Daniel—A Book on Trial
1, 2. In what sense does the book of Daniel stand accused, and why do you think it is important to consider evidence in its defense?
IMAGINE yourself in a court of law, attending an important trial. A man stands accused of fraud. The prosecuting attorney insists that the man is guilty. Yet, the accused has a long-standing reputation for integrity. Would you not be interested in hearing the evidence for the defense?
2 You are in a similar situation when it comes to the Bible book of Daniel. Its writer was a man renowned for integrity. The book that bears his name has been highly regarded for thousands of years. It presents itself as authentic history, written by Daniel, a Hebrew prophet who lived during the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E. Accurate Biblical chronology shows that his book covers the period extending from about 618 to 536 B.C.E. and was completed by the latter date. But the book stands accused. Some encyclopedias and other reference works imply or assert outright that it is a fraud.
3. What does The New Encyclopædia Britannica say regarding the authenticity of the book of Daniel?
3 For example, The New Encyclopædia Britannica acknowledges that the book of Daniel was once “generally considered to be true history, containing genuine prophecy.” The Britannica claims that in reality, however, Daniel “was written in a later time of national crisis—when the Jews were suffering severe persecution under [Syrian King] Antiochus IV Epiphanes.” The encyclopedia dates the book between 167 and 164 B.C.E. This same work asserts that the writer of the book of Daniel does not prophesy the future but simply presents “events that are past history to him as prophecies of future happenings.”
4. When did criticism of the book of Daniel begin, and what fueled similar criticism in more recent centuries?
4 Where do such ideas originate? Criticism of the book of Daniel is not new. It started back in the third century C.E. with a philosopher named Porphyry. Like many in the Roman Empire, he felt threatened by the influence of Christianity. He wrote 15 books to undermine this “new” religion. The 12th was directed against the book of Daniel. Porphyry pronounced the book a forgery, written by a Jew in the second century B.C.E. Similar attacks came in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the view of higher critics and rationalists, prophecy—the foretelling of future events—is impossible. Daniel became a favorite target. In effect, he and his book were put on trial in court. Critics claimed to have ample proof that the book was written, not by Daniel during the Jewish exile in Babylon, but by someone else centuries later.a Such attacks became so profuse that one author even wrote a defense called Daniel in the Critics’ Den.
5. Why is the question of the authenticity of Daniel an important one?
5 Is there proof behind the confident assertions of the critics? Or does the evidence back the defense? A lot is at stake here. It is not just the reputation of this ancient book but also our future that is involved. If the book of Daniel is a fraud, its promises for mankind’s future are just hollow words at best. But if it contains genuine prophecies, doubtless you will be eager to learn what these mean for us today. With that in mind, let us examine some of the attacks upon Daniel.
6. What charge is sometimes made regarding the history in Daniel?
6 Take, for example, the charge made in The Encyclopedia Americana: “Many historical details of the earlier periods [such as that of the Babylonian exile] have been badly garbled” in Daniel. Is this really so? Let us consider three alleged mistakes, one at a time.
THE CASE OF THE MISSING MONARCH
7. (a) Why did Daniel’s references to Belshazzar long delight critics of the Bible? (b) What happened to the notion that Belshazzar was merely a fictitious character?
7 Daniel wrote that Belshazzar, a “son” of Nebuchadnezzar, was ruling as king in Babylon when the city was overthrown. (Daniel 5:1, 11, 18, 22, 30) Critics long assailed this point, for Belshazzar’s name was nowhere to be found outside the Bible. Instead, ancient historians identified Nabonidus, a successor to Nebuchadnezzar, as the last of the Babylonian kings. Thus, in 1850, Ferdinand Hitzig said that Belshazzar was obviously a figment of the writer’s imagination. But does not Hitzig’s opinion strike you as a bit rash? After all, would the absence of any mention of this king—especially in a period about which historical records were admittedly scanty—really prove that he never existed? At any rate, in 1854 some small clay cylinders were unearthed in the ruins of the ancient Babylonian city of Ur in what is now southern Iraq. These cuneiform documents from King Nabonidus included a prayer for “Bel-sar-ussur, my eldest son.” Even critics had to agree: This was the Belshazzar of the book of Daniel.
