Most of the scrolls were written in Hebrew, with a smaller number in Aramaic or Greek. Most of them were written on parchment, with the exception of a few written on papyrus. The vast majority of the scrolls survived as fragments - only a handful were found intact. (Photo Credit: Flickr/Dennis Jarvis)

What the Bible Doesn’t Tell You About Daniel (Exclusive)

Most of us know biblical figures only by their most famous stories. But where else do biblical figures turn up outside of the Bible?

The Dead Sea Scrolls.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls brought to light original language copies of nearly every book of the Hebrew Scriptures from a time before ancient Jewish and Christian communities firmed up their Bibles. Think of these biblical scrolls as providing our earliest and best witnesses to the biblical story. For Christians, it’s the Old Testament; for Jewish communities, the Hebrew Bible.

The Dead Sea Scrolls also revealed that many well-known biblical figures were regularly redrawn in other ancient writings outside the Bible. Characters like Moses, David, or Jeremiah, to name a few, enjoyed vivid literary afterlives. Not unlike how the rumblings of a new Star Wars spin-off based on the life of Obi-Wan Kenobi would extend the saga of tales from a galaxy far, far away, these ancient scribes innovated their scriptural traditions by reimagining and retelling tales oriented around foundational figures from Israel’s past. Still part of the same story, but perhaps an episode yet untold.

One figure who received this sort of literary recasting was Daniel.

The Daniel You Never Knew in Aramaic Pseudo-Daniel

Most would know Daniel as a sage, courtier, dream interpreter, and lion tamer. If you’ve read sections of the Apocrypha you’ll also know him as a dragon slayer. Yet Daniel’s resume in the Dead Sea Scrolls was even broader. We gain glimpses of this from a newly discovered Aramaic text suitably called Pseudo-Daniel.

While the remains of this scroll are highly fragmentary — check out the images for yourself — the fragments that remain reveal a scribe’s interest in connecting Daniel with the more ancient Israelite past, not least Genesis and Exodus.

For example, patriarchs from the age of the flood like “Enoch” and “Noah” both make cameo appearances in the work (4Q243 9:1; 4Q244 8:3).[1] We also find references to the tower of Babel, a story known from Genesis 11:1-9 (4Q243 10:2-3). Elsewhere we see nods to the delivery from Egyptian slavery in the exodus (4Q243 12).

In one instance in these fragments, Daniel is also said to have access to a “book” of genealogies. Genealogies communicate tailored information about identity. They’re a dull read but they really matter. In this case, Pseudo-Daniel list includes both Israelite priests (e.g., Levi and Abiathar) and kings (e.g., David and Solomon). These lists seem to trace the lines of these institutions from their beginnings all the way into the scribe’s own day (4Q245 1i).

So why is Daniel brought into this equation and what can we learn from a few scribes’ creative flare in this Aramaic spin-off?

The Political and Religious Edge of a Genealogy in the Hands of Daniel

Pseudo-Daniel was written in a time of regular controversy over the High Priesthood and roles of Jewish monarchs. One of the major debates was whether an individual could be both king and priest. By placing a book of ancestral records in the hands of Daniel the wise sage and seer, the scribe of Pseudo-Daniel made a bold theological and political statement: kings are kings, priests are priests, don’t mingle the two!

Friends in High Places: Daniel and Cast Members from the Flood to Monarchy

Daniel is probably the latest book to be written in the Old Testament around the same time as Aramaic texts like Pseudo-Daniel. At times, the best way to introduce something new is to associate it with something very old. While we might not know the full narrative of Pseudo-Daniel, we can see how Daniel was seemingly cast alongside some heavy hitters from across the scriptural tradition (e.g., Noah, David, Levi). This common practice — called “pseudepigraphy”— was on one clever way ancient scribes attempted to boost the authority and reliability of new religious works.

Listening Closely to the (Not So) Silent Years between the Testaments

Daniel is but one of many figures that enjoyed vivid literary afterlives in ancient Judaism and in the Dead Sea Scrolls. While the scrolls are often lauded for how they added to our understanding of the words of the Old Testament and help recover the Jewish worlds behind the New Testament they in fact come from a time in between those collections.

At times, this so-called “intertestamental period” has been described as “years of silence.” That couldn’t be more wrong. Part of the remarkable opportunity of the Dead Sea Scrolls is how they let us listen in on a world that is not our own and one that we may not have even knew existed. In the present case, we might just learn something new about how ancient scribes amplified the voices of scriptural figures so they could speak into their present. The scrolls help us start to hear how these years were very loud if only we pause and listen.

[1] Not unlike the versification of the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls have a modern referencing system that indicates which scroll, fragment, and line of text is in question.


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About the author

Andrew Perrin (PhD, McMaster University) is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. He is a past columnist for Bible Study Magazine, writes academic articles on ancient Judaism and the Bible, and is the author of the award-winning book The Dynamics of Dream-Vision Revelation in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls. You can follow his work on Twitter (@perrin_ab) and events of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute on Twitter (@twudssi), Facebook (/twudssi), and YouTube (/twudeadseascrollsinstitute).