Chapter 8 Daniel’s Dream (Dan 7)

In: Aramaic Daniel
Benjamin D. Suchard
Search for other papers by Benjamin D. Suchard in
Current site
Google Scholar
Open Access

In Dan 7, OG once again closely resembles MT and Th. Together with the chapter’s apocalyptic genre, this suggests that Dan 7 is more recent than Dan 4–6 and quite possibly younger than all of Dan 1–6. A number of textual links to Dan 8–12 can be dated to the Maccabean crisis, but as we shall see, applying this dating to the chapter as a whole is too simple. Like Dan 2, Dan 7 has undergone a number of different rewritings, with a base layer predating the Maccabean revolt.

1 Comparative Reconstruction

In vv. 1–2, MT’s ‘Daniel spoke, saying’ is not reflected in OG, Th, or the Peshitta. The preceding ‘the beginning of the words: he said:’ is reflected in OG and the Vulgate, but not in Th, while 4QDanb probably lacks room for it. It is unclear why these introductory formulae should have been lost, so they were probably added to the original text, one after the other.1 ‘the beginning of the words:’ may have been felt as a necessary counterpart to ‘up to here is the end of the matter’ at the end of the dream description.

In v. 17, various ancient versions read ‘kingdoms’ instead of MT’s ‘kings’.2 If this is the more original reading, MT reflects a scribal error, writing מלכין for מלכון. The preceding numeral ארבעה ‘four’, however, shows masculine agreement,3 while ‘kingdoms’ is feminine.4 Hence, if ‘kingdoms’ is the more original reading, we must also posit a correction of ארבע מלכין to ארבעה מלכין. The very presence of feminine-agreeing ארבע in a hypothetical ארבע מלכון* ‘four kingdoms’ would probably have made it more difficult to misread מלכון ‘kingdoms’ as מלכין ‘kings’ in the first place, as would the fact that ‘kingdoms’ is the easier reading here. In other words, MT’s ארבעה מלכין ‘four kings’ is the lectio difficilior and preferable to the facilitating ‘four kingdoms’.

In v. 20, MT stands alone in writing a conjunction ‘and’ before ‘eyes’, which is probably a scribal error.5

Against MT v. 25’s עדן ועדנין ‘a season and (two?) seasons’, 4QDana 14:5 reads עד]ן עדני[ן, without the conjunction. This is supported by the Peshitta. In yet another recent paper,6 Segal argues that the whole phrase עד עדן *עדנין ופלג עדן is to be read as ‘until the Season of Seasons and at the division of the seasons’ (translation mine), against the traditional understanding of ‘a year, two years, and half a year’. As the presence or absence of the conjunction w- often varies between different manuscripts, it is tempting to follow this more understandable reading here, which occurs as a Hebrew calque (מועד מועדים) in Dan 12:7. Dan 12:7, however, also attests וחצי ‘and a half’ as the counterpart of ופלג עדן. Segal aims to analyze Dan 7:25 independently from the chronological references in the later chapters,7 but that means that the calque of ‪עדן‬(ו) עדין in Dan 12:7 should also be left out of consideration. I therefore prefer MT’s reading and the traditional understanding as ‘a season (= a year) and two seasons and half a season’. In context, this phrase functions as the interpretation of זמנא ‘the time’ in v. 22.

2 Internal Reconstruction

This chapter contains a number of internal contradictions and tensions:

  • a) As many scholars have noted, the passages discussing the fourth animal’s horns are disruptive and linguistically distinct from the rest of the chapter.

  • b) The visions of the Holy Ones of the Most High receiving the kingship in vv. 22 and 27 seem to redundantly combine the vision of the one like a human being receiving the kingship in v. 14 and its interpretation in v. 18.

  • c) The vision of the horns is split up over vv. 7–8 and 21–22. Vv. 21–22 mix up elements from the vision (the little horn, the Ancient of Days) and its interpretation (the Holy Ones) and do not receive an explicit interpretation.

  • d) There is variation between the terms ‘the Holy Ones’ (vv. 21–22), ‘the Holy Ones of the Most High’ (vv. 18,22,25), and ‘the people of the Holy Ones of the Most High’ (v. 27).

  • e) The phrase חזה הוית ‘I saw’ is always followed by either a presentative like וארו ‘and look’ or by the conjunction עד די ‘until’ elsewhere in Daniel, but not in v. 21. Strikingly, the next verse starts with עד די ‘until’.

