Historical Dating of the Book of Daniel

(Essay written in 1990 for an undergraduate class)

The book of Daniel is an apocalyptic of the Old Testament. It is divided into two main parts: history and prophecy. The first six chapters are the history section, telling of a Jew named Daniel of royal descent, who was taken captive along with the rest of the people from the city of Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzer placed Daniel (among others) in his service, and had them trained. This section tells of the persecutions that Daniel and his friends undergo, and also of the high positions that Daniel attains. It relates the fact that God is in control, and how He protects His faithful servants.

The second section can either be construed as prophecy, or history containing some prophecy, depending on the date one assumes that the book was written. In either case, most scholars agree that chapters seven through twelve tell the story of the battles of the Near East, from the sixth century to the second and/or the first centuries B.C. The battles are between the four successive kingdoms of the Babylonians, the Medo-Persians or the Medians then the Persians, the Greeks, and possibly the Romans.

Chapter eleven is the focus of most of the controversy, as, according to most scholars, it gives a very detailed account of the battles of Antiochus Epiphanes. If it weren't for the great details here, most people could assume that the book was written in the sixth century, and that the author got lucky with his vague allusions. But ever since the third century AD, when the neoplatonist, Poryphyry, write a work entitled Against Christians, questions have been raised about the authenticity of the work (Ferch, pg. 129). Porphyry's contention is that the book must have been written in the second century BC, being merely historical narratives, since such long-range prophecies are impossible in his perspective of a closer systemic universe, void of any supernatural intervention. Before this, and for some time after that, the general consensus was that the book was written by Daniel in the sixth century BC, and is the truly inspired prophecy from God (vaticania ante eventu vs. vaticania ex eventu).

The debate began again with fervor in the seventeenth through the eighteenth centuries, during the scientific revolution, when naturalism and rationalism had an upsurge. They too agreed with Porphyry, that such long-range prophecies were impossible, so the book must have been written during the Maccabean age (second century BC; Baldwin, pg. 35). Then in 1980, Klaus Koch wrote a powerful book questioning the Exilic date of writing (sixth century BC), and describing the Maccabean theory (Ferch, pg. 129). Prior, in 1900, was S.R. Driver's commentary on Daniel, proposing the same theory. Since then, the majority of scholars generally accept the Maccabean theory without much question. However, I will attempt to show that the evidence points to an early date for the writing of Daniel, placing it in the sixth century BC.

In Matthew 24:15, Jesus is discoursing in what we tend to call the "Little Apocalypse." In it, Jesus mentions Daniel, and a quote from his book. He refers to the "'abomination the causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel." Here, Jesus uses the Greek dia, along with the genitive case, which always implies personal human agency (Archer, pg 284) That should strongly lead one to believe that Jesus was under the impression that the Daniel he referred to was an actual person named Daniel, not just the title of a book.

Jesus also calls that Daniel a profhtou, or "one who proclaims inspired utterances on behalf of God" (Louw). Prophets weren't necessarily men who only foretold the future, but spoke the inspired words of God. The book of Daniel (composed by the man, the prophet Daniel) itself claims to have been written in the sixth century BC, indirectly. The author places himself in the midst of the exile, during "the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim..., Nebuchadnezzar, ..came to Jerusalem and besieged it." (Dan 1:1) This event we know to have occurred around 605 BC (Baldwin, pg. 17), and this being the earliest chronological event in the book, gives us a general timeframe for reference. The last chronological event written as history (as opposed to prophecy) is "the third year of Cyrus King of Persia," (Dan 10:1) which was 537 BC (pg. 17). This, together with the first date, gives us reason to believe that the book was probably written/compiled, according to the author, sometime quite soon after 537 BC, as he would have been somewhere over eighty years old (pg. 35).

The historical evidences stem from arguments that have been alleged that there are historical errors or inaccuracies in Daniel. The evidences are counter-arguments which use recent archaeological findings to prove that Daniel is correct, and our previous information was incomplete. The literary arguments, for the most part, stem from contentions that many of the words used in Daniel are from an era much later than the sixth century, therefore the book couldn't have been written at that time. The counter-arguments for this type also uses recent findings to prove that the words used by Daniel can definitely have come from the sixth century, therefore their contentions are invalid.

