Answers to historical problems in the Book of Daniel (Part 1)

(Part 5 of 5 film series on archaeology)

Critics claim that there are historical problems with the Book of Daniel, but is that so?

For many more archaeological evidences in support of the Bible, see Archaeology and the Bible . (There are some great posts on this too at the bottom of this post.)


Till Is Batting Around .250 on Daniel
by Everette Hatcher III

1999 / March-April

Home-run hitters are always the strike-out kings too, and Farrell Till seems to have missed the mark around 75% of the time in his series of articles on Daniel. However, Till did connect some of the time. For instance, he made some good points in his article “Good History in the Book of Daniel” (September/October 1998, pp. 9-11, 16). I agree with the majority of what Till said, and it is obvious that he has studied long and hard concerning the historical events mentioned in Daniel chapter eleven.

I have also noticed that no one in the field of biblical errancy can hold a candle to Till. I was amused when I read some of the peculiar errors of interpretation made by Dennis McKinsey. For instance, concerning Daniel 9:24-25 McKinsey stated that “the weeks referred to are real weeks of seven days, not years” (Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy, Prometheus Books, 1995, p. 164), but even those who hold the critical view accept that the author of Daniel was speaking of years (Robert A. Anderson, Signs and Wonders, International Theological Commentary, Eerdmans, 1984, pp. 111-115; Isaac Asimov, “The Book of Daniel,” Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, Doubleday, 1969, p. 613; John J. Collins, Daniel, Fortress, 1994, pp. 352-356; Samuel Driver, The Book of Daniel: Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, University Press, 1900, p. 135; John Goldingay, Daniel: Word Biblical Commentaries, Word, 1989, p. 262; Louis F. Hartman and Alexander A. DiLella, The Book of Daniel, Anchor Bible, 1978, p. 250; Arthur Jeffery, “The Book of Daniel,” Interpreter’s Bible, 1956, p. 493; Andre Lacocque, The Book of Daniel, John Knox, 1979, p. 191; James A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, International Critical Commentary, T. and T. Clark, 1927, reprint, 1979, p. 376; John Joseph Owens, “Daniel,” Broadman Bible Commentary, 1971, p. 439; Norman Porteous, Daniel, Old Testament Library, 1965, p. 141; W. Sibley Towner, Daniel, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 1984, p. 143; Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, “The Book of Daniel,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, 1996, p. 128; Brodrick D. Shepherd, Beasts, Horns, and the Anti-Christ, 1994, p. 78; Frank Zindler, “Daniel in the Debunker’s Den,” American Atheist, October 1986, p. 59).

For instance, the critic Jeffery states:

Its substance is that the seventy weeks are to be understood as seventy hebdomads or weeks of years; i.e., they represent 490 years, the conclusion of which will see the coming of the end.

Seventy weeks of years: Lit., seventy weeks, which the sequel shows means weeks of years. The Greeks and Romans had a similar idea of a week-year (Aristotle, Politics, VII.16; Attic Nights, III.10). It is commonly thought that the writer derived this from Lev. 25:2; 26:18-35 (Jeffery, p. 493).

When I examine Till’s view concerning inerrancy, I must give him this compliment: I admire his logic. Till found himself “on an irreversible trajectory toward agnosticism” (Edward T. Babinski, Leaving the Fold, Prometheus Books, 1995, p. 294) when he no longer believed in the doctrine of inerrancy. Now I believe that Till is incorrect in his conclusion concerning inerrancy, but I cannot fault his logic. It amazes me that so many professing Christians accept this idea that the Book of Daniel is a fraud, but they still worship the God of the Bible. Many Christian scholars (e.g., DiLella, pp. 53-54; Smith-Christopher, p. 22; Owens, p. 377; Towner, pp. 44-46; Collins, p. 56) claim that a forgery may be used to teach great moral lessons. If I ever became convinced that the Bible contained fraud and false prophecies, I would leave my Christianity behind just as Till did.