  • f) V. 22 is repetitive. The phrase ‘and the time came’ makes it unlikely that v. 22a and v. 22b form a hendiadys.

  • g) There are some differences between the vision of the fourth beast and its horns in vv. 7–8 and its recapitulation in vv. 19–20.

  • h) The statement that the four animals represent four kings in v. 17 is at odds with the interpretation of the fourth animal as a fourth kingdom in v. 23.

  • i) The closing statement that Daniel ‘kept the matter in mind’ in v. 28 is not very functional.

A fascinating theory on a more original form of this chapter was put forward by Ginsberg.8 With some rearrangement of the text, he argues that each of the four animals is characterized by a number representing the number of monarchs from its associated empire known to the author of Dan 7. Thus, the winged lion with three fangs in his mouth (emended and moved here from the description of the second animal) is the Neo-Babylonian Empire, with Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-Merodach, and Belshazzar; the bear raising up one side is the Median Empire, with Darius the Mede; the four-headed and four-winged leopard is the Persian Empire, with Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes; and the fourth animal’s ten horns plus one represent ten Hellenistic kings followed by Antiochus IV. Compelling as this is, some of the changes to the text necessary to support Ginsberg’s theory are ad hoc and hard to justify otherwise.9 Crucially, the element of the fourth animal’s ten horns may well be secondary, as we will presently discuss, making this explanation untenable.

Much has been written on the integration or lack thereof of the elements surrounding the fourth animal’s horns, and especially the little horn symbolizing Antiochus IV. Pace Collins, Segal, and others, I find the structural argument put forward most recently by Newsom convincing, in addition to the linguistic ones.10 Newsom notes that the ten horns are only introduced in v. 7 after the initial description of the animal’s appearance has already been concluded and the narration has moved on to its behaviour. The horns seem to have been added as an afterthought here. The following v. 8 contains a cluster of linguistically isolated features (a): the verb אשתכל instead of חזה to describe Daniel’s visual perception, the use of the presentative אלו vs. ארו elsewhere in this chapter, and the use of the itpeʿel אתעקרו instead of a peʿil for ‘they were uprooted’.11 Hence, vv. 7bβ–8 look interpolated. Another interpolation is formed by the reference to the horn in v. 11,12 which is recognizable due to the resumptive repetition of ‘I saw’, the resulting ungrammaticality of the sentence, and the use of באדין ‘then’ here instead of באתר דנה ‘after this’ as in vv. 6–7. Noth suggests that the scene involving the Ancient of Days and the figure like a human being is also secondary, but I do not find this compelling.13

Several scholars starting with Sellin see vv. 20–22,24–25 as interpolations.14 However, the entire passage of vv. 19–27 is odd in context. The initial interpretation of the vision in vv. 17–18 already included all four animals.15 Vv. 23,26–27 do not tell us much we did not yet know:16 the fourth animal represents a fourth, highly destructive kingdom, which will be judged and destroyed, after which the Holy Ones will receive the sovereignty. The only difference with the preceding is that the animal is interpreted as a kingdom here instead of a king (h). Hence, I prefer to see the entire basic layer of this passage as a secondarily inserted vehicle for the interpretation of the little horn in vv. 24–25.17 Note that the passage is introduced with the sole instance of אדין ‘then’ in this chapter, contrasting with באתר דנה ‘after this’ in vv. 6–7 and באדין ‘then’ with prefixed b- in v. 11a.

Within the secondarily added interpretation of the fourth beast, we find a number of further tensions and contradictions. Vv. 21–22 narrate some additional events that were missing from Daniel’s original vision; moreover, the Holy Ones are included as participants in the vision here, while they were part of its real-world referent previously (c).18 Elsewhere in Daniel, the expression חזה הוית ‘I saw (in a vision or dream)’ is always followed by a presentative (ואלו or וארו) or by עד די ‘until’ (e). The description of the little horn’s war on the Holy Ones in v. 21 interrupts the expected collocation חזה הוית עד די. Hence, it is probably an interpolation. Excising it leaves us with חזה הוית עד די אתה עתיק יומיא ודינא יהב לקדישי עליונין ‘I saw that the Ancient of Days came and gave judgment to the Holy Ones of the Most High’. This is very close to a recapitulation of the events Daniel witnessed in vv. 9–10. The parallel is complete if we conjecturally emend יהב ‘he gave’ to יתב ‘he sat’, yielding חזה הוית עד די אתה עתיק יומיא ודינא יתב ‘I saw that the Ancient of Days came and the court sat down’, with the same expression דינא יתב ‘the court sat down’ as in v. 10 (and, written in the same way but with a different pronunciation and meaning, דינא יתב ‘the court will sit down’ in v. 26). The final words of v. 22a, לקדישי עליונין ‘to the Holy Ones of the Most High’, were then added after ‘it sat down’ was changed to ‘he gave’ to provide the verb with a recipient.19

