Authorship of Daniel

By James M. Rochford

While the book of Daniel claims to be written roughly around 530 BC, critics of the OT claim that it was written in 167 BC, during the Maccabean era. They claim that this book was written for the purpose of encouraging Jews who were revolting against the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who was a savage Greek tyrant, intent on suppressing Israel. While modern critics hold to this perspective, there are a number of reasons for believing in the biblical authorship of Daniel:

First, the book claims to be written by Daniel (Dan. 7:1; 12:4). If we deny Daniel’s authorship, then this places us in the uncomfortable position of calling this author a liar and a fraud.

Second, Jesus Christ believed that Daniel was a prophet and the historical author of this book. Jesus said, “You [will] see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet” (Mt. 24:15). Here Jesus believed Daniel was a real person, who was a “prophet.” As Jesus said this, the Temple was still standing, so he trusted that Daniel’s future prediction would come to fruition. He also believed Daniel predicted his future second coming accurately (Mt. 26:64; c.f. Dan. 7:13-14). If Daniel wasn’t historical, then Jesus was either lying, or he was ignorant. Neither option is viable for a Bible believer.

Third, Ezekiel—a contemporary prophet—believed in a historical Daniel. Ezekiel lived in roughly 575 BC, and he explains that Daniel is a real and historical figure (Ezek. 14:14, 20; 28:3). To deal with this, higher critics have stated that Ezekiel is actually referring to an ancient Canaanite hero from their Pagan mythology. However, Ezekiel places Daniel alongside Noah and Job (Ezek. 14:14) as faithful men. By contrast, Daniel—the son of Aqhat—from Pagan mythology was a Baal worshipper! Why would Ezekiel refer to this man as a hero of faith? In context, Ezekiel 14 denounces paganism and idolatry. Moreover, in Ezekiel 28:3, we read, “You are wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that is a match for you.” This is a clear reference to Daniel 1 and 2, where the prophet Daniel is able have wisdom in interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, when all of the false prophets were unable to do this.

Moreover, even critical scholars date Ezekiel very early. Regarding the dating of Ezekiel, Robert W. Manweiler writes,

Ezekiel is probably the most carefully dated of all Old Testament books… we here note that the majority of biblical scholars, even of those who reject the inspiration and unity of the Bible, believe most of the book was written in the sixth century BC by the prophet Ezekiel.[1]

OT scholar Gleason Archer also confirms that most critics of the Bible date this book similarly.[2] For instance, even arch-skeptic Richard Carrier assumes a sixth century date for the book of Ezekiel.[3]

Fourth, Josephus—a first century Jewish and Roman historian—believed that Daniel was a prophet and a historical person. Josephus believed that the book of Daniel was shown to Alexander the Great, when he came to Jerusalem in 330 BC. Of course, Daniel predicted the life of Alexander the Great. So when he arrived in Jerusalem, the priests showed him these prophecies. Josephus writes,

He (Alexander) came into the city; and when he went up into the temple, he offered sacrifice to God, according to the high priest’s direction, and magnificently treated both the high priest and the priests. And when the book of Daniel was showed to him, wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended… The next day he called them to him, and had them ask what favors they pleased of him… (and) he granted all they desired.[4]

Fifth, the author of 1 Maccabees believed Daniel was a historical person. In 1 Maccabees 2:59-61, we read, “Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael had faith, and they were saved from the flames. Daniel was a man of integrity, and he was rescued from the lion’s jaws. So bear in mind how in the history of the generations no one who trusts in Heaven ever lacks strength.” In context, Matthathias was writing about an event which took place in 167 BC. Therefore, to have written this, he must have already considered Daniel to be a historical figure. As Walvoord writes, “It is highly questionable whether the Jews living in the Maccabean period would have accepted Daniel if it had not had a previous history of canonicity.”[5]

Sixth, 1 Enoch cites Daniel. When we compare 1 Enoch 14:18-22 with Daniel 7:9–10, we see striking similarities. 1 Enoch dates to roughly 150 BC.

Seventh, historical evidence supports an early dating of Daniel. Daniel had accurate knowledge of sixth century events:

  1. Differentiates Susa and Elam properly. In Daniel 8:2, Daniel writes that he was “in the citadel of Susa, which is in the province of Elam.” Susa was assigned to a new province in the Persian era. The territory of Elam was shrunk during this time, and Susa was assigned to a new territory of Susiana (e.g. Columbus is in Ohio, but if the Ohio border was redrawn, it might be in Kentucky or Indiana). It would have taken a 6th century inhabitant of Susa to know of this historical detail. A 2nd century author would have been out of date with this historical nuance.[6]
  2. Properly identifies Belshazzar. By the time of Herodotus (450 BC), the name of Belshazzar had been forgotten entirely by the Greek historians. Therefore, in order to be familiar with Belshazzar, the writer of Daniel would need to have been around earlier. This would place him comfortably in the late sixth century, as the Bible claims. If the author wrote in the second century BC, then he would have needed to recover this historical figure apart from any known records. This seems historically anachronistic, which directs us to prefer an early date.[7]
  3. Accurate knowledge of cultural capital punishments. Daniel knew that Babylonians killed people by fire (Dan. 3:11), but Persians killed people by throwing them to lions (Dan. 6:7), which is historically accurate. Miller adds, “Fire was sacred to the Zoroastrians of Persia,” so they didn’t use this for executions.[8]