I do find it strange that Till has avoided criticizing these liberal Christian scholars for not carrying their views on Daniel to their logical conclusions. Maybe it is because Till has been pre-occupied in criticizing those in the religious right for their inconsistencies. I have noticed that Till has constantly been pointing out misrepresentations and misquotes used by many inerrantists that he has debated. I agree that many in the religious right have been guilty in this area, and I have attempted to confront dozens of these leaders myself concerning this (“Questionable Quotes,” The Freedom Writer, May/June 1997, pp. 8-9; “Fake Quotes,” letter to the editor, Skeptic Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 4, 1997, p. 39; “The Bible Code,” letter to the editor, The Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 1998, p. 65). However, Till was incorrect when he accused me of misrepresenting and misquoting the scholars who hold to the 2nd-century B. C. view (“The Inerrantist Way of Misrepresenting `Critics,'” March/April 1998, pp. 4-7, 16). Till stated, “Available space will not allow me to discuss all of Hatcher’s distorted and misrepresented sources in a single article, and so I will follow this one with at least two more…” (March/April 1998, p. 16).

Nowhere did I indicate that the critic Norman Porteous was “a proponent of the inerrantist view of the 6th-century authorship” (p. 7). Yet Till repeatedly accuses me of misrepresenting several critics in just this fashion (March/April, p. 7; May/June, p. 2; July/August, p. 14), but I made it clear in the second paragraph that I was examining the views of critics “who hold to the “Maccabean thesis” (“The Critics’ Admissions Concerning Daniel,” March/April, p. 2). I have always tried to confront those who have been guilty of misquotations and misrepresentations. Therefore it was especially painful to endure the titles Till chose: “The Inerrantist Way of Misrepresenting `Critics,'” (March/April 1998, p. 4); “Deliberate Misrepresentation After All,” (May/June 1998, p. 2). Neither did I misquote any of these critics. Till commented:

A familiar type of inerrantist distortion results from the omission of a qualifying but that follows a fragmented quotation. The first part of the quotation appears to favor the inerrantist view until the qualifying but statement is read. By eliminating the buts and howevers, inerrantists try to leave the impression that certain scientists and scholars agree with them. Hatcher did this in response to my claim that the writer of Daniel obviously “considered the Median and Persian kingdoms to be separate empires.” He quoted Dr. Samuel Driver as having admitted, “In the book of Daniel the `Medes and Persians’ are, it is true, sometimes represented as united” (March/ April 1998, p. 2). I had seen this inerrantist tactic enough to know that even without having read Driver’s work, the parenthetical “it is true” indicated that a qualifying but statement followed the fragment that Hatcher had quoted. When I was finally able to check the context of the quotation, I found that I was right (May/June, p. 2).

Till implied that I left out essential information that distorts Driver’s quote. However, the operative word sometimes is included in the quotation I used. The word sometimes does not mean always, and I in no way implied that I thought that Driver was admitting that the author of Daniel always represented the Medes and Persians as united. In fact, I listed the only five scriptures that Driver considered as picturing a combined empire (Daniel 5:28; 6:8,12,15; cf. 8:20), and then I pointed out that this admission contradicts the critical position that Driver still held. I did not imply that Driver expressed agreement with my view that “the second empire in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision was a combined Medo-Persian empire” (May/June, p. 2), but I was merely observing that this admission was fatal to Driver’s position.

I cannot see how giving the full text of Driver’s quotation would adjust the meaning at all. My whole argument involved showing that the textual evidence in Daniel clearly points to a combined kingdom being pictured and even a critic like Driver had to admit that some verses indicated that.

Evidently Till realized the importance of this point because twice he quoted a passage from the critic H. H. Rowley that addressed this very issue:

For [sic] a sixth-century person, who not only lived through the events of the period, but took a leading part in them, could not have made so gross an error as our author made in introducing Darius the Mede between Belshazzar and Cyrus. Nor could he have supposed that a Median empire stood between the Babylonian and the Persian (University of Wales Press, 1935, p. 175, quoted in TSR, March/April 1998, p. 5) & September/October 1998, p. 9).

