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The book of Daniel:

Its date and author. Interpretation
of the dreams, visions, and the
end of the world. 

Disagreement over the author and date of the book of Daniel:

  • Jesus appears to have verified that the book was actually written by Daniel.

    In Matthew 24:15, he is quoted as stating: "So, when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' of which the prophet Daniel spoke, standing in the holy place...then those who are in Judea must take to the hills."

  • The early Christian church accepted the belief that Daniel himself wrote this book during the 6th century BCE.
  • During the 3rd century CE, the philosopher Porphyry wrote a book "Against the Christians" in which he wrote: "The book of Daniel was written not by the man whom it is named after, but by someone who lived in Judea at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes."

  • Today, conservative Christians generally accept the literal truth of the Bible. They believe that the book of Daniel was actually written by Daniel during the 6th Century BCE. The Bible implies this in several verses, including:
    • Daniel 7:1: "Then he wrote down the dream, and here his account begins."

    • Daniel 7:28: " for me, Daniel, my thoughts dismayed me greatly...."

    • Daniel 8:1: "...a vision appeared to me, Daniel, following my earlier vision."

    • Daniel 9:2: "I, Daniel, was reading the scriptures..."

    • Daniel 10:2: "At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three whole weeks..."

    • Daniel 12:5: "I, Daniel, looked and saw two others standing..."

  • Since the 19th century CE, most Old Testament scholars have dated the Book of Daniel to the 2nd century BCE. Liberal Christians generally accept this dating and believe that the book was actually written during the Maccabean revolt against the Greek occupying forces in 168-164 BCE. They regard the book as pseudepigraphic -- written by an anonymous author or authors, and attributed to Daniel. They base this conclusion on a number of factors:

    • The text contains a number of Greek words; yet the Greek occupation of the area did not occur until the 4th century BCE.

    • One of the musical instruments mentioned in Daniel 3:5 and in subsequent passages did not exist until they were developed in Greece during the 2nd century BCE .

    • Daniel 1:4 refers to the "Chaldeans" as a priestly class in Babylon. This term did not attain this meaning until much later than the 6th century BCE.

    • About 180 BCE, Jeshua ben Sira listed the heroes of the Jewish faith, including "Enoch, Noah and Abraham through to Nehemiah;" Daniel is not mentioned - presumably because Jeshua is unaware of him. This would indicate that the book of Daniel was written after that time.

    • In Chapter 12 of the book of Daniel, the author discusses the dead being resurrected, judged, and taken to either heaven or hell. At the time of Daniel, the Jews believed that all persons went to Sheol after death. The concept of heaven and hell was introduced centuries later by the Pagan Greeks. It did not appear in Israel until the time of the Maccabean revolt.

    • Daniel 11:31 (and elsewhere) refers to "the abominable thing that causes desolation." This appears to refer to the installation of a statue of Zeus in the Jerusalem temple during 167 BCE. This reference would indicate that the book was written at that time or more recently.

    • In the first part of the book of Daniel, before Daniel 11:40, the author(s) accurately recorded historical events under the Babylonian, Median, Persian and Greek empires. However, in Daniel 11:40-45, he wrote that:
      • A king of the south (of the Ptolemaic dynasty) attacked the Greeks in Judea, under Antiochus.

      • The Greeks won, laid spoil to all of northeast Africa, and returned to Judea where Antiochus died.

      • The end of history then occurred.

    However, none of these events actually happened, according to the historical record. Antiochus did die in 164 BCE, but that happened in Persia.

    Thus, the book was apparently completed at some time before 164 BCE.

Liberal Christians generally believe that the Book of Daniel is a work of fiction. Fables and myths about a non-existent ancient hero, Daniel's, were passed down orally for centuries, and then finally written down by an unknown author(s), sometime between 168 and 164 BCE. At the end of the book, the author(s) then unsuccessfully attempted to predict events in his or her future.

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Interpretation of the dreams, visions and end of the world: 

bullet Conservative Christians generally believe that the 4 earthly kingdoms mentioned in different places in the book represent the empires of:
  1. Babylon (represented by the lion/eagle symbol and gold)

  2. Medo-Persia (considered as a single empire; represented as the bear, and silver)

  3. Greece (represented as the leopard and bronze)

  4. Rome (represented as the terrible beast, and iron). Since the end of the world and resurrection of the dead in Daniel 12 has not happened yet, then it must be in our future. Most conservative Christians look upon the fourth empire as existing in two parts:
    bullet the first is the historical Roman Empire;

    bullet the second phase has not yet risen to power. It will be the Kingdom of the Antichrist. Many conservative Christians believe that the Antichrist will be a European and that the revived Roman Empire will evolve out of the European Community (a.k.a. EC).

