Daniel 1:1-21

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During the reign of Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, the Babylonian monarch Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and besieged the city. This is said to have taken place in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign. Many who do not consider the account in Daniel to be a narration of actual events view the reference to the third year as a historical blunder in a legendary story. Throughout the centuries, however, persons who accepted the book of Daniel as historical have offered plausible explanations. (1:1)

The reference to the “third year” that seems to fit better than other views is one that coincides with the way in which Josephus narrates events. His narration is largely based on 2 Kings 24:1, 2, 12-16; Jeremiah 22:13-19; 52:28, and includes some additional information for which there is no extant confirmatory account. (1:1)

According to Antiquities (X, vi, 1-3; vii, 1), Nebuchadnezzar, after having reigned “four years,” or in the “eighth year” of Jehoiakim’s rule, came with mighty forces against Judah and demanded tribute from Jehoiakim, threatening to war against him if he refused to pay. Then, in the “third year” thereafter or in the eleventh year of his reign, Jehoiakim did not pay the tribute. A short time later, Nebuchadnezzar “made an expedition against Jehoiakim.” Out of fear that the prophecy of Jeremiah would be fulfilled that he would be killed and not be granted an honorable burial (Jeremiah 22:13-19), Jehoiakim did not mount a defense of Jerusalem and did not “shut the gates.” After entering the city, the Babylonian monarch “slew such as were in the flower of their age, and such as were of the greatest dignity, together with their king Jehoiakim, whom he commanded to be thrown before the walls, without any burial.” Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim, then began to reign as king. Not long thereafter, Nebuchadnezzar, fearing that Jehoiachin would cause the people to revolt because he had killed his father Jehoiakim, sent an army against Jerusalem and besieged the city. Jehoiachin, not wanting to endanger the city, surrendered. (1:1)

A Babylonian chronicle about the early years of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar reports that, in the fourth year, he “mustered his army and marched to Hatti land [Hattu].” There in Hatti land (Hattu) the Babylonian warriors “marched unopposed.” In the same year, Nebuchadnezzar led his army into Egypt, which meant that the Babylonian forces passed through the realm of Jehoiakim. During the fighting in Egypt, both sides incurred heavy losses. Thus the Babylonian chronicle agrees with the account of Josephus that Nebuchadnezzar was in Judah in the fourth year of his reign, which would have been the eighth year of Jehoiakim’s reign. Therefore, it is conceivable that, before the Egyptian campaign, Nebuchadnezzar (as Josephus wrote) required Jehoiakim to pay tribute, which he did for two years but then refused to do in the third year, and it is this “third year” to which the opening verse of the book of Daniel has been interpreted to refer. That “third year” would be the eleventh year of Jehoiakim’s reign and the seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule. The Babylonian chronicle does report that Nebuchadnezzar besieged the “city of Judah” or Jerusalem in his “seventh year,” “captured the king” (Jehoiachin), and “appointed there a king of his own choice” (Zedekiah). (1:1)

The judgment that befell Jehoiakim was one that YHWH had decreed, and so he, the Lord, is spoken of as having delivered “Jehoiakim, the king of Judah,” into the “hand” of Nebuchadnezzar. To indicate that their gods had triumphed over the deities of other nations, victorious kings deposited the images of the deities of defeated peoples in the temple of their own gods. As there were no images of YHWH at the temple in Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar took some of the sacred vessels from the temple to the “land of Shinar” (the ancient name for Babylonia [Genesis 10:9, 10; 11:2-8]) and placed them in the temple treasury of his god (probably Marduk, the chief deity of Babylon), thereby tangibly representing that his god had been victorious. (1:2; see the Notes section.)

Nebuchadnezzar commanded “Ashpenaz [Abiesdri (LXX); Asphanez (Theodotion); Aspanes (P967)], his chief eunuch, to bring some of the sons of Israel,” and members of the royal family and of the nobles, to be trained for functioning in the Babylonian court. It was customary to make such captives eunuchs. According to Josephus (Antiquities, X, x, 1), “Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, took some of the most noble of the Jews that were youths, and the kinsmen of Zedekiah their king.” Josephus wrote that the Babylonian monarch made “some of them eunuchs, which course he took also with those of other nations whom he had taken in the flower of their age.” (1:3; see the Notes section.)

