The Critics’ Admissions Concerning Daniel

The Bible and Archaeology (1/5)

I have been amazed at the prophecies in the Bible that have been fulfilled in history. John MacArthur went through every detail of the prophecy concerning Tyre and how history shows the Bible prophecy was correct.
I love the Book of Daniel and I am starting a series today on the historicity of the Book of Daniel.


Farrell Till has asserted that reputable Bible scholars believe that the book of Daniel was not written by an individual named Daniel during the sixth century B.C. (TSR, Vol 4.3, p. 12). These scholars hold that the writer lived in the time of the Maccabees, and his “purpose was to give his countrymen reason to believe that centuries earlier a prophet of Yahweh had foreseen the rise of the Seleucid Empire and had predicted the triumph of the Maccabean struggle for independence against Antiochus Epiphanes” (TSR, Vol. 7.3, p. 3). William Sierichs, Jr. also takes this position in his article, “Daniel in the Historians’ Den” (TSR, Vol. 7.4, p.8). Sierichs comments, “Daniel can’t get Babylonian history straight, but he does pretty well by the Hellenistic era. Obviously, whoever wrote the book was a very solid citizen of the 2nd century B.C.E., whose `prophecies’ were wholly retroactive.”

Both Till and Sierichs have been influenced by biblical scholars who have embraced the higher critical views of the 1800’s. However, most people have overlooked the fact that these same scholars have made several admissions which are damaging to their Maccabean thesis.

The first admission concerns the conservative’s view that Rome is the fourth kingdom identified in Daniel’s prophecy. Till states the critic’s logic: “A flaw in this interpretation is the obvious fact that the writer of Daniel considered the median and Persian kingdoms to be separate empires, because he had the Neo-Babylonian empire falling to `Darius the Mede’ (5:30-31). This is historically inaccurate (just one of many historical inaccuracies in the book of Daniel), because reliable records of the time indicate that Cyrus the Great captured Babylon and ended the Neo-Babylonian kingdom. Nevertheless, the writer of Daniel told of a reign under “Darius the Mede: that preceded the reign of the Persian king, Cyrus the Great (6:28; 10:1). So if the writer believed that the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to the Medes and then the Medes fell to the Persians, then the fourth kingdom in Daniel’s interpretation would have been Alexander’s Hellenistic empire” (TSR, Vol. 4.3, p. 12).

Notice that Till bases his conclusion on the “obvious fact that the writer of Daniel considered the Median and Persian kingdoms to be separate empires….” However, the famous Bible critic, Dr. Samuel Driver, admitted, “In the book of Daniel the `Medes and Persians’ are, it is true, sometimes represented as united (Daniel 5:28; 6:8, 12, 15, cf. 8:20)” (The Book of Daniel: Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Cambridge: University Press, 1900, p. 29). Conservative scholar Stephen Miller comments: “Such an admission seems fatal to Driver’s position, for if the author was aware at one point that the two nations were united into one empire, he certainly would not have construed them as separate both physically and chronologically elsewhere in the same book” (Daniel: The New American Commentary, Nashville, TN, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1994, p. 95).

Moreover, in Daniel 5:28, the word peres has the same consonants (only the consonants were written in ancient Aramaic and Hebrew scripts) as the Aramaic term translated “Persians” and likely was a paronomasia (a word play) hinting that the division of the kingdom would be accomplished by the Persian armies. Bible critic Norman W. Porteous admits this hints at “the victory of Persia over Babylon” (Daniel, The Old Testament Library, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965, p. 81). Furthermore, the Bible critic John A. Montgomery agrees (“A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel,” International Critical Commentary, T. and T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1979, p. 263).

Arthur Jeffrey claims the author assumed from his reading of Old Testament prophecies (Isaiah 13:17; 21:2, and Jeremiah 51:11, 28) that the Medes conquered Babylon before the Persians (Arthur Jeffrey, “The Book of Daniel,” Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville: Abingdon, 1956, p. 434). However, Isaiah 21:2 blows this theory out of the water, because it speaks of Elam and Media as the joint-conquerors of Babylon. The critic H. H. Rowley admits: “This was doubtless written after Cyrus, king of Anshan, in southwest Elam, had brought the rest of Elam under his sway, when to the Hebrew observer it appeared likely that these two powers might unite in the destruction of Babylon. And since Elam is mentioned first, it is possible that the passage dates from a time after the absorption of Media by Cyrus” (H. H. Rowley, Darius the Mede and the Four World Empires in the Book of Daniel, 1935; reprint, Cardiff: University of Wales, 1964, p. 58).

