06 March 2010

Saint Daniel the Prophet

Daniel (Hebrew: דָּנִיֵּאל, Tiberian Dāniyyêl ; Irish or Gaelic Language Dainéal or Domhnall; Syriac: ܕܢܝܐܝܠ, Daniyel; Arabic: دانيال,Persian: دانيال, Dâniyal or Danial, also Dani, داني ; Danyal; Greek: Δανιήλ, Dhanil; Russian: Даниил, Daniil; Chinese: 丹尼尔, Dānníěr) is the central protagonist of the Book of Daniel. The name "Daniel" means "God is my judge": Dan means "judgment" or "he judged", "i" is the hiriq compaginis meaning "of" (not to be confused with the modern Hebrew first person possessive suffix -i), and "El" means God.

According to the Biblical book of Daniel, at a young age Daniel was carried off to Babylon where he was trained in the service of the court under the authority of Ashpenaz. It is also written that Daniel became famous for interpreting dreams and rose to become one of the most important figures in the court and lived well into the reign of the Persian conquerors.

Christianity regards Daniel as a saint and as prophet. Judaism considers the Book of Daniel a part of its canon (Jewish Law), but does not regard Daniel as a prophet. Islam also regards Daniel as a prophet, though he is not mentioned explicitly in the Qur'an.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim (BC 606), Daniel and three other youths named Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were among the Jewish young nobility carried off to Babylon, along with some of the vessels of the first temple. Daniel and his three Jewish companions were subsequently evaluated and chosen for their intellect and beauty, to be trained as Chaldeans, who constituted the ranks of the advisors to the Babylonian court. (Daniel 1)

There Daniel was obliged to enter into the service of the king of Babylon, and in accordance with the custom of the age, received the Chaldean name of Belteshazzar, i.e., prince of Bel, or Bel protect the king (not to be confused with the neo-Babylonian king, Belshazzar). His residence in Babylon was very probably in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, now identified with a mass of mounds called the Kasr, on the right bank of the river. However, Daniel and his three companions remained fiercely loyal to their Jewish religious and cultural identity, an identity which would sooner or later come into conflict with the paganism of the Babylonian court.

Daniel's training (Daniel 1:4) was to fit him for service to the empire. Daniel became distinguished during this period for his piety, and for his strict observance of the Torah (Daniel 1:8-16), and gained the confidence and esteem of those who were over him.

At the close of his three years of discipline and training in the royal schools, Daniel was distinguished for his knowledge and proficiency in the pagan practices of his day, and was brought out into public life. He soon became known for his skill in the interpretation of dreams (Daniel 1:17; Daniel 2:14). Daniel made known and interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream; as well as a later dream preceding the king's descent into animal behaviour, and many years afterwards, when he was now an old man, amid the alarm and consternation of the terrible night of Belshazzar's impious feast (in which Belshazzar and his concubines drank wine out of the royal Jewish ceremonial goblets of the Temple), Daniel was called in at the suggestion of the queen-mother to interpret the mysterious handwriting on the wall. For successfully reading the cryptic handwriting by an angel of God, Daniel was rewarded by the Babylonians with a purple robe and elevation to the rank of "third ruler" of the kingdom. It is believed that the place of "second ruler" was held by Belshazzar as associated with his father, Nabonidus, on the throne (Daniel 5:16), though no where in the book of Daniel is Nabonidus mentioned by name and according to the book of Daniel Nebuchadnezzar was the father of Belshazzar. Daniel interpreted the handwriting, and "in that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain" by his own sons, who later fled.

After the Persian conquest of Babylon, Daniel held the office of the first of the "three presidents" of the empire under the reign of the obscure figure of Darius the Mede, and was thus practically at the head of state affairs, with the ability to influence the prospects of the captive Jews (Daniel 9), whom he had at last the happiness of seeing restored to their own land; although he did not return with them, but remained still in Babylon.

