There’s something about Daniel

A visitor to Nate’s blog caught my attention a couple months ago when he started defending the ‘traditional’ view of Daniel’s authorship and prophetic legitimacy. I couldn’t resist participating in the discussion, given the time I spent studying Daniel, as documented in my posts on the prophecies of the kingdoms, Daniel’s authorship, and whether Jesus fulfilled the 70 weeks. This is an interesting topic due to the potential it holds as perhaps the best candidate evidence for a divine fingerprint on the text of the Bible.

Before going any further, let me start by saying that this visitor, Tom, has compiled the most thorough and reasonable defense of the traditional view of Daniel that I have ever encountered. I commend him for the time and effort that he put into it, even if I disagree with the conclusion. Regardless, in this post I want to review some of the new data I encountered (or more seriously revisited) during that discussion and offer some insight into why I find these ‘new’ arguments for an early authorship unconvincing.

Ezekiel’s reference to Daniel

It is generally agreed that Ezekiel was initially composed within the period of the Babylonian exile, and more importantly, well before the 165 BCE date attributed to Daniel under the Maccabean thesis. This means that a reference to the person of Daniel in Ezekiel 14 would seem to confirm the existence of the person described by the book of Daniel, which is more consistent with the view that it is an early composition. I didn’t give this a lot of attention in my prior study because it wasn’t obvious, for several reasons, that this was a reference to the Daniel of interest (note that it is spelled slightly differently – דנאל in Ezekiel, versus דניאל in Daniel, with an extra yud – so sometimes people give the Ezekiel name as Dan’el) but it also didn’t seem that this was very important given that I agree with the scholars who see that some of the narratives in Daniel probably have their roots in traditional stories that pre-date the Maccabean composition. Regardless, Tom presented this as a key evidence for the early authorship of Daniel and much discussion ensued.

The main thrust of the argument centered around the coupling of Daniel in Ezekiel 14:12-23 with Noah and Job as an exemplar of righteousness, and as exceedingly wise in Ezekiel 28:3. The primary alternate candidate for Ezekiel’s reference is to a Dan’el character known from Ugaritic sources and Tom argued that he is a poor fit due to his non-Yahwist allegiances. Eventually, Nate pointed out that Ezekiel refers to the “sons and daughters” of Noah, Daniel and Job, which is inconsistent with the life of Daniel from the book of that name. This piqued my interest and so I went back and re-read the passages from Ezekiel, at which point I was struck by a new insight.

Ezekiel 14:12-23 presents itself as a message from Yahweh to Ezekiel, offering insight into the nature of his relationship with Israel in light of the Babylonian conquest and exile. Here’s my summary of the message:

If I [Yahweh] pour out just one type of wrath (famine, animals, sword or plague) on a nation, the righteousness of people like Noah, Daniel and Job will only save themselves and no descendants will be spared. However, if I pour out all four forms of wrath on Jerusalem, you will see a remnant survive and their unrighteousness will show you why I brought punishment.

So it seems like there’s two points being made: (1) the calamity which has befallen Jerusalem was not undeserved, and (2) the Jewish nation is special in that God will show them mercy and not wipe them out entirely. Now, if this is a proper understanding of the passage – and I think it is – then it makes absolutely no sense that Daniel, a member of the Jewish remnant, would be named as a member of the nations that would be devastated by the wrath of Yahweh in contrast to the Jewish nation (though Job and Noah, as pre-Abrahamic characters, do fit). For the first time, it became clear to me that Ezekiel was not referring to a contemporary young Jew named Daniel, regardless of whether he was referring to the Ugaritic Dan’el or not.

The Letter to Aristeas

At one point, Tom suggested that my post on the authorship of Daniel had incorrectly identified the commissioning of the Septuagint in the 3rd century BCE as only including the Torah – he believed that the Letter of Aristeas shows that all the books now included in the Tanakh were part of that effort. If this were true, and Daniel was included in that translation, then this would be a defeater for the Maccabean thesis. So I went back and reviewed the Letter of Aristeas again.

First, a little background. The Letter of Aristeas is generally believed to be a later forgery that draws upon a series of possibly historical events which resulted in the commissioning of the official Greek translation of the Jewish law, known to us as the Septuagint. It claims that this was instigated by a suggestion posed to Demetrius of Phalerum, who was in charge of Ptolemy’s effort to collect “all the books of the world” for the famous Library of Alexandria. The majority of the letter references the “law of the Jews”, but in one spot – a purported memo from Demetrius to Ptolemy – it suggests adding translations of “The books of the law of the Jews (with some few others)”. This is the closest thing we get to a statement that the translation included more than the Torah. However, the purported letter from Ptolemy to the Jewish High Priest Eleazer only requests the law and the subsequent response from Eleazer to Ptolemy says that “I selected six elders from each tribe, good men and true, and I have sent them to you with a copy of our law. At the very best, the initial memo which proposed “some few others” correctly represents the actual effort and those few extra books just weren’t mentioned in the later correspondence. In that case, there may be a slim chance that Daniel would have been included. It seems much more likely, however, that the earliest translation effort only covered the Torah.

