How We Know Daniel Is a Forgery

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.

Historical Problems

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 [2018]: 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.)

Historical Context

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).

Apologetics

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:

[31] 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, [32] 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. [33] 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. … [34] May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily [35] 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.

Conclusion

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.

16 comments

  1. Sorry, what are you saying about 9:1 please?

    The verb at 9.1 isn’t the just the root (‘qal’) but the active causative using the הִ (ha) hiphil prefix :
    הָמְלַ֔ךְ hamalak – made king / caused to be king

    this הָ changes the meaning not just ‘became king’.

    ( this ‘ha’ is all over the hebru Bibl eg jeremiah 19.9 I will cause them t eat their children.)

    Reply
    1. That’s just called the passive in grammar. It never entails a human agent. It just means something happened to someone. That’s my point. I am pretty clear about this so I do not understand how you can be confused by it.

      Reply
        1. Not that matters; because causes are not limited to agents. Again, that’s my point. I explicitly articulate that very point. You seem intent on ignoring what I wrote. Why?

    2. I find it so telling that you ignore his point about reading the text in context. No one who is reading the text without some advance warning that it contradicts the evidence would think that Daniel was working for a subordinate king. Focusing on lines out of context is something that apologists pretend to think is a problem until it suits them. Does it matter to you, at all, that this apologetic strategy still describes a state of affairs that all the other history states never cohered in reality?

      Reply
  2. This is quite a feast, thank you. I had browsed (I can’t say “read” as the whole language thing is beyond my knowledge) Arthur Gibson’s “Text and Tablet: Near Eastern Archaeology, the Old Testament and New Possibilities” chapter 9 where he argues for an authentic (i.e. traditional, from a dating point of view) Danual. Given what I have read about the issues you have raised here, I was kind of surprised, but Gibson seems to be a linguistic/language analysis of the text. Maybe this shows that you have to go beyond the language (or maybe he got that all wrong too). Anyway, not sure if you know the work or author.

    Reply
    1. I had not heard of that before, but at a glance, it looks specious. For example, on the very first page he confuses the phrase “entrust the kingship to” as “made king” rather than viceroy, when in fact that phrase means viceroy, i.e. a viceroy is someone to whom is entrusted a kingship. That he does not know this, does not bode well for his competence. All of his arguments from there on seem to be similarly incompetent, making false comparisons between unrelated texts. This may explain why no one actually in biblical studies bothers citing him. That plus the fact that all it attempts is an apologetic to get Belshazzar to be a king, which does not address even half of the evidence Daniel is a forgery. So that entire chapter is a non sequitur. And it appears as if he does not even know this, which supports a suspicion of his incompetence.

      Reply
  3. Someone asked me off-thread whether Zdravko Stefanovic had proved the Aramaic of Daniel was 6th-5th century B.C. One need merely read Collins’ note on that (in the section where Collins examines the datable features of Daniel’s Aramaic):

    The bizarre attempt by Zdravko Stefanovic…to argue [in 1992] that the Aramaic of Daniel could be early, by comparing it with Old Aramaic texts from the ninth to the seventh centuries, fails to take account of the distribution of the evidence from the Persian period and its implications for probable dating. (p. 16, n. 156)

    Collins surveys the “datability” argument from the Aramaic throughout pp. 13-20. He surveys the peer reviewed scholarship and evidence and concludes the Aramaic of Daniel is distinctively between 4th and 1st century B.C. dialectical shifts (being closer to the Qumran literature than all previous, but still sounding more archaic, which is to be expected for a forgery attempting to sound archaic, and yet failing to get farther back than 3rd or 4th century Aramaic, owing to the lack of the sophisticated modern ability to access reliably historicized models and lexicons to work from, which is how we catch this out now).

    Collins also is smart enough to distinguish early from late portions of Daniel (a point I mention in my article above). In short, Daniel 1-6 may have been written earlier and by different authors than Daniel 9-12 (though still not early enough). And importantly, all the evidence of anything resembling “early” Aramaic comes from Daniel 1-7, not 8-12 (which is entirely in Hebrew).

    Although even then that consists mostly of administrative vocabulary and forms, for which there are no known later forms to have used without giving the text away as too modern, which mistake forgers would be inclined to avoid, wherever it is as obvious as this that such a mistake would betray them. So at most one could say they were partially successful at trying to emulate 4th century Aramaic; but alas, that still gives it away (as even if Daniel 1-6 was written then, it’s still a forgery, and indeed now two, as then Daniel 7-12 would be a later forgery tacked on to that one).

