The date of the book of Daniel

September 21, 2015

against_the_flowOne of the many things that one is taught in mainline Protestant seminary—without any pushback from students in my experience, no doubt because many are too afraid to speak up—is that the historical dating of nearly every book in the Bible is later than the tradition dates them: the four gospels, for example, must have been later than A.D. 70 because Jesus couldn’t have actually predicted with such accuracy the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple.

And herein lies the problem: the reason Bible scholars doubt the traditional dates is not because historical evidence points in that direction; it’s because they share the naturalistic Enlightenment assumption that our universe is a closed system in which God, even among scholars who believe he exists, can’t or doesn’t reveal the future to biblical writers. So if the assumed biblical author says something that he wouldn’t know based on this naturalistic presupposition, then he must have written after the events described. This is especially true when it comes to the book of Daniel, which by tradition was written during Daniel’s time, in the sixth century B.C.

Yet because the book predicts with startling accuracy the rise of Alexander the Great and one of his successors, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, modern scholars say that the book must have been written in the second century B.C. Consult any commentary from a mainline Protestant publishing house, including the UMC’s Abingdon, and you’ll see this date recorded matter-of-factly.

In his new commentary on Daniel, Against the Flow, Oxford University mathematician and Christian apologist John Lennox rejects this later date. By all means, Daniel does predict Antiochus IV Epiphanes. How surprising is this? On the one hand, he says, even in modernity we marvel at the prescience of books such as Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Toffler’s Future Shock, without wondering if they were divinely inspired. On the other hand, do we believe in divine revelation and inspiration of scripture or don’t we?

Some scholars argue that there was absolutely no way the author of the book of Daniel could have known such twists and turns of historical detail unless he had lived under the events he records. Therefore the book must have been written—or completed—no earlier than the second century BC. The detail given in the text is just not the kind of information that he could have guessed, however brilliant he was. And, as these scholars deny revelation, there was no other possible source of information. They do not believe that any source of knowledge exists that could accurately supply details of the course of world events in advance…[1]

But of course, this modern objection to the traditional dating of Daniel—that divine revelation doesn’t happen—is ironic because this is precisely the issue that Daniel addresses head on in Chapter 2, in relation to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: The sorcerers in the king’s court, you’ll recall, believe it’s impossible to interpret a dream whose contents haven’t been revealed to them by the dreamer himself; they need the king to describe the dream first.

But Nebuchadnezzar tests them: if they have the supernatural power they claim to have, they should be able to know his dream without his telling them about it.

Daniel, by contrast, does have supernatural power: God reveals to him the king’s dream, which he proceeds to interpret.

Another good reason to believe in the earlier date of Daniel, however, doesn’t depend on faith in God: We know from the recent historical discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Essenes at Qumran regarded Daniel as canonical scripture. This community dates to 100 B.C. It’s inconceivable that these scrupulously pious Jews would have so regarded Daniel had it been written only about 50 years earlier!

1. John Lennox, Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism (Oxford: Monarch, 2015), 89-90.

11 Responses to “The date of the book of Daniel”

  1. brendt Says:

    I never realized before that Daniel 2 was partly a set-up for street cred for later in the book. 🙂

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    “Ever learning, and yet never able to come to the truth.”

  3. brendt Says:

    So, a question of ignorance, since I’m not acquainted with the viewpoints of the “scholars” you mention. Is part of their argument that everything in the Bible was completely understood by its human authors? It seems entirely possible — nay, highly probable — that most of the prophetic passages were written by men with no clue as to what they were writing about, but they wrote it down anyway because God told them to. The “scholarly” approach seems to deny any kind of divine inspiration.

    Corollary to that: as to doubting the dating of the Gospels because of Jesus’ predictions about the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple. I’m hoping that the “scholars” at least believe in Jesus’ divinity (or we have *much* bigger problems). So there’s no problem there with Jesus making predictions. And the gospel writers were just recording what He said, not making the predictions themselves. So, when we struggle *now* with stuff that Jesus said, are the “scholars” actually saying that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all understood everything He said perfectly, and therefore couldn’t have written their gospels until after 70 AD?