As for the historical arguments, there are four main contentions. The first has to do with the reference to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 1 :1 . Critics using this argument see a conflict between this verse and Jeremiah 25:1, where he refers to "the fourth year of Jehoiakim," whereas Daniel 1:1 refers to the same event occurring in the "third year of the reign of Jehoiakim." This apparent error is actually a cultural difference of dating systems. Jeremiah, a Palestinian, naturally uses the Palestinian dating system, which would place Jehoiakim's fourth year in 605 BC Daniel, using the Babylonian system, places Jehoiakim's third year in 605 BC (Harrison, pg. 1112).

This apparent error can easily be used against critics, in support of the sixth century date of writing, with two arguments. The first, if the author of Daniel lived in the second century during the persecution, therefore in Palestine, one would naturally assume that he would use his native system of dating, and not the ancient, relatively unknown system of Babylonian dating. This would be especially true if the author's purpose was to encourage the people of his day who were currently suffering persecution also, as the proponents of the second century date of writing believe. The second part of this argument says that if Daniel were an unknown, but well knowledgeable Jew (as he would have had to have been to know Babylonian history as well as he does) he would have certainly followed in the footsteps of a well respected prophet. In writing his book he presumes to appear as a prophet himself, encouraging his people to persevere through persecution, he would undoubtedly try to make his work seem as Scriptural as possible. It is very likely that he himself would be referring to historical sources, such as Jeremiah, which uses the Palestinian dating system. Why would he have strayed from such an important and well-known prophet to use another, obscure dating system, which would appear to contradict Jeremiah, to his readers who read from, and knew the prophets work well (Waltke, pg. 326)?

The second main historical argument concerns Belshazzar. The mention of him as the last king of Babylon in Daniel 5:30 seemed to be an unreconcilable error to historians and critics. Secular sources have, since ancient times, stated that Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon (p. 328). Then, with the discovery of the Nabonidus Chronicle, Daniel was proven correct. In the verse account of Nabonidus, it is said that Nabonidus "entrusted the 'camp' to his eldest son ['Belshazzar] ...entrusted the kingship to him (Hasel, pg. 155) and himself ...he turned towards Tema in the West." This is fairly strong evidence that Belshazzar was indeed the coregent of Babylon in his father's absence, and was there when Babylon fell in 539 BC The mystery here, if one accepts the second century date of writing, is how the author knew of Nabonidus' leaving Belshazzar in charge, when all knowledge of Belshazzar was lost by at least 450 BC (Archer, pg. 289), until the discovery of the Nabonidus Chronicle. The only conclusion that one can reach, other than some other information which has been lost to us today, is that the author was indeed alive during the events, in 539 BC (Waltke, pg. 328).

The third main historical argument concerns the identity of Darius the Mede, mentioned in chapters five, six, nine, and eleven. The question is who this name refers to, not whether or not he really existed. Again, the Nabonidus Chronicle aids us in that it makes it clear that there was another ruler under Cyrus, over Babylon. It also refers to Ugbaru, the general who conquered Babylon, but who died shortly after his victory Shea, pg. 246). Whether Ugbaru was Darius the Mede is debatable, and other theories have been set forth by many distinguished scholars. The two other, major theories identify him as Cyrus himself (DJ Wiseman, JG Baldwin), or as Gubaru (JC Whitcomb, RK Harrison, and G. Archer).

The fourth and final historical argument is based on whether or not Daniel 11:21-45, and/or the book as a whole are about Antiochus Epiphanes. While most people do indeed believe that at least a part of chapter eleven deals with Antiochus Epiphanes, there are many who don't think that any part of Daniel refers to Antiochus. Of those who adhere to the former, again, the majority of those feel that the whole book is in some way related to Antiochus. That would be the purpose of writing the book if it were indeed written in the second century, to encourage those being persecuted by him. Chapters one through six, to them, refers to Antiochus versus those who faithfully serve the true and living God.

For those who believe the book was written in the second century, and the whole book in some way relates to Antiochus, one would be led to wonder what purpose chapter four could ever serve. SO far as we know, no affliction of the type ascribed here to Nebuchadnezzar ever afflicted Antiochus. Nor would it be very encouraging for the Jews to know that their persecutor, after going mad and apparently dropping out of the scene for awhile would come back to torment them. True, Nebuchadnezzar is seen as having repented in the end, but this in no way parallels reality, or even chapter eleven, which has him desecrating and destroying God's creation until his pitiful death (Gooding, pg. 43-51).

