And the man upstairs, I hope that he cares
If I had a penny for my thoughts, I’d be a millionaire
We’re just three M.C.s and we’re on the go
Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego
– Daniel Chapter 3 Verses 16-18
O.k. I kid, I kid. If there’s anything Daniel has done for me, it’s to suddenly put meaning behind one of my favorite Beastie Boys songs, which has existed for over 25 years without me ever quite understanding what was happening in the lyrics. Even the names, especially Abednego, I always kind of just mumbled along with the song and assumed I was speaking gibberish. Like the time my aunt Debbie got caught singing “She’s got a chicken to ride” to the Beatles at a party in junior high. But hey, as it turns out, I was actually pronouncing Daniel’s buddies’ names pretty well this entire time.
Now, here’s the thing. For those of us who were not-exactly-diligent Sunday School students, the only things we tend to remember about the Bible are the major highlights. You’ve got your Noah’s ark, your technicolor dreamcoat, your “let my people go,” your David and Goliath, your – well you get the idea. And now that I’m reading the Bible in full, it’s becoming abundantly clear to me why that is. It’s because the stories you remember from Sunday School are essentially the only Bible stories that can actually be told to children without scarring them for life or boring them to death.
And if any Bible book in my reading thus far is a perfect example of this, it’s Daniel. Even with my very fuzzy memory, I was preetttaayy sure this book was going to involve some sort of lion’s den. I didn’t remember details, but I knew Daniel was gonna wind up in that den somehow. And to my pleasant surprise, these chapters were a pretty easy read. That is, until they were over and Daniel moved onto … other stuff. Of Daniel’s (mercifully short) 12 chapters, the interesting stuff only lasts for 6. Upon reading the rest of the book, it became quite clear to me why the only damn thing I remembered was the lions’ den.
Here’s how the book goes. Daniel is a kid at the time that Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar defeats and destroys Jerusalem (again the same general timeframe as the past 16 books). King Nebbie orders his chief court official, Ashpenaz, to bring him some boys from Israel’s royal family and nobility who are smart, healthy and good looking (this sentence feels super creepy so far) to serve in the king’s palace. The plan is that Ashpenaz will teach these boys the language and literature of the Babylonians. Among the boys that are chosen for this role are Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They all become buddies once they start their training together.
Meanwhile, God gives all four of the boys magical knowledge of all kinds of literature and smart people stuff, to help them make an impression. And not only that, but he also gives Daniel psychic powers to understand visions and “dreams of all kinds.” So not surprisingly, when Ashpenaz presents his students to King Nebbie, the ones that Nebs is most impressed with are Daniel and his buddies. He finds them to be “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” Oh my.
In chapter 2, King Nebbie has a bunch of disturbing dreams and then summons every magician, enchanter, sorcerer and astrologist in Babylon to interpret one particular (seemingly recurring) dream for him. Only there’s a catch – he won’t tell them what the dream was. Not only do they have to interpret it for him, but they have to prove their psychic abilities by telling him what the dream actually was as well. Not shockingly, no one can meet this request. So Nebbie declares that he will have ALL of them put to death (cut into pieces, to be exact), including Team Daniel.
Luckily, Daniel manages to convince Nebbie to give him a little extra time so he can pray to God and beg him to give him the magical powers to pass this test. And voila!! God waves his magic wand, and Daniel runs back to Nebbie to tell him all about the dream. Long story short, the dream means that after Nebbie’s reign, several other kingdoms are gonna rise up. One will be like iron and crush all the others. But then another one will rise up and it’s gonna be like an unbreakable rock and it’s gonna crush even the iron kingdom and endure forever. That, of course, is the kingdom that the “God of heaven” will set up.
After hearing this, Nebbie is so impressed with Daniel that he falls all over himself, declares Daniel’s God “the God of gods,” gives Daniel a new fancy important job working for him, and lavishes all kinds of gifts on him. He also appoints Shadrach Meshach and Abednego as administrators over Babylon, at Danny’s request. And then they all live happily ever after.
That is, until chapter 3, when Nebbie literally forgets everything that happened in chapter 2. Remember that whole “God of gods” thing that happened literally ONE verse ago? Lulz who cares what you remember, because Nebbie don’t remember shit about no God of gods. He has a NEW god now, bitches. He builds a huge-ass gold statue and tells everyone that if they don’t immediately fall down before it any time he has people blow some horns and flutes, he’ll immediately throw them into a blazing furnace. That’s right, BLAZING. FURNACE. The narrative structure of the Bible continues to be quite terrible.
Some shady-ass astrologers then decide that this is the perfect opportunity to take down our friends Shaddy, Meshach and Abednego. Where’s Daniel, you ask? Don’t worry your pretty little head about it, hon. Chapter 3 certainly doesn’t. Nebbie drags our buddies over to appear before him and asks, “WTF!? WHY are you not worshiping my awesome huge golden god statue thingy right here!? Worship it now or I’ll throw your asses in the furnace!!” But Shaddy Mesh and Abby are all like, nope. Go for it dude, you’ll see what happens. Our God will save us.