    • brentwhite Says:

      These so-called “critical scholars”—the ones who, with rare exceptions, teach and publish within the mainline Protestant tradition—are careful to distinguish the “Jesus of history” from the “Christ of faith.” They would say that the Jesus of history wouldn’t, for instance, have predicted the Temple’s destruction directly, or his own death and resurrection, or the future Second Coming; rather, the apostles, whose lives were transformed by the resurrection (which may simply have been a private spiritual experience rather than a physical and historical event) read these historical events and predictions back into Jesus’ teaching.

      So critical scholarship isn’t bothered over the question of whether Jesus did or didn’t do or say what the Bible says he did or said. It’s up to us to decide what to do with the “Christ of faith.” Even if the gospels are mostly legendary accounts, we have to decide what purpose God has (assuming he exists) in giving us these stories. And just as importantly, what purpose the Evangelists (who weren’t really Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, of course) had in telling the story in this particular way to their particular community. Oh my goodness, critical scholars love speculating about the author’s “community” and how the Evangelists took some kernel of historical truth and molded it to speak to their communities! So the four gospels are less about Jesus, anyway, and more about the specific needs and concerns of these different “communities.”

      I guess what I’m saying is, the task of critical scholarship is to treat the Bible the same way you’d treat any other ancient text—to apply the all the same rules that you’d apply when interpreting it, etc., and let the chips fall where they may.

      You’ve heard of Bart Ehrman? He’s never published an original thought: he’s just repackaged what we all learn in mainline seminary to shock the average layperson and sell a lot of books.

      • brendt Says:

        I am quite critical of the idea often presented that “if you believe XYZ, then all of your faith comes crashing down” as though Christianity was a flimsy house of cards and not built on a Rock.

        That said, what the “scholars” are saying seems to strike at the very core of the faith.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Basically these “scholars” ARE trying to “strike at the very core of the faith.” Why else would they try to go to such extreme and frankly outrageous efforts to challenge each and every story of “divine intervention” in the Bible. As Jesus said to the Sadducees, “You do err, not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God.”

      • brentwhite Says:

        But critical Bible scholars don’t believe that’s what they’re doing, Tom. They believe they’re just interested in the facts. “You can sort out what it all means.” Even Bart Ehrman is quick to say that he’s not making any judgment about Jesus’ divinity, etc.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Well, SOME may be “sincere” in their efforts, but I remain convinced that PLENTY are not. In fact, many “scholars” DO get around to challenging the divinity of Christ ultimately. Basically I don’t see why there is any challenge to the various “divine intervention” biblical accounts other than with a motive to “write the divine out of the picture.” Maybe some believe they are “truth seekers” in doing so, but at a minimum they are “making shipwreck,” well intentioned or not.

      • brentwhite Says:

        Couldn’t agree more. The key point, which Dr. Lennox also makes, is they’re not doing it based on evidence; it’s based instead on presupposition. If miracles can’t happen then of course miracles didn’t happen.

        They are making shipwreck of faith they harmed mine!

      • brentwhite Says:

        Yes, Brendt, but there’s a very wide gap between the kind of Christian fundamentalism that your first sentence points to and the realm of critical scholarship with which I’m well-acquainted. In the church circles in which I live and breathe, we’ve ceded far too much ground to the latter.

        I believe that our seminaries, in general, are harming people spiritually—like sheep to the slaughter. No wonder so many denominations are struggling!

    • brentwhite Says:

      Any good evangelical scholar, by contrast, will address the same questions raised by critical scholarship, and will come out on the other side still affirming Christian orthodoxy. I promise you, in my mainline Protestant education, we were never exposed to evangelicals—even the ones who swim in both ponds, like N.T. Wright. Not a word! It’s unbelievable!

      So what happens is that even relatively orthodox candidates for ministry exit seminary poorly equipped to deal with these challenges to their faith and with a far lower view of the authority of scripture than the average layperson in the pews.

      It’s sad.

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