Form and Function

And at the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
Daniel 4:36–37

O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.
Daniel 9:18–19


We have completed our survey of Daniel’s chiastic structure. But why bother arranging the Book of Daniel in this manner? Well, like any outline, Daniel’s interlocked chiasms exist for the benefit of the reader.

A Reason for the Rails

Nothing is so strange as the forgotten past. Writing and literature have changed radically over the centuries, burying old techniques and technology under new conventions and norms. Styles and formats that were familiar to Daniel and his readers are all but forgotten today, so it is no wonder that these chiasms would appear strange and superfluous to us.

Chiastic parallelism supplied writers with a clear means of organizing their content in a meaningful way. Authors used chiastic forms to assign value to their writing, a practice not unlike our own use of formal Roman numeral outlines. And much like our outlines, a chiasm’s familiar format granted its readers insight into the writer’s thinking. In fact, Daniel’s chiastic arrangement isn’t all that different from some of our own prose schematics. The traditional essay follows a similar arrangement, anticipating the essay’s points in its introduction, enumerating the points in its body, and synthesizing those same points in its conclusion.

Ladders and Lists

With alphanumeric outlines, authors use symbols and positions to signify concepts to their readers. A glance at the outline below immediately conveys what I value in a dinner. A few words arranged in a commonly-recognized format communicates that I like to eat, I probably suffer from heartburn, and I need to watch my cholesterol (Fig. 1). The point is, conventional outlines say a lot more than the words they contain; they underline themes, point us to meaning, and even express the intent of the writer.

I. Best Meals of All Time:
A. Spicy Indian Curry
B. Cheese Enchiladas
C. Five Alarm Cheeseburger

II. Worst Meals of All Time:
A. Liver
B. Anything with Spinach
C. Anything with Raisins
Figure 1: Don’t tell my doctor, and don’t bother commenting about liver. It won’t work.

We’ve already seen that ancient chiasms had their own way of assigning value to their content. Chiasms place parallel thoughts or themes in an opposing yet balanced structure that builds up to a center point—a climax—and this structure can be further highlighted through the use of wordplay and similar techniques (Fig. 2). So what do Daniel’s chiasms tell us?

כִּדְנָה תֵּאמְרוּן לְהֹום
 אֱלָהַיָּא דִּֽי־שְׁמַיָּא וְאַרְקָא לָא עֲבַדוּ יֵאבַדוּ מֵֽאַרְעָא וּמִן־תְּחֹות שְׁמַיָּא אֵֽלֶּה׃ ׃
Jeremiah 10:11 in the original Aramaic (above) and its English translation (below).
Thus shall you say to them:
A The gods who the heavens and the earth
B did not make (ꞌǎbadū)
B’ will perish (yệꞌbadū)
A’ from the earth and from under these heavens.  
Figure 2: Jeremiah 10:11 provides a good example of chiastic conventions;
the use of chiastic parallelism and wordplay make the point crystal clear to the reader.

A Hierarchy of Themes

Our survey of Daniel’s outline has uncovered two chiasms and three noteworthy peaks: two climaxes and what we might call an ultraclimax; these three points testify to two key themes that carry us to the central message of the Book of Daniel (Fig. 3). Let’s start by considering the two chiasms, their climaxes, and the themes these structures convey.

Daniel’s first half consists of an Aramaic chiasm with a Hebrew introduction. Six independent court tales present the sovereignty and superiority of Daniel’s God over the idols of the Gentiles; the God of Israel is clearly manifested to the nations in six distinct situations. These Aramaic accounts were not only composed in a language and style that was familiar to gentile readers, but they were also arranged to emphasize why Daniel’s God was exceptional and supreme.

Daniel’s God is incomparably wise, revealing secrets that no god can make known (Dan. 2:47; Dan. 7:16), and Daniel’s God is unequaled in power, delivering unlike any other god (Dan. 3:29; Dan. 6:27). But above all, Daniel’s God cannot fail. His ways are righteous, His rule is unending, and He will judge the kings of the earth (Dan. 4:37; Dan. 5:22–23). This last theme constitutes the climax of the chiasm, the chief theme of the first half of Daniel. So, in the first chiasm, we learn that the Supreme God is coming and He will not fail to judge the world.

The second half of the book consists of a Hebrew chiasm with an Aramaic introduction. Three independent visions detail Israel’s suffering and struggle under gentile rule. The visions are not only sophisticated and enigmatic, but they also focus entirely on historical developments. In contrast to the tales in the Aramaic chiasm, these visions make no mention of Israel’s redeemer; He is hidden behind the geopolitical tides that are sweeping over the Jews and Jerusalem. The visions and their opaque interpretations contrast sharply with the open, generous revelations granted to the gentiles in the first chiasm, fulfilling prophecies of Isaiah and Hosea (cp. Dan. 12:8–13 to Isa. 28:11–12 and Isa. 29:10–15). In a word, the Savior of the gentile kings is a stranger to Israel (cp. Dan. 2:16 and Dan. 2:47 to Dan. 7:16), unknown and inaccessible.

Two visions of this chiasm describe gentile domination, incredible persecution, and sudden redemption (Dan. 8:23–25; Dan. 11:36–45), while the climax intensifies the subject by focusing exclusively on Jerusalem. Israel’s desperation threads the entire chiasm, becoming especially prominent in the climax where Daniel pleads on behalf of his condemned, powerless people (Dan. 9:18–19). The theme is the inverse of the first chiasm; whereas Gentiles rule but will eventually be judged, Israel suffers judgment but will eventually rule.

So we have two chiasms with two climaxes detailing two themes. But these two chiasms frame an ultra-chiasm and these two themes point to a central message, the chief subject of the Book of Daniel. And that core theme is what we will be considering in our next post.

By Brian Warren

Brian Warren is a regular teacher at Grace and Truth Gathering in Portland, Oregon where he has been faithfully attending since 2014. He has served as a full-time preacher and teacher of the Scriptures since 2009, frequently speaking at camps, conferences, and Christian gatherings throughout the United States and Canada. Brian and his wife Jennifer have been married fourteen years and enjoy an active life with their six children.

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