The authorship of Daniel

In this post I will evaluate the question of who wrote the book of Daniel and when did they write it. This consideration is directly tied to the evaluation of the kingdom prophecies in Daniel. In a companion post I have discussed the fulfillment of the prophecies of kingdoms and I suggest that you read that post first before consuming this post.

What do we know?Hand writing on the wall

I’ve identified the following as the key pieces of information for my evaluation of Daniel’s authorship:

  1. The first half of Daniel presents the lives of Daniel and his compatriots in the third person. There is no indication that any of the parties involved in the story itself are the authors. The first six chapters proceed to cover about 60 years in this fashion, by way of several discrete stories. The identification of kings and events tells us these stories span from 597 BC (the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon) to about 539 BC when Cyrus the Great overtook Babylon for Persia. About half of these stories serve to demonstrate Daniel’s role as an interpreter of dreams and visions.
  2. The second half of Daniel, chapters 7-12, jumps into a substantially different message. Chapter 7 introduces Daniel in the third person but then proceeds to quote Daniel’s report of his prophetic vision and the angelic interpretation entirely in the first person. The subsequent chapters, 8-12, are written almost exclusively in the first person (all expect the one verse introduction in chapter 10) and continue with the theme of prophetic vision and angelic revelation. These prophecies are largely concerning the events which are to occur after the Jewish return from exile and the rise of Yahweh’s eternal kingdom.
  3. The Masoretic text of Daniel has been preserved in two different languages. Chapters 1 – 2:4a and all of chapters 8 – 12 are written in Hebrew, whereas the remainder (chapters 2:4b – 7) are written in Aramaic. Of all the Masoretic texts in the Tanakh, only Ezra also contains Aramaic texts, but these portions are almost exclusively those which quote documents of external origin. Aramaic did not begin to see widespread use when authoring Jewish writings until about 300 BC.
  4. The Septuagint version of Daniel is substantially different than the Masoretic text. There is also a third major version of Daniel, the Theodotion text, which somehow become the primary Greek version of the book and found its way into the bulk of transmissions of the Greek texts. The Theodotion version is closer to the Masoretic text but still contains many of the variations in the Septuagint. The most striking difference between the Greek and Masoretic texts is the addition in the Greek of the apocryphal texts of the Prayer of Azariah, Bel and the Dragon and The Story of Susana. There are also numerous additions and subtractions scattered throughout the texts, particularly in the Aramaic portion (chapters 2-7). Refer to Meadowcroft’s “Aramaic Daniel and Greek Daniel: A Literary Comparison” for a comprehensive analysis of the differences. The Greek version of Daniel is estimated to have been translated no later than 63 BC (Knibb, 433).
    1. Note that the inclusion of Daniel is the Septuagint is often claimed as conclusive evidence that it was written before 250 BC. However, that date refers to the commissioning of the Greek translation of the Torah in the third century BC, as attested by the Letter of Aristeas. The remaining books were translated over the next couple centuries and it is unclear when exactly each was translated.
  5. The copies of Daniel discovered at Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) are substantially in agreement with the Masoretic text. The Daniel texts at Qumran are roughly dated to between 125 – 25 BC.
  6. 1 Maccabees 2:59-60 refers to the fiery furnace and lion’s den, which are also recorded in Daniel. 1 Maccabees 1:54 identifies the “abomination of desolation”, which uses the same phrasing as in Daniel. The Books of the Maccabees record historical events from 175 to 134 BC and so were written during and\or after those events.
  7. There is significant debate about the evidence for the dating of Daniel’s authorship from linguistic analysis. Contentions abound regarding Greek and Persian loan words, the style of Aramaic and Hebrew, etc… The best place to find a summary of the issues is in the substantial number of apologetic works which cover these in detail (see one, two, three). An example of an issue in this domain is that Daniel 4 identifies angels as “watchers” (Aramaic iyr), which is also present in the Book of Enoch and Jubilees but not in any earlier works. Daniel is also the first and only identification of the angel Gabriel in the Old Testament, though he is featured prominently in the apocryphal works and the Christian tradition.
  8. Daniel’s identification of 6th century rulers does not match other historical sources. Daniel identifies the sequence of rulers as follows:
    • Nebuchadnezzar
    • Belshazzar (son of Nebuchadnezzar)
    • Darius the Mede (son of Xerxes), who setup 120 Satraps
    • Cyrus the Persian

