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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.

21 Responses to “Scholarly dating of Daniel to After the ‘Prophecies’ were ‘Fulfilled’”

  1. mattdabbs said

    Wouldn’t it make sense that prophesy of future events would seem to be improbable? That is what makes it so extraordinary.

    It is so important when doing research to state the hypothesis and relevant review of related literature first before the actual examination so one can see that the research that is done is as unbiased as possible. There are so many cases where we find or confirm what we want to find and I would find it somewhat refreshing that at least a scholar on a book like Daniel would approach the text to examine the text for what it is and when it was written for what it is whether it confirms or denies our hunch.

    Nice example.

  2. ntwrong said

    Hi Matt. I think it depends on the specific content of the prophecy. If, for example, somebody in 1961 predicted that a half-Kenyan man born in Hawaii that year would become President of the United States in 2009, then I think — all other things being equal — that one would have to give the prophet a good look. Such a prophecy would, on the face of it, seem to be highly improbable, so if one occurred it would deserve consideration.

    Yet ‘prophecies’ rarely if ever have such a level of specificity. Woolly and vague predictive prophecies are the norm in the Bible and elsewhere, and they can appear to correspond to almost anything.

  3. Charles said

    While I do not know who Bob Burns may have had in mind, his point is not entirely without merit. For example W. Sibley Towner states in his commentary on Daniel states, “We need to assume that the vision as a whole is a prophecy after the fact. Why? Because human beings are unable accurately to predict future events centuries in advance and to say that Daniel could do so, even on the basis of symbolic revelation vouchsafed to him by God and interpreted by an angel, is to fly in the face of the certainties of human nature” (W. Sibley Towner, Daniel [Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984], 115). This looks like an a priori assumption me.

  4. I don’t disagree on Daniel as pseudipigraphy and ex eventu – but why was it written? Perhaps for some rationale of encouragement in the face of ongoing difficulty for the target group. Or as a collection of instructive stories? The same question needs to be put historically to the servant songs of Isaiah and the prophetic laments of the Psalms. Why would anyone write such works? It is clearer with the Lamentations, or Job or Ecclesiastes – but a good question for Jeremiah 33. Similarly the NT – why bother writing the Gospels or the rereading of the Psalms by the author of Hebrews? These are some of the questions I have – and you can only call me a fundamentalist in the sense that I think there is a foundation. You label me conservative but I am liberal in politics – in favour of abortion though not of irresponsibility, in favour of same-sex commitments, but not of licentiousness. I know but scarcely name my own motives. I think foolishly that the psalmists (and the NT writers) shared some of them and reached for language to express their bewilderment and joy. I have rarely seen my motivations named – except in the poets – Donne, Herbert, Charles Williams of recent memory to name a few.

  5. ntwrong said

    Charles – the quotation you made from Towner is a popular one — I think because it’s also quoted in Dillard and Longman’s Introduction to the Old Testament.

    A couple of points concerning context can be made:
    – Towner also discusses historical and linguistic reasons for so dating Daniel in his introduction (p. 5). So his reasoning on p. 115, in the midst of his commentary, shouldn’t be taken as standing alone.
    – Towner’s reasoning that you quoted from on p. 115 doesn’t stem from a rejection of inspiration, but from his particular belief in the way inspiration is carried out. Towner is arguing that God doesn’t provide exact details of the future to humans via inspiration, but works in other — presumably less direct and more uncertain — ways.

    This being the case, Towner is not the poster-boy for anti-supernaturalism that Dillard and Longman represent him as in their book. He has a view on inspiration that derives from his ideas about how God does and doesn’t work in the Bible. But this is based on his interpretation of the Bible; it is not an a priori anti-supernaturalism. Towner’s view seems, to the contrary, to be ‘pro-supernaturalistic’. One wouldn’t get that from reading Dillard and Longman’s OT Introduction.

