2.1 Summary of Chapter 2
Daniel’s first amazing feat comes when Nebuchadrezzar has a dream that disturbs him. Nebuchadrezzar calls all the magicians, astrologers, sorcerers, and Chaldeans to interpret the dream. He makes the task even more difficult by refusing to tell them what the dream was. To ensure they are telling the truth, they must tell him what his dream was as well as its meaning, and if they don’t they will be killed. They protest saying that it is impossible. Daniel prays to God and is shown the dream and its meaning.
Daniel tells Nebuchadrezzar that he saw in his dream a “great image”. The head of the image was gold, the breast and the arms were silver, the belly and thighs were brass, and the legs and the feet were part iron and part clay. Then, a stone that came not from human hands hits the image on the legs and feet causing it to be broken up and blown away as dust. The rock then grows in size, eventually filling the whole earth.
The interpretation of the dream is as follows:
- Nebuchadrezzar is the head of gold.
- The breast and arms of silver are a lesser kingdom that is to come after Nebuchadrezzar.
- The belly and thighs of brass are a kingdom that will succeed that one and rule over the whole world.
- The legs and feet made partly of iron and partly of clay would be a very strong kingdom that would become split.
- The stone represents God coming to break up all the kingdoms that came before and establishing His kingdom which will be everlasting.
After hearing Daniel recount the dream and its analysis, Nebuchadrezzar is impressed and makes Daniel “chief of the governors over all wise men”.
2.2.1 Minor problems
Again there are some minor mistakes here that make us skeptical of the story. First, the story takes place in the second year of Nebuchadrezzar’s reign. Daniel should not have been out of his training period by then. The book of Daniel uses the term “Chaldeans” to mean a priestly class. Originally, “Chaldeans” referred to a sect within Babylonia. That sect produced Nabopolassar (the father of Nebuchadrezzar) and became dominant. At the time of Nebuchadrezzar, the term “Chaldean” was synonymous to the term “Babylonian” and meant anyone of the Babylonian empire. It was not until well into the Persian rule that “Chaldean” came to mean a Babylonian priest.
A more serious problem is that according to this story Daniel became a high ranking official of Babylon. The Babylonians kept good records, and we still have them. These records mention many officials, both major and minor. There is no mention of a Daniel (or Belteshazzar, his supposed Babylonian name) in any of them. In fact, there is no mention of a Daniel (or Belteshazzar) who was an official in the Babylonian court in ANY writing before the second century BCE.
Bible-believers are quick to point out that Daniel is mentioned in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 14:14,20 and 28:3). Ezekiel was a contemporary of Daniel (actually a decade or two older than Daniel) and, thus, provides important evidence of the historicity of Daniel… or so they say. However, Ezekiel only mentions the name and no details that link that Daniel to the Daniel from the book of Daniel. In fact, there is good reason to believe that Ezekiel is actually referring to someone else.
The Hebrew spelling of the Daniel in Ezekiel is different from that of Daniel in the book of Daniel. The one in Ezekiel is more properly rendered Dan’el. Furthermore, this Dan’el is mentioned alongside the legendary Jewish heroes Noah and Job. The actual phraseology is “…Noah, Dan’el, and Job…” Placing a contemporary between two legends is awkward phraseology. It would be like referring to three strong people as “…Achilles, Schwarzenegger, and Hercules…” It would be much more natural to place them in chronological order instead: “…Achilles, Hercules, and Schwarzenegger…”
There is another candidate for the Dan’el that Ezekiel refers to. The Ras Shamrah tablets from Ugarit in North Syria tell of the story of Dan’el (spelled exactly like that in Ezekiel). He was a divine Canaanite hero who sat at the gate of the city and judged the causes of widows and established rights for orphans. He was known for his wisdom (Ezekiel 28:3). The dating of the tablets suggests this is a story Ezekiel would likely be familiar with. In fact the consensus among scholars who are not extreme bible-believers is that this is the Dan’el Ezekiel was referring to.
2.2.2 Problems in the interpretation of the prophecy
The bible-believer’s interpretation of this prophecy is that the head of gold refers to the Babylonian empire (indeed the prophecy explicitly states this), the breast and arms of silver refer to a Medo-Persian empire, the belly and thighs of brass refer to Alexander the Great, and the legs and feet made partly of iron and partly of clay refer to the Roman Empire. However, this scenario does not hold up under scrutiny. The biggest problem is that THERE WAS NO MEDO-PERSIAN EMPIRE. There was a Median empire that was conquered by the Persians. Thus, a much more likely scenario is that the head of gold refers to Babylon, the breasts and arms of silver refer to the Median empire, the belly and thighs of brass refer to the Persian empire, and the legs and feet made partly of iron and partly of clay refers to Alexander. This is the argument I will set forth here.
If one reads the book of Daniel, there is a clear picture that is presented. Daniel comes to the court of Nebuchadrezzar, serves under his son Belshazzar who is violently deposed by Darius the Mede (son of Ahasuerus [also known as Xerxes]) whom Daniel also serves, and is alive into the reign of Cyrus the Persian. The clear implication is that Babylon falls to the Median Empire which is replaced by a Persian Empire. This is not what really happened (as we will see later), but it is the clear picture presented by the author of Daniel. Thus, the simplest conclusion to draw from this is that the author of Daniel THOUGHT that is what happened.
With that in mind, let’s examine the prophecy. The controversy lies on the interpretation of the second empire (the breast and arms of silver). Is it a combined Medo-Persian empire, or is it just the Median empire? The pertinent history of the time was that Babylon and Media were the two biggest empires in the region. Persia was a vassal state of Media. Cyrus the Great came to power in Persia and rebelled against the Medes five years later in 550 BCE. He defeated the Median king Astyages. In doing this Cyrus acquired all the Median territory. Thereafter he referred to his kingdom simply as the Persian kingdom.
Another problem with relating the second kingdom to a combined “Medo-Persian” kingdom is that the prophecy clearly states that the kingdom will be inferior to that of Nebuchadrezzar’s. The Persian empire lasted twice as long as the Babylonian empire and at its height controlled three times the land area. That sounds more like ruling over the whole world (the third empire) rather than being inferior (like the second empire). The Median empire, on the other hand, was indeed inferior to Babylonian empire. It did not last as long nor did it control the area of the Babylonians.
The question then is “does the fourth kingdom fit that of Alexander?” The answer is a resounding “YES”. Alexander was the strongest king in history up to his time. He conquered all of Egypt, Persia, and extended his kingdom into India. This was pretty much all the known world at his time. In fact, legend has it that Alexander wept because he had no more land to conquer. However, at the height of his power and at a very young age, he unexpectedly died leaving no heir. His kingdom was split 4 ways and given to his top generals: Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Antigonus.
2.2.3 Problems with the bible-believer version of the prophecy
As we have seen, the bible-believer version of the prophecy in which the fourth kingdom is associated with Rome instead of Alexander, is most likely not the one intended by the author. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume the extreme bible-believers are correct and it is. Then they still have the problem of the arrival of God’s everlasting kingdom. Rome has fallen (in either 485 CE with the Visigoth sacking of Rome, or in 1465 CE with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman empire, depending on how you want to define it). The question is, “why does the prophecy stop here?” Why doesn’t it mention the other great kingdom that dominated the area, the Ottoman empire? Even if we were to accept the extreme bible-believer version of the prophecy, looking at the results since then would force us to conclude that Daniel was still a false prophet.