    Continuity between these rulers is not always directly stated but is generally inferred.
    Multiple other historical sources identify the sequence of rulers as follows:

    • Nebuchadnezzar, ruled 605-562
    • Amel-Marduk (son of Nebuchadnezzar), ruled 562-560
    • Neriglissar (Amel-Marduk’s brother in law), ruled 559-556
    • Labaši-Marduk (Neriglissar’s son), briefly ruled in 556
    • Nabonidus ruled 556-539 (father of Belshazzar, who was 2nd in command and was most likely the primary ruler in Babylon from about 551-541 while Nabonidus was in Tayma)
    • Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon and ruled from 539-530
    • Cambyses (son of Cyrus), ruled 530-522
    • Smerdis \ Gaumâta, ruled for a few months in 522
    • Darius overthrew Smerdis \ Gaumâta and from ruled 522-486. He is credited with establishing 23 Satraps for the kingdom.
    • Xerxes (son of Darius) ruled 486-465
  9. There are no external references to the prophet Daniel, or his writings, in Jewish literature until 1 Maccabees, with the possible exception that Ezekiel made reference to Daniel in Ezekiel 14:12-23 and 28:3. The claim that Ezekiel is referring to the Daniel of interest here, however, is widely disputed (see one, two, three). Even so, it should be noted that there is little opportunity for such external references to Daniel due to the scant number of texts that we have identified to have been authored between 500 and 120 BC. The primary concern on this matter is Daniel’s absence from Jesus Ben Sirach’s extensive listing of famous historical figures (Sir. 44 – 54), composed in the early 2nd century.
  10. There appears to be a strong correlation between the text of Daniel 9:7-14 and Baruch 1:15-2:12. The nature of the correlation is unknown, though the majority view is that Baruch borrowed from Daniel. There are no extent versions of Baruch in Hebrew, though it is suspected that at least Baruch 1:1-3:8 was translated from Hebrew. The exact date and authorship of Baruch is unclear and it is generally believed that our current version combines material from multiple authors and time periods, with the primary period of authorship being the Maccabean era.
  11. In Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, Chapter 8, Josephus reports that the priests showed the book of Daniel to Alexander the Great upon his arrival in Jerusalem and pointed out the prophecy that a Greek would destroy the Persian empire. This presentation to Alexander would have taken place around 330 BC. The Antiquities of the Jews was composed by Josephus around 94 AD.
  12. In the Jewish collection of the Tanakh, Daniel was included as one of the “Writings” (Ketuvim) instead of the “Prophets” (Neviim). This assignment stands in contrast to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and all the minor prophets.
  13. The Talmud (Baba Bathra 15a, written between 200 – 600 AD) records that the book of Daniel was “written” by The Great Assembly along with Ezekiel, the Twelve minor prophets and Esther. The word “written” is generally considered to be more accurately viewed as a synonym for “adopted”. This adoption would have occurred some time shortly after the return from the Babylonian exile (c. 500 BC).
  14. Jesus refers to the person of Daniel (Matthew 24:15) and quotes from Daniel (“son of man”, “abomination of desolation”) on several occasions in the New Testament. In doing so, Jesus affirms Daniel to have been a prophet.
  15. Lastly, and most significantly, the prophecies in Daniel show remarkable agreement with the known historical events up until Antiochus IV Epiphanes through 167 BC but falter in predicting the subsequent events. This is covered in detail in the companion post which evaluates the predictions themselves.

Collectively, this data has led most scholars (Collins, p88) to assign the authorship of Daniel to about 165 or 164 BC, the point in time at which the prophecies would transition from being fulfilled to not being fulfilled. It goes without saying that this would imply that Daniel is not the author.

What is the Christian interpretation?

The Christian view on the authorship of Daniel is founded on the assumption of the text’s authenticity. By this, I mean that this view trusts in the accuracy and truthfulness of the accounts given in Daniel. Under this premise, the content favors two possible authors: a first-hand witness to the events or a divine revelation to a third party after the fact. Given the first-person style that names Daniel in the last five chapters and the intimate details of the events described in the first six chapters, the most logical conclusion is that Daniel himself wrote the book. With this conclusion in place, the book’s authorship is considered to be either a gradual accumulation of material throughout the period identified in the text (597 – 539 BC) or a single composition which was produced near the end of Daniel’s life.