    Accordingly, there is no salvation for the apologist in this tactic.

    Reply
  4. In case you haven’t seen it yet, Jonathan McLatchie has written an article responding in part to your post. His article can be read here. I don’t mind granting most of his positive arguments for an early date because they’re mostly restricted to chapters 1–6 and thus are not of prophetic significance. However, he makes four interesting points on the later chapters that I’d appreciate your thoughts on. I’ve done my best to summarize those points below, but – and I apologize in advance – I do a bit of quoting because some of the points are more technical and I didn’t want to misrepresent them.

    (1) Daniel 8:2 states that Susa is in the province of Elam. But Greek and Roman historians indicate that Susa (or Shushan) was re-assigned to a new province called Susiana during the Persian period, and McLatchie cites Pliny (Nat. Hist. 6.27) and Strabo (Geogr. 15.3, 12; 16.1, 17) to show that Elam had had been reduced to the region west of the Eulaeus River. [Note: I think that for Pliny, he may have meant to cite Nat. Hist. 6.31, at least according to the chapter divisions used here.] He quotes Gleason Archer’s remark that “[i]t is reasonable to conclude that only a very early author would have known that Susa was once considered part of the province of Elam.”

    (2) Sirach – which is often dated before 175 BC – appears to show some knowledge of Daniel.

    First, Sirach 3:30 (“Righteousness atones for sin just as water extinguishes a blazing fire.”) appears to be influenced by Daniel 4:27 (“Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”) McLatchie acknowledges that the Sirach verse is in Hebrew while the Daniel verse is in Aramaic, but he quotes the following argument from Andrew Steinmann:

    “The question of whether the language of this passage in Ben Sira is drawn from Daniel revolves around the equivalence of Daniel’s Aramaic verb, פְּרַק, ‘break/tear away,’ and Ben Sira’s Hebrew verb, כִּפֶּר, ‘atone.’ Admittedly, פְּרַק is difficult to understand in this context. However, we should note that both the Old Greek and Theodotion translate this verb in Dan 4:24 (ET 4:27) in a way that is similar to the Hebrew verb in Ben Sira. Both Greek versions use λυτρόω, which normally means ‘redeem,’ but in the context of this verse can only mean ‘atone by your actions,’ that is, ‘your actions will pay the price to redeem you and therefore atone for your sins.'”

    McLatchie goes on to note an additional argument from Steinmann: the Old Greek’s (πάσας τὰς ἀδικίας σου ἐν ἐλεημοσύναις λύτρωσαι) and Theodotion’s (τὰς ἁμαρτίας σου ἐν ἐλεημοσύναις) translations of Daniel 4:27 agree in translating the “righteousness” in the Aramaic text to be charitable giving. Because that same connection between “righteousness” and charitable giving seems to be made in the Greek version of Sirach 3:30, this is supposed to reinforce the notion that Sirach was using Daniel 4:27 in the same way as the Old Greek’s and Theodotion’s translations. He quotes Steinmann again for why Sirach was influenced by Daniel rather than vice versa:

    “All of this evidence points in the direction of Ben Sira being dependent on Daniel, not the reverse. We can easily explain the extant texts based on the assumption that Ben Sira, the Greek translation of Ben Sira, and the two Greek translations of Daniel are dependent on the older, original Aramaic text of Daniel. The other scenario is highly improbable: that only fifteen years after Ben Sira was written, Daniel borrowed this thought and transformed its vocabulary into Aramaic, then thirty years later, Ben Sira’s grandson interpreted the older Ben Sira 3:30 in light of a younger book of Daniel, and that at about the same time Daniel was translated in the Old Greek with the same understanding. Therefore, we have ancient confirmation that Ben Sira 3:30 does reflect the language of Dan 4:24 (ET 4:27).”

    Second, Sirach 36:10 (“Hasten the end, and remember the appointed time…”) appears to use language from Daniel 8:19 (“…for it refers to the appointed time of the end.”), 11:27 (“…for the end is yet to be at the time appointed.”), 35 (“…and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.”). Significantly, the collocation of the words קֵץ (“end”) and מוֹעֵד (“appointed time”) occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible except for Daniel 8:19 and 11:27, 35.

