While there are several things that ultimately led to my deconversion, there was one thing in particular that kick-started it. In January or February of 2010, I was writing material for some upcoming classes at our church when I found some articles that claimed the Book of Daniel was a forgery, and therefore not inspired by God. I knew there were people who believed that, but this article claimed to lay out solid evidence supporting that claim. I was intrigued. I had always been led to believe that history and archaeology totally supported the Bible story, so I was very interested to hear what reasons people could possibly have for not believing the Bible was true. The articles made a huge impact on me.
The blogger Darwin’s Beagle has very graciously agreed to let me repost those articles here. The next series of posts will lay out an examination of the Book of Daniel in a chapter-by-chapter approach. Most of the information comes from the Anchor Bible Commentary on Daniel, but the basic facts presented in these articles can be found almost anywhere. In fact, when I first began researching the points made in these articles, I was shocked to find that there’s very little disagreement about most of this information, even among Christian scholars.
I hope that the next several posts will be helpful to you, as they were to me. The rest of this post comes from the introduction written by Darwin’s Beagle.
To me the important question is “does God exist?” How does one go about answering it? Gods by definition, if they do exist, exist in a supernatural realm that is inaccessible to mere mortals. Thus, their possible existence can never be ruled out. However, there are claims that are made about certain gods that are open to investigation. The putative god most affecting my life and the lives of people I love is Yahweh, the god of Christians and Jews as portrayed in the bible. There are many claims about this particular god interacting with the natural world and, thus, these claims are open to investigation.
Fortunately, the bible is a book commonly available (and in multiple translations) so there is a general consensus on the supernatural claims concerning Yahweh’s existence. Unfortunately, there is no general consensus on the reliability of these claims. There are opinions that range from one extreme –- the bible is the inerrant word of God and everything in it down to the punctuation marks is perfectly correct when understood in proper context –- to the opposite extreme –- nothing in the bible shows any signs of real supernatural influence.
I have had a hard time coming up with convenient labels for these positions without being pejorative while still making the label descriptive of the position. I have finally settled on bible-believer for a person who holds the position that a particular supernatural claim in the bible is true and bible-doubter for a person who holds the position that the claim is false.
Then at one extreme is the person who is a bible-believer concerning all biblical claims of the supernatural and the other extreme is the person who is a bible-doubter concerning these claims. Since most people in this country are theists, but not to the extreme suggested above, I suspect most fall somewhere in the middle. That is, they believe some supernatural claims in the bible may be false, but others are likely to be true. I, on the other hand, am an extreme bible-doubter. I do not believe any claims concerning the supernatural are true. That is not the same as believing nothing in the bible is true, it is just a belief concerning supernatural claims of the bible.
I came by this belief after testing the bible. I had developed an hypothesis concerning the bible and read the bible as a test of that hypothesis. The hypothesis was that if the bible was the inspired word of a creator capable of producing the universe and the life in it and thus having decidedly superior knowledge of the universe and the life in it than we do now, then it should have undeniable evidence of that. The alternative hypothesis was that if the bible were not the inspired word of God, then it is the work of a primitive people with decidedly inferior knowledge of the universe and the life in it than we have now and nothing in the bible should suggest otherwise. After reading the bible twice, I found that the alternative hypothesis (nothing in the bible suggests any superior knowledge of the universe or the life in it) was strongly supported and the hypothesis that the bible should contain undeniable evidence of superior knowledge was not.
I had felt that the strength of these observations alone were sufficiently strong to rule out Yahweh’s existence (and I still do). But, I had not checked out the supernatural claims inside the bible as to whether or not they contradicted the above finding. Perhaps, even without any signs of superior knowledge, the bible may contain irrefutable evidence of supernatural involvement in the activities of the universe to warrant a belief in God. Certainly, some of the extreme bible-believers believe this to be the case.
