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The Chronology of Daniel 1:1
by Dave Matson

2001 / July-August

The standard, apologetic defense for Daniel 1:1 claims that Daniel was taken captive in 605 BC by Nebuchadrezzar. In order to evaluate this defense, let's reconstruct that period of history as best we can. Various sources, including the Bible, will be used, but events generally known from extrabiblical records will not be documented.

In those days, the ancient superpower of Assyria was getting its ass kicked by the Babylonians and the Medes. After surviving one attack by the Medes, the Assyrian capital of Nineveh was finally sacked and burned in 612 BC. The Babylonians, who were recent allies of the Medes, arrived too late to participate fully in this historic sacking. In 610 BC, the Assyrian fall-back capital at Haran was taken. However, a remnant of the old empire still remained at Carchemish, which commanded a strategic crossing of the Euphrates River in what is now southern Turkey.

Pharaoh Necho (610-595 BC, 26th dynasty) was greatly alarmed when he heard that his ally, Assyria, was crumbling, so he headed up an expedition to come to its aid. King Josiah of Judah, who was allied with the Neo-Babylonians at the time, attempted to delay Necho's advance at Megiddo (2 Chron. 35:20-23) and was killed in battle for his trouble. King Josiah was succeeded by his son, Jehoahaz, who lasted 3 months (2 Kings 23: 31). It seems that Necho was delayed further by a military clash with Jehoahaz at Riblah (2 Kings 23:33) before totally defeating the Jewish forces. Pharaoh Necho then elevated one of Josiah's sons (Eliakim) to kingship in 608 BC and changed his name to Jehoiakim (2 Chron. 36:4). The "old" king, Jehoahaz, was sent to Egypt, where he eventually died. In 606 BC, the Egyptians bested the Neo- Babylonians, but their luck soon ran out.

At the great Battle of Carchemish (605 BC), crown prince Nebuchadrezzar (Nebuchadnezzar) crushed the Egyptian forces. These events are generally agreed to, but there seems to be a division of opinion as to what happened after that great battle. Some authors say that Nebuchadrezzar pursued the Egyptians to their eastern border (Pelusium); others give the impression that the Egyptians were wiped out at Hamath, and they say nothing about any chase. Given the subsequent history and the fact that Necho lived another 9 or 10 years, it is likely that only a portion of the Egyptian forces was lost at Hamath, at worst, and that the rest hightailed it back to Egypt.

The Harper Atlas of the Bible (1987), which has an excellent diagram of Nebuchadrezzar's campaigns on pages 130-131, supports a statement by Josephus, who depicted Nebuchadrezzar as moving down the coastal plain once he was clear of Mt. Carmel. There is no evidence of an inland siege of Jerusalem at this time. Indeed, it would hardly have made sense for Nebuchadrezzar, in general pursuit of the Egyptians, to have diverted a large part of his army to an inland siege that might have lasted a year or more. Furthermore, Daniel 1:1 speaks of "King" Nebuchadrezzar–not "Prince" Nebuchadrezzar. He was still the crown prince at that time.

Thus, Prince Nebuchadrezzar followed the Egyptian army practically to the gates of Egypt. As fate would have it, Nabopolassar, his father and King of Babylonia, died on August 16, 605 BC. To assure his succession to the throne, Nebuchadrezzar had to return immediately to Babylon. On September 7, 605 BC, Nebuchadrezzar ascended the throne. His position was secure enough by October that he was able to return to the western theater to consolidate his winnings. Beegle (Prophecy and Prediction, 1978) mentions a campaign from October to February of 604 BC. During another expedition in Syria and Palestine, from June to December of 604 BC, Nebuchadrezzar received the submission of various minor kings, including King Jehoiakim of Judah, and captured the city of Ashkelon.