References to Daniel in …?

One of the other key arguments raised by Tom was that Daniel had been referenced by several different pre-Maccabean texts. I had not previously encountered this claim for some of the alleged references, so I decided to dig in and take a look. As before, this would be devastating blow to the Maccabean thesis if true.

  1. Tom proposed that “Tobit contains clear verbal allusions to Daniel.” Here he cites a paper by Roger Beckwith that argues for several different links to Daniel from pre-Maccabean sources. In that paper Beckwith states that:

    [Tobit] envisages a second more general return from exile … as the prophets of Israel spoke concerning them, which is to take place at ‘the time when the time of the seasons is fulfilled’. This glorious future rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple is probably seen by the author as foretold by Isaiah and Ezekiel respectively. But who fixed ‘the time when the time of the seasons would be fulfilled’ for this to happen? Could it be anyone but Daniel?

    I was interested to discover that the times and seasons language of Daniel was in fact present in Tobit. However, contra Beckwith, it does not put these words in the mouths of the prophets – rather, this is the language used by Tobit himself in his prophecy. So the direction of borrowing is not established, or even inferred, and it seems equally likely that the author of Daniel picked up this language from Tobit (or from the apocalyptic communities influenced by Tobit).

    It’s also interesting to note that Tobit claims to take place after the Assyrian captivity, which would predate Daniel. This means that if one is to argue for the early authorship of Daniel by suggesting that Tobit borrowed from Daniel, then it logically follows that the arguer accepts that there is precedent for Jews producing pseudoepigraphical works that were written after the fact to appear as if a known event had been prophesied. Sound familiar?

  2. Tom also claimed that “the Hellenistic Jewish historian Demetrius . . . had already . . . drawn up . . . [a] chronology of the seventy-weeks prophecy in Daniel 9 in the late third century B. C.” The footnote pointed us to another publication by Roger Beckwith, but one which is not readily available. Regardless, it didn’t take long to figure out that the original source is Clement’s Stromata Book 1, where it says:

    Demetrius, in his book, On the Kings in Judaea, says that the tribes of Juda, Benjamin, and Levi were not taken captive by Sennacherim; but that there were from this captivity to the last, which Nabuchodonosor made out of Jerusalem, a hundred and twenty-eight years and six months; and from the time that the ten tribes were carried captive from Samaria till Ptolemy the Fourth, were five hundred and seventy-three years, nine months; and from the time that the captivity from Jerusalem took place, three hundred and thirty-eight years and three months.

    I could not extract any allusion to the 70 weeks of Daniel 9 (which proposes 490 years from the Babylonian exile to the final judgment) and Tom never responded with an explanation.

  3. Another claim was that “Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] clearly refers to Daniel and contains a prayer that the prophecies of Daniel would be fulfilled soon“. This points us to Sirach 36:6-7 and 14-15, which says:

    [6] Rouse thy anger and pour out thy wrath; destroy the adversary and wipe out the enemy. [7] Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time, and let people recount thy mighty deeds. … [14] Bear witness to those whom thou didst create in the beginning, and fulfill the prophecies spoken in thy name. [15] Reward those who wait for thee, and let thy prophets be found trustworthy.

    This whole case rests on the prospect that the phrase “the appointed time” is being borrowed from Daniel and that the ‘prophecies’ are referring to Daniel and not any of the other eschatological prophecies in existence at the time. However, there’s no clear reliance on Daniel and the phrasing of an “appointed time” is also present in other eschatological contexts (Psalm 75:2 & 102:13, Habakkuk 2:3).

  4. Lastly, Tom proposed that the visions of Zechariah only makes sense if Daniel was already known. I never really understood this argument and explanations were lacking, but I did discover something new in the process of trying to understand it: many scholars suspect that Zechariah and Haggai were once part of a single text. When taken as a whole, it appears very likely that the prophecies and visions therein point toward an expectation that Yahweh’s eternal kingdom would arise through the reign of Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua (see Haggai 2:6-9 and 21-23, Zechariah 3:8, 4:9 and 6:11-13). This timeline is clearly different than one would expect if Daniel had been in view.

