Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel — Conclusion

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.

Was Daniel really written in the 6th Century BCE? Daniel is presented as the author. He is portrayed as a major official in the administration of Nebuchadrezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius the Mede. He is also portrayed as being important during the time of Cyrus. However, even though we have numerous Babylonian records, there is no mention of anyone that is comparable to Daniel as being a high ranking member.

Furthermore, there are numerous historical errors in Daniel. In Chapter 1, Daniel gives a date for his incarceration in Nebuchadrezzar’s court that is in disagreement with historical evidence. He also miscalls Nebuchadrezzar “king” when at that time he was a prince. In Chapter 4, Daniel gives an account of Nebuchadrezzar losing his mind for a period of time in which he lives, sleeps, and eats in the field with the cattle. No such episode is recorded in history. In Chapter 5, Daniel refers to Belshazzar as king and Nebuchadrezzar’s son, even though Belshazzar was never king and was not related to Nebuchadrezzar at all. Also in Chapter 5, Daniel says that Belshazzar is killed in a violent action when Darius the Mede conquers Babylon. But it was Cyrus, a Persian, who conquered Babylon, and he did so bloodlessly. There was no historical Darius the Mede.

If an historical Daniel existed, then these gross historical mistakes made by Daniel must have been intentional. But why? There is no motive for this. It would only serve to make his prophecies be ridiculed. If on the other hand, the mistakes are unintentional, Daniel was written by someone with a poor knowledge of the history of the 6th Century BCE era.

However, whoever wrote it had an excellent knowledge of the history of the area from the time of Alexander to that of Antiochus IV. Note how the King of the North/King of the South prophecy fits in perfect chronological order with the actual events during that time. Is it reasonable to believe that a 6th century author would be so wrong about his own history, but so right about the history that is to come 300 to 400 years later? Or is it more reasonable to assume that the reason the author of the story knew the history of that time so much better is because that is the time in which he wrote it? Then, why was it that the prophecy suddenly started making wrong predictions again sometime between 165 and 164 BCE? Was it that even though there is no logical break in the story, this actually refers to events that have not yet happened? Or could it be that the author was actually making guesses about the near future that failed to pan out?

Does it make sense that events which are never seen in modern times — supernaturally transmitted information in dreams and visions, people being magically saved from fiery furnaces and lions’ dens, people being supernaturally driven crazy for being too prideful, and supernatural writings on a wall — actually happened in a more superstitious culture? Or is it more likely that these are legends that have been passed down and were adapted to convince the faithful to hold onto their faith during a period of severe persecution? Does it make sense that Daniel would be given prophecies of end times that are to take place several thousand years later? Especially, considering that the archangel Gabriel said to keep them secret until the end-times, and they were only kept secret apparently 300 to 400 years. For that matter, does it make sense that Daniel was given prophecies of end times that were to come true in 300 to 400 years? Or is it more likely that someone writing 300 to 400 years later would make use of his knowledge of history to add validity to his “prophecies” and give hope to the persecuted people of his own time that he was sure his god would soon deliver them?

Thus, either Daniel was written by a 6th century BCE prophet who wrote horribly of the history of his own times, or it was a forgery written by a 2nd century BCE pious Jew who, along with his people, was suffering terrible persecution under the rule of Antiochus IV. For me the answer is obvious — it was written by a 2nd century BCE Jew. But each reader must make up her own mind.

Implications of Daniel being a forgery
If Daniel is a forgery, as most scholars who are not extreme bible-believers think, what does that mean for the bible? One school of thought says it means nothing. God could have inspired a 2nd century BCE pious Jew as well as a 6th century BCE prophet. But it is hard to see why God would have inspired a 2nd century BCE Jew to write so inaccurately about the history of the 6th century BCE. This doesn’t make the writing more believable. It doesn’t set an example of good morals. All it does is give a person a reason to not believe. I do not think that is the intention God would have in mind.

