The central figure of the book of Daniel is very likely a fictional character, perhaps inspired by a real person from the ancient Near East known for his wisdom and good judgment (see Ezek 14:14, Ezek 14:20, Ezek 28:3). The name Daniel, which in Hebrew probably means “my judge is God,” suits the figure in the book of Daniel, given the book’s overall theme of judgment upon the kingdoms that oppose God and his people and the specific setting of Dan 7, in which God convenes the heavenly court and sits as judge.
The dangers and difficulties that Torah-observant Jews faced during the second century B.C.E., especially during the reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, led to the writing and circulation of the book of Daniel and a number of related materials soon after. In due course, some of these related materials were added to the Greek version of Daniel.
These additions include the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Youths, Susanna, and Bel and the Snake. The Prayer of Azariah is uttered by Abednego, one of the young men in the furnace (see Dan 3), who confesses Israel’s sin and petitions God to put Israel’s enemies to shame. The prayer is followed by a song of praise and an exhortation to praise God. Susanna is the story of a beautiful woman who is pursued by two lustful elders. When wrongly accused of adultery, the wise Daniel defends her. Bel and the Snake (or Dragon) comprises two stories designed to demonstrate the foolishness of idolatry and the dishonesty of the heathen priesthood. These stories teach that God’s people will persevere if they have faith.
The stories of Daniel were well-known by Jews in the second century B.C.E. On his deathbed Mattathias, father of Judah Maccabee and his brothers, reminds his sons of the example of Daniel and the three youths (1Macc 2:59-60). Daniel served as a model here and in other Maccabean literature (see 3Macc 6:6-7, 4Macc 16:3, 4Macc 18:12-13) because of his faith and observance of Jewish customs even when threatened with death.
The popularity of Daniel and the writings associated with him is attested in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which include eight fragmentary scrolls of the book of Daniel as well as stories about the repentance, prayer, and healing of the Babylonian king Nabonidus; a dialogue between Daniel and Belshazzar; an account of Israel’s history mentioning Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel alongside a prophecy of the “end of evil”; and a prophecy foretelling the coming of one who will be called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High.” Other scrolls mention Daniel’s prophecy of a coming anointed one (Dan 9:26) and quote Dan 12:10.
Daniel receives a great deal of attention in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 10.188-280; 11.337; 12.322), probably because Josephus saw in this figure an example of how to engage the pagan world successfully. Daniel was also popular in Christian literature, largely because of his visions and prophecies (see Matt 24:15, the apostolic fathers 1 Clement 45:6, Barnabus 4:5, and 2Esd 12:11); the book of Daniel appears allusively in a number of places in the New Testament, especially in Revelation.