"Pre-millenialist Christians" believe that this second phase of the Roman Empire will come to an end at the second coming of Christ and the war of Armageddon. Many  conservative Christians interpret the book of Daniel and describe the end of the world as happening in our immediate future. Many predicted TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It) on various dates, in 2000 or 2001 CE. When this time passed, further predictions were made. All of the predictions up to the present time have failed. This book is one of the most important sections of the Hebrew Scriptures because of the prophecies based on the 4 earthly kingdoms.

bulletMany Liberal Christians interpret the 4 earthly kingdoms mentioned in the book as referring to the actual foreign countries that occupied what is now Palestine between the 6th century and 2nd century BCE:
  1. Babylon (represented by the lion/eagle symbol and gold). They attacked the Southern Kingdom in the 580's BCE.

  2. The Median empire (bear symbol and silver). Daniel 5-31 records how "Darius the Mede" conquered Babylon and killed king Belshazzar. This belief probably arose out of many predictions in Isaiah and Jeremiah that Babylon would fall to the Medes. In reality, the Median and Babylonian kingdoms coexisted until the Medians were conquered about 550 BCE and the Babylonians were conquered in 539, both by the Persians. Darius was not a Median king. Apparently the later Persian king "Darius the Great" was confused by the author(s) with Astyages, the last Median king.

  3. The Persian empire (symbolized by a leopard and bronze).

  4. The Greek empire (terrible beast and iron). They conquered Judea in 332 BCE. Daniel 2:41 and 11:3 described it as a kingdom ruled by a warrior king that is divided into 4 sections after his death. None of the 4 sections will be ruled by  his descendents. This fits precisely with the structure of the Macedonian-Greek empire of Alexander the Great. After his death, it was divided among four of his generals. Daniel 2:43 refers to the mixing of families by intermarriage, and mentions that these arrangements would not be stable. Again, this fits well with the attempts that the Seleucid (the King of the North in Daniel 11:7) and Ptolemaic (the King of the South in Daniel 11:5) dynasties to achieve peace and stability through intermarriage. The attempts were unsuccessful.

At the time of the writing of the book of Daniel, circa 166 BCE, the Greek empire occupied what is now Palestine. Since the book was written after the rise of the final empire, the author had the advantage of hindsight. That is, the book is mainly a history of past events, not a prophecy of the future. The author wrote the book almost a century before the Roman Empire invaded what is now Palestine. Since he had no knowledge or expectation of this invasion, it was not mentioned in the book.

In the final chapter of Daniel, the author describes the "end of history" - a resurrection of the dead, judgment and transfer the resurrected dead to heaven or hell. According to Daniel 12:12, these events would happen during approximately three years following the "abomination of desolation" (the erection of a statue of Zeus in the Jewish temple in 167 BCE). Some Bible scholars have interpreted this period of time as occupying many millennia. But this is clearly not a valid interpretation, because Daniel 12:12 refers to people who "wait and live to see the completion of the interval." That would have happened between 167 and 170 BCE. It clearly did not.

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If the author(s) could have accurately predicted the future after 164 BCE, he would have prophesied some additional earthly empires that controlled Palestine:

bullet 5. The Roman Empire (from 63 BCE)

bullet 6. Byzantine Empire (from 313 CE)

bullet 7. Arab conquest; control of Palestine by Muslim groups (from 636 CE)

bullet 8. Christian Crusaders from Europe (from 1099 CE)

bullet 9. Mamluks under Saladin reinstate Muslim rule (from 1291 CE)

bullet 10. Ottoman rule (from 1517 CE)

bullet 11. British Empire rule (from 1917 CE)

bullet 12. The State of Israel (1948 CE to the present time)

From the time of Daniel to the present day, Palestine has been controlled by 11 foreign empires until Israel finally attained independence in 1948 CE. The author(s) of the book of Daniel, apparently writing about 166 CE, failed miserably to predict his or her future.

Many religious liberals classify this book as apocalyptic literature. This writing style was quite common in Israel from the 2nd century BCE to the 2nd century CE. The book of Revelation in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) is perhaps the best known example. The writings were attributed to a famous historical hero in order to give them credibility: Daniel in the case of the book of Daniel; John in the case of Revelation.

References used:

  1. Farrell Till, "Bible Inerrancy: A Belief Without Evidence," available at:
  2. G.A.F. Knight, "The Book of Daniel," part of "The Interpreter's One-volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, Nashville TN, (1991).
  3. A.E. Hill & J.H. Walton, "A Survey of the Old Testament," Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI, (1991), Pages 349 to 356.
  4. H.H Halley, "Halley's Bible Handbook," Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI, (1997) Pages 336 to 352.
  5. J.D. Douglas, Ed., "New Commentary on the Whole Bible, Old Testament Volume," Tyndale, Wheaton, IL, (1990), Pages 1165 to 1204.
  6. Hank Hanegraaff, "Is the Book of Daniel Genuine Prophecy? (Part One of Four)," Christian Research Institute email, 2016-PCT-10.

Copyright 1998 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update 2016-OCT-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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