Another school of thought says it means very little. If one part of the bible is faked, it doesn’t mean that all of it would be. However, it does make the rest of the bible open to doubt. If one part is wrong and many people were fooled for many years, then other parts could be wrong as well. Indeed, Daniel is not the only suspected forgery. The book of Isaiah is thought to have been written by at least two and probably three different people, hundreds of years apart. The first five books of Moses are not thought to be written by Moses. Psalms is not written by David. The Song of Solomon is not written by Solomon. Virtually every book of the bible has places in it that are thought to have changes (interpolations) from the original transcripts. How does one determine which parts of the bible are divinely inspired and which are not? There is no standardization anymore; everything becomes subject to individual interpretation (which is not so far off from what is actually taking place amongst many Christian sects).

A final school of thought is that it means quite a bit. The prophecies in Daniel have been used as evidence for the existence of God by extreme bible-believers for a long time. Many very imaginative scenarios have been and are still being made to fit the end-time prophecies with events of more modern times. Claims are made that Daniel accurately predicted Persian rule of Babylon, Alexander the Great, the Maccabean uprising, the ministry and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and the rule of the Roman Empire. Some extreme bible-believers have even staked their faith on Daniel. Josh McDowell, one of the most prominent of the extreme bible-believer apologists, noting the references to Daniel’s prophecies in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14, and Jesus’ own references to himself as the “Son of Man” (which McDowell feels is an obvious reference to Daniel’s prophecies), says, “Now if Christ were mistaken about the Book of Daniel, then He must also have been mistaken about his own identity. And if this be so, it follows that the Christian faith may be called into question. At stake is the very trustworthiness of Christ’s statements concerning our own faith and salvation through Him”.

Of course, McDowell doesn’t end up questioning his faith; instead, he and other extreme bible-believers end up affirming Daniel. They do so at the price of making up a siege of Jerusalem in 605 BCE when every historical indication is that there never was one. They do so at the price of credulously believing as fact stories that God would supernaturally help Daniel and three of his friends while at the same time letting a whole nation go into slavery for several generations. They do so by believing that when Belshazzar is referred to as Nebuchadrezzar’s son, Daniel really meant one of several successors to Nebuchadrezzar. They do so by believing that when Belshazzar is called king, Daniel really meant co-regent along with Nabonidus.

Extreme bible-believers affirm the inerrancy of the bible by allowing Darius the Mede to be someone other than Darius and someone other than a Mede. They affirm the inerrancy of the bible by making up a Medo-Persian empire that never existed. They affirm the inerrancy of the bible by claiming that this Medo-Persian empire was inferior to that of Babylon, even though the Persian part of that empire would have been three times as large and lasted twice as long. They affirm the inerrancy of the bible by claiming that the night the bible says King Belshazzar was violently killed in Babylon and Darius the Mede took over is actually the same day that Cyrus’s troops peacefully marched into the city with their swords sheathed.

They say that Darius the Mede could have had a father named Xerxes, even though the Xerxes referred to elsewhere in the bible came many years later and was the son of Darius. They say that when Daniel says there will be four Persian kings, he is only referring to the most important four of the actual nine Persian kings, and they disagree as to which of the nine Persian kings are the main four.

In short, ironically, these very people who say that God is responsible for every word and every punctuation mark in the bible and that the bible is meant to be taken literally, hold this belief by insisting that the bible means very different things than what it actually says.

What bible-believers never seem to be able to face up to is the fact that if Daniel is a forgery, then the most likely explanation is that Yahweh, the god of the bible, does not exist. Since Yahweh is not supposed to cause confusion and is all-powerful and he loves us and has a message for us, he should have wanted that message to be clear, and he should have had the power to make it so. There should be no forgeries in his canon. There should be no errors in his canon. Historically, we should be confirming, not casting doubt on the bible. Scientifically, we should be confirming, not outright contradicting the bible. Morally, we should see the best and most logical behavior on the part of God, not example after example of capriciousness, vindictiveness, unfairness, and maliciousness that need special pleadings and denials even worse than what is done by extreme bible-believers concerning Daniel to explain away.

