In a recent discussion on Twitter I was challenged to support the historical claims of the Old Testament. The argument was that the book of Daniel couldn't possibly have been written in the 6th century BC. In this series I am going to try and suss out whether or not we are able to trust the book of Daniel. The author claims to have lived in Babylon during the exile, and if true then it seems to be filled with prophetic visions and fantastic displays of God's power. Ultimately, I'm not sure any doubt about the historical accuracy of this book actually matters. The latest possible authorship date is still over 150 years before Christ, and we still have plenty of prophetic imagery in the Old Testament of Jesus Christ without Daniel. However the discussion was interesting, and it provided me with challenges I hadn't faced finding evidence against such a claim.
I am not an historian or archaeologist. I am not a theologian in any scholarly sense of the word. I don't have the skills necessary for my own textual criticisms of the extant manuscripts. I don't speak or read Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. I am simply a man with an interest and capacity to research topics that interest me and which I have no professional experience with, and I am guided by the Holy Spirit to seek truth in the world. I believe Daniel was written in the time frame it's author attributes to it, and I believe the truth will ultimately come to light with such certainty that no critic will be able to deny it.
A Quick Look at Daniel
Before I get into the arguments for and against, I want to briefly cover the contents of Daniel so we have it fresh in our minds as we move forward. Daniel is the tale of a prophet in the 6th century BC. Israel had again failed to follow God's law, and as a result he allowed them to be conquered by Babylon, the major world power of the time. The beginning of the book starts off with the king Nebuchadnezzar sending troops to siege Jerusalem. Israel surrenders and several of the youth are taken to Babylon. Daniel is one of the youth who returns with them, and he lives throughout the 70 year exile in Babylon. He is taught the language and skills required to serve in the king's court.
Daniel shows faith in God by talking the officials into allowing him to follow his customary dietary restrictions rather than eat the meat sacrificed to the gods of Babylon. Because of this, God rewards him by giving him the ability to interpret dreams, and increasing his understanding of all things necessary to be a faithful servant to the king. Due to his increased mental capacity, he is able to help Nebuchadnezzar understand a dream that none of his own scholars were able to interpret. To further make this feat magnificent, the king actually required that the interpreter first be able to tell him the dream that he had rather than simply interpret a dream that's been told to them. Daniel is given the same dream by God which allows him to fulfill this request, his interpretation, which he immediately attributes to God, is accepted by the king, and his position in the kingdom is elevated. King Nebuchadnezzar also recognizes the power of God as a result of this revelation.
Later, Nebuchadnezzar has a statue erected in his own honor, and he tells all of his subjects they must worship it when a horn is blown. Three of Daniel's friends refuse the request, and they are sentenced to die by fire in a furnace. God intervenes again, and the men are spared despite being completely engulfed in flames. This further cements Nebuchadnezzar's belief in the power of God as he and his advisors witness a fourth person in the blaze who protects the others. At this point Nebuchadnezzar issues a decree that the God of the Hebrew people in captivity shall not be defamed for fear that He may retaliate. Some time passes which isn't really covered in the book, but we know it's at least 7 years, because Nebuchadnezzar issues a proclamation exclaiming The Most High God as the supreme ruler of the world after what would seem like a 7 year exile by God which is quickly detailed in his proclamation.
To those of every people, nation, and language, who live on the whole earth: May your prosperity increase. I am pleased to tell you about the miracles and wonders the Most High God has done for me.
How great are his miracles, and
how mighty his wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom,
and his dominion is from generation to generation.
– Daniel 4:1-3 CSB
He goes on to describes a dream he had, and the interpretation provided by Daniel. He (Daniel) had told Nebuchadnezzar the dream is a prophecy from God that he will be afflicted with a mental condition and wonder in the wilderness for 7 years. He explained this was God's way of humbling him so that he may see that true power starts and stops with him. As soon as the dream is explained to him, the king challenges the interpretation saying “Is this not Babylon the Great that I have built to be a royal residence by my vast power and for my majestic glory?"
As soon as he issued this challenge he heard God from the heavens, and the message of the dream was actualized. He closes the proclamation with more praise of the God of Israel.
For his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom is from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing,
and he does what he wants with the army of heaven
and the inhabitants of the earth.
There is no one who can block his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
– Daniel 4:35 CSB
Eventually Nebuchadnezzar is replaced by a new king, Belshazzar. He decides to show off the relics of the temple that from the sacking of Jerusalem at a party, but when they start to drink from them at a party, a finger appears and begins to write on the wall which terrifies him so much he loses his bowels. His advisers are unable to discern the message on the wall, so they summon Daniel. Daniel explains to the new king that God had shown glory to Nebuchadnezzar because he recognized the power of The Most High, and he reminded him that he was not being humble by choosing to defile the holy items from the temple despite being aware of the conditions of his predecessor. Afterwards, he interpreted the inscription which read "Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin" meaning:
‘Mene’ means that God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.
