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Daniel is the central character of the biblical book with the same name, which is included in the Ketuvim. The Book of Daniel contains 12 chapters and is written in partly Hebrew, partly Aramaic. The book relates the miraculous experiences that occur to Daniel and his friends. Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were brought in exile to Babylon after King Nebuchadnezzar put down the first Judean revolt in 597 B.C.E. They were chosen because they were "of royal descent and of the nobility - youths without blemish, handsome, proficient of wisdom…and capable of serving in the royal palace" (1:3-4). The Babylonians changed their Judean names Babylonian ones. Daniel is called Belteshazzar, meaning "prince of the king." His friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are now known respectively as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

The first chapters of the book describe how King Nebuchadnezzar erects an enormous golden statue, and orders, "Whoever will not fall down and worship [it] shall at once be thrown into a burning fiery furnace" (3:6). Daniel and his friends however, are observant followers of the Torah, and refuse to bow down to the statue. Certain Babylonians are jealous of the king's Israelite advisors because of their high standing in the king's court, and tell him that "there are certain Jews, whom you appointed to administer the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men pay no heed to you, O king" (3:12). Infuriated, Nebuchanezzar orders the three men to be thrown into the fiery furnace. Miraculously, they remain in the furnace unharmed, while the three men who carried the men to it are killed when a "tongue of flame" leaps out at them. Nebuchadnezzar has them released from the furnace and blesses their God who sent an angel to save them. He commands that anyone who curses Israel's God "shall be torn limb from limb, and his house confiscated" (3:29).

Grave of Daniel in Susa, Iran

Chapter 5 relates the story of King Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, and a banquet he threw for hundreds of Babylonian nobles. After a full night of drinking, the intoxicated king decides to drink wine from the treasures his father had taken from Solomon's Temple. At this moment, a man's finger appears and writes words on the wall of the banquet hall. Belshazzar watches in horror, and he summons men of his palace to decipher the message with a promise that they would become a high government official. No one can interpret the message, so the king commands Daniel to read the handwriting on the wall because of his reputation as an interpreter of dreams. According to the book, "And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN" (5:25). Daniel then interprets the meaning of the words to the king. "This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians" (5:26-28). That evening, Belshazzar was killed, and Darius the Mede (possibly Cyrus, King of Persia) became king of Bablyon.

Following the ascension of Darius, Daniel is quickly appointed to a high office in the new government. In a strange twist of Persian law, the king is unable to reverse a law once he himself has signed it, and Daniel's rivals use this against him. They get Darius to sign a law that states, "whoever shall address a petition to any god or man, beside you, O king, during the next thirty days, shall be thrown into a lions' den" (6:8). These men knew that Daniel, as a pious Judean, prayed to God three times a day facing Jerusalem. They immediately go to Darius, and tell him of Daniel's constant violation of the new ban. Although Darius loves and respects Daniel, he cannot overturn the law, and throws him into the lions' den. Daniel spends the night with the lions, while Darius, nervous and sleepless, fasts until dawn. He returns to the lions' den to find Daniel unharmed, who responds that God sent him an angel "who shut the mouths of the lions so that they did not injure me" (6:23). Darius orders Daniel's enemies to be thrown into the den, and the hungry lions immediately consume them.

Chapters 7-12 are mystical, apocalyptic visions that relate to the four powerful kingdoms that had persecuted the Jewish people: Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece. The book describes events that occurred to the period of Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria, so some scholars put the date of The Book of Daniel at or around 165 B.C.E., during the period of the Hasmonean revolt against the Hellenistic Greeks.

Sources: Wikipedia; Pictures from Wikipedia; Wigoder, Geoffrey , Ed. The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia. NY: Facts on File, 1992; Bridger, David (ed.). The New Jewish Encyclopedia. Behrman House, Inc. Publishers, New York. 1962; Telushkin, Joseph. Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible. NY: William Morrow and Co., 1997.