Monday, March 18, 2024

Evidence for the Authenticity of Daniel

The book of Daniel in the Bible is an amazing book! It contains hundreds of very detailed prophecies, most of which are known to have been fulfilled. They include such things as the sequence of world empires from the Babylonians through the Medo-Persians, Greeks, and Romans as well as many specific events like the premature death of Alexander the Great at the height of his power, the division of his kingdom into 4 main empires, and the squabbles of the Seleucids and Ptolemies in the centuries afterwards. This presents a problem for skeptics of the Bible, which they resolve by claiming Daniel was written after most of the events it describes, and thus that the prophecies weren't prophecy. They were just history.

Because Daniel clearly describes the events of the mid-2nd century BC when the Maccabees revolted against king Antiochus of the Seleucid empire and cleansed the temple, the date assigned to the book is right around 164 BC when these events took place. This is in contrast to the traditional date for Daniel around 603-536 BC when the prophet Daniel lived. This earlier date was during the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people and during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar of Babylon and Cyrus of Persia. In other words, the traditional date assumes the book is authentic, written by the actual prophet Daniel during the time the book describes. The late date assumes the book is a fraud, written in the time of the Maccabees but pretending it was written by the prophet Daniel hundreds of years earlier. The fraudulent author was thus writing known history as if it was prophecy. 

These two views of the book of Daniel are in stark contrast. Defending the Bible requires defending the early date of Daniel. There are many other lines of evidence for the Bible, of course, but Daniel plays an important part in showing the supernatural inspiration of scripture through accurate, fulfilled prophecies.

As it turns out, there are many lines of evidence that support the earlier date for Daniel while the late date is mostly wishful thinking and bias against the supernatural. If someone rejects the inspiration of scripture or the existence of God, they need Daniel to be written late. It's the only option. Daniel's prophecies are too detailed and too clearly shown in history to deny unless they were written after it all happened. So the late date exists because skeptics need an explanation. In contrast, the earlier date relies on the evidence.

Here are some major reasons to accept that Daniel was written in the 6th century BC when it claims to have been written.

1) The book of Daniel recorded history that wasn't known at the time of the Maccabees.

The book of Daniel has been mocked and ridiculed for its supposedly false claims, yet newer information has vindicated Daniel. For example, skeptics claimed for many years that King Belshazzar never existed. The book of Daniel records a King Belshazzar who was ruling in Babylon at the time the Persians conquered it. However, secular historical records, such as the list of Babylonian kings compiled by Herodotus, did not list any ruler named Belshazzar. The last Chaldean king of Babylon, according to Greek historians, was Nabonidus. He was king when the Persians conquered Babylon. So this was widely used as evidence that Daniel contained errors, probably because it was written much later by someone who wasn't familiar with that time in history. 

However, in the late 19th century, the Nabonidus Cylinders were discovered which identify Belshazzar as the oldest son of Nabonidus. Further information has revealed that Nabonidus was away from Babylon during much of his reign. Thus, it is now believed that Belshazzar was acting as ruler of Babylon while his father was away, but without holding the official kingly title. He reigned in his father's name, but he was the acting ruler. 

This information is good evidence that the book of Daniel was written by someone who was living in Babylon in the 6th century BC. A later writer in the 2nd century BC would have known the Greek history with the official king list that didn't include Belshazzar. Thus, a later fiction pretending to be written by Daniel would have said that Nabonidus was ruling in Babylon when the Persians invaded. Only someone living there at the time would have known to write about Belshazzar. 

Not only does Daniel include Belshazzar, who was unknown to secular history until fairly recently, but the details are accurate. In Daniel 5, the prophet Daniel intepreted the writing on the wall during Belshazzar's party. This prompted Belshazzar to promote Daniel to third highest ruler in the kingdom. Why third? Because Nabonidus was the official king, Belshazzar was under his father, and so the highest honor that Belshazzar could give was third place. These are details we can fill in now, but a writer in 164 BC could not have known them. This shows that Daniel really was written in the 6th century BC, as it claims.

2) The language and customs recorded in the book of Daniel are accurate to Babylon in the 6th century BC. 

There are many details under this one heading. I can't go into all of them here, but I can give some examples. Daniel records that the laws of the Medes and Persians could be issued by the king, but the king was then unable to alter them. This is extremely unusual in history. Usually, kings are able to issue and rescind decrees as they choose. Yet King Darius was unable to change his decree that those who worship anyone other than the king would be thrown into the lion's den. He tried to change the law to save Daniel, but the law could not be changed. This has been found to be true of the Medes and Persians during this time period. Kings could issue laws, but the laws applied to everyone, including the king, and could not be changed. So Daniel accurately reflects the customs of the correct period that later writers are very unlikely to have known.

