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Daniel’s Second Chiasm: Part Two

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah,
Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. Daniel 1:1

Blessed is he who waits and arrives at the 1,335 days. But go your way till the end.
And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days. Daniel 12:12–13

Chaos or Coaster?

The Book of Daniel excels in the unexpected; opening in history but closing in prophecy, jumping from Hebrew to Aramaic, and from Aramaic to Hebrew, looping from earth to heaven and back again, and jolting from an established testament to a testament yet to come. Like a rollercoaster, the book begins modestly and builds steadily before pitching us into astonishing new ventures. And just like a coaster, it all jerks to a stop at 12:13, leaving us wondering what’s next (Dan. 12:8–9).

Skeptics point to these qualities as evidence of a merely human composition of the Book of Daniel. From their perspective, the book’s oddities arise from error and superstition, justifying their own belief that Scripture is nothing more than pretentious literature. Riding the fashion of the day, they assert that there is no good reason for so many twists, turns, sprints, and stops. However, discoveries of recent decades have demonstrated that the problem actually lies with them: a twister is designed to be a twister.

Designed to Deliver

Textual studies have revealed that the Book of Daniel is organized on chiastic patterns, a literary structure that places themes and concepts in a balanced, yet opposing arrangement. In 1972 A. Lenglet proved a clear chiastic arrangement of the Aramaic half of Daniel. Studies conducted by William Shea and others found additional chiasms of varying sizes throughout the Aramaic half of Daniel. Finally in 2008, Andrew Steinmann demonstrated that the entire Book of Daniel is ordered according to chiastic conventions.

Steinmann’s findings uncovered a structure of two interlocked chiasms: an Aramiac chiasm with a Hebrew introduction (Dan. 1–7) and a Hebrew chiasm with an Aramaic introduction (Dan. 7–12). The structure of the interlocked chiasms can be traced when we give careful attention to the theme and content of each of the nine segments that make up the Book of Daniel. But if that weren’t enough, the chiasms are highlighted through the juxtaposition of opposing languages and literary genres. Changes in language and genre flow seamlessly from its underlying chiastic structure, directing our attention to an outline we may have missed otherwise (Figure 1).

Introduction 1: Prologue (1:1–21)Narrative Begins

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 his arrogant blasphemy (4:1–37)NarrativeAramaic
C’ The King is judged for his arrogant 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 (7:1–28)Visions
D Gentile Persecution and Divine Redemption  (8:1–27)VisionsHebrew
E Jerusalem restored (9:1–27)VisionsHebrew
D’  Gentile Persecution and Divine Redemption (10:1–12:13)VisionsHebrew
Figure 1: The Book of Daniel: A bilingual, interlocked chiasm in two genres. Note chapter seven’s central role as the close of the first chiasm as well as the introduction of the second chiasm.

Down to the Nuts and Bolts

Daniel’s chiastic outline is also attested through an artful repetition of significant phrases. That is, not only themes and concepts, but significant words and phrases appear in a chiastic alignment. We witness this in phrases found in chapter 2 and its chiastic partner, chapter 7 (cp. Dan. 2:44 to Dan. 7:14, 27); we see it also in the use of an Aramaic idiom found only in chapters 3 and 6 (Daniel 3:8; 6:24). The pattern is especially clear at the climax of the Aramaic chiasm where “the description of the events of chapter four imitates the expressions used in chapter four”:1 

O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled. But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. He was driven from among the children of mankind (cp. Dan. 4:25, 32), and his mind was made like that of a beast (cp. Dan 4:16), and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox (cp. Dan. 4: 15, 25, 32), and his body was wet with the dew of heaven (cp. Dan 4:15, 25, 32), until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will (cp. Dan. 4:17, 26, 32).

Dan. 5:18–21

This reflection of chapter 4 in chapter 5 is of an intensity unparalleled in the rest of the Aramaic chiasm, exactly what one would expect to see in the climax of its chiastic structure (Dan. 1–7). Thus, Steinmann has shown that even words and phrases were set in place to impress upon us the purpose and themes of the Book of Daniel:

These examples show that Daniel carefully used linguistic markers to reinforce the structural and thematic parallels that comprise his first chiasm. The chiasm, therefore, is not simply happenstance, nor something perceived by scholars without any intent on the part of the author. Instead, Daniel left unambiguous clues as to his method of choosing and organizing the Aramaic chiasm.2 

The quality of the work displayed in the Book of Daniel poses a significant challenge to current theories about the book’s composition and reception. The beauty, complexity, and consistency of its chiastic arrangement suggest that it’s the work of a single author and a single lifetime. How could this brilliant masterpiece have resulted from centuries of redaction, conducted by various authors of differing backgrounds?

But What about the Second Chiasm?

While many scholars now acknowledge the presence of an Aramaic chiasm in Daniel, there are many who would take issue with the presence of a second Hebrew chiasm. This response is not surprising given the paradigm that governs modern biblical studies; the thesis calls into question not only the methods but the very presuppositions that have dominated Daniel studies for well over a century. Acknowledgement of Daniel’s interlocked chiastic structure would cast significant doubt on decades of research, and this is a ride that many a scholar is unwilling to risk. Is there sufficient reason for such a venture? Well, in our next post we will ride the rails, loop the loop, and step off the coaster having seen  for ourselves that the design carries us from start to finish.

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1.  Andrew E. Steinmann, Daniel, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2008), 24.

2.  Steinmann, 24–25.

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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