The hero and traditional author of the book which bears his name.
This name (Hebrew dnyal or dnal; Septuagint Daniél), which is also that of two other persons in the Old Testament [cf. I Paral., iii, 1; I Esd., viii, 2, and II Esd. (Nehem.), x, 6], means “God is my judge”, and is thus a fitting appellation for the writer of the Book of Daniel, wherein God’s judgments are repeatedly pronounced upon the Gentile powers.
Nearly all that is known concerning the Prophet Daniel is derived from the book ascribed to him. He belonged to the tribe of Juda (i, 6), and was of noble, or perhaps of royal, descent (i, 3; cf. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. X, ch. x, § 1). When still a youth, probably about fourteen years of age, he was carried captive to Babylon by Nabuchodonosor in the fourth year of the reign of Joakim (605 B.C.). There, with three other youths of equal rank named Ananias, Misael and Azarias, he was entrusted to the care of Asphenez, the master of the king’s eunuchs, and was educated in the language and learning of the “Chaldeans”, whereby are meant the professors of divination, magic, and astrology in Babylon (i, 3, 4). From this passage Jewish tradition has inferred that Daniel and his companions were made eunuchs; but this does not necessarily follow; the master of the eunuchs simply trained these Jewish youths, among others, with a view to their entering the king’s service (i, 5). Daniel now received the new name of Baltassar (Babyl. Balâtsu-usur, “Bel protect his life”), and, in agreement with Ananias, Misael, and Azarias, who received similarly the new names of Sidrach, Misach, and Abdenago, respectively, asked and obtained permission not to use the special food from the royal table provided for those under training, and to be limited to vegetable diet. At the end of three years Daniel and his three companions appeared before the king, who found that they excelled all the others who had been educated with them, and thereupon promoted them to a place in his court. Henceforth, whenever the prince tested them, they proved superior to “all the diviners, and wise men, that were in all his kingdom” (i, 7-20). Soon afterwards—either in the second or in the twelfth year of Nabuchodonosor’s reign—Daniel gave a signal proof of his marvellous wisdom. On the failure of all the other wise men, he repeated and interpreted, to the monarch’s satisfaction, the king’s dream of a colossal statue which was made up of various materials, and which, on being struck by a stone, was broken into pieces, while the stone grew into a mountain and filled the whole earth. On this account, Daniel in Babylon, as Joseph of old in Egypt, rose into high favour with the prince, who not only bestowed on him numerous gifts, but also made him ruler of “the whole province of Babylon” and chief governor of “all the wise men”. At Daniel’s request, too, his three friends received important promotions (ii). The next opportunity afforded Daniel to give proof of his wisdom was another dream of Nabuchodonosor which, once more, he alone was able to interpret. The dream was of a mighty tree concerning which the king heard the command given that it should be cut down, and that “seven times” should “pass over” its stump, which had been left standing. This, explained Daniel, portended that in punishment of his pride the monarch would for a while lose his throne, be bereft of his reason, imagining himself an ox, and live in the open fields, but be again restored to his power, finally convinced of the supreme might and goodness of the Most High. With holy freedom, although in vain, the Prophet exhorted the king to forestall such punishment by atoning for his sins by deeds of mercy; and Daniel’s prediction was fulfilled to the letter (iv). For a parallel to this, see Abydenus’ account (second century B.C.) quoted in Eusebius (Præp. Evang. IX, xl).