One of the main criticisms of the early date is that the book of Daniel contains some Greek words. Since Greek influence and language spread around the world with the conquests of Alexander the Great, some 200+ years after Daniel lived, the inclusion of Greek words seems to support a later date. However, the Greek words in Daniel are of musical instruments. Musical instruments tend to retain their original names without translation, and they often spread to other cultures without requiring conquest or force. That's why we still refer to a ukelele by its Hawaiian name, even for those of us who don't speak Hawaiian. It's not because we were conquered by the Hawaiians and adopted their language. Thus, it is not surprising that the kingdom of Babylon in the 6th century BC would have musical instruments from the Greeks which retained their Greek names. 

3) The book of Daniel was included in the Jewish scriptural canon in time to be translated as part of the Septuagint.

The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Torah portion was translated about 280-250 BC in response to a request from King Ptolemy II Philadelphis of Egypt since he desired to add all the books of the world to his great library in Alexandria. The rest of the Hebrew scriptures were translated after that, but the exact dates are not known for sure. It is certain that they were translated by the end of the 2nd century BC (around 100 BC) because we have copies from that time period. 

In the best case for skeptics, there is, at most, about 60 years between the late writing of Daniel and its inclusion in the Septuagint. This essentially rules out a late date. While it's theoretically possible, in the real world, it takes a lot of time for a new document to be copied, disseminated, accepted, and canonized. Sixty years is not enough time. It wouldn't become widely known in that time frame, much less accepted as part of the Jewish canon that would be included in the Greek translation.

The short time frame is further complicated by the fact that the Jewish leaders would never have accepted a late forgery as scripture. A book of known authorship, written by a proven prophet like Daniel in the 6th century BC, would be revered and added to the canon of scripture. A much later document from the 160's BC pretending to be written by the prophet Daniel some 400 years earlier would have been easily identified as a fake. As a comparison, suppose someone writing today were to claim to have found a previously unknown document from the Jamestown colony in Virginia back in the early 1600's. Everyone would be immediately suspicious. How could such a document lie undetected all this time? Wouldn't it be obvious that the writer sounded recent and not like someone writing in the 1600's?

Further complicating this issue is the location. An authentic book of Daniel would have been written in Babylon in the 6th century BC and brought back to Israel with the returning captives. There would be a known history among the Jewish people. Yet in the 2nd century BC, at the time of the Maccabees, they were living in Israel. A forgery would be written in the land of Israel. You can't simply "discover" a previously unknown, 400-year-old Babylonian document in Israel. How would it arrive in Israel without anyone knowing about it? The Jews were not stupid. They would have recognized the forgery. 

4) The book of Daniel was included in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Dead Sea Scrolls date from the late 2nd century BC to the middle of the 1st century AD. Among the documents discovered are 8 fragmentary copies of Daniel. Daniel is the third most represented book, after Psalms and Exodus. The oldest copy of Daniel dates to around 100 BC. If the late date of origin were true, then this copy of Daniel is only a few decades removed from the original writing, which would be extremely unlikely. The entire collection of Daniel manuscripts in the Dead Sea Scrolls also argues against a late date. Why would there be so many copies of this one book if it's a late forgery that had only recently been written and had not yet circulated widely? How did this one fringe sect of Essenes living in isolation in the desert get such an early copy of the book if it had just been written? These complications argue strongly against a late date. 

5) Josephus records that Alexander the Great was shown a copy of the book of Daniel when he arrived in Jerusalem.

From secular history, we know that during Alexander's conquest of Tyre, he sent a letter to the Jews in Jerusalem asking for troops to help him in his conquest. The Jewish leaders refused, claiming they had vowed not to take up arms against King Darius of the Persians and could not aid Alexander. Alexander was a hothead. In fact, he was attacking the island of Tyre because they had refused his request to worship in their temple and had killed his messengers. He was so angry that he set his soldiers to throwing the remains of the mainland city of Tyre into the sea to build a causeway out to the island. In doing this, he fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel 26 that Tyre would be thrown into the sea and made bare like the top of a rock. The location of Tyre is a peninsula to this day because of the actions of Alexander's army.

Everyone knew that Alexander was coming for Jerusalem next. It was only a matter of time. Yet history also records that Alexander became a great friend of the Jews, left Jerusalem unconquered, and gave Jews equal rights with other citizens in Alexandria, Egypt, which he founded. This seems like a very strange outcome. Here we have the greatest military leader the world has ever seen, who conquered the entire Persian empire and more in just 13 years. He had just come from conquering the island city of Tyre, which had stood for over 2000 years, because they insulted him. He had been denied by the Jewish leaders when he asked for their aid. Yet when he arrived in Israel in 332 BC, he didn't attack. He made peace instead. Why?

