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Bad History in the Book of Daniel
by Farrell Till


1998 / July-August



In a phone conversation after the May/June issue was published, Everette Hatcher informed me that I had apparently misunderstood his intentions. He said that he was not trying to leave the impression that scholars like H. H. Rowley, Samuel Driver, and Norman Porteous were advocates of a 6th-century B. C. authorship of Daniel but only that they had made some admissions that were damaging to their position that this book was written in the 2nd century B. C., during the Maccabean era. After this conversation, I reread Hatcher's article and noticed some sections that could be so interpreted, but for the most part, he left the impression that these scholars were on his side. If, however, he assures me that his intention was only to show that what he considers "liberal" scholarship has made some concessions that are inconsistent with the view of a 2nd-century B. C. authorship, I am willing to take his word for it. In that case, I would accuse Hatcher only of being unable to see the forest for the trees, because the "concessions" that he thinks "liberal" scholars have made are rather minor compared to the primary reasons why they date the authorship of Daniel in the Maccabean period.

Various reasons have been given for rejecting the traditional view that Daniel was written by a 6th-century Jew who was an official in the royal court of Babylon when the events in the book were allegedly happening. Among these reasons are some that scholars don't agree on. For example, some scholars think that the late authorship of Daniel was betrayed by its use of Persian and Greek words that would not have been known by 6th-century residents of Babylon, but other scholars see no particular value in this argument. Some scholars think that the literary style of the Aramaic part of Daniel was the type that was used later than the 6th-century B. C., but others disagree. Some scholars think that Daniel's use of the word Chaldean to represent a caste of wise men, astrologers, and magicians rather than a nationality indicates a late authorship, because the word was not generally used in this sense in the 6th century, but others see no particular force to this argument. In other words, on several rather minor points used to date the book, scholars obviously disagree. These were the very points of disagreement that Hatcher focused on in his article, but he had little to say about the major reasons why so-called "liberal scholars" date Daniel later than the 6th century. On these major points, there is general agreement that they indicate that this book was not written by a 6th-century official in the Babylonian court. These reasons can be summarized by a single expression: bad history. The writer demonstrated an ignorance of 6th-century Babylonian history that would not be expected of someone with the wisdom and political position that the book attributed to Daniel, who identified himself in several places as the author (7:2, 15; 8:1ff; 9:2; 10:2; etc).

Belshazzar's Father: We know from Babylonian records that Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon. The book of Daniel presented Belshazzar as the Babylonian king at the time of the empire's conquest, but I won't quarrel over this, because even though Babylonian records never called him king, they indicate that Belshazzar may have served as co-regent during his father's absence from Babylon. There is, however, reason to quarrel with Daniel's references to Nebuchadnezzar as Belshazzar's "father" and to Belshazzar as Nebuchadnezzar's "son." To focus attention on the extent to which this was done, I will emphasize in bold print father and son in the text quoted below. The quotation is long but necessary to show that the writer thought that Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar were father and son.

King Belshazzar made a great festival for a thousand of his lords, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar commanded that they bring in the vessels of gold and silver that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand. The king was watching the hand as it wrote. Then the king's face turned pale, and his thoughts terrified him. His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king cried aloud to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the diviners; and the king said to the wise men of Babylon, "Whoever can read this writing and tell me its interpretation shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around his neck, and rank third in the kingdom." Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar became greatly terrified and his face turned pale, and his lords were perplexed.
The queen, when she heard the discussion of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall. The queen said, "O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts terrify you or your face grow pale. There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father he was found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and diviners, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation."
Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, "So you are Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard of you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that enlightenment, understanding, and excellent wisdom are found in you. Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and tell me its interpretation, but they were not able to give the interpretation of the matter. But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you are able to read the writing and tell me its interpretation, you shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around your neck, and rank third in the kingdom."
Then Daniel answered in the presence of the king, "Let your gifts be for yourself, or give your rewards to someone else! Nevertheless I will read the writing to the king and let him know the interpretation. O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar kingship, greatness, glory, and majesty. And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. He killed those he wanted to kill, kept alive those he wanted to keep alive, honored those he wanted to honor, and degraded those he wanted to degrade. But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he acted proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was stripped from him. He was driven from human society, and his mind was made like that of an animal. His dwelling was with the wild asses, he was fed grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and sets over it whomever he will. And you, Belshazzar his son, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this! You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven! The vessels of his temple have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them. You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored (Dan. 5:1-23, NRSV).

