Scholarly dating of Daniel to After the ‘Prophecies’ were ‘Fulfilled’
Posted by NT Wrong on November 12, 2008
Most scholars of the Book of Daniel conclude that so-called ‘prophecies’ were only produced ‘after the fact’ or ex eventu. This is a position reached by first examining the historical, theological and literary nature of the Book of Daniel. In other words, it is a conclusion, not an assumption.
This conclusion often annoys those who place a lot of stock in ‘fulfilled biblical prophecy’ as a proof of the ‘inspiration’ of the Bible. So, you often see them accuse the scholar of basing their conclusion — not on the facts, as is the case — but on some ‘bias’ against prophecy itself. For instance, see this recent comment by Christian fundamentalist, Bob Burns, on a publicly accessible discussion group:
“The practice of late-dating the books of the Bible can be seen as a position of faith on the part of those scholars who do so, though they will never admit it.”
- Bob Burns
Not surprisingly, Bob Burns fails to actually cite any scholars who he thinks carry out such an approach. So it seems that Bob’s accusation of bias is nothing more than.. his own bias.
But let’s do what Bob didn’t do, and actually examine the method of perhaps the major living critical scholar on the Book of Daniel today, John J. Collins. John Collins makes it explicit that the method he follows is precisely the opposite of that described in Bob’s empty and unsupported accusation. Collins’ finding that the Book of Daniel is to be dated to ca. 165 BC is the result of his prior research. It is not an assumption before research begins. That is, the finding that the Book of Daniel’s prophecies were written ‘after the fact’ is the conclusion from Collins’ examination of the Book of Daniel’s historical, theological, literary evidence, along with its failed (and therefore future) prophecies in Dan 11.40-45. The conclusion that Daniel’s prophecies were written after the fact is not an a priori claim, but one that results from a prior, careful examination of the Book itself.
Collins summarizes his method here — which contradicts Bob Burns’ baseless claim:
“The issue is not whether a divinely inspired prophet could have foretold the events which took place under Antiochus Epiphanes 400 years before. The question is whether this possibility carries any probability: is it the most satisfactory way to explain what we find in Daniel? Modern critical scholarship has held that it is not.”
- John J. Collins, Daniel, First Maccabees, Second Maccabee, with an Excursus on the Apocalyptic Genre (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1981): 11-12
So when we leave aside these unfounded accusations, and look at the actual method of a scholar of the Book of Daniel, we find that the dating of Daniel to the time after the so-called ‘prophecies’ were ‘fulfilled’ is not based on any bias against prophecy, but is argued methodologically from evidence to conclusion.
I doubt that any Daniel scholar argues from any simple a priori bias against predictive prophecy. The basis for dating Daniel would almost always include arguments from Daniel’s historical, lingustic and theological context, and/or arguments from the study of comparative prophecy. These empirical foundations for dating Daniel — whether considered correct or not – should not be misrepresented as a priori presupposition.