Even the historicity of Daniel the man is dubious. Unlike other prophets, he has no patronymic, profession, or place of origin, and he first appears in historical records when “Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians” lists him with the legendary Noah and Job (Ez. 14:13-14, 14:19-20), treating him as what we would normally identify as a mythical hero, among the “three” heroes of yore possessed of a legendary righteousness and wisdom (Ez. 28:2-3). Noah and Job are notably non-Israelites, and Ezekiel is writing to a non-Israelite audience; odds are, he understood this Daniel therefore to be another non-Israelite hero, hence why he puts these three together like this. None of these three men are likely historical. Ezekiel appears to cite them as such (they seem to come from “mythic time,” not real historical time; they are men “of yore”). And though Daniel was a common Israelite name, in this context the name and identity sounds suspiciously a lot like Danel, a mythical Ugaritic hero; and we know a lot of Jewish mythology is adapted from Ugaritic and similar surrounding cultures. The two names even mean the same thing (Daniel, “God Is My Judge” in Hebrew; Danel, “God Is My Judge” in Ugaritic), and are linked to the same God (Danel’s god El was known as “Father of Years”; Daniel 7:9-10 refers to Daniel’s God as “Ancient of Days,” possibly indicating lore about the Ugaritic Danel may even have been used to construct the text of Daniel), and this name relates directly to the mythical hero’s role (Danel was a judge of renowned god-endorsed wisdom; and the Daniel depicted in the book of Daniel is portrayed as a wise and righteous judge), a common red flag for mythical persons. The conclusion therefore wins on balance of probability that when Ezekiel wrote, he was lumping the Ugaritic Danel in with the other non-Israelite heroes of Noah and Job (who also had counterparts in foreign cultures, e.g. Zisudra and Jobab; likewise Noah is, like Danel, a suspiciously apposite name). There is no mention here of this Daniel being a Jewish prophet; nor of being either Jewish or a prophet; much less of having written a book of his name; or even existing in any recognizable era.
Nevertheless, we’ll set that aside. Because whether mythical or not, this hero “existed” in Jewish literature to be “tapped” as a purported legendary author of the Book of Daniel itself. Is there any reason specific to that book to warrant our concluding it is a forgery? Yes. Quite a lot in fact. And here I’ll summarize that for you. Principal peer-reviewed sources I rely on in this article are C.L. Seow’s Daniel by Westminster Knox Press (2003) and John Collins’ Daniel by Fortress Press (1993), part of the excellent Hermeneia commentary series. See also The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception, vols. 1 and 2 (Brill, 2002), edited by John Collins and Peter Flint. This is all mainstream scholarly consensus now. Only biblical fundamentalists and similarly desperate believers still hold out hope that Daniel was actually written by an actual Daniel when it purports to have been. Mainstream scholarship has long since left them behind.
Daniel itself purports to be a 6th century B.C. record made by an actual Daniel, a Jewish prophet in exile, of events around and after 600 B.C. It even purports to contain epistles and decrees written by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar himself (Daniel 4:1-18 and 4:34-37) and the fictional Babylonian king “Darius the Mede” (Daniel 6:6-12 and 6:25-28), which are ridiculously ahistorical fabrications self-evidently in service of Jewish propaganda, matching no actual evidence from the period. These epistles and decrees simply don’t exist in Babylonian or Persian records, nor do any records of any kind support any of the events peculiarly related in the book of Daniel. More importantly, were any of this true, Daniel could not make fundamental historical errors about that very time and place. Yet the book we have, does. In fact, whoever wrote it, knew the actual history of the period very poorly.
For example, Daniel begins:
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.Daniel 1:1-2
This didn’t happen. “The third year of the reign of Jehoiakim” is 606 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar attacked and sacked Jerusalem in 598 B.C. which is the eleventh year of Jehoiakim, a fact confirmed not only elsewhere in the Bible but in contemporary Babylonian records. Technically Jehoiakim was killed before the sack and his son, Jehoiakin (a.k.a. Jeconiah), reigned a few months still holding out, but this passage is vague enough to encompass such a train of events (in ancient literary parlance we would call that a standard compression of events, which deliberately doesn’t distract a reader with pedantic trivia). It’s the rest of it that makes no sense. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t even ascend the throne until 605 B.C. (although disagreements of only a year can be due to the use of different calendars or other minor causes of error). In that year, though, when Nebuchadnezzar threatened to besiege Jerusalem, Jehoiakim, then a vassal of Egypt, pledged allegiance to the Babylonians instead, and served as their vassal until 601, when he allied with the Egyptians again, provoking Nebuchadnezzar to finally make good on his threat, ending Judah as a kingdom in 598 (or 597, depending on calendar, etc.). To confuse all this is an impossible mistake for anyone contemporary to these events.
Daniel then erroneously has Belshazzar succeed Nebuchadnezzar as his son (Daniel 5; cf. Daniel 7:1 and 8:1). But Belshazzar was neither his successor nor his son; and abundant contemporary records show he was never King of Babylon, but only served occasionally as regent under his father—but even that was a decade or so after several other rulers of Babylon had come and gone. Belshazzar’s actual father, Nabonidus, took the throne six years and three kings—Amel Marduk, Neriglissar, and Labashi-Marduk—after Nebuchadnezzar. There is no possible way any contemporary of events could have gotten this so horribly wrong. Whoever wrote Daniel was bad at history, and somehow mistook Belshazzar as a king of Babylon (he wasn’t), the son of Nebuchadnezzar (he wasn’t), and as succeeding Nebuchadnezzar (he didn’t; not even as regent).
Daniel then invents a king who never existed: Darius the Mede. Daniel claims he “took over the kingdom” after Belshazzar was killed (Daniel 5:30-31). In fact the actual king of the Babylonians was not killed. The Persians (not the Medes) took over Nabonidus’s kingdom, and spared his life (the real fate of his son and sometimes-regent Belshazzar is not recorded). Daniel’s author was clearly quite confused by the political chronology of this period, mistaking the famous Darius the Great as the Persian king who freed the Jews, when in fact all records show—including other books of the Bible—that that was Cyrus the Great, who reigned several kings previous in succession (Darius succeeded only after Cyrus’s sons had their turn at the throne, first Chambyses and then Bardiya). Daniel even confused who fathered whom, getting the line of succession exactly backwards: Daniel says Darius was the son of Xerxes (Daniel 9:1); in fact Xerxes the Great was the son of Darius. Darius’s father was Hystaspes, a distant relative of Cyrus the Great.
There was no other Xerxes nor any other Darius the author of Daniel could have mistakenly meant. Surviving Babylonian and Persian records of the era are sufficiently extensive that any speculation contrary to this bears little probability; and is outright impossible: because Daniel’s author(s) clearly did mean Darius the Great, as they describe his division of Persia into provinces called satrapies, each under the care of a provincial governor called a satrap (Daniel 6:1-4), even though here again there is confusion: contemporary records show that Cyrus actually created the satrap system; Darius only reformed its organization, though in result was often mis-credited by outside observers as “creating” it (nevertheless a mistake no contemporary official of his court would make); and Daniel incorrectly says he created “120” satrapies, when in fact it was only twenty or so (in the Behistun Inscription, Darius declares his rule extended over 23 provinces; according to Herodotus, it was 20; and though some sources claim as much as 36, that’s still nowhere near “120”). And needless to say, no record exists of “one of [these satraps] being Daniel” (or anyone outranking them being Daniel; or any Persian official whatever being named Daniel). Compounding the author’s error, this Darius was also definitely not a Mede, either, but an Achaemenid. So they have confused even different sub-kingdoms and ethnic groups within the Persian Empire, mistook the number of satrapies under Persia, and completely hosed the actual historical chronology.