Till correctly notes that the writer of Daniel had “Darius the Mede” conquering Babylon, but nowhere does the writer state that Darius was “the king of the Medes” or the “king of Media.” Dr. Robert H. Pfeiffer of Harvard University admitted the author of Daniel was “a very learned man” and “a sage” (Robert H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948, p. 757), but Pfeiffer must have assumed that this “sage” had never read 2 Chronicles 36:20 where it is said that the Jews were servants to Nebuchadnezzar “and his sons until the reign of the kingdom of Persia.” Clearly this indicates that the Persian reign came immediately after the Babylonian reign.

The second admission concerns the madness of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel chapter four. William Sierichs, Jr., states that “the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity may be a reference to a bout of insanity or lengthy depression in Nabonidus, who apparently was very unpopular in Babylon…” (TSR, Vol. 7.4, p. 8). This is the position held by many modern critical scholars today. Conservatives prefer a different explanation. Stephen Miller comments: “Some scholars have deemed this chapter primarily a fictional account, likely derived from the same source as the so-called `prayer of Nabonidus’ (4QPrBab), an Aramaic fragment discovered at Qumran in 1952 (D. N. Freedman, “The Prayer of Nabonidus,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Vol. 145, 1957, pp. 31-32). Though affinities exist between Daniel 4 and the “Prayer of Nabonidus,” they are far outweighed by the differences (e.g., name of the king, nature of the illness, and location). It seems reasonable to categorize the Nabonidus story as a distorted version or a later application of the biblical narrative” (p. 145).

Nevertheless, the critics insist there is no hint in the historical record that indicates it was Nebuchadnezzar with this strange case of madness that resulted in a seven-year absence. R. H. Pfeiffer called Daniel chapter four an “unhistorical tale,” and “a confused reminiscence of the years when Nabonidus spent at Tema in Arabia” (p. 758). Norman W. Porteous states, “indeed there is no record of Nebuchadnezzar’s having had leave of absence from his royal duties on account of insanity” (p. 70). However, later on the same page Porteous admits that fellow Bible critics Bevan, Montgomery, Bentzen, and Jeffrey have recorded such a story. Abydenus’s account is preserved by Eusebius (Praeparatio Evangelica, 9.41.1) and is reproduced by John A. Montgomery (p. 221).

Abydenus says that in the last days of Nebuchadnezzar, the king was “possessed by some god or other” while in his palace, and announced the coming of a Persian mule (i.e., Cyrus), who would bring the people into slavery. Then says Abydenus, “He, when he had uttered this prediction, immediately disappeared” (Praeparatio Evangelica, 9.41.1). Surely Porteous is wrong to admit the existence of this story by the historian Abydenus, and at the same time insist that “there is no record of Nebuchadnezzar’s having had leave of absence from his royal duties…”

The third and fourth admissions concern linguistic arguments. Farrell Till asserts: “Bible fundamentalists like to think that Daniel was written in the sixth century B. C., shortly after the events that the book closes with during the reign of Cyrus the Great, who had conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. Few reputable Bible scholars, however, would fix the date that early, because the book exhibits signs of a much later authorship. Scholars cite the writer’s obvious confusion about political events of the time that a contemporary would have surely been familiar with, the linguistic style (especially the section written in Aramaic), and other factors too numerous to discuss in detail as evidence that the book was written at the extreme end of the Old Testament period (no sooner than the second century)” (TSR, Vol. 4.3, p. 13).

Dr. Samuel Driver also made much of the Aramaic of the Book of Daniel. he stated, “The Aramaic of Daniel (which is all but identical with that of Ezra) is a Western Aramaic dialect, of the type spoken in and about Palestine” (p. 59 of the introduction of Driver’s commentary on Daniel), and he went on to suggest that archaeology had confirmed this. However, Jeffrey admits that the Aramaic in the Book of Daniel “cannot be pressed as evidence for a particular date, for it is that type of Aramaic which grew up for official use in the chancelleries and came to be widely used in the ancient Near East” (p. 349). Jeffrey cites more recent discoveries of fifth-century Aramaic texts that totally discredit Driver’s view (Franz Rosenthal, Die Aramaistische Forschung, [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1939] pp. 66-71).