Eighth, literary evidence supports an early dating of Daniel. If we read Elizabethan English and contemporary street slang to a modern reader, they would have no difficulty identifying the timeframe of the writing. In the same way, the book of Daniel reads like a sixth century document—not a second century one. Yamauchi writes, “Discoveries, such as Adon’s letter in Aramaic (sixth cent. BC), have confirmed the fact that the Aramaic of Ezra and of Daniel is basically the same as the Aramaic of the sixth-fifth centuries as we know it from contemporary evidence.”[9] However, the Aramaic in Daniel does not fit with the contemporary Aramaic in 167 BC—the date critical scholars give to Daniel. Archer concurs that Daniel uses Imperial Aramaic, which was common in the 5th century BC, not in later periods.[10]

The book does contain loan words from other languages; however, this does not invalidate a sixth century author:

  1. Persian loan words: Daniel contains Persian loan words, but the book itself says that Daniel lived under Persian occupation. Stephen Miller writes, “According to the book, Daniel wrote after the Persian conquest of Babylon and even served in the new administration. He would naturally have utilized the new language when appropriate. In fact, about half of the (approximately twenty) Persian expressions found in the book are in the class of governmental terminology, names of officials and so forth, just the kinds of words one would expect to find updated to avoid confusion for persons living under the new regime.”[11]
  2. Greek loan words: There are three Greek loan words in the book of Daniel, which all refer to musical instruments (3:5). Higher critics argue that this shows that Daniel was written in the Greek era, but these words do not need to be Greek in origin (e.g. an English document containing the word piano or viola would not need to be influenced by Italian culture. This loan word simply crept into multiple cultures at once). Therefore, Greek culture could have pervaded the Persian culture before they invaded. K.A. Kitchen points out that at least one of these loan words (kitharis, Dan. 3:5, 7, 10, 15) was used by Homer in the 8th century BC.[12] Therefore, these words existed even before Daniel wrote his book. Miller writes, “Old Persian gave way to Middle Persian ca. 300 BC, so these terms must have come from an era before Persia fell to the Greeks since the Middle Persian period began at that time and there are no Middle Persian expressions in the book.”[13] When the LXX was translated in 130 BC (according to critical scholarship), these specific Persian loan words were horribly translated, which suggests that these words were already ancient and unknown in Greek at that time period.

Archer flips this argument on its head by writing, “The presence of Greek words turns out to be one of the most compelling evidences of all that Daniel could not have been composed as late as the Greek period.”[14] The fact that there are only three Greek words in the entire book of Daniel shows that this book must have preceded the rampant Greek cultural assimilation under Alexander the Great. By 170 BC, Palestine had been conquered by the Greeks for 160 years, and yet, not one word of Greek is in the Hebrew sections of this book. We should expect to find more Greek words in this book if it was composed in 167 BC. This flies directly in the face of a second century dating of Daniel.

Ninth, textual evidence supports an early dating of Daniel. There are fragments of the book of Daniel in Cave 4 of Qumran as early as 120-145 BC. A lot of textual errors have crept into these documents, which means that they must come from a very old original source, considering the meticulous care with which the Jews transmitted the Bible. That is, the Jews were extremely careful in copying and recopying their Bible, and it would normally take hundreds of years for any errors to creep in. If these fragments of Daniel from 120 BC are littered with textual errors, then we must wonder how old this book had existed before these scraps were found.

Tenth, Daniel can still be considered prophetic—even conceding a late date. Even if we concede a late date for Daniel, the prophecy of Christ’s death is still two hundred years before the event in question. Therefore, the prophetic element cannot be dismissed, either way.

After reviewing this abundance of evidence, we should also consider common objections to Danielic authorship from critics:

OBJECTION #1: Why was Daniel placed with the Writings—rather than the Prophets—in the Jewish Bible?

CLAIM: Christian Bibles and the LXX place Daniel with the last of four major prophetic books. However, Jewish Bibles place Daniel with the Writings—not the Prophets. Critical scholars argue that the prophetic canon was already closed before Daniel wrote, so he wasn’t included.