  6. deafguy said

    Folks interested in this question should check out the informative (and surprisingly humorous) article by Matthew Neujahr, “When Darius Defeated Alexander: Composition and Redaction in the Dynastic Prophecy” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 64 (2005), which looks at some non-biblical ex eventu prophecy literature.

  7. Charles said

    I would probably disagree with your evaluation of Towner. But even if your evaluation is correct, the fact is that “his particular belief in the way inspiration is carried out . . . that God doesn’t provide exact details of the future to humans via inspiration, but works in other — presumably less direct and more uncertain — ways” is an a priori assumption since that understanding does not flow from Daniel itself. This a prior assumption almost certainly affects the way he understands the texts at hand, which in turn affects the way he understands the issue of dating. There is obviously not a problem with using historic and linguistic evidence, but his presupposition does not allow him to consider the possibility that Daniel could be predictive. Or in other words, it would be likely that even if he did not have the aforementioned historical or linguistic evidence he would still reject an early date for Daniel and seek some other explanation because his a priori beliefs would not allow him to do otherwise.

  8. ntwrong said

    It’s just not a priori.

    Towner derives his understanding of predictive prophecy from prophecy elsewhere in the Bible, and therefore applies that data a posteriori to Daniel. As such it’s not a ‘presupposition’, it’s not ‘a priori’ in any sense of he term. It might be a ‘misapplication’ from one set of works (prophetic) to another (Daniel), one might argue, but at worst it’s only be a bad use of empirical method — it’s certainly not a priori.

    And anyway, Towner’s conclusion is not anti-supernaturalistic, anti-miraculous, or anti-prophecy — which also distinguishes him from the caricature of a Daniel scholar who dates Daniel to 165 BC based on ‘anti-supernaturalistic bias’.

  9. Charles said

    I am not sure that you have really addressed my previous response. I am not arguing about the source of Towner’s position. For me it does not really matter where he gets it but how he applies it. For example, if you flip the sitaution around. Suppose that one were to conclude that Daniel represents normative prophecy and that you should view other texts in light of Daniel. Wouldn’t that be a presupposition?

    I also would simply disagree with you concerning a priori. But I think that you raise an interesting potential irony. Namely that Towner may be applying what he has learned from other prophetic texts to a book that he probably does not consider to be truly prophetic.

    By the way, please note that I have nowhere played the “anti-supernaturalistic, anti-miraculous, or anti-prophecy” card.

  10. ntwrong said

    Suppose that one were to conclude that Daniel represents normative prophecy and that you should view other texts in light of Daniel. Wouldn’t that be a presupposition?

    No – that’s not a “presupposition”, and its not “a priori” in any correct definition of those terms. It is a posteriori, from observation. It argues from real specific observation to imagined general principle (a posteriori), not from imagined general principle to specific reality (a priori).

    But, as I hinted at before, Towner’s a posteriori argument is, I consider, a ‘misapplication’ of his specific observations of prophecy to Daniel (I think Towner’s argument is wrong). And you’re right — although Towner distinguishes Daniel from the prophets, there is an inconsistency in his method (‘irony’?) in that he still applies a generalization based on prophetic literature to Daniel.

    The description of Danielic scholars as proceeding from ‘anti-supernaturalistic bias’ is how I characterized Bob Burn’s position, not yours. I think it’s much more complicated than even my summary here, in fact. People take their observations of and patterns imposed on everyday life, of other parts of the Bible and of aNE literature, of comparative religions, forming conclusions that derive in part from conclusions about other aspects of life, before they come to conclude that Daniel contains ex eventu prophecy. But, this is the result of a complex process of reasoning and assessing various data-sets — it is not ‘presupposition’ before coming to consider that data.

  11. jimgetz said

    NT, good points. There are many in the pro-supernaturalistic, pro-miraculous, or pro-prophecy camp that would say that Daniel is ex eventu.

    For example, I know folks who were turned down from jobs at Fuller Theological Seminary because they insisted on dating Daniel. But, Fuller is far from an anti-supernaturalistic place.

