Question is straightforward: Why is part of Daniel written in Hebrew but a middle section written in Aramaic?

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There are a whole host of explanations that have been proffered. Most of this answer is based on this book which summarises the consensus opinion that the first six chapters and the remaining ones constitute two separate sections (textually that isn't difficult to see, the first section is narrative and the second visionary, they also run chronologically parallel). This of course is almost the basis for an answer to the question - since this dissection is almost in line with the language shift - save the first chapter (which "should" be in Aramaic) and the seventh (which "should" be in Hebrew).

It seems entirely plausible that the first section was composed in Babylon and the second in Israel. This would lend to the explanation that the first chapter's Hebrew is merely introductory (similar to the rest of the more historical accounts of the Bible), while the seventh's Aramaic remains problematic. There is a lovely textual/narrative symmetry that links chapters 2-7 in pairs (2 and 7, 3 and 6, 4 and 5) which would then tie the seventh chapter in some way to the first section, making its Aramaic an understandable choice.

Further opinions speculate simply that the entire book was originally written in Hebrew, but lost, and only the Aramaic translations (which were and still are prevalent because Aramaic was widely spoken) of some sections were preserved. Others speculate precisely the opposite - the entirety was written in Aramaic (being the more universal and diplomatic language of the time) but in order to canonise the book they needed to translate at least some sections to Hebrew. Which chapters to translate could still be explained as above. Still others propose an explanation that is seen in certain parts of Jewish dogma from the same period - that the Aramaic was for the layperson and the Hebrew was for the more academic/elite. This makes a lot of sense in light of the narrative/visionary breakdown.

Another explanation for chapter seven's diversion from the Hebrew of the rest of the section is that it's a connecting link - being contently more like the second section, but in the language of the first.

The simplest explanation is simply redaction. The two languages are a natural result of the bilingual region.

  • I like ypu last and simplets answer. Since the whole book is largley based on a vision that a Gentile King had, the use of the local language for those sections more directly related to the event in the native language of Babylon seems natural for Daniel to write in, that he might also use in own native tongue when encorporating the foreign story into the prophetic record is not hard to accept. Also, welcome to BH.SE, not everybody get's there first answer is an accepted one. – Mike Aug 3 '13 at 2:40

For the last portion of the book there is a frame of sealing. The prophecies were to become relevant for the future after the time in Babylon, when the people would have long settled back in their land and speak their language, Hebrew.

For Daniel Hebrew was not just his mother-tongue, the language of his youth, it was the language of a chosen people. At his old age he still turned towards Jerusalem when he prayed to God. He loved, studied and knew the Law and the Prophets. In his decisions as an official under different kings he had very certainly often relied on Mosaic regulations (which had proven successful to him from young age on).

If he in Babylon in a a foreign environment had retained his Hebrew, those returning to their promised home land could and should regain it, if it should have been lost.

This is the frame of sealed prophecy spanning over the visions of chapers 8 to 12:

'The vision ... that was told to you is correct. But you should seal up the vision, for it refers to a time many days from now.' - Daniel 8:26

'He said, "Go, Daniel. For these matters are closed and sealed until the time of the end.' - 12:29

To write this last part of the book (which really was a collection of documents) in Hebrew would be just natural. With regard to the sealing of these contents it seems more than indicated not to use the Aramaic.

For the first part to be in Hebrew the most likely reason is that there was no written account of these first three years of Daniel's education in Babylon. The beginning of chapter 2 is an introductory link to what was the beginning of Daniel's career as an official of high rank of the Babylonian court. Verses 4b to 11 of chapter 2 (the beginning of the Aramaic text may have been part of a royal protocol and decree (in Aramaic) which followed the reported event.

To continue in Aramaic may (in addition to the fact that the now surrounding and officially used language was Aramaic) be interpreted as Daniel's signal to his fellow countrymen that God's decree for those living in Babylon was to settle and work for the good of the city (which obviously would not mean to shun and despise the language spoken there).