All of these mistakes together are simply impossible for an author at the time, much less a high ranking Babylonian and Persian official, as Daniel is incredibly portrayed throughout. The actual author of Daniel was simply very ill-informed about the Babylonian and Persian eras, and is struggling to make up anything he can using famous names vaguely known here and about, and also to “fix” failed prophecies in Jeremiah (who predicted the “Medes” would vanquish the Babylonians; it ended up being the Persians instead, but this can explain why Daniel has “changed” Darius into a Mede). Which all indicates Daniel was most likely written centuries later than it purports. This was so obvious that it was noticed even in antiquity: the 3rd century philosopher Porphyry famously pointed it out long ago. It’s thus very telling that, though it purports to be written in the 6th century B.C. foretelling events in a later century (in Daniel 9-12), it becomes quite accurate for that later century. As Seow aptly puts it, “the book is remarkably precise in its allusions to certain events in the Ptolemaic and Seleucid periods down to the time just before the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes” at the end of 164 B.C. After which year it gets everything about the course of history disastrously wrong. Two guesses then when Daniel was written.
In furtherance of this conclusion it has also been pointed out that the Aramaic of Daniel (in Daniel 3:4-15) weirdly contains loan words from Greek—in the words it chooses to use for zither, sambuka, harp, and a multi-piped flute. It is strange even that Greek instruments should appear here at all (if such instead is meant), in a proclamation about what people should expect to hear from a Babylonian imperial marching band. Indeed, Greek loan words don’t otherwise appear in Aramaic texts or inscriptions until the late Persian period (hundreds of years after Daniel purports to have been written). This does not alone prove the conclusion, but it does increase its probability. Though apologists will argue that Greek loan words in Daniel are possible for an early Persian-era text (e.g. Benjamin Noonan, “Daniel’s Greek Loanwords in Dialectal Perspective,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 28.4 : 575-603), that ignores the actual point which is that this is improbable. An official “Babylonian herald” such as Daniel claims to be quoting, or a high official in the Babylonian (and then Persian) court, as Daniel is depicted, would far sooner have employed much more recognizable Babylonian, Persian, or (as the text usually attempts) Aramaic words for those same things (or have correctly described an actual Babylonian orchestra). Thus, that the obscure and largely impertinent language (or even actual instruments) of the Greeks would be chosen for them instead is really weird. It thus does not matter if it is “possible.” What matters is that this is not at all what we expect, and thus is not at all probable; whereas an author writing under Antiochus who had little knowledge of Babylonian or Persian court vocabulary for such things (or even the actual musical instruments of that era) would be entirely likely to grab then-more-familiar Greek words for the purpose instead (especially for instruments that would by then be entirely familiar to a people who had been serving under a Greek empire for decades or even centuries). It is this difference in probabilities that makes this observation evidence for forgery. This cannot be rebutted by arguing for a mere “possibility.” The point carries. No apologetics can escape its impact.
Finally (per Collins, pp. 24-38 and Seow, pp. 7-11), many serious proposals have been made (and evidence adduced) that earlier parts of Daniel (much or all of Daniel 1-6) might date to around the 4th century (still, thus, forged), but that obviously does not include chapters 9-12, which can only date to the 2nd century, yet are the chapters Christian apologists most desperately need to be authentic. But their having been forged in the 4th century wouldn’t make them authentic either; and we don’t know how much any earlier material may have been altered or edited for the 2nd century edition (indeed additions kept being made even after that, e.g. Bel and the Dragon as chapter 14, Susanna as chapter 13, and the Song of the Three Children was added to chapter 3). So none of these scholarly arguments are of any help to apologetics. (I should also add that even in the small fraction of the text of Daniel recovered at Qumran are many variant readings and scribal corruptions, which means the total number of corruptions across the whole text of Daniel must have been much larger even by then; and therefore considerably more must have crept into any manuscripts from centuries later.)
Daniel 11:1-4 is not so accurate, but Daniel 11:5-39 is spot on, and that chapter gets progressively more detailed and precise as it follows history along from the Persian to the Alexandrian and then the Seleucid eras, until it spends the most verses, and with the most verifiable detail, on the ten year reign of Antiochus, all the way up to just before his death (and the Jewish recapture of Jerusalem) in 164, during the Maccabean Revolt. As Seow observes, therefore, “the interests” of the “author and probably its audience are focused on that decade.” So the book of Daniel is really about that period of history, and was written for Jewish readers going through that decade. It was thus clearly written as an inspirational tract for the people fighting for the Jewish rebellion under the Maccabees; it was probably passed off as a forgotten book “serendipitously rediscovered” at just the right moment when increased resolve was needed to finally vanquish the enemy Antiochus (the convenient “discovery” of long lost books was a known way to pass off forgeries promoting going political movements; one can suspect it for Deuteronomy, the Linen Rolls and Sibylline Oracles, and the original Ascension of Isaiah).
So when we notice Daniel then starts to get history totally wrong (Daniel 11:40-45), incorrectly “predicting” a war between the Ptolemies and Seleucids that never came to pass, and that Antiochus would conquer most of North Africa (he didn’t capture even a single province there, due to the unforeseen intervention of the Romans), and die in Palestine (he was nowhere near), we can directly tell when the book was written: sometime in or shortly before 165. Because any earlier and its inaccuracies would start sooner, and any later and it wouldn’t have circulated successfully so as to gain a strong position as scripture, since its predictions would have been too rapidly falsified; instead it clearly gained such fanatical support that even when its prophecies eventually did fail, people’s faith in it was strong enough to motivate them to do what they did with all beloved but failed prophecies: try to reinterpret them as referring to yet a further distant time (exactly as Daniel 9 does with a failed prophecy of Jeremiah). And notably, it is precisely the effort to do that that caused Christianity.
It is generally agreed by mainstream experts now that the “Messiah” who is “predicted” to be killed (Daniel 9:25-26) was actually meant to be the “rightful” high priest Onias III, illegitimately deposed and replaced by Antiochus but revered as something of a saint at the time (e.g. 2 Maccabees 3-4), who then was assassinated while in exile in Syria before Daniel was written (making this a classic, and indeed altogether typical, example of “prophecy” being written after the fact and then purported to have been written before the fact, a common device in prophecy as a literary genre). That this makes the strange math in Daniel 9 work perfectly only confirms this conclusion. Since Daniel was actually written centuries after the restoration of the Jewish Temple under Cyrus, 59 years after its sack (by Babylonians in 598, who were overthrown by Cyrus in 539), and thus the prophecy of Jeremiah that this would not happen for seventy years was proved false, that “seventy” year timetable had to be “reinterpreted” so Jeremiah could be rescued from the charge of being a false prophet. Accomplishing this by reimagining Jeremiah as “actually” referring to the Maccabean revolt was then propagandistically exactly what its authors needed. So they did some weird math to make it come out that way.