    The only folks I generally see making a corollary between ex eventu and anti-supernaturalistic are people who themselves have brought massive, unstated presuppositions to the text.

  12. Pete said

    So what are these reasons that make it clear that Daniel was written after the events described? I don’t have access to theological journals, so an online source would be helpful. Is it something that is accessible by a laymen?

  13. ntwrong said

    Pete –

    The reasons are set out in the introduction section of Daniel commentaries. I suggest John Collins’ 1993 Daniel commentary in the Hermeneia series. You can obtain this from your local library via interloan if they don’t have it.

    1. As Porphyry recognised in the 2nd century AD, and as is the case for Akkadian prophecies like the ‘Dynastic Prophecy’ which deafguy mentioned, “Daniel’s prophecies of events down to the time of Antiochus were written after the fact, and were accurate, whereas the predictions beyond that time were unfulfilled” (Porphyry). The most dramatic example of this is Daniel chapter 11, where there is a very close correspondence with events we know of from profane history until Dan 11.40, and then there are vv. 41-45 which are quite incorrect. Not coincidentally, Dan 11.40 takes us to the point that the other prophetic visions take us to: the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the events of the 160s BC. What the Book of Daniel gets wrong is what will happen after this.
    2. Many of the historical details concerning the Babylonian empire, in which the court tales are purportedly set, are wrong. As the late GW Anderson summarises: “There are historical inaccuracies, which, taken together, cannot well be credited to a 6th-century writer. (a) There is no other evidence of a deportation in the third year of Jehoiakim. (b) The use of the term ‘Chaldeans’ for wise men is unparalleled except in later documents. In the time of the neo-
    Babylonian Empire the word was ethnological. (c) Although Jews held high office in the Persian royal service (eg, Nehemiah), it is improbable that a loyal Jew like Daniel would have been appointed
    head of the priestly wise men of Babylon, or would have accepted such a position. (d) Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, not of
    Nebuchadnezzar; and he was never king of Babylon. (e) It is impossible to make historical sense of the references to Darius the Mede, who is described as the son of Zerzes, and is said to have conquered Babylon. The celebrated king of that name was not a Mede but a Persian; he was the father of Xerxes; and it was not he but Cyrus, his predecessor’s father, who conquered Babylon. (f) The implication that a Median empire followed the Babylonian and preceded the Persian is quite unhistorical.”
    3. Theologically, the apocalyptic interpretation, and the motifs of the apocalyptic genre itself, can’t reasonably be dated before the third century BC at least. Looking at the relative dating of apocalyptic works, the Book of Daniel is either directly or indirectly dependent on (and later than) 1 Enoch 14, the Qumran Book of Giants, and another Daniel apocalypse from Qumran.
    4. There are also some linguistic features which some would consider late — although this evidence is much less determinative in its own right.

    Obviously these points are debated by very conservative scholars. (Just in case anybody is inclined to, I note that I’m not. The evidence is so much in favour of dating the final form of Daniel to ca. 165 BC, that the old arguments to the contrary are just bad and boring.)

  14. Tom said

    What makes Towner’s assumption a priori (at least on the common philosophical definition of a priori/posteriori) is that his appeal to the “certainties of human nature” cannot be supported empirically. Had he claimed that prophecy is highly unprobable, then that could have been an a posteriori claim. By claiming that it’s impossible, however, he makes a categorical claim, overstepping any evidence he could have for its improbability. Furthermore, this overstepping is crucial to his argument as he has formulated it, for without it, he could not use it to rule out the possibility that Daniel is genuinely prophetic. He can’t back off this claim and reach the same conclusion with the same level of certainty.

    That’s why Collins’s argument does not depend on a posteriori claims but Towner’s does.

    I would quibble with your definition of “presupposition,” though. Your argument seems to me to require that, for belief A to be a presupposition, it must not be based on any prior observation. But this would mean that A can be a presupposition only if it is held before anything whatsoever is observed (from before you come out of the womb?), or if it is held completely independently of all observation. Instead, it seems to me that presuppositions are commonly defined as beliefs that are already in place before one comes to a particular question–however one came to hold those beliefs in the first place. The question is, “pre-” to what?

