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The Second Riddle: Some Assembly Required

Toys are great fun—when they work. Getting them to work is another story. Tiny plastic pieces, strange button-sized batteries, and pages of labels and instructions can turn playtime into a challenge worthy of a reality TV drama: “Father vs. Toy”—who will survive? Find out tonight at 7:00. Pity the father who—when assembling a toy drone—insists that it’s something else entirely! Our view of the whole informs how we see the parts, and even the parts testify to the nature of the whole.

We have noted a similar debacle in scholarly efforts to understand the Book of Daniel. A determination to treat this book as a merely human production has kept most contemporary academics from understanding questions as fundamental as authorship and purpose.

We have considered several aspects of this problem, but one question in particular not only demonstrates the error of the current theory but also demands that we take seriously the claim that this book is nothing less than Holy Scripture.

Wrong Piece or Wrong Perspective?

Recall that the general consensus holds that the Book of Daniel “was put together shortly after the Maccabean crisis”—a time of terrible struggle and suffering under the gentile king, Antiochus Epiphanes.1  The argument rests on the assumption that the accuracy of the prophecies detailed in Daniel is not a result of revelation but the work of pseudepigraphical authors framing the events of their time as prophecies written by Daniel centuries before. But the theory doesn’t work; carefully consider the following comment by T.J. Meadowcroft:

“A Babylonian/Persian backdrop to chs. 2–6 is evident, yet such is not the case for the later chapters. At the same time, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Aramaic/Hebrew book of Daniel is intended as a unity. The literary links across a number of form divisions ensure that this is so. The implication is that, although the concerns of chs. 2–6 are early, their incorporation into a unit with chs. 7–12  and redaction into the present shape are almost certainly late. It is surprising that the integrity of the early stories is so well preserved despite the later developments. Moreover, why has the interest in Gentile Nebuchadnezzar been retained in the Masoretic Text alongside the extremely negative view of world rulers contained in the visions?2 

As we have seen, the language and literary features of Aramaic Daniel indicate that this section goes all the way back to the early Persian Empire. Most scholars hold that this part of the book was heavily redacted—rewritten, repurposed, and connected to additional material (chapters 1, 7–12)—taking its final form for the sake of Jews living during or after the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes. But this theory cannot explain why Daniel came into its final form because it does not account for the significant differences found between Daniel’s two genres.

Where’s the Red Ink?

Chapters 2–6 have not experienced the redaction one would expect if the theory were true. For one thing, these chapters include a great deal of historical material that was not immediately relevant to the Jews of the second century. The Babylonian and Persian empires were but a memory, and their influence was rapidly eroding under the tides of Greek and Roman dominance. There are several stylistic elements in the Book of Daniel that we do not find in the works of later Jewish writers such as the apostles Matthew and John. Take, for instance, the Persian-era affinity for long-lists (i.e: Dan. 3:5, 7, 10, 15; 5:4, 23).

The detailed lists found throughout the first half of Daniel not only demonstrate that these chapters were composed in the Persian era but also tell us that they remained largely unaltered right up to our own day. The lists are but one of a number of stylistic elements that demonstrate that these stories largely went untouched by a redactor’s hands.3 

The Question of Theme

A far bigger matter is the question of theme. Consider the problem that scholars face when they state that “the book itself was put together shortly after the Maccabean crisis.” If the book took its final form after the tremendous trial under gentile hands, then why do the early tales of Daniel retain such a positive view of rulers such as Nebuchadnezzar and Darius? One would have expected the redactors to have either altered these aspects of the stories or to have removed them entirely. The current theory requires scholars to explain why Aramaic Daniel (2–6) went relatively unchanged in spite of severe gentile persecution.

A Simpler Explanation

What would keep the redactor’s hand away from these chapters, even amid significant pressure? Would it not be that these chapters were already acknowledged to be something more than mere human work? Moreover, the passages continued unaltered even amid the widespread influence of pseudepigrapha, something one cannot account for if Daniel was merely religious fiction.

None of this fits with the consensus opinion that the Book of Daniel was a pseudepigraphical production. Where is the poetic license in these chapters and where is the bias? A remarkable respect was shown to these passages from very early on; a reverence that accompanies Scripture.


1.  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.

2.   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), 274 (emphasis mine).

3.   Zdravko Stefanovic, “The Aramaic of Daniel in Light of the Old Aramaic,” in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 129, ed. David J.A. Clines & Philip R. Davies, (Midsomer Norton: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992), 36–37.

New to this series? To read the first installment of the Two Riddle series click here or start at the very beginning of the Daniel series by clicking here.

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