The Authorship of the Book of Daniel

The author of the book of Daniel tells us a lot about himself. He was a sixth-century B.C. Jewish prophet and statesman during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. Until the 19th century A.D., Christians and Jews alike accepted the book's own testimony in regard to its authorship. And we still do. But today many liberal scholars reject the traditional view, sometimes called the Exilic Thesis, in favor of what may be called the Maccabean Thesis. This view originally asserted that the book was written during the second century B.C. by an unknown writer who chose a sixth-century setting in order to chronicle history as if it were prophecy. Problems with that view required its proponents to modify their position so that the majority view now is that the book was composed by a number of different authors beginning as early as the Babylonian exile and extending until the second century when someone did the final editing.

To support their thesis, those who hold the Maccabean view have presented three major lines of evidence. (1) Supposed historical inaccuracies; (2) Linguistic factors; and (3) Similarities between chapter 11 and events in the second century B.C.

Examples set forth as evidence of historical inaccuracy include the alleged chronology problem in chapters 1 and 2, the reference to Belshazzar as king, the figure of Darius the Mede, and the identification of the "Chaldeans" as a class of wise men. In each of these cases, recent discoveries have not only proved the book of Daniel to be historically correct, but they have shown that the author of the book of Daniel most likely lived during the very period he describes, because he knows details which were otherwise lost to human knowledge for over two thousand years until recently discovered.

The linguistic factors cited as evidence of a later date of authorship center around the author's use of several Persian and Greek loanwords. The Persian words are actually not a problem, because the words used are Old Persian, and mainly official titles which Daniel would have been familiar with, since he was involved in Persian administration. In 1815, scholars listed 15 Greek loanwords found in the book of Daniel. Subsequent study has shown that all but possibly three of those have an earlier Persian origin. Of those three, only one of them is not documented in the sense used in the book of Daniel before the second century B.C. The existence of these three Greek words (all designating musical instruments) in our manscripts of the book of Daniel doesn't prove a later authorship. In fact, the question should be asked why there are only three Greek words in a book allegedly written so late in the history of the Jews. These linguistic factors actually give greater support to the sixth-century authorship that is claimed in the book.

The third line of evidence given for a later date of authorship has to do with parallels between certain passages in Daniel 8 and 11 and events in Palestine during the years of 168-164 B.C. It is claimed that the book was written during the period of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, because it supposedly addresses events of that period specifically. But the most important primary contemporary sources of detailed infomation about the events of 168-164 B.C. are few, limited primarily to 1 and 2 Maccabees and Polybius. And there are a number of significant disagreements within these sources about both the details and the order of events during this period. So it is actually difficult to reconstruct from available primary and contemporary sources an accurate account of those events in detail. Some heavily relied upon details of the Maccabean argument are still a matter of controversy among historians, and some details in Daniel 11 contradict the historical record that we do have of that period. For example, the books of Maccabees do not speak of two campaigns by Antiochus against the Holy City. But Daniel 11 mentions a two-fold contact between the king of the north and God's people. While some similarities can be cited between chapter 11 and Maccabean situation, there are even more dissimilarities. Although Antiochus did interfere with the Jews' religious observances, he never destroyed the temple (See Daniel 8:11), and his military exploits hardly match the great accomplishments attributed to the little horn and the king of the north in Daniel 8:9 and 11:22. The various time periods listed in Daniel for the persecution of God's people and the restoration of the sanctuary services nowhere coincide with the three-year period mentioned in Maccabees for the desecration of the temple. And most scholars agree that Daniel 11:40-45 does not match what is known about the end of Antiochus. Closely examined, Daniel 11 actually contains very little that matches the career of Antiochus IV.

It should be clear by now that the Maccabean Thesis creates more problems than it solves, and that the Exilic Thesis, which takes the book of Daniel as it reads and accepts the book's own explanation of its date, authorship, and setting, is far less problematic. We find no compelling reason to reject the full inspiration of the book of Daniel. We take it as the word of God, and its prophecies as the unfailing declarations of One who knows the future and has chosen to reveal it to His people.

Information for this article was synopsized from Symposium on Daniel, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series, Volume 2, Biblical Research Institute, Washington, D.C., Frank B. Holbrook, Editor, Chapter 1.