    Third, Sirach 36:22 (“Listen to the prayers of your servants…”) appears to use language – specifically the collocation of the Hebrew words שָׁמַע (“hear”), תְּפִלָּה (“prayer”) and עֶבֶד (“servant”) – found in the Hebrew Bible only in Daniel 9:17 and Nehemiah 1:6. But according to Steinmann, “Nehemiah uses the infinitive construct לִשְׁמֹ֣עַ, ‘to hear,’ whereas Daniel uses the imperative שְׁמַ֣ע, ‘hear, listen to.’ Since the imperfect תשמע, ‘may you hear, listen to,’ in Ben Sira 36:22 is probably to be understood as an injunction, that is, a request (the Greek translates it with the imperative εἰσάκουσον, ‘hear, listen’), Dan 9:17 has a much stronger claim as the source used by Ben Sira. Its syntax more easily aligns with the syntax in Ben Sira, whereas the syntax of Neh 1:6 is much more distant.” Steinmann then concludes:

    “The parallel in Ben Sira 36:10 to Daniel 8 and 11 could possibly be seen as Daniel adapting an eschatological passage for his own use since his book is eschatologically oriented, and the author of Daniel might have been interested in using another well-respected book to boost his own. However, little reason could be found for adopting the two other passages. Indeed, given the interest in wisdom in the first part of Daniel, one would expect much more borrowing there, especially in the contexts where wisdom is explicitly mentioned. However, we find in Daniel only two other parallels to Ben Sira, and neither in the immediate proximity of references to wisdom. Indeed, Daniel 4 is a different kind of wisdom than found in Ben Sira—wisdom and insight that allow Daniel to interpret dreams, not the proverbial wisdom characteristic of Ben Sira. It seems that Ben Sira is adopting Daniel for his purposes, as he does other biblical books.”

    (3) Daniel 2 and 7 form a chiasm and display other literary continuities:

    “[P]arallels may be identified between chapters 2 and 7; 3 and 6; and 4 and 5. Chapters 2 and 7 both talk about four kingdoms and the coming Messianic kingdom. Chapters 3 and 6 concern the persecution of righteous Jews at the hands of gentile kings (Nebuchadnezzar and Darius respectively). Chapters 4 and 5 concern what happens to gentile rulers who are haughty and arrogant and lose their humility – that is, they are disciplined by God and removed from office. Since chapter 7 forms a part of this chiastic structure, this suggests that chapter 7 is part of the original composition of Daniel. However, if chapter 7 (which more closely resembles both the style and chronology of 8-12 than 1-6) belongs to the original composition of Daniel, then on what basis can one say that chapters 8-12 do not belong to the original composition?

    McLatchie also quotes Harold Henry Rawley – who subscribed to a Maccabean dating for the entirety of Daniel – on the similar authorial tendencies in chapter 2 and 7, such as the tendency to include details in the dream interpretation not found in the dream itself:

    “[I]t is characteristic of the author that in his repetitions or interpretations he introduces new elements which were not mentioned before. It has already been said that some scholars would eliminate some verses of chapter 2 on the ground that they introduce in the interpretation elements which did not stand in the account of the vision. [Note: I think he’s referring to 2:41b–43 and the phrase about toes in v. 41a, none of which correspond to details in the dream described in vv. 31–35.] Similarly, in chapter 7, new elements of the vision are introduced in verse 21 to prepare the way for the interpretation. In the same way in 7:19 we find an additional touch that did not stand in the previous account, in the nails of brass. This does not stand in one of the alleged interpolations, and it is clear that the supposed canon of dissection cannot apply. Ginsberg therefore proposes to apply it in reverse and to insert the reference to ‘nails of brass’ in 7:7 to make it agree with 7:19. But in 4:30 (E.V. 33), in the account of the fulfilment of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, we similarly find something which did not figure in the account of the dream, in the words ’till his hair was grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws’. Here there can be no question of an interpolator, since no point could be given to these words to explain their insertion as a reference to some historic situation, and there is no reason to insert them into the earlier account. In all of these cases we find a common mind at work, and parallel treatment should be given to them all.”

