The Dating of the Book of Daniel Part 1 - Ministry Magazine Advertisement - Creation Sabbath 728x90 (1)

The Dating of the Book of Daniel Part 1

  english / français
Archives / 1973 / July



The Dating of the Book of Daniel Part 1

Desmond Ford
-Chairman, department of theology, Avondale College, Cooranbong at the time this article was written


THE Seventh-day Adventist doctrinal structure is at several points similar to a spider's web suspended from a single vital strand. For example, our doctrinal distinctiveness lies in eschatology, and our traditional positions here are dependent upon the validity of the year-day principle and the sixth-century dating of Daniel. Concerning the former I have previously written in The Ministry, 1 and it is the purpose of the present article to consider the latter.

Adventists in general take for granted the authenticity of this book that means so much to us. In this respect we differ from the vast majority of modern scholars. It is doubtful that a single secular university engaging in Biblical studies would accept our position, and it is quite certain that the majority of theological seminaries affirm the Maccabean dating of this Old Testament apocalypse.2

If the book of Daniel was written in the second century B.C. and its horizon is bounded by the exploits of Antiochus Epiphanes, then the ninth chapter has for its "prophetic" theme not the Messiah but the Syrian tyrant. The 457 B.C. starting point for the seventy weeks is thereby invalidated inasmuch as the proponents of the Maccabean dating assume instead a much earlier date associated with the prophecies of Jeremiah. Having dislodged 457 B.C. our terminus for the 2300 days is likewise dislocated and Adventist's supposedly providential beginning dispelled. The Maccabean dating assumes that the four kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7 are Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece, but neither Rome nor the Papacy are envisaged.3

Our Approach to Those Who Differ

It is commonly said that the liberal critical position is purely the result of the presupposition that long-range prediction is impossible. This argument, however, does not apply in every instance. As far back as the Westminster Confession there were godly interpreters of Scripture who saw Greece as the fourth empire, and Epiphanes as the chief character. And in modern times there have been scholarly conservatives such as Bishop Westcott and more recently Dr. G. R. Beasley-Murray who have taken the same position.4 Thus we dare not dodge the responsibility of factually supporting our position by mere argument ad hominem. Rather, we should submit to the challenge of Ellen G. White, who has urged us to so study our doctrinal positions that we can defend them before the world's greatest minds. Too often we opt out of such tasks by categorizing all who disagree with us as "apostate liberals." This ought not to be. Let us, like Christ, be courteous toward those who differ, and endeavor by reasonableness to win such to our own well-considered and amply buttressed case.

Arguments for Late Dating of Daniel

Rejection of the authenticity of Daniel is usually defended on the following grounds:

1. The book, particularly in its early chapters, contains several historical inaccuracies.

2. Linguistic and literary peculiarities indicate an authorship centuries removed from the time of the exile.

3. Certain theological concepts, such as a developed angelology and the doctrine of the resurrection, belong to later times.

4. The central figure of the "prophecies" is always Antiochus Epiphanes, and the four kingdoms are Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece.

The first two areas are ably discussed in many contemporary conservative works including our own SDA Bible Commentary and Dictionary.5 We do not propose to retrace the ground so ably covered by others. However, because recent years have demonstrated the widespread Greek influences in the Near East before Nebuchadnezzar's time, and thus have shown that the Greek terms in Daniel could well be traced to that influence, we append a recent comment from an authority in this second area.

In reading commentaries on Daniel the writer has been struck by the complete sclerosis of critical thought regarding the date of its composition, and the implications of the Creek words in Daniel for that date. From Driver's classic statement of the linguistic evidence in 1897 to the latest commentary Norman W. Porteous, Daniel . . . 1965 there has been no reappraisal of the Maccabean date for Daniel, in spite of the increasing mass of evidence for early contacts between the Aegean and the Near East. The late date of Daniel has come to be one of those "assumptions tidily packaged and put away as being no longer open to question."

James A. Montgomery in his great commentary on Daniel (1927) was at least open to the evidence. He wrote: "The rebuttal of this evidence for a low date lies in the stressing of the potentialities of Greek influence in the Orient from the 6th century and on . . ." (p. 22). Archeological evidence is accumulating at such a rate that any position particularly one based on arguments from silence or very limited data that is not carefully reappraised within a decade is in danger of obsolescence. George Hanfmann, writing in 1948, denied that there was any evidence for a major Greek migration to Ionia before the eighth century B.C. Writing in 1965, he now shows that we have substantial evidence confirming the Greek tradition of an eleventh-century migration.6

Relating to Theological Concepts

Concerning the third area, it must be said that this objection often has its origin in an evolutionary concept of theological development, rather than in the Biblical evidence. Angelology, for example, seems similarly well-developed in Ezekiel and in Zechariah, and angels in the latter assume the same function as in Daniel namely the interpretation of visions. The angelology of Daniel is not akin to late apocalyptic works such as I Enoch. Neither is the concept of resurrection entirely missing from the rest of the Old Testament. The reason for its rare occurrence is indicated in 2 Timothy 1:10. A demonstrative word on the future life came only with its great Exemplar.