8. How has Daniel’s description of Belshazzar as a reigning king been proved true?
8 Yet, critics were not satisfied. “This proves nothing,” wrote one named H. F. Talbot. He charged that the son in the inscription might have been a mere child, whereas Daniel presents him as a reigning king. Just a year after Talbot’s remarks were published, though, more cuneiform tablets were unearthed that referred to Belshazzar as having secretaries and a household staff. No child, this! Finally, other tablets clinched the matter, reporting that Nabonidus was away from Babylon for years at a time. These tablets also showed that during these periods, he “entrusted the kingship” of Babylon to his eldest son (Belshazzar). At such times, Belshazzar was, in effect, king—a coregent with his father.b
9. (a) In what sense may Daniel have meant that Belshazzar was the son of Nebuchadnezzar? (b) Why are critics wrong to assert that Daniel does not even hint at the existence of Nabonidus?
9 Still unsatisfied, some critics complain that the Bible calls Belshazzar, not the son of Nabonidus, but the son of Nebuchadnezzar. Some insist that Daniel does not even hint at the existence of Nabonidus. However, both objections collapse upon examination. Nabonidus, it seems, married the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar. That would make Belshazzar the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. Neither the Hebrew nor the Aramaic language has words for “grandfather” or “grandson”; “son of” can mean “grandson of” or even “descendant of.” (Compare Matthew 1:1.) Further, the Bible account does allow for Belshazzar to be identified as the son of Nabonidus. When terrified by the ominous handwriting on the wall, the desperate Belshazzar offers the third place in the kingdom to anyone who can decipher the words. (Daniel 5:7) Why third and not second? This offer implies that the first and second places were already occupied. In fact, they were—by Nabonidus and by his son, Belshazzar.
10. Why is Daniel’s account of the Babylonian monarchy more detailed than that of other ancient historians?
10 So Daniel’s mention of Belshazzar is not evidence of “badly garbled” history. On the contrary, Daniel—although not writing a history of Babylon—offers us a more detailed view of the Babylonian monarchy than such ancient secular historians as Herodotus, Xenophon, and Berossus. Why was Daniel able to record facts that they missed? Because he was there in Babylon. His book is the work of an eyewitness, not of an impostor of later centuries.
WHO WAS DARIUS THE MEDE?
11. According to Daniel, who was Darius the Mede, but what has been said of him?
11 Daniel reports that when Babylon was overthrown, a king named “Darius the Mede” began to rule. (Daniel 5:31) Darius the Mede has not yet been found by name in secular or archaeological sources. Thus, The New Encyclopædia Britannica asserts that this Darius is “a fictitious character.”
12. (a) Why should Bible critics know better than to state categorically that Darius the Mede never existed? (b) What is one possibility regarding the identity of Darius the Mede, and what evidence indicates this?
12 Some scholars have been more cautious. After all, critics once labeled Belshazzar “fictitious” as well. Undoubtedly, the case of Darius will prove similar. Already, cuneiform tablets have revealed that Cyrus the Persian did not assume the title “King of Babylon” immediately after the conquest. One researcher suggests: “Whoever bore the title of ‘King of Babylon’ was a vassal king under Cyrus, not Cyrus himself.” Could Darius have been the ruling name, or title, of a powerful Median official left in charge of Babylon? Some suggest that Darius may have been a man named Gubaru. Cyrus installed Gubaru as governor in Babylon, and secular records confirm that he ruled with considerable power. One cuneiform tablet says that he appointed subgovernors over Babylon. Interestingly, Daniel notes that Darius appointed 120 satraps to govern the kingdom of Babylon.—Daniel 6:1.
13. What is a logical reason why Darius the Mede is mentioned in the book of Daniel but not in secular records?
13 In time, more direct evidence of the precise identity of this king may come to light. In any case, the seeming silence of archaeology in this regard is hardly grounds to label Darius “fictitious,” much less to dismiss the entire book of Daniel as fraudulent. It is far more reasonable to see Daniel’s account as eyewitness testimony that is more detailed than surviving secular records.