    (4) If Daniel was completed in the Maccabean period, then the fourth kingdom in chapter 7 would have to refer to the Greeks. But McLatchie argues that there are several issues with that interpretation:

    “If the Maccabean hypothesis is to work, it is necessary to interpret the fourth kingdom, represented in Daniel 2 by the legs of iron of the statue, as the Macedonians or Greeks, founded by Alexander the Great in approximately 330 B.C., since it is presumed on this theory that the book of Daniel does not contain historically fulfilled prophecies that post-date the Maccabean period. To quote John J. Collins, the leading exponent of the Maccabean hypothesis, “Within the chronological restraints of the Book of Daniel, the fourth kingdom can be no later than that of Greece (despite the longstanding tradition that identified it with Rome, beginning with Josephus).” On this theory, the other three kingdoms, represented by the head of gold, the breast of silver, and the belly and thighs of brass are thus interpreted to be the Babylonian, Median, and Persian empires respectively. However, the book of Daniel seems to portray the Medes and Persians as comprising one and the same empire. [Note: I think he’s referring to Daniel 6:8, 12; 8:20] There is no indication in the text whatsoever that there was ever a Median empire that was distinctive and previous to the Persian Empire.

    Chapter 7 concerns the same four nations, symbolized by wild beasts, that are represented in chapter 2, but this text appears to exclude the notion that the second and third empires are Media and Persia. The first kingdom is universally acknowledged to be the kingdom of Babylon. The second kingdom is symbolized in chapter 7 by a bear devouring three ribs. This likely corresponds to the three major conquests of the Medo-Persian empire under Cyrus the Great and Cambyses, against Lydia, Babylon and Egypt. The third empire is symbolized by a leopard possessing four wings and four heads. It is widely known that Alexander the Great’s kingdom was, following his death, divided among four of his generals (see discussion of chapter 11 below). However, there is no evidence for a four-fold division of the Persian empire. This suggests that the leopard is intended to symbolize the empire of Greece. The fourth kingdom is symbolized by a ten-horned beast, who is described as being “terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it.’ (Dan 7:7). The ten horns recall the ten toes of the image of chapter 2, which have a close association with the two legs of iron. This is readily identifiable with the Roman empire, since it was divided into the Eastern and Western Roman empires during the reign of the emperor Diocletian. However, there is no obvious correspondence with the Greek empire.”

    -:-

    In response to two of these points, I think that a problem with (2) is that the even if Sirach was influenced by Daniel, the date at which Sirach was written is too uncertain for the literary links to be of any use here. (I’ve seen dates as late as 150 BC proposed for when Sirach was written in Hebrew.) (4) is interesting, but the interpretation in 2:39 already gives short shift to the second and third kingdoms by grouping them together, so their close association in other parts of Daniel is not as surprising. But I’m still thinking about (1) and (3), so any thoughts or expertise that you have here are appreciated.

    Reply
    1. I don’t mind granting most of his positive arguments for an early date because they’re mostly restricted to chapters 1–6 and thus are not of prophetic significance.

      Indeed. I noted this position in my article: “…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…”

      I don’t find the arguments particularly strong (more speculative than secure) but not so weak as to dismiss outright. Hence I grant it for the sake of argument. It doesn’t pertain, as you note, to the real issue (it also doesn’t rescue Daniel, since even 1-6 are still a forgery, just one of an earlier date; attempts to push it earlier run aground on all the evidence against; which is why mainstream scholars take the same position I do, and only demagogues and apologists attempt to escape it).

      (1) “[i]t is reasonable to conclude that only a very early author would have known that Susa was once considered part of the province of Elam.”

      Incorrect. The forgers are simply trusting scripture. Note this belief, based on Ezra, is also repeated in the forgery of Jubilees, another Maccabean text. It was thus a trope in that period.

      (2) Sirach – which is often dated before 175 BC – appears to show some knowledge of Daniel.

      This runs into the problem that it could be the other way around (the authors of Daniel borrowing or inspired by material in Sirach). None of the arguments presented for the contrary are valid—as I note in this very article above (as an example under “reverse incredulity”) this apologetic rhetoric is based on a bizarre incomprehension of how long ten to thirty years actually is. And without evidence of causal direction, there is no argument to be had here.

      It’s only worse that on top of that, as you note, we really don’t know that Sirach predates Daniel. And ignorance cannot produce knowledge. Apologists are behaving gullibly here: their date for Sirach is based on assuming everything in it (even its prologue) is authentic. There is no actual evidence of that. And as I have shown, the Maccabean period was rife with forgeries just like this. So suspicion, not trust, is warranted. And at any rate, what is not established, cannot be premised.

      (3) Daniel 2 and 7 form a chiasm and display other literary continuities.

