Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 1

First post in this series can be found here.
This article is not my own, but was originally posted by Darwin’s Beagle. The author has given permission for the article to be reposted here.

It is time now to begin the evidence portion of this series of posts. I will begin by giving an overview of each biblical story in Daniel as we come to them. I will then analyze each story with respect to its logic and what we know from the history of the supposed time. A pattern of descrepancies will emerge that cannot be satisfactorially explained under the assumption that the book of Daniel is as the bible portrays it… a book written by a 6th Century BCE Jewish prophet who had risen to become a high-ranking official in the court of at least 4 rulers of the Babylonian – Persian courts.

1.1 Summary of Chapter 1
According to the first chapter of Daniel, King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon lays siege to Jerusalem in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim. Daniel and his friends (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) are taken away to Babylon and chosen to undergo 3 years of training to serve at the king’s court because they are of royal blood, handsome, “skillful in all wisdom, cunning in knowledge and understanding science”. These four remain true to the Jewish traditions by forsaking the rich food Nebuchadrezzar had offered them and instead live off of vegetables and water. Despite this diet they are fatter and better nourished than the others who were similarly chosen. They distinguished themselves above the others and were given new names: Daniel becomes Belteshazzar, Hananiah becomes Shadrach, Mishael becomes Meshach, and Azariah becomes Abednego. Daniel especially showed a talent for being able to interpret dreams. He was “ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers in [Nebuchadrezzar’s] realm”.

1.2 Analysis
The first thing a skeptic notices is that the tone of the chapter is like that of a fable, complete with a moral. Daniel and his friends suffer the adversity of being taken away captive into a foreign land. However, they keep their faith when it would have been easy to forsake it and prosper for it. There is not necessarily anything wrong with this, but it does increase the level of skepticism.

The second thing to note is that there are some curious minor discrepancies in it. All extant early copies of Daniel (the earliest of which is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and dates to about 150 BCE) spell the king of Babylonia’s name Nebuchad-N-ezzar. The proper spelling (and found in some copies of bible books such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel which date back to that time) is Nebuchad-R-ezzar. The N → R replacement took place during the writings of the Persian period, a hundred years or so after the supposed time of Daniel.

Third, its history does not conform to that generally accepted for its time. Daniel says “King” Nebuchadrezzar laid siege to Jerusalem in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim. That would be 605 BCE. However, Nebuchadrezzar laid siege to Jerusalem twice, once in 597 BCE and again in 586 BCE. The history of the time is as follows:

Pharaoh Necho (610–595 BCE, 26th dynasty) killed King Josiah of Judah (an ally of the Babylonians who along with the Medes had conquered the Assyrians) in a battle at Miggedo. This eventually led to Judah becoming a vassal state of Egypt. Necho set up one of Josiah’s sons, Jehoiakim (whose name was changed from Eliakim) as king (II Kings 23:34; II Chronicles 36:4). This was done in 608 BCE. Jehoiakim reigned for 11 years.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, Nebuchadrezzar was not king. His father, Nabopolasar, was still alive and king (he would die a short time later, and Nebuchadrezzar would succeed him). That year (605 BCE) Prince Nebuchadrezzar led Babylonian forces against Pharaoh Necho at Carchemish (in present-day Syria) and defeated him. By all accounts Nebuchadrezzar battled the retreating Egyptians all the way back to their eastern border. Nebuchadrezzar would have been very unwise to have diverted troops to lay siege to Jerusalem at that time. The conflict with the Egyptians ended when Nebuchadrezzar heard of his father’s death. He hurried back to Babylon to take over the throne. In the year 604 BCE, he consolidated his kingdom by obtaining submissions from some of the lesser kings, including Jehoiakim, but this was done without a siege.

In 601 BCE Nebuchadrezzar fought a particularly costly battle with the Egyptians, which caused him to withdraw and rebuild his forces. During the next two years he stayed in Babylon putting down some local uprisings. It was at this time that Jehoiakim sensed a window of opportunity and rebelled against him. This is what set the stage for the first siege of Jerusalem which ended with Jehoiakim’s death. It was the first time any significant numbers of Jews were carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon.

The Jews rebelled again and Nebuchadrezzar laid siege to Jerusalem a second time in 586 BCE destroying the city and the first temple at that time. This time he took the entire population with him back to Babylon. This is the start of the Jewish exilic period.