After Daniel’s prophesied end of the world did not come, later interpreters re-thought his math to guess at different intended years (again to rescue another now beloved prophet from the charge of being false)—and one of those formulations was adopted by the Christians to justify their declaration that the end had begun with their “Anointed One’s” death in the 30s A.D. But in the originally intended formulation, the angel Gabriel had come to Daniel to answer his plea to explain how the prophecy could have failed by now explaining Jeremiah did not mean “years” but “weeks of years,” i.e. 70 periods of 7 years (or 490 years in all, which is tantalizingly exactly “ten jubilees”), and that these will not be sequential as expected, but partly concurrent (after Daniel’s prophesy failed, this detail was abandoned and the years reimagined as sequential again). Because Gabriel says, “From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes [the word “ruler” here is actually “leader, noble, prince,” even “chief officer,” hence “Chief Anointed,” thus in standard-cryptic-prophesy-speak alluding to the High Priest, Chief Officer of the Temple; a High Priest was then often referred to as the Anointed], there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens’,” meaning two overlapping periods: one of 49 years and one of 434 years, thus completing a “total” of 490 years.
Why do this? Because Jeremiah was prophesying in 605, and that was “the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” Daniel speaks of (because this is how the author of Daniel refers to divine, not royal, proclamations—indeed in the very preceding verses: Daniel 9:21-23 and 1:2), and 605 minus 434 lands exactly in 171 B.C., the very year Onias III, the “true” Anointed High Priest, was assassinated (at the orders of Menelaus shortly after having “bought” the High Priesthood for himself in 172). This coincidence is quite improbable. So that is clearly what the authors intended—and hence why they “broke” the “seventy sevens” into two separate amounts, 49 and 434; there is no reason to do that if they intended this to be a straight sequence of 490 years. So the author of Daniel is doing a lot of creative accounting here to get the result he wants: first he changes Jeremiah’s “seventy” years into “seventy sevens of years,” then he subtracts 49 years with this convenient new maneuver of saying this meant not a sequence of 490 years but two separate periods of 49 and 434 years, all to get the math to work out to the death of Onias. No one engages such convoluted efforts who isn’t attempting to create just this kind of specific result. That’s why it’s a dead giveaway. Whoever did this was writing after 171 B.C. and for the current political situation in the 160s.
Then, in the analysis of André Lacocque in The Book of Daniel (John Knox Press, 1979), the “49” year period is set “within” the 434-year period, and is meant to cover the convenient passage of 49 years between the beginning of the Jewish captivity (after Nebuchadnezzar’s second and final siege of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. after Judea again rebelled against his rule) and their restoration. He suggests this was signified by the ordination of the first High Priest of the Second Temple (who happens to have been named Jesus, i.e. Joshua, an event represented more or less messianically in Zechariah 3 and 6), but he incorrectly identifies that as an event of 538 B.C.; in fact that happened in 516. He footnotes the identification of other scholars for the first “Anointed” involved in restoring Israel as in fact Cyrus, who is literally so identified by Isaiah (45:1); and indeed Cyrus’s decree of liberation dates to 538. So here we have a convenient 49-year period, between the beginning of the exile and its conclusion (587 – 538 = 49), which involves another Anointed One ending the suffering God said he’d inflict on the Jews. Which Jeremiah had falsely predicted would last 70 years. This is the mistake Daniel is trying to fix with his creative math, by having instead two “messianic” events, one inside the other, and using “ten jubilees,” ten periods of 7 x 7, i.e. 49 years, to make it all seem magically prescient. All it required was finding the right dates to focus on to “get” a meaningful 49-year period within a meaningful 434-year period that could thus be “fitted” to the number seventy in Jeremiah, and still point to Onias III’s death as foreboding God’s celestial victory over the heathens. Thereby inspiring God-fearing Jews to fight with even more fanaticism for the Maccabean regime. Again, no one goes to these absurd, convoluted lengths, unless they are truly struggling to fit Jeremiah’s prophecy to Onias III.
So for all these reasons and more, genuinely critical scholars are convinced Daniel was forged as propaganda for the Maccabees. There is no more probable explanation for its peculiar errors, peculiar math, and peculiar specificity and accuracy to a single ten-year period, the very one the Maccabees were concerned to get the masses roiled up about, and its mysteriously sudden failure of accuracy as soon as events approach the end of 164 B.C. By the time anyone would have noticed that, the revolt was already successful, thus “vindicating” the text in spirit if not to the letter; and as we all know, the response to such turns of events is rarely to abandon an inspiring scripture as false but to deploy any convenient apologetics in its defense—especially a scripture the now-ruling powers had banked their legitimacy and credibility on and thus needed to maintain as scripture for the next hundred plus years. This would explain why, for example, 1 Maccabees 2:51-60 is the first extant text to promote stories first appearing in Daniel as authentic.
And as the Maccabees were working with the restoration priesthood, they would surely have had the full support of their allies among the Jewish religious elite (while any others would be condemned as liars and collaborators with the Greek Antiochus and would thus carry no authority in the matter). They would thus have backed this text as authentic (and possibly even produced it) to achieve its political purpose, a purpose they wanted to achieve above all other things: the liberation of Israel and its Temple order from their pagan occupiers and corruptors. And once they did that, they could not walk it back. Thus Daniel had to be endorsed into their would-be canon for over a hundred years. No other new text had that strong and chronologically extensive support. Hence many Jews and sects revered many other books as scripture that were written in more or less the same period (between the 4th and 1st centuries B.C.), from the Book of Enoch to the Psalms and Wisdom of Solomon, the Genesis Apocryphon, alternative editions of the Psalms, the Testament of Moses, the Book of Jubilees; but only Daniel had the full backing of the ruling elite of independent Judea for over a century and required its status of Holy Scripture to bolster their political legitimacy (unlike, for example, other Maccabean literature, which could safely be treated as mere fallible human histories, or Jubilees, which contained no prophecies the regime banked its legitimacy on).
So, genuinely critical scholars. Now enter the gullible scholars: Christian apologists who need Daniel to be authentic. Attempts by fundamentalists and unrelenting believers to “rescue” Daniel’s authenticity are of course abundant. None follow any credible historical method. Real historians apply the same standards to the Book of Daniel, and to Daniel as a person, that we do to all other ancient books and persons. And we attend to what’s more probable, not to what’s convenient or merely possible.
When we attend to the actual evidence we have and to what’s the most probable, we see there is no evidence attesting to there being a Book of Daniel, or any specific stories in it, in any source prior to the Maccabean era. Red flag. The earliest reference to Daniel as a person, in Ezekiel, appears to imagine him as a foreign wise man in distant mythic time, not as a Jewish prophet, much less of the Persian court; and makes no mention of his writing books, much less of his being Ezekiel’s contemporary. Red flag. Daniel makes too many mistakes that are impossible for an eyewitness and leading Babylonian and Persian official as its author is portrayed to be. Red flag. Daniel only produces detailed and correct historical data for the last ten years of King Antiochus. Red flag. It then gets completely incorrect everything that happened just before and after his death. Red flag. These coincidences are absurdly improbable on any other theory than that Daniel was written shortly before 164 B.C. as propaganda promoting an ongoing war and cultural program. And exactly in line with that conclusion, and thus supporting it as evidence, the content of Daniel thoroughly supports the political and cultural interests of the Maccabees at exactly that time. There is no evidence for any other conclusion.
In response to this, apologists just hand-wave away all that evidence by making up “just so” stories as to why we should “assume” all of that evidence is misleading. They present zero evidence for any of those “just so” stories. They are just made-up speculations, that they push as “probable facts,” on no rational basis. They will ignore all current and leading peer reviewed scholarship, and dig around for centuries-obsolete scholars to quote instead. They will gullibly quote as “established fact” any ancient source that says what they want—even when they would admit that trusting such obviously self-interested, unsourced statements would be wholly foolish if they supported, say, the truth of Islam, or the falsity of Christianity. They will invent elaborate theories to explain away the evidence or to bolster the gullibly-trusted sources they cite, and then insist those theories are true—after presenting no evidence at all that they are true. And they’ll leave out all data that undermines any of this—such that when we bring that omitted data back in, everything they are saying collapses back into the improbable.