According to the first part of this book, Daniel rose to prominence in the Babylonian court during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. This happened as a result of Daniel's interpretation of a dream that Nebuchadnezzar's wise men were unable to interpret but which for Daniel, of course, was a snap to decipher because Yahweh was his god (2:12-45). As a result, Daniel was made "ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon" (2:48). If Daniel achieved such prominence in Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom, he would have surely been familiar with the king's family, but in chapter five, the writer of this story referred to Nebuchadnezzar five times as the "father" of Belshazzar. One of these references was made by the writer himself in the narration of the story, two of the references were attributed to the queen, one of them to Belshazzar himself, and the fifth to Daniel as he addressed the king. In this address to the king, Daniel also referred to Belshazzar as Nebuchadnezzar's "son," so in less than one chapter, six incorrect references were made to Belshazzar's relationship to Nebuchadnezzar. How likely is it that a writer whom Nebuchadnezzar had made ruler over the whole province of Babylon and the chief prefect of all the wise men in Babylon would have repeatedly made a mistake like this?

Hatcher no doubt will parrot the inerrantist line and contend that the words father and son were not being used literally in this story but only figuratively in the sense of "ancestor" and "descendant," as when Abraham was referred to as the "father" of all Jews (Isaiah 51:2), and as Jesus was called the "son of David" (Matt. 1:1). The examples are hardly parallel, however, because Abraham was separated by centuries from the Jews of Isaiah's time, as Jesus was separated in time from David sufficiently for readers of such texts as these to know beyond reasonable doubt that father and son were being used figuratively. In the book of Daniel, however, the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar are related in consecutive chapters. The account of Nebuchadnezzar's seven years of madness in fulfillment of a second dream that Daniel had interpreted ends the 4th chapter, where Nebuchadnezzar praised Daniel's god after he had regained his sanity: "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride" (5:37). Then immediately the next chapter opens with an account of the feast that King Belshazzar held to honor a thousand of his lords, so the writer went directly from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar to the reign of Belshazzar without mentioning any of the four kings who reigned between them. This within itself would indicate an ignorance of 6th-century Babylonian history, because it at least implies that the writer thought that Belshazzar's reign followed Nebuchadnezzar's. That would be an understandable mistake for someone living centuries later, who thought that Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar's son, but it would be very unlikely that the ruler of the entire province of Babylon during Nebuchadnezzar's reign would have been so badly informed.

That Belshazzar wasn't Nebuchadnezzar's son has been established by the discovery of Babylonian records. Information from these records, which can be found in almost any general Bible dictionary, commentary, or encyclopedia, show that Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B. C. and was succeeded by his son, but that son was Amel-Marduk, who was known as "Evil-merodach" in the Old Testament: "In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, king Evil-merodach of Babylon, in the year he began to reign, showed favor to King Jehoiachin of Judah and brought him out of prison" (Jer. 52:31; 2 Kings 25:27). So even the Bible itself acknowledges the reign of Amel-Marduk, who was assassinated in 560 B. C. during a coup led by his brother-in-law Nergal-Sharezer. As I noted in my previous reply to Hatcher, this coup and the subsequent reign of Nergal-Sharezer ended the dynasty of Nebuchadnezzar and his predecessor kings. So beginning with the reign of Nergal-Sharezer the "sons" (descendants) of Nebuchadnezzar were no longer kings in Babylon. Nergal-Sharezer reigned until 556 B. C., at which time he was succeeded by his son Labsi-Marduk, who very shortly was deposed by Nabonidus. Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, who moved his capital to Tema (on the Arabian peninsula) and apparently left Belshazzar in charge of Babylon. Thus, from 560 B. C. until its fall to Persia in 539 B. C., Babylon was ruled by kings who were not "sons" or descendants of Belshazzar. The fact that the writer of Daniel leaped from Nebuchadnezzar to Belshazzar, passing over completely the reigns of four intervening kings, certainly indicates a fuzzy knowledge of the history of this period. That lack of knowledge provides the best explanation for why the writer would have called Nebuchadnezzar the "father" of Belshazzar and Belshazzar the "son" of Nebuchadnezzar when the two were not related. He called them father and son because he thought that they were.