Except for some preliminary observations in what immediately follows we plan to concentrate on area four, as one that each reader can thoroughly investigate regardless of whether he considers himself a competent linguist or historian. God has so inspired His Word that a lifetime spent in specialist studies is not necessary in order to recognize vital truths. When laymen as well as workers grasp whatever is legitimate in the following arguments then there will be many well-read believers in other flocks (including shepherds) who will be prepared to listen to the eschatological teachings we have based on "the face-value" of Daniel. On the other hand, until the conviction of the authenticity of the book is established in the mind of the inquirer, further study is useless, unless we apply the device of "re-interpretation" as a hermeneutic. Let it be emphasized the latter is all that re mains to Seventh-day Adventists if we reject the traditional dating of the Old Testament apocalypse.

General Observations

Before presenting to others the case against Antiochus and Greece as the horizon of Daniel's visions some general observations should be made. These include the following:

1. Even the liberal critics ac knowledge that not all able scholars are of their persuasion. While both Otto Eissfeldt and Robert Pfeiffer in their Old Testament introductions consider the second-century dating of Daniel to be "the assured position of scholar ship," both hasten to acknowledge that there are able and learned men who still advocate the traditional dating. 7

2. There is an increasing trend of admission that Daniel at least contains much material that originated before the second century. Eissfeldt says:

In short, there is no doubt whatever that the visions of vii-xii are largely based upon older and even much older elements, and they only become fully intelligible when their philosophy is illuminated.' Statements of this nature could be multiplied to fill whole pages. Anyone who contends that every critical scholar believes all of Daniel to have been devised in the Maccabean era has not done his homework.

3. In some areas, arguments once strongly used against the sixth-century authorship have been either modified or dropped. The most well-known instance is the argument based on the Ara maic in chapters 2-7 of the book.9 It is absolutely certain that the Aramaic of Daniel is identical with the Imperial Aramaic of the eighth to third centuries B.C. more than to later forms. While orthography in many cases indicates editorial work by later hands this is also the case with other Old Testament books.

4. Similarly, since the discovery of Daniel manuscripts among the Dead Sea scrolls scholars are enquiring whether this fact does not call for a revision of the critical dating position analogous to the revision already made of the dating of some of the Psalms once postulated as Maccabean. 10

5. Not only have some once popular arguments against the authenticity of Daniel been either modified or dropped, but it is just as true that others have boomeranged. For example, scholars have pointed to the presence of the three Creek terms in Daniel as evidence of the second century source. Nowadays, in view of our increased knowledge of the early spread of Greek culture and language to Palestine and surrounding countries, it has be come a puzzle for those who date Daniel late why the book does not contain scores of Greek terms instead of just three." Linguistic studies show that Greek expressions exist in texts of the Near East long before the Maccabean era.

6. In contrast to scholars like H. L. Ginsberg (who sees at least six authors behind Daniel) others now follow H. H. Rowley in postulating a single author for the book, one who gathered older materials and fashioned a unified presentation. This emphasis on the unity of theme and authorship of the book is closely allied to the traditional position, though all claim that this single author lived and wrote in the Maccabean era. 12

Along with these preliminary observations the Adventist advocate should be aware that on the other hand a number of scholars in our own ranks admit the presence (but not the pre-eminence) of Antiochus Epiphanes in Daniel's prophecies. 13

So much for preliminaries. Now let us consider the evidence against that position which posits the centrality of Epiphanes and the position of Greece as the fourth empire.

The Maccabean Interpretation

Daniel 9. The seventy weeks equal 490 years, roughly speaking.

"The going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" is an allusion to one of the prophecies of Jeremiah. Some elect Jer. 25, others 30-31. Thus dates selected are usually either 605 B.C. or 599 B.C. 14

The first Messiah named in the prophecy is a reference to either Cyrus or Joshua.

The second Messiah, the one "cut off," is Seleucus IV Philopater or the former Jewish high priest Oniah III.