Daniel's fidelity to God exposed him to persecution by jealous rivals within the king's administration. The fact that he had just interpreted the emperors' dream had resulted in his promotion and that of his companions. Being favored by the King, Cyrus the Great, he was untouchable. His companions were vulnerable to the accusation that had them thrown into the furnace for refusing to worship the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar as a god; but they were miraculously saved, and Daniel would years later be cast into a den of lions (for continuing to practice his faith in YHWH), but was miraculously delivered; after which Cyrus issued a decree enjoining reverence for "the God of Daniel" (Daniel 6:26). He "prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Great," whom he probably greatly influenced in the matter of the decree which put an end to the Jewish Captivity (BC 536).

Daniel's ministry as a prophet began late in life. Whereas his early exploits were a matter of common knowledge within his community, these same events, with his pious reputation, serve as the basis for his prophetic ministry. The recognition for his prophetic message is that of other prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel whose backgrounds are the basis for their revelations.

The time and circumstances of Daniel's death have not been recorded. However, tradition maintains that Daniel was still alive in the third year of Cyrus according to the Tanakh (Daniel 10:1). He would have been almost 100 years old at that point, having been brought to Babylon when he was in his teens, more than 80 years previously. Many posit that he possibly died at Susa in Iran. Tradition holds that his tomb is located in Susa at a site known as Shush-e Daniyal. Other locations have been claimed as the site of his burial, including Daniel's Tomb in Kirkuk, Iraq, as well as Babylon, Egypt, Tarsus and, notably, Samarkand, which claims a tomb of Daniel in the Ruins of Afrasiab, with some traditions suggesting that his remains were removed, perhaps by Tamerlane, from Susa to Samarkand (see, for instance, The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, section 153).

In the Deuterocanonical portion of Daniel known as Bel and the Dragon, the prophet Habakkuk is miraculously transported by an angel to take a meal to Daniel while he is in the lions' den. In response, Daniel prays, "Thou hast remembered me, O God; neither hast thou forsaken them that seek Thee and love Thee".[1]

Legend holds that many sites throughout the Ancient Near East are the place of his burial. There are six different locations all claiming to be the site of the tomb of the biblical figure Daniel: Babylon, Kirkuk and Muqdadiyah in Iraq, Susa and Malamir in Iran, and Samarkand in Uzbekistan.

On the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar, the feast days celebrating St. Daniel the Prophet together with the Three Young Men, falls on December 17 (during the Nativity Fast), on the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers[2] (the Sunday which falls between 11 and 17 December), and on the Sunday before Nativity[3]. Daniel's prophesy regarding the stone which smashed the idol (Daniel 2:34-35) is often used in Orthodox hymns as a metaphor for the Incarnation: the "stone cut out" being symbolic of the Logos (Christ), and the fact that it was cut "without hands" being symbolic of the virgin birth. Thus the hymns will refer to the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) as the "uncut mountain".

In the West, the Roman Catholic Church commemorates Daniel on July 21.[4]

He is commemorated as a prophet in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod together with the Three Young Men (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), on December 17.[5]

He is commemorated as a prophet in the Coptic Church on the 23rd day of the Coptic month of Baramhat.[6]
  1. Dixon, Henry Lancelot (1903) (in English). "Saying Grace" "Saying Grace" Historically Considered: And Numerous Forms of Grace Taken from Ancient and Modern Sources; with Appendices. Oxford and London: James Parker and Co.. pp. 11.
  2. Sergei Bulgakov, Manual for Church Servers, 2nd ed. (Kharkov, 1900) pp. 453-5. December 11-17: Sunday of the Holy Forefathers Translation: Archpriest Eugene D. Tarris
  3. Bulgakov, op. cit., pp. 461-2 December 18-24: Sunday before the Nativity of Christ of the Holy Fathers
  4. Francis E. Gigot (1889). "Daniel". Catholic Encyclopedia on CD-ROM. New Advent.
  5. Today in History - December 17
  6. The Departure of the great prophet Daniel


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