to interpret the riddle, simultaneously beginning the Aramaic text of Daniel (2:4b–7:28) and setting the stage for the core message of the chiasm: “the God of gods, the Lord of kings,” and the “revealer of mysteries” (2:47). 

A & A’

The dreams given to Nebuchadnezzar display the annihilation of an idol by a stone not cut by human hands, while their miraculous interpretation reveals a prophecy of four gentile kingdoms, the overthrow of gentile government, and the establishment of God’s kingdom (2:44–45). The entire passage parallels chapter 7, its chiastic counterpart. For in Daniel’s visions in the later chapter, four beastly kingdoms are overthrown, giving place not to a greater beast but to a “son of man,” supreme in dignity and power (7:13–14), whose “kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (7:27b).

B & B’

The second court tale presents us with three Hebrew youths who deliver King Nebuchadnezzar from idolatry and arrogance. Shadrak, Meshak, and Abed Nego refuse to bow to the king’s image and become a living testimony to a God who is truly worthy of worship (cp. 3:15–16 to 3:28–29). A parallel theme appears in the fifth court tale in which Daniel’s obedience and deliverance direct king Darius’ attention to “the Living God,” the only King truly worthy of prayer and praise (cp. 6:6–8 to 6:26–27).

C & C’

The chiasm converges in the third and fourth court tales, which are two accounts of gentile blasphemy and divine accountability. Emperor Nebuchadnezzar knowingly disregards God’s supremacy and utters blasphemy (cp. 4:24–27 to 4:28–32), while his grandson, Belshazzar is judged for the very same wickedness (cp. 5:18–23 to 5:24–31). These stories constitute the climax of the chiasm, impressing upon us the supremacy of God and the certainty of His victory over every form of idolatry (compare to Jer. 10:11).

Chapter Seven: An Inversion

And then everything flips! Just like chapter 1, we have an instance of same-but-different in chapter 7; the language is still Aramaic but the court tales have given way to apocalyptic literature, the genre of the second chiasm. But we find something else at work here: not merely a replication of the pattern found in chapter 1 but an inversion of that pattern (figures 2 and 3). 

Introduction 1:
Hebrew Court Tale
Same GenreDifferent Language
Chiasm 1:
Aramaic Court Tales
Same GenreSame Language
Introduction 2:
Aramaic Vision
Different GenreSame Language
Chiasm 2:
Hebrew Visions
Same GenreSame Language
Figure 2: Chapters 1 and 7 have distinctions that show them to be introductions of their respective chiasms as well as mirror images of one another.

Chapter 1, the introduction of the Aramaic chiasm, was distinct from the court tales that follow both in its content as well as its language, Hebrew. Chapter 7 follows suit as the Aramaic introduction to a Hebrew chiasm (8–12), being still written in Aramaic but now switching to an entirely new genre (Figure 3). The comparison of chapters 1 and 7 present us with an inversion, in that the two chapters are not only chiastic introductions but also mirror images of one another in their treatment of language and genre (Figure 2). 

The reason behind the inversion will become apparent once we have gained a bird’s eye view of the two interlocked chiasms that structure the Book of Daniel. For now, it is enough to note that the unique characteristics of chapter 7 not only tell us that we are moving from the first chiasm to the second, but that we are in the very center of Daniel’s interlocked chiastic structure and the core message of the Book of Daniel.

A’ Four Gentile kingdoms and the kingdom of God (7:1–28)Visions BeginAramaic Ends
D Gentile Persecution and Divine Redemption  (8:1–27)VisionsHebrew
C Jerusalem restored (9:1–27)VisionsHebrew
D’  Gentile Persecution and Divine Redemption (10:1–12:13)VisionsHebrew
Introduction 1: Prologue (Daniel 1:1–21)Narrative
Hebrew Ends
Figure 3: Daniel 7 and its Hebrew chiasm. Notice how the structure of Daniel 7 mirrors Daniel 1, while the overall structure of Daniel 7–12 circles us back to Daniel 1.

A Three Fold Cord

We have now worked our way through the first chiasm of the Book of Daniel. However, we can’t close this post without noting the fact that we have now come across a third meaningful connection between Jeremiah 10:11 and the Book of Daniel. Not only is this verse the sole Aramaic verse to appear before the Book of Daniel, not only does it take up the same subject as the Book of Daniel, but it is given in the same poetic form as the Book of Daniel (figure 4)! 

כִּדְנָה תֵּאמְרוּן לְהֹום
 אֱלָהַיָּא דִּֽי־שְׁמַיָּא וְאַרְקָא לָא עֲבַדוּ יֵאבַדוּ מֵֽאַרְעָא וּמִן־תְּחֹות שְׁמַיָּא אֵֽלֶּה ׃
Thus shall you say to them:
A The gods who the heavens and the earth
B did not make (ꞌǎbadū)
B’ will perish (yệꞌbadū)
A’ from the earth and from under these heavens. 
Figure 4: The chiastic structure of Jeremiah 10:11

Halfway There!

As you can see, there is far more to the Book of the Daniel than meets the eye! Can we really regard the Scriptures as merely human? With chapter 7 we close the first chiasm and tuck into a second helix, a chiasm of increasing information, intimacy, and intensity. Stay tuned!

Have a question or comment? We’d love to hear from you. Submit your response in the box below.


1.  My treatment of Daniel’s interlocked chiasms is indebted to the work of Andrew Steinmann as presented in Daniel, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2008), 22–25.

New to this series? To read the first installment of the Two Riddle series click here or start at the very beginning of the Daniel series by clicking here.

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