The account in the book of Daniel describes the youths to be selected as ones without any blemish or physical defect, good-looking males, “being prudent in all wisdom” (being intelligent or wise), “knowing knowledge” (being knowledgeable), and “discerning thought” (having good comprehension). They were to be persons who would be able to “stand” or serve in the palace of the king. Those who met the qualifications were to be taught the writing and language of the Chaldeans. (1:4)

As to their nourishment, they were to be given a daily provision from the rich fare of the king and from the supply of the wine that he drank. After a period of three years of education and being given what was considered to be the choicest food and drink, the young men were to “stand before the king” or were to be brought into his presence. (1:5)

Among those chosen for special training were four youths from the “sons of Judah” who had been led as captives to Babylon — Daniel, Hananiah (Hananias [LXX]), Mishael (Misael [LXX]), and Azariah (Azarias [LXX]). The name “Daniel” means “my God is Judge.” “Hananiah” may be understood to indicate that “YHWH has shown favor.” The name “Mishael” may be translated as a question, “Who is like God?” “Azariah,” like “Hananiah,” incorporates an abbreviated form of the divine name and signifies “YHWH has helped.” All four names included reference to the true God, the God whose servants these youths were. (1:6)

The chief eunuch gave them new names, which preserved no link to YHWH or the God whom the young men revered. For one’s name to be changed indicated one’s being subordinate to the one who did the renaming. When the chief eunuch changed the names of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, he did so at the direction of King Nebuchadnezzar. This is evident from the name given to Daniel — Belteshazzar (Baltasar [LXX]). In verse 12 of chapter 5, it is stated that King Nebuchadnezzar gave him the name Belteshazzar, and verse 8 of chapter 4 quotes the Babylonian monarch as referring to the name as being “according to the name of my god.” The name “Belteshazzar” means “guard the life of the king” and appears to have been an invocation directed to Bel, a designation that came to be applied to Marduk, the principal deity of Babylon. (1:7)

The name of Hananiah was changed to Shadrach (Sedrach [LXX]). Though by no means certain, the name Shadrach may be a form of Shudur Aku, meaning “command of Aku” (the Babylonian moon god). (1:7)

Whereas the name Mishael appears to have focused on the true God, indicating that there is no one like him, the changed name, Meshach (Misach [LXX]), may have incorporated the designation of the Babylonian moon god Aku. If the name is a form of Mishaaku, it could mean, “Who is what Aku is?” (1:7)

The name Azariah was changed to Abednego (Abdenago [LXX]), meaning “servant of Nebo” or Nabu. As part of the Babylonian pantheon, Nebo was linked to the planet Mercury and considered to be the son of Marduk. (1:7)

It may be that the intent of giving names with no link to YHWH was to make the young men forget about their God and begin to think in terms of the Babylonian deities. On account of the successful Babylonian campaign against Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar would have regarded his gods as being superior. (1:7)

In his “heart” or his inmost self, Daniel determined not to defile himself with the royal fare and with the wine that the king drank. Therefore, he requested the chief of the eunuchs that he might have other food and drink so as not to pollute himself. The rich food may have included meat from animals that had not been properly bled or that the Mosaic law designated as unclean for food. It may also be that there were idolatrous connections with the food and the wine. (1:8)

The gracious favor and compassion (“honor and favor” [LXX]; “mercy and compassion” [Theodotion]) that the chief eunuch showed to Daniel are attributed to God. This may indicate that YHWH, by means of his spirit, influenced the chief eunuch to be favorably inclined toward Daniel. (1:9)