That the writer of Daniel thought that Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar's son is supported by a statement in the apocryphal book of Baruch. The statement purports to be a message that accompanied a contribution that the captives in Babylon sent to the priests who were still in Jerusalem.

They [the Babylonian captives] sent this message: The money we are sending you is to be used to buy whole-offerings, sin-offerings, and frankincense, and to provide grain-offerings; you are to offer them on the altar of the Lord our God, with prayers for king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and for his son Belshazzar, that their life may last as long as the heavens are above the earth. So the Lord will strengthen us and bring light to our eyes, and we shall live under the protection of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and of Belshazzar his son; we shall give them service for many a day and find favour with them (Baruch 1:10-12, REB version).

The writer of this book claimed that he wrote it in Babylon "on the seventh day of the month, in the fifth year after the capture and burning of Jerusalem by the Chaldaeans" (1:12). The fifth year after the burning of Jerusalem would have been 582 B. C., at which time Nebuchadnezzar was still reigning as king of Babylon. Obviously, the passage above was written from the literary point of view of one who lived during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, so the fact that he twice referred to Nebuchadnezzar and his son Belshazzar and expressed the hope that they would have long lives is a clear indication that the author of Baruch thought that Belshazzar was literally the son of Nebuchadnezzar. This passage, of course, is in an apocryphal work, which Hatcher and other inerrantists will argue that they are under no obligation to accept as an inspired work, but whether they consider it inspired or not, it is nevertheless a document that shows that during the 2nd century B. C. (the time that Baruch was also written), for reasons that we may never know, some believed that Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar were father and son. That a historical misimpression like this could have circulated in the 2nd century B. C. is quite believable; however, it is unreasonable to think that an important official in Nebuchadnezzar's royal court would have been so uninformed.

The Third Year of Jehoiakim: The writer of Daniel claimed that he and others were taken captive in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in the "third year of the reign of Jehoiakim" and carried away to Babylon (1:1-3), where he was selected to be educated in "the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans" (v:4). Jehoiakim was king of Judah from 609 to 598 B. C. (Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, 1987, p. 559), so if Nebuchadnezzar took him captive in the "third year of Jehoiakim," this would have occurred in 606 B. C., which was a year before Nebuchadnezzar became king. From Babylonian records previously mentioned, we know that Nebuchadnezzar engaged the Egyptians under the command of Pharaoh Necho II and defeated them at Carchemish in 605. Later that year, his father died, and he succeeded to the throne. The next year he sacked the Philistine city of Ashkelon for refusing to pay tribute to him, and from 604 to 601, he was kept busy securing the Egyptian front. He suffered a setback in 601 at the hands of Pharaoh Hophra, but by 598, he had recovered sufficiently to lay siege to Jerusalem. The Bible records this siege (2 Kings 24:10), and says that it was at this time that captives from Jerusalem, along with treasures from the temple, were taken to Babylon (2 Kings 24:13-16). This siege of Jerusalem happened not in the third year of Jehoiakim but in his last year. The Bible is unclear about what happened to him, whether he was killed during the siege or captured and taken to Babylon. Jeremiah 22:19 predicted that he would be "buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem," but 2 Chronicles 36:6 claims that Nebuchadnezzar "bound him in fetters" and took him to Jerusalem. Second Kings 24:6 merely says that Jehoiakim "slept with his fathers and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his stead," after which the chapter describes Jehoiachin's surrender to Nebuchadnezzar, who then carried him, the royal family, and other "chief men of the land" to Babylon. So both biblical and Babylonian records indicate that Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar in the last year of Jehoiakim's reign and not in his third year as the writer of Daniel indicated. It seems rather strange that this man, who possessed all of the great wisdom claimed in this book, did not even know what year he was taken captive to Babylon. It's reasonable to think that someone living four centuries later could have been confused about when Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and took captives back to Babylon, but it's hard to believe that one of these captives would not have known when it happened.

The Son of Ahasuerus: In 9:1, the writer of Daniel described the mysterious "Darius the Mede" as the "son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes," but Ahasuerus (better known as Xerxes) was the king of Persia from 485-465 B.C., so it isn't at all possible that "Darius the Mede," who allegedly reigned in Babylon in 539 B. C., was the son of someone who had not yet been born. Ahasuerus was the Persian king who allegedly made Esther his queen in the book named after this Jewish heroine. Since his father was Darius the Great, the writer of Daniel may have confused his Dariuses and anachronistically made a son of Darius the Great the king who had captured Babylon. At any rate, he made a historical mistake that would be understandable for an author writing four centuries later, but it is not a mistake that we could reasonably expect an important contemporary official of Babylon to make.

