One of the more difficult questions for studying the book of Daniel is when the book was written. The answer to this question touches on the genre of Daniel and the clear prediction of historical events leading up to the Maccabean Revolt and possibly the Roman Empire in the first century. For some readers Daniel is predictive prophecy made by a historical figure. For many others Daniel is an apocalyptic re-casting of current events from the perspective of the middle of the second century B.C. This is a highly contentious debate because conservatives tend to make the date of Daniel a litmus test for conservative orthodoxy. But the later date for the book is a similar test of one’s scholarly credentials. For most in the academy, “no serious commentator” would consider an earlier date.
The traditional view is that Daniel was written at the end of the sixth century or early in the fifth century, soon after Daniel’s death. The book would have been completed after 537 BC, the last date recorded in the Daniel. Although Daniel 7-12 is in the first person, there is no clear claim that Daniel himself is the author. The first six chapters of the book are stories about Daniel and make no claim to be written by Daniel himself.
One compelling factor is the presence fragments of nearly every chapter of Daniel among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although some of these fragments are very small, there are more” copies of Daniel than any other book in the Hebrew Bible” (Goldingay, Daniel2, 99). Goldingay seems to overstate his case here, including allusions to Daniel in other manuscripts such as 4QFlorilegium or the Prayer of Nabonidus. (Thanks to James R. for pointing this out, see the response below!)
One of the manuscripts can be dated to about 120 B.C., only a generation or so after the events recorded in the latter chapters of the book. For conservatives, this argues for an earlier date since it seems unlikely Daniel would be considered canonical only 40 years after it was written. As Goldingay points out, however, we have almost no information on what was or was not canonical in the first century BC and it is anachronistic to impose later canonical guidelines on the Dead Sea Scrolls. This argument may be part of an inductive argument pointing toward the possibility of an earlier date, but it is not certain proof.
For Stephen Miller, the three references to Daniel in Ezekiel (14:14, 20; 28:3) is the strongest argument for the early date of Daniel (Daniel, NAC 18, 42–43). He rejects claims that Ezekiel refers to a mythological Danel in the Ugaritic epic “The Tale of Aqhat.” Miller arguing it is unlikely for Ezekiel to cite an Ugaritic wise man favorably while condemning idolatry in Judah. The reference to Daniel in Ezekiel is also a highly contentious debate, but it does seem that Ezekiel is referring to three wise people from three distinct periods of history, Noah at the flood, Job at the time of Abraham, and a contemporary Daniel.
The consensus opinion of modern scholarship is that Daniel is an apocalyptic book written in the mid-second century B.C. Because the book contains very detailed prophecies of the Persian and Greek period, some scholars argue the book was written as late as 164 B.C., after the events described precisely in Daniel 11. Rather than prophecy, the book is a commentary on the relationship of the Jews and the nations, focusing on the (present) difficulties under the Greek Seleucid rule. This is the nature of apocalyptic prophecy such as the Animal Apocalypse which is in some ways similar to Daniel 11.
A date no later than 164 B.C. is commonly accepted because Daniel 11 describes Antiochus IV Epiphanes, his desecration of the Temple, and his persecution of the Jews. But Daniel 11 is clear on his death and does not seem to know about the Maccabean Revolt. For this reason, S. R. Driver and others date the book late enough to know Antiochus as the persecutor of Judea and to encourage Jews in facing persecution. The book presents God as sovereign over the nations. He has ordained the events leading up to the crisis of 164 B.C. But Daniel 11 does not know about the success of the Maccabean revolt or the re-dedication of the temple. Michael does not fight on behalf of Israel nor does God empower a son of man who will judge the nations and establish a kingdom that will never end (7:17).
Does it matter if the book of Daniel is written in the sixth or second century? Both of these two positions have good arguments and both answer objections to their view satisfactory (at least from their own perspective). What is the interpretive pay-off if Daniel is written earlier and predicts the general flow of history, or later and interprets that history?
If Daniel claims to be prophecy, re-dating of the book to the second century means Daniel is not really prophecy. For most conservatives, this would be a denial of inspiration of Daniel. By claiming something that is not true, then the book is a lie. If Daniel is not predictive prophecy outlining events leading up to God’s Kingdom, then one might wonder if God really has a plan in the first place.
But is Daniel actually a prophet? In the book itself, Daniel does not claim to be a prophet and he does not function as a prophet in way Isaiah or Jeremiah did. He either interprets the dreams of others or has a vision himself that must be interpreted. His visions are described as giving the sense of “what will be,” but Daniel himself is not prophesying “thus says the Lord.”
If one defines Daniel as “apocalyptic” as giving a veiled commentary on the history and social conditions of the present of the writer using a pseudonym, then there is nothing in Daniel that might be construed as “errant.” Within the genre of apocalyptic, Daniel as a second century document is perfectly acceptable to conservative descriptions of inspiration and inerrancy.
In the second edition of John Goldingay’s Daniel commentary (WBC 30, 2019), he observes Daniel scholarship in the twentieth century came to an impasse with respect to the date of Daniel. Both critical and conservative scholars approach the text with assumptions with respect to the date and reliability of the stories found in Daniel. For Goldingay, “it makes surprisingly little difference to the book’s exegesis whether the stories are history of fiction” (Daniel2, 134). What the book says about God is true regardless of when the book was written.
But is Goldingay correct? Does the date of the composition of Daniel make “makes surprisingly little difference”? What would it matter if Daniel was written in the second century? Does this destroy Christian faith? How would this challenge conservative approaches to Daniel? On the other hand, how would the interpretation of the book be different if Daniel is in fact predictive prophecy?
Some Bibliography: Robert Vasholz, “Qumran And The Dating Of Daniel” JETS 21 (1978): 315-321. This article is based on his dissertation, “A Philological Comparison of the Qumran Job Targum and Its Implications for the Dating of Daniel” (Ph. D. dissertation, University of Stellenbosch, 1976). T. Muraoka, “The Aramaic of the Old Targum of Job from Qumran Cave XI,” JJS 25 (1974) 425-433. K. A. Kitchen, “The Aramaic of Daniel,” Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel (London: Tyndale, 1965) 31-79.