RESPONSE: Daniel’s occupation was not as a prophet—even though he did speak prophetic words. Mainly, Daniel served as a statesman and a royal official. J. Barton Payne concurs, “For though Christ spoke of Daniel’s function as prophetic, his position was that of governmental official and inspired writer, rather than ministering prophet.”[15] This could explain why he wasn’t placed with the other prophets—not because he didn’t make predictions—but because he didn’t hold this office in Israel. In Christ’s context (Mt. 24:15), he was specifically referring to Daniel’s prediction, which explains why he called him a prophet.

OBJECTION #2: Daniel speaks much too accurately of the Maccabean Revolt.

CLAIM: Even critical scholars admit that Daniel 11 is strikingly close to the events of Antiochus Epiphanes IV and the Maccabean Revolt. This is one of their central reasons for late-dating the book. Since Daniel speaks so accurately about these events, it appears that he was probably writing them historically­—not prophetically.

RESPONSE: This objection reveals the anti-supernatural bias of the critics. Notice that this objection does not offer evidence against the theistic worldview (i.e. a God existing who can predict the future); instead, it just assumes an atheistic or naturalistic worldview. When you read this argument, ask yourself: Where are their arguments that there is no God that can predict the future? Of course, they don’t offer any. Instead, they simply assume that this isn’t possible. Therefore, this argument is not for a historian or commentator; it is an argument for a philosopher of religion.

Isaiah claims that God knows “the end from the beginning” (Isa. 46:10), and Isaiah even predicts the person and work of Jesus Christ, which is several hundred years in advance –even if we assume that the critical dating of Isaiah is correct (Isa. 42, 49, 50, 53). Even given a late date for Daniel (~167 BC), we still see that Daniel predicts the death of Christ 200 years in advance. Therefore, this argument on the basis of denying predictive prophecy doesn’t hold water.

Moreover, if Daniel was writing during the time of the Maccabees, why doesn’t he specifically name them? If he was already lying, he could have simply gone the whole way. In addition, Daniel also doesn’t picture the earlier kings as incredibly evil—like Antiochus IV was. If Daniel was truly writing during this time period, we would expect him to place these Pagan kings in a poor light (like Antiochus), but he generally doesn’t.

OBJECTION #3: Daniel contains advanced theology which means it is most likely late dated.

CLAIM: Critics point out that Daniel mentions angels (Dan. 3:28; 6:22), the Messiah (Dan. 7:13-14; 9:25-26), and a resurrected final judgment (Dan. 12:2). These features of Hebrew thinking come later—not earlier—in their history.

RESPONSE: There are a number of problems with the assumptions within this objection. Each of these concepts can be seen throughout the OT—not just in the later apocalyptic books like Daniel:

Angels: Angels are actually mentioned throughout the entire OT, including the book of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Hosea, and Zechariah. Demons are mentioned in the earliest portions of Scripture as well (Lev. 17:7; Ps. 106:36-37; Deut. 32:17).

Resurrection: The resurrection of the dead is also mentioned in earlier books of the Bible (Isa. 26:19; Ezek. 37; Job 19:25-26; Ps. 22:29).

Messiah: Of course, Bible believers argue that Jesus is mentioned throughout the entire OT, because Jesus himself held to this view (Lk. 24:25-27, 44-46). For an extensive study on this, see our earlier article, “Jesus and Messianic Prophecy.”

[1] Newman, Robert C. The Evidence of Prophecy: Fulfilled Prediction as a Testimony to the Truth of Christianity. Hatfield, PA: Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1988. 21.

[2] After commenting on the biblical criticism of C.C. Torrey regarding a late dating of Ezekiel, Gleason Archer writes, “Few scholars, however, have followed him in this skepticism, and in more recent years the cumulative data of Palestinian archaeology… point to a complete cessation of Israelite occupation in Palestine during the greater part of the sixth century.” Archer, G., Jr. (1994). A survey of Old Testament introduction (3rd. ed.) (412). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carrier, Richard. Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2005. 249.

[4] Josephus Antiquities Book 11, chapter 8, section 5.

[5] Walvoord, John. Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation, Introduction, 1989. See “Authorship.”

[6] Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction: Revised and Expanded. Chicago, IL: Moody, 2007. 380.

[7] Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction: Revised and Expanded. Chicago, IL: Moody, 2007. 366.

[8] Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1994. New American Commentary. See “Issues Regarding Authorship and Date.”

[9] Cited in Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1994. New American Commentary. See “Issues Regarding Authorship and Date.”

[10] Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction: Revised and Expanded. Chicago, IL: Moody, 2007. 397.

[11] Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1994. New American Commentary. See “Issues Regarding Authorship and Date.”

[12] Cited in Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1994. New American Commentary. See “Issues Regarding Authorship and Date.”

[13] Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1994. New American Commentary. See “Issues Regarding Authorship and Date.”

[14] Archer, Gleason L. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction: Revised and Expanded. Chicago, IL: Moody, 2007. 396.

[15] J.B. Payne “Book of Daniel” Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 198.