THE REIGN OF JEHOIAKIM
14. Why is there no discrepancy between Daniel and Jeremiah regarding the years of King Jehoiakim’s reign?
14 Daniel 1:1 reads: “In the third year of the kingship of Jehoiakim the king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and proceeded to lay siege to it.” Critics have found fault with this scripture because it does not seem to agree with Jeremiah, who says that the fourth year of Jehoiakim was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar. (Jeremiah 25:1; 46:2) Was Daniel contradicting Jeremiah? With more information, the matter is readily clarified. When first made king in 628 B.C.E. by Pharaoh Necho, Jehoiakim became a mere puppet of that Egyptian ruler. This was about three years before Nebuchadnezzar succeeded his father to the throne of Babylon, in 624 B.C.E. Soon thereafter (in 620 B.C.E.), Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and made Jehoiakim a vassal king under Babylon. (2 Kings 23:34; 24:1) To a Jew living in Babylon, Jehoiakim’s “third year” would have been the third year of that king’s vassal service to Babylon. Daniel wrote from that perspective. Jeremiah, however, wrote from the perspective of the Jews living right in Jerusalem. So he referred to Jehoiakim’s kingship as starting when Pharaoh Necho made him king.
15. Why is it a weak argument to attack the dating found in Daniel 1:1?
15 Really, then, this alleged discrepancy only bolsters the evidence that Daniel wrote his book in Babylon while among Jewish exiles. But there is another gaping hole in this argument against the book of Daniel. Remember that the writer of Daniel clearly had the book of Jeremiah available and even referred to it. (Daniel 9:2) If the writer of Daniel were a clever forger, as the critics claim, would he risk contradicting so respected a source as Jeremiah—and in the very first verse of his book at that? Of course not!
16, 17. How has archaeological evidence supported Daniel’s account of (a) Nebuchadnezzar’s setting up a religious image for all his people to worship? (b) Nebuchadnezzar’s boastful attitude about his construction projects in Babylon?
16 Let us now turn our attention from the negative to the positive. Consider some other details in the book of Daniel indicating that the writer had firsthand knowledge of the times he wrote about.
17 Daniel’s familiarity with subtle details about ancient Babylon is compelling evidence of the authenticity of his account. For instance, Daniel 3:1-6 reports that Nebuchadnezzar set up a giant image for all the people to worship. Archaeologists have found other evidence that this monarch sought to get his people more involved in nationalistic and religious practices. Similarly, Daniel records Nebuchadnezzar’s boastful attitude about his many construction projects. (Daniel 4:30) Not until modern times have archaeologists confirmed that Nebuchadnezzar was indeed behind a great deal of the building done in Babylon. As to boastfulness—why, the man had his name stamped on the very bricks! Daniel’s critics cannot explain how their supposed forger of Maccabean times (167-63 B.C.E.) could have known of such construction projects—some four centuries after the fact and long before archaeologists brought them to light.
18. How does Daniel’s account of the different forms of punishment under Babylonian rule and Persian rule reflect accuracy?
18 The book of Daniel also reveals some key differences between Babylonian and Medo-Persian law. For example, under Babylonian law Daniel’s three companions were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to obey the king’s command. Decades later, Daniel was thrown into a pit of lions for refusing to obey a Persian law that violated his conscience. (Daniel 3:6; 6:7-9) Some have tried to dismiss the fiery furnace account as legend, but archaeologists have found an actual letter from ancient Babylon that specifically mentions this form of punishment. To the Medes and the Persians, however, fire was sacred. So they turned to other vicious forms of punishment. Hence, the pit of lions comes as no surprise.
19. What contrast between the Babylonian and the Medo-Persian legal systems does the book of Daniel make clear?
19 Another contrast emerges. Daniel shows that Nebuchadnezzar could enact and change laws on a whim. Darius could do nothing to change ‘the laws of the Medes and the Persians’—even those he himself had enacted! (Daniel 2:5, 6, 24, 46-49; 3:10, 11, 29; 6:12-16) Historian John C. Whitcomb writes: “Ancient history substantiates this difference between Babylon, where the law was subject to the king, and Medo-Persia, where the king was subject to the law.”