Being obligated to carry out the commands of the Babylonian monarch, the chief eunuch told Daniel that he feared his “lord the king” who had specified the food and drink for those in special training. If, therefore, the king would see that the countenances of Daniel and his companions (the pronoun “you” is plural) worse in appearance than those of the other young men, the chief eunuch’s life would have been in jeopardy. As he expressed matters, Daniel and his companions would make his “head guilty to the king.” According to the Septuagint rendering, the chief eunuch said, “I will risk my own neck.” The version of Theodotion, however, reads like the extant Hebrew text. “You would make my head guilty to the king.” (1:10)

Daniel thereafter appealed to the official (meltsár) whom the chief eunuch had put in charge over him and Hananiah (Hananias [LXX]), Mishael (Misael [LXX]), and Azariah (Azarias [LXX]). There is a measure of uncertainty about the term meltsár. In the Vulgate, the designation is rendered as a name — Malassar. The Septuagint does not refer to someone other than the chief eunuch, but says that Daniel spoke to “Abiesdri [Ashpenaz], the chief eunuch.” (See verse 3.) According to the version of Theodotion, the one to whom Daniel directed his request was “Hamelsad” whom the chief eunuch had appointed over him and Hananias, Misael, and Azarias. The meaning “guardian” for meltsár is based on linking the designation to the Akkadian massāru. According to Gesenius, the term could be derived from the Persian word malasar, which he defined as “prefect of the wine.” (1:11; see the Notes section.)

Daniel asked that the one who had been appointed over him and his three companions let them have ten days with a different diet, enabling him to make a test of how they would look at the end of that period. Instead of wine, Daniel requested that they be given water. The Hebrew word zero‘ím designates the food that was to replace the royal fare and basically appears to designate “seeds” (“seeds of the earth” [LXX]). These would be edible seeds like peas, beans, and lentils. The vegetarian diet may also have included nuts, grain, and fruit. According to Josephus (Antiquities, X, x, 2), Daniel and his companions requested to be given edible seeds or pulse, dates, and anything else besides meat. (1:12)

At the end of the ten days, the official in charge of them could then look at their countenances and compare them with those of the youths who had their allotment from the royal fare. He, as Daniel said, could deal with him and his companions as he would then be able to see. (1:13)

The official “listened” to Daniel and his three companions “in this matter and tested them for ten days” with the vegetarian diet. In the Septuagint, the wording and meaning are slightly different. Regarding Abiesdri (Ashpenaz), the chief eunuch, it says, “And he dealt with them [according] to this manner and tested them ten days.” It was the “manner” that Daniel had proposed respecting the change of diet for ten days. Whereas the extant Hebrew text contains the words that may be rendered “in this matter,” the version of Theodotion does not include a corresponding Greek expression but otherwise reads like the Hebrew text. “And he listened to them and tested them for ten days.” (1:14)

At the “end of ten days,” Daniel and his companions looked better than all the youths who had eaten the rich fare that the king had designated for them. In the Hebrew text, Daniel and his companions are described as having a “good appearance” (literally, “appearances” or countenances) and “fat flesh” (not the unhealthy look of famished persons). According to the Septuagint, “their fair countenance and the state of [their] body” showed up to be “better” than that of “all the youths” eating the royal diet. The version of Theodotion indicates that they appeared “good and strong in flesh” or in their physical organism to a greater extent than the young men who received their food from the “table of the king.” (1:15)

Based on the good results he observed in the case of Daniel and his three companions, the official took away their portion of the royal fare and the wine, continuing instead with their vegetarian diet. In the Septuagint, the one who did this was Abiesdri (Ashpenaz), the chief eunuch, and the version of Theodotion says that it was Hamelsad (one serving under Asphanez [Ashpenaz or Abiesdri]). (1:16)

God is the one credited with giving the “four youths” (Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) “knowledge and insight in all script and wisdom.” They proved to be learned and literate youths, able to read a variety of writings and writing styles. As possessors of wisdom, they would have used their knowledge in beneficial ways. As for Daniel, he also had understanding “in every vision and [in] dreams.” The apparent meaning is that Daniel was able to interpret divinely sent visions and dreams that conveyed meaningful messages about future developments. According to the Septuagint, God gave Daniel “insight in every matter and vision and dreams and in all wisdom.” The version of Theodotion is shorter, indicating that Daniel had insight “in every vision and [in] dreams.” (1:17)