Jewish prisoners, of course, had been taken all along as most of the cities of Palestine had been vassals of Egypt. Jews, Phoenicians, Syrians, and others had fought on Egypt's side. Therefore, Berosus’ mention of Jewish prisoners does not support the conjecture that Nebuchadrezzar laid siege to Jerusalem at that time. However, this would have been the ideal time for Daniel's transfer to Babylon. It is not unreasonable to imagine that Babylonian officials, under military escorts, visited the various cities and towns to secure oaths of fealty. Daniel, if he were of Judaean royalty, may have been part of a small group of young people given by King Jehoiakim as a Judaean pledge of their fealty to NeoBabylonia. If so, they would have been taken to Babylon as honored guests and probably schooled in Babylonian civic and religious principles, even as Daniel had been. That's the strongest argument I can make for Daniel's transfer to Babylon in 605 BC.

A fatal problem with this scenario may be found in the first verses of Daniel. They clearly speak of a siege; Daniel is one of many prisoners taken to Babylon. Historians, who have a fair amount of archaeological and historical evidence at their disposal, know of only two sieges of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar. Those are the sieges of 597 BC and 586 BC, both of which are reported in the Bible. Daniel 1:1 (Jehoiakim defeated in his third year = 605 BC) matches neither 2 Kings 24:12 (Nebuchadrezzar's eighth year = 597 BC) nor 2 Kings 24:36 (Jehoiakim ruled for 11 years, meaning he could have been defeated only in his 11th year = 597 BC). Second Chronicles 36:5 agrees with 2 Kings in claiming that Jehoiakim ruled for 11 years. In an effort to skirt this problem, the apologist claims that Jehoiakim was hauled off to Babylon after a siege in 605 BC, later returned to power, and was taken again in the siege of 597 BC.

Such a claim just boggles the mind. Talk about wishful thinking! I have yet to hear of a single, historical case of an ancient king retaining his throne after losing a serious siege. Almost as absurd is the idea that this hypothetical siege of 605 BC would have gone unreported in the Bible, which has quite a bit to say about the two known sieges. Apologists, not to be undone by the facts, often claim that it was reported. Second Chronicles 36:5-8, assigned to the siege of 597 by mainstream scholars and a straightforward reading of the text, is said to be actually an account of the 605 BC siege. Second Chronicles 36:10 is then taken as an account of the 597 BC siege. Verses 17-20 finish up with the final siege of 586 BC. How very convenient! However, this interpretation is imposed on a rather confused and awkward account in Chronicles. How very strange that neither Kings nor Chronicles mention the miraculous return of Jehoiakin to power after the hypothetical siege of 605 BC so that he could complete his 11-year reign.

Other than being pure speculation, this solution violates the obvious fact that 2 Chronicles 36:5-8 is essentially a repeat of the earlier account in 2 Kings 23:36-24:7. This point is so well accepted that Today's English Version (the Good News Bible) flags it for the reader. The older account, however, makes no mention of a siege; King Jehoiakim simply dies and is succeeded by his son, Jehoiachin.

Daniel 1:1 (Jerusalem besieged in Jehoiakim's third year) also contradicts Jeremiah 46:2, which places the battle of Carchemish in Jehoiakim's fourth year. Jerusalem could scarcely have been besieged by Nebuchadrezzar before the Egyptians were defeated at Carchemish! As Farrell Till has noted, attempts to attribute Daniel's "third" year to a Judaean calendar and Jeremiah's "fourth" year to a Babylonian calendar have things ass-backwards. If anything, Daniel, as a polished official in the Babylonian court, would have used a Babylonian calendar while Jeremiah, a Hebrew prophet, would have used a Judaean calendar! Furthermore, mixing different calendar systems without due notice clearly makes God the author of confusion. Unless the context informs us differently, the rational assumption for competent writing is that one system of dating has been used throughout. We are not at liberty to stray from that principle. "Daniel" seems to have confused Jehoiakim's 3 years of fealty (before he rebelled) with his third year as a king. Jehoiakim, as noted, was appointed king by Pharaoh Necho in 608 BC (609 BC according to an alternate dating system). Thus, he was king for about 4 years before Nebuchadrezzar took firm control of the general area. That is in fair agreement with Jeremiah 46:2, which equates the great Battle of Carchemish with Jehoiakim's 4th year as king (604 BC). Second Kings 24:1 states that Jehoiakim submitted to Babylonian rule for 3 years and then rebelled. If his oath of fealty had been given during the 604 BC campaign, then his rebellion occurred in 601 BC. Thus, he rebelled around 601 BC if 2 Kings is correct, and 601 BC would have been a perfect year for rebellion.