According to the book of Daniel, Daniel (the supposed author of the book) becomes a high-ranking official under 4 different kings and 3 different empires. It would be surprising that he would confuse the date of his incarceration by at least eight years.

But this leaves open the question, “How could the author of Daniel make that mistake?” One possibility is that the author (whomever he may have been) misunderstood the account in II Kings in which it says that Jehoiakim became a vassal of Nebuchadrezzar for 3 years and thought that was all the time that Jehoiakim ruled. However, historical records clearly indicate that Jehoiakim reigned 11 years.

While these mistakes are fairly minor, they are just the first of many more to come as we shall see as we examine the upcoming stories in Daniel. If the bible is the inerrant word of God as extreme bible believers claim, no mistake no matter how small should be there… even these. By the time we complete our overview of the book of Daniel mistakes of this sort will be so glaring that it will become apparent that the book of Daniel could not have been written by the character Daniel. In other words, it is a forgery.

Links to the other articles

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9 thoughts on “Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 1”

  1. The responses are as follows:
    First, this post starts with an “it seems to me” fallacy. At the risk of linking it twice, see here:

    https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2010/09/02/it-seems-to-me-bible-critics-dont-have-much-of-a-complaint/

    Next, see these posts:

    https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/the-book-of-daniel/

    https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/is-daniel-accurate-about-the-attack-of-nebuchadnezzar/

    Well, that’s about as far as I think I got with responding to your posts. I apologize again for blasting your blog with my goofy comments. But I did look into them……..I think you can agree to that. I tried to do my homework. Some of the posts just didn’t catch my eye as too interesting……..perhaps my biases got in the way of my judgement, I admit. So you can accuse me of doding some. Eh, maybe. But if I’m guilty of that, would you admit you might be also?

    Nate, I trust you will someday come back to Christ. Not all churches were like the one you were raised in. I also trust you view me different than the typical online arguer, for I did try to answer the hardest ones and not be argumentative or insulting. I do not expect to influence the other atheists on this blog, for most people online are only seeking to reinforce what they already believe………..as Walter Martin used to say, “most people don’t think, they just rearrnage their prejudices.”

    I wil pray for you, Nate. If God wants you, the Holy Spirit will not let you alone.

    Peace to you, my brother.

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  2. KC, I can’t help but wonder if this person actually believes he’s going to change Nate’s mind — especially since he left the faith many years ago and has done considerable research into the bible and his former beliefs.

    I guess believers have to try since it’s their leader’s commandment.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nan, he made 25 responses to Nate’s various posts in less than 14 hrs. OCD comes to mind here.

    “So today, at the risk of looking like I’m blasting your blog with my cheesy stuff, I will post links to my responses to your posts” He could have posted these over at his own blog for just Nate to read. He knew what he was doing.

    “Since there are 466 other replies to this first post, and I don’t plan on reading them, and I don’t expect anyone to read this note except you,”

    What a clever fellow ! 🙂 To think several of us took the bait. 🙂

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  4. They came through my email so I knew he had posted them. But I can assure you, I for one did NOT read all of the tripe. BTW, your point about him posting them on his own blog … did you notice how he often included links to his blog. Clever fellow.

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  5. In fairness to humblesmith, he emailed me several weeks ago and told me that he had been researching my criticisms for quite some time, felt that he had come to the end of his study on them, and wanted to offer his responses. He wasn’t ready to post them at that point, but said that he would be doing so soon. So he’s not just spamming, even though he acknowledges it could look that way, since he’s commented on so many threads in such a short period of time.

    I’m going to do my best to pay him the same compliment that he’s paid me by taking his arguments seriously. He and I don’t currently see Christianity the same way, but I do think he’s a good and sincere person. And since he believes that eternity weighs in the balance, I honestly appreciate the care and concern he’s showing for me by offering these arguments. Even if we never ultimately agree, he’s earned my respect by showing such integrity.

    Anyway, that explains all his sudden comments. Of course, I welcome the input of anyone who wants to weigh in on these subjects, but I do hope everyone will treat humblesmith courteously and focus on the arguments, not the individual.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Of course your regular followers don’t know the background, so it was good that you wrote this most recent comment. I still think condensed versions would have been appropriate with links to his own blog. But perhaps he felt the need to expand on his thoughts.

    In any case, it will be interesting to see your counter-arguments. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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