Medes in Daniel


#1

I have questions about the book of Daniel. The book is traditionally ascribed to the prophet Daniel who was taken to Mesopotamia early and lived there throughout the period of the Babylonian Exile and into the reign of Cyrus the Great.

Modern scholars have attacked this traditional view from many angles. Some, like the fact that the some of the prophesies clearly refer to events during the much later period of the Hellenistic kingdoms, are not problems for people who believe in authentic prophesy about the future.

What is more problematic is the alleged inaccuracies in the history that is recounted or prophesied. Some of the apparent irregularities can probably be explained, such as the simplified account of the kings of Persia who are to come before Alexander the Great. But on the matter of the Medes we seem to have a much more serious problem.

The book describes a man called Darius the Mede succeeding to the kingdom after the death of the last Chaldean king of Babylon, Belshazzar. In addition to this the book’s apocalyptic prophesies seem to envision a kingdom that comes after that of the Chadeans and before that of the Persians, presumably a Median kingdom ruled by this King Darius.

Technically it looks like Belshazzar was not a king, but he was the de facto ruler of the kingdom since his father the de jure king had made Belshazzar co-regent and withdrawn from public life, and this may be all that is meant by the Bible calling him a king. More troubling is the fact that Darius the Mede is apparently entirely unknown to secular history, and indeed it appears the Medes had already been conquered by the Persians by this time. The Persian king Cyrus then directly conquered Mesopotamia from Belshazzar and his father with no Median kingdom in between.

On the surface it looks like the Jews of later centuries conflated Cyrus’s victory over the Medes and his later conquest of Mesopotamia into one event, so that they imagined a Median kingdom in Mesopotamia in between the days the Chaldeans and the days of the Persians. The history may have been further confused by the fact that the Greeks had initially called the Persians “Medes” since the Medes had previously been more famous than the Persians and they were both Iranian cultures. Also there were a couple Persian kings after Cyrus who were named Darius.

Has anyone done any reading or given serious thought to this problem? How are the apparent historical errors in Daniel to be explained in light of our belief in Scriptural inerrancy?


#2

[quote="Aelred_Minor, post:1, topic:310668"]
I have questions about the book of Daniel. The book is traditionally ascribed to the prophet Daniel who was taken to Mesopotamia early and lived there throughout the period of the Babylonian Exile and into the reign of Cyrus the Great.

Modern scholars have attacked this traditional view from many angles. Some, like the fact that the some of the prophesies clearly refer to events during the much later period of the Hellenistic kingdoms, are not problems for people who believe in authentic prophesy about the future.

What is more problematic is the alleged inaccuracies in the history that is recounted or prophesied. Some of the apparent irregularities can probably be explained, such as the simplified account of the kings of Persia who are to come before Alexander the Great. But on the matter of the Medes we seem to have a much more serious problem.

The book describes a man called Darius the Mede succeeding to the kingdom after the death of the last Chaldean king of Babylon, Belshazzar. In addition to this the book's apocalyptic prophesies seem to envision a kingdom that comes after that of the Chadeans and before that of the Persians, presumably a Median kingdom ruled by this King Darius.

Technically it looks like Belshazzar was not a king, but he was the de facto ruler of the kingdom since his father the de jure king had made Belshazzar co-regent and withdrawn from public life, and this may be all that is meant by the Bible calling him a king. More troubling is the fact that Darius the Mede is apparently entirely unknown to secular history, and indeed it appears the Medes had already been conquered by the Persians by this time. The Persian king Cyrus then directly conquered Mesopotamia from Belshazzar and his father with no Median kingdom in between.

On the surface it looks like the Jews of later centuries conflated Cyrus's victory over the Medes and his later conquest of Mesopotamia into one event, so that they imagined a Median kingdom in Mesopotamia in between the days the Chaldeans and the days of the Persians. The history may have been further confused by the fact that the Greeks had initially called the Persians "Medes" since the Medes had previously been more famous than the Persians and they were both Iranian cultures. Also there were a couple Persian kings after Cyrus who were named Darius.

Has anyone done any reading or given serious thought to this problem? How are the apparent historical errors in Daniel to be explained in light of our belief in Scriptural inerrancy?

[/quote]

I noticed the apparent error concerning "Darius the Mede" a few years ago while debating Daniel (and its alleged relevance to the future history of the Church) with a Seventh-Day Adventist. I'd be interested in hearing some perspectives on this myself, as I don't currently feel knowledgeable enough to address the contradiction.