With the help of Greek mercenaries, Nebuchadrezzar conducted further campaigns to secure the general area over the next three years. However, in the year 601/600 BC, a major battle occurred near the border of Egypt, an inconclusive battle that was costly for both sides. The effect was such that Nebuchadrezzar was obliged to discontinue operations in 600/599 BC, and he remained in Babylonia to replenish his losses of chariots and other war material. With encouragement by Egypt, no doubt, certain vassal states, including Judah, felt secure enough to rebel against Nebuchadrezzar upon hearing of his reversal in 601 BC. Second Kings, then, fits the facts quite nicely. The Book of Daniel doesn't.

A very poor time for a rebellion or any other act of resistance would have been 605 BC. Nebuchadrezzar had just crushed the Egyptian army and was rolling through Palestine. In his wake, cities were probably pledging their loyalties right and left. Jehoiakim would have had to have been out of his mind to rebel at such a time, so it is hardly surprising that historians know of no such rebellion. Judah is described as a Neo-Babylonian vassal state in 2 Kings 24:1, and a pledge of Judah's fealty had been in effect for 3 years. If Jehoiakim's rebellion had been in 605 BC, then his fealty was secured in 608 BC–the very year that Pharaoh Necho appointed him king, a time when Egypt controlled Palestine. Thus, we may rule out any rebellion against Nebuchadrezzar in 605 BC. Any attempt to turn the first part of 2 Kings 24:1 into a siege of Jerusalem not only ignores accepted history but is a bald-faced attempt to rewrite the Bible. The first Neo- Babylonian siege of Jerusalem actually mentioned in 2 Kings was initiated by a rebellion.

We have five good reasons for rejecting a siege of Jerusalem during Nebuchadrezzar's 604 BC campaigns to secure the fealty of the states of Palestine. One, there is zero evidence for it. Serious historical claims must be built upon evidence–not groundless speculation. Two, it is obviously a bald- faced attempt to rewrite history to get around a striking contradiction in Daniel. That is, its authors are motivated by dogma and not by objective truth. When objective truth is not the goal, it is usually lost. Three, 605-604 BC would have been a horrible time to tell Nebuchadrezzar to buzz off. Small rulers, when they did revolt, invariably did so during windows of opportunity. Timing was everything. The idea was to secure independence–not to commit national suicide. A stand in 601 BC makes sense; a stand in 605-604 BC does not. Four, it requires the absurd scenario of Jehoiakim being taken prisoner in the hypothetical siege of 605 BC–and then restored to the throne–so that he could revolt again in 601 BC! Needless to say, neither history nor the Bible knows of any such thing. We have reached the pinnacle of wishful thinking! Five, reputable Bible translations of 2 Kings 24:1 actually support my contention that Jehoiakim was one of those kings who, in the presence of Babylonian might, found it wiser to become a vassal than to commit national suicide. Here are a few examples:

New English Bible: During his reign Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took the field, and Jehoiakim became his vassal....

New Oxford Annotated Bible: Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant....

New Jerusalem Bible: Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon invaded, and Jehoiakim became his vassal...

In this light, it should be obvious that the word invaded, used in some translations, does not imply that a battle was fought–let alone that Jerusalem was besieged. As noted earlier, this probably happened in 604 BC.