Working on the assumption that Daniel is the author, the Christian must then account for the data points above which conflict with this view. I will try to summarize the Christian apologists view on these issues in the following paragraphs. Refer to the apologist links given in #7 above for further details.

The Use of Multiple Languages and Perspectives

The explanation for the multiple languages and points of view which are present in Daniel is often addressed in the form of an argument for the unity of Daniel, wherein the alternate presentations serve a literary function. The most prominent of these sees the different languages as addressing two different audiences: Aramaic for the Babylonians and Hebrew for the Jews. The difference in point of view is seen as an additional side effect of this literary form. Other arguments employ similar reasoning, such as outlining a symmetry in the literary structure, suggesting a sort of poetic and symbolic meaning to the structure.

Divergent Translations

As far as I can tell there is little explanation given from a Christian perspective for the widely divergent translations. These are generally taken to be nothing more than the result of corruption by an imaginative redactor, either prior to or after the original translation for the Septuagint.

2nd Century Texts

The presence of Daniel manuscripts at Qumran and the reference to Daniel in 1 Maccabees is cited as evidence of the early composition date for Daniel. The thrust of this claim is the assumption that a text could not see such widespread familiarity and adoption in the short a period of time (about 40 years) required for the critical date.

Linguistic Analysis

The apologetic coverage of this aspect is substantial but boils down to showing that the loan words and styles were not necessarily unavailable in the 6th century. In so far as the similarities with later apocryphal works, the claim is that Daniel is the original from which others drew inspiration. Refer to the apologetic links for details.

Mismatched Rulers

The historical Darius arrives far too late to have been aligned with the Darius in Daniel, so the predominant theory is that Darius the Mede is either some as of yet unknown ruler or an alias for a known ruler (perhaps a governor named Gubaru or for Cyrus himself). Under this theory, Daniel ends up much closer to the historical record once a couple more concessions are made: First, Belshazzar needs to be seen as “effectively king” with a primary leadership role during Nabonidus’ reign. Second, Nebuchadnezzar’s actual son isn’t listed, as well as other rulers prior to Belshazzar, because they didn’t align with any of the events in the story. Daniel’s claim that Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s son is also, in this case, taken in a political sense rather than a biological sense.

No External References Prior to 2nd Century

First, most apologists will assert that the Daniel in Ezekiel is the Daniel of interest here. Second, they will point out the fact that there are not many texts to examine from the 5th through 3rd centuries. Lastly, Daniel’s absence from Jesus Ben Sirach’s text is dismissed on the grounds that several other prominent figures are excluded, such as Job and Ezra.

Commonality with Baruch

Like Daniel, the perspective put forth by the author(s) of Baruch suggests that it was written during the Babylonian captivity. If this is taken at face value, then Baruch’s borrowing from Daniel would support an early date for Daniel’s authorship.

Daniel as a Writing instead of Prophet

The primary argument regarding this data point as evidence of a later authorship involves demonstrating that Daniel was considered a prophet early on (using the grouping of the Septuagint) and that it was not until much later that the book was considered to be part of the Writings. This categorization is often theorized to be an attempt to hide the relevance of Daniel’s prophecies to the person of Jesus.

Jesus’ Use of Daniel

These occurrences are used to show that Jesus considered Daniel to be an authentic and true prophet. On the assumption of Jesus’ authority and infallibility this then serves an undeniable evidence for Daniel’s authenticity – meaning that it was written by Daniel in the 6th century BC.

The Fulfillment of Prophecies

This aspect is covered in detail by the companion post. In short, it is only the preterist view which sees the events in Daniel as having been fulfilled by the historical events over the next six centuries. That view then sees Jesus, the new covenant and the church as fulfilling the portions of the prophecies which foretell the rise of the eternal kingdom. All other views (e.g., dispensationalism) see many of the prophecies of Daniel as separate from those early events.

What is the naturalistic interpretation?

The naturalistic view does not start with an assumption of Daniel’s authenticity. From this perspective, one does not immediately accept that the author is Daniel, though this is certainly the appropriate default stance based on the claims of the text. As previously noted, however, further consideration has caused many scholars to suggest that Daniel, or at least the prophetic portions of it, were written about 165 BC. This is often labeled the Maccabean Thesis and I will adopt a form of this as the naturalist position on this topic.