Till commented that “this critical opinion of Daniel has become the underpinning of the Maccabean view of its authorship” (September/October 1998, p. 9). I would agree that many critics have taken the position that the author of Daniel mistakenly had Babylon falling to a Median empire (Anderson, pp. 22-23; Asimov, p. 602; Collins, pp. 166-167; Philip R. Davies, Daniel, Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985, p.26; Driver, p. 52 of introduction; Raymond Hammer, The Book of Daniel, Cambridge University Press, 1976, p. 8; Hartman and DiLella, p. 50; Jeffery, pp. 387-388; Pamela J. Milne, “The Book of Daniel,” Harper Collins Study Bible, ed. Wayne A. Meeks, 1993, p. 1318; Robert H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1948, p. 757; Porteous, p. 47; H. H. Rowley, Darius the Mede and the Four world Empires in the Book of Daniel, 1935; p. 175; Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, p. 88; Towner, p. 70; Zindler, p. 58). These critics realize that if it can be demonstrated that the writer of Daniel envisioned a rule by the Medes, then these critics can point to all the final “prophetic” fulfillments in the Greek period since Greece would be the fourth kingdom. Moreover, they can also accuse Daniel of a gross historical error. However, traditionalists claim some of the prophecies refer to events that go past the Greek period, and there is only the problem of the missing person, “Darius the Mede” and not a missing empire.

Traditionalists take the view that the author of the book of Daniel knew very well there was no intermediate rule by the Medes. The conservative Stephen Miller correctly noted:

To suggest that any semi-educated Jew of the Maccabean period could be ignorant of the fact that it was Cyrus the Persian who conquered the great Babylonian Empire and allowed the Jewish captives to return to their homeland is not reasonable. Moreover, the Book of Ezra (cf. 1:1 ff.), which undoubtedly was at the writer’s disposal, specifically declares that Cyrus released the Jews from captivity in Babylon. It also understands Darius I to have ruled Persia long after Cyrus (Ezra 4-5) (Daniel: The New American Commentary, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1994, p. 174).

The critics want us to believe that Daniel was written in the 2nd-century B. C., and that is the reason it has inaccuracies concerning 6th-century B. C. events. However, any educated Jew in the 2nd century would have known that Cyrus the Persian defeated Babylon.

Let me address three of the historical situations that Till spends a great deal of time discussing:

(1) Did the author of Daniel suppose that Darius Hystaspis preceded Cyrus? Till commented:

In 9:1, the writer of Daniel described the mysterious “Darius the Mede” as the “son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes,” but Ahasuerus, (better known as Xerxes) was king of Persia from 485-465 B. C., so it isn’t at all possible that “Darius the Mede,” who allegedly reigned in Babylon in 539 B.C., was the son of someone who had not yet been born. Ahasuerus was the Persian king who allegedly made Esther his queen in the book named after this Jewish heroine. Since his father was Darius the Great, the writer of Daniel may have confused his Dariuses and anachronistically made a son of Darius the Great the king who had captured Babylon. At any rate, he made a historical mistake that would be understandable for an author writing four centuries later, but it is not a mistake that we could reasonably expect an important contemporary official of Babylon to make (July/August 1998, p. 8; Rowley, pp. 57-58; DiLella, p. 36).

The critic John Goldingay admits that “Ahasuerus” probably is a title and not a personal name (p. 239). Daniel 9:1 also discusses Darius the Mede, and many believe that “Darius the Mede” is not a personal name but a title. This will be touched on later.