So then Nebbie’s like, “BWAHA you little punks, just for that I’m heating this baby SEVEN times hotter than normal!” Then he has his soldiers toss the trio into the furnace, like so:
Jk. It didn’t look quite like that. The furnace was actually so hot that the soldiers who threw them in there just burned up immediately from even getting close. Then Nebbie’s like, wait, where are those assholes?? Are they … is that … is that them WALKING around in there!!?? DaFUQ!?
“And who the hell is that dude on the right?? He looks like an angel, I do declare!! OMG they were right, not a hair on their heads is even singed!! Their God IS the most awesome God!!” So once again Nebbie has a total fanboy spaz-out sesh over the God of Israel, and declares that no one in Babylon is to talk ANY shit about this God. Then he even gives Shaddy & pals job promotions yet again.
Chapter 4 involves Daniel (he’s back again!) interpreting yet another dream for Nebbie, and it’s super confusing and boring. It involves a tree that gets cut down or something. The tree represents Nebbie, who will go insane and live “with the wild animals” for 7 years until he admits that God is the one true god (again, I guess?? This guy is a flake and a half.) Anyway then it all comes true and yet again Nebbie realizes the error of his ways and praises God and everything’s fine again.
Chapter 5 fast forwards to a new king – Belshazzar. Belshazzar and his nobles are total party animals, worshiping just any ol’ gods they want, blasphemously drinking from goblets that were pillaged from Jerusalem. One night, while one of these debaucherous parties is going on, some creepy floating ghost hand just suddenly shows up and writes a bunch of scary scribbles on the wall in front of everyone. Everyone shits their pants but they can’t tell what the writing says. So Belshazzar brings Daniel in, and Daniel tells them that the writing says that Belshy is basically screwed, because he hasn’t been a good king and he’s arrogant and worships other gods. His kingdom is gonna be taken over by others. Despite basically just having been told that he’s totally effed, Belshy still lavishes Danny with robes and gold and promotes him to the 3rd highest position in the kingdom. Then, that night, Belshy is murdered and Darius the Mede takes over Babylon.
Chapter 6 is where the lions’ den enters the picture. Darius is king by this point, and he and Daniel are major besties. Naturally, all the king’s other administrators and satraps are suuuper jelly of this sitch. So they decide to find a way to take Danny the golden boy down. The problem is, Daniel is such a boyscout that they can’t dig up any dirt on him no matter how hard they try. So instead they go for the same tactic as we saw with Shaddy & Co. in chapter 3 – go after Danny’s religion. They convince king Darius that he should issue a decree that anyone who prays to anyone except himself for the next 30 days should be thrown into the lions’ den. So, naturally, king Darius is just like “Uhh sweet o.k. cool guys great idea, done!!”
Then soon after this, the shady administrators are like, “BOOM!! Guess who you have to throw in the Lions’ den NOW dude?? Your little bestie Danny!! LMAO!!” And then Darius is all like, “D’OH!!” Darius tries as hard as he can to save Daniel, but the shady admins remind him that under “the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.” Whoopsie.
So Darius goes to Danny and is like “Uummm … sorry about this dude. I kinda effed this whole bromance up for us. So … unfortunately … err … I gotta throw you into the lions’ den now. But hopefully your God can save you and stuff?” So he has Daniel thrown in, and the stone “door” is shut again, and then Darius spends all night crapping his pants worrying about his Danny Boy. He doesn’t get a wink of sleep.
Then first thing in the morning, he RUNS back to the lions’ den and has his dudes open it back up again. “Daaaniel!! Dan! Hey Dan!! So … was your God able to save you?? Danny??” Then Danny walks up with his bevvy of tamed lion buds and is like “Oh hey! Glad you could come over. My God totes did save me, he sent an angel to turn the lions into cuddly (huge) kittens for me. They’re so cute!!” And Darius is like OMG SQUEE!! MY BFF IS SAFE!! Then he gets to business:
26. “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. “For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. 27. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.” 28. So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
And there ends all the interesting parts of Daniel. As for the rest of it, let me try to make this as succinct as possible so it doesn’t put you into just as much of a coma as it did me. Chapters 7-12 involve different visions (by Daniel) for the same future events – future kings that will rise up in power and fight against each other and then another new king will rise up and defeat everyone and be more evil than all the rest. He will oppress the Israelites and try to change Jewish religious customs and he’ll destroy the temple in Jerusalem (which will have been rebuilt and reestablished by this point). But then in the end, the God of the Israelites will prevail. The prophecies at least partially tie up with real life events that you can read about in the Historical Background section of the Wikipedia page on Daniel. I should also note that I think these visions also represent the same events that King Nebbie’s dream prophesied in chapter 2.
