Daniel (i. e., according to some interpreters, "God is my judge;" according to others, "judge of God "), a Hebrew prophet, by whom a book of the Old Testament which bears his name claims to have been written. Nearly all we know of the prophet is to be found in the book of Daniel. Ezekiel mentions Daniel as a pattern of righteousness and wisdom, but according to some interpreters his words refer to a prophet of that name who lived at some earlier time. According to the book of Daniel, he was descended from one of the highest families in Judah. As a youth we find him in Babylon, whither he had been carried with three other Hebrew youths of rank, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, at the first deportation of the people of Judah in the reign of Jehoi-akim. He and his companions were selected for instruction in the language and literature of the Chaldeans, with a view to being employed in the service of the court. On this occasion the names of all four were changed, and Daniel was henceforth called Belteshazzar, i. e., prince of Belus or Bel. A short time after he interpreted a dream of the king so much to the latter's satisfaction that he rose into high favor, and was intrusted with the governorship of the province of Babylon, and the head inspectorship of the sacerdotal caste.
Considerably later, in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, he interpreted another dream of his, to the effect that in consequence of his pride he would be deprived for a time of his reason and his throne, and, after being exiled from the abodes of men, would be eventually restored to his senses and his rank. During the reign of Evil-Merodaoh, the immediate successor of Nebuchadnezzar, no mention is made of Daniel, nor in the short reign of his successor; but in the last Chaldean reign he is mentioned in connection with the closing scene of Belshazzar's life. Belshazzar having had a remarkable vision of a handwriti/ig on the wall, which none of the wise men of the Chaldeans could interpret, Daniel was called in, read the writing, and announced the impending catastrophe of the empire. During this reign Daniel had two prophetic visions (ch. vii., viii.). After the conquest of Babylon by the united powers of Media and Persia, Daniel devoted himself during the short rule of Darius the Mede to the affairs of his people and their possible return from exile, the time of which, according to the prophecies of Jeremiah, was fast approaching. His elevation was not beheld without malice and envy, and his enemies resolved to compass his overthrow.
Under plausible pretences they secured the passage of a law that for a certain time no one in the realm should be allowed to offer any petition to any god or man except the king, on penalty of being thrown into a den of lions. Daniel, as they anticipated, was the first to disregard this law, by continuing his habit of worshipping God in prayer three times a day with his window open. The consequence was, that Daniel was cast into the den of lions, but was miraculously preserved; and this was the means of his being raised to more exalted honor (ch. vi.). He at last beheld his people restored to their own land, his position at the court of the Medo-Persian government having given him the opportunity of rendering material aid to this end. - The Book of Daniel occupies but a third rank in the Hebrew canon, being inserted not among the prophets, but in the Hagiographa. The reason for this arrangement appears to have been that Daniel, in the opinion of the compilers of the canon, stood to the theocracy in a different relation from those for whom prophecy, or the announcing of divine messages, was a profession.
In the Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament the book of Daniel follows immediately after Eze-kiel. The smaller portion of the book (ch. i. 1, to ii. 4, and ch. viii. to xii.) is written in Hebrew, the larger portion (ch. ii. 4, to vii. 28) in the Chaldee language; but the unity of the book is now generally conceded. The book divides itself into two parts, historical and prophetic. The substance of the former, so far as it relates to the life of Daniel, has been given above. The latter contains the famous visions of the four beasts coming up from the sea, succeeded by the appearance of "the son of man," denoting, as the prophet tells us, four kingdoms and the Messianic kingdom, and of the ram with his two unequal horns, and the he goat with the great horn which was broken and replaced by four new horns, out of one of which another small terrible horn grew, which caused great devastations. The book then interprets the 70 years during which, according to Jeremiah, Jerusalem was to lie waste, as so many weeks of years (7 x 70 years), and describes at greater length the conflict of the last of the four world-kingdoms with the Messianic kingdom, which at length issues from it as victor.
This prophetic portion of the book of Daniel has a special importance in Christian theology, as for more than a century it has constituted a chief bone of contention between the old orthodox theology (Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, and Evangelical Protestant) on the one hand, and all the liberal schools of Protestantism on the other. The view which until the latter half of the 18th century was held by the entire Christian church, and which more recently has been defended by Hengstenberg, Havernick, Delitzsch, Pusey, Auberlen, Davidson, and others, assumes that Daniel, as the book itself claims, was the author, and that the visions therefore represent real prophecies, the most minute in their details which are to be found in the Old Testament. Most of these theologians regard the Roman empire as the last of the four kingdoms. The view of the liberal theologians has been chiefly developed by Eichhorn, Bertholdt (Einleitung, 1812), Bleek (1822), De Wette (Einleitung, 7th ed., 1852), Lengerke (Das Buck Daniel, 1835), Ewald (Die Propheten des Alten Bundes, 1841), Hitzig (Das Buck Daniel, 1850), and Lucke (Einleitung in die Offeribarung Johannis, 1852). They assume that the place of the book among the Hagiographa, its omission in the list of books mentioned by Jesus Sirach, historical errors and anachronisms, and the occurrence of Greek words and of doctrines which in the time of Daniel were entirely unknown to the Jews, point to a much later origin.
The writers of this school have generally come to the conclusion that the book was written by a Jew at the time of the greatest oppression of the Jews by the Syrians, in or about the year 167 B. C. The last of the four empires, according to them, is that of Alexander the Great, the he goat with the great horn which is replaced by small horns; and the terrible small horn that grew out of these is the cruel oppressor of Israel, Antiochus Epiphanes. - The Greek and Latin translations contain several pieces which are not in the Hebrew, and which therefore belong to the parts of the Old Testament called by the Catholics deutero-canonical, and by the Protestants apocryphal. They are contained in the Apocrypha of the English Bible under the titles, " The Song of the Three Holy Children," "The History of Susannah," and "The History of Bel and the Dragon".