Introduction to Daniel
No book in the Old Testament, or for that matter in the New Testament, has been subjected to critical examination as thoroughly and often as unfairly as has the book of Daniel. The questions of authorship, date, structure, language, and especially literary genre simply cannot be ignored. The book of Daniel has for too long now been in the “critic’s den” and the mouths of these liberal lions must be firmly and finally shut.
A. The Date of Daniel
Many OT critics consider Daniel to be pseudepigraphical. That is to say, it was written, not in the 6th century b.c. by the historical Daniel, but in the 2nd century b.c., during the Maccabean revolt (@ 165 b.c.), by an anonymous individual who was seeking to encourage the Jewish people in their resistance to the tyrannous Antiochus Epiphanes. Therefore, the book contains history, not prophecy. The author, writing in the 2nd century, writes as if he were living in the 6th century. What appears to be prophecy written from the perspective of the 6th century is in fact history written from the perspective of the 2nd century. Consequently, the book is an example of vaticinium ex eventu, or prophecy written after the event. John J. Collins is an outspoken advocate of this view:
“On the surface, chs. 1-6 tell a series of stories about Jewish exiles in Babylon in the sixth century, one of whom was the recipient of the revelations which are presented in chs. 7-12. The impression that Daniel was the author of the book is derived from the first-person accounts in chs. 7-12 and the direct address of the angel in 12:4, ‘you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book.’ By contrast, modern scholarship [?] has held that Daniel is a legendary figure, that the stories in chs. 1-6 are no older than the Hellenistic period, and that the revelations in chs. 7-12 were written in the Maccabean period when the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes was persecuting the Jews” (Daniel: with an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984], p. 28).
The primary arguments used by these critics to prove a late date for Daniel are as follows.
1. Historical inaccuracies – It is argued that a man writing in the 6th century would not have made the historical mistakes that the author of Daniel makes. Such inaccuracies can only be explained if it is assumed that the book was written much later, in the 2nd century. Some of those alleged “inaccuracies” and my response are:
a. Daniel 1:1 contradicts Jer. 25:1,9; 46:2 – In Jeremiah we read that the “first year” of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, was the “fourth year” of Jehoiakim, whereas in Dan. 1:1 Nebuchadnezzar (hereinafter simply Neb) is said to have invaded Palestine as king of Babylon in the “third year” of the reign of Jehoiakim.
· But in Daniel the years are reckoned according to the Babylonian system whereas in Jeremiah they are reckoned according to the system used in Palestine. The significance is this: in Babylon only the first full year of a king’s rule was called his “first” year. The year in which Neb ascended the throne would therefore not be called his “first” year as king but the “year of accession.” Consequently, when Daniel (1:1) speaks of Jehoiakim’s “third” year he is referring to the same year as does Jeremiah when he mentions the “fourth” year.
Babylonian system Palestinian system
Year of Accession First year
First year Second year
Second year Third year
Third year Fourth year
· Finally, if this explanation is correct, “the alleged contradiction actually supports a sixth century date for the book. Had the author Daniel been an unknown Jew of the second century b.c., it is unlikely that he would have followed the obsolete Babylonian chronological system of computation in preference to his own Palestinian method, which has the sanction of so important a personage as the prophet Jeremiah” (Bruce Waltke, “The Date of the Book of Daniel,” BibSac, 133 [October-December 1976], p. 326).
b. The problem of Belshazzar – In Daniel 5 “Belshazzar” is portrayed as the last king of the Babylonian empire, whereas Nabonidus (Belshazzar’s father) was known to have been the last king of Babylon. Indeed, none of the classic historians even mention a man named “Belshazzar”. Also, Daniel refers to Belshazzar as the son of Neb, a mistake that only would have been made by someone writing much later (i.e., in the 2nd century).
· However, in the first place, later discoveries of cuneiform tablets not only mention Belshazzar but also refer to him as the son of Nabonidus who acted as co-regent with his father. Furthermore, the evidence now reveals that Belshazzar ruled as king of Babylon when Nabonidus took up residence in Teima (an oasis in northwest Arabia, @ 1,000 miles from Babylon), and is thus represented correctly by Daniel (5:30-31) as the last king of Babylon. [This unusual state of affairs may also explain why Belshazzar promised that he would reward Daniel by making him the “third” highest ruler in the kingdom (5:16).]