For example, in a recent discussion I had on this subject (see my conclusion below), it was insisted that “no one” in 2nd century B.C. Judea would forge an ancient scripture in any other language than Greek; at which I listed half a dozen examples of works that some Jews of that era were treating as scripture that were composed or forged in Hebrew or Aramaic in or around exactly that period (in Hebrew, this includes Jubilees, the Book of Noah, the Testament of Naphtali, the Vision of Samuel, an Apocryphon of Joshua, an Apocryphon of Moses, an Apocryphon of David, an Apocryphon of Malachi, a Second Book of Ezekiel, a Hebrew edition of Tobit; and numerous commentaries, alternative scriptures, and other contemporary texts—so Seleucid and Hasmonean era scribes were perfectly facile with Hebrew). The omitted evidence put back in, and Daniel looks exactly like a going trend of the time, and not as the inexplicable novelty they were trying to claim. Never mind that it doesn’t even make a priori sense that someone who wanted to pass off a text as an ancient document written in an era of Hebrew and Aramaic dominance would compose it in any other language than that. (Likewise, any belief that the “canon” was “closed” as of the 5th century B.C. would be precisely why this was forged to resemble a 6th century text.) This is the kind of illogical, evidence-neglecting rationalization that passes for “critical methodology” in Christian apologetics. Which is why apologetics is not legitimate history. It is what it is called: just a self-satisfying rhetoric built to defend a pre-conceived conclusion, not a critical means of ascertaining what actually is true. A genuine means to that end has to be immune to these very kinds of falsity-defending mechanisms, not based on them.
It is very important to understand that this is not a mere incidental mistake but a fundamental defect of their whole methodology. Their entire approach to history and literature is defective and indefensible. That is why it should be abandoned, and replaced with real critical historical methods. It’s just that when we do that, we don’t get the results they want. So they don’t abandon their methods for real ones. And round and round it goes. Desire thus trumps truth. For instance, a real historian would never trust Josephus when he insists, in a treatise defending the authenticity of Judaism against detractors (e.g. Against Apion 1.8), that his scriptures have been meticulously guarded and preserved for centuries. That is a self-interested statement; a mere faith claim. It is propaganda; apologetics. And we know this because Josephus cites absolutely no sources or evidence of any kind for that assertion; and he makes that assertion exactly where it is entirely in his interests to insist upon it. Even if Josephus were unusually honest (and as we’ll see shortly, few historians today believe so; the current consensus is that he has to be approached with considerable skepticism and critical distrust), no human being is so honest for us to simply “trust” a statement they are making about events they are separated from by hundreds of years yet need to believe happened even though they can cite no evidence at all for them actually having happened. This is an apologist citing an apologist for the authenticity of apologetics. That’s little better than a circular argument. Which is why no real historian today ever does this.
Another element of apologetic methodology is to cite sources for a claim that actually do not support it. Such as claiming the Jewish Scroll of Fasting mentions the book of Daniel being shown to Alexander the Great, as evidence supporting that really having happened. Now, citing an undatable collection of unsourced religious myths is not anything a real historian would even do in the first place, but the kicker here is that the Scroll of Fasting never mentions this anyway. It says a legend (which it does not describe) about Alexander’s leniency toward the Jews at some point came to be celebrated on the Jewish holy calendar; no mention of his being shown the Book of Daniel. So why would anyone cite this as evidence for that? This is not the behavior of a historian. It’s the behavior of an apologist. And it’s not legitimate. Yet you will find this invalid method deployed over and over again. For example, any early claim to the careful preservation of the scriptures will be treated as if it mentioned Daniel as among those then being preserved, when it didn’t; and worse, they’ll ignore how many false scriptures there were that were by this or that sect deemed authentic, further acting as if late decisions about what to declare official can be conflated with earlier such decisions, or even as evidence of there being earlier such decisions, when no evidence exists even of that. This is simply not valid reasoning. Yet it typifies apologetics.
Another example is the claim that Daniel describes the complete destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which didn’t happen when indicated, so “doesn’t that suggest it was really predicting the actual destruction in 70 A.D. instead?” Never mind that this is logically invalid—allowing a prediction to be “prophesy” that gets a date wrong by over two hundred years, and of an event that is not inherently improbable across such spans of time (as most temples got destroyed eventually), is simply not rational (nor is allowing a prophecy to be “multi-valent,” i.e. realized multiple different ways across multiple different periods—what some apologists call “micro-fulfillments”—as that simply multiplies the retrofitting fallacy: see Newman on Prophecy as Miracle). Apologetic methodology is therefore itself not rational. Real historians do not behave this way. But it’s all the worse that this claim is actually false. The destruction of the Jewish Temple is never mentioned in Daniel. Across all six mentions of the Temple in Daniel, not once is it said it will be destroyed. That’s not mentioned in Daniel 9:27 or Daniel 11:31 (which only mention ending of the sacrifices there, and defiling the holy site; which Antiochus did in fact do). “But Jesus later acted like this passage referred to a still-future event.” Yes. As all Jews did after Daniel’s prophesied end of the world didn’t happen; so they all started assuming this must have meant some other event still in the future. This is how all cults operate when prophesies fail. As elsewhere, the apologist does not reason logically, but illogically, imagining facts into existence (no destruction of the temple is predicted in Daniel), and ignoring common, well-established background knowledge (such as how people often respond when beloved prophesies fail). It should disturb them that they ever convinced themselves by such illogical reasoning. Because if they are doing that here, how many other beliefs are they defending with similarly irrational logic? Their whole epistemology is broken. And that should alarm them into retooling it from the ground up; not continuing to use it.
There is of course also the methodological naturalism of the contemporary sciences, which apologists find vexing and annoying, even though it is the only reasonable position to take as a historian now. Notice I never once appealed to it until now (though I could; there is plenty that “happens” in Daniel that is not at all realistic, by the laws of nature or even human psychology, and that is in itself a red flag for it’s being made up). But I don’t need to, and haven’t. So it’s irrational of an apologist to cite that as an objection to the modern consensus about Daniel, as that in no way requires any presumption of naturalism. But it is nevertheless true: across countless examples in history, ordinary, human, political causes of the invention and dissemination and acceptance of holy texts across all religions turns out routinely adequate, and even in many cases well-supported, by far more evidence than any alternative “supernatural” causes promoted by a document’s faithful believers. We can explain the entire content of the Quran or the Book of Mormon or Daniel on an ordinary theory of its human political context; we have no need of “Daniel exists because its author magically saw the future,” nor any evidence backing such a thing even being a thing that happens in the world, much less a thing that happened in this case. There is a reason real historians pay a lot of attention to the historical context of a document’s construction or appearance, while apologists ignore that in favor of the myths and legends a document’s creators or promoters sold it with. What separates critical historians from gullible dupes is that we don’t believe such propaganda—until you can prove it’s historically true, with real, actual evidence.
