Daniel

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The book of Daniel contains specific details about developments that are mentioned in extant historical writings. From ancient times, there have been persons who simply could not believe that these historical occurrences could have been foretold long in advance and, therefore, dismissed the book of Daniel as having been compiled after the fact.

One of these individuals was the philosopher Porphyry who lived most of his life in the third century CE. In the introduction to his commentary on Daniel, Jerome (c. 347 to 419 or 420 CE) wrote about this philosopher’s opinion. Porphyry claimed that the book of Daniel was composed by “some individual living in Judea” at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (the Seleucid king of Syria whose reign ended in l64 BCE). This philosopher, according to Jerome, “alleged that ‘Daniel’ did not foretell the future” but “related the past” and “that whatever he spoke of up until the time of Antiochus contained authentic history, whereas anything he may have conjectured beyond that point was false,” for “he would not have foreknown the future.”

A view similar to that of Porphyry has gained widespread acceptance in modern times. Although very early manuscript fragments of the book of Daniel have been discovered (the earliest one considered to date from about 125 BCE), many still feel that the book was compiled about 165 BCE or about the time the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes ended. Others, however, regard the existence of the ancient scrolls as indicating that the book could not have gained the acceptance of the Jews in such a short time, a mere 40 years.

One evidence that Daniel lived long before the second century BCE is a reference to him in the book of Ezekiel. It is there stated that, if Noah, Daniel, and Job had lived in Jerusalem at that time, they alone (not even son or daughter) would be saved from destruction. (Ezekiel 14:14, 20) With reference to the king of Tyre, Ezekiel 28:3 says, “you are wiser than Daniel.” Those who do not accept the book of Daniel as historical dismiss the references in Ezekiel, pointing to the fact that the name is spelled differently. There is no yod (Y) and so the name may be read as “Danel.” Different spellings for the same name, however, are not uncommon. One example is that there are two spellings for the Babylonian monarch who conquered Jerusalem — “Nebuchadnezzar” and “Nebuchadrezzar.” (2 Kings 24:1; Jeremiah 21:2)

In the first century CE, the Jewish historian Josephus wrote extensively about Daniel and the book of Daniel. Regarding Daniel he said, “He retains a remembrance that will never fail, for the several books that he wrote and left behind him are still read by us till this time; and from them we believe that Daniel conversed with God; for he did not only prophesy of future events, as did the other prophets, but he also determined the time of their accomplishment; and while the prophets used to foretell misfortunes, and on that account were disagreeable both to the kings and to the multitude, Daniel was to them a prophet of good things, and this to such a degree that, by the agreeable nature of his predictions, he procured the goodwill of all men; and by the accomplishment of them, he procured the belief of their truth.” (Antiquities, X, xi, 7)

An example of Daniel’s prophecies to which Josephus pointed is the one regarding the ram and the he-goat found in Daniel chapter 8. With reference to developments involving the he-goat and later events, Josephus wrote, “The he-goat signified that one should come and reign from the Greeks, who should twice fight with the Persian, and overcome him in battle, and should receive his entire dominion; that by the great horn which sprang out of the forehead of the he-goat was meant the first king; and that the springing up of four horns upon its falling off, and the conversion of every one of them to the four quarters of the earth, signified the successors that should arise after the death of the first king, and the partition of the kingdom among them, and that they should be neither his children nor of his kindred that should reign over the habitable earth for many years; and that from among them there should arise a certain king that should overcome our nation and their laws, and should take away our political government, and should spoil the temple, and forbid the sacrifices to be offered for three years’ time. And indeed it so came to pass, that our nation suffered these things under Antiochus Epiphanes, according to Daniel’s vision, and what he wrote many years before they came to pass. In the very same manner Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them. All these things did this man leave in writing, as God had showed them to him, insomuch, that such as read his prophecies, and see how they have been fulfilled, would wonder at the honor wherewith God honored Daniel.” (Antiquities, X, xi, 7)

Besides his comments on portions of the book of Daniel, Josephus recorded a tradition that when Alexander the Great was shown the part in the book “wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that he himself was the person intended.” (Antiquities, XI, viii, 5)

It is difficult to see how Josephus could have written what he did if the book of Daniel was compiled in the second century BCE. When writing Against Apion (I, 8), Josephus stated that none of the books recognized by the Jews as having the highest authority were written after the reign of the Persian monarch Artaxerxes. Concerning books from a later period, he wrote, “It is true, our history has been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but has not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time; and how firmly we have given credit to those books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change in them; but it becomes natural to all Jews, immediately and from their very birth, to esteem those books to contain divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be, willingly to die for them.” The expressions of Josephus make it clear that he must have considered the book of Daniel to be one of the “holy books.” In his Life (Section 75), Josephus specifically says that, by the concession of Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem who later became the emperor of Rome, he had the “holy books,” and his extensive comments about the contents of the book of Daniel indicate that he did have a copy in his possession.

Like Jerome at a later time, those who identified themselves as Christians in earlier centuries, believed that Daniel was a prophet who accurately foretold future events. But persons like Porphyry, though unable to deny that specific developments mentioned in the book of Daniel were historically verifiable, countered this with the contention that the book was written after the fact. The attack on the book of Daniel prompted Jerome to write, “But this very attack testifies to Daniel’s accuracy. For so striking was the reliability of what the prophet foretold, that he could not appear to unbelievers as a predictor of the future, but rather as a narrator of things already past.”

For the most part, the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Daniel scrolls read the same, including the Hebrew and Aramaic sections. The differences that do exist are minor, and a few of them are significant. This, however, is not the case regarding the Septuagint. The oldest extant Greek text (P967), thought to date from the third century CE, departs from the reading of the Hebrew-Aramaic text in major ways, with extensive sections that are not contained in the extant Hebrew-Aramaic text. Additionally, the Greek text is not in the same order. The material in chapter 4 is followed by what is contained in chapters 7 and 8 and then chapters 5 and 6. The same order as the Hebrew text resumes with the contents of chapter 9.