Is Daniel a Prophet?

The book of Daniel never identifies him as a prophet. He was given visions of events that took place about 300 years after he died. Those visions were sealed to be unveiled after the events they describe had come to pass (Daniel 12:9). Therefore, that they have been unveiled suggests that our ancestors believed these events had come to pass. The words and writings of Yeshaiyahu were available in his own time to the elites and the general population. Also noticeably absent is the phrase “the word of YHVH came unto blank son of ____.” This phrase identifies every prophet in the Neviim.

Chapter 1 of Daniel tells us that he was a man young in the last years of the Kingdom of Yehudah, that he was taken to Babylon (that is, he was from a prominent family), that he and three other Jews advised Nebuchadnezzar. It concludes that he lived until the first year of the reign of Cyrus the Mede. All of these four young men were blessed with visions and skills of dream interpretation. If he was a youth when Yehudah was destroyed circa 587 BCE, but old enough to have wisdom and expertise, we can assume he was no younger than 10 and probably no older than 20 at the time. Probably a young teen. If he lived to the first year of Cyrus the Mede, 559 BCE, that would make him between 38 and 48 approximately at that time. Either way, if this was the end of his life then he had a good and healthy life in that time.

Chapters 2-7 are written in Aramaic. Here Nebuchadnezzar speaks in the first person. These chapters are disjoined and out of historical context. In Chapter 4 Nebuchadnezzar speaks in on his own behalf.  In Chapter 5 Daniel speaks of Belshazzar the son of Nebuchadnezzar then in chapter 6 the book begins with Darius. No reference at all to Cyrus or his successors.  Darius began his reign in 522 some 37 years after Cyrus’ reign began which puts Daniel approximately between the ages of 75 and 85. The narrative states that Darius appoints Daniel to be among the administrators of the kingdom.  Eventually, he becomes the vizier over all of Persia, which is unlikely. There is then a rather silly story about his being placed in a lions den. The end of the chapter says he had prospered in the reigns of Darius and Cyrus. Cyrus ruled nearly 40 years BEFORE Darius. Thus we have a historical inaccuracy. In Chapter 7 the Daniel records a vision, during the reign of Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, so the narrative returns to the Babylonian period.

In Chapter 7 Daniel has a vision that a little horn that arises and plucks out other horns. The great leader who is represented by this small horn had thousands of ministers and hundreds of thousands went before him. Fire and destruction also went before him. The chapter goes on to describe four heads that arise out of the small horned beast. One of these grows in power and later begins to persecute the righteous, presumably the Jews.

Seleucids and of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. Note in verse 18 we see that despite all of this the holy people will ultimately prevail rule purportedly forever (for a great time) a reference to the Maccabees. Again the story of Alexander’s conquest of Persia is told. (the Medes and the Persians)

Chapter 8 returns to Hebrew but it is the Hebrew of a style traced to the Maccabean Era. The ram with two great horns is broken by a fast moving Ram. Four horns arise from there, indicating four separate polities. Again the little horn waxes great over even these. In verses 20 and 21 a man named Gabriel is asked to explain this vision to Daniel. He clarifies that the vision refers to the Persians and the Prince of Greece. The events described are thus the rise of Persia, its conquest be Alexander (the Prince of Greece) and the four kingdoms which follow from his rule. Of these, the Seleucids, of whom Antiochus Epiphanies was a King, would grow to overcome the others. Antiochus would also seem to be the subject of Chapter 7, which walks through the rise of Alexander and the power of the “fourth beast” with ten horns. The horn of this beast made war on the Jews and won.

By chapter 9 Daniel is living in the time of Darius, the son of Ahazerus (Darius II?). Darius II reigned from 423 BCE, at which point Daniel would be between 162-172 years old. Unless we are mistaken about which Darius. This could refer to Darius I which is more plausible, but he is never known as the son of Ahazerus. On face value it is not, no man can live so long. If he had he would have been a legend and there would be some other historical mention of the man.

Chapter 9 covers the wickedness of the Yehudim and why they need to be punished. On a side note verse 15 features prominently in a Karaite Shabbat prayer of apology to Hashem for our misdeeds. Chapter 10 is back in the reign of Cyrus the Mede. Again the prince of Greece is the subject (Alexander). Chapter 11 is back in the time if Darius, saying that the fourth king from Darius will wax great and make war on the Greek (Xerxes?). Then the kingdom will be destroyed and broken into four (Alexander and his successors). Chapter 11 goes on with the struggles between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies (north and south) who were locked in a regional geopolitical struggle in which Judaea was taken at different points by one or the other power. It concludes by talking about Antiochus’ exploits including the desecration of the Temple (holy mountain).

Chapter 12 brings Michael (which translates to who is like El? [the divine]) a title more likely than a name. This Micha’el features in earlier chapters as well. Chapter 12 contains a lot of hyperbole and metaphor about the sleeping rising and the righteous shining and such. Verse 9 requires the vision to be sealed until the after the events have taken place less people should be in panic in Daniel’s own time.

Finally, in verse 11 the coup d’grace, a firm period of time. It states clearly that from the day that the offerings cease until the day this ends shall be 2290 days. Verse 12 states that those who wait a further 1335 days will be happy (the offerings resumed?). The oppression of Antiochus brought and end to offerings at the Temple for many years, 2290 days (6 1/3 solar years) perhaps.
The Maccabee Revolt ran almost four years approximately 1300 days. There are those who hold these visions to be of a still future time, I must then note that it has been over 700,000 days since the Temple of Herod (the third or fourth incarnation of the Temple of Jerusalem) was destroyed. Some have argued that the 2290 days are intended to be read as years instead of days. But then, nothing of consequence happened in the Ninth Century CE.

As a side note, the First Book of Maccabees reads very much like the end of Daniel and has a lot of great info. Thanks to the Catholic Church, a translation is readily available online.

When you read it you will undoubtedly, as I did, immediately think of the Book of Daniel. They use a lot of the same language, even when reading them in translation.

The nature of these writings leads to one of two conclusions. If the narrative of Daniel is correct then his visions were recorded and sealed. Then opened after the Maccabee Revolt and for some reason were transcribed into the Hebrew of that time with overtones of Greek learning and scholarship. A second conclusion is that the scribes of the Maccabean Era wrote these visions (having lost track of sound histories and chronologies of Persian history) and ascribed them to Daniel a famous man who had lived late in the time of inspiration. By the time of the Maccabees the canon had been closed and the age of inspiration was known to be at an end. If they did simply write the late chapters of Daniel themselves, they certainly did not intend this as a fraud. When Alexander came to Judea the priests presented him with a vision written long beforehand that he was to conquer Persia. He saluted the Jews and allowed Jews to live by the law unfettered. If this was a forgery of a vision attributed to Daniel, it was an act of self-preservation, a clever attempt to entice Alexander to a pro-Jewish position. Alexander the Great’s mother was a famous Dionysian and he believed in signs and wonders. He must have been impressed by “Daniel’s vision.”

Either way, Daniel is not a prophet and the book does not really meet the standard for making the canon. It only narrowly relates to the events that are discussed in the canon, which concludes with the return from the Babylonian Exile, and it then goes on about events that are well beyond the age of inspiration. Efforts were made throughout history by both Jews and Christians to keep the book out of the canon. By the Roman Era many had forgotten the meaning of these visions (those ignorant of history) and had begun to ascribe them to some future time.


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