Links to the other articles

14 thoughts on “Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel — Conclusion”

  1. “Now if Christ were mistaken about the Book of Daniel, then He must also have been mistaken about his own identity. And if this be so, it follows that the Christian faith may be called into question. At stake is the very trustworthiness of Christ’s statements concerning our own faith and salvation through Him”.

    Of course, McDowell doesn’t end up questioning his faith; instead, he and other extreme bible-believers end up affirming Daniel.

    And this is the part that gets me, the people who have deeply researched these things, more than half still claim to be Christians, but with a very skewed view of biblical Christianity. I don’t know if I could remain a christian with a skewed view of christinaity knowing that half of the bible is a forgery. And that there is no way to really know what to trust and not to trust.


  2. Elisha, your 9:29 comment and link say that the king, Nabonidas had a son, Belshazzar. the links you provided create that belshazzar was coregent, when nothing exists to confirm that. regardless, daniel says that belshazzar was king (not coregent or son of nabonidas) and says that belshazzar was Nebuchanzer’s son – and he wasnt…

    It looks like there’s still some issues…


  3. Elisha, I’m not sure I follow your point about Datius the Great marrying Atossa. Are you saying that Darius the Great is the “Darius the Mede” of Daniel? I dont think that is what your link shows.


  4. This is interesting. It seems clear that the book of Daniel is a forgery, and likely that Daniel never existed. I do not follow this to the conclusion that Daniel is not real, therefore God is not real. I think that is kind of like finding a forged account of travel to South America and then deducing that South America is not real. I think the Bible is as subject to imperfection as humanity. And perhaps most importantly, I think the Bible is a collection of stories preserved across many years, and collected together eventually as the stories through which people understood God or the meaning of life. I have always found people who defend the Bible as literal or entirely factual both unintelligent and damaging to Christianity. I was raised Catholic and always encouraged to consider the Bible metaphorical, and the translations flawed. I wish that was the standard. Harry Potter is all fiction – there is still plenty to be gained by reading it, and many core truths. Perhaps the same could be said of Daniel.


  5. Hi fairbanks,

    Thanks for the comment!

    I agree with your main statement that just because the Book of Daniel may not be authentic doesn’t automatically mean that God doesn’t exist. For me, seeing the problems in the Book of Daniel kick started a broader and deeper study of the Bible in its entirety. I came out the other side of that believing that none of it was divinely inspired. For a while, I remained a deist — still believing in a god, but not in any specific one. That eventually turned into atheism.

    There are a number of Christians who don’t believe that the Bible needs to be inerrant for Christianity to be true, but that’s just been a difficult proposition for me to accept. In both the Old and New Testaments, God is presented as a being who wants certain things from humanity. Well, what are those things? How do we know his will? In the tradition I was raised within, we looked to the Bible for those answers. But if the Bible is imperfect, how can we trust any of the information it gives us, especially if the fate of our souls hangs in the balance?

    Now, I know that Catholicism treats it a little differently, since it also relies on the authority of the church and the pope. But again, how do you know that they’re right? Couldn’t they just be fallible humans? And doesn’t the fact that the church has changed its position on many things over the centuries point more to it being a human institution than a divine one?

    And in the end, I just realized that I had many reasons for doubting Christianity anyway. I’ve never experienced anything supernatural, personally. And I find the doctrines of most religions to be difficult to swallow. For instance, why would God need to sacrifice his son/himself in order to forgive people for their wrongdoings? Why not just forgive them, as most of us are able to do with one another?

    But, I do agree with you that there is much to be gained from reading the Bible, or pretty much any religious text. Even if there’s no divine content at all, there’s a lot for us to learn about the history and culture of the people who wrote it.

    Anyway, thanks again for your comment! Feel free to jump in anytime!


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