      Which would be the intention of the second forgers: to build 7-12 onto 1-6, they looked for a way to link an earlier chapter in by chiasmic allusion. Note that if 7-12 didn’t exist, there would be nothing remarkable about 2 that would lead us to expect 7: 4 and 5 are adjacent chapters so sharing content is unremarkable, whereas 3 and 6 only straddle 4 and 5, thus producing the only actual chiasmus; there need not have been any intention to mirror 2, just as we find no mirror for 1—hence that could be invented later by the expanders of the text. Thus, any links between 2 and 7, are just as likely the construct of the authors of 7. And since that need not be the authors of 2 (there is no evidence it is, against all the evidence mainstream scholars adduce it isn’t), this point can’t establish anything.

      McLatchie also quotes Harold Henry Rawley – who subscribed to a Maccabean dating for the entirety of Daniel – on the similar authorial tendencies in chapter 2 and 7, such as the tendency to include details in the dream interpretation not found in the dream itself.

      Note how this is exactly the sort of thing forgers would do too. They are thus not actually testing their theory against the alternative. This is how apologetics works: it rationalizes positions; it does not test them. Their methods are simply illegitimate.

      (4) If Daniel was completed in the Maccabean period, then the fourth kingdom in chapter 7 would have to refer to the Greeks. But McLatchie argues that there are several issues with that interpretation…

      Only to a rationalizing apologist who needs that to be the case. They are here conflating Daniel’s ahistorical errors with actual history. No actual Median kingdom existed. Daniel’s authors however believe one did (they keep referring to it; as I note, likely to get Daniel to “fit” prior scripture, although Collins adduces many other ancient authors making this same error). “Daniel” thus has the Persian kingdom begin after Darius with “Cyrus the Persian” (6:28); whereas the previous kingdom began with the one whom they identify as “Darius the Mede” (5:31), not Darius the Persian, thus representing the second kingdom, and thence Persia the third. (It is thus a false statement that “There is no indication in the text whatsoever that there was ever a Median empire that was distinctive and previous to the Persian Empire.” The indication is plainly there right in the text’s own statements of succession. They are confusing the body of a nation, Media and Persia, with who is ruling it, a Mede or a Persian.)

      On the theory that Dan. 2 was written in the 4th century, the fourth kingdom would be Alexander’s, whom the authors are pretending is being “predicted” (when in fact he is being retrodicted, as typically happens in apocalypses). This becomes obvious when you read Daniel’s “interpretation” which states that the fourth kingdom will consume and be larger than all the others, yet then dissolve into bickering sub-nations, before God’s apocalypse. This describes the fracturing of Alexander’s Empire, which was indeed larger than the Persian, into the Era of the Diadochoi in late 4th century. It does not describe Rome (certainly not of the first century, when Christians believe God’s “Rock” appeared). Or any other empire previous but Alexander’s. Also note the third kingdom does not conquer the second; it simply succeeds it. Whereas the fourth kingdom conquers (it “crushes” the ones before it). This exactly describes Daniel’s own imaginary chronology of the Nebuchadnezzar dynasty, then Darius the Mede, then Cyrus the Persian, then Alexander the Great.

      Note the apologetical approach requires assuming the authors of Dan. 2 were actual supernatural prophets. Once you discard that improbability, it is obvious the first three kingdoms must be ones they will mention as known, so that they can set up the pretense that all three succeeding kingdoms are a prophetic prediction. This is how apocalypses were composed throughout antiquity. Historians follow established precedent in their interpretations, not whackadoo theories about psychics.

      Chapter 7 concerns the same four nations…

      Not necessarily. If we are supposing 7 was introducing an annex written centuries later, it could be aiming to “retrofit” a new meaning onto 2. But that’s moot, since everything the apologist says here is mere speculation. They have presented no facts supporting what they are saying. There is no reason to read this chapter in any other way than once again describing the same mythical sequence of kingdoms in Dan. 2: Babylon, subsumed by Darius “the Mede,” succeeded by Cyrus “the Persian,” and crushed by Alexander the Great (it likewise describes the succession from Darius to Cyrus as political rather than military, but the fourth as a destructive conquest). Only the authors of 7 know about Antiochus and thus tweak that to include him at the end; that the authors of 2 didn’t is one reason some scholars suspect 1-6 was forged in the 4th century and 7-12 in the second (though IMO that’s a weak argument—just again, not a vacuous one—since it’s not implausible for vague points to be expanded into specific ones as an apocalypse proceeds).

