One 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…
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!