#3

For once, Wikipedia's article on Darius the Mede seems to lay out pretty much all the relevant arguments.


#4

[quote="Aelred_Minor, post:1, topic:310668"]
The book describes a man called Darius the Mede succeeding to the kingdom after the death of the last Chaldean king of Babylon, Belshazzar.

[/quote]

According to the Aramaic text he did not succeed to but received the kingdom (presumably from Cyrus). Darius the Mede would then have been an under-king.

More troubling is the fact that Darius the Mede is apparently entirely unknown to secular history, and indeed it appears the Medes had already been conquered by the Persians by this time.

Unknown by that name, but Darius may have been a title originally.

It's interesting to note that the Cyrus Cylinder does not say Cyrus was king of the Medes, but "king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters".

According to Herodotus Cyrus treated Astyages with clemency. Is it possible that Astyages is Darius the Mede? I think Josephus says that Darius the Mede was Astyagus son. But his son would not have been 62 years old. Another theory is that Darius the Mede is Gobryas, who was at the right age.


#5

In Dei verbum, we read: “Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” (Dei verbum, 11; cf CCC 105).

Notice the construction of the sentence: it’s not said that everything in Scripture are “divinely revealed realities”; rather, it’s that there exist within Scripture “divinely revealed realities”. In other words, “divinely revealed realities” are a subset of “Sacred Scripture”.

Moreover, “since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.” (Dei Verbum, 11; cf CCC 107)

Note that that the truth in Scripture isn’t every statement found in Scripture, but rather, “that truth… put… for the sake of salvation.” In other words, what the Church is asserting with respect to Scriptural inerrancy, isn’t necessarily every literal word, but rather, the truth that leads to salvation.

There’s a fine line to be walked here. “[S]ince God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, … in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, (we) should carefully investigate … what God wanted to manifest by means of their words.” (Dei verbum, 12) In other words, since Scripture is written through fallible humans, we need to understand how the inerrant truths of salvation (i.e., the Divine self-revelation of God) are expressed through human agency.

This is a really long explanation to express the following: Scriptural inerrancy doesn’t require complete literal historical accuracy. Your question of how to reconcile human error and Divinely-inspired Scriptural inerrancy is only a problem if we require complete literal historical accuracy; the Church does not.


#6

[quote="Gorgias, post:5, topic:310668"]
In Dei verbum, we read: "Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit." (Dei verbum, 11; cf CCC 105).

Notice the construction of the sentence: it's not said that everything in Scripture are "divinely revealed realities"; rather, it's that there exist within Scripture "divinely revealed realities". In other words, "divinely revealed realities" are a subset of "Sacred Scripture".

Moreover, "since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation." (Dei Verbum, 11; cf CCC 107)

Note that that the truth in Scripture isn't every statement found in Scripture, but rather, "that truth... put... for the sake of salvation." In other words, what the Church is asserting with respect to Scriptural inerrancy, isn't necessarily every literal word, but rather, the truth that leads to salvation.

There's a fine line to be walked here. "[S]ince God speaks in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, ... in order to see clearly what God wanted to communicate to us, (we) should carefully investigate ... what God wanted to manifest by means of their words." (Dei verbum, 12) In other words, since Scripture is written through fallible humans, we need to understand how the inerrant truths of salvation (i.e., the Divine self-revelation of God) are expressed through human agency.

This is a really long explanation to express the following: Scriptural inerrancy doesn't require complete literal historical accuracy. Your question of how to reconcile human error and Divinely-inspired Scriptural inerrancy is only a problem if we require complete literal historical accuracy; the Church does not.

[/quote]

Notice the Dei Verbum quote I put in bold. Everything asserted in by inspired Scripture is asserted by the Holy Spirit. That does not just mean those matters that we are inclined to list as matters of faith or necessary for salvation. It means every single assertion in the text is from God. Dei Verbum's focus on matters of salvation and faith does not change that.

Now, we still have to be careful about what is really being asserted. For example natural phenomena are sometimes mentioned to make a point or as an analogy for something else and are not to be taken as an assertion about, say, astronomy or biology. There is not really a solid dome in the sky with water above it, ostriches far from neglecting their offspring (as was the ancient impression since they lay their eggs in the sand without constructing a nest) are very protective and emotionally attached parents, and seeds do not literally die before they bring forth new growth. Similarly some Biblical stories, like Job and possibly other books like Judith, Tobit, and Jonah, are likely "inspired fictions" told to make a point and never meant to be taken as history, analogous to the parables of Jesus. The early chapters of Genesis are neither inspired history nor inspired fiction in the ordinary sense, but rather inspired mythology and to be accepted as such. Daniel by contrast reads, at least to me, like something which if it did not contain authentic history and prophesies from the real Daniel would constitute fraud.