That’s It

There’s a lot more that was covered throughout the discussion and a ton of material in the document Tom put together but at this point I don’t feel the need to systematically dissect every single argument. The time spent researching these additional claims substantiated my suspicions that the ‘clear’, ‘obvious’ and ‘conclusive’ evidence for an early authorship is just as suspect as the data I had already reviewed. In the end, I feel pretty comfortable with the conclusions I’ve reached thus far – namely, that the book of Daniel, as we know it, was largely constructed in the midst of the Maccabean revolt by building upon a pre-Maccabean tradition to introduce prophecies that appear to predict events contemporary with the author. More specifically, my guess is that chapters 3 – 6 form the core of the pre-Maccabean tradition (though probably not as a unified text, and perhaps only as oral traditions). The dream and interpretation in chapter 4 and the hand-writing interpretation of chapter 5 then served as the inspiration for a Maccabean redaction to create the chiastic text of chapters 2 – 7, adding the chapter 2 and 7 prophecies, all in Aramaic. A second contemporary redactor then built upon this to add the introduction in chapter 1 and chapters 8 – 12 in Hebrew. As a young and volatile text, different versions, additions and arrangements of these redactions were available and are reflected in the Greek translations (LXX and Theodotion). This is my best shot at accounting for all the data.

Yeah, I missed April. Hopefully I’ll make it up with an extra post in the near future.


13 thoughts on “There’s something about Daniel

  1. Thanks for the shout out, first of all. You did a nice job here of pulling that very long discussion into a coherent synopsis. I agree with you that Tom’s efforts at defending the traditional dating of Daniel were the best I’d seen, and it was the first time I had seen some of those points as well. But yeah… digging into those arguments showed them to be fairly insubstantial.

    • Nate,
      One of the things I enjoyed about that discussion was how all of the parties involved were generally respectful and, for the most part, took each other’s views seriously. I wish more internet “debates” were like that. Thanks for hosting a place where that can happen.

  2. Dear Travis,

    Thank you for the kind words about my study of Daniel. I intend to respond to what you have written here, but I am doing some teaching and have a number of other projects going on and it may be a while before I get around to it. I will simply mention at this time that some of what you say, such as the argument from Zechariah, is detailed in greater depth in Pusey’s book on Daniel, which I have linked to here:

    Also, if you ever have the time to review Dr. Stephen Anderson’s dissertation on Darius the Mede linked to here:

    I will definitely intend to read what you have to say about it.

    Thanks again–I hope to be able to respond in more detail, but, again, it may be a while.

  3. Hi Tom,
    I look forward to hearing what you have to say and do sincerely appreciate the effort you’ve put into your study. I did read some of the Zechariah discussion previously but I don’t recall any specific reasons why Pusey believed that the four horns of Ch 1 assume knowledge of the kingdoms in Daniel. I’ll look at it again and see if something more substantial jumps out at me.

    I too am very busy, so don’t concern yourself with timing – I probably won’t respond very quickly either. On that note, I very much doubt that I will engage with the dissertation you linked. The following paragraph from its introduction is enough to keep me from taking it seriously:

    This book accuses several ancient extrabiblical writings of bias, by which is meant that their goal is to support a political aim, rather than to tell the historical and spiritual truth. A bias, properly defined, is a prejudice against truth. Sometimes a biased writing specifically seeks to oppose and distort truth; but sometimes a biased writing merely shows disregard for truth through a higher regard for something else (e.g., polishing the king’s image). Truth is objective reality, and therefore cannot be defined subjectively, whether by one individual’s opinion or by the opinion of the majority of modern academic scholarship. Truth is defined objectively by the Bible, which is the Word of God (and, as such, is self-authenticating, without the need for any external proofs of its validity). The ultimate bias, therefore, is denying the absolute truth and authority of the Bible.

  4. Dear Travis,

    I would commend Dr. Anderson for being open about his presuppositions–we all have presuppositions, and it is better to be open about them then deny that we have any. Surely you do not think that no ancient documents had bias–that would be the end of your argument against Daniel. I think you are too intelligent to think that someone who believes inerrancy is incapable of doing anything useful in terms of historical study.

