Saturday 30th May 2015,

Hebrew and Aramaic! The Languages of Daniel

Jared Huntsinger August 6, 2012 The Key to Understanding Daniel 1 Comment
Hebrew and Aramaic! The Languages of Daniel

The key to understanding the theology and much of the imagery found in the book of Daniel is not available in an English Bible.

This is because in an English Bible it is impossible for one to distinguish which language Daniel was writing in and throughout the book of Daniel. Daniel writes in TWO languages, Hebrew and Aramaic!  Moreover, many theologians, myself included, believe that Daniel uses language in order to better communicate the theological truth behind his words. In other words, Daniel is extremely intentional with the language he chooses to write each chapter in.  To think of this idea in a modern context, consider the following commercial by President Obama.

President Obama is not natively a spanish speaker (this is obvious if you know spanish).  Yet, he makes a concerted effort to present this commercial in Spanish himself, why?  Obama knows that the Spanish speaking listeners will resonate, connect with, and relate to the language of their native tongue and so he presents his information in an extremely intentional way, to appeal to them on their cultural level and hopefully win votes.  I believe the same is happening in the Book of Daniel.  Consider the following diagram:

A Chapter by Chapter Hebrew/Aramaic Breakdown of Daniel

Daniel chapter one is written in Hebrew, Daniel chapters 2-7 are written in Aramaic and Daniel chapters 8-12 are written again in Hebrew.

This diagram illustrates the language breakdown throughout the book of Daniel.  Understanding that the text of Daniel moves from Hebrew -> Aramaic -> Hebrew, is vital if one is to understand the full theological meaning of the text.  Many peculiarities of the text are also explained; for example: “Why Daniel acts as the interpreter of dreams only up to chapter 8?” or “Why does the content of the visions seem to shift at chapter 8?”  Much like the intentionality of President Obama, I believe Daniel exhibits the intentionality of  audience throughout his work.  Another way of saying this is:

 When Daniel writes in Hebrew he is writing for his Jewish Audience but when he writes in Aramaic he is writing for his Babylonian Audience.  

The language revels the heart of God.  Many Old Testament critics claim that the God of the Old Testament had no concern or care for the “gentile” peoples of the world, that His love, focus, and attention was solely devoted to the Israelite nation.  This is simply not true.  Chapters 2-7 are written in Aramaic to the Babylonian audience, to the “gentiles” of that time.  Their content contains God’s prophetic plan for the world.  Chapters 8-12 are written in Hebrew for the Jewish audience.  Their content contains God’s prophetic plan for Israel.  It is also worth noting that the prophecies of in the Aramaic section are all interpreted by Daniel, while the prophecies in Hebrew are interpreted too Daniel by an Angel sent from God.

Thus, the language Daniel chose to write in had huge implications for the theology he was communicating.  If we engage the text today and ignore the use of Hebrew and Aramaic we will not be able to arrive at a full understanding of Daniel’s message.  For this reason I believe the “Hebrew/Aramaic” nature of the text is one of the “Keys to Understanding Daniel.”  In other words, the theology of the book of Daniel is locked closed to those who ignore the language it was written in.  Their is another often missed truth for the text of Daniel.  Daniel wrote the book with incredible structure.  For more on the structure of the book of Daniel check out the post entitled “What is a Chiasmus and why is it important?.”

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About The Author

Pastor, Theologian, DJ, Blogger: Jared is the Student Ministries Pastor at Rancho Murieta Community Church. He has a passion for Hebrew, the Bible and the Old Testament.

1 Comment

  1. JoAnn January 31, 2013 at 4:03 am

    Excellent! Love the art and graphics, too.
    Our little Bible study group just started a Beth Moore on Daniel and I couldn’t get the importance of the two languages until I read your explanations of Hebrew/Aramaic and the Chiasmus.
    Keep working on this project!

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