Recently, Jonathan Sheffield and I were given an opportunity to debate the timeline of the book of Daniel against those who would conclude that the book is a forgery. This debate took place against Dr. Josh Bowen and Jim Majors. Not long after, Dr. Richard Carrier joined us on a debate review to discuss the content within the debate. My goal in this article is to focus on the highlighted arguments made by both sides.
A question that must be asked first is, “where was the earliest recorded argument made for Daniel being a 2nd-century BC forgery?” The answer can be found in the 3rd-century CE by a man named Porphyry (234-305 CE). Here’s a chart of Porphyry’s arguments:1
One thing that should be noted is that Porphyry did not dispute the accuracy of the history. His dispute was that it was written after the events took place rather than prophesied in advance. It should also be noted that Porphyry did not give a specific candidate as to who potentially forged the book of Daniel. Eusebius wrote an entire work against Porphyry as recorded by Jerome.2 Unfortunately, this work of history has not been recovered from antiquity, but the allegations of Porphyry did not go unchallenged. Jerome also refuted Porphyry’s arguments in addition to Eusebius.
A second question that should be asked is, “how can someone trace the timing of an original writing and its author?” I believe the work of Augustine will help demonstrate this process of investigation.3
Let’s examine these three criteria. The first is contemporary support. As demonstrated in the debate, Ezekiel was a contemporary of Daniel and spoke of a man by the name of Daniel in a list with Noah and Job (Ezek. 14:14,20). Ezekiel even used Daniel’s wisdom to be the pinnacle of obtaining wisdom to the prince of Tyre (Ezek. 28:3). Consider this point, Ezekiel assumed that the Jews would know a prominent figure, equal to the status of Noah and Job, that had a righteous standing before God. This Daniel could not have been a randomly selected name from the crowd. This would have been a name recognized by the masses as a standard of righteousness.
The same is true in chapter 28. God was using a man named Daniel as the standard of wisdom to the pagan prince of Tyre. God acknowledged that the prince’s wisdom surpassed Daniel. Would God use a man named Daniel as a comparison who was unknown to the prince? I would say this is very unlikely. Nebuchadnezzar paid homage to Daniel and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon (Dan. 2:46-48).
This would indicate prominence amongst the wisest of men in the Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. There is little doubt that the prince of Tyre would have been familiar with Daniel. This could not be a random Daniel selected from the crowds of Israelites, it would have been a man known to the prince of Tyre.
The Witness of Josephus
The second criteria is information corroborated over time. This took place on several occasions. The first is the testimony of Josephus. In his Antiquities of the Jews, he said,
“And I am so bold as to say now I have so completely perfected the work I proposed to myself to do, that no other person whether he was a Jew or a foreigner, had he ever so great an inclination to it, could so accurately deliver these accounts to the Greeks as is done in these books.”4
Keep in mind, Josephus was not just compiling government documents for the Jews. He also established these written documents for the Greeks. The opposition to these claims in the debate was that Josephus wrote from a perspective of Jewish bias. There are two issues with the claim. First, his own people did not care for him. He was viewed as a trader by many of his Jewish brethren. Second, he was allowed his work to be scrutinized by Greek and Roman historians. Consider his statement in his preface,
“Now I have undertaken the present work as thinking it will appear to all the Greeks (Greeks & Romans) worthy of their study; for it will contain all our antiquities, and the constitution of our government…to explain who the Jews Originally were – what fortunes they had been subject too, and by what legislator they had been instructed in piety…what wars also they had made in remote ages.”5
Josephus welcomed the leaders and historians of his day to challenge his propositions. He was not afraid to take his historical accounts into the public courts. In his work against Apion, he wrote,
“I, first of all, appealed to those that had the supreme command in that War, Vespasian, and Titus, as witnesses for me, for to them I presented those books first of all, and after them to many of the Romans who had been in that war. I also told them to many of our own men…among whom were Julius Archelaus, Herod [King of Chalcis], a person of great gravity, and King Agrippa himself, a person that deserved the greatest admiration. Now all these men bore their testimony to me, that I had the strictest regard to truth; who yet would not have dissembled the matter, nor been silent, if I, out of ignorance, or out of favor to any side, had given false colors to actions, or omitted any of them.”6
Josephus gave a precise citation to the influence of the book of Daniel on Alexander the Great. He believed it was one of the reasons Alexander spared the city of Jerusalem. He said this about the influence of Daniel’s writings,
“And when the book of Daniel was showed him, wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended.”7
These claims had ample opportunity to be opposed and rejected. Though Daniel being mentioned is not confirmed by others (nor is it denied), the meeting between the priests and Alexander was confirmed by various sources: Megillat Ta’anit (7 AD), Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD), Babylonian Talmud Yoma 69a (3-6th century AD), Eusebius of Caesarea (264-339 AD).
Also, the historian Arrian (86-160 AD) confirmed that a deal was reached with the nation of Israel. Though one can claim Josephus made the part of Daniel up, one must bring an opposing view that explains why Alexander refrained from sieging the city. Though Josephus’ history was challenged at times (e.g,. Apion), there is no evidence of this claim being challenged by his opposition.