Measures by Nebuchadrezzar to regain control of Palestine were resumed at the end of 599/598 BC (December to March). He first moved against the Arab tribes of northwestern Arabia in preparation for the occupation of Judah. The attack on Judah occurred a year later, and on March 16, 597 BC, Jerusalem was captured. Apparently, Jehoiakim had died before the siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:10), and his successor, Jehoiachin, had ruled for only three months before being taken captive (2 Kings 24:8). That contradicts 2 Chronicles 36:6, which has Nebuchadrezzar carting Jehoiakim off to Babylon in chains.

The older account of 2 Kings is almost certainly the correct one. It speaks of a normal succession by Jehoiachin. Why would a scribe speak of a routine succession if it were not true? Second Kings is certainly not shy about identifying foreign interventions! How could a scribe, writing a few decades later (according to many scholars) expect to cover up an abnormal succession? We're talking public knowledge here! Finally, note that 2 Kings 24:10 plainly states that it was in the short reign of Jehoiakim's son, Jehoiachin, that the Babylonian army came up against Jerusalem. Another siege two or three months earlier (to terminate Jehoiakim's reign) would have been out of the question, meaning that the old king simply died while on the throne. If Jehoiakim were taken in an earlier siege, say in 605 BC, we would have the ludicrous scenario of Nebuchadrezzar taking him captive, restoring him to the throne, and watching him revolt again a few years later in 601 BC. Consequently, we will use the history given by 2 Kings.

Second Chronicles, written some 200-400 years later, seems to be based on a confused reading of 2 Kings, and 2 Chronicles (or a close parallel) is exactly what Daniel 1:1 seems to have relied upon. Note that 2 Chronicles 36:7 practically echoes the words of Daniel in stating that Nebuchadrezzar carried off some of the treasures of the temple.

2 Chronicles 36:7 Against him [Jehoiakim] King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came up, and bound him with fetters to take him to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also carried some of the vessels of the house of Yahweh to Babylon and put them in his palace in Babylon .

Daniel 1:1-2 In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power, as well as some of the vessels of the house of God. These he brought to the land of Shinar, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his gods.

It was during Jehoiachin's short reign that Nebuchadrezzar's army, and then Nebuchadrezzar himself, came up against Jerusalem. Obviously, Jehoiachin surrendered without much of a fight during the "siege" of 597 BC (2 Kings 24:10-11). Since Jehoiachin surrendered quickly and was not the one who double-crossed Nebuchadrezzar, that may explain why Nebuchadrezzar was relatively lenient by ancient standards. Second Kings speaks of the treasures of the temple and of the palace being looted; the nobility and leading men were taken to Babylon. Obviously, there was heavy payment and a significant deportation, though the severity of such may have been overstated. (Second Chronicles speaks of the looting of some of the temple's treasures, but this may have been added out of logical necessity. In the confused account of 2 Chronicles, the sack of Jehoiachin seems to follow immediately after the siege and sack of his father, Jehoiakim. Thus, the author must explain how it is that any treasure remains for the second looting.) Except for the loss of gold and silver, the temple seems to have remained untouched. King Jehoiachin was among those deported to Babylon, where he was treated fairly well in his later years (2 Kings 25:27-30; Jer. 52:31-34). Cuneiform clay tablets, reporting allotments of generous rations to Jehoiachin's household, appear to support this last point. Nebuchadrezzar made Jehoiachin's uncle, Mattaniah, king of Judah and changed his name to Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17).

After a further, brief Syrian campaign in 596/595 BC, Nebuchadrezzar had to act in eastern Babylonia to repel a threatened invasion, probably from Elam (modern southwestern Iran). In 595/594 BC he put down a rebellion among elements of his own army, but was successful enough to undertake two further campaigns in Syria during 594 BC.