‘Tekel’ means that you have been weighed on the balance and found deficient.
‘Peres’ means that your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
– Daniel 5:26-28 CSB
Daniel was rewarded for his interpretation with another promotion, and later that night Belshazzar was murdered and supplanted by Darius the Mede. At this point the new king planned to give a lot more responsibility to Daniel which made his babylonian subjects jealous, and they started to plot against him. They convinced the king to issue a decree forbidding prayer to any foreign gods which included the Most High knowing that Daniel would be unable to leave praying for a full 30 days. He rejected the decree which ultimately got him thrown into a den of lions. Again, God stepped in and protected him from the lions, and when they came back to check on him he was unharmed. This pleased Darius, and so he issued a proclamation praising God in the way Nebuchadnezzar had praised him.
May your prosperity abound. I issue a decree that in all my royal dominion, people must tremble in fear before the God of Daniel:
For he is the living God,
and he endures forever;
his kingdom will never be destroyed,
and his dominion has no end.
He rescues and delivers;
he performs signs and wonders
in the heavens and on the earth,
for he has rescued Daniel
from the power of the lions.
– Daniel 6:25-27 CSB
Because of this proclamation, Daniel was re-established as a trusted member of the kings order once again. Now I'm not sure if Cyrus the Persian replaced Darius, or if they ran the kingdom in parallel. It's possible that Cyrus was his second, or vice versa, but it seems Daniel did well under both of their rules from that point onward.
At chapter 7, the book takes a step back to discuss a dream Daniel had while Belshazzar was still in power. This dream is one of the most famous of all of his visions because it is apocalyptic in nature. He dreams of 4 beasts which are meant to represent 4 kingdoms, the first being Babylon. This dream is not open to his own interpretation, but an angel helps him to understand the meaning. The 4th beast is described as wholly different from the first 3. It is told to him that this kingdom will take over the world. The beast has 10 horns which represent 10 different kings that will rise up from this kingdom. The angel tells him there will be blasphemy from the mouth of the head of the kingdom against the Most High. He tells him that the people of God will be oppressed by him for some time, but that God will ultimately avenge them, and when he does, the people of God will be given dominion over the world. Daniel records the dream as having made him very uncomfortable, perhaps because he understood the nature of the dream as being apocalyptic.
A few years later, he has another dream. This dream shows Daniel 4 kingdoms again, and again an angel helps him to understand it. At the end of the dream sequence he sees something about 2300 days and nights, and with regard to this the angel says
The vision of the evenings and the mornings
that has been told is true.
Now you are to seal up the vision
because it refers to many days in the future.
– Daniel 8:26 CSB
This dream affects Daniel physically, and he's sick for a few days before he goes back to working for the king, and he says he can't grasp the meaning of the dream.
In chapter 9, we are taken back to the first year of the ruler Darius the Mede. Daniel explains that he's read the prophecy of Jeremiah with understanding, and he turns to God in prayer. He starts off repenting to God for the misbehavior and disloyalty of the people of Israel. He acknowledges that the exile is a just punishment as was described in the Torah, and he points out that despite the clear message from God, the people are still not turning to Him. Then he asks God to turn his grace back to his people, and he acknowledges that he knows the people are undeserving, but he believes God is compassionate. He petitions the Lord for forgiveness of the people despite their not being worthy. While he is praying, the angel Gabriel comes to him and tells him that God has heard his prayer, and he has brought the response.
The response from God prophecies the coming of the Messiah after 70 weeks of years. Gabriel tells him the Messiah will make a covenant and be cut off. He says the Messiah will bring an end to the sacrificial system and tells David about the Abomination of Desolation which will be placed in the temple.
In the 3rd year of the reign of Cyrus, Daniel is given yet another vision. This vision was brought to him by a glorious figure that was standing on the bank of the Tigris River while he was awake. When he saw the figure, the people with him were overtaken with fear and ran away, and he was put into a sleep. While in a dream state he continued to feel dread and fear, but a human form touched him and told him to be strong because he was chosen by God. This strengthened him, an angel told him that he was going to reveal the truth of the future to him. This is the most interesting vision of Daniel's because it discusses a lot of details that have been considered quite accurate with regard to the kingdoms of earth, and it's the one we'll focus on in the next post. At the end of the narrative, the angel says
But you, Daniel, keep these words secret and seal the book until the time of the end. Many will roam about, and knowledge will increase.
– Daniel 12:4 CSB
Daniel asks the messengers when this is supposed to be happen. The angel tells him "When the power of the holy people is shattered, all these things will be completed". He doesn't understand and so he asks for more clarity, but he's told that this is another sealed prophecy that won't be fully revealed until the end of time. He tells Daniel to go on with his business, and he's assured that he will receive his inheritance as is promised.
This summary doesn't cover all of the details in the prophecies of the book of Daniel, but when we look back we can see that much of what was written happened with striking accuracy and detail. In the next post, I will provide some of the arguments I have received against this work being completed in the 6th century BC.