20. What details regarding Belshazzar’s feast reflect Daniel’s firsthand knowledge of Babylonian customs?
20 The thrilling account of Belshazzar’s feast, which is recorded in Daniel chapter 5, is rich in detail. Apparently, it began with lighthearted eating and plenty of drinking, for there are several references to wine. (Daniel 5:1, 2, 4) In fact, relief carvings of similar feasts show only wine being consumed. Evidently, then, wine was extremely important at such festivities. Daniel also mentions that women were present at this banquet—the king’s secondary wives and his concubines. (Daniel 5:3, 23) Archaeology supports this detail of Babylonian custom. The notion of wives joining men at a feast was objectionable to Jews and Greeks in the Maccabean era. Perhaps that is why early versions of the Greek Septuagint translation of Daniel omit the mention of these women.c Yet, the alleged forger of Daniel would have lived in the same Hellenized (Greek) culture, and perhaps even during the same general era, that produced the Septuagint!
21. What is the most reasonable explanation of Daniel’s having intimate knowledge of the times and customs of the Babylonian exile?
21 In view of such details, it seems almost incredible that Britannica could describe the author of the book of Daniel as having only a “sketchy and inaccurate” knowledge of the exilic times. How could any forger of later centuries have been so intimately familiar with ancient Babylonian and Persian customs? Remember, too, that both empires had gone into decline long before the second century B.C.E. There were evidently no archaeologists back then; nor did the Jews of that time pride themselves on knowledge of foreign cultures and history. Only Daniel the prophet, an eyewitness of the times and events he described, could have written the Bible book bearing his name.
DO EXTERNAL FACTORS PROVE DANIEL A FORGERY?
22. What claim do critics make regarding the place of Daniel in the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures?
22 One of the most common arguments against the book of Daniel involves its place in the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures. The ancient rabbis arranged the books of the Hebrew Scriptures in three groups: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. They listed Daniel, not among the Prophets, but among the Writings. This means, the critics argue, that the book must have been unknown at the time when the works of the other prophets were collected. It is grouped among the Writings supposedly because these were collected later.
23. How did the ancient Jews view the book of Daniel, and how do we know this?
23 Nevertheless, not all Bible researchers agree that the ancient rabbis divided the canon in such a rigid manner or that they excluded Daniel from the Prophets. But even if the rabbis did list Daniel among the Writings, would this prove that it was written at a later date? No. Reputable scholars have suggested a number of reasons why the rabbis might have excluded Daniel from the Prophets. For instance, they may have done so because the book offended them or because they viewed Daniel himself as distinct from other prophets in that he held secular office in a foreign land. In any case, what really matters is this: The ancient Jews had deep regard for the book of Daniel and held it to be canonical. Moreover, the evidence suggests that the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was closed long before the second century B.C.E. Later additions were simply not allowed, including some books written during the second century B.C.E.
24. How has the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus been used against the book of Daniel, and what shows this reasoning to be faulty?
24 Ironically, one of these rejected later works has been used as an argument against the book of Daniel. The apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, by Jesus Ben Sirach, was evidently composed about 180 B.C.E. Critics like to point out that Daniel is omitted from the book’s long list of righteous men. They reason that Daniel must have been unknown at the time. This argument is widely accepted among scholars. But consider this: The same list omits Ezra and Mordecai (both of whom were great heroes in the eyes of postexilic Jews), good King Jehoshaphat, and the upright man Job; of all the judges, it names only Samuel.d Because such men are omitted from a list that makes no claim to be exhaustive, occurring in a noncanonical book, must we dismiss all of them as fictitious? The very notion is preposterous.
OUTSIDE TESTIMONY IN FAVOR OF DANIEL
25. (a) How did Josephus attest to the genuineness of Daniel’s account? (b) In what way does Josephus’ account regarding Alexander the Great and the book of Daniel fit in with known history? (See second footnote.) (c) How does linguistic evidence support the book of Daniel? (See page 26.)