It may be of course that this impression about the genre of the book of Daniel is incorrect, but in any case we cannot as Catholics take the position that anything asserted in the Scriptures is an error.


#7

Regarding Darius, I had considered the possibility that he was an underling of Cyrus. After all another of the “kings” of Daniel was in fact a co-regent. Another biblical example of this kind of thing is Herod the Tetrarch, who is called a king in one of the Gospels (I forget which one) but unlike the other Biblical King Herods never really held that title. Calling him a king may represent common unofficial usage or simply mean “ruler.” Also, there is the matter of calling Caesar a king or of the seven kings of Revelation which also seem to refer to Emperors. The Roman Emperors of course declined to be called kings in order to preserve the fiction that Rome was still a republic.

Also, the combined Persian-Median kingdom is seemingly symbolized in Daniel by a two-horned ram, each horn probably representing one of those old nations.

This interpretation of Darius the Mede as sort of governor under Cyrus has this big problem with it though: the four kingdoms described in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue and in the four beasts of Daniel’s final (if I remember correctly) vision. Both of these suggest that there were two distinct kingdoms in succession in between Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and that of Alexander the Great. Anyone have any thoughts on this side of the question? Are we, perhaps, to divide either the Chaldean period or the Persian period into two major eras, separate enough from each other to be spoken of as different kingdoms?

Edit: I forgot to mention, I was flipping through Isaiah recently and happened to notice that he speaks of Medes destroying Babylon, or of something along those lines. From a faith perspective I suppose we could explain the apparent error as Isaiah doing something similar to what the ancient Greeks would later do: call Persian-dominated Persian/Median kingdom by the name of its then more famous component, even though that component was in fact secondary to the Persians. Perhaps the legacy of Isaiah was an influence on Daniel seeming to emphasize the role Medes more than a contemporary historian would.


#8

I recently found re-discovered a quotation from the Jewish Encylopedia (1906 edition) that makes some interesting scholarly assertions about the dating of the book of Daniel which may be pertinent to this discussion. It makes a pretty persuasive case for late-dating it, which would tend to put its description of kingdoms and their interactions more in the category of contemporaneous prophecy (like of that of Nathan vis a vis David), or even one of recounting past events, rather than that of prognostication.

"“Date of the Book.

“The date of the writing of the book may be inferred from the following considerations: It was not written by one of the exiles, for many portions of the text could not have been composed by a contemporary of the second king of the Babylonian empire and his immediate successors. This is proved even by the form of that king’s name as given in the book. His Assyrian name was “Nabu-kudurriuẓur” (Friedrich Delitzsch, “Assyrische Lesestücke,” 1900, p. 192), which the Hebrewsat first pronounced “Nebu-kadr-eẓẓar” (Jer. xxi. 2 et seq. [26 times]; Ezek. xxvi. 7, xxix. 18 et seq., xxx. 10). The middle “r” was then dissimilated from the final “r,” giving “Nebu-kadn-eẓẓar,” a form which is found in Jeremiah only in xxvii. 6-xxix. 3, but which is the usual form in all later writings (II Kings xxiv. 1 et seq.; II Chron. xxxvi. 6 et seq.; Ezra i. 7; Esth. ii. 6; Dan. i. 18 et seq.; Soferim xiv. 7; Seder 'Olam R. xxiv. et seq.; and Septuagint, Ναβουχοδονόσορ).

“The Book of Daniel was not written immediately after the Exile. The post-exilic prophets did not know it, for the four horns to which Israel’s enemies are compared in Zech. i. 21, have a local meaning, representing the four points of the compass, and do not refer to the successive kingdoms, as in Dan. ii. 29 et seq. The same is the case with the four chariots in Zech. vi. 1 et seq. These passages are not exactly parallel with the predictions in Daniel, but it is also stated in Hag. ii. 6-9 et seq., that within “a little while” the Messianic time will come. And even Ben Sira says expressly (Ecclus. [Sirach] xlix. 15) that he has never found a man who resembled Joseph, a statement he could not have made had he known the extant Book of Daniel, since Daniel is there drawn as a man who, like Joseph, rose to be prime minister by virtue of his ability to interpret dreams.