There are many other places in Daniel which seem to have no parallel to, or connections with Antiochus, or any other events surrounding that era. It is the most reasonable assumption to make, that chapters one through six refer to the exilic times alone. Besides the facts that there is such great detail about the exilic period, more than can be found in any other literature since then (Wiseman, pg. 263), there is too little consistent parallel with the Sitz im Leben of the Maccabean Age. Baldwin sums it up this way: "But the Neo-Babylonian or early Persian periods best account for the exact information about the Babylonian empire which we have shown to be preserved in the stories (Baldwin, pg. 37).

Others contend that even chapter eleven does not refer to Antiochus. This debate has gone on since at least the time of the church fathers. Hippolytus and Theodotian felt that verses 21-35 did indeed refer to Antiochus, but that verses 36-45 refer to the Antichrist (this is the view held by the majority of scholars today; Yamauchi, pg. 16-17. ) Jerome has no reference to Antiochus and had verses 21-45 referring to the Antichrist. Then Chrysostom held that all of chapter eleven deals with the Antichrist (Baldwin, pg. 199). This entire issue gets very complex at this point, delving into the various eschatologies and theologies that have been interpreted from (or into) Scripture. The passage itself is difficult, and gives no clear indication of how it is to be interpreted. For example, there is no transition between verses 35-36 to differentiate a change of personage here, but for one, the end that apparently comes to Antiochus in 11:45 is not what secular history says became of him. Secondly, if Antiochus did die as 11:45 implies, then there should also have supposedly been a drastic intervention into history by God, namely, the resurrection (12:1-3; Baldwin, "Is there Pseudonymity in the Bible?" pg. 10.).

This brings us to the second type of evidence, that of the literary styles and qualities, and the actual words used. The three main defenses/arguments focus on the Qumram data, Daniel's canonicity, its genre, and vocabulary.

As for the recent Qumram findings, many manuscripts of Daniel were found, in three different caves at Qumram (Baldwin, pg. 73-74). To determine an "earliest date" for those manuscripts, we need to compare them with manuscripts with dates that are known. Takamitsu Muraoka did a study on the Aramaic of 11QtJob mss, and of 1QapGen, and found that the 11QtJob mss is closer to the Aramaic of the Old Testament than the 1QapGen. His conclusion is that the 11QtJob should be dated between 250-150 BC (Muraoka, pg. 425-443). Next, Robert Vasholz determined that the mss of Daniel are older than the 11QtJob. How much older he can't be certain, but older none-the-less (Vasholz, pg. 320), which probably pushes the date of writing before the date deemed necessary by most Maccabean Theorists (167-165 BC; Baldwin, pg. 35) .

As for canonicity, Daniel is currently placed in the Kethubhim, the latest of the Jewish canonical parts, rather than in the Prophets, where many critics feel Daniel should have been placed if it were truly written in the sixth century. For one thing, there are very old books placed in the Kethubhim, such as Job, the Psalms, and the writings of Solomon (Archer, pg. 380). A second point is that as for being a prophet, Daniel wasn't a prophet in the strict Hebraic sense of the word. Their sense was "a spiritual mediator between God and a theocratic community," as Isaiah, Amos, or Jeremiah (Harrison, pg. 1123), but Daniel was a statesman for various pagan governments. So assuming that Daniel was written in the sixth century BC, before the Prophet' canon was closed, it seems highly likely that Daniel probably wouldn't have been placed in it anyway. Another point about where Daniel is placed in the canon, Josephus placed Daniel in among the thirteen prophets/historians including most of the books from Joshua to the book of the twelve prophets in Against Apion 1:40 (Bartlett, pg. 176-178). Daniel wasn't placed in the Kethubhim until the fourth 32 century AD (as opposed to the Prophet canon; Whitcomb, pg. 263).

RK Harrison, of the Maccabean dating theory: "Such a period of composition is in any event absolutely precluded by the evidence from Qumran partly because there are no indications whatever that the sectaries compiled any of the Biblical manuscripts recovered..., and partly because there would, in the latter event, have been insufficient time for Maccabean composition to be circulated, venerated, and accepted as canonical Scripture by a Maccabean sect" (Harrison, pg. 1126-1127)