  15. Bill said

    Hey, Bish. I’m NOT getting into any debates on this, at least not this week. 😉 But I am a bit unclear on one point. I’ve never thought the liberal position through on this, so I’ve never asked these questions until now. But it seems to me that “dating the final form of Daniel to ca. 165 BC” fails to account for certain details of the book’s prophecies. So what am I missing?

    What do the “liberal” scholars say about the 70 weeks and the messiah? In other words, what would you/they suppose the pseudonymous writer to have meant about those details?

    I hope you understand I’m asking these points not as rhetorical debate, but because I’m pretty sure these points must have been mentioned before. Right? So please tell me where that fits into your view.

    I still won’t agree with it. But I’ll be glad to have heard it. 😉

  16. ntwrong said

    Well, there’s debate amongst various scholars as to exact interpretation, particularly because the Book of Daniel ranges between ambiguous allusiveness and one-to-one identification in its use of colorful imagery. But the majority of Daniel scholars wouldn’t see any reference to ‘The Messiah’ in Daniel, if by that definitive article and term you mean the particular end-times figure who was to inaugurate the Last Judgment and final battle between the forces of good and evil. None of the references to an ‘anointed one’ in the Old Testament refer to anything but a broadly contemporary king, prophet, or priest. In this case, Dan 9 probably refers to one of the violent acts which marked Antiochus IV Epiphanes’ rise to power. Antiochus was implicated in the death of Seleucus IV and other rivals to power, including Seleucus IV’s son. I’d equate Dan 9.25 with the 3 kings killed by Antiochus in Dan 7.8, 24 and his coming in without warning in Dan 11.21. Others identify it with the death of Onias III, the high priest before Jason and the Tobiads replaced them.

    The 70 weeks are sometimes viewed as a metaphor for a long period of time between the Babylonian exile and the rise of Antiochus. But as I prefer, the 490 years should be seen as a calculation of the time between the exile and Antiochus. People in the second century BC and later overestimate the number of years in this period. But 490 years is not a bad guess for the period from ca. 600 BC and 165 BC.

  17. Bill said

    Dude, I teach Math. So I’m pretty sure 586 to 165 is 421 years, 422 at most. 😉

    Seriously, thanks for that. I think 9:26 is what I was wondering about, if you can go a bit further. What you shared so far was definitely interesting, and I thank you, sir.

    Btw, I posted on a similar topic today. NT, not OT… Natch. 😉

  18. ntwrong said

    Of course, the author(s) of Daniel were never working with the years “586” and “164”. What they did have was “T” and “T-490=the word [of Jeremiah] which went out”. The sums work without remainder, when you’re reading God’s Time.

    Everybody in antiquity gets it wrong. Hmmmm, examples:

    – Demetrius: 573 years from the Northern exile (722 BC) to Ptolemaios IV (222 BC) – over by 73 years.
    – Josephus (War 6.4.8): 639 years from the second year of Cyrus to the destruction of the Second Temple – over by 33 years
    – Josephus (Ant 20.10): 414 years from the first year of Cyrus to Antiochus V Eupator (164-162 BC) – over by 41 years.
    – Josephus (Ant 13.11.1): 481 years from return to Aristobul I (105-104 BC) – over by 49 years this time.