I would agree that if the author of Daniel made the historical blunder concerning the intermediate reign by the Medes, in such a case, he could not be “an important contemporary official of Babylon” (July/August 1998, p. 8). However, I would go one step further and insist that he could not have been familiar with the other Old Testament books like Ezra. Remember that the Dead Sea Scrolls include portions of both Daniel and Ezra. This indicates that the critics who claim that the author of the book of Daniel had a Hasidic origin have a lot of explaining to do (Towner, p. 7; DiLella, p. 45). DiLella states, “It is generally admitted that the Essenes had their origin in the Hasidic movements that flourished in early 2nd-century B. C. Judaism” (p. 45). These Essenes copied the Dead Sea Scrolls, and that indicates that they had access to copies of the Old Testament scriptures for many generations. J.J. Collins comments, “Fragments of eight mss of Daniel have been identified. The oldest of these, 4QDan. is dated by Frank Cross to `the late 2nd-century’ B. C. E., `no more than about a half century younger than the autograph'” (Collins, p. 2).

This presents two problems for the critics. How could the Qumran community accept Daniel as Scripture if it incorrectly pictured Darius Hystaspis preceding Cyrus? Copies of Ezra they possessed contradicted this. Also how could the Qumran community accept Daniel as Scripture only fifty years after its composition? It is for this very reason that many of the canonical psalms found there were redated.

The critic W. H. Brownlee asserted: “It would seem that we should abandon the idea of any of the canonical psalms being of Maccabean date, for each song had to win its way in the esteem of the people before it could be included in the sacred compilation of the Psalter. Immediate entree for any of them is highly improbable” (The Meaning of the Qumran Scrolls for the Bible, Oxford University Press, 1964, p. 30). Yet concerning Daniel, Brownlee accepts the Maccabean date (p.36). The obvious question is: How can one theory push the date of a psalm back 200 years, but this same theory, when applied to Daniel, allow only 50 years? The answer is that Brownlee was firmly committed to the critical assumption that Daniel could not have been written before 164 B. C. His naturalistic presuppositions were getting in the way of his ability to give the objective analysis.


Is the Bible historically accurate? Here are some of the posts I have done in the past on the subject:

The Babylonian Chronicle
of Nebuchadnezzars Siege of Jerusalem

This clay tablet is a Babylonian chronicle recording events from 605-594BC. It was first translated in 1956 and is now in the British Museum. The cuneiform text on this clay tablet tells, among other things, 3 main events: 1. The Battle of Carchemish (famous battle for world supremacy where Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated Pharoah Necho of Egypt, 605 BC.), 2. The accession to the throne of Nebuchadnezzar II, the Chaldean, and 3. The capture of Jerusalem on the 16th of March, 598 BC.

2. Hezekiah’s Siloam Tunnel Inscription.

King Hezekiah of Judah ruled from 721 to 686 BC. Fearing a siege by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, Hezekiah preserved Jerusalem’s water supply by cutting a tunnel through 1,750 feet of solid rock from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam inside the city walls (2 Kings 20; 2 Chron. 32). At the Siloam end of the tunnel, an inscription, presently in the archaeological museum at Istanbul, Turkey, celebrates this remarkable accomplishment.

3. Taylor Prism (Sennacherib Hexagonal Prism)

It contains the victories of Sennacherib himself, the Assyrian king who had besieged Jerusalem in 701 BC during the reign of king Hezekiah, it never mentions any defeats. On the prism Sennacherib boasts that he shut up “Hezekiah the Judahite” within Jerusalem his own royal city “like a caged bird.” This prism is among the three accounts discovered so far which have been left by the Assyrian king Sennacherib of his campaign against Israel and Judah.

4. Biblical Cities Attested Archaeologically.

In addition to Jericho, places such as Haran, Hazor, Dan, Megiddo, Shechem, Samaria, Shiloh, Gezer, Gibeah, Beth Shemesh, Beth Shean, Beersheba, Lachish, and many other urban sites have been excavated, quite apart from such larger and obvious locations as Jerusalem or Babylon. Such geographical markers are extremely significant in demonstrating that fact, not fantasy, is intended in the Old Testament historical narratives;

5. The Discovery of the Hittites

Most doubting scholars back then said that the Hittites were just a “mythical people that are only mentioned in the Bible.” Some skeptics pointed to the fact that the Bible pictures the Hittites as a very big nation that was worthy of being coalition partners with Egypt (II Kings 7:6), and these bible critics would assert that surely we would have found records of this great nation of Hittites.  The ironic thing is that when the Hittite nation was discovered, a vast amount of Hittite documents were found. Among those documents was the treaty between Ramesses II and the Hittite King.