· Secondly, it is a well-known Semitic idiom to use the word “son” when referring to a successor in the same office whether or not there was a blood relation between them and irrespective of any chronological gap in their respective reigns.
· Finally, according to Gleason Archer, “it is a distinct possibility that in this case there was a genetic relationship between Neb and Belshazzar. If Nabonidus married a daughter of Neb in order to legitimize his usurpation of the throne back in 556 b.c., it would follow that his son by her would be the grandson of Neb” (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction [Chicago: Moody Press, 1972], p. 371).
c. The identity of Darius the Mede – In 5:30-31 Daniel refers to “Darius the Mede” as receiving the kingdom after the conquest of Babylon and the death of Belshazzar, whereas the immediate successor of Belshazzar was Cyrus of Persia. Furthermore, no ancient historian ever mentions any man by the name of “Darius the Mede.” Many, therefore, conclude that the book could not have been written in the 6th century, for no one living then would have made such an obvious historical blunder. Thus, the “Darius” of Daniel was non-existent, resulting from the 2nd century author’s confusion of the history of the period of Cyrus with the later reign of Darius, son of Hystaspes (520 b.c.), the third successor after Cyrus.
Three possible answers have been given to this problem.
· First, John Whitcomb (Darius the Mede [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959] argues that Darius the Mede in Daniel is another name for Gubaru, the governor of Babylon who was apppointed by Cyrus:
“It is our conviction that Gubaru, the governor of Babylon and the region beyond the river, appears in the book of Daniel as Darius the Mede, the monarch who took charge of the Chaldean kingdom immediately following the death of Belshazzar, and who appointed satraps and presidents (including Daniel) to assist him in the governing of this extensive territory with its many peoples. We believe that this identification is the only one which satisfactorily harmonizes the various lines of evidence which we find in the book of Daniel and in the contemporary cuneiform records” (24).
· Second, according to D. J. Wiseman and Joyce Baldwin, Darius the Mede is Cyrus. They base this identification on the following translation of Daniel 6:28 – “So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius, that is, in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.”
· Third, some ancient documents indicate that during a fourteen-month period at the beginning of his reign Cyrus ruled through a vassal who was called “king of Babylon,” and that the latter was in fact Darius
However one treats the problem, Baldwin’s words of caution are well put:
“To assume that Darius the Mede did not exist, and so to dismiss the evidence provided by this book, is high-handed and unwise, especially in the light of its vindication in connection with Belshazzar, who at one time was reckoned to be a fictional character. Due consideration must be given to possible explanations of the apparent discrepancy before charges were made of mistaken identity” (Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary [Downers Grove: IVP, 1978], p. 24).
2. Linguistic Problems – Several arguments based on the language of Daniel have been used to establish a late date.
a. The Aramaic of Daniel (2:4b-7:28) demands a 2nd century date
· Waltke points out that “the kind of Aramaic employed in Daniel was that which grew up in the courts and chancellories from the seventh century b.c. on and subsequently became widespread in the Near East. Therefore, it cannot be employed as evidence for a late date of the book, and in fact it constitutes a strong argument for a sixth-century b.c. period of composition” (322-23). Indeed, the Aramaic of Daniel manifests many similarities to the Aramaic of the fifth-century b.c. Elephantine papyri and that of Ezra (@ 450 b.c.).
· Furthermore, “while the Aramaic of Daniel fits comfortably into the period of official Aramaic, it does not comport well with the Aramaic of the Genesis Apocryphon discovered in Qumran Cave One and dated in the first century b.c. From the standpoint of spelling, grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, it is now possible to determine within quite narrow limits what would have been likely or possible back in 168 b.c., so far as literary Aramaic is concerned” (323).
b. The presence in Daniel of Persian loan words (@15) demands a date later than the 6th century
“Conservative scholars do not maintain that the book of Daniel was composed, in its final form at least, until the establishment of the Persian authority over Babylonia. Since the text indicates that Daniel himself lived to serve, for several years at least, under Persian rule, there is no particular reason why he should not have employed in his language those Persian terms (largely referring to government and administration) which had found currency in the Aramaic spoken in Babylon by 530 b.c.” (374).
c. The use of three Greek words depicting musical instruments in Daniel 3 demands a late date (or at least a date after the mid 4th century, subsequent to Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Near East)
· Greek words are now attested in the Aramaic documents dated to the fifth century.