The Witness of Jerome
Jerome also corroborated the book of Daniel. His personal studies and research team examined the issue presented by Porphyry. He also argued his research against his friend Rufinus. He said,
“…What sin have I committed if I followed the judgment of the churches? But he who brings charges against me for relating the objections that the Hebrews are wont to raise against the Story of Susanna, the Song of the Three Children, and the story of Bel and the Dragon, which are not found in the Hebrew volume, proves that he is just a foolish sycophant. For I was not relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they [the Jews] are wont to make against us.”8
Jerome argued that his data of the original writings of Daniel was supplied to him by the priests and official Jewish churches. This research caused him great distress over the public reading of the Greek Theodotion text, which included the readings of the Story of Susanna, the Song of the Three Children, and the story of Bel and the Dragon. Jerome argued that the earliest witnesses of the Septuagint lacked these stories and that they were later insertions. He said this about the Theodotion text,
“I also wish to emphasize to the reader the fact that it was not according to the Septuagint version but according to the version of Theodotion himself that the churches publicly read Daniel. And Theodotion, at any rate, was an unbeliever subsequent to the advent of Christ…but even Origen in his Vulgate edition (of the Greek Old Testament) placed asterisks around the work of Theodotion, indicating that the material added was missing in the Septuagint, whereas on the other hand, he prefixed obeli (i.e., diacritical marks) to some of the verses, distinguishing thereby whatever was additional material (not contained in the Hebrew).”9
The final conclusion for Jerome was that the book of Daniel was written in a form similar to how we see it in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hebrew Masoretic Text today. He concluded that Daniel was the original author and that it was written around the 6th-century BC. His studies of the historical data and earliest witnesses caused him to reject Porphyry’s allegations both historically and syntactically.
The third criteria is it must point back to an author. This is a significant point of emphasis that was made during the debate/discussion. We have an identifiable person of interest for an author; the other side has a hypothesis without representation. Various independent accounts have identified Daniel. The earliest is from Qumran. The document knows as the “Midrash of Eschatology,” gives commentary to Daniel by saying, “It is written in the Book of Daniel the Prophet.”10
The writers at Qumran recognized that Daniel was a prophet and that he wrote the account as its author. The Talmud places Daniel’s writings during the time of the exile.11 Josephus established Daniel as the writer of his own prophecies.12 Jerome corroborated historical accounts and records of Daniel from the Jews while defending the authorship against Porphyry.13
Allegations Against the Maccabean Family
The only argumentation that can be established for a 2nd-century date is potentially the Maccabean family. There is no corroborated testimony of this; it is strictly assumption. What our opponents were suggesting was more than Daniel being a forgery. These claims were projecting the idea of a massive conspiracy. The Maccabean family would have vetted circulated letters of that time. If they forged a writing in the name of Daniel to rally the persecuted of their time, they failed in their strategy and did a poor job of forging.
There are two reasons I make this claim. First, they would be selling a prophetic writing to people who universally recognized the spirit of prophecy had ceased. The Maccabean family taught this as well. In 1 Maccabees 9:27, it reads,
“There was great tribulation in Israel, the like of which had not been since the time prophets ceased to appear among them.”
Also, in 1 Maccabees 14:41,
“And that the Jews, and their priests, had consented that he (Simon) should be their prince, and high priest for ever, till there should arise a faithful prophet.”
The people of that time recognized the prophets were dead. The people were awaiting the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of the prophet to come. Simon was made their high priest and prince until this prophet arrived on the scene. The Maccabean family were not the only ones to report this. It is also found in 2 Baruch 85:1-3, Josephus, and in the Talmud.14
The second reason for my claim is the language of choice. Most of the Jews at this time had been Hellenized. Greek and Aramaic were the predominant languages of the day. This is why most of the Apocryphal literature at that time was written in Greek.
Some of the manuscripts of Daniel found in Qumran are dated within 100 years of the alleged date of forgery.15 Would the Maccabean family be able to forge a document that is written in Hebrew (the many of that time could not read), then move a large section to Aramaic, and then finish chapters nine to the end back into Hebrew. Also, be able to send transmitted texts of it to the scribes at Qumran, who were able to write commentaries of his prophecies equal to Moses, David, and Isaiah in this short time? It is improbable that this could take place under these circumstances.
It would take a mass conspiracy to make this plan happen on a widespread level. The Jews were aware that the spirit of prophecy had ceased. The Maccabean family taught this as well. The Jews were aware of the stories of Daniel and the lion’s den, along with Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael (1 Macc. 2:51-60). They saw these two narratives as equal to Abraham, Joshua, David, Elijah, and other ancient fathers. They did not see them as companions of their day, but men who performed mighty acts “in their generations.” (1 Macc. 2:51).
The historical evidence of Daniel can be established by following Augustine’s criteria. The evidence of contemporary support, information corroborated over time, and being able to point the data back to an author will bring us closer to a 6th-century BC timeframe.
-Dr. Stephen Boyce
- St. Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids 6, Michigan 1958 pp. 15-157
- Contra Faustum, Book XXXIII Chapter 6
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XX Chapter XI
- Against Apion Book 1 Chapter 9
- Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews, XI.8
- Jerome, Against Rufinus, 11:33
- St. Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, pg. 491-494
- 4QMidrEschat a and 4QMidrEschat, 80-50 BC
- Rashi on Bava Batra 15a:2:5
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 12.320-322.
- St. Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, pg. 491-494
- Ein Yaakov Yoma 1:9 and Rashi on Bava Batra 15a:2:5
- 4QDan(c) 4Q114 covering 10:5 to 11:29 and 4QDan(e) 4Q116 covering portions of chapter 9