6.Shishak Smiting His Captives

The Bible mentions that Shishak marched his troops into the land of Judah and plundered a host of cities including Jerusalem,  this has been confirmed by archaeologists. Shishak’s own record of his campaign is inscribed on the south wall of the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak in Egypt. In his campaign he presents 156 cities of Judea to his god Amon. 

7. Moabite Stone

The Moabite Stone also known as the Mesha Stele is an interesting story. The Bible says in 2 Kings 3:5 that Mesha the king of Moab stopped paying tribute to Israel and rebelled and fought against Israel and later he recorded this event. This record from Mesha has been discovered.

8Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III

The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri, silver, gold, bowls of gold, chalices of gold, cups of gold, vases of gold, lead, a sceptre for the king, and spear-shafts, I have received.”

View from the dome of the Capitol!9A Verification of places in Gospel of John and Book of Acts.

Sir William Ramsay, famed archaeologist, began a study of Asia Minor with little regard for the book of Acts. He later wrote:

I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.

9B Discovery of Ebla TabletsWhen I think of discoveries like the Ebla Tablets that verify  names like Adam, Eve, Ishmael, David and Saul were in common usage when the Bible said they were, it makes me think of what amazing confirmation that is of the historical accuracy of the Bible.

10. Cyrus Cylinder

There is a well preserved cylinder seal in the Yale University Library from Cyrus which contains his commands to resettle the captive nations.

11. Puru “The lot of Yahali” 9th Century B.C.E.

This cube is inscribed with the name and titles of Yahali and a prayer: “In his year assigned to him by lot (puru) may the harvest of the land of Assyria prosper and thrive, in front of the gods Assur and Adad may his lot (puru) fall.”  It provides a prototype (the only one ever recovered) for the lots (purim) cast by Haman to fix a date for the destruction of the Jews of the Persian Empire, ostensibly in the fifth century B.C.E. (Esther 3:7; cf. 9:26).

12. The Uzziah Tablet Inscription

The Bible mentions Uzziah or Azariah as the king of the southern kingdom of Judah in 2 Kings 15. The Uzziah Tablet Inscription is a stone tablet (35 cm high x 34 cm wide x 6 cm deep) with letters inscribed in ancient Hebrew text with an Aramaic style of writing, which dates to around 30-70 AD. The text reveals the burial site of Uzziah of Judah, who died in 747 BC.

13. The Pilate Inscription

The Pilate Inscription is the only known occurrence of the name Pontius Pilate in any ancient inscription. Visitors to the Caesarea theater today see a replica, the original is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. There have been a few bronze coins found that were struck form 29-32 AD by Pontius Pilate

14. Caiaphas Ossuary

This beautifully decorated ossuary found in the ruins of Jerusalem, contained the bones of Caiaphas, the first century AD. high priest during the time of Jesus.

14 B Pontius Pilate Part 2      

In June 1961 Italian archaeologists led by Dr. Frova were excavating an ancient Roman amphitheatre near Caesarea-on-the-Sea (Maritima) and uncovered this interesting limestone block. On the face is a monumental inscription which is part of a larger dedication to Tiberius Caesar which clearly says that it was from “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.”

14c. Three greatest American Archaeologists moved to accept Bible’s accuracy through archaeology.

Despite their liberal training, it was archaeological research that bolstered their confidence in the biblical text:Albright said of himself, “I must admit that I tried to be rational and empirical in my approach [but] we all have presuppositions of a philosophical order.” The same statement could be applied as easily to Gleuck and Wright, for all three were deeply imbued with the theological perceptions which infused their work.

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