This view starts by allowing the possibility that Daniel is in some sense a historic person. The naturalist has no reason to deny the existence of a person named Daniel who rose to some level of prominence during the Babylonian exile. Potentially this is the Daniel referenced by Ezekiel, though he seems an odd fit for the context of those verses. Despite this allowance, the naturalist position also allows the possibility that Daniel is entirely legendary, which is supported by pointing out the similarities between Daniel and Joseph (Genesis 41). Both stories describe a captive in a foreign land who rises to a powerful position by interpreting the dreams of the country’s rulers. This is particularly relevant when paired with the observation that Jesus Ben Sirach, in the listing from which Daniel is excluded, says of Joseph that “no man like Joseph has been born”. Whether real or legendary, the naturalist also allows that the figure of Daniel may very well have been known in some respect prior to the composition of the current text. Oral tradition, and perhaps even written tradition, is a good candidate as the source of the narrative portions of Daniel (chapters 1-6). These portions of the text fit much better with the expectations of an inherited tradition than of a sudden work of fiction. The pre-existence of some form of a Daniel tradition is bolstered by the Qumran text “The Prayer of Nabonidus“, which appears to be an alternate version of the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness in Daniel 4.

The naturalist position with respect to the prophecies in Daniel is covered in detail by the companion post. In short, this view sees a breaking point between fulfilled prophecy and unfulfilled prophecy at about 165 BC. If one considers that the composition at this time is building upon existing narratives about the person of Daniel, as captured in chapters 1 – 6, then it becomes apparent how this effort might produce a text containing multiple languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) and different points of view (third person and first person).

The naturalist recognizes the limited time-frame between 165 BC and the translation of the Septuagint and the transmission of Daniel at Qumran but does not see this as persuasive evidence to the contrary. There are several reasons for this:

  1. If the person of Daniel is allowed to have been known in some capacity prior to the inception of the text then that would aid in the rapid adoption of the text as authentic.
  2. There is little reason to assert that 40 years (conservatively) is too little time for the transmission and adoption of the text. One only needs to reflect on the adoption and transmission of texts in early Christianity, or upon the events that have transpired in one’s own lifetime, to gain an appreciation of just how much can happen in 40 years.
  3. Given the historical context, any text which foretells of the destruction of Antiochus IV and the subsequent rise of the Jewish kingdom would have been likely to see immediate acceptance and distribution by those familiar with his role in Jerusalem. The text’s acceptance may have then been further advanced by the death of Antiochus having occurred near the 3 1/2 years foretold in Daniel. Thereafter, the introduction of the Hasmonean dynasty and the largely independent Israeli state would have further legitimized Daniel’s prediction of the rise of the Jewish kingdom. Throughout this period, the state of affairs could have easily been seen as validation of the prophecies in Daniel. When this is combined with Daniel’s implications regarding the end of days, one could imagine how this would have reinforced and perhaps even helped instigate the apocalyptic culture that seemed to grow during this time. Many critical scholars would argue that Jesus was part of that culture.
  4. The extreme variations in the Septuagint, Theodotion and Masoretic versions of Daniel can actually be seen as an argument for the critical date. The infancy of ancient texts was quite dynamic as oral traditions, philosophies, pre-existent texts and multiple perspectives were woven into the new text. It is not until that new text became adopted by the culture that the text became more static. Only once a community had come to agree on the value of a text did the text become resistant to change. At this later stage alterations would be readily detected (due to familiarity) and would cause dissension in the community. Minor changes which arose during transmission were tolerated because they were often overlooked and did little to alter the shared value of the text, but major reorganizations, additions and deletions would be disruptive. In light of this, the widely divergent translations of Daniel would point toward the more recent authorship and against the notion of a text that had been accepted in the community and transmitted faithfully for 400 years prior to the translations.