Daniel may have written the first part of the book as an introduction to the collection of documents and accounts he arranged in his old age. The parallelism of the chapters 2 and 7, 3 and 6, 4 and 5 indicates a late arrangement, as well as the end of the first chapter does:

'Now Daniel lived on until the first year of Cyrus the king.' - Daniel 1:21

The Aramaic in the Book of Daniel has two purposes:

  1. The Aramaic provided a perfect chiasm to the parallel Hebrew portions of the text; and

  2. The Aramaic is special divine revelation to the Gentiles, who spoke Aramaic.

First, there are two chiasms in the Book of Daniel: one in Aramaic and one in Hebrew. Both sets of chiasms appear to be parallel in content and meaning notwithstanding they are not in chronological order (and therefore the chiasms were easier to construct). For example, the first chapter of the Book of Daniel is an introduction (Hebrew), however chapters 2-7 (Aramaic) and 8-12 (Hebrew) appear to be in precise chiasmic order: that is, chapters 2-7 (Aramaic) appear to be one chiasm and chapters 7-12 (Hebrew) appear to be the second parallel chiasm. Both chiasms appear to be precise parallels in content and meaning.

  Chapter 1 - Introduction
       Chapter 2 - Kingdom Rule (Four Gentile + 1 Jewish)
            Chapter 3 - Tribulation & Testing from Gentile power
                Chapter 4 - Divine deliverance by angel(s)
                Chapter 5 - Divine deliverance by angel(s)
            Chapter 6 - Tribulation & Testing from Gentile power
       Chapter 7 - Kingdom Rule (Four Gentile + 1 Jewish)

As mentioned, chapters 2-7 are in Aramaic because the text indicates that the direct audience of the divine revelation were Gentile world rulers (Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar).

On the other hand, the audience for the remainder of the book appears to be Jewish because there are seven mentions of the sacred Tetragrammaton, which would only resonate with devout Jews. Also, there are several allusions to the fulfillment of the prophecies of Jeremiah, which would only resonate with devout Jews. The second chiasm repeats (and amplifies) the earlier chiasm of the book in content and meaning, which is common to the dichromatic structure of all Hebrew narrative and poetry.

       Chapter 7 - Kingdom Rule (Four Gentile + 1 Jewish)
            Chapter 8 - Tribulation & Testing from Gentile power
                Chapter 9 -  Divine intervention by angel(s)
                Chapter 10 - Divine intervention by angel(s)
            Chapter 11 - Tribulation & Testing from Gentile power
       Chapter 12 - Kingdom Rule (Jewish)

Both chiasms describe events that are not in chronological order, because if the events were in chronological order, the chiasms would not work. For example, in the first chiasm the events of Chapter 7 occurred before the events of Chapter 5 (compare Dan 7:1 with Dan 5:30); and in the second chiasm the events of Chapter 10 occurred before the events of Chapter 9 (compare Dan 10:1 and Dan 9:1). This flipping and flopping of chronology therefore made the logical formation of the respective chiasms possible, because if the text reported the events in chronological sequence, the chiasms would have been fractured.

In summary, the Aramaic of this book was deliberate and had a twofold purpose: (1) the Aramaic provided a perfect chiasm to the parallel Hebrew portions of the text; and (2) the Aramaic was direct special divine revelation to the Gentiles, who spoke Aramaic. A third purpose now appears evident: the arrangement of Aramaic and Hebrew in chiasm was to preserve the text from later corruption. In other words, the brilliance of the Jewish author of this text was to write predictive prophecies in such a way that should later copyists corrupt the text, the chiasms would fracture. For example, the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and many other ancient and modern translations of the Book of Daniel contain corrupt deutero-canonical elements, because the Aramaic and Hebrew chiasms are fractured. In other words, the Book of Daniel was written and structured with the subtle, nay, almost undetectable nuance of chiasm which later copyists failed to notice when they sought to corrupt the text with extraneous deutero-canonical elements. The deutero-canonical elements "watered down" the force of predictive prophecy and fulfillment found in the Book of Daniel. Finally, if the Septuagint is a corrupt form of the Book of Daniel, then the Masoretic Text preserves the original text, which would preexist the Septuagint, and therefore date the Book of Daniel years before the Septuagint ever appeared.

Where did the author of the Book of Daniel get this subtle idea of using Aramaic in chiasm with Hebrew? The author may have derived the idea from the single verse in Jeremiah that is written in Aramaic, which provides chiasm and parallel for its own immediate context.

