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The book of Daniel

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

Author and date of the book:

bullet Conservative Christians generally believe that the book was written by Daniel himself in the 6th century BCE. This is confirmed in a number of verses. e.g.

bulletDaniel 7:1: "Then he wrote down the dream. and here his account begins."

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

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

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

bulletDaniel 10:2: "At that time I, Daniel, mourned for thee whole weeks..."

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

Jesus verified that the book was written by Daniel. In Matthew 24:15, he states "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 generally accepted the authorship of Daniel in the 6th century BCE without question. Essentially all Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians believe the same today.

bullet Since the 19th century, 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 really 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 conclude this for a number of reasons:

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

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

bulletDaniel 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.

bulletAbout 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.

bulletChapter 12 discusses the dead being resurrected, judged, and taken to either heaven and 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 Greeks. It did not appear in Israel until the time of the Maccabean revolt.

bulletDaniel 11:31 (and elsewhere) refers to "the abominable thing that causes desolation." This appears to refer to the erection of a statue of Zeus in the Jerusalem temple in 167 BCE, and would indicate that the book was written later than that date.

bullet Prior to Daniel 11:40, the author(s) has been recording past events under the Babylonian, Median, Persian and Greek empires. In Daniel 11:40-45, he really attempts to predict the future. He prophesizes that a king of the south (of the Ptolemaic dynasty) will attack the Greeks in Judea, under Antiochus. The Greeks will win, will lay spoil to all of northeast Africa, and return to Judea where Antiochus will die. The end of history will then occur. The author(s) appeared to be a poor psychic because none of these events actually happened. Antiochus did die in 164 BCE, but it was in Persia. Thus, the book was apparently completed before 164.

Summary: Many liberal Christians 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 167 and 164 BCE. At the end of the book, the author(s) then unsuccessfully attempted to predict the future.

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Interpretation of the Dreams, Visions and End of the World: 

bulletConservative 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:
    bulletthe first is the historical Roman Empire;
    bulletthe 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.

"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 assumed 2000 or 2001 CE. - perhaps about 2000 CE. This book is one of the most important sections of the Hebrew Scriptures because of the prophecies based on 4 earthly kingdoms.

bulletMany Liberal Christians point 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 under (bear 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 Judeah 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, none of whom were his sons. 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 164 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. 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."

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

bullet5. The Roman Empire (from 63 BCE)

bullet6. Byzantine Empire (from 313 CE)

bullet7. Arab conquest; control of Palestine by Muslim groups (from 636 CE)

bullet8. Christian Crusaders from Europe (from 1099 CE)

bullet9. Mamluks under Saladin reinstate Muslim rule (from 1291 CE)

bullet10. Ottoman rule (from 1517 CE)

bullet11. British Empire rule (from 1917 CE)

bullet12. 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, was unable to predict his 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 are often 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.


  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.

Copyright © 1998 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update 2012-JAN-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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