Zedekiah, with Egyptian encouragement, rebelled against Nebuchadrezzar in 589 BC–along with Tyre and Ammon. About this time Pharaoh Hophra (Apries) invaded Palestine with some early gains. However, Nebuchadrezzar came back with a powerful army and the Egyptians fled. Ezekiel compared Egypt to a weak reed that broke when leaned upon by the Israelites, piercing them in the armpit (Ezek. 29:6-7). Jerusalem was besieged for 18 months, and in the year 587/586 (depending on the chronology used), in the heat of midsummer, the northern wall of the starving city was breached. This time, Nebuchadrezzar was brutal. Aside from looting what treasure the temple held, he broke up its great bronze works attributed to Solomon (the great basin, carts, tools, and temple pillars) and carted them away as scrap (2 Kings 25:13-15). The city suffered much, and its temple and palace were utterly destroyed. Many, if not most, of its inhabitants were deported to Babylon. According to 2 Kings, Zedekiah fled Jerusalem but was captured in the plains near Jericho; Nebuchadrezzar executed all his sons and blinded him. He was put into chains and carted off to Babylon. With that, the Davidic dynasty came to an end. The Encyclopaedia Britannica speaks of further deportations in 582 BC. In that respect, Nebuchadrezzar followed the methods of his Assyrian predecessors.

Nebuchadrezzar then turned his attention to Tyre (585 BC), and a 13-year siege finally led to a negotiated settlement in his favor. (A negotiated settlement, by the way, was hardly what biblical prophecy had in mind.) The Bible speaks of a further campaign against Egypt (568/567 BC) in which he came up empty handed.

The proposed siege of Jerusalem in 605 BC, advocated as a means for saving Daniel 1:1, just doesn't fit the facts. "Daniel" appears to have gotten his material, to a large degree, from the corrupted account of 2 Chronicles or a similar late document. Obviously, a scholar in Nebuchadrezzar's court would scarcely have been confused as to how many sieges Nebuchadrezzar had made against Jerusalem. On that point, alone, we may conclude that "Daniel" was a late invention, a pious fraud, if you will, based on an ancient, heroic name. In fact, mainstream Bible scholars have concluded that Daniel was written to encourage the faithful during the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible notes that "(t)he author [of Daniel] was a pious Jew living under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, 167-164 B.C." Another excellent translation, The New Jerusalem Bible, says the same thing: "The book was written during the persecution of the Jews by the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes (167-164 BC); his attempts to seduce the Jews from the observance of the Law... form the background of its message." That is, the conflict arose when Antiochus Epiphanes attempted to convert by force the "backward" Jews to Hellenism, the universal, Greek culture of those days. It should come as no surprise, then, that "Daniel's" history improves considerably as one approaches the year 164 BC in his "prophecies"; but he fails utterly in predicting the final events in the life of Antiochus Epiphanes. (These last failures, apparently the only prophecies in Daniel that are not after the fact, have been swept under the rug by Bible-believers– who claim that they apply to the distant future.)

Why would mainstream scholars admit that there is an error in the Bible? Many of them are deeply religious, so we can't blame it on some atheistic agenda. Furthermore, if there were a reasonable way to preserve biblical inerrancy, the religious mind would surely do so. It has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Hence, these mainstream scholars have stared a hard truth in the face and, because of their steadfast, intellectual integrity, cannot sweep it under the rug as do so many others. They know all too well the inadequacy of the usual apologetic responses, which seek only those arguments, however improbable, that support preconceived doctrine. When the improbable is preferred over the probable, we no longer have an honest search for truth. Therefore, every mainstream, biblical scholar stands as a monument to the fact that there are errors in the Bible, that biblical apologetics are but sand castles built upon wishful thinking. In particular, Daniel 1:1 can only be counted as an error by objective, educated minds. Those minds bent on saving biblical inerrancy at all costs will never find an error–no matter how large and obvious it may be. When all their sophistry fails, they will call it a mystery. And, Jesus will pass out the answers once we get to heaven!

(Dave E. Matson, P. O. Box 61274, Pasadena, CA 91116; e-mail, 103514.3640@compuserve. com)

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