I tend to think the reason for the different languages found in Daniel are much more likely present because of practicality. Daniel lived in a time where it was dangerous to even suggest that there may come a day when there will be another King. That was a sure death sentence. Now Daniel may simply have wanted to gather the information written in Daniel and give it to his people and include his knowledge of the prophecies that he had received. However, if he were to include any of his own vision / dreams in the mix then it would become dangerously problematic if it fell into the wrong hands. I suggest simply that Daniel took the documents he had already written, and lets face it there was no cut and paste in those days, and added expanded upon them with this extra information. The original was already in Aramaic but the newer additions were written in a language only a Hebrew person was likely to be able to read.

  • Welcome to the site! I removed the off topic paragraphs, we like to keep things on topic here. But if you search around, we have had other questions about "time" in Daniel. Perhaps you find them interesting. – Keelan Aug 20 at 6:49
  • @David Edwards - NIV Study Bible notes says: "Linguistic evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls (which furnish authentic samples of Hebrew and Aramaic writing from the second century B.C.) demonstrates that the Hebrew and Aramaic chapters of Daniel must have been composed centuries earlier." The introduction to Daniel suggests it was probably completed 530 B.C. shortly after the capture of Babylon by Cyrus in 539. – Lesley Aug 20 at 15:22

Most of Ezra and, interestingly, Daniel are written in the Aramaic. As far as I know, these are the only books in the Bible that are written in the Aramaic. Why? Why the shift from the Hebrew language to Aramaic? It dawned on me that this is an exile language, captivity language, the language of the enemy. The 70 year Exile was one of the major events of the Nation of Israel. It is the language that the Babylonians and most likely the Persians spoke. If Germany defeated the U.S. during WWII, what language would we be speaking today? In other words, it is Prisoner of War language. Much of the language of the Bible is influenced by the Aramaic. The words by the Lord on the cross, “My God, my God why have You forsaken Me?” were in the Aramaic. It is as if God is saying, never forget the Exile and why it happen.

*The information concerning the Aramaic language came from “The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia Of The Bible.” The idea of it being a POW language came from my dysfunctional mine...

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    Technically, most of Ezra is in Hebrew. I'm not going to go counting words in Daniel. – Susan May 24 '16 at 5:14
  • Hi Nick, welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange - thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. – Steve Taylor May 24 '16 at 7:13
  • A.) A small Correction** - Aramaic was actually used in other books, (Ezra, Jeremiah, Daniel, and even including Genesis. See (Biblical Aramaic, Wikipedia); B.) Recall that Abraham was from Canaan, and only ~70 people went into Egypt, and a nation came out. C.) Also, Daniel's "Aramaic" is argued to have been "Chaldean Aramaic", rather than "Assyrian Aramaic". See Wikipedia for Chaldean Neo-Aramaic for more information, – elika kohen May 24 '16 at 11:43

Lt Colonel Robert B Thieme: Chaldean Language, (western Aramaic) is the message to the gentiles and deals with the gentiles nations: Chaldean Empire, Median Persian Empire, Graeco Macedonian Empire and the Roman Empire, But the Hebrew parts of Daniel only deal with the Jews: 5th cycle of discipline, [Interruption (chaldean)], Tribulation.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    This is a very "telegraphic" answer. It would be better to write an answer in complete English sentences, citing your sources and explaining a bit about who they are and what the basis is for the theory that the Aramaic sections are for the gentiles. What evidence is there that the author of Daniel was interested in or commanded to prophesy to the gentiles? – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Jan 29 at 10:09
  • Source was stated: Lt Cl Robert B Thieme Sources: Doctrine of the Dispensations; Doctrine of Inspiration; Doctrine of the 5th cycle of discipline; Doctrine of the Mistery, among others. Some ancient History Some Isagogics, etc. Daniel was actually living in a gentile nation, and by the way, there is a whole chapter of Daniel written by a gentile King, who claims his message is "unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth" Daniel became a high ranking official of the Chaldean empire (gentile nation) and Daniel later on became #1 in the Median Persian Empire. – Federico Calderon Jan 29 at 23:39
  • Daniel, as you'd put it "prophesied" while at the Chaldean empire being the highest ranking official of the State Department, and Nebuchadnezzar converted to Daniel's faith. – Federico Calderon Jan 29 at 23:44
  • Pretty much Israel was the administrator of the gospel during their dispensation and they were always commanded to "Prophesy" to the gentile nations. I'm not even sure why you make an issue about the message of Daniel (in Western Aramaic, Chaldean) was for the Gentiles. – Federico Calderon Jan 29 at 23:47

Please allow me offer an answer that is different than you may have heard, but goes beyond what we can see outwardly and requires faith to see many things together from the "new" and the "old" as one.