· Even with that, however, since we possess such a small percentage of the significant Greek literature of the classical period, it would be unwise to attempt to pinpoint the time of the origin of any particular word or usage.
· Also, it should be noted that “these three words are names of musical instruments and that such names have always circulated beyond national boundaries as the instruments themselves have become available to the foreign market” (Archer, 375).
· Finally, if Daniel was in fact written in the 2nd century b.c., when a Greek-speaking government had been in authority over Palestine for over 150 years, why are there not more such Greek terms? That is to say, given a 2nd century date for Daniel, the question is not why are there three Greek words but why are there not three hundred?
3. Miscellaneous Arguments
a. Daniel is included among the Writings (the third and last division of the canon, following the Law and the Prophets). Therefore, the book was written later than all the canonical prophets and thus not in the 6th century b.c.
But several of the Writings are themselves quite ancient (e.g., Job, the Davidic psalms, the writings of Solomon). Also, Daniel is included in the Writings and not among the Prophets because he, though prophetically gifted, was technically speaking not a prophet. He was fundamentally a civil servant, a statesman, whose ministry was more to the heathen court than to the people of Israel. Finally, a large portion of Daniel (chps. 1-6) is not so much prophecy as history.
b. The book is never mentioned by Jesus ben Sirach (Ecclesiasticus; @ 180 b.c.), although he refers to all the other prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and collectively the Twelve Minor Prophets).
But since Daniel was not included in the Prophets or second division of the canon, never having held the prophetic office, there is no reason why Ecclesiasticus should have mentioned him in that connection. Also, Ecclesiasticus fails to mention other ancient authors about whose existence there is no question (e.g., Ezra).
c. In 9:2 Daniel refers to the “canon” of Scripture. Since the “canon” did not exist in the 6th century, Daniel must have been written much later.
Daniel’s reference does not necessarily mean a closed and acknowledged “canon” but simply the Scriptures generally (such as Jeremiah) to which Daniel then had access.
d. The detailed historical documentation in chapter 11 of events in the 2nd century relating to Antiochus Epiphanes implies that Daniel was written at that time.
This argument is valid only on the assumption (or should I say “bias”) that predictive prophecy is impossible (or at least highly unlikely).
e. The theology of the book is too advanced for the 6th century b.c.
Desmond Ford responds to this argument:
“This criticism usually has its origin in an evolutionary concept of theological development rather than in the Biblical evidence. Angelology, for example, seems similarly well-developed in Ezekiel and in Zechariah, and angels in the latter assume the same function as in Daniel – namely the interpretation of visions. The angelology of Daniel is not akin to late apocalyptic works such as 1 Enoch. Neither is the concept of resurrection entirely missing from the rest of the Old Testament” (Daniel [Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1978], p. 33).
In other words, careful examination of the OT will reveal that Daniel says nothing of a theological nature that cannot be paralleled in some form in other OT books of his day or earlier.
f. Daniel’s use of the word “Chaldean” with reference to the astrologers and wisemen of Babylon indicates a late date for the composition of the book. In Neb’s time the word had only racial or ethnic connotations.
Joyce Baldwin points out that the use of the term “Chaldean”
“by Herodotus as a technical term for the priests of Bel in the fifth century bc shows it had already by then a secondary sense. There is nothing incongruous about the use of the term in both meanings, nor need it cause confusion, any more than our use in English of the word ‘Morocco’ to designate both the country and the leather for which it is famous. Needless to say the Moroccan would not use the name in both these senses” (28).
“Though the term ‘Chaldean’ was used in an ethnic sense in Assyrian records of the eighth and seventh centuries, there is a complete absence of the word from Babylonian records or the sixth century in either of its senses, at least so far as available texts are concerned. The biblical usage is, therefore, up to the present unsupported, but it is unwarranted to argue from silence that the word is anachronistic” (29).
g. Daniel’s identification of the four kingdoms indicates a 2nd century date.
Extensive explanation of the identity of these four kingdoms will reveal that they do not support a late date for the book.