    I thought it was interesting during a debate where Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation was debating the historicity of the OT, Barker insisted that he did not have any biases or presuppositions. His Christian opponent pointed out that Barker had said the following in his debate over the resurrection of Christ with Dr. Bass of Dallas Seminary:

    “Even if Jesus did exist, even if I agreed with [Christian opponent, Dr. Bass] 100%, yep, he rose from the dead, yep, there’s a God, yep, I don’t deny any of that, does not mean that he is my Lord. If he did exist…I will go happily to hell. It would be worse of a hell for me to bow down before a Lord…regardless of the legend and historicity issue…Even if I agreed 100%, I would still reject that Being as a Lord of my life because I’m better than that…I cannot accept Jesus as Lord…You’re much more free to live and enjoy your life unshackled from the demands…to have some Lord of your life…To me, I think that’s more important than all this historicity stuff, which, you heard me admit, is a matter of probabilities; I might be wrong…That still doesn’t mean that Jesus is Lord. He is NOT the Lord of my life…”

    Regrettably, this leading American atheist evangelist is rarely as open about his presuppositions as Dr. Anderson was in the preface to his historical study.

    Thanks again.

    • Tom,
      It certainly is true that ancient documents have biases – my concern is that Dr. Anderson thinks there’s one particular ancient document which doesn’t. That seems deeply hypocritical. It’s also true that a commitment to inerrancy does not preclude the possibility of doing valid historical research, but I have to pick and choose where I put my time and a 130 page dissertation with a prelude that requires a particular conclusion prior to any consideration of the data is not the type of thing I wish to spend my time evaluating. The goal of legitimate research is to minimize that kind of activity as much as possible and follow the evidence. We will bring our biases and presuppositions into our interpretation, but we should still strive to allow the data to inform our conclusions if we are genuinely interested in the truth. So, you’re welcome to summarize and present arguments based on that document, but I have no plans to independently read and comment on it.

  5. Excuse me–I should have said “believes in inerrancy.” That’s what I get for submitting a comment before rereading it.

  6. Travis thanks for this detailed analysis. I found it very insightful especially your analysis of the Daniel reference in Ezekiel that makes so much sense.

    Once again thanks for doing all this work, it is really appreciated.

    Like you I applaud Tom for his detailed consideration and his reasoned comments, however I also find the scenario of a Maccabean composition of the book, perhaps incorporating some earlier material to be the best explanation of the evidence before us.

    The issue I keep coming back to is, if there is a ‘God’ and that ‘God’ is all powerful then why would that ‘God’ leave us a testimony with so many issues, when they could so easily have been overcome? Perhaps ‘God’ works in mysterious ways? This would not be so critical if ‘Hell’ was not in the balance, it almost makes ‘God’ seem either careless or indifferent to the fate of humanity.

  7. Hi Travis. I really like the detail you put into your research and posts. I would have devoured this stuff back in the mid 90’s when I was struggling with trying to figure out what was true about the bible. The book of Daniel (chapter 9 mainly) was probably the biggest reason why I converted to Christianity long ago.

    but I have to pick and choose where I put my time and a 130 page dissertation with a prelude that requires a particular conclusion prior to any consideration of the data is not the type of thing I wish to spend my time evaluating. The goal of legitimate research is to minimize that kind of activity as much as possible and follow the evidence.

    This quote of yours I took from one of your comments because it really is a key point. I don’t spend much time considering religious texts anymore because I don’t see them as a way to get closer to the truth about reality. Christian apologists are more than happy to dismiss the Bhagavad Gita or Tao Te Ching with only a very brief glance. They certainly don’t spend any time seeking out the most educated of those who believe in those other religions in order to see if they are real. They are making the same choice you describe here. So apologists are not being even handed when they judge others for not spending tons of hours researching whether or not their belief is true. If I still thought the bible had a chance at properly describing reality I’d be all over it.

    • Thanks Howie. I didn’t know that Daniel 9 had been instrumental in your original conversion. That’s interesting. Did somebody blow your mind with a presentation of the amazing prophetic accuracy of Daniel, or did you arrive at a belief in it as a genuine prophecy through your own study?

      • Hey Travis – someone at work mentioned it to me and then I heard a brief account of it on the radio. Then I ended up calculating a little more (not in great detail as you can find easily nowadays on the internet – it was 1990 so I didn’t have that resource) and at that time I thought it was just too big of a coincidence. That was when I converted. Isaiah 53, and quite frankly a fear of the afterlife were also pretty big contributing factors. Months later, as I was writing a long letter to my parents explaining why I had converted, I ran into a few of the difficulties with the interpretation, but at that time it wasn’t enough to sway me against belief.

      • Interesting. Thanks for sharing those details. As far as I can recall, I was completely unaware of the Maccabean thesis until I did my study a few years ago. I suspect it is now nearly impossible to miss the secular perspective on Daniel if you are a Christian who is using the internet as an aid to understand its prophecies. This world wide web thing is a game changer.

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