The repetition in v. 22b (f) should be ascribed to the same hand as the events surrounding the little horn in v. 21, which explains why undetermined קדישין ‘the Holy Ones’ is used only in these two verses (d). The visionary events of a war of the little horn against the Holy Ones for a determined time seem to receive their interpretation in ויתיהבון בידה עד עדן ועדנין ופלג עדן ‘and they will be surrendered to him until a season and two seasons and half a season’ at the end of v. 25, whereas the rest of v. 25 interprets elements of the little horn that are mentioned in v. 20. The final event in the vision, narrated in v. 27, once again uses the past tense of v. 22, suggesting that it, too, was added by the interpolator responsible for the ‘war on the Holy Ones’ material.20 The use of the term ‘the people of the Holy Ones of the Most High’ points towards a distinction between the characters in the vision and their real-world equivalents (Table 1).

Table 1
Table 1

Correspondences between vision and reality in different layers of Dan 7

The recapitulation of the vision of the fourth animal in vv. 19–20 differs from its initial description in vv. 7–8 in a number of ways (g). The recapitulation adds bronze nails; it says that three horns ‘fell’ (נפלו) before the little horn where previously they ‘were uprooted’ (אתעקרו); the horn is referred to as ‘that horn’ (קרנא דכן) instead of ‘this horn’ (קרנא דא); and the little horn’s ‘great appearance’ (חזוה רב) is also a new element. It may be that the base layer of the interpretation of the fourth animal and its horns was added by a different writer than the original interpolations introducing the horns in the first half of the chapter. In that case, the various elements of the fourth animal’s appearance and behaviour would originally have been left uninterpreted, but this is also the case for the first three animals. Daniel’s continued preoccupation with the vision (i) makes better sense if the text originally offered less interpretation. The expression זיוי ישתנון עלי ‘my appearance changing over me’ is borrowed from Dan 5, but finds an echo in Dan 10:8, where והודי נהפך עלי למשחית is a Hebrew calque of this expression.21 As argued below, this connection with Dan 10–12 suggests that v. 28b was added by the same editor responsible for the first mentions of the little horn.

This leaves us with a very complicated reconstruction, in which the vision of the fourth animal’s horns is set in lightface (Aramaic) or italics (English), its interpretation is in black, roman strikethrough text, and the additions to the interpretation are in lightface or italics text with strikethrough.

3 Conclusion

Based on the textual evidence, we have reconstructed an archetype of Dan 7 that barely differs from MT. I have subsequently followed many other authors in identifying different textual layers in this chapter. Based on multiple linguistic and structural arguments, the references to the horns in Daniel’s vision can be identified as secondary. The interpretation of the fourth animal and its horns in vv. 19–26 is similarly secondary. While the differences from the initial vision of the horns are slight, they do occur and may point to a difference in authorship. Within this interpolation, we find a third added layer that describes additional events involving the little horn and the Holy Ones (most of v. 21, v. 22b, the end of v. 25, v. 27).

As noted by Baumgartner,22 among others, the imagery representing Antiochus IV as a small horn that sprouts on an already horned animal’s head is shared with Dan 8. In Dan 8:5, we additionally find the (Hebrew) expression ואני הייתי מבין והנה, which is transparently a calque of Aramaic ואנה הוית משתכל ואלו ‘as for me, I saw that’, closely resembling Dan 7:8’s משתכל הויתואלו. But many elements shared with Dan 8 also occur in the interpretation of the horns. Those that are not also shared with Dan 10–12 are presented in Table 2. A number of elements that are uniquely shared with Dan 10–12, however, already occur in the first interpolated vision of the horns as well as its interpretation (Table 3). While Dan 10–12 does not contain such a close parallel to Dan 7:8’s ‪משתכל הוית‬ … ואלו as Dan 8:5, this may be coincidental. The description of the vision in Dan 10–12 is limited and presented differently, breaking the pattern of a vision followed by its interpretation. It is likely that the Aramaic verb אשתכל was familiar to the author of Dan 10–12, as we find its Hebrew counterpart בין used several times in Dan 10:1. Hence, the initial description of the little horn in Dan 7:8 is not necessarily closer to Dan 8 than to Dan 10–12.23