Nothing is expressly said as to what became of Daniel upon the death of Nabuchodonosor (561 B.C.); it is simply intimated in Daniel, v, 11 sqq., that he lost his high office at the court and lived long in retirement. The incident which brought him to public notice again was the scene of revelry in Baltasar’s palace, on the eve of Cyrus’s conquest of Babylon (538 B.C.). While Baltasar (Heb. Belsh’aççar, corresponding to the Babyl. Balâtsu-usur, “Bel protect the king”) and his lords feasted, impiously drinking their wine from precious vessels which had been taken from the Temple at Jerusalem, there appeared the fingers of a man writing on the wall: “Mane, Thecel, Phares”. These mysterious words, which none of the king’s wise men was able to interpret, were explained by Daniel, who at length had been summoned, and who for his reward became one of the three chief ministers in the kingdom. The prophet, now at least eighty years of age, remained in that exalted position under Darius the Mede, a prince possibly to be identified with Darius Hystaspes (485 B.C.). Darius, moreover, thought of setting him over all the kingdom (vi, 4), when Daniel’s fellow-officers, fearing such an elevation, sought to compass his ruin by convicting him of disloyalty to the Crown. They secured from the king a decree forbidding anyone, under penalty of being cast into the lions’ den, to ask any petition of either god or man, except the monarch, for thirty days. As they had anticipated, Daniel nevertheless prayed, three times a day, at his open window, towards Jerusalem. This they reported to the king, and they forced him to apply the threatened punishment to the violator of the decree. Upon Daniel’s miraculous preservation in the lions’ den, Darius published a decree that all in his realm should honour and revere the God of Daniel, proclaiming that He is “the living and eternal God”. And so Daniel continued to prosper through the rest of the reign of Darius, and in that of his successor, Cyrus the Persian (vi).
Such, in substance, are the facts which may be gathered for a biography of the Prophet Daniel from the narrative portion of his book (i-vi). Hardly any other facts are contributed to this biography from the second, and more distinctly apocalyptic, portion of the same work (vii-xii). The visions therein described represent him chiefly as a seer favoured with Divine communications respecting the future punishment of the Gentile powers and the ultimate setting up of the Messianic Kingdom. These mysterious revelations are referred to the reigns of Darius, Baltasar, and Cyrus, and as they are explained to him by the Angel Gabriel from an ever clearer disclosure of what is to happen in “the time of the end”. In the deuterocanonical appendix to his book (xiii-xiv), Daniel reappears in the same general character as in the first part of his work (i-vi). Chapter xiii sets him forth as an inspired youth whose superior wisdom puts to shame and secures the punishment of the false accusers of the chaste Susanna. The concluding chapter (xiv), which tells the history of the destruction of Bel and the dragon, represents Daniel as a fearless and most successful champion of the true and living God. Outside of the Book of Daniel, Holy Writ has but few references to the prophet of that name. Ezechiel (xiv, 14) speaks of Daniel, together with Noah and Job, as a pattern of righteousness and, in chapter xxviii, 3, as the representative of perfect wisdom. The writer of the First Book fo the Machabees (ii, 60) refers to his deliverance out of the mouth of the lions, and St. Matthew (xxiv, 15) to “the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet”. As might well be expected, Jewish tradition had been busy with completing the meagre account of Daniel’s life as supplied by the Sacred Scriptures. Allusion has already been made to the tradition of the Jews, accepted by many Fathers of the Church, which states that he was made a eunuch in Babylon. Other Jewish traditions represent him as refusing divine honours proffered to him by Nabuchodonosor; they explain the reason why he was not forced with his three friends to worship that prince’s statue in the plain of Dura (Daniel 3), he had been sent away by the king, who wanted to spare Daniel’s life, for he knew full well that the prophet would never agree to commit such an act of idolatry; they give many fanciful details, as for instance concerning what happened to Daniel in the lions’ den. Others endeavour to account for what they assume to be a fact, viz. that Yahweh’s devout prophet did not return to God’s land and city after the decree of restoration issued by Cyrus; while others again affirm that he actually went back to Judea and died there. Hardly less incredible and conflicting legends concerning Daniel’s life and place of burial are met with in Arabic literature, although his name is not mentioned in the Koran. During the Middle Ages there was a widespread and persistent tradition that Daniel was buried at Susa, the modern Shuster, in the Persian province of Khuzistan. In the account of his visit to Susa in A.D. 1165, Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela narrates that Daniel’s tomb was shown him in the façade of one of the synagogues of that city; and it is shown there to the present day. The Roman martyrology assigns Daniel’s feast as a holy prophet to 21 July, and apparently treats Babylon as his burial-place.
MLA citation. Gigot, Francis. “Daniel.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.