Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 4

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.

This post will detail the problems in Chapter 4. Chapter 4 is a short chapter. It deals with a vision that Nebuchadrezzar supposedly had, that Daniel interpreted and subsequently came true. Interestingly, the bible portrays this chapter as being written by Nebuchadrezzar himself and not by Daniel.

4.1 Summary of Chapter 4
Chapter 4 is presented as being written by Nebuchadrezzar. He has a second dream that disturbs him. None can interpret it, so he calls on Daniel. Daniel listens to the dream and becomes distressed. Nebuchadrezzar says for him to not worry, he can take whatever it is. Daniel tells Nebuchadrezzar that he is about to go crazy. He will be driven from men, will live with beasts, eat grass like oxen, and be made wet by the dew. Once he comes to realize that God is the master (a period of seven “times” [most likely seven years]) he will return to normal and the kingdom will return into his hands. Sure enough this happens. About a year later, Nebuchadrezzar was admiring the beauty of Babylon and praising his own efforts in bringing it about when suddenly he is driven out, has to live with the animals, eats grass, and is made wet by the dew. In the end, Nebuchadrezzar “praise[s] and extol[s] and honour[s] the King of Heaven, whose works are truth and his ways judgment: and those who walk in pride he is able to debase.”

4.2 Analysis
The problem here is that even though good records exist from his reign, there is no record of Nebuchadrezzar going crazy. The extreme bible-believer says this is because kings would hide such embarrassments. But this makes no sense. The account in the book of Daniel is from the point of view of Nebuchadrezzar himself. If it is true, then obviously he wanted people to know about it. Why then is it not recorded elsewhere?

Furthermore, given that Nebuchadrezzar had already supposedly seen and believed that God could control the outcome of future events, save people from a fiery furnace, and drive him crazy for his sin of pride, why didn’t Nebuchadrezzar become a believer? That seems like pretty good evidence of His existence to me. In any case, it is a lot more than I have asked for to become a believer.

Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king, did have a reputation of acting erratically. Some scholars think that stories concerning his behavior and not that of Nebuchadrezzar are the ultimate source for this story, but that just begs the question of how the book of Daniel, inspired by an omnipotent and omniscient God could make that mistake.

[Nate here — One thing I noticed about this chapter is that Nebuchadnezzar calls “all the wise men of Babylon” to interpret his dream. When they can’t, Daniel is called in to interpret it. Yet according to the previous chapters, Nebuchadnezzar had already seen that Daniel (with God’s help) could interpret dreams more accurately than anyone. In fact, Daniel 2:48 says that Nebuchadnezzar placed Daniel in charge of all the wise men of Babylon — he even appointed Daniel governor of the entire province of Babylon. So if all that’s true, why didn’t Nebuchadnezzar just call on him first? Why go through all the other wise men before going to Daniel? It doesn’t make a lot of sense… unless the point is just to illustrate how much wiser Daniel is than everyone else. And if that’s the point, then this story sounds much more like a legend than history.]

In the next installment I will deal with Chapter 5. Here, Nebuchadrezzar’s “son”, Belshazzar, sees the writing on the wall. This is a much more substantive chapter. Unfortunately for the extreme bible believer it is filled with mistakes.

Links to the other articles

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4 thoughts on “Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 4”

  1. Yeah, I think that’s a good point. I came from such a strict and literal view of the Bible that I was initially pretty angry at it when I discovered that it wasn’t what I’d always thought it to be (sounds silly in retrospect). But now I’ve calmed down a bit and view them similarly to how I see Greek or Norse mythology. No one gets angry or upset or overly critical that stories of Zeus aren’t literally true, so why not cut the Bible some slack too? They’re just stories and allegories that were never intended to be real history.

    Thanks for the comment!

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  2. Correct. I read the Bible extensively as a child with no guidance but my own brain. And that’s exactly how I perceived them: as stories and, yes, much like fairy tales. I actually enjoyed reading it. Well, parts of it.

    It wasn’t until my parents got guilty and made us go to bible study that I realized that people took the bible seriously. Boy, was that an eye opener. I didn’t buy their line of thinking, but I did experience that anger your are talking about first hand.

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