When was the book of Daniel written?


Most Bible scholars today, Catholic as well as protestant, seem to believe that the book of Daniel was written around 165 BC. However, some conservative scholars, for example evangelicals, still hold to the traditional view that it was written around the time its events is said to take place, i.e. in the 6th century BC. I believe that there are a number of good reasons for the later date, other than that you don’t belive prophecies regarding the future to be possible.

However, there is one strong argument by those favoring an earlier date that I haven’t seen disputed by those favoring 165 BC. In his chronicle The Antiquity of the Jews, Flavius Josephus writes that the book was presented to Alexander the Great during his alleged visit to Jerusalem in 332 BC:

[quote=[URL=“http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-11.htm”]Antiquities of the Jews XI

, Chapter 8, 5]“And when he [Alexander the Great] had said this to Parmenio, and had given the high priest his right hand, the priests ran along by him, and he came into the city. And when he went up into the temple, he offered sacrifice to God, according to the high priest’s direction, and magnificently treated both the high priest and the priests. **And when the Book of Daniel was showed him wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended. **And as he was then glad, he dismissed the multitude for the present; but the next day he called them to him, and bid them ask what favors they pleased of him; whereupon the high priest desired that they might enjoy the laws of their forefathers, and might pay no tribute on the seventh year. He granted all they desired.”

How is this historical account by Josephus disputed by those who maintain that the Book of Daniel was written over 150 years after the event described above?


Well, I don’t think there’s that much people that would doubt that there’s a grain of truth behind the story that Alexander the Great visited Jerusalem. I mean, there’s really no reason for him to visit the city historically, but he was around the area (332 BC, the year the sieges of Tyre and Gaza happened). What they doubt was, the account as related in Josephus: the story is kind of too good - too pro-Jewish - to be a reliable account of ‘what really happened’. (Alexander the Great drops by Jerusalem, becomes convinced that he owes everything to the Jewish God, offers a sacrifice in the temple, allows the Jews to live according to their ancestral customs, then turns against the enemies of the Jews, the Samaritans - who according to Josephus, came to swear allegiance to him when he was just beginning to lay siege to Tyre!)


Interestinly enough, my wife and I were having this conversation last night ( in regards to the Mass readings on Monday)

The notes in the RSV-CE2 state that it was probably writing at two different times. The Deuterocanonical chapters (Dan 13 and 14, plus the prayer of Azariah in Dan 3)) being written in Greek at about 160 BC and the Masoretic chapters being written in Hebrew at an earlier date.

The two elements have different styles and literary techniques.


Eight copies of Daniel were found in Qumran (they all contain a text similar to the shorter Masoretic version, with only individual readings differing on occasion) - in fact, it’s one of the better attested biblical books there. Half of the scrolls were from the Hasmonean period (150-30 BC), while the other half were from the Herodian period (30 BC-AD 70). The earliest of these eight copies is from around the late 2nd century BC. That would mean Daniel was written earlier than that date. (To put things in context, Antiochus Epiphanes’ reign lasted from 175 BC to 164 BC, so there’s nothing that proves or disproves the idea that Daniel was actually written during that time.)

In addition, you have four other fragments (4Q243-245) that are copies of a Danielic work usually dubbed ‘The Vision of Daniel’, yet another text that belongs to the Danielic family of texts (4Q242), the so-called ‘Prayer of Nabonidus’, and a further fragmentary text (4Q246, aka the ‘Aramaic Apocalypse’) that’s so highly similar in tone to the Danielic books.


More than “one strong example” is found in the writings of Josephus. He consistently describes Daniel in a setting more ancient than 165 BC. For example, he describes the desolation of the temple in 164 BC, and explicitly states,

“… and this desolation came to pass according to the prophecy of Daniel, which was given 408 years before.” (Antiquities 12:7:6)

164 BC minus 408 yrs = 572 BC which, admittedly, is a little off the traditional date of 539 BC. However, the modern ‘late-date’ theories would have certainly got the thumbs down :nope: by Josephus.


Actually, this isn’t just Daniel. Josephus believed Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles were all already written by the time of Artaxerxes I, son of Xerxes (reigned 465-424 BC). One might say that for Josephus, the biblical period - the time of literary prophecy - ended with the end of the Persian period and the rise of Alexander the Great. So basically for Josephus, the accepted authoritative books - of which Daniel was one - must therefore have been written before that terminus ad quem, the latest possible time period.

For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.

It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time; and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be willingly to die for them.

In this passage from Against Apion, Josephus identifies a sort of canon of twenty-two books. The only books he identifies explicitly by title are the books of the Torah (the Pentateuch), so scholars had to speculate on the remaining seventeen books. One common scheme is:

Thirteen prophetic books

  1. Joshua
  2. Judges-Ruth
  3. Samuel
  4. Kings
  5. Isaiah
  6. Jeremiah-Lamentations
  7. Ezekiel
  8. Twelve Minor Prophets
  9. Job
  10. Daniel
  11. Ezra-Nehemiah
  12. Chronicles
  13. Esther

Hymns and precepts

  1. Psalms
  2. Proverbs
  3. Ecclesiastes
  4. Song of Songs

(Josephus’ claim that “no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in [the biblical books]” is also something that isn’t taken literally, especially after the Dead Sea Scrolls basically showed us that there was textual diversity both before and during Josephus’ time. Josephus was here more engaging in common rhetorical hyperbole: he assures his readers that he has remained faithful - but even then, the word ‘faithful’ is a little subjective here - to his biblical sources.)


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