      It is widely known that Alexander the Great’s kingdom was, following his death, divided among four of his generals…

      That’s more of a modern myth. The Diadochoi were numerous and their conflicts and alliances convoluted and constantly changing. The usual “main” list of them is Antipater, Perdiccas, Ptolemy I, Seleucus I, Antigonus I, and Lysimachus, which is already more than four, and there were also Pyrrhus and Cassander and others. To anyone in antiquity, it would appear a chaos, not a neat division into four kingdoms.

      But this is moot because there is no reference to a division into four kingdoms in Daniel. The apologists are just making this up. The four wings and heads on one ruler (not four rulers) just as likely represents the four corners of the Earth that they governed (as mainstream scholars conclude) and thus the extent of the kingdom of Persia, matching Dan. 2 (that the third kingdom “will rule over the whole earth”). Again, this is ahistorical, but matches the “history” that the authors of Daniel contrived.

      The ten horns recall the ten toes of the image of chapter 2, which have a close association with the two legs of iron. This is readily identifiable with the Roman empire, since it was divided into the Eastern and Western Roman empires during the reign of the emperor Diocletian. However, there is no obvious correspondence with the Greek empire.”

      This is a bizarre non sequitur. There is no number “ten” connected with Diocletian, even in their own statement, much less reality. This is again them just making shit up and pretending we won’t notice. Nor would it make sense to have Jesus come after the Diocletianic era, as their interpretation would require of the text. If Rome were meant, it could only be first century Rome. But there is nothing connecting to Rome here at all, even of the first century.

      To the contrary, the authors of Daniel 7 tell us who the ten horns are: the Diadochoi. Hence they well knew there were way more than four of them (per above), certainly by the time of Antiochus; their choosing ten is likely just a round number, it means “a lot” or “about ten or so.” Since it was never possible to give a precise number of Diadochoi; they were constantly changing and their claims to authority often ambiguous.

      This is obvious from the statement, “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it,” and he would be the last haughty ruler before the End Times, a clear reference to Antiochus, an “eleventh” horn arising later, who succeeded after three of the previous ten horns had been “uprooted,” i.e. destroyed, which could mean any of the previously deceased or vanquished Diadochoi depending on which events these authors knew about and considered most salient (Collins surveys the options). By contrast, this fits no Roman interpretation.

      -:-

      What you are getting from them is thus just more illegitimate apologetic methodology, not real historical methodology. They make up facts to support their predetermined position, ignore facts that undermine it, argue by non sequitur and “formalized gullibility”, never actually test their theories against alternatives (and when they pretend to, their tests are straw), and presume as given rather than, as in fact, wildly implausible, the existence and convenient operation of the supernatural.

      Reply
  5. Thank you for this awesome article. What I like best is your emphasis on how Daniel 9’s details are more sparse and inaccurate as you get further from the proposed ~164 BCE authorship date. And then it gets EXTREMELY and immediately inaccurate and sparser in detail following 164 BCE!

    This argument alone seems be the smoking gun, to indicate authorship of Daniel ch 9-12 to be very near to 164 BCE. Many other scholars seem to miss this very important argumentative point.

    I find you to be the smartest among your peers.

    Reply
    1. You might have to be more specific.

      Are you asking about the general merits of a Christian apologetic website’s argument that Daniel’s prophecy proves Jesus real?

      If that is what you mean, then please read the whole of Newman on Prophecy as Miracle, as it covers why apologetics like this is always bogus (Arguments from Prophecy always end up fallacious), and has a closing section and endnotes on why this specific version of it is just as bogus as the rest.

      Also, note the article you are commenting on here above already points out the authors of Daniel meant their timetable to target 164 BC, and thus did not anticipate Jesus; and that the Dead Sea Scrolls’ attempt to “reinterpret” this failed prophecy in Daniel did not identify any date matching Jesus. Likewise, the “re-re-interpretation” of Daniel leading to messiah fever in the first century AD, with various different dates expected same reasoning as led to messiah fever, does not require a historical Jesus to fulfill, as explained in On the Historicity of Jesus, Ch. 5., Elements 23-28; I also discuss the “seventy sevens” prophecy and its role in creating messiah fever in the first century AD in Ibid., Ch. 4, Elements 4-7 (which is a more recent and peer reviewed account).

      Reply

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