REFLECTIONS ON THE ACCURACY OF DANIEL
The book of Daniel has been the subject of vigorous debate regarding its historicity, accuracy, and dating. Conservative evangelical scholars have often defended a sixth-century B.C. date for the book while those of a more liberal, critical mindset have argued for a date in the second-century B.C. Evangelical scholars Alan Millard and Edwin Yamauchi have both written on the issues related to the accuracy of Daniel. This paper will summarize two of their articles and then provide an assessment of their argumentation as well as briefly discuss other issues related to the accuracy of the book of Daniel.
Yamauchi divides his article into two parts as he looks at “historical problems” and then at “linguistic and archaeological data” associated with Daniel. Under the category of historical problems Yamauchi considers four areas of controversy. First, there are issues related to Nebuchadnezzar. These include the dating discrepancy between Daniel 1.1 and Jeremiah 46.2. This is “readily explained by the use of different calendars (Nisan and Tishri), and of different regnal systems.” Another concern revolves around the Babylonian names given to Daniel and his three friends. Yamauchi notes the work of a distinguished Assyriologist who has proposed an explanation on the basis of Akkadian analogies. The issue of the use of the word “Chaldeans” as anachronistic is looked at as well and given a plausible explanation.
The second area concerns the relationship of Nabonidus and Belshazzar. Belshazzar is mentioned in Daniel but Nabonidus is not. Nabonidus is the acknowledged king of Babylon but cuneiform evidence shows that his son Belshazzar was left in charge in Babylon after Nabonidus moved to the Arabian city Tema.
The third area Yamauchi addresses is the potential relationship between Nebuchadnezzar’s derangement and Nabonidus’ exile. Some have attempted to argue that these two episodes are the same but Yamauchi notes “there are far more dissimilarities than resemblances.”
A fourth area concerns the identity of Darius the Mede. Since there is no clear extra-biblical evidence for such a person the identity of Darius has been suspect. Yamauchi notes that two evangelical responses have been to align Darius with either Gubaru or Cyrus. Yamauchi does acknowledge that none of the proposed solutions to this problem have been entirely satisfactory. Yamauchi helpfully adds:
The failure to appreciate the fragmentary nature of available evidence leads to the false assumption that a figure in literary sources must be unhistorical if contemporary epigraphical documentation for his existence is unavailable. It was not until 1961 that the first epigraphical text for Pontius Pilate was discovered, and it was not until 1966 that similar documentation for Felix, the governor of Judea, was found.
Yamauchi, in the second section of his paper, interacts briefly with alleged linguistic problems. He looks at an Egyptian loanword, the use of Aramaic, and the presence of Greek words for instruments in Daniel 3.5. All of these are given plausible explanations. Yamauchi, in particular, looks at the debate on Daniel’s Aramaic. Rowley’s 1929 study alleging a second-century date due to the type of Aramaic is countered by noting the work of a number of scholars who have disputed Rowley’s findings.
In light of the above discussions Yamauchi is able to conclude with these wise words:
It is clear that liberal commentators do not acknowledge that there are possible solutions to the historical problems in the Book of Daniel… Conservative scholars welcome the increasing mass of linguistic and archaeological data which helps support an early date or at least helps undermine arguments for a late date for Daniel.
Millard’s essay covers many of the same items as Yamauchi’s article: the dating issue of Daniel 1.1, the relationship between Nebuchadnezzar’s madness and Nabonidus’ Prayer, the relationship between the kingships of Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar, the identity of Darius the Mede, and the linguistic issues revolving around Persian, Greek, and Aramaic words. Millard comes to many of the same conclusions as those of Yamauchi.
Millard does address a few additional issues. First, there is a discussion of Belshazzar’s feast and death. Millard links this to other ancient histories and shows the plausibility of the Daniel account. Second, Millard discusses the reality of the Median kingdom. He points to the historical data regarding these people and then discusses their role in Daniel. Millard correlates the Medes with the second element in Daniel’s vision of the statue in chapter two. Third, Millard briefly examines the relationship between Daniel’s mention of 120 satraps (Dan 6.1) and the mention of Darius I appointing twenty “satrapies” as found in the writing of Herodotus. Millard explains that the underlying word used in Daniel has the potential for a broader meaning. He concludes: “The possibility may be envisaged, therefore, that the term could be applied more widely than Herodotus’s report about the reign of Darius I implies.”
Millard and Yamauchi in their respective articles examine a number of details that point to a sixth-century B.C. date for Daniel. At the very least, they attempt to provide plausible explanations to objections against a sixth-century date.
Although literary documents and archaeological data are important in assessing the date of Daniel the larger issue of background presuppositions plays a role in the assessment of the literary and archaeological evidence. The book of Daniel is written from a sixth-century perspective but the fact that it prophesies events centuries in the future leads many scholars to conclude that the document must be a second-century creation. W. S. Towner is very forthright in his presuppositional stance:
We need to assume that the vision as a whole is a prophecy after the fact. Why? Because human beings are unable to predict future events centuries in advance and to say that Daniel could do so, even on the basis of a symbolic revelation vouchsafed to him by God and interpreted by an angel, is to fly in the face of the certainties of human nature. So what we have here is in fact not a road map of the future laid down in the sixth century B.C. but an interpretation of the events of the author’s own time, 167-164 B.C. …
For those, like the present author, who affirm a supernaturalistic worldview Towner’s position is suspect due to its underlying naturalism. The arguments for a sixth-century B.C. date for Daniel are strong and the objections to such a date have often been addressed by evangelical Old Testament scholars. Gleason Archer, for example, in a hard-hitting article defending a sixth-century date concludes his essay with the following: “It is therefore safe to say that no Bible scholar can today make a defensible claim to intellectual respectability and still maintain the theory of a Maccabean time of composition for this remarkable book…”
For the rest of this essay the perennial issue of the identity of Darius the Mede will be briefly examined. Both Yamauchi and Millard mention the work of Donald Wiseman who argued that Darius the Mede is to be identified with Cyrus. Yamauchi and Millard both recognize that this view is not entirely convincing in light of the lack of archaeological confirmation. Lester Grabbe in a 1988 article surveys three evangelical perspectives on Darius the Mede—including Wiseman’s view. Grabbe dismisses Wiseman in less than a page. He argues that Wiseman’s view has no positive data or argumentation. He concludes that Wiseman’s view is “only an exercise in apologetics.” Grabbe’s view is the typical critical perspective: Darius “is simply a creation from commonplace beliefs about Persian times.”