Chapter 7 rewinds back to the rule of Belshazzar and represents the prophecy with 4 beasts from the sea that represent the future kings. The 4th king is the super evil one (shown as the green lizard monster in the pic on the left here). He will eventually be defeated and “all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.” Chapter 8 represents these same future events with a ram and a goat. The goat crushes the ram and then the goat’s horn is broken off and more horns grow and blah blah. This vision gives a bit more specifics than the last, pointing out that the ram represents the kings of Media and Persia and the goat is Greece. Then 4 new kingdoms will arise but then they will all be defeated by the new super evil king, who will eventually be “destroyed, but not by human power.”
Chapter 9 takes place in the first year of King Darius. It starts off with Daniel praying to god for mercy to not make the exile of the Israelites so long (70 years as prophesied by Jeremiah). Then the angel Gabriel literally flies up and starts talking a bunch of confusing stuff about “seventy sevens” (70 weeks?) that are “decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.” Whatever. It makes very little sense. Then Gabe predicts the same future events again, that were mentioned in chapters 7 and 8.
Chapter 10 jumps forward to the 3rd year of King Cyrus. An angel comes to Daniel and says he’s gonna tell him some stuff. In chapter 11, he tells the stuff, which is all about the same future vision again, only with far more detail and told in the most mind-numbing way possible. Take Game of Thrones and strip it of ALL its charm and, well, good storytelling, and that’s chapter 11. “The daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of the North to make an alliance, but she will not retain her power, and he and his power will not last. In those days she will be betrayed, together with her royal escort and her father and the one who supported her.” “Then the king of the South will march out in a rage and fight against the king of the North, who will raise a large army, but it will be defeated.” Zzzzzz. When do Daenerys’s dragons show up and just light everyone on fire??
In chapter 12, the angel says that “Michael, the great prince who protects your people” will arise and save all the Israelites (after the 4th evil king does all the evil deeds described up until this point). It ends like this: 11. “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. 12. Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days. 13. “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”
MY GOD. This review already ranks with the longest reviews I’ve ever written AND I HAVEN’T EVEN REALLY REVIEWED IT YET. WTF!! The good news is, I think I can make the review pretty simply for this one.
Look, I’ll say this for Daniel – it’s by leaps and bounds the most pleasant Bible book I’ve read in AGES. Daniel himself actually seems like a legitimately decent guy. He’s humble, he’s honest, he does his best to turn down all the gifts that the various kings try to lavish on him, he works hard at all the jobs he’s given, and he pretty much just wants to live his life and help his people and practice his religion in peace. He’s not ill-tempered at any point, and at no point does he chop off anyone’s head or poke out their eyeballs or throw them into a furnace.
The prophecies in chapters 7-12 are the absolute worst combination of convoluted, confusing and dull, but at the very least, they don’t involve much of the usual God ruthlessly slaughtering people, massacring them with horrible plagues, forcing them to eat their own children, starving them to death, etc. etc. So that’s a plus.
If there’s any “bad stuff” in Daniel that’s worth mentioning, it’s probably just the contradictions and historical inaccuracies. Here are the ones I saw:
- Daniel starts off by saying that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem in the 3rd year of the reign of Jehoiakim. This not only totally contradicts all the earlier books of the Bible, but is not factually accurate. Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t even king of Babylon yet at this time. The previous books of the bible are clear that Nebbie invaded Jerusalem when Jehohiakim’s son Jehoiachin was king.
- Chapter 5 states that King Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s son. However, Skeptic’s Annotated Bible points out that this is not true and contradicts earlier Bible books.
- If you go to the very last verse of chapter 5 on that same Skeptic’s Annotated Bible page I listed above, it points out that Darius did not succeed Belshazzar as Daniel claims. It questions whether the Darius that Daniel describes actually existed at all.
- If you go to the Historical Background section of Daniel’s Wikipedia entry, it says that while Daniel (chapters 7-12)’s telling of the events leading into the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and its immediate aftermath is “remarkably accurate”, “the predicted war between the Syrians and the Egyptians (11:40–43) never took place, and the prophecy that Antiochus would die in Palestine (11:44–45) was inaccurate (he died in Persia). The conclusion is that the account must have been completed near the end of the reign of Antiochus but before his death in December 164, or at least before news of it reached Jerusalem.”
I don’t spend a ton of time covering historical inaccuracies in these Bible books, mainly because it takes up too much review space, but Daniel starts off right out of the gate with a big one, and luckily its lack of murder and general awfulness allows me to focus on this instead.
So how ’bout a rating, huh? Hmm I gotta think about this one.
I think my highest-rated book up until this point has been Ruth, at 7/10. I can’t quite bring Daniel to Ruth level because despite the merits of its first 6 chapters, it doesn’t erase the fact that the back half of the book was soooo boring, hard to read, and worse yet, hard to understand. And the googling I’ve done in an attempt to understand it seems to indicate that there is plenty of confusion, controversy and conflicting theories around its origin and meaning out there amongst all its other readers as well. I did recognize and recall the angel Gabriel at least … and the archangel Michael too, but even his introduction felt like just as much gobbledygook as the rest of chapters 7-12.
Onto Hosea, which is 14 chapters and damn well BETTER result in a far shorter review. Here’s a little ditty about Daniel’s buddies to keep you entertained in the meantime.