Have you noticed the following? In Daniel 2:1, exactly who had the dreams?

Now in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was troubled and his sleep left him Dan 2:1

It was "Nebuchadnezzar" (and NOT Nebuchadnezzar "the King" or "King Nebuchadnezzar"). We must pay attention to the exact words used in each verse and not assume anything. Each specific Word and verse will be properly fulfilled according to it's exact spiritual time and scripture placement.

Now, look at exactly WHO the Chaldeans respond to.

Then the Chaldeans spoke to the king in Aramaic: “O king, live forever! Tell the dream to your servants, and we will declare the interpretation.” Dan 2:4

Do you see exactly WHO they are speaking to (and what they tell him)? They are NOT talking to "Nebuchadnezzar", but to "the King". In God's perfect eyes these are two different "men". One "inner" who is "the King" and one outer who is "Nebuchadnezzar" who is "outer" and appears to be the king according to the flesh (natural outer man).

Now, ponder these verses.

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day 2 Cor 4:16

Do you see how in God's eyes we are all two separate people in one body?

Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer 2 Cor 5:16

God commands us to recognize NO ONE according to their outer natural person or "appearances", but who they truly reveal themselves as from within. This is what is being revealed here in these verses.

"The King" is hidden inside the heart of "Nebuchadnezzar" and these Chaldeans know him and speak HIS language. The same language of Jesus himself.

So, it is my belief that these specific words are a very hidden prophesy that wasn't revealed directly to "Nebuchadnezzar" (the outer man) at that point, but to/through his inner man "The King". They go all the way to Daniel 7:28 and end because that is the true heavenly kingdom of God will finally and fully replace the current Earthly Kingdom of darkness of "Nebuchadnezzar" forever.

This is God himself "piecing together" two entirely different kingdoms (Heavenly and Earthly) written in different spiritual "languages" into one book of prophesy. It is God himself becoming "one" with man.

Here is how you can prove it. It starts in Dan "2""4". These numbers are very important. The "2" is the second Kingdom mentioned and the "4" is the 4th spiritual age. If we go to verse "40", we can see further details of what is "inside" verse "4" and see what occurs from a lower level.

It's the start of the "Kingdom of iron" which is Gods immutable spiritual law". The Kingdoms before this were of Earthly spiritual flesh. This is a divided kingdom of inner spiritual law (God himself speaking Aramaic) and outer "clay" which is a human body.

This is a current regenerated person who has the Lord inside their heart and the Kingdom is the "Medes (inner) and the Persians (outer)". His Kingdom as the "Medes" will rule initially from within us but also from the outside at some point when it becomes "the rock" (Peter) and crushes all the rest until they believe and are reborn too.

The "Persians" are the outer kingdom of the spiritual "flesh" that will be fully circumcised away on/in the "8th spiritual Day", "the day of the Lord". This will fulfill the covenant of Abraham for all humanity and this is occurring right now in the spiritual realms of Earth which are INSIDE US. Each time the Lord reveals a lie we believe about him via his LIVING Word and he speaks his LIVING truth from within, he "circumcises" or cuts away more of the outer fleshly lie (deception) from our minds and hearts. Paul explains this beautifully in Colossians and Romans. This is how a true believer can remain sinless while still in a sinful natural body (outer man). The outer body is merely where all sins are "quarantined" until it is fully removed (circumcised) in death.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions Col 2:8-13

This is a true "Jew". One who has been circumcised in their heart or inner man and NOT in the outer man of the flesh. A person with the Lord in their heart has been fully circumcised in their inner man as God placed a "firewall" between the inner and outer man.