“The Book of Daniel was written during the persecutions of Israel by the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes. This assertion is supported by the following data: The kingdom which is symbolized by the he goat (viii. 5 et seq.) is expressly named as the “kingdom of Yawan”—that is, the Grecian kingdom (viii. 21) the great horn being its first king, Alexander the Great (definitely stated in Seder "Olam R. xxx.), and the little horn Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164). This kingdom was to persecute the host of the saints “unto two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings” (viii. 14, R. V.); that is, “half-days,” or 1,150 days; and Epiphanes did, in fact, profane the sanctuary in Jerusalem for about that length of time, from Kislew 15, 168, to Kislew 25,165 (I Macc. i. 57, iv. 52). The little horn described in Dan. viii. 9-12, 23-25 has the same general characteristics as the little horn in vii. 8, 20; hence the same ruler is designated in both passages. The well-known passage ix. 23-27 also points to the same period. The first and imperative rule in interpreting it is to begin the period of the seventy times seven units (A. V. “seventy weeks”) with the first period of seven (ix. 25), and to let the second period, the “sixty-two times seven units,” follow this; forif this second period (the sixty-two weeks) be reckoned as beginning again from the very beginning, the third period, the “one week,” must be carried back in the same way. The context demands, furthermore, that the origin of the prediction concerning the rebuilding of Jerusalem be sought in Jer. xxv. 11-13 and the parallel passage, ib. xxix. 10. The “anointed,” the “prince,” mentioned after the first seven times seven units, must be Cyrus, who is called the anointed of the Lord in Isa. xlv. 1 also. He concluded the first seven weeks of years by issuing the decree of liberation, and the time that elapsed between the Chaldean destruction of Jerusalem (586) and the year 538 was just about forty-nine years. The duration of the sixty-two times seven units (434 years) does not correspond with the time 538-171 (367 years); but the chronological knowledge of that age was not very exact. The Seder 'Olam Zuṭa (ed. Meyer, p. 104) computed the Persian rule to “have lasted fifty-two years. This is all the more evident as the last period of seven units must include the seven years 171-165 (see “Rev. Et. Juives,” xix. 202 et seq.). This week of years began with the murder of an anointed one (compare Lev. iv. 3 et seq. on the anointing of the priest)—namely, the legitimate high priest Onias III.—and it was in the second half of this week of years that the Temple of the Lord was desecrated by an abomination—the silver altar erected by Antiochus Epiphanes in place of the Lord’s altar for burnt offering (see I Macc. i. 54).”


#9

The Book of Daniel, or portions of it anyway, was clearly written for Jews living during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.

There are two explanations for this that make any sense to me at least. The first is that the prophesies were really given to Daniel, who really sealed them up to be revealed at the proper time in the future. The other is that the prophesies are a late forgery and the whole matter of it having been sealed is a lie designed to explain why the prophesy was not known in the past. As Christians the latter explanation would clearly not be acceptable.

I think the idea that the book of Daniel is exactly what it implies itself to be explains most of the Jewish Encyclopedia’s objections, with the possible exception of the linguistic one which I don’t follow (if Daniel’s form of the name is used by his contemporary Jeremiah doesn’t this support rather than discredit an origin in the same general time?) Anyway, there is also the possibility of later scribal changes to take account of in things like this, like changing archaic spellings to match modern ones.


#10

I don’t think it’s necessary to take such an all-or-nothing approach. The authors of the article in the JE also said:

“As to the origin of his prophecies, it would probably be unjust to say that they were inventions. They may have been suggested by the author’s enthusiastic study of the past history of God’s people. He utilized the past to unlock the future. This is evident from ix. 2, where the author says that he had paid attention to the prophecy of Jeremiah concerning the seventy years, which prophecy became the basis for a new prophecy. This shows that the author was merely a disciple of the Prophets, one who reproduced the prophecies of his masters. His book, indeed, is not included in the section Nebiim.”

Utilizing “the past to unlock the future” is a recognized prophetical convention among Catholic Biblical commentators. Raymond Brown, among others, recognizes this.

And as for the use of that form of Nebuchadnezzar’s name, I think the author is implying that its use only a couple of times by Jeremiah indicates this was inadvertent, and the consistent use by Daniel later is an indicator of a different time period.


#11

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