The Great Date Debate

I feel a sense of professional responsibility to write this particular post, though I am prepared for all of you except my sister to bail out before the end. Prove me wrong…

If you have spent any time studying the book of Daniel with the aid of commentaries, books, or Bible study notes, you are likely aware that not everyone thinks Daniel wrote the book for the exiled Jews in Babylon. Many scholars think an anonymous author wrote the book under Daniel’s name four centuries later to persecuted Jews in Israel. I think I can safely assume that nearly every one of my five faithful readers has dismissed this as a theory cooked up by scholars who don’t believe in prophecy (akin to the theory that Isaiah didn’t write the entire book of Isaiah – but that’s for another day).

It is true that a lot of people who write commentaries don’t believe in prophecy – prophecy meaning that God used humans to predict accurately something otherwise unknowable. But let me caution you not to let anyone – yourself included – reduce the debate about Daniel to the issue of prophecy. There is a fair number of Old Testament scholars who fully believe in prophecy and who firmly hold to the “late date” of Daniel. (The “early date” is Daniel to 6th-century B.C. Jews in Exile; the “late date” is an anonymous author to 2nd-century B.C. Jews in Israel.)

The issue is more complex than that, and while I will not subject even my longsuffering sister to the full discussion, let me explain just one of the other factors.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the genre of Daniel – and I told you that it’s a story. That’s true. Some of my astute readers perhaps thought, “It’s also one of the Major Prophets.” If you didn’t think that, then let me tell you that English Bibles have grouped the books roughly according genre. Look at the table of contents: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Number, Deuteronomy – these we call “Law.” Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1/2 Samuel, 1/2 Kings, 1/2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther – these we call “History.” And so on. Isaiah, Jeremiah, sometimes Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel – these we call the Major Prophets. There, Daniel. It’s a Major Prophet.

If any of my students read the post about genre, they perhaps thought, “Daniel is also one of the Writings.” Surmising that most of you didn’t think this, I will tell you that the Hebrew Bible has also grouped the books according to genre. Here’s how its table of contents goes: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy – these it calls “Torah.” Joshua, Judges, 1/2 Samuel, 1/2 Kings – these it calls “Former Prophets.” Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea-all-the-way-through-Malachi – these it calls “Latter Prophets.” Wait, where’s Daniel? Daniel is not grouped among the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible. It appears in a final group of books, the “Writings,” a collection that contains poetry (like Psalms), wisdom (like Proverbs), history that takes place after the Exile (like Ezra), a few short stories (like Ruth), and Daniel. The question we have to ask is what’s it doing there? The answer is not as simple as saying Daniel is not a prophetic book. The answer really isn’t simple at all – in fact, the answer is really just another theory, since no one bothered to record for us why the “Writings” contain what they do.

So, what’s to be gained – or lost – from this discussion? I didn’t write this to shake your faith in the text or its authority – I happen to believe your faith is well placed. Rather, I encourage you not to dismiss a resource based on what it thinks of Daniel’s authorship. I fully expect to chat on the New Earth with people on both sides of the issue. The significance of the book and its theology don’t depend on this issue.

Next up, Daniel 1, finally!

6 responses to “The Great Date Debate”

  1. I find that these types of debates are distractions from more important matters. In my list of important things to know or learn from the book of Daniel, Date of authorship is WAY down on the list. Keep writing, I’m reading every post and enjoying them all.

    1. Of course not. There are very good reasons to think both ways about the authorship/date of Daniel. And may I say the authirship/ date has great implication on how one interprets Daniel.
      Nevertheless, if one does not want to get into the debates that is perfectly fine. There are some of us who have to. That’s our job to reason and find answers in scholarship and for scholarship to make clearer the Word of God to people of faith, and the hope to pull non people of faith to a place where they can appreciate who God is and what he wants for them

  2. I’m with you too on authorship and date Wendy. And inspiration, and authority for that matter. And what’s more I believe in the 6 day creation. Yup! Six days. On the 7th day He rested. Stick that on your back bumper and park in the yellow-lined faculty section!

    Can’t wait til we get to Persia, Greece, Rome and ………… wait for it …………… the office of the Papacy! Hahaaa! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Boy this is gonna be fun.

  3. Hey! I didn’t know about your blog before, Wendy. Glad I found it.

    I’ve often thought about that ambiguous, prophecy-or-not question. I personally think that early Judaism was leary of apocalyptic. There were so many apocalyptic books that didn’t make it into the canon. It’s as if the rabbinic canon wanted this book as marginal as possible.

    It parallels the uncomfortable position of the Book of the Revelation of John. It wasn’t canonical for most Christians for centuries. It entered the Western canon earlier, and then the Eastern. The first commentary on Revelation in the East wasn’t until maybe the 5th or 6th century.

    1. Hey Rich! Nice to see you! I check in to your blog every couple weeks or so – and love what you’re doing. 🙂

      Yeah – the genre question of Daniel intrigues (and vexes) me. And Revelation, well, that just vexes me all around. 🙂 You make an interesting observation about the two books and the canon.

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