Daniel: Prophecy or Pseudonymous Forgery?

The book of Daniel contains strong evidence that it was composed around the time the events it describes happened.

by Liz Abrams on July 15, 2022

In the book of Daniel, the people of God were in exile under a pagan king who worshipped a false god. The Jews in that time had to make hard decisions regarding their continued obedience and loyalty to their God, and the ways in which that loyalty was rewarded prove that even though God’s people were being judged for a season, God himself is greater than the pagan empire and its gods. He is free to miraculously overturn death sentences, to give revelation to the king that could only be interpreted by God’s servants, and to judge the king himself when he became too prideful.

Genesis isn’t “front and center” in Daniel, but it underlies Daniel’s theology so much that it’s impossible to understand the book without that foundation.

The reason God can give accurate prophecies through the prophets is that he is the Creator who determines the course of history before it happens. When Daniel was able to tell Nebuchadnezzar his dream and the interpretation (Daniel 2), that was because God, who gave the dream in the first place, gave Daniel both the details of the dream and the interpretation. Only the one true God could give the prophetic dream and interpretation and fulfill it, showing he is greater than the Babylonian king, his false gods, and the astrologers that functioned within that pagan system. Genesis isn’t “front and center” in Daniel, but it underlies Daniel’s theology so much that it’s impossible to understand the book without that foundation.

Liberal Bible scholars question the composition of almost every book of the Bible.

Liberal Bible scholars question the composition of almost every book of the Bible. Unsurprisingly, they doubt the historical accuracy of almost every biblical detail that has not been unambiguously confirmed by archaeology. One of the most-attacked books of the Old Testament is the book of Daniel. The clear prophetic dream foreseeing the kingdoms that would arise after Nebuchadnezzar is either prophecy or a forgery written after these kingdoms arose. It is not surprising that scholars who reject a supernatural Creator also reject the idea of accurate prophecy.

It is important to note that secularists reject Daniel for the same reason that they reject Genesis—they are materialists. Just like they do not believe in the supernatural creation of the world in 6 days around 6,000 years ago, they do not believe that someone could be given actual knowledge about future events by the Creator. In this way, Daniel’s prophecies are as powerful a message to us today as they were to Nebuchadnezzar.

Is the Book of Daniel Maccabean Propaganda?

The first attested figure to question the authorship of Daniel was the Neo-Platonist Porphyry (ca. AD 232–303). His book Against the Christians argued that because there could be no predictive prophecy, the book must have been written in the second century BC.1 If this was the case, the author would be a Maccabean Jew pretending to write history about a fictional Jew named Daniel. The work would be entirely pseudonymous. Note that the argument rejects a priori the idea that true prophecy exists, just like materialists today by definition reject Creation and the global flood of Noah’s day.

The Maccabean Hypothesis is also popular today. This is a hypothesis we can test against things we know to be actual Jewish forgeries written during this period.

1. Forgeries generally expanded upon established characters and settings.

First, we know that the intertestamental pseudonymous works generally did not create characters out of whole cloth; rather, they expanded on well-known biblical figures like Adam and Eve, Isaiah, or the wicked king Manasseh. The authors of these pseudepigraphic works chose to tell stories with people their audience would know. An expanded set of Ezra’s prophecies would carry more weight than something attributed to a second century BC Jewish author who was not a real prophet.

Daniel (literally meaning “God is my judge”) is a Hebrew name recorded in Scripture outside the book of Daniel. David had a son named Daniel, Daniel the descendant of Ithamar is numbered among those who returned from exile, a Daniel was among those who sealed the covenant in Nehemiah 10, and Ezekiel contains three references to a Daniel who was both exceptionally righteous and wise. But these mentions alone would be too obscure to form the basis of an entire pseudonymous book.

2. Forgeries contain historical inaccuracies.

There are exceptions to the previous rule, however, like the book of Judith, where a character was created out of whole cloth and set in the time period of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. In the case of Judith, however, there are obvious historical inaccuracies, like Nebuchadnezzar being the king of Assyria rather than Babylon.2 Even in the modern day, it is hard to write fiction set hundreds of years in the past without including anachronisms and other historical errors. So, do we find that to be the case for Daniel?

Actually, Daniel is surprisingly (from a secular perspective) historically accurate. The book’s attestation of King Belshazzar, who was reigning in the place of his absentee father Nabonidus, is the only record of him outside of Babylon.3 Until the Nabonidus Cylinder was discovered, which mentioned Belshazzar son of Nabonidus, skeptics used Belshazzar as an example of a historical error.

Even the methods of punishment portrayed in Daniel are consistent with the respective governments. The Babylonians punished with fire, but the Persians threw Daniel in the lion’s den, because fire was sacred to the Persians.4 These are the sorts of details that authors in a different culture hundreds of years later almost certainly would have gotten wrong.

Even after archaeology confirmed several details that strongly point to historical accuracy, most persist in calling it historical fiction.

