The Multilingual Book of Daniel

Smith's Dictionary of the Bible2. The language of the book, no less than its general form, belongs to an era of transition. Like the book of Ezra, Daniel is composed partly in the vernacular Aramaic (Chaldee), and partly in the sacred Hebrew. The introduction (1-2:4a) is written in Hebrew. On the occasion of the “Syriac” answer of the Chaldaeans, the language changes to Aramaic, and this is retained till the close of the seventh chapter (2:4b–7:28).

The personal introduction of Daniel as the writer of the text (8:1) is marked by the resumption of the Hebrew, which continues to the close of the book (8-12). The character of the Hebrew bears the closest affinity to that of Ezekiel and Habakkuk, or in other words to those prophets who lived nearest to the assumed age of Daniel; but it is less marked by peculiar forms and corruptions than that of Ezekiel.

The Aramaic, like that of Ezra, is also of an earlier form (cf. Maurer, Comm. in Dan. p. 87) than exists in any other Chaldaic document, but as the Targums–the next most ancient specimens of the language–were not committed to writing till about the Christian era, this fact cannot be insisted on as a proof of remote antiquity. It is, however, worthy of notice that J. D. Michaelis affirmed, on purely linguistic grounds, that the book was no late compilation though he questions the authenticity of some part of it (c. 3-7, cf. Keil, Lehr. d. Einl. §135, n. 4).

In addition to these two great elements–Aramaic and Hebrew–the book of Daniel contains traces of other languages which indicate the peculiar position of the writer. The use of Greek technical terms (cf. § 10) marks a period when commerce had already united Persia and Greece; and the occurrence of peculiar words which admit of an explanation by reference to Aryan and not to Semitic roots (Delitzsch, p. 274) is almost inexplicable on the supposition that the prophecies are a Palestinian forgery of the Maccabaean age.

Pastor Kyle Oliphint’s second sermon in his exposition of Daniel was preached last Sunday. The sermon title is “Life in Exile” based on Daniel 1:1-21. You can listen to it here. Here’s an excerpt:

“Daniel knew his God. And Daniel knew that his God was a God of grace. In the midst of circumstances that may beto the common observer look like God had abandoned him altogether. But Daniel knew that God had promised mercy and grace to a thousand generations. He had giant faith, even while feeling the discipline from his heavenly Father. Daniel knew he was loved; Daniel knew he was being cared for; Daniel knew that God was at work, even in the midst of not being able to point to evidence for it.

You remember when I said a minute ago that God is intricately and intimately involved in every aspect of our lives. I say that because I believe that’s what the Bible teaches. Now I wonder if we together know what that means. It means that those of us in this room, like me, who do not have the giant faith of Daniel–those of us in this room who can make a list of where and how we have lacked faith–and how that list, like mine, would be miles and miles long–those of us who fit in this category, have a God who is a part of your life, and determined through your life to bringing himself glory and to doing you good, even in the midst of your weak faith.”


2 responses

  1. John!

    a great piece, this one!

    thanks, thanks, thanks!

    Keep em’ coming!

  2. Coming up. Probably one per week. There are fourteen sections of this entry in my edition of Smith’s Bible Dictionary, and it looks like Pastor Oliphint will be preaching one chapter per week, so maybe I’ll give you two entries per week toward the end, or combine some of the shorter ones.

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