The Reign of Darius the Mede: The writer's confusion in matters like those discussed above is one reason why many biblical scholars reject the tradition that Daniel was written by an important Jewish official in the 6th-century Babylonian empire, but it is, of course, his mistake in thinking that a Median empire intervened between the Babylonian and Persian kingdoms that presents the most compelling reason why so many scholars think that this book could not have been written by an official who was party to most of the events recorded in it. Although "liberal" scholars whom biblical inerrantists deplore may disagree on minor points concerning the dating of the book, they are in general agreement that this mistake was a major blunder that would not have been made by someone who had been an important official in 6th-century Babylon. Since this mistake has already been discussed in my previous responses to Hatcher, I will only summarize the major points: (1) In 550 B. C., Cyrus conquered the kingdom of the Medes and made it a province or satrapy of the Persian empire. (2) In 539 B. C., Babylon fell to Cyrus, so by this time Media no longer existed. (3) Cyrus ruled in Babylon from 539-538 B. C. and then moved his residence to Ecbatana, a city in territory that Cyrus had taken in his conquest of Media. (4) The writer of Daniel clearly indicated that a "Darius the Mede" reigned in Babylon for at least one year between the reigns of Belshazzar and Cyrus the Persian, but by the time Daniel's mysterious "Darius the Mede" had finished his reign in Babylon and Cyrus had begun his, Cyrus (according to contemporary Persian records) had left Babylon and moved his official residence to Ecbatana. Who can believe that a high government official living in those times could have written a book that contained such historical inaccuracies as these?

A Peculiar Silence: To me, the important issue is not when the book of Daniel was written but whether it is accurate in what it reports, and I have pointed out several reasons why readers of this book should be suspicious of its accuracy. The debate, however, concerns the question of authorship, which Everette Hatcher has raised, so I will conclude this part of my response with a point that I consider worthy of consideration. Appealing to historical silence is considered a weak type of argumentation, but I am going to do it anyway, because I personally believe that historical silence can sometimes be very compelling. The book of Joshua, for example, claims that the sun once stood still and "hastened not to go down about a whole day" so that the Israelites could complete their defeat of Amorite forces (Josh. 10:12-14). If such an event as this had actually happened, it would have been noticed all over the world and disinterested, unbiased records of it would surely have been left, but since no such records exist, this is a compelling reason to doubt that this event ever happened (aside from the fact that the sheer absurdity of the claim also makes it unbelievable). The same is true of other biblical claims. The synoptic gospels allege that a three-hour period of darkness covered "all the land" at midday, as the sun's light failed (Matt. 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44). If such a phenomenal event as this had actually happened, it would have produced such widespread panic over "all the land" that many contemporary, disinterested records of it would have been left, but no such records exist, except for some rather dubious references to an "eclipse" that biblicists claim secular writers made in books that have not survived. This secular silence about such a remarkable claim is sufficient reason for rational people to assume that it never really happened. Silence, then, can sometimes be an important factor in evaluating the credibility of historical claims that were reported only in biased sources.

There is a matter of silence about the person who allegedly wrote the book of Daniel that, although not as compelling as the examples above, should nevertheless be considered in evaluating the claim that this book was written by an important 6th-century Babylonian official. The book of Ezekiel claims that it was written by a captive priest in Babylon who began to receive his visions in the "fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity" (1:2). If this claim is true, then the priest Ezekiel was in Babylon at the very time that Daniel allegedly rose to prominence in the royal court, yet he made no unequivocal references to a Daniel, who could have been the fellow captive that was appointed ruler over all the province of Babylon. I say that he made no "unequivocal references" to this Daniel, because Ezekiel did mention the name Daniel three times, but these were in contexts where this person was associated with ancient biblical heroes like Noah and Job (14:14, 20; 28:3). Since the name is spelled "Danel" in some texts, this Daniel is thought to be the "Danel" of Ugaritic legend found on clay tablets excavated at Ras Shamra, so it seems rather strange that Ezekiel would have written 48 chapters without once referring to a captive who had become a prominent Babylonian official.

In the next issue, I will discuss reasons why so many scholars date Daniel in the 2nd century B. C.
 



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