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Chris Sandoval Daniel

The Failure of Daniel’s Prophecies (2007)

Chris Sandoval


          Honest Inspirational Fiction

          Daniel’s Four Empires

          The Symbolism of the Statue