Even after archaeology confirmed several details that strongly point to historical accuracy, most persist in calling it historical fiction, however. This is because, again, they reject supernatural prophecy as materialists.

Is “King Belshazzar” an Error?

Even though Belshazzar’s historicity was established with the discovery of the Nabonidus Cylinder, it is clear that he was never the king—Cyrus conquered Babylon when Nabonidus was king and killed Belshazzar. But we know from Babylonian historical records that Nabonidus went into voluntary exile for about a decade and returned only a few years before Cyrus’ invasion. During that time, Belshazzar was co-regent in all but name; it makes sense to call him “King Belshazzar” when he was functioning as the king. It also makes sense of a small detail in the Daniel account where Daniel’s reward was to be made third in the kingdom. This was the highest reward Belshazzar—the second in the kingdom—could give.

Did the Hebrews Consider Daniel a Prophet?

Another argument against the authenticity of Daniel is that in the Hebrew division of biblical books, Daniel is grouped with the Writings, not with the Prophets. They claim this means that Daniel was written after the prophetic canon was closed, not contemporaneously with the other prophets.

But believers have noticed the placement of Daniel for a long time, and they have a simple explanation for it. Daniel was not primarily a prophet—he was a court official for the Babylonians and Persians and also happened to be given prophecies. So the placement with the writings does not mean that the Jews thought Daniel was a lesser book.

How Did Daniel Make It into the Septuagint (LXX)?

The idea that Daniel was only written in the second century BC has another problem—it contradicts what we know about the presence of Daniel in the ancient world.

Daniel was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic. It spread around the Jewish world, and then at some later point, the additions of Bel and the Dragon and Susanna were written. It was accepted as Scripture and ultimately translated into Greek with the rest of the Septuagint in the second century BC.

Clearly, if Daniel was written in the second century BC, there would not have been time for it to be copied, circulated, added to, accepted as Scripture, and translated all within the span of a few decades at most. To explain Daniel’s presence in the Septuagint, the book had to exist as part of the Jewish corpus of Scripture for a much longer time.

Jesus Considered Daniel to Be Authoritative

Jesus is our ultimate authority, so we should ask whether Jesus considered Daniel to be Scripture.

Jesus clearly refers to Daniel 7 and interprets himself as the Son of Man descending on the clouds (Matthew 24:30). Importantly, when he makes this claim in Matthew 26:64, both he and his Jewish opponents understood this to be a Messianic claim, both of them recognized the reference to Scripture, and the crime Jesus was charged with was blasphemy, i.e., making himself equal with God. This would seem to show that Daniel was considered as canon by both Jesus and his Jewish opponents.

Also, Jesus’ most-used self-description is “Son of Man.” Some claim that he is emphasizing his identification with humanity, but in actuality he is referring back to Daniel. He is claiming to be not “a” son of man, like Ezekiel was (Ezekiel 2:1 and many other times throughout the book) but the Son of Man, the Messianic figure Daniel foretold.

In Matthew 24, Jesus also explicitly referenced Daniel’s prophecy of the abomination of desolation as something that was still in the future at that point in time. The interpretation of the placement of the fulfillment of that prophecy is beyond the scope of this article, but it is enough to point out that Jesus considered it to be a true prophecy of something that would happen.

Did Nebuchadnezzar Really Go Mad?

One of the attacks against Daniel’s historical accuracy regards the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity. Skeptics argue that the Maccabean author of Daniel mistakenly attributed madness to Nebuchadnezzar instead of Nabonidus. The account of Belshazzar, Nabonidus’ son, soon after the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness, is stated to be further evidence.

But up until the Nabonidus Cylinder was discovered, modern scholars didn’t believe Belshazzar existed, and presumably any putative Maccabean author hundreds of years after the fall of the Babylonian empire wouldn’t have had any knowledge of him either.

The reality is that there are large parts of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign we know nothing about because we don’t have the documents that recorded those details. Even if we had all the Babylonian records, it would be surprising for the Babylonian court documents to admit that their king underwent a period of insanity.

What Conclusion Can We Make from the Evidence?

We can only imagine how encouraging this book was to Maccabean Jews with its emphasis on the Creator God who is far greater than pagan kings and their false gods, but the evidence shows they were not the authors of the book. And as part of the Scriptural canon, it can likewise encourage and instruct us as we live in an era that is increasingly hostile to Christianity.

In Isaiah, God challenged the false gods (idols) to give prophecies to prove that they were real gods. Of course, false gods cannot give true prophecy. Only the Creator God, who made the world and determines the course of its history, can do that. This makes it important for us to defend not only the historical account of his creation, but all the supernatural aspects of Scripture, such as Daniel’s predictive prophecy that confirms that God is the Creator.

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  1. Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), electronic version.
  2. Michael D. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 1365.
  3. Miller, Daniel, electronic edition.
  4. Ibid.


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