One oft touted piece of evidence is biblical prophecy fulfillment. Again, opinions on the accuracy of prophecy fulfillment differ. For instance, concerning Messianic prophecies (prophecies about the coming of a Messiah), popular Christian apologist and extreme bible-believer, Josh McDowell says the Old Testament “contains several hundred references to the Messiah. All of these were fulfilled in Christ and they establish a solid confirmation of his credentials as the Messiah.” But Thomas Paine, one of our founding fathers and a deist, said, “I have examined all the passages in the New Testament quoted from the Old, and so-called prophecies concerning Jesus Christ, and I find no such thing as a prophecy of any person, and I deny there are any.”
Obviously, at least one person above fooled himself. To lessen the likelihood of such an event, one must establish objective guidelines in assessing the accuracy of prophecy fulfillment. The minimum criteria I have come up with are:
- A real prophecy must be made.
- The prophecy needs to be made well in advance of the date of fulfillment.
- The prophecy must contain SPECIFIC information.
- The prophecy must be so unlikely to happen that the only reasonable explanation for its fulfillment is the intervention of a supernatural entity (as opposed to a lucky guess).
- The prophecy must be fulfilled in all its particulars.
A corollary is that since the fulfillment of prophecy must be an event that is very unlikely to occur, there can be only one putative event that qualifies as fulfillment.
One criticism that may be made is that the above criteria are stringent. I do not believe this to be the case. If one recognizes that the supernatural demands a suspension of the well-tested laws of physics we have been living by, then one must admit that any claims for the existence of the supernatural fall in the realm of extraordinary claims. Any such claim then will require an extraordinary support. The reasoning behind this is that the laws of physics are so well established that the level of likelihood that they are correct approaches certainty. Thus, if data contradicts them, then either the laws are wrong (we already know that is unlikely) or the data is wrong. The only way to overturn established principles is to make the stringency on the data such that its likelihood of being wrong is less than that of what it disproves. Besides, Yahweh is claimed to be omniscient. A prophecy inspired from an omniscient being SHOULD be able to meet those criteria easily.
To date, I have examined several putative cases of prophecy fulfillment; prophecies concerning the city of Tyre found in Amos and Ezekiel, Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy (Isaiah 7:14), Jeremiah’s 70 year of servitude, etc. I have found that none of them come even close to meeting the criteria.
This series of posts deals with prophecies found in the book of Daniel. The book of Daniel is used by bible-believers as proof for the existence of God. They claim that it was written by a prophet who was a young man when King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem (605 BCE) and served in the court until at least the third year of the reign of the Persian king Cyrus (ca. 536 BCE). They claim that Daniel made miraculous prophecies, such as the coming of Christ, the Roman Empire, and God’s everlasting kingdom which is yet to come.
If their dating of Daniel is correct, then at least some of the prophecies he made were indeed miraculous (although others were clearly wrong). For instance, there are numerous and unmistakable prophecies concerning the conquests of Alexander the Great, events that did not happen until 332 BCE, over 200 years after the supposed time of Daniel.
Since there is no natural phenomenon that can explain this, if it is true then Daniel would be evidence for the existence of the supernatural. However, the only evidence to believe the dating of Daniel is from the book of Daniel. If we are going to question its reliability, we cannot assume before looking at it that it is indeed reliable. We must look for other evidence.
Most mainstream biblical scholars who have looked at Daniel dispassionately have concluded that the bible-believer’s dating of the book is indeed flawed. They cite overwhelming evidence that Daniel was not written until 167 BCE during the Maccabean Period, or about 400 years after the fundamentalist’s claim. Furthermore, once Daniel is put into its proper historical context, the prophecies that seem to predict the events mentioned above, really concern local events of the time. As such, it does not provide any evidence for the existence of the supernatural. Instead, it is shows Daniel to be a crude forgery and is evidence that the bible is a flawed document not likely to emanate from God.
In the upcoming series of posts I will summarize the evidence for the above assertion. I will look at the entire book of Daniel (12 chapters). Since the purpose of these posts is to examine the reliability of the book of Daniel, I will focus on mistakes and attempt an explanation as to how they occurred. From this critical analysis, one can deduce with reasonable certainty that the book of Daniel is a forgery.