I should also point out that several Daniel manuscripts were discovered at Qumran (dated @150 b.c.), a fact that militates against a 2nd century date for the book. According to R. K. Harrison, a Maccabean or 2nd century date for Daniel is “absolutely precluded by the evidence from Qumran . . . (because) there would have been insufficient time for Maccabean compositions to be circulated, venerated, and accepted as canonical Scripture by a Maccabean sect” (Introduction to the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971], p. 1127).
My conclusion, then, is that Daniel was composed sometime in the 6th century b.c., possibly around 530.
Note: The words of Jesus in Matthew 24:15 are particularly important. He said, “So when you see standing in the holy place the ‘abomination of desolation’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel. . .” Several things may be concluded. First, Jesus obviously believed Daniel to be a real, historical person through whom was given divine revelation. Second, Jesus obviously believed that at least this one prophecy came from Daniel himself and not from a later anonymous individual writing in Daniel’s name. Third, Jesus also believed Daniel’s words to be “prophetic,” i.e., predictive of future events. However this may have been fulfilled by Antiochus in the 2nd century it was also prophetic of the Roman general Titus and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. and perhaps also of “Antichrist” at the end of the age. The only alternative is to conclude that Jesus himself believed in pseudonymity and was merely citing “Daniel” in the same way that anyone in that day would have who also embraced that literary device. Is that likely?
B. The Author of Daniel
Aside from the statement in 7:1 that Daniel “wrote down the dream,” there is no explicit claim of authorship in the book. In the second division Daniel is named as the one who received the revelation, and in several texts he speaks in the first person (see 7:2,4,6ff.,28; 8:1ff.,15ff.; 9:2ff.; 12:5-8). This in itself, however, does not prove that Daniel authored the book. These chapters “may have been accounts told by Daniel to another person or persons, or perhaps written down following the dreams and visions (see 7:1) and subsequently passed on” (Lasor, Hubbard, Bush, Old Testament Survey [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982], p. 667). Our Lord’s reference in Mt. 24:15 simply means that Daniel uttered the prophecy, which he did, but does not demand that Daniel wrote the book in which it is contained. Simply put: the issue of whether Daniel or someone else actually authored the book or put it in its final canonical form is irrelevant to the question of its authority.
C. The Language of Daniel
Daniel, like Ezra, was written in both Hebrew (1:1-2:4a; 8:1-12:13) and Aramaic (2:4b-7:28). We don’t know the reason for this, but the traditional explanation is as follows:
“Those portions of Daniel’s prophecy which deal generally with Gentile affairs (the four kingdoms of Neb’s dream, the humiliation of that king in the episode of the fiery furnace and by his seven years of insanity, and also the experiences of Belshazzar and Darius the Mede) were put into a linguistic medium all the public could appreciate whether Jew or Gentile. But those portions which were of particularly Jewish interest (chaps. 1, 8-12) were put into Hebrew in order that they might be understood by the Jews alone” (Archer, 378).
D. The Structure of Daniel
Daniel is clearly divided into two sections: chapters 1-6 which relate incidents in the lives of Daniel and his friends, and chapters 7-12 which contain the visions given to Daniel in his old age. The following general outline will be used in our study.
I. The Stories – 1:1-6:29
A. Introduction: Daniel and his friends in Babylon – 1:1-21
B. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream – 2:1-49
C. The story of the fiery furnace – 3:1-30
D. Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity – 4:1-37
E. Belshazzar’s feast and the handwriting on the wall – 5:1-31
F. Daniel and the lion’s den – 6:1-28
II. The Visions – 7:1-12:13
A. The vision of the four sea beasts and the vision of the Son of Man – 7:1-28
1. the four sea beasts – 7:1-8
2. the Son of Man – 7:9-14
3. Daniel’s interpretation – 7:15-28
B. The vision of the ram and the he-goat – 8:1-27
1. the vision – 8:1-14
2. Daniel’s interpretation – 8:15-27
C. Daniel’s prayer and the prophecy of the 70 weeks – 9:1-27
1. Daniel’s prayer – 9:1-23
2. the prophecy of the 70 weeks – 9:24-27
D. The vision of the angelic messenger – 10:1-12:13
1. preparation for the vision – 10:1-11:1
2. the vision unfolded – 11:2-12:3
3. final instructions to Daniel – 12:4-13