Biblical scholarship yields valuable insights into the Bible, its history, and its intricacies. Yet, like every part of life, unbelief often gets in the way of our efforts to understand and grow. Biblical scholars have contributed to our understanding of Daniel by helping us to understand the genres and literary structures that make up this book. Unfortunately, however, an unwillingness to acknowledge the book’s divine origin consigns them to forcing square pegs into round holes.
Recall that most contemporary scholars hold to the view that the Book of Daniel was created by devout Jews around the second century BC, around four hundred years after Daniel was taken to Babylon. This view began on the assumption that the prophecies of Daniel could not have been actual revelation, but instead were a presentation of history as prophecy, a phenomenon known as “vaticinia ex eventu.” In other words, the author(s) had written the events of their time as though these same events were prophesied long before.
This activity was not uncommon in the Hellenistic world, being witnessed in books known today as pseudepigrapha (Greek for “with false subscriptions”), that is, books written under an assumed name, frequently that of a biblical hero such as Enoch, Solomon, or Daniel.1 The popularity of pseudepigrapha among religious Jews was taken as justification for regarding Daniel’s prophecies as nothing more than history pretending to be prophecy. Note that this line of argument would require that the Book of Daniel take its final form sometime around 167 BC, the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, a notorious gentile ruler who features prominently in the visions of Daniel 7–12.2
Court Tale Trials
Scholars argue that the court tales of Daniel 2–6 were composed, collected, and redacted over centuries with the ultimate purpose of encouraging Jews to remain faithful amid the persecutions they suffered by gentile rulers, such as Antiochus Epiphanes. The theory goes that the various stories were put together and redacted—significantly altered—by later editors to produce a work suitable for their own purposes. But try as they may, the corners of the square peg refuse to round out.
For one, the stories are composed in a narrative style that is typical of biblical works but unlike works of the Hellenistic period, raising the question of how a book allegedly completed in the Hellenistic period could be so different in style and content.
Daniel’s Narrative Style
The narrators of Old Testament Scripture rarely commented on what their characters were thinking but rather required the readers to deduce the motives and emotions of the characters by careful observation of outward actions and events.
Biblical stories tell themselves, rarely requiring the narrator to provide additional commentary and often unfolding without giving the reader much of an idea of what will happen next. This same narrative style is found in the first half of Daniel; rather than spoil the show, the narrator requires us to quake with Belshazzar (Dan. 5:5–6) and wait with Darius (Dan. 6:16–18) as their stories play out to the finish. In the Book of Daniel, the “covert Aramaic narrator” allows the character’s actions and the stories’ developments to give the message to the reader.3
Later Narrative Style
A different narrative style is employed in the Greek form of Daniel found in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament. Here the stories of Daniel are told from the perspective of an all-seeing narrator who is far more overt and involved in the story, providing significantly more commentary and even anticipating events before they unfold.
Now notice this! The development of the Septuagint translation (250–150 BC) overlaps the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (175–164 BC). So if the Book of Daniel was written at this same time period, why does it differ in narrative style from the Septuagint translation?
But Wait, What’s This!
More than that, this timeline allows practically no time for the final form of Daniel to become known and accepted as Scripture. Was the Book of Daniel composed around 167 B.C. and immediately accepted as Scripture, so as to be translated into the Septuagint?
Finally, it is worth noting that the Septuagint translation of Daniel was eventually supplanted in its role as the authoritative Greek version, giving place to the Theodotion, a Greek translation that is much closer to the Aramaic Daniel of the Masoretic Text.4 Add to all this the linguistic evidence, and it seems clear that the stories of Aramaic Daniel 2–6 must have been written long before the second century BC.
So the narrative style of Daniel’s stories suggests that it was written during biblical times. Moreover, its dissimilarity to the Septuagint suggests that it was not written during the Hellenistic era. Finally, the facts of history give practically no time for an exceedingly complex book to be composed, recognized, and ultimately received as Scripture! The literary, linguistic, and historical factors don’t allow for even a late-date redaction for the Book of Daniel. It simply doesn’t fit.
But there’s one question that surmounts all of what we have considered so far, but that will have to wait until next week.
Have a question or comment? We’d love to hear from you. Submit your response in the box below.
2. John J. Collins, “Current Issues in the Study of Daniel,” in The Book of Daniel: Composition & Reception, V1, ed. John J. Collins & Peter W. Flint (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 2.; see also Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 2007), 361.
3. Meadowcroft, T.J. Meadowcroft, “Aramaic Daniel and Greek Daniel: A Literary Comparison,” in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 198, ed. David J.A. Clines & Philip R. Davies, (Midsomer Norton: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 263–264.