Table 2
Table 2

Elements uniquely shared between Dan 7 and Dan 8

Table 3
Table 3

Elements uniquely shared between Dan 7 and Dan 10–12

Finally, the focus on a set period of roughly three-and-a-half years after which Antiochus’ persecution is to come to an end is shared with Dan 9 as well as some interpolations in Dan 8 and Dan 12 that have been attributed to the author of Dan 9.24 This suggests the correspondence of authorship between the different interpolations in Dan 7 and the Hebrew apocalypses as presented in Table 4. The initial description of the vision of the fourth animal’s horns necessarily precedes its interpretation and the secondary interpolations in this interpretation. These correspondences therefore suggest that Dan 10–12 was written before Dan 8, followed by Dan 9.25 A small piece of supporting evidence comes from the fact that Dan 10 starts with third-person narration, like Dan 7, but unlike Dan 8 and 9; this is understandable if Dan 10 originally directly followed Dan 7 and thus adhered to its conventions in this regard. Moreover, the limited interpretation of the vision in the reconstructed form of Dan 7 is complemented by the extensive interpretation with no symbolic vision in Dan 10–12. Dan 7:28b was then added as a link between Dan 7 and Dan 10 in order to explain that Daniel was troubled by the lack of interpretation, motivating his fast in search of understanding many years later (Dan 10:2–3).26 This connection may be supported further if we see the דבר ‘matter’ that was revealed to Daniel (10:1) as the Hebrew equivalent of מלתא ‘the matter’ in Dan 7:28. A concrete interpretation in Dan 10–12 of part of Dan 7’s vision may occur in 11:2, which can be read as explaining Dan 7:2: the four winds of heaven stirring up the Great Sea correspond to four kings of Persia, with the fourth one stirring up everything against Greece. These traces of a text where Dan 10 immediately followed Dan 7:18,28 remained even after the insertion of Dan 8 and 9 and the extensive Fortschreibung of Dan 7 disturbed their original coherence.

Table 4
Table 4

Correspondence between secondary textual layers in Dan 7 and authorship of Dan 8–12


Pace Kratz, Translatio imperii, 31, who assigns v. 1b to the Maccabean-era redactor of the chapter and the rest of vv. 1–2 to the base layer of the text, but does not take the textual variants into account.


Collins, Daniel, 275–76.


As in most Semitic languages, the numerals ‘three’ through ‘ten’ in Biblical Aramaic surprisingly mark the masculine with the suffix that is normally reserved for the feminine, while the feminine of these numerals is unmarked. This phenomenon is sometimes known as chiastic concord.


As the third person feminine plural verb is not normally spelled differently than the third person masculine plural in Biblical Aramaic, the following verb יקומון ‘they will arise’ can be either masculine or feminine.


Collins, Daniel, 276.


Segal, “Calculating the End.”


Segal, 291n53.


Ginsberg, Studies in Daniel, 5–23.


Cf. the cautioning remarks against such textual criticism aimed to support a literary hypothesis by Lemmelijn, A Plague of Texts?, ix.


Collins, Daniel, 278–79; Segal, Dreams, Riddles, and Visions, 132–33; Newsom, Daniel, 225; thus already Hölscher, “Entstehung,” 121. See also the similar argumentation and conclusions by Ulrich B. Müller, Messias und Menschensohn in jüdischen Apokalypsen und in der Offenbarung des Johannes, StNT 6 (Gütersloh: Mohn, 1972), 19–20; Kratz, Translatio imperii, 21–24.


Cf. A. S. van der Woude, “Die Doppelsprachigkeit des Buches Daniel,” in The Book of Daniel in the Light of New Findings, ed. A. S. van der Woude, BETL 106 (Leuven: Leuven University Press/Peeters, 1993), 6. The hitpeʿel התגזר is similarly used in Dan 2:34, but there the stone emphatically ‘comes loose’ without anyone acting upon it: the verb is medial, not passive. That is not the case in Dan 7:8, where the little horn is clearly responsible. Further possible linguistic discrepancies between v. 8 and the surrounding text—which I do not find convincing, however—are identified by Haag, “Menschensohn,” 142.