Apologists will also commit a cardinal sin of critical history: citing documents we don’t have and thus don’t know the contents of. “But wouldn’t someone have gainsaid it” is never a valid argument (see OHJ, Chs. 6.7, 7.7, and 8.12)—unless you have access to documents where we would get to read what an opposition said. Because if you don’t have that, you don’t know what that opposition said. We don’t get to read an account of the Maccabean war from the people (Jews included) who sided with Antiochus. So you cannot claim to know what such an account would have said. This is all the more obvious for claims made that were never written down. There could have been all manner of attempted campaigns to discredit the release of Daniel as war propaganda; but if none of it got written down, how would we know what any of it was, much less whether it included any good arguments or not? And even if any was written down, we have no surviving documents that would include it. Indeed we have no documents even referring to what the Antiochene party was saying about Daniel, much less containing an actual record of it. Yes, surely they had something to say about it. But you don’t know what it was. So you cannot claim to know what it was (much less wasn’t). So don’t.
Another common apologetic tactic is to accuse anyone whose conclusions they don’t like of being “biased,” when in fact those scholars have shown clearly the evidence and logic by which they reached their conclusion and it is observably sound, thus no amount of bias they have can even be relevant. For example, Daniel apologists have accused all mainstream historians of being “biased” against Daniel by treating it differently than other historical texts, by applying an “exceptional skepticism” to Daniel they apply nowhere else; but that’s false. Historians treat all texts by the exact same standards and with the exact same skepticism as Daniel. The reason they conclude Daniel is a forgery is because the evidence shows that it is. We do not have that evidence for, say, the Histories of Herodotus, so no historian concludes that was forged. Because real historians reach conclusions based on the evidence. That is not bias. That is sound, critical, universal historical method. The apologist is the one allowing bias to corrupt their methods, by special pleading for Daniel, asking that we treat it differently than we do all other ancient books.
Another very common apologetic tactic is to conflate modal with empirical arguments. “It’s impossible that anyone could get away with a forgery” is a modal argument: it asserts something about what is possible or impossible, rather than something as having happened or not happened. All we need to refute a modal impossibility is a possibility. I do not have to show that it is “probable” that a Maccabean-supporting priesthood forged and campaigned for the authenticity of Daniel, because it’s merely being possible is sufficient to refute the claim that succeeding at that is “impossible.” If the apologist could produce empirical evidence that the Maccabees didn’t do that, then they’d have an effective counter-argument. But they don’t have any evidence of that. They can make no empirical argument that the Maccabees did not do that; nor even an argument to a low prior probability of their doing that, because that is exactly the kind of thing religions and political regimes throughout history do, and forging scriptures (indeed even Hebrew scriptures) was in fact demonstrably rampant in that very era. By contrast, when the apologist says “it is possible” that a real Darius the Mede existed that Daniel could be referring to, that all contemporary Babylonian and Persian records fail to mention, and who somehow still (?) created all the satrapies and ruled the Persian Empire, contrary to all Babylonian and Persian records, that is not a valid argument—because it does not matter what is “logically possible,” what matters is what is probable, and this hypothesis simply isn’t probable. There is no evidence for it, and even some evidence against it. You can’t bootstrap something you dreamed up, into an “established fact,” without evidence (much less contrary to).
And that is what plagues almost all Daniel apologetics: assertion after assertion will be made (there are countless I could mention, such as attempts to insist that “Darius the Mede” means “Cyaxares II”, or Gubaru, or any number of “X must instead have been Y” type of arguments), but they will never present evidence any of those assertions are true. They will list tons of “facts” that they claim are “evidence” for their theory, but none of it evinces their theory at all—and often contradicts it, by saying something completely different (e.g. Xenophon does talk about Median kings, including Cyaxares, but none of them ruled Babylon much less the Persian Empire, nor created the satrapies in it, and none were named Darius, nor did anything related in Daniel—there is literally no evidence or record of any such equation ever, it’s just completely made up by apologists, medieval or modern). As a real historian, I need to see evidence. Real evidence, which means evidence that actually evinces your theory—not isolated facts “mentioned” in your theory, but the theory itself. Quite simply, it’s evidence, or GTFO. Christian apologists should be operating no differently. So why don’t they? Because they aren’t historians and what they are doing isn’t history. It’s apologetics.
Another defining feature of apologetics is what I call the “conceptual slide,” where when evidence is presented that what they are saying is wrong or improbable, they will “rebut” that by changing the subject, “sliding” into a completely different issue that doesn’t really even relate to the original point made, but is designed to escape the cognitive dissonance it created by convincing the apologist (and hopefully their intended audience) that they have made a valid point and thus have “rebutted” the point that was made—when in fact no such thing has happened. But now that this move has happened, everyone is expected to forget what was being discussed originally, and are now busy debating this “slide” point instead. This is hand waving; cognitive prestidigitation. An example is when, after just showing how the particular arrangement and sequence of errors in Daniel has no probable explanation but that Daniel was forged during the reign of Antiochus, the response is something like “but Herodotus makes a bunch of errors in his Histories about contemporary events, and you aren’t declaring that a forgery.” This is a completely irrelevant point. But now we are debating Herodotus; the subject has been conveniently changed, and the point actually made safely avoided.
In actual reality, a source merely getting things wrong about their own time does not make that source a forgery. That is not the point that was just made to the apologist. What makes Daniel a forgery is the specific coincidence and particular impossibility of the mistakes made. For example, we do not expect Herodotus to get right things he is not directly privy to but has by report many times removed; but we do expect a top-ranking Babylonian-Persian official to get right things directly in their purview. It is also really strange that this would happen, but then they would get exactly right events in a ten-year span hundreds of years later; and then get everything after that wrong again. This simply is improbable—unless Daniel was forged by someone living in exactly that decade. Where it is inaccurate and accurate, and how inaccurate it is and about what, despite purporting to be a direct, eyewitness, official source: that can only plausibly be explained by the forgery hypothesis. None of the inaccuracies in Herodotus, for example, evince such a coincidence or such a contradiction between what Herodotus would have been witness to or had access to and what he reports. His errors all relate to things he himself says he has only by hearsay or wasn’t witness to, or that served his own interests to distort. They are therefore fully explicable without any forgery hypothesis. The content of Daniel, by contrast, is not. But by ignoring the point actually made, pretending a completely different point was made, and then attacking that new fake point that was never made, is a typical apologetic device for avoiding rather than getting at the truth.
Finally, yet another strange feature of apologetics is what I call “reverse incredulity,” a repeated declaration of “incredulity” that something would happen, that in factual reality easily happens and happened all the time. For example, apologists will claim it’s “impossible” that Daniel could have been forged in, say, 165 B.C. and there already be several copies of it (and commentaries on it) in the caves at Qumran. I am not aware of any of the Qumran manuscripts of Daniel having been carbon dated. But “palaeographically,” as Eugene Ulrich summarizes, “their dates span from the late second century B.C. to the middle of the first century A.D.” A “late” second century date would mean forty-to-sixty years after Daniel was forged: then an average human lifetime. That’s a looong time. A whole human lifetime is time enough even to have composed whole commentaries on Daniel (e.g. 11Q13), and even more literature attributed to Daniel, also found at Qumran. But that doesn’t really matter, as a text intended to motivate a whole nation during an ongoing rebellion would have been widely disseminated quite rapidly. Every major city and base of leadership in Judea would have at least one copy within mere weeks of its promulgation. And from there, dozens of copies could be made a year. But if there were even just ten “initial edition” copies disseminated to elite centers, and then each was in turn copied only twice a year, after just ten years (much less forty), there would be over ten thousand manuscripts of Daniel in Judea (a relatively small geographic era I should remind you; little bigger than Vermont). I need not claim there were so many; my point is that it makes no sense to claim such a book couldn’t or wouldn’t be all over Judea in no time at all. Hence this is a common weird tendency among apologists, to hugely mis-estimate the sheer scale of time in antiquity—imagining “a hundred years ago” is like “yesterday,” or that “ten years” is not enough time to generate and distribute thousands of copies of a book across even a whole empire, much less a tiny province of it.
