When was the Book of Daniel Written?

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.

12 thoughts on “When was the Book of Daniel Written?

  1. Thanks so much for your research, thoughts , and comments with all your recent posts!! Wahoo Keep em coming and praise our great God from whom all blessings flow!

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  2. The main question that I drew from this, and have drawn before, is this: Does Daniel claim to be prophetic? As said, Daniel does not claim to be; however, obviously, we can see that there is some sort of prophecy going on. Instead of a cut-and-dry “yes” or “no,” I see more of a “both, and.” Daniel very well could have been interpreting current events with the power of the Holy Spirit, while also prophesying about future events. It is not necessarily a one-or-the-other answer. Now, the question is, does the date of the text change the power of the testimony of Daniel, or whoever wrote the book? In theory, yes it does. In actuality, we know that God is sovereign over all, and he would not have allowed an uninspired book to become a canonical work. If we question the authority of the prophecy, or the other elements of Daniel, we question the authority of God. I believe that is what it really boils down to. It’s not that Daniel is not a prophetic work; it very plainly seems to be. It’s a matter of where the line of prophecy begins and ends, and where the other elements begin and end.
    Because Daniel never claims to be prophesying himself, it could be that the supposed later writer of Daniel (in sixth century BC) could simply have been relaying the events that happened, after they happened. Perhaps the writer was inspired by the Lord to know the visions and dreams that Daniel had, and the writer relayed those within the book, even though they had already happened.
    Whichever way you paint it, it can be perceived as deception on the writers part, or a crazy, un-real prophetic work of God inspiring the writer to know all the ins and outs of Daniel’s encounters with the Lord.

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  3. Your post states, “… 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).” This is plain incorrect.

    Consulting just one DSS scholarly source, “The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance For Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity” by James VanderKam, Peter Flint 2002 reprinted 2013 states, “… Isaiah was one of the three most popular books at Qumran, with twenty-one manuscripts recovered. The only books represented more often are the Psalms, with thirty-six scrolls, and Deuteronomy, with thirty…. (p131)” and Table 6.5 (p150) ranks books according to the number of manuscripts, Daniel is tied for 7th with eight (as your post notes) fragmantary manuscripts.

    I don’t have Goldingay’s WBC on Daniel (which I take is the source quoted? no footnote on post) so I can’t check where the confusion on the Goldingay claim.

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    • I wondered about that as well when I wrote it, but apparently not long enough! I would think by sheer bulk, the Great Isaiah scroll itself would be longer than all of the Daniel fragments combined. Here is what he said:

      “The Qumran scrolls are a key resource for our knowledge of the varied Daniel literature from late Second Temple times. It seems plausible that the Qumran community’s interest in Daniel links with the sense of a need for deliverance and of the prospect of the end of the age, which it shares with the visions. Among the scrolls there are eight fragmentary copies of the collection of stories and Visions that appears in the version of Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures, which were copied over a period beginning only two or three decades after the deliverance in the 160s. There are thus more copies of Daniel from Qumran than of any other book within the Hebrew Scriptures which in itself suggests that this Daniel scroll had a special importance for the community.” John Goldingay, Daniel (Second Edition; WBC 30; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 99.

      The last line is the main point I used above, the paragraph is context. In the list that follows, he has eight documents listed, but then includes 4QFlorilegium plus a section on Danielic Material. I think what he has done is included all of the allusions to Daniel in other non-scrolls of Daniel to pad out that number. I will edit the post to avoid what seems to be an exaggeration from Goldingay. Thanks for pointing this out.

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    • Thanks Dr. Long for the “in-blog” credit! You run a great blog, I’ve followed for some time. Choice of books you review is excellent and interesting (not always the same thing), your series on assorted, especially 2nd temple texts, superb. That series particularly was tremendously helpful. I’ve spent considerable time in 1 Enoch, 4 Ezras, Jubilees, Ben Sira, etc… the “biggies” that overlap NPP related, free will vs sovereignty discussions, for example… attempting to understand the evidence we have for Judaism at the time and so the New Testament in its contexts. But how you introduced a text, one-by-one, balanced and reliable, was appreciated. Thanks for your site and God bless.