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God Rom 2:28-29

God will reveal the most astonishing thing to us one day. Our current bodies that contain sin ARE THE ATONING sacrifice that all the Nation of Earthly Israel is waiting for. It is actually the body of Christ himself, the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him 2 Cor 5:21

We are in his body right now dying with him. 2 Cor 4:10 Our (outer) body contains sin but is also the atoning sacrifice. This is why according to Mark 15:32 and Matthew 27:42 Christ is STILL dying on the cross. The Greek word "Nun" is in these two verses only. This means right now at this EXACT present time.

See most of the Christian world believes his body was a single natural body. It wasn't. It was a spiritual body that is the container for all mankind, our current outer man's body. His death is a spiritual death but also the natural death of all people too. When he died, we died with him. Rom 6:8, 2 Tim 11, 2 Cor 5:14

His body will fully die and all people are inside it as he is the "last Adam" (Noah) and the body is the "Ark" of the MOST HIGH God's covenant of which he will "pass us through" the flood of the "salting with fire" of Mark 9:49.

That is God's side of the "inner" or spiritual view. Here is man's side.

"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it Matt 16:18

This "salting" and "purifying" process will continue until all Earthly kingdoms are subdued and God's kingdom is supreme in 7:28-9. All people will be "translated" into the Kingdom of his beloved son. Col 1:13 You can see this play out in Acts of the Apostles as Peter is often the most bold one who will speak the truth to anyone. He is the "edge" of his sword of the spirit who is sent into the toughest spiritual battle - those under heavy spiritual law.

However, the truth is always supreme and will expose all lies and deceptions. It is his very living Word (hidden in the spiritual realms) that each written word points to. His living Word who is Christ his Son will not stop until each letter of the law and written Word is 100% fulfilled.

I am very sorry I wrote so much. I get very excited about the things God is revealing and how he is putting together the entire Bible both old and new into "one new man" - the new creation. Eph 2:14-15

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    This has all the components of a good answer on this site (well formatted, thoroughly explained, works from the text and specific context up, etc.), and yet I think you're missing the mark. The final conclusion you arrive at isn't even all that off theologically, but as far as hermeneutics go the actual process of interpretation here is … and please don't think I'm just out to bash some view I don't agree with here … but it's nonsense. It is beyond unconvincing. – Caleb Apr 8 '15 at 4:39
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    The entire case hinges on subtleties of English that may or may even reflect the original text. And even if they are, there is nothing here to demonstrate that they mean what you are reading into them. Considering the far more likely plainer reading, it seems the burden of proof ought to lie on the one proposing a completely novel reading to demonstrate the case that the text actually leads in that direction and exclude other more attested explanations. – Caleb Apr 8 '15 at 4:39
  • Thanks for being kind even when we don't agree. :) – Duane Apr 9 '15 at 14:26

I am going to share the answer that you don't want to hear. The Prophet Daniel although a Hebrew is prophesying that in the end, the Kingdom bearers will be gentiles who specifically call on El Elyon, the saints according to the order of Melchizedek. We all know that the scriptures do not err. We know that Daniel is a Hebrew versed in the Hebrew language. We know that the book of Daniel has come to us by God as a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic chapters. We know that the chapters of the Prophecy are in Aramaic. Chapter 7 verse 18 is in Aramaic. The Saints of El Elyon are named heirs NOT the saints of Yahweh/Jhvh. Personally I know the names are interchangeable BUT THE POINT THAT THE PROPHECY MAKES IS NOT and that is that the Kingdom is given to the saints of El Elyon. This means that canaanites/palestinians/muslims are eligible as saints that worship El Elyon. This also means that Christians and Jews who accept Jesus and his Priesthood NOT according to Aaron and the Jewish Levites but according to Melchizedek the priest of El Elyon are eligible also. The prophecy was purposely written in Aramaic. The prophecy purposely named El Elyon and not Yahweh/JHVH but everyone every commentary I have ever read has GLOSSED over this as if the intent is not apparent. This is a clear message that the Final Kingdom of Jesus Christ The Lamb of God will not be exclusive but inclusive, righteousness is not found in a religion but in the character of the individual who knows the King of Righteousness, The King of Peace.

  • This is very confusing. Please edit it and try to explain it more simply. – curiousdannii Sep 30 '15 at 13:33

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