Example 1: Josephus the Fabricator
Historians today are deeply skeptical of Josephus’s histories. For example, his accounts of Masada and Gamala are doubted, because they suspiciously both sound exactly alike: both famous “patriotic mass suicides,” both attested to by “two women,” in each case conveniently escaping to recount the tale. Many other examples can be adduced; modern historians are very distrustful of Josephus, but especially in respect to distance: the further back in history Josephus goes, the less reliable he is, depending as he does more and more on myth and legend and his own apologetic “fixing” of stories and accounts, than on actual records and sources, or anything like a legitimate critical method. Likewise, the more what Josephus writes is in his own interests, the less reliable it becomes; the more he depends on unreliable sources, the more unreliable his accounts are in turn; the more Josephus tries to dumb things down or simplify or dramatize them for his Greek readers, the more inaccuracies enter his accounts; etc. See: Zuleika Rodgers, ed., Making History: Josephus and Historical Method (Brill, 2006), particularly the chapters by Uriel Rappaport and Kenneth Atkinson; Gregory Sterling, Historiography and Self-Definition: Josephos, Luke–Acts and Apologetic Historiography (Brill, 1992); and Eric Huntsman, “The Reliability of Josephus: Can He Be Trusted?” Brigham Young University Studies 36.3 (1996-97), pp. 392-402.
A classic example in this very context is when Josephus invents an apologetic to “fix” Daniel’s historical failures, by declaring the kingdom “came to Belshazzar, who by the Babylonians was called Nabodinus; against him did Cyrus, the king of Persia, and Darius, the king of Media, make war.” Josephus cites no source for any of this. And it is backed by no sources whatever; you won’t find any of it in Herodotus or Xenophon, or in any Babylonian or Persian records, or in fact anywhere at all outside Josephus. When we look at actual documents and sources from that period, there is no sense in which any Darius was a king of Mede or co-warred or co-ruled with Cryus, and in no way was Belshazzar confused with Nabodinus—that “the Babylonians” called Belshazzar Nabodinus is absolutely false. So we know this is all fiction Josephus is making up, to rescue his precious scripture from being exposed as fraudulent. Josephus is doing apologetics here. Likewise when Josephus says Darius “was the son of Astyages, and had another name among the Greeks” and “took Daniel the prophet…with him into Media…whom he set over his three hundred and sixty provinces, for into so many did Darius part them.” This is all bullshit. Josephus cites no source, and has no source. There is no source. This is all fake history, designed to cover up the mistakes in Daniel. When we look at the real sources, there were not “hundreds” of provinces, the Book of Daniel never describes anyone being taken to Mede or Darius’s father being named Astyages, Astyages had no son named Darius (much less one exalted to power), and the Greeks did not have “another name” for him. Josephus is literally just making all this up, as an apologetic maneuver to sweep under the rug all the errors in his beloved scriptures. And it is folly of a modern apologist doing apologetics and not history to cite another apologist doing apologetics and not history. That’s circular reasoning. Real historians do not do this; they full well know how apologetics works, that Josephus is an apologist, and is doing apologetics here. Because historians look at the evidence.
Ockham’s Razor is a tool of every science, history no exception. Such as when Josephus claims Cyrus the Great freed the Jews because he read the book of Isaiah (Josephus is unaware that Isaiah is actually the work of several authors, and the material he has in mind was written after Cyrus freed the Jews, in fact in response to it). Cyrus the Great himself says he did it as an empire-wide diplomacy campaign to gain the loyalty of disparate nations under his rule. And that’s the simplest explanation: it is what he says, it is entirely plausible in context, it is a known tactic of imperial powers, and it requires no additional “epicycles” or “angels pushing the planets” to explain the observed facts, such as his implausibly even reading Isaiah, much less being inspired by it to a radical decision regarding the imperial governance of a single minor province. That is wildly far-fetched and sounds like a made-up story, a product of Jewish propaganda. And all the evidence indicates that’s just what it is.
Thus, Ockham’s Razor: we have no need of far-fetched legends to explain what Cyrus did. His own explanation is fully sufficient:
 Agade, Ešnunna, Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der, as far as the region of Gutium, the sacred centers on the other side of the Tigris, whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time,  I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there, to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings.  In addition, at the command of Marduk, the great lord, I settled in their habitations, in pleasing abodes, the gods of Sumer and Akkad, whom Nabonidus, to the anger of the lord of the gods, had brought into Babylon. …  May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily  of Bêl and Nâbu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare. May they say to Marduk, my lord: “As for Cyrus, the king who reveres you, and Cambyses, his son, … [the text here breaks off]
This is the Cyrus Cylinder, published by Cyrus himself—so this is an eyewitness, essentially autograph text to the thoughts and intentions of Cyrus the Great. It declares religious freedom for all people, not just the Jews. In fact, when Cyrus does name nations he did this for (a list we know is incomplete; he is just selecting the most notable), Judea is nowhere mentioned. The Jews were a trivial afterthought, part of a campaign he directed to his whole empire, a general program of religious tolerance serving obvious political goals: securing the loyalty and gratitude of subject nations, to make them easier to govern and more prosperous to tax (and, as he avers, to gain the blessings of their respective gods). This is the simplest explanation of why he did all these same exact things for Judea (freeing them from exile, resettling them back home, granting them a measure of self-governance, returning sacred objects to their temples, and restoring their temples to glory). Cyrus says his own god, Marduk, commanded him to do this; by which we can conclude he understood the political genius of the move was inspired by his own god’s influence. No mention of “I read this weird book in an alien language by an obscure religious sect called the Jews who actually condemn me as a slave to demons and it gave me this great idea…”
Nor, obviously, is that far-fetched claim found anywhere else. It’s not in any recorder of Cyrus’s policies and philosophy or even biography—neither Herodotus, nor Xenophon, nor anyone else closer to that era than Josephus mentions any such thing. And accordingly, Josephus cites no sources for his claim. He just makes it up; or some Jews before him did, and it was passed down through oral lore or some trivial writing Josephus couldn’t be bothered to name. Either way, it’s obviously a myth. No real historian would ever be so gullible as to believe this tall tale, least of all in the face of all the direct evidence that it isn’t true. “But it’s possible he got inspired by reading…” No. Stop there. You aren’t doing history anymore. What’s “possible” is not what’s “probable.” To conflate those two things is apologetics, not history. The moment you resort to such a possibiliter fallacy, you expose the bankruptcy of your epistemology. You need to stop, purge that entire epistemology from your mind, and replace it with one that actually works. Because no competent historian will believe Cyrus really read Isaiah or got any ideas from it; and you really need to understand why that is.
