Traditional scholarship holds that Daniel was written in the sixth century BC and is historically reliable, but many modern biblical scholars hold that Daniel was written in the second century BC and is pious fiction. Let’s take a look at some of the evidence offered for the second century date and responses to that evidence by critical scholarship.
Walt Kaiser and Duane Garrett, in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, summarize several lines of evidence:
Jesus ben Sirach (Sir 44– 50), 1 writing in approximately 180 B.C., cited numerous Old Testament heroes— but not Daniel.
Belshazzar is called ‘king’ of Babylon in Daniel 5; the actual king was Nabonidus.
Darius the Mede (5:31 and ch. 6) is otherwise unknown.
The stories of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity and of the fiery furnace read like pious legends— far-fetched miracle stories common in intertestamental Jewish texts.
Half of Daniel was written in Aramaic, a language Jews spoke during the intertestamental period. Daniel 3 also includes three Greek words— suggesting that the book was written after Greek culture had invaded the Near East.
How do traditionalists respond?
Ben Sirach also omits mention of other famous Israelites, including Ezra. Also, Sirach may himself have been influenced by Daniel. In Sirach 36:10 he prayed, ‘Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time’— verbiage resembling Daniel 11: 27, 35. It may be that ben Sirach offhandedly cited Daniel, which of course implies that the book already existed in his lifetime.
The book demonstrates familiarity with the history and culture of the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. Daniel rightly portrays the position of Belshazzar, coregent with Nabonidus. He could have appropriately been called ‘king’ (5: 1), but in 5: 16 Belshazzar offered to make the one who could interpret the writing on the wall ‘the third highest ruler in the kingdom.’ As Belshazzar was himself the second ruler, this was the highest honor he could confer.
Darius the Mede is not mentioned by that name outside the Bible. This is the kind of historical puzzle scholars frequently encounter in ancient texts. In contrast, intertestamental Jewish works of religious fiction lack historical credibility in a way that has no parallel in historical works. The Apocryphal book of Judith, for example, written during the reign of Antiochus IV, contains absurd historical blunders and is altogether unlike Daniel.
The miracles of Daniel are outside the ability of history or archaeology to prove. Still, the following observations are pertinent: Miracles do not prove that a work is fictional. Nebuchadnezzar’s madness was a rare but authentic clinical condition called boanthropy. ‘Made-up’ miracle stories contain outrageous elements with no clinical analogy (e.g., in Tb 2: 9– 10, another Apocryphal book, Tobit goes blind because of sparrow droppings in his eyes).
The fact that half of Daniel is written in Aramaic is a mystery with regard to any proposed reconstruction of its history. But the Aramaic of Daniel is ‘official,’ or ‘imperial’— the standardized Aramaic used in official correspondence when Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Near East (see 2Ki 18: 26; Ezr 4: 7; Da 2: 4), not the colloquial, regional Aramaic of second-century B.C. Palestine, at which time the common language of the region was Greek. All three of the Greek words of 3: 5 are musical terms. Greek poets and musicians were renowned, so their musical vocabulary came into use early. What would be surprising is how little Greek appears in Daniel, if the book had been written in the second century B.C., when the world was thoroughly Hellenized. The Persian words in Daniel are of an older, pre-Hellenistic Persian.
Stephen Miller, writing in the Apologetics Study Bible, offers additional evidence for the traditional dating of Daniel in the sixth century BC:
1. The NT writers and Jesus Himself accepted the traditional understanding of the prophecy (cp. Mt 24: 15 and Mk 13: 14; Mt 26: 64 and Mk 14: 62 and Lk 22: 69; Heb 11: 33-34).
2. The book professes to have been written by Daniel (see 7: 1; 12: 4), to be an account of a historical individual who experienced the exile and lived in Babylon, and to predict future events (e.g., 2: 29-45; 7: 2,15-27; 8: 15-26; 9: 24-27; 10: 14; 11: 2– 12: 4).
3. One of the eight manuscripts of Daniel discovered at Qumran (4QDanc) has been dated to about 125 b.c. and may have been written earlier. Some scholars have argued that there would have been insufficient time for the book of Daniel to have gained such widespread acceptance if it were written only 40 years previously.
4. The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the OT produced in Alexandria, Egypt, that came to be used widely by the Jews of the Diaspora. Scholars generally agree that at least the Pentateuch (first five books) was translated in the middle of the third century b.c., but it is likely that all the Bible books were translated into Greek about the same time. If so, a second century date for Daniel is impossible. According to the critical view, only 30 years after it was written, the book of Daniel was received into the canon and carried to Alexandria, approximately 300 miles away, and there translated into Greek. Such a proposal seems unlikely.
5. Ezekiel, the sixth-century prophet, mentioned Daniel three times in his book (Ezk 14: 14, 20; 28: 3)— seemingly clear verification of the traditional view. Critical scholars, however, insist Ezekiel was speaking of a mythological hero named Danel who appears in the ancient Ugaritic epic “The Tale of Aqhat.” A decisive argument against such a theory is that the epic Danel was an idolater, hardly a model of faithfulness to Israel’s God. Ezekiel must have been referring to the author of the book of Daniel. If so, the historicity of Daniel and his book would seem to be established.