“At the end of the days,” the previously designated three-year training period when the Babylonian monarch requested that the recipients thereof be brought before him, the chief eunuch took Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah into his presence (literally, “before the face of Nebuchadnezzar”). When Daniel and his companions are regarded as having been taken into captivity in the seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign or at the same time as the Judean king Jehoiachin was taken into exile, the three-year training would have ended in the tenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. This seems to fit an entry in a Babylonian chronicle that reads, “The king of Akkad [Babylonia] was in his own land.” (1:18; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)

Upon speaking to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, Nebuchadnezzar found them to be superior to all the others who had participated in the three-year training. Nebuchadnezzar must have raised difficult questions that they were able to answer, and their responses would have demonstrated that they had mastered the language of the Chaldeans. The reference to their then standing “before the king” (literally, “before the face of the king”) or in his presence indicates that they began their service in the royal court. (1:19)

In every “matter of wisdom [and] understanding,” the Babylonian monarch, when questioning Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, found them to be “ten times” better than (literally, “ten hands above”) “all the soothsayers and conjurers” in his entire realm. Experts in the occult arts were no match for Daniel and his three companions. The reference to “ten hands above” is to be understood as idiomatically expressing that the four young men were far superior to the soothsayers and conjurers in wisdom and understanding. “Conjurers” is a rendering of the plural word ’ashshaphím that is only found in the book of Daniel. It is thought to be a loanword from Akkadian ([w]āšipu) and, therefore, an expression one might expect to find in a narrative of events that occurred in ancient Babylon. (1:20; see the Notes section.)

Daniel continued in royal service “until the first year of Cyrus the king” (“until the first year of the reign of Cyrus, king of the Persians” [LXX]). This indicates that Daniel remained in the court of the Babylonian kings until the conquest of Babylon by the forces under the command of the Persian monarch Cyrus. Thereafter Daniel occupied a high office in the Persian empire. (1:21)


In verse 2, the Septuagint reads “Babylonia” (not Shinar), but the version of Theodotion says “land of Sennaar.” Whereas the version of Theodotion reads “house of the treasure of his god” (the temple treasury of his god), the corresponding expression in the Septuagint is a form of the Greek word eidólion, which here refers to an idol temple.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 3 is more specific in designating from which segment of the population youths were to be taken — “from the sons of the great ones of Israel and from the royal offspring and from the nobility [literally, choice ones].” The version of Theodotion refers to the “sons of the captivity of Israel” and the “seed of the kingdom” and the “Phorthommin.” The designation “Phorthommin” is a transliteration of the word appearing in the Hebrew text and is said to be a Persian loanword that may be rendered “aristocrats” or “nobles.”

The oldest extant reading of verse 11 in a Greek manuscript (P967) refers to Daniel as speaking to Solomaro.

Verse 18 of the Septuagint reads, “But after these days the king ordered them to be brought in, and they were brought in to Nebuchadnezzar by the chief eunuch.” This rendering indicates that Daniel and his companions appeared before Nebuchadnezzar at an unspecified time after the ten-day test with a change in diet had taken place.

In verse 20, the Septuagint rendering reflects the period in which the Hebrew text was translated. The words used in the Septuagint do not apply to experts in the occult arts (“soothsayers and conjurers”), but it says “sophists and philosophers” or, according to another reading (P967), “sophists and philologists.” The version of Theodotion, however, better reflects the wording of the Hebrew text (“enchanters and magi [astrologers]”). In the Septuagint, there is an additional comment that is not included in the Hebrew text nor in the version of Theodotion. According to Rahlfs’ printed text, “the king honored them and appointed them” as officials, declaring them to be wiser than all those in his service “in all his land and in his kingdom.”