25 Let us move again to the positive. It has been suggested that no other book of the Hebrew Scriptures is as well attested to as Daniel. To illustrate: The famous Jewish historian Josephus attests to its authenticity. He says that Alexander the Great, during his war against Persia in the fourth century B.C.E., came to Jerusalem, where the priests showed him a copy of the book of Daniel. Alexander himself concluded that the words of Daniel’s prophecy that were pointed out to him referred to his own military campaign involving Persia.e This would have been about a century and a half before the “forgery” as proposed by critics. Of course, critics have assailed Josephus concerning this passage. They also assail him for noting that some prophecies in the book of Daniel were fulfilled. Yet, as historian Joseph D. Wilson remarked, “[Josephus] probably knew more of the matter than all the critics in the world.”
26. How have the Dead Sea Scrolls supported the authenticity of the book of Daniel?
26 The authenticity of the book of Daniel received further support when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the caves of Qumran, Israel. Surprisingly numerous among the finds discovered in 1952 are scrolls and fragments from the book of Daniel. The oldest has been dated to the late second century B.C.E. At that early date, therefore, the book of Daniel was already well-known and widely respected. Notes The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible: “A Maccabean dating for Daniel has now to be abandoned, if only because there could not possibly be a sufficient interval between the composition of Daniel and its appearance in the form of copies in the library of a Maccabean religious sect.”
27. What is the oldest evidence that Daniel was an actual person who was well-known during the Babylonian exile?
27 However, there is far older and more reliable attestation to the book of Daniel. One of Daniel’s contemporaries was the prophet Ezekiel. He too served as a prophet during the Babylonian exile. Several times, the book of Ezekiel mentions Daniel by name. (Ezekiel 14:14, 20; 28:3) These references show that even during his own lifetime, in the sixth century B.C.E., Daniel was already well-known as a righteous and a wise man, worthy of being mentioned alongside God-fearing Noah and Job.
THE GREATEST WITNESS
28, 29. (a) What is the most convincing proof of all that the book of Daniel is authentic? (b) Why should we accept Jesus’ testimony?
28 Finally, though, let us consider the greatest of all the witnesses to the authenticity of Daniel—none other than Jesus Christ. In his discussion of the last days, Jesus refers to “Daniel the prophet” and to one of Daniel’s prophecies.—Matthew 24:15; Daniel 11:31; 12:11.
29 Now if the Maccabean theory of the critics were correct, one of two things would have to be true. Either Jesus was duped by this forgery or he never said what Matthew quotes him as saying. Neither option is viable. If we cannot rely on Matthew’s Gospel account, how can we rely on other parts of the Bible? If we remove those sentences, what words will we next pluck from the pages of the Holy Scriptures? The apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, . . . for setting things straight.” (2 Timothy 3:16) So if Daniel was a fraud, then Paul was another one! Could Jesus have been duped? Hardly. He was alive in heaven when the book of Daniel was written. Jesus even said: “Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.” (John 8:58) Of all humans who have ever lived, Jesus would be the best one for us to ask for information regarding the authenticity of Daniel. But we do not have to ask. As we have seen, his testimony could scarcely be any clearer.
30. How did Jesus further authenticate the book of Daniel?
30 Jesus further authenticated the book of Daniel at the very time of his baptism. He then became the Messiah, fulfilling a prophecy in Daniel regarding the 69 weeks of years. (Daniel 9:25, 26; see Chapter 11 of this book.) Even if what may be called the late date theory were true, the writer of Daniel still knew the future some 200 years in advance. Of course, God would not inspire a forger to utter true prophecies under a false name. No, the witness of Jesus is wholeheartedly accepted by people faithful to God. If all the experts, all the critics in the world, were to mount up as one to denounce Daniel, the testimony of Jesus would prove them wrong, for he is “the faithful and true witness.”—Revelation 3:14.
31. Why are many Bible critics still unconvinced as to the authenticity of Daniel?
31 Even this testimony is not enough for many Bible critics. After considering this subject thoroughly, one cannot help but wonder if any amount of evidence would be enough to convince them. One professor at Oxford University wrote: “Nothing is gained by a mere answer to objections, so long as the original prejudice, ‘there cannot be supernatural prophecy,’ remains.” So their prejudice blinds them. But that is their choice—and their loss.