Well, as it turns out, the story recounted by Josephus explains this strange turn of events. The high priest received a dream that instructed him to wear white robes and take a procession out to welcome Alexander as he approached. Alexander was stunned and said that he had seen the high priest in white robes in a dream back in Macedonia where he had been encouraged to take over the Persian empire and assured of victory. Alexander went into the city with the Jewish leaders and sacrificed at the temple. He was shown a copy of the book of Daniel which prophesied that a king from Greece would destroy the Persians. Alexander made peace with the Jewish people and granted them a reprieve from taxes every 7th year. He then left Jerusalem intact and moved on southward toward Egypt.

This account has been dismissed as false, mainly because the late date for Daniel is so widely accepted, and that would mean that the book of Daniel would not have existed yet. However, the account does explain some otherwise inexplicable known facts, and we have no other reason to believe it is false. On the contrary, the Talmud agrees with the account, suggesting this was a well-known story in ancient Israel, not an invention by Josephus.

It also makes sense that Alexander, as a student of Aristotle, would have been aware of his teacher's view that the Greek pantheon was false and there must be some Creator who was an uncaused cause of the universe. This may have made him more open to hearing about the Creator God of the Jewish people and more sympathetic to their monotheistic religious views, which most other peoples found very offensive.

If this story is indeed authentic, it proves definitively that the book of Daniel existed at the time of Alexander the Great in 332 BC, some 170 years before it was supposedly written at the time of the Maccabees. This would then require the early date for Daniel and prove its prophetic nature.

6) The book of Daniel still contains prophecy about later events, even if we accept the late date.

Even if we assume that Daniel was indeed written in 164 BC and all the events before that were actually written as history and not prophecy, Daniel offers prophecy of events after that time which have been fulfilled. As I mentioned earlier, the oldest manuscript of Daniel that still exists today dates to about 100 BC. Yet Daniel prophecies the death of Jesus which took place in 33 AD and the destruction of the 2nd temple in 70 AD.

In Daniel 9, a prophecy is given that there will be 70 sets of 7 (sometimes translated as 70 weeks) which begin with a command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. These "weeks" are simply the word for a set of seven, and the context shows them to refer to years because of the 70 years of Babylonian captivity that are mentioned. This was in turn because of the refusal of the Jewish nation to keep the Sabbath years by refraining from plowing and planting the land every 7th year. They had not kept 70 Sabbath years, and so they were punished with 70 years of captivity in Babylon so that the land would lie fallow and receive its Sabbath years while they were away. It is in this context that Daniel is told about this set of 70 sevens. 

The 70 sevens would be composed of 7 sevens and 62 sevens and then a final seven. The temple would be rebuilt and the wall. After the 7 and 62 sevens, then Messiah would come. So this places a timeline on the coming of the Messiah. Daniel's prophecy says that the Messiah would be cut off after the 69 sevens, but not for himself. Being cut off is a judicial term, meaning a legal sentence of death, not death from injury or disease or war or old age. Yet He will die for others, not for his own crimes. After that, a prince will come to destroy the city of Jerusalem and the temple. All of this is prophesied in Daniel 9, which we know for sure predates the time of Christ. All of this happened, which we can verify from historical records.

The exact date of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem is debated as there are a few possible options, but regardless of the exact date, the 69 sets of seven years (483 years) put the Messiah somewhere in the early 1st century AD. By one way of counting, where the years are 360 days (suggested by some Biblical passages) and the command is the one in 444 BC at the time of Nehemiah, the end of the 69 sevens lands in the spring of 33 AD, exactly when Jesus was crucified. 

Not only was the Messiah cut off exactly as prophesied, but the temple was also destroyed after that, just as Daniel said. The Roman army was led by Titus, the son of the reigning Emperor Vespasian (and thus a prince, just as Daniel prophesied). They destroyed the Jewish temple and the city in 70 AD. 

So even by the late date, Daniel still contains accurate prophecy. Since it contains accurate prophecy, it must have been written by a true prophet, not a lying forger who pretended to be writing during the Babylonian captivity and who falsely claimed to be Daniel. The accuracy of the known prophecies of Daniel argues for an early date by a true prophet. Either way, the prophetic nature of the book of Daniel is evident.


In conclusion, the Bible contains information that could not have come from the mind of man. It demonstrates its divine inspiration with objective evidence. The book of Daniel provides many of these evidences that show the God of the Bible exists, that He is active in history, that He knows the future, and that He has revealed His word in the writings of the Bible.