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  4. The historical and prophetic contexts are two distinct ways of seeing Daniel when two things are happening at the same time but within different time frames. I strongly believe revelations or visions the are prophetic is a foretelling information that is yet to be revealed. I think it takes the right season, time, and place to accumulate an action being form in the present time. the historical timeline is like a science evaluating the predestined words of an individual used by God and evidence is the actual events taking place. I’m not sure if I’m explaining myself to the those questions above, but this is what I was able to interpret my thoughts from the blog.

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  5. When was the Book of Daniel Written?
    “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”. Personally, I find it very interesting that there is no right date of when the book was written. We can only put our trust in those who are experts in the topic and have studied because it is obvious that it is very difficult to come up with the exact date of when it was written. Also, when it comes to the prophecies, I strongly believe that if the book itself does not consider Daniel a prophet, then he was just a very special person that God Himself appointed in order to be able to reveal dreams. It is obvious that God was the one helping Daniel foreshadow and predict the future as well interpreting dreams.

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  6. Lots to consider here and much of it is way over my head and far beyond me. But, none the less blame it on “conservatism” or “tradition”, but I think there is value in sticking to our “guns” so to speak, I apologize for the conservative pun, I could not help myself; in believing that Daniel is indeed a prophetic book speaking of things to come. If Daniel really did say, I had a vision, usually people are not having visions of things that have already happened. Many people will argue that Daniels “prophecy” is too detailed and much too accurate to be true prophecy. I think this is a way of trying to rationalize things that cannot be rationalized. Many prophets in the old testament spoke of things that were yet to come and many of those things happened as described in almost perfect detail. I think we would be walking on thin ice to say that Daniel is not a prophetic book, claiming to say that God would be leading us on to believe something about his word that really is not true in the first place.

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  7. It think we I first posted on here, I did a quick scan at the blog to be honest. Even, going back and reading it again some things are making a bit more sense. Now, if reading the book of Daniel may be the key to unlocking the mysteries of the book Revelation, how can we comprehend? That our faith will not be conflicted to things that are to be unraveled? Perhaps, if I can stand from the point of the attitude Daniel had throughout his interpretations, dreams, or visions and the information of truth in regards to nations and future end times, he had to still stand in faith and trust that God was the only Judge and comfort throughout trials and tribulations during his time and now our time of what we are facing todays world news. The bottom line is God sovereign control of history he assures his people are not left unaware and unalarmed, that somehow some way he will gives us a heads up of what’s to come and prepare us. Daniel, is a great example of someone who was able to stand firm, though may of been shaken up of so much questions in mind and not enough to answer the “what ifs,” questions. In 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” this Scripture reassured me that though things may be complicated with what’s going on with prophecies, but one thing for sure, the Lord is in total control and aware of what’s going on in our human history.

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  8. The actual date of the book of Daniel has always been a sort of itch at the back of my mind ever since taking Old Testament my sophomore year. Perhaps not absolutely life-shattering, but a subtle, forgettable annoyance that turns up every now and then. Personally, I would choose to believe that the book of Daniel is indeed a prediction of future events, written in the farther past of 586 BC rather than the second century BC. I was especially curious at the mention of Daniel along with Noah and Job in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 14. A closer examination of the notes in the ESV Study Bible reveals that it doesn’t have that much more to say than what is mentioned already by the post. However, it does say that chapter fourteen covers the destruction of an idolatrous group, with a remnant of a righteous few; comparing these righteous to Noah, Job, and Daniel. It is no secret throughout the book of Daniel that God provides for Daniel, as this provision is the reason that he and his fellow Jewish initiates are given their status in the king’s palace (Daniel 1:9, 17 ESVSB). The last reference of Daniel in Ezekiel is his prophecy against Tyre in Chapter 28; calling the prince of Tyre “wiser than Daniel.” (Ezekiel 28:3, ESVSB). Daniel was certainly known in Babylon as wise, The Queen mother of king Belteshazzar saying that “wisdom like the wisdom of the gods [was] found in him” (Daniel 5:11, ESVSB). If the book of Daniel was indeed written contemporary to Daniel, each of these passages make great sense.

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