The genre and vocabulary are the final arguments discussed here against the exilic date of writing for Daniel. These arguments stem from three languages: Greek, Persian, and Aramaic. As for the Greek vocabulary, there is much evidence that the Near East was affected by Greek influence before Alexander the Great (336 BC). In fact, "an avalanche of evidence has demonstrated the presence of Greek language in Semitic milieu long before the sixth century BC" (Vasholz, pg. 316). The Hebrew word for Greeks, YAWAN, for settlements of lonia on the western coast of Turkey indicates some type of contact before 1,000 BC (Yamauchi, "Daniel and Contacts Between the Aegean and the Near East Before Alexander," pg. 40. ). Greeks entered the Near East by the ninth century BC, built a temple by c. 675 BC, and Greek pottery was found there, in abundance, dating to the seventh century BC A. Leo Oppenheim discovered two documents dating from 550 BB, and 551 BC, describing trade between the Neo-Babylonians of the Near East, and the merchants of 37 (Greek) Tyre, and Yamana (Oppenhiem, pg. 236-254). The only Greek words that have seriously come into question are the names of three musical instruments (Dan 3:5,7, 10, 15), which were said to be used to worship Nebuchadnezzar. These three are the harp, sackbut, and psalter, and are actually all of Mesopotamian origin. These would have certainly been fit to be used in such a ceremony. RK Harrison argues that none of the preceding three instruments are problematic, as far as the dating of the Greek, or placement of them in Daniel (Harrison, pg. 1126). The conclusion from the Greek words is that one need not necessarily assume a Post-Alexander date for Daniel, but it is possible to have been written in the sixth century.

There are also Persian loan-words and genre in Daniel. All of these words have been determined to be of the Old Persian, or Achaemedian tongue (539-332 BC; Vasholz, pg. 316ff; Wiseman, pg. 117). Some would wonder why this Israelite would be using Persian in his book, and how he would know it. The answer is -that Cyrus was a Persian, and Daniel being the gifted statesman and fast learner that he was (Dan 1:4, 6:28), he would have to had learn Persian to retain his position (Waltke, pg. 323-324). Also, the word Chaldean is contested, as it is used in a dual manner that is not used anywhere else in the Old Testament. It is commonly used in the ethnic sense of a Chaldean, but in Daniel it is used in an ethnic sense, and also in a restricted sense of one who is a magician or sorcerer. This apparent anachronism is no longer a problem, as we have discovered that Herodotus (c. 450 BC) in Persian Wars, uses Chaldean in both senses, and accepted that their religious practices went back at least as far as Cyrus (Harrison, pg. 1113).

As for the Aramaic words, 90% of them are found in texts of the fifth century BC or earlier (Vasholz, pg. 315). Rosenthal's studies have led him to conclude that the "Aramaic employed in Daniel was that which grew up in the courts and chancellors from the seventh century BC, and subsequently became widespread in the Near East" (Waltke, pg. 322-323). Robert Vasholz says: " Many morphological forms were deemed ' late' ...have been established as early as the eighth to the fifth centuries BC [by the Elephantine papyri of the sixth century and Old Aramaic treaty texts from Sefire]," (Vasholz, pg. 316). Further, some syntactical forms found in Daniel did not survive past the fifth century BC, for example the preposition Ie before a king's name, and the "Assur Ostracon (seventh century BC) which agrees with the word order in Daniel ."

As a final note on the literary style, AK Grayson's Babylonian historical-Literary Texts, demonstrated, according to Baldwin, that in style, form, and rationale there is a striking resemblance [between parts of Daniel and tablets of ancient Babylonian prophecy] which it is by no means easy to account for knowledge of this [Babylonian] cuneiform literature in the second century Palestine. [But] Israel would have had Babylonian influence on all sides during the exile" (Baldwin, "Some Literary Affinities of Daniel," pg. 99).

It is based on this evidence that I believe that the book of Daniel was written in sixth century Babylonia, not second century Greece. Part of the issue at hand is not merely the dating of an ancient religious text, but the hermeneutical foundations of a religion. Judaism and Christianity are founded on the supernatural workings of a personal God who acts in human history. Within this tradition, there is the assumption in most traditions that God is in control of human history, and is knowledgable about human future. Based on this assumption, it is possible to allow that the Book of Daniel is not a pseudepigraphal book written to to encourage the second Century Jews, but a book written by the Prophet Daniel to the kings of the country which had taken his people captive in a foreign land. With this as a possible interpretation of Daniel the conclusion regarding the second half of the book is that the events described were one of the rare accounts of detailed fore-telling in Scripture by a prophet, as opposed to the more common forth-telling."

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