Till has highly recommended Jeffrey’s work on Daniel (TSR, Vol. 7.3, p. 3, and Vol 7.4, p. 8). According to Till, Jeffrey’s material “gives a detailed analysis of the Book of Daniel to show, first of all, that it was not written by its namesake who allegedly lived in Babylon during the captivity, but by an unknown author during the time of the Seleucid Empire, which arose from the partitioning of Alexander’s kingdom after his death” (TSR, Vol. 7.3, p. 3). Does Jeffrey’s work accomplish this feat? Let’s look at a couple of popular arguments that he uses.

The fourth admission by the critics concerns the term “Chaldeans.” Jeffrey argues: “The use of the word kasdim (Chaldeans), not in the proper ethnic sense which it has, for example, in Jeremiah, but to mean a caste of wise men, points to a time when the word was commonly used for a class of priestly astrologers, diviners, or magicians, a sense the word has in the pages of Strabo or Diodorus Siculus, who wrote in the first century B.C. (p. 349).

Dr. Driver agrees that the argument concerning the use of the term “Chaldeans” is very convincing. So much that he places it first in the list of his three strongest arguments that show that the book of Daniel was composed in Palestine “during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes” (pp. 47-56 of the Introduction).

How strong is this argument? On page 12 of Driver’s commentary, Driver himself takes exceptions to some of the assertions made by Jeffrey. Driver admits that in Daniel 5:30, and 9:1 the author of the book of Daniel did use the ethnic sense of the word “Chaldeans.” Then on the same page Driver admits this term “Chaldeans” is found “in Herodotus (Herodotus, Histories, 1.181-183, c. 440 B.C.), and is common afterwards in the classical writers” (p. 12). Furthermore, Driver also admits that evidence indicates that such a group of wise men as pictured in the book of Daniel did exist as a group as early as 2000 B.C. (p. 14).

Francis Schaeffer summarized Driver’s argument: “Remember this is his first strong argument. he is going to take the book of Daniel and throw away its historical date on the basis of these `so-called’ strong arguments. Now we have defined this question in regard to the term “Chaldeans.” The writer knew the ethnic sense. This group did exist from a long time before. About 90 years later everybody acknowledges that the word was used in this sense to the wise men. And so he is going to throw away the book of Daniel and its dating and all that it means on the basis that this specific group of wise men, who were well known from long before and afterwards, were not called this term in this 90-year span (530 B.C. to 440 B.C.). Now, once you word it this way, it doesn’t look so strong” (Francis Schaeffer’s five part series, Dr. Driver’s Criticism of the Book of Daniel, tape #2).

Is it any wonder that the bible critic J.J. Collins admits that the author’s use of the term “Chaldeans” cannot be used to date his material (Daniel, Hermeneia, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994, pp. 137-138). In fact, Jeffrey makes a similar error in his commentary on Daniel 10:1. He states: “Cyrus is here called `king of Persia.’ This may be merely a statement of fact, for he was king of Persia, but if it is meant as an official title, it is an anachronism in the mouth of Daniel. The title ‘king of Persia’, was Hellenistic usage and not the usage of the Achaemenid kings at this time” (p. 500).

Jeffrey overlooked the fact that Robert Dick Wilson contradicted this view expressly with what he found in the tablets of the Persian period (Robert Dick Wilson, “The Title `King of Persia’ in the Scriptures,” The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. 15, 1917, pp. 90-145). Wilson commented: “It is evident therefore, that there are thirty-eight distinct extra-biblical instances of the use of this title from 545 to about 400 B.C.; and that these instances are found in twenty different works by nineteen different persons (p. 100).”