Hölscher, “Entstehung,” 120; Newsom, Daniel, 231–32.


Martin Noth, “Zur Komposition des Buches Daniel,” TSK 98–99 (1926): 143–63. Noth’s arguments and their reception are discussed by Collins, Daniel, 280. Contra Noth’s distinction between the use of poetic style in the Ancient of Days scene versus prose in the visions of the four animals, we may add that v. 11b חזה הוית עד די קטילת חיותא והובד גשמה ויהיבת ליקדת אשא ‘I saw that the animal was killed and its body was destroyed and it (= the animal) was given to burning by fire’ is no less poetic or metrical than e.g. v. 9bβ–10aα1 כרסיה שביבין די נור גלגלוהי נור דלק נהר די נור נגד ונפק מן קדמוהי ‘his throne was sparks of fire, its wheels were flaming fire, a river of fire streamed out from before him’. Noth’s linguistic argument that each part of the vision should end with one and only one clause introduced by חזה הוית עד די ‘I saw that’ imposes a regularity on the text that is not observably there, as this phrase is missing from the visions of the second and third animals.


Sellin, Einleitung, 233–34; followed among others by Hölscher, “Entstehung,” 120; R. B. Y. Scott, “I Daniel, the Original Apocalypse,” AJSL 47 (1931): 289–96; Kratz, Translatio imperii, 23–24; Newsom, Daniel, 240; similarly Joseph Coppens and Luc Dequeker, Le Fils de l’homme et les Saints du Très-Haut en Daniel, VII, dans les Apocryphes et dans le Nouveau Testament, ALBO 23 (Louvain/Bruges: Publications Universitaires de Louvain/Desclée de Brouwer, 1961).


Cf. Noth, “Komposition,” 153.


Cf. Walter Baumgartner, “Ein Vierteljahrhundert Danielforschung,” TRu 11.2 (1939): 77.


Cf. Davies, Daniel, 58–60 and others cited there. Müller, Messias und Menschensohn, 19–22 sees everything in vv. 17 and following as a Maccabean-era addition.


Cf. Noth, “Komposition,” 154.


Hartman and Di Lella, Daniel, 204 argue for haplography of יהיב ושלטנא יתב דינא ‘the court sat down and the authority was given’, but this does not account for the defectively spelled form יהב. Ewald’s suggestion of דינא יתב ושלטנא יהב cited by Hölscher, “Entstehung,” 120 does not explain why the second verb is spelled defectively in the first place. The same suggestion by Noth, “Komposition,” 126 fails for the same reason.


Similarly Noth, “Komposition,” 154, who sees all of vv. 21–22,27 as belonging to the same late layer. Contrast the recent argument that יהיבת should be interpreted as a future stative by Daniel E. Carver, “The Use of the Perfect in Daniel 7:27,” JBL 138.2 (2019): 325–44.


Zimmermann, Biblical Books Translated from the Aramaic, 24.


Walter Baumgartner, Das Buch Daniel, Aus der Welt der Religion. Alttestamentliche Reihe 1 (Giessen: Töpelmann, 1926).


Dan 8 could well have borrowed the horn motif from Dan 7, as pointed out by Segal, “Calculating the End,” 295 and sources cited there.


Ginsberg, Studies in Daniel, 29–38; Hartman and Di Lella, Daniel, 215–16.


Pace Ginsberg, Studies in Daniel, who argues for the order Dan 8; Dan 10–12; Dan 9. This is based on his identification of Dan 8:18–9 as an interpolation by the author of Dan 10–12.


According to the source division proposed by Ginsberg, Studies in Daniel, 32–3,37, and followed by Hartman and Di Lella, Daniel, 221–3, Dan 8:27b shows the same kind of addition. The interpretation of Dan 8’s original vision is already given in vv. 20–25. V. 27b, however, was added by the author of Dan 9, who also inserted the material related to ‘the vision of the evening and the morning’ in vv. 13–14,16,26a. Without an explanation in Dan 8, Daniel is rightly confused about this revelation, which sets up his investigation and the subsequent interpretation in Dan 9.

  • Collapse
  • Expand