Subsequent to Grabbe’s discussion William Shea took up the challenge of Darius the Mede and responded to Grabbe’s conclusions. Space forbids a full summary of Shea’s arguments but the general structure of his analysis is to walk through the textual data as well as the archaeological evidence to see how the “Darius as Cyrus” hypothesis fares. Shea concludes:
The ultimate argument for Cyrus as Darius the Mede must stem from the issue of how well this hypothesis explains all of the data involved. I would suggest that the use of D. J. Wiseman’s theory that Cyrus was Darius the Mede affords better explanations for more biblical references than any other hypothesis. In fact, some of these very intimate details of history have gone unexplained until this hypothesis has been applied to them. Thus, the identification of Cyrus as Darius the Mede in the book of Daniel brings to these unexplained details of that book the very best explanation yet available.
It is instructive to compare the methodology of Grabbe and Shea in this matter. Grabbe considers Wiseman’s “working hypothesis” to be devoid of any “positive data or argumentation. This is a truncated view of the matter. Shea’s methodology is to truly take Wiseman’s proposal as a working hypothesis and to test how the relevant data that is available is illuminated by such a proposal. This is an appropriate “inference-to-the-best-explanation” approach to historiography. William Craig, in his discussion of the nature of historical knowledge, describes the process this way:
According to this approach, we begin with the evidence available to us and then infer what would, if true, provide the best explanation of that evidence. Out of a pool of live options determined by our background beliefs, we select the best of various competing potential explanations to give a causal account of why the evidence is as it is rather than otherwise.
Craig’s comments draw attention to the issue of one’s “background beliefs” as one element of determination. For the conservative evangelical a part of one’s relevant background beliefs will be such items as the epistemic authority of the Scriptures in general as well as the belief in a transcendent God who rules over creation and history. Given these presuppositional commitments it is entirely rational to seek historical harmonization utilizing plausible scenarios as a working hypothesis.
While critical scholars have often alleged a second-century B.C. date for Daniel conservative evangelicals have provided reasonable answers to the typical objections for a sixth-century B.C. date. Although certainty is not possible in every instance, there are plausible explanations for the challenges to the early date. Many times the philosophical presuppositions play an important factor in the assessment of the data.
Archer, Jr. Gleason L. “Modern Rationalism and the Book of Daniel.” Bibliotheca Sacra 136
Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton, Ill.:
Dillard, Raymond B. and Tremper Longman III. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand
Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994.
Grabbe, Lester L. “Another Look at the Gestalt of ‘Darius the Mede’.” Catholic Biblical
Quarterly 50 (1988): 198-213.
Millard, Alan R. “Daniel in Babylon: An Accurate Record?” Pages 263-280 in Do Historical
Matters Matter to Faith: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012.
Shea, William H. “Darius the Mede in his Persian-Babylonian Setting.” Andrews University
Seminary Studies 29 (1991): 235-257.
Shea, William H. “Nabonidus Chronicle: New Readings and the Identity of Darius the Mede.”
Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 7 (1996): 1-20.
Shea, William H. “The Search for Darius the Mede (Concluded), or The Time of the Answer
to Daniel’s Prayer and the Date of the Death the Mede.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 12 (2001): 97-105.
Waltke, Bruce K. “The Date of the Book of Daniel.” Bibliotheca Sacra 133 (1976): 319-329.
Yamauchi, Edwin M. “The Archaeological Background of Daniel.” Bibliotheca Sacra 137
 The two articles to be discussed are: Edwin M. Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Daniel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (1980), 3-16; Alan R. Millard, “Daniel in Babylon: An Accurate Record?” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (ed. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 263-280.
 Bruce K. Waltke in an essay also arguing for a sixth-century B.C. date for Daniel argues that the Medes should be linked with the Persian empire as the second element with the third element being Greece and the fourth element being the Roman empire. “The Date of the Book of Daniel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 133 (1976), 326.
 William H. Shea, “Darius the Mede in his Persian-Babylonian Setting,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 29 (1991), 235-257. It should be noted that Shea subsequently changed his mind regarding the Cyrus and Darius connection. In later essays he went back to a view he had previously propounded, namely that Darius is to be identified with Ugbaru, the general who conquered Babylon for Cyrus. Either way, Shea has effectively argued for two possible answers for the identity of Darius. For Shea’s later view see: “Nabonidus Chronicle: New Readings and the Identity of Darius the Mede,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 7 (1996), 1-20; “The Search for Darius the Mede (Concluded), or The Time of the Answer to Daniel’s Prayer and the Date of the Death the Mede,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 12 (2001), 97-105.