This argument of Jeffrey’s is completely put to flight concerning Daniel 10:1. It shows how much many of these scholars continue to repeat the same old arguments. No doubt, Jeffrey had read this argument in Driver’s commentary (p. 152), but he had failed to read the refutation provided by Wilson seventeen years later. I must admit that I have just repeated the arguments of others on occasion without taking a closer look at both sides of the argument. For example, I was guilty of making it appear that the interpretation of Daniel 5:7 is a simple matter. Driver says the verse should read, “Shall rule as one of three in the kingdom” (p. 64), but most conservative scholars claim the translation should be “the third highest ruler in the kingdom” (NIV). Conservatives claim this is an indirect reference to Nabonidus while the critics relate the passage to Daniel 6:2, which speaks of three rulers of equal rank and uses a similar word.

At first I sided with the conservatives, but after further investigation I must admit that I am undecided. What created doubts in my mind? It was the admission of three conservative scholars that the critics may be right on this verse. On 4-26-96, I wrote Dr. Robert L. Alden about this verse. He responded: “I looked up both Wood and Young as well as a couple [of] other commentaries on Daniel. I also looked over the Aramaic original just to see what the syntax of the verse was. I understand the reason for the differences of opinion that you have discovered and am not sure which side of the log I fall off. Perhaps the concluding sentence at the end of the first paragraph in E.J. Young’s commentary is best, `but probably it is not to be too dogmatic concerning the precise meaning of this word….’ Incidently [sic] I had E. J. Young when I was a student at Westminster Theological Seminary 1959- 1962. And I worked with Leon Wood on the translation of the NIV.”

Earlier I thought I had a lot of ammunition with the admission by critics W. Sibley Towner and R.A. Anderson that the conservatives had the translation of Daniel 5:7 correct (W. Sibley Towner, Daniel, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Atlanta: John Knox, 1984, p. 73; R. A. Anderson, Signs and Wonders, International Theological Commentary, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984, p. 57). However, now I don’t think it is wise to press the issue.

Nevertheless, there are two other issues in this chapter that I will press, and they both concern Belshazzar. In the article “Daniel in the Historians’ Den,” William Sierichs, Jr., states that Belshazzar was not the “son” of Nebuchadnezzar, and “Belshazzar was not the ruler as the Book of Daniel claims, and he was never king” (TSR, Vol. 7.4, p. 8).

These are two of the most common arguments used against the book of Daniel, but even the radical critic, Dr. Philip R. Davies has admitted that both are “weak arguments” (Philip R. Davies, Daniel, Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985, p. 31). He stated: “Critical commentaries, especially around the turn of the century, made much of the fact that Belshazzar was neither a son of Nebuchadnezzar, nor king of Babylon. This is still sometimes repeated as a charge against the historicity of Daniel, and resisted by conservative scholars. But it has been clear since 1924 (J.A. Montgomery, Daniel, International Critical Commentary, Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1927, pp. 66-67) that although Nabonidus was the last king of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty, Belshazzar was effectively ruling Babylon. In this respect, then, Daniel is correct. The literal meaning of son should not be pressed” (pp. 30-31).

I call Davies a radical critic because he refuses to accept the archaeological evidence that indicates that king David existed (Philip R. Davies, “`House of David’ built on Sand,” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1994, pp. 54-55), and more recently he suggested that Hezekiah’s tunnel was not dug by Hezekiah’s men when the Bible claims, but was constructed centuries later. However, several eminent archaeologists put this reinterpretation to rest (“Defusing Pseudo-Scholarship,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1997, pp. 41-50). For Davies to concede anything, it must really be self-evident. Therefore, I put forth his admissions as especially meaningful. Furthermore, Davies does not accept the same view that Till and Sierichs do concerning the date of the authorship of the first six chapters of Daniel.

In the 19th century the consensus among Bible critics was that all of the chapters of Daniel were written in Palestine during the 2nd century B.C. However, in the 20th century most of the critics admit the first six chapters could have been written as early as the 6th century B.C. in Babylon. Philip R. Davies comments, “According to nearly every modern commentator, the tales of chapter 1-6 are originally products of a Jewish community in a Gentile environment” (Philip R. Davies, “Eschatology in the Book of Daniel,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Vol. 17, 1980, p. 33).

Could it be that the archaeological, linguistic, and historical evidence concerning Daniel will lead next century’s critics to consider the traditional theological view? This reminds me of an amazing quote from the astronomer Dr. Robert Jastrow: “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries” (Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, New York: Warner Books, 1978, p. 111).

(Everette Hatcher III, P. O. Box 23416, Little Rock, AR 72221)

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