32. What lies ahead in our study of Daniel?
32 What about you? If you can see that there is no real reason to doubt the authenticity of the book of Daniel, then you are ready for an exciting voyage of discovery. You will find the narratives in Daniel thrilling, the prophecies fascinating. More important, you will find your faith growing stronger with each chapter. You will never regret paying close attention to Daniel’s prophecy!
a Some critics try to temper the charge of forgery by saying that the writer used Daniel as a pseudonym, just as some ancient noncanonical books were written under assumed names. However, the Bible critic Ferdinand Hitzig held: “The case of the book of Daniel, if it is assigned to any other [writer], is different. Then it becomes a forged writing, and the intention was to deceive his immediate readers, though for their good.”
b Nabonidus was away when Babylon fell. Thus, Belshazzar is rightly described as king at that time. Critics quibble that secular records do not give Belshazzar the official title of king. Nevertheless, ancient evidence suggests that even a governor may have been spoken of as king by the people in those days.
c Hebrew scholar C. F. Keil writes of Daniel 5:3: “The LXX. have here, and also at ver. 23, omitted mention of the women, according to the custom of the Macedonians, Greeks, and Romans.”
d The apostle Paul’s inspired list of faithful men and women mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11, by contrast, does seem to allude to events recorded in Daniel. (Daniel 6:16-24; Hebrews 11:32, 33) However, the apostle’s list is not exhaustive either. There are many, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, who are not named in the list, but this hardly proves that they never existed.
e Some historians have noted that this would explain why Alexander was so kind to the Jews, who were long-standing friends of the Persians. At the time, Alexander was on a campaign to destroy all friends of Persia.
WHAT DID YOU DISCERN?
• Of what has the book of Daniel been accused?
• Why are the critics’ attacks on the book of Daniel not well-founded?
• What evidence supports the authenticity of Daniel’s account?
• What is the most convincing proof that the book of Daniel is authentic?
[Box on page 26]
The Matter of Language
THE writing of the book of Daniel was completed in about 536 B.C.E. It was written in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages, with a few Greek and Persian words. Such a mixture of languages is unusual but not unique in Scripture. The Bible book of Ezra too was written in Hebrew and Aramaic. Yet, some critics insist that the writer of Daniel used these languages in a way that proves he was writing at a date later than 536 B.C.E. One critic is widely quoted as saying that the use of Greek words in Daniel demands a late date of composition. He asserts that the Hebrew supports and the Aramaic at least permits such a late date—even one as recent as in the second century B.C.E.
However, not all language scholars agree. Some authorities have said that Daniel’s Hebrew is similar to that of Ezekiel and Ezra and unlike that found in such later apocryphal works as Ecclesiasticus. As to Daniel’s use of Aramaic, consider two documents found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. They too are in Aramaic and date from the first and second centuries B.C.E.—not long after the supposed forgery of Daniel. But scholars have noted a profound difference between the Aramaic in these documents and that found in Daniel. Thus, some suggest that the book of Daniel must be centuries older than its critics assert.
What about the “problematic” Greek words in Daniel? Some of these have been discovered to be Persian, not Greek at all! The only words still thought to be Greek are the names of three musical instruments. Does the presence of these three words really demand that Daniel be assigned a late date? No. Archaeologists have found that Greek culture was influential centuries before Greece became a world power. Furthermore, if the book of Daniel had been composed during the second century B.C.E., when Greek culture and language were all-pervasive, would it contain only three Greek words? Hardly. It would likely contain far more. So the linguistic evidence really supports the authenticity of Daniel.
[Full-page picture on page 12]
[Pictures on page 20]
(Above) This inscription contains the boasting of Nebuchadnezzar regarding his construction projects
(Below) Babylonian temple cylinder names King Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar
[Picture on page 21]
According to the Nabonidus Chronicle, Cyrus’ army entered Babylon without a fight
[Pictures on page 22]
(Right) The “Verse Account of Nabonidus” reports that Nabonidus entrusted the rulership to his firstborn
(Left) Babylonian record of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah