Category Archives: seleucid

Dating the Book of Daniel

A favorite prophet for Christians (mainly because of the apocalyptic “Son of Man” language and the Abomination causing Desolation in chapters 7 and 8 which Jesus invokes, cf. Mark 13:14), Daniel isn’t aprophet in Judaism. Daniel was written during the Maccabean revolt c. 165 BCE, the outcome of which is still celebrated to this day with Hannukah. Daniel attempts to be writing in the 6th century BCE but was really written in the 2nd centry BCE.

Those reasons include the following:

1. Daniel contains a number of historical inaccuracies regarding Baylonian history- the era during which it is alleged by traditionalists to have been written. These include such things as the erroneous belief that Nebuchadnezzar had a son named Belshazzar, that this Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon during the Jewish captivity, that Babylon under Belshazzar fell to Darius and that Darius was a Mede. Every single one of those points is wrong. There were four kings of Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel thinks there was only one, and the one he names never existed. Nebuchadnezzar did not have a son named Belshazzar and no one by that name was ever king of Babylon. The guy who was king when Babylon fell was named Nabonidus and he was not related to Nebuchadnezzar. Interestingly, Naboninus had a son named Belshazzar but that son was never king and he died before his father did.

2. Daniel is also wrong about both the name and nationality of the person who conquered Babylon (and liberated the Jews from captivity….something which a contemporary Jew should not have gotten confused about). Babylon was not conquered by “Darius the Mede” but by Cyrus, who was Persian. There was no such person as Darius the Mede and (contrary to Daniel, who was evidently trying to backfill failed prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah) Babylon was never conquered by the Medes.

Cyrus had a grandson named Darius who eventually became king, but he, like his grandfather, was a Persian, not a Mede. Daniel also says that “Darius the Mede” was the son of Xerxes, but Xerxes was actually the son of Darius, not his father. It is quite implausible that any Jewish person who survived the entire exile would get this many things wrong but would be entirely to be expected by anyone who was writing historical fiction several centuries later.

3. The Book of Daniel contains a number of historical anachronisms which date it well after the Exile and into the Hellenistic period. It uses Greek words and references a Greek musical instrument which didn’t exist until the 2nd century BCE (Dan 3:5 contains “psaltery”, which is Greek). it contains Aramaic dialect which dates well after the exilic period. It contains an anachronistic use of the word “Chaldean” to refer to astrologers. That word was only an ethnic indicator during the era of the exile and only came to be used for astrologers much later. Daniel contains post-exilic eschatological ideas about such things as a resurrection and judgement of the dead. Daniel also references the book of Jeremiah as a “sacred book” (i.e. as scripture) but Jeremiah would have been a contemporary of Daniel and the Book of Jeremiah did not become part of Jewish Canon until c. 200 CE.

4. Daniel is very accurate about the Greek period and makes historically sound “predictions” regarding Alexander’s conquest and subsequent dynasties up to and including the reign of Antiochus, his installation of a statue of Zeus in the Temple (167 BCE – the Abomination causing Desolation) and the Jewish revolt against him. Once Daniel gets past 164 BCE, though, the predictions all fail. Daniel predicted that Antiochus would be killed in Palestine by a Ptolemaic king from the south and then the end of the world would come. Antiochus died not in Palestine, but in Persia, not by a king from the south but by an illness. Obviously, the world never ended either.

This is a clear indication that Daniel was written after the installation of the “abomination” in the Temple (167 BCE) but before the death of Antiochus (164 BCE). Christians have a lot of problems understanding Daniel. They even think the text is a prophetic text, but the Jews place it amongst the other writings (Ketuvim). Christians should give the Hebrew bible back to the Jews and stop making such a mess with it.

If we turn to ch.11 we find a series of conflicts between the kings of the north and the kings of the south immediately after the time of Alexander, the warrior king of 11:3 and the diadochi in 11:4. The king of the north is clearly Seleucid and the king of the south is Ptolemy and chapter 11 describes the Syrian Wars.

The fulcrum is the stopping of temple sacrifices (and the persecution of the Jews from 167 to 164 BCE), 11:31, 9:27 and 8:11 – this last is done by the little horn, who we also see is the culmination of the fourth beast in chapter 7, who attacked the Jews and attempted to change the seasons and the laws.

The four beasts of chapter 7, the lion (Babylon), the bear (Media), the panther (Persians), the unnamed beast – the elephant to us – (Greece), is the same progression in the statue of Dan 2, which has the Greek empire dividing into two legs, the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. The feet made of iron and clay indicate the varying power that the two empires were able to wield.

The usual Christian view is to interperet that the Medes and the Persians were really one empire, despite the fact that the Persians conquered the Medes. The Jews of course saw Media as separate from the Persians, Isaiah 13:17-19 prophecying that the Medes would destroy Babylon.

The Romans are obviously not the legs of the statue in Dan 2. The Seleucid and Ptolemy kingdoms explain the data correctly and the struggle between them, the kings of the north and south, is outlined in Dan 11. Dan 2:43 deals with the marriage of Berenice with Antiochus II, which was an attempt to unite the two kingdoms, an attempt which failed.

(The major primary sources are Polybius’s history and 2 Maccabees. More information about the struggle between the Seleucids and Ptolemies can be found in any history of the Hellenistic period.) In addition, the canon of the Prophets (Nevi’im) was closed by about 200 BC with the composition of Malachi. The apocryphal book of Jesus ben Sirach (who I wrote a bit about here), written about 180 BCE, contains a long section (chapters 44-50) in praise of “famous men” from Jewish history that does not include Daniel. However 1 Maccabees, composed about 100 BCE, repeats much of that list with the addition of Daniel and the three youths in the fiery furnace, leading to the conclusion that these stories were likely added to Hebrew literature sometime after 180 BCE.

However, Daniel could be a “prophecy” of the events of the Maccabean Rebellion… that means it wasn’t a prophecy about Jesus.

This interpretation of Daniel fits Maccabees (specifically 1 Maccabees 1:54) where the desecrating idol of Antiochus is referred to as an “Abomination of Desolation” (see Daniel 9:27). Also, Josephus identified the “little horn” as Antiochus (Antiquities 10:11).

Daniel was intended to be read as a “prophecy” of (or writing about) the Maccabean Rebellion, so it was more than likely written during this time period. Though later Christians have Jesus reinterpreting it to make it a prophecy about Jesus.

Incidently, the events in the Maccabean rebellion and the Bar-Kochba rebellion are similar. Just like Daniel was more than likely written during the Maccabean revolt, the Christian gospels might have been written during the Bar-Kochba rebellion. Both events have a pagan statue being erected on the sacred ground of the temple insigating Jewish rebellion. Though to be fair, Hadrian erected a statue of Jupiter on the grounds of the temple mount in 132 CE (since the temple had been destroyed in 70 CE) and Antiochus erected a statue of Zeus actually inside of the still standing temple in 167 BCE.

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