The last week of the seventy revolves around the exploits of Antiochus, the first half comprehending his alliance with apostate Jews, and the second involving the persecution of the faithful in Israel. 15

Daniel 2 and 7. Head of gold, and the lion Babylon. Breast and arms of silver, and the bear Media. Stomach of brass, and leopard Persia. Legs of iron, and the nondescript beast Greece. This interpretation thus equates the ram of Daniel 8 with the bear and leopard of the preceding chapter, and the he-goat with the nondescript beast possessing ten horns. The little horn in both chapters seven and eight represents Antiochus Epiphanes only. The ten horns of the fourth beast of Daniel 7 represent successive kings of Syria prior to Antiochus.

Critique. We shall first attend to the interpretation given to the seventy weeks of Daniel 9. Montgomery refers to this passage as "the Dismal Swamp of Old Testament criticism." 16 On the contrary, we believe it to be, when rightly understood, a virtual Paradise. Verse 24 is one of the most sublime passages in the Old Testament. It points to the abolition of sin and guilt, the establishment of everlasting righteousness, and the ultimate dwelling of God with His people.17 To view it as merely a pious hope associated with the re-establishment of the sanctuary services after Antiochus Epiphanes is to restrict its perspective with out legitimate reason. The following points summarize our critique of the Maccabean interpretation.

1. To interpret "the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem" as being a prophetic message from Jeremiah requires not only a rejection of the bearing of parallel passages of similar wording, but also an imagination of sufficient power to transmute prophetic passages descriptive of ruin into divine commands of restoration. Daniel 2:13 uses the Aramaic equivalent of this expression in chap. 9:25, and chap. 9:23 uses the identical words. In both cases the meaning is obviously that of the pronouncement and enactment of a royal command.18 Jeremiah 25 is dated as belonging to the fourth year of jehoiakim (605 B.C.) but its burden is the impending ruin of Jerusalem, not its restoration. Jeremiah 30-31 is not dated and consists of a prophetic oracle of hope not of a pronouncment of enactment of a divine decree.

Furthermore, the position that the first seven weeks of years begin with the enunciation of Jeremiah's warnings regarding Jerusalem's destruction turns the Danielic prophecy on its head. Daniel affirms that the first seven weeks of years shall encompass rebuilding and restoration whereas the message from Jeremiah was to the effect that seventy years of ruin and desolation would attend the backsliding people, we must ask, How could 490 years allotted to the Holy City from the time of its commenced reconstruction include 70 years of desolation? The starting point of the Maccabean interpretation is thus not sound exegetically, and the situation is identical with the terminal point and the period between the two, as shall be demonstrated.

Advertisement - Ministry in Motion 300x250

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus



1. The Ministry, June-July, 1964.

2. See Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament, Introduction, p. 517; W. Baumgartner, Vierteljahrhundert Danielforschung" ThRs 11 (1939) pp. 59-83,125-44, 201-28. £>t|

3. See, for example, the volumes on Daniel by Montgomery, Bevan, Porteous, Heaton, Bentzen, Jeffery, and Rowley.

4. "A Conservative Thinks Again About Daniel," The Baptist Quarterly, 1948, 341 ff. See also; Revue Biblique, 13:494 f. rt ;

5. See particularly R. K.'Har'rison's Introduction to the Old Testament, and A Survey of Old Testament Introduction by Gleason H. Archer, }ti

6. E. Yamauchi, Greece and Babylon, p. 13.

7. See Eissfeldt, p. 517, and R. Pfeiffer's Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 755.

8. Eissfeldt, p. 525. See also Cerhard Von Rad, The Message of the Prophets, p. 276.

9. See K. A. Kitchen, "The Aramaic of Daniel," Some Problems in the Book of Daniel, p. 79; E. Y. Kutscher, "Aramaic," Encyclopaedialudaica, (1972); "Daniel," encyclopaedia Britannica, (1946 ed.).

10. See R. K. Harrison, The Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 64.

11. See Archer, p. 375; Yamauchi, p. 92; Dominique Auscher, "Les relations entre la Crece et la Palestine avant la conquete d'Alexandre,"* Vetus Testamentum, XVII (1967), pp. 8-30.

12. See H. H. Rowley, "The Unity of Daniel," The Servant of the Lord.

13. The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 869. SDA Bible Dictionary, "Daniel, the book of," p. 250. C. M. Price, The Greatest of the Prophets, p. 31. See also Archer, p. 382. Robert D. Wilson, Studies in the Book of Daniel (second series), p. 270.

14. See Montgomery, Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Daniel, p. 392; ). I. Owens; "Daniel," Broadman Bible Commentary.

15. See commentaries referred to in note 3.

16. Montgomery, p. 400. :

17. See Desmond Ford, "New Light" on Daniel 8:14, The Ministry, October, 1969.

18. See J. E. H. Thomson, Daniel, Pulpit Commentary, pp. 268, 269; Charles Boutflower, In and Around the Book of Daniel, p. 187.

back to top