This example is doubly important. Because it changes how we see things when we find Josephus inventing an identical story about Alexander the Great reading the book of Daniel. Come on. Two great emperors, persuaded to great magnanimity toward the Jews, each by reading a book of Jewish scripture? Just like “conveniently” two women in each case escaping both Masada and Gamala so that Josephus could have a narrative source for their defenders’ heroic suicides? Modern historians are not that gullible. And if you are that gullible, you are not a historian. “What a crazy story; that must be true!” If that’s how you think, you have a fatally broken epistemology. Fix it. Let’s look at how critical historians—real historians—approach this text (and here I am using—because, being a historian, I checked—the leading and most recent peer reviewed scholarship on this tale: Shaye Cohen, “Alexander the Great and Jaddus the High Priest According to Josephus,” AJS Review 7/8 (1982/1983), pp. 41-68; Tae Hun Kim, “The Dream of Alexander in Josephus ANT. 11.325-39,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 34.4 (2003), pp. 425–442; Meir Ben Shahar, “Jews, Samaritans and Alexander: Facts and Fictions in Jewish Stories on the Meeting of Alexander and the High Priest,” Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Alexander the Great (Brill, 2018), pp. 403–426):
The legend of Alexander the Great related by Josephus mixes together three different myths—one in which the Jews simply surrendered; one in which Alexander is persuaded to accept their surrender by a miraculous prophetic dream, and not the seeing of a book; and then finally one in which what persuades him is being shown the Book of Daniel. For none of these three myths does Josephus cite any source, much less any we’d deem reliable. Nevertheless, apologists try citing this tall tale as evidence the Book of Daniel existed before the Maccabean era. This is gullibility of the first order. No source from that period says this—they are relying on a mythmonger, a Jewish propagandist, writing centuries after the Maccabean era—and this story has no plausibility to begin with. Alexander the Great would never believe such a book wasn’t just faked to trick him into acquiescing—he was not that much of an idiot (and the Jewish elite surely had a good enough meta-cognition to know that, and thus would have known it foolish to even try such a silly thing)—nor would Alexander need such a bizarre form of persuasion, as all he sought from these cities was surrender, and that’s exactly what the Jews were already offering him. Ockham’s Razor thus eliminates these stories as implausible Jewish propaganda. The simplest explanation of why Alexander accepted the surrender of Judea, is that Judea simply surrendered. And the simplest explanation of why Alexander treated them well for surrendering, is that Alexander always treated cities that surrendered well; this was his military policy throughout his campaign, and it was a common and popular one for conquerors across history. It was a standard “carrot or stick, your call” strategy.
On top of that, again, real historians notice that since the dream/vision version of the story shows no knowledge of the Book of Daniel story, that must have been a later myth, and thus cannot date to the actual conquest of Alexander. Historians place it either as propaganda spread during the Maccabean revolt precisely for the purpose of promoting the convenient “rediscovery” of the Book of Daniel, or as a tall tale Josephus himself invented. The latter is likely. We have evidence Josephus liked making up these kinds of tales—it is probably no accident that no other source ever mentions either this “Alexander and the Book of Daniel” story or the “Cyrus and the Book of Isaiah” story except Josephus (and people citing or using Josephus). The Alexander legend never contains this detail in other Jewish sources. For example, the Talmud (b.Yoma, 69a) contains only a variant of the “prophetic vision” tale; no mention of Alexander being shown the Book of Daniel.
Likewise, such an extraordinary story could not possibly have been omitted from the multiple eyewitness histories written of Alexander’s campaigns; they included many other religious miracles (such as his visiting and being confirmed by the Oracle of Amun), but nothing at all about this. It would otherwise have appeared in the synthesis of Arrian, for example; indeed, an Oracle of Daniel would have held the same propagandistic value as the Oracle of Amun, so it could hardly have escaped mention. But it doesn’t even show up in the original text of the Alexander Romance, an absurd collection of miracles and legends of Alexander’s journeys—despite apologists claiming otherwise. Another epistemic failure mode for Christian apologists is failing to check if the earliest extant redaction of a book they cite actually contains the material they claim, or if that was a medieval Judeo-Christian insertion. It’s quite evident even the original legends about Alexander and Jerusalem are bogus; details of the surrender might be somewhat true, but the rest looks like Anti-Samaritan and Anti-Seleucid propaganda, rife with ridiculous legendary material. The later myth involving the Book of Daniel, only more so.
That apologists believe ridiculous myths like this, rather than examine them critically in light of the evidence and well-established background knowledge, is why their judgment cannot be trusted. They simply are not doing history. And accordingly, they cannot recover any truth about history. All they can do is invent reasons to believe what they want to believe. That is all their methodology is capable of. And that’s just not the same goal as getting at the truth. It is, rather, a method of avoiding getting at the truth.
Example 2: Faking a History and Pretending It’s Real
To illustrate, consider the apologetic attempted at Bible Gateway, which consists of an attempt to “invent” a history of Persia (actually, more than one, so you can pick and choose I guess) that exists nowhere in the sources, and which consists largely of outright ignoring contrary facts:
Darius the Mede…is not depicted in the book [of Daniel] as a universal monarch. His subordinate position (under Cyrus) is clearly implied in the statement that he “was made king (Heb. passive, homlak) over the realm of the Chaldeans” (9:1 KJV). Also, the fact that Belshazzar’s kingdom was “given to the Medes and Persians” (5:28) and that Darius found himself incapable of altering the “law of the Medes and Persians” (6:15) renders the critical view [that Darius the Mede is a historical error] untenable.
Not a single thing claimed here is true.
We have extensive records from that period and there was never any such thing as a dual or subordinate “king” governing the Persian empire under Cyrus. This apologist is fabricating history that contradicts all primary records. A provincial satrap is not a king (even the authors of Daniel knew the difference). And there was never any such thing as a joint “rule” between Medes and Persians (Mede was a conquered province of Persia) nor any “law of the Persians and Medes” that governed that empire—this pairing of “Medes and Persians” here is a fabrication of Daniel; it is recorded nowhere else. Not even in Persia’s own laws, decrees, inscriptions and declarations; nor even in Greek histories of the period (neither Herodotus nor Xenophon mention any such thing). This apologist is thus, again, fabricating a history that contradicts all primary records. Notice they even, bizarrely, cite the author who makes this error (the author of Daniel) as evidence it’s not an error! This is not even remotely a sensible or sound way to do history.
Likewise, contrary to this apologist’s false claim, Daniel very clearly depicts “Darius the Mede” as a universal monarch, and never depicts him as a subordinate of anyone (Cyrus or otherwise). For example, Daniel credits this Darius with creating the satrapies the empire was divided into: “It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom” (Daniel 6:1) and “these administrators and satraps went as a group to the king and said: ‘May King Darius live forever!'” (Daniel 6:6). This is most definitely depicting a universal monarch. In fact, the universal monarch. There is no other in the story. This is unmistakable throughout Daniel 6: after already having made Daniel a satrap or administrator (“satraps…and administrators, one of whom was Daniel”), Darius is about to make Daniel administrator over the whole kingdom (“the king planned to set [Daniel] over the whole kingdom”), meaning all the satrapies (not just one of them), and all the satraps and administrators come to Darius to try and persuade him not to do this, and get him to issue a royal decree making Darius the sole recipient of prayers (“the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that [no one] prays to [anyone] except to you, Your Majesty”). They do not go over his head to his superior Cyrus to forestall any of this (and evidently no one blinks at Darius, a subordinate, condemning all who pray to Cyrus, his superior—not even, for some reason, this very Cyrus who is supposed to be here, outranking Darius)—so obviously no such person is imagined to exist by these authors. The only king in this story who governs all the satrapies and issues empire-wide decrees (“King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth”) and can be appealed to as the empire’s ultimate authority and recipient of prayers is Darius. The authors of Daniel have unmistakably confused Darius the Great with Cyrus here. They even mention Daniel also serving under Cyrus, but seem to think Cyrus succeeded Darius (which is also not true), as they mention Daniel continuing to prosper under Darius and then under Cyrus (Daniel 6:28; in fact Daniel 1:21 implies Daniel would die sometime during the first year of Cyrus’s reign).