In the closing verses of Daniel the naturalist also sees the author attempting to hide the fact that the text was written around the critical date. Verse 12:4 reads “But you, Daniel, close up these words and seal the book until the time of the end.” Then in verse 12:9 “He said, “Go, Daniel. For these matters are closed and sealed until the time of the end.” The most likely explanation for these verses is that they are an attempt by the author to explain why the text was not known until now – that is, at the time of his writing, a time that the author perceived to be very close to the end of days. This is in stark contrast to Revelation 22:10, “Then he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy contained in this book, because the time is near.” If these verses in Daniel are viewed from a Christian perspective then the only possible explanation is that the divine commandment to seal the words until the time of the end was violated some time before the late 2nd century BC, even though that obviously wasn’t actually the time of the end.

The naturalist view also points out that the books of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees provide detailed accounts of the events surrounding the reign of Antiochus IV, and are the earliest external references to the person of Daniel, yet fail to recognize the fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel. The only references are in 1 Macc. 2:59-60, which refers to the fiery furnace and the lion’s den, and in 1 Macc. 1:54, which identifies the abomination of desolation but does not refer specifically to Daniel. To the naturalist, this indicates that the authors of the Maccabees were probably unfamiliar with the text as we know it. The premise here is that it is unexpected that the Maccabees authors would borrow from the book of Daniel yet ignore the fulfillment of prophecy. The more rationale explanation is that the authors were familiar with a common set of traditions and phrasing that were incorporated into both Daniel and the Maccabees without directly borrowing from each other.

Regarding the similarity between Daniel and Baruch, there is reason to see this as supportive of the later date for authorship. For one, there is no external evidence that Baruch was written in the time period suggested by the author and there are many reasons to suspect that it was composed, or at least completed, much later. In short, the similarities between Daniel and Baruch seem to be rooted in their sharing of a common culture, a culture which fits best with the apocalyptic milieu of the Maccabean era.

Lastly, the naturalist must address the data points which directly contradict this view. Regarding the account written by Josephus, which places the book of Daniel in existence at the time of Alexander the Great around 330 BC, the naturalist argument is to reiterate that Josephus was writing in the late first century AD, 400 years after the proposed event. It is known from many sources (including Jesus) that by this time Daniel was well established and believed to be a prophet. As such, it would not be surprising if Josephus was simply propagating an established legend. Regarding the adoption of Daniel by the Great Assembly shortly after the return from exile, this again is a very late source (200 – 600 AD) that is most likely propagating tradition about the authors of the Tanakh. The same passage attributes the entirety of the Torah authorship to Moses, a claim which modern scholarship has found difficult to support.

Which interpretation seems more probable?

When one allows for the possibility of predictive prophecy, there is nothing in the data which precludes the possibility of authorship at any time between the 6th century BC and the critical date around 165 BC. However, as observed in the post on the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecies, a view which allows for predictive prophecy and also accepts Daniel’s prophecies as having been fulfilled encounters substantial difficulty in accounting for the final events in the prophecies and in reconciling these with Jesus’ view of the prophecies. This injection of future fulfillment is a major strike against the notion that these are genuine predictive prophecies. When that consideration is brought into view and coupled with the other data points, I find that the critical dating of the text presents a more rationale understanding of the situation and that viewing Daniel as a late composition provides a more cohesive explanation of the peculiarities of the text. The evidence is, in my opinion, sufficient to overcome the default position claimed by the text itself.

In light of all these considerations I have chosen to assign the probabilities for the correct interpretation as follows:


2 thoughts on “The authorship of Daniel

  1. That’s a great post Travis. The idea that there was an existing legend of Daniel that was re-worked around 165 BC seems the best explanation.

    I take it you don’t place much weight on the Josephus claim that the prophecies were shown to Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC.

    • Thanks Peter. I think most scholars see pre-Maccabean elements in Daniel and don’t think that it was completely fabricated at the time. It’s especially telling that 1 Maccabees references the historical stories of Daniel (lion’s den and fiery furnace) but doesn’t bother to mention that the prophecies are coming true in the Maccebean conflict! My suspicion is that the Daniel tradition included those stories plus the dream and interpretation from Ch 4 (tree) and that this was the inspiration for adopting it to produce the larger body of dreams, visions and interpretations. Note that the Ch 4 dream predicts the madness of Nebuchadnezzar, which was also recounted in the Prayer of Nabonidus, found at Qumran (which is the correct king for that particular tale).

      As for Josephus’ claim – yeah, that isn’t very convincing. It’s pretty easy to see how that legend would have arisen.

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