    Sixty-eight years for the author(s) of Daniel is what we might expect somebody to overestimate. My reasoning is this: If the book of Daniel was reinterpreting Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the 70-year period, it would want to introduce an interpretation which extended the original 70-year period (ending 536? 538? BC with Cyrus’ edict) to 165 BC. According to his calculations, this was 7 times 70 years. The symbolic meaning of such a period would be too tempting to ignore when he went about calculating it, particularly if the calculations of his contemporaries was roughly equal to 490 anyway. Add the fact that the authors of Daniel were deeply interested in calendrical and astronomical ideas, then the rest is history…

    Hmmmmm… this is interesting. The exactitude of the calculations and interpretation of Jeremiah (rather than the alternative idea of mere metaphorical or symbolic meaning) is then supported by subtracting 70 from 536 BC, giving a date for an invented ‘first exile’ date of 606 BC, the third year of Jehoiakim (Dan 1.1). The authors of Daniel are consistent in their precise yet spurious calculations. I’m not sure that I’ve seen that last bit — about how ‘the third year of jehoiakim’ was invented — reasoned before. Now the question is, have I just thought it up, or have I forgotten where I might have read it? Let me know, if you know.

  19. ntwrong said

    And don’t ever call me ‘sir’. 😉

  20. Bill said

    I call my students ‘sir’ too. Don’t be flattered. 😉

    Thanks for that rundown. I’ll give it a good think later.

  21. joshua adams said

    many of the prophecies in the bible, that were fulfilled, were also signs and symbols of things to come, so whether they were fulfilled in the past, or symbolically fulfilled in the future, or are still to be fulfilled is irrelevant. In a real sense all of it was written after the fact, if Einstein is correct, and he is. His greatest blunder spoken of in 1917, also lines up with prophecy, and in the same year it should have. Jesus speaks of when you see standing in the place of the abominations, referring to a distant time, and then addresses the prophet daniels prophecy, that was likely fulfilled with Antiochus Epiphanes, chapter 11, and chapter 8. and many say he was referring to what took place at the destruction of the temple, in 70 AD, and in part he was, but according to the prophecies of Daniel, a time is coming still, at the end of that time, when people will rise from their graves, and the last part of the seventieth week of Daniel 9,( the first 69 weeks being fulfilled to the very day based on conversion of the gregorian to the prophetic calendar of God, a 360 day calendar, in AD31 April 6, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.) For example; Hitler, one deep in occult , and understanding dark sentences, spoke two times about destroying the Jewish people, right before the war. One time was Jan. 19, and another Jan. 29, 1939. Daniel 8 speaks twice of 2300 days, and this was fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes, but symbolically, in Hitler. on may 9, 1945, and May 19, 1945, were two events that are exactly 2300 days from his speaking. May 9, the surrender of the Nazis to Russia, the last european foe during the war, they had surrendered to the allied nations on the 7th, and then the twentieth, was the day fighting, had ended in Europe, by those troops that had not the advantage of hearing of the surrender. This will happen again, between the years 2014, and 2021, from sept.24th of 2014, to sept 16 2021, 1260+1290, 2550 days. I suppose, what matters, is is this God’s word. I will prophecy this also; next year, Pope Francis will meet, with Mahmoud Abbas, and Shimon Perez, and they will come to some kind of an agreement, though Mahmoud Abbas, will be deceitful. On sept 13, 1993, the 27th of Elul, and the 45th year (37+8) of the time when Israel went back in her land, was the exact time, when after 45 years in captivity, Jeconiahs head was lifted, by evil Maroduch. And it was said in 1993, this is a time when we can lift our heads, and see peace. Isa 9, see the harbinger, by Jonathan Cahn. The exiles of the children of Israel, into Babylon, are duplicated in the wars of 1948, 1956, 1967, and in 1967, a six day war, and this is the prophetic time of man in God,s timing, and it was the time, the reverse of what took place of the destruction of the temple and the walls of jerusalem, in 586 BC, and Israel regained Jerusalem, i will not go on to the prophetic of the Yom Kippor war, 1973,but to say this, the current pope, Francis, has not been to Jerusalem but once in the past, and that was during the time the Yom Kippor war broke out. The prophetic of the word, and the restoring of the captivities of Israel actually began in 1517AD, the time of the Ottoman empire, and also the time of Luthers 95 theses. Next month, listen to Billy Graham, during the week of his 95 th birthday, and he will die next year.

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