Real historical methods cannot produce this made-up, fact-contradicting history of Persia or these made-up, fact-contradicting claims about what the Book of Daniel says. Only apologetics can do this. Which exemplifies how apologetics is a methodology for avoiding, not finding the truth.
We see this again with the abuse of linguistics in this same paragraph. We’re told that in Daniel 9:1 homlak, the passive of “become a king,” means “made a king,” as it is commonly translated, but that’s not quite true in the sense the apologist requires. That is a loose translation into English, but “made” carries connotations in English here that are absent in the Hebrew, a common problem with translation generally. No translation is ever fully accurate to the original language, because words commonly carry different valences and connotations across languages and eras. So it is important to attend carefully to the original meaning of words when making an argument like this; you can’t just assume what you find in your English language Bible is exactly what the original meant. And when we look into this case we find it does not mean what the apologist wants it to mean (a reference to a superior appointing Darius to a position—a position, I’ll remind you, we can tell from contemporary records never existed). They are thus replacing facts with desires, through the methodological device of not even checking. As soon as anything sounds right, it is declared “right.” No actual method is deployed to find out if it is right. This is a method specifically designed to fail at determining the truth. It is thus the exact opposite of sound historical methods, which have entirely the opposite aim: to not fail at that.
So let’s do what we are supposed to do instead. I am not an expert in Hebrew, but I do know ancient languages and linguistics and understand how to read a lexicon. In the Strong’s lexicon the underlying word malak is indicated to mean to be or to become king. There is no connotation of making someone king (as an active causal event requiring an agent). This is even clearer in the more up-to-date Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon (p. 572, § 4427), which explains that malak is actually just the verb form of king. In other words, it means, simply, “to king.” Which the experts there explain is of uncertain meaning (as in, we do not know exactly what the word is supposed to denote; we can only infer). They propose it probably indicates something like “to possess, own exclusively” or “counsel, advise” supremely or decisively (these being the fundamental actions of kings). I would suggest we just stick to what it plainly is: the verb form of king. So it meant more or less simply to reign as a king. In the passive voice it could perhaps be understood as “to be kinged,” as something that happens to you. Hence a closer English idiom would be “he was crowned king,” meaning his official date of formal accession, which state documents would declare the actual day his reign formally began (as distinct from, say, the day of the battle he won that made it possible for him to assume power).
A passive form of this verb appears nowhere else in the Bible except here. So when apologists claim the passive of malak is used only for “appointed” rulers, they are lying: there is no instance of that usage anywhere. Since the only passive form appearing anywhere in the Bible is this one, to thus insist it refers to “appointment” is a circular argument, another common apologetic “method” of arguing. There is no example of that being the intended connotation. Since no agent is stated (Daniel does not say he was crowned “by” someone else or anything or anyone in particular), the author more likely intended the meaning of “crowned,” as simply an event that happened to Darius: he was made king by the course of events. Just as in English: “to be crowned” is in the passive voice, but does not mean some “superior” king did the crowning. It almost never means that. There could also be the implication of the agent being God (as in, God arranged for Darius to conquer Babylon and thus become its king; this is explicitly implied in Daniel 5:25-30), but the text does not say that either, so we can no more presume that than we can presume some unnamed other king (like Cyrus) was meant, or that any agent was meant (as with the word “crowned”). That is simply to go beyond the text, and to replace facts with wishes. All the same is true for Daniel 5:1 where Daniel is said to have “received” the kingdom, where the verb again does not imply receiving it by appointment rather than by fate, providence, or conquest. To assume any of these over the others is wishing that it be so, not establishing it’s so. You can’t get more out of a text than is there; but falsely thinking you can typifies apologetics. That the decision is always driven by what you want to see in the text, rather than any objective evidence, is why that method can never get to the actual truth of anything.
I discussed much of this on Samuel Nesan’s Explain Apologetics show recently, when I joined him and apologists Jonathan Sheffield and Dr. Stephen Boyce to review a recent debate Sheffield and Boyce had over the authenticity of Daniel with Dr. Josh Bowen and doctoral student Jim Majors. A variety of different theories and apologetic strategies get discussed in both videos. But the overall takeaway for me was the stark difference in methodology between how historians do history, and how apologists do apologetics (and then pass it off as doing history, which really it isn’t). Historians want to know what’s likely, never implicitly trust human sources, and seek evidence to corroborate what they say or that we speculate happened, by comparing the relatively likelihood of different explanations and the relatively likelihood of extant evidence on those competing explanations. Historians know that most literature is self-interested propaganda, especially when claims are made in it without citing sources or even reasons to believe what they are saying is true. Historians are not gullible.
By contrast, apologists want certain things to be true, and thus search mightily for any excuse to maintain that; they are not looking to test their theories for their likelihood, but rather to convince themselves and others that their theories are correct, and they do this mostly by appeal to assertions and speculations rather than presenting evidence backing either. And all throughout they apply a double standard: all reasonable skepticism and acceptance of the unknown in any other historical inquiry they abandon when it’s a claim they need to be true; instead they then apply completely different principles (a fallacy of special pleading), principles specifically designed to “rationalize” their belief, rather than test it. For example, they will dismiss any evidence against their view, if they can invent any unevidenced reason to disbelieve it, but then they will believe anything any source says, hook-line-and-sinker, if it supports them, even when no evidence backs what that source is saying, and even when obvious reasons exist to suspect their source’s mendacity or gullibility, and even when there is a lot of evidence that what that source is saying isn’t likely to be true. Apologists are gullible. But only when it is convenient for them to be. They can be wise and critical in every other context. But not in the one where their needs and desires govern what must be true, rather than evidence and logic. This is a broken epistemology. And that’s not good.
For the book of Daniel, the actual evidence points in only one direction: Daniel is a forgery, a treatise of cultural and war propaganda created and popularized by the Maccabees, which became so moving and influential, such an emotional touchstone in how it galvanized the Jews and contributed to their rare victory against an oppressor, and such a politically essential text for the Hasmonean regime to subsequently venerate, that it became enshrined as trusted scripture and, like Jeremiah before, reinterpreted as still yet foretelling the final victory of the Jews against all future oppressors. All evidence points to there never even having been such a Jewish prophet before the book of Daniel was fabricated in the 160s B.C. (or, for maybe some of its earlier chapters, in the 4th century B.C., although that remains less certain). Legends of such a prophet may have circulated in previous centuries, evolving from the legendary Ugaritic Danel, just as Noah and Job are myths evolving from the likes of Jobab and Utnapishtim. Many of the tales in Daniel may derive from such oral myths, setting them now in a specific historical era that its authors did not actually know all that well but wanted readers to believe was historically legitimate, resulting in embarrassing and otherwise-inexplicable errors by which we are able now to detect the con. Just think how many forgeries didn’t make this mistake and thus have successfully tricked us into believing them authentic—maybe not many, but that this is an ever-present danger is why we need reasons to trust any text; gullibility is no virtue. And there just are no reasons to trust Daniel, and ample reasons to distrust it. All apologists have are convenient assertions and speculations, declarations without any evidence; which are mere baseless rationalizations of their desperately-needed selective gullibility.
That’s not doing history. It’s pseudohistory. If you want to know what is history, then Daniel is a forgery. No valid method leads to any other conclusion.