Dating Daniel

Dating Daniel November 13, 2008

NT Wrong has a post on the reasons why Daniel is regarded by almost all scholars as a pseudo-prophecy (like just about all the other examples of apocalyptic literature we have from this period). In my class on apocalyptic, I put up a powerpoint slide with the text of a recently discovered ancient apocalypse (one I found while digging for treasure in my garden). Here’s what the text says:

And in those days two rulers of the great nation shall contend,
But no place shall be found for flip-floppers,
And the ruler shall maintain his throne
And continue his strategery
Without eloquence of speech.
For through his might he deposed the king of Babylon
Even though his weapons of mass destruction he did not find.

Rather than say more, let me just ask readers the same question I ask students when they begin to suspect that I’m pulling their leg and this is not in fact an ancient apocalypse at all. What gives it away? What makes you certain beyond reasonable doubt that this text was composed in light of the events it alludes to rather than predicting them? And for extra credit, can you pinpoint the approximate time (year and month) in which it was really composed?

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  • if the original text was in hebrew, the translator was from a time of wmd. what would the translator deliberately translate as wmd? really big catapults?if the original text was in english, the author knew of wmd. dating it is a linguistic exercise in beginning, or prevalent use of the wmd jargon. and maybe in the speed and direction of movement of information in a time of wmd. if only she’d included more than one linguistically distiguishing clue, so we could really be sure.how come i never find really cool stuff like this in my garden?

  • Anonymous

    What do you think of arguments of the internet apologist Glenn Miller for early dating of Daniel? Some of the arguments include:1) Early texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran have caused scholars to adjust the dating of the origin of a text (especially biblical books) to prior to Maccabean times, but this was not done when early texts of Daniel were found.2) Daniel was accepted as primary authority at Qumran, and this is unlikely to occur in the short period of time between its purported origin around 165BCE and the early phase of Qumran’s existence (around 150 BCE). 3) Allusions and references from Daniel in other texts virtually require Daniel to have existed prior to its supposed origin or finalization at 165BCE.

  • The allusions and references don’t strike me as persuasive – they may indicate that the terminology that Ben Sira and Daniel share in common was current in Judaism in the time period during which both were produced.The arguments from the presence of the book at Qumran might be persuasive if we had no other evidence that was relevant. We might, in that case, say that all things being equal, the book of Daniel is probably significantly older. But ultimately the manuscript evidence doesn’t counterbalance the fact that the Book of Daniel makes increasingly precise references to events involving Egypt, Syria and Judaea up until the time of Antiochus, and then says that Antiochus will die with none to help him and then the final judgment will come. Such internal features provide strong evidence for the date of composition, and so unless we had manuscripts that were actually prior to the time of Antiochus, that would probably not overturn the strong evidence within the book itself.It may be that it was the appending of apocalyptic revelations to already-existing and familiar stories about Daniel that allowed the book as a whole to gain acceptance far more quickly than would normally have been the case.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the quick and helpful response!

  • so you don’t think the recent archeological find of gold coins stamped with the head of daniel and the date 753 bc are convincing?

  • Anonymous

    Don’t some books purporting to be prophecy push their luck by making statements (which turn out to be not as accurate) about times after the writing?If you look carefully at your recently discovered book, you might find that you overlooked a couple of verses which describe events of mid-November, 2008 and later, but are more obscure or which we will find out to be wrong?Tom S.

  • Did you find these coins digging in your backyard?Even if such coins were to be found, they would not demonstrate the date of the book, unless the coins were inscribed “Daniel, bestselling author of the Book of Daniel, complete in 12 chapters”. Or perhaps it would mention more chapters, and the coin would confirm the Septuagint’s version…

  • So on the dating of your apocalypse: I’d posit some time between late 2004 and late 2006, but most likely near the beginning of that range, say November 2004 to May 2005. Terminus post quem: Re-election of George W. Bush (November 2004).Terminus ante quem: Death of Saddam Hussein (December 2006), after which the penultimate line would presumably have read: “For through his might he smote the king of Babylon.” Alternate terminus ante quem: The end of Spring Semester, 2005, after which John Kerry’s failed bid for president would, presumably, be of less immediate interest.If I were to guess, I’d date the text to January 2005.

  • when i showed them to my wife, she said the date was wrong. so the damn things are counterfeit.but i put ’em on e-bay anyway.

  • There’s an almost meta reason that they will know you are pulling their leg: if there were anything that close in any prophetic text we would have all heard about it long ago. But that’s obviously not the point.

  • There is a change in tense in the last two lines. All of sudden we are reading of the past rather than the future. So it seems that the author lets his/her true perspective slip in–a type of “authorial fatigue”.

  • “Daniel was accepted as primary authority at Qumran, and this is unlikely to occur in the short period of time between its purported origin around 165BCE and the early phase of Qumran’s existence (around 150 BCE).”I don’t think that we can apply some sort of time period for Daniel to pervade the culture. No osmosis here. If Daniel was written as Maccabean propoganda than it would have been heavily promoted and have spread quickly.

  • Anonymous

    If the book of Daniel was written with the intent to deceive, how can someone accept it as Scripture? It is one thing to be mistaken, or to write a work of fiction, or to use poetic license, or even “spin” – but a deliberate falsehood, I do not see how to excuse.

  • Ah, the nature of apocalyptic. We so want someone to predict the future, don’t we? Anyway…I think the garden discovery has been written and redacted. Let’s call the original author P (for Psychic). P clearly intended a predictive text in future tense (cf. vv 1-3). Freakishly accurate, P forecasts media criticism. When did P live? Did P even know about TV? Verses 4-5 appear to have been added later, perhaps overwriting some original text, by C (Critic). C doesn’t really contribute anything of C’s own, but adds commentary suggesting that C got at least B’s in college. The next redactor, B (Bellicose) constructs a war reference (vv. 6-7) added at a time later than C’s critique. The passing reference to ‘might’ suggests that B was interested more in the poetic nature of apocalyptic writing. The mention of Babylon suggests that B was perhaps knowledgeable of Middle Eastern History as well as a fan of Bob Marley. Lastly, S (Spellchecker) went through to make sure that Word wouldn’t underline anything in the text with that annoying red line.I didn’t use any “academic” sources for this response. But I did run this prophecy through the rubric of a stone tablet I found in my back yard.

  • So on the dating of your apocalypse: I'd posit some time between late 2004 and late 2006?

  • The Mouse Avenger

    Precisely! 🙂