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Is the Aramaic of Daniel early or late?

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Archives / 1980 / January



Is the Aramaic of Daniel early or late?

Gerhard Hasel
Gerhard F. Hasel, Ph.D., is professor of Old Testament and Biblical theology, Andrews University Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan.


The book of Daniel shares with the book of Ezra the unique phenomenon of being written in two different Semitic languages. The Old Testament as a whole is written in Hebrew, the language of the ancient Israelites. However, a few sections Ezra 4:8-6:18 and 7:12-26 and Daniel 2:4b-7:28—are written in Aramaic.

Aramaic, the language of the ancient Aramaeans, who are first mentioned in cuneiform texts from the twelfth century B.C., superseded in the course of time the various languages of conquered lands. From the eighth century on, it became the international language of the Near East. The Israelites appear to have learned Aramaic during the Exile. Historically, Aramaic is divided into several major groups. The two that concern us here are "Official Aramaic," 1 the language used between 700 and 300 B.C. and "Middle Aramaic," employed from 300 B.C. to the early centuries of the Christian era.

The old debate

The questions posed are: How is the language of the book of Daniel to be classified? Does the language represent "Official Aramaic," i.e., an early type of Aramaic (sixth-fifth century B.C.) or a later Aramaic (second century B.C.)? What does this indicate regarding the date of the book?

S. R. Driver seems to have opened the debate in the year 1897 by concluding his discussion of the date and nature of the Aramaic of Daniel with the words "the Hebrew supports, and the Aramaic permits, a date after the conquest of Pales tine by Alexander the Great (B.C. 332)." 2 He was followed by C. C. Torrey, the American critic, who dated the Aramaic part of Daniel to the third-second century B.C.,3 or too late to have been written by the prophet Daniel three centuries earlier.

The arguments against a late date for the Aramaic of Daniel came from such conservative scholars of great repute as R. D. Wilson, W. St. Clair Tisdall, and Ch. Boutflower.4 These studies, defending the antiquity of the Aramaic of Daniel, formed a countercharge to those scholars who held to a late date for the book of Daniel and particularly to the now-classical position of H. H. Rowley.5 As a result of the startling discovery of the Elephantine Papyri from Upper Egypt (which were written in Aramaic and dated from as early as the fifth century B.C.), F. Rosenthal, following in the wake of the synthesis of H. H Schaeder, and an important essay by J. Lidner,6 concluded in 1939 that the "old 'linguistic evidence' [for a late date of Daniel] has to be laid aside" 7 after four decades of research.

New evidence and new solutions

In 1965 the famous British orientalist K. A. Kitchen again took up the problem of the Aramaic of Daniel in response to the unanswered claims of Rowley, who had written more than three decades earlier. In the meantime new Aramaic texts had been discovered,8 and the older ones had been studied more care fully. Kitchen, examining the vocabulary, orthography, phonetics, and general morphology and syntax of the Aramaic of Daniel, reached the conclusion that: "The Aramaic of Daniel (and of Ezra) is simply a part of Imperial [Official] Aramaic in itself, practically undatable with any conviction within c. 600 to 330 B.c." 9 Thus as far as the Aramaic is concerned there are no grounds that force a date for the book of Daniel to the Maccabean period; a sixth-fifth century date is entirely possible.

H. H. Rowley contested Kitchen's findings. However, Rowley's criticisms in turn were scrutinized and refuted by the leading Aramaist E. Y. Kutscher in his authoritative survey of research of early Aramaic. 10 Kutscher had already shown that the word order of the Aramaic of Daniel points to an Eastern origin, not a Western, as had to be argued if a Maccabean date in the second century B.C. were to be maintained. 11

The fact that the Aramaic of Daniel belongs to "Official [Imperial] Aramaic" is a point made not only by Kitchen and Kutscher but also by a number of other major scholars in the field of Aramaic studies,12 even though they may not hold to an early date for the book of Daniel.

The appearance of major Aramaic documents from Qumran has supplied fresh evidence for moving the book of Daniel back to an early date. In 1956 the Aramaic document Genesis Apocryphon (I Qap Gen) was published. On paleographic and linguistic grounds it belongs to the first century B.c. 13

P. Winter noted that the Aramaic of Daniel and Ezra is Official (Imperial) Aramaic, but that of the Genesis Apocryphon is later—a conclusion con firmed by Kutscher and particularly by the evangelical scholar Gleason L. Archer. 14 The latter concluded on the basis of a careful study of the Aramaic language of Daniel and that of the Genesis Apocryphon "that the Aramaic of Daniel comes from a considerably earlier period than the second century B.C." 15 More recently he wrote that the cumulative result of the linguistic evidence is "that the Aramaic of the [Genesis] Apocryphon is centuries later than that of Daniel and Ezra. Otherwise there is no such thing as linguistic evidence." 16

This conclusion has significant implications for the alleged Maccabean date for the book of Daniel. In view of the Aramaic documents among the Dead Sea scrolls, it has become more and more difficult for critical, liberal scholars to hold to a second-century B.C. date for the book of Daniel.

The Job Targum

The most recent shock wave against a late date for the book of Daniel was produced by the publication of the Job Targum (11Q to Job) from Cave 11 of Qumran. 17 This Aramaic document fills the gap (of several centuries) between the Aramaic of the books of Daniel and Ezra and later Aramaic. Scholars of various schools of thought agree that the Aramaic language of the Job Targum is younger than that of the book of Daniel and older than that of the Genesis Apocryphon. 18 The editors who worked on the Job Targum date it in the second half of the second century B.C. Since the Aramaic of the Job Targum is accepted as later than the Aramaic of the book of Daniel, its dating is important.

One impact of this shock wave is reflected in an attempt to redate the whole development of post-Biblical Aramaic.

Stephen A. Kaufman has concluded that "the language of 11Q to Job [Job Tar gum] differs significantly from that of the Aramaic of Daniel." Thus there must be some time between the Aramaic of Dan iel and that of the Job Targum. Since Kaufman asserts that the book of Daniel "cannot have reached its final form until the middle of that [second] century," he is led to redate the Job Targum to the first century B.C and the Genesis Apocryphon to the first century A.D. 19 This redating is suggested on the basis of a fixed date for Daniel in the second century B.C.

However, Kitchen has pointed out correctly that the treatment and dating of the Aramaic of Daniel is apt to be colored by certain presuppositions.20 Thus one can hardly be convinced that the problematical second-century date of Daniel is the sure anchor needed for sequence dating in the development of post-Biblical Aramaic. Kaufman's at tempt seems to be without sure foundations.

The dating of the Job Targum as suggested on comparative evidence and without the presupposition of a second-century date for the book of Daniel now needs attention. It has been suggested recently by several experts in Aramaic studies, on the basis of careful linguistic comparisons of the Aramaic of Daniel the Genesis Apocryphon, and Targumic studies, that the Job Targum does indeed date from the second half of the second century B.C.21 One expert, who leaves open the date for Biblical Aramaic, even argues that the Job Targum may go back to "the second half of the third century B.C. or the first half of the second century B.C." 22

If some significant amount of time is needed between the Job Targum and the universally acknowledged earlier Aramaic of the book of Daniel, then the Aramaic of the book of Daniel would point to an earlier date for the book than critical liberal scholarship has been willing to admit heretofore. Discussions regarding the date of Daniel are no longer at a stalemate. The Aramaic documents from Qumran23 push the date of the composition into a period earlier than the Maccabean date allows.

Thus the alternative date for Daniel in the sixth or fifth century B.C. has more in its favor today from the point of view of language alone than ever before.

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1 A description of its nature is provided by S. A. Kaufman, The Akkadian Influences on Aramaic, Assyriological Studies, 19 (Chicago, 1974), pp. 156-160.

2 S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (1897; reprint, New York, 1965), p. 508. (Italics his.)

3 C. C. Torrey, "Notes on the Aramaic Part of Daniel," Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences 15 (1909), 239-282; "Stray Notes on the Aramaic of Daniel and Ezra," JAOS43 (1923): 229-238.

4 R. D. Wilson, "The Aramaic of Daniel," Biblical cal and Theological Studies (Princeton, N.J., 1912), pp. 261-306; W. St. Clair Tisdall, "The Book of Daniel, Some Linguistic Evidence Regarding Its Date," Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute . . . of Great Britain 23 (1921), 206-245; Charles Boutflower, In and Around the Book of Daniel (London, 1923), pp. 226, 227.

5 G. R. Driver, "The Aramaic of the Book of Daniel," JBL 45 (1926): 110-119, 323-325; W. Baumgartner, "Das Aramaische im Buche Daniel," ZAW 45 (1927): 81-133; J. A. Montgomery, The Book of Daniel, ICC (Edinburgh, 1927), pp. 15-20; R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Oxford, 1929), pp.
LXXVI-CVII; H. H. Rowley, The Aramaic of the Old Testament (Oxford, 1929).

6 H. H. Schaeder, Iranische Beitrage I (Halle Saale, 1930), pp. 199-296. J. Lidner, "Das Ara maische im Buche Daniel," Zeitschrift fur katholische Theologie 59 (1935): 503-545, argues, in accord with Schaeder, that the third-second century B.C. date of the Aramaic of Daniel can no longer be held and that there is thus nothing against the early date of Daniel.

7 F. Rosenthal, Die Aramaistische Forschung (1939; reprint, Leiden, 1964), pp. 60-71, esp. p. 70

8 A convenient summary of the known (by 1970) Aramaic texts down to the third century B.C. is provided by J. Naveh, The Development of the Aramaic Script "Proceedings of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities, V" (Jerusalem, 1970).

9 K. A. Kitchen, "The Aramaic of Daniel," Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel, eds. D. J. Wiseman et al. (London, 1965), pp. 31-79, esp. p. 75.

10 H. H. Rowley, JSS 11 (1966): 112-116; E. Y. Kutscher, "Aramaic," Current Trends in Linguistics  6, ed. T. A. Seboek (The Hague, 1970), pp. 400-403.

11 E. Y. Kutscher, "HaAramait HaMigrait-Aramit Mizrahit hi o Maaravit?" First World Congress of Jewish Studies I (Jerusalem, 1952), pp. 123-127. Kitchen's conclusions are accepted by other leading scholars, such as M. Sokoloff, The Targum of Job From Qumran Cave XI (Ramat Gan, 1974), p. 9, n. 1; G. J. Wenham, "Daniel: the Basic Issues," Themelios 2 (1977): 50; A. R. Millard, "Daniel 1-6 and History," Evangelical Quarterly 49 (1977): 67,

12 J. J. Koopmans, Aramaische Chrestomatie I (Leiden, 1962), p. 154; F. Rosenthal, A Grammar of Biblical Aramaic, 2d ed. (Wiesbaden, 1963), p. 6: "The Aramaic of the Bible as written has preserved the Official Aramaic character." R. J. Williams, "Energic Verbal Forms in Hebrew," Studies in the Ancient World, ed. J. W. Wevers and D. B. Redford (Toronto, 1972), p. 78: "The Aramaic of the OT is in all essentials identical with Imperial Aramaic." J. A. Fitzmyer, The Genesis Apocryphon: A Commentary 2d ed. (Rome, 1971), p. 20, ns. 56, 60.

13 N. Avigad and Y. Yadin, eds., A Genesis Apocryphon; a Scroll From the Wilderness of Judae (Jerusalem, 1956), esp. p. 21. See also E. Y. Kutscher, "Dating the Language of the Genesis Apocryphon," JBL 76 (1957): 288-292; B. Jongeling, C. J. Labuschagne and A. S. van der Woude  Aramaic Texts From Qumran /(Leiden, 1976), pp. 5, 6, 78, 79; E. Y. Kutscher, "The Language of the 'Genesis Apocryphon,' " Aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Scr. Hier. 4, 2d ed. (Jerusalem, 1965), pp. 1-35.

14 P. Winter, "Das aramaische Genesis-Apokryphon," Theologische Literatur-zeitung 4 (1957): 257-262; Kutscher, "The Language of the 'Genesis Apocryphon,'" pp. 1-35; G. L. Archer, Jr., "The Aramaic of the 'Genesis Apocryphon' Compared With the Aramaic of Daniel," New Perspectives on the Old Testament, ed. J. B. Payne (Waco, Texas, 1970), pp. 160-169.

15 Archer, "The Aramaic of The 'Genesis Apocryphon," p. 169.

16 G. L. Archer, "Aramaic Language," Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. M. C. Tenney (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1975), 1:255.

17 J. P. M. van der Ploeg and A. S. van der Woude, eds., Le Targum de Job de la grotte XI de Qumran (Leiden, 1971).

18 So van der Ploeg and van der Woude, pp. 3-5, and T. Muraoka, "The Aramaic of the Old Targum of Job From Qumran Cave XI," Journal of Jewish Studies 25 (1974): 442; S. A. Kaufman, "The Job Targum From Qumran" JAOS 93 (1973): 327; Jongeling et al., Aramaic Texts From Qumran I, p. 5.

19 Kaufman, "The Job Targum From Qumran," pp. 327, 317.

20 Kitchen, "The Aramaic of Daniel," p. 32.

21 Jongeling, Labuschagne, and van der Woude, Aramaic Texts From Qumran, p. 6; M. Sokoloff, The Targum to Job From Qumran Cave XI (Bar Dan, 1974), p. 25.

22 Muraoka, "The Aramaic of the Old Targum of Job," p. 442.

23 It may be expected that the recent publications of Aramaic fragments of the books of Enoch will throw further light upon the development of post-Biblical Aramaic, see J. T. Milik, The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumran Cave 4 (Oxford, 1976); J. A. Fitzmyer, "Implications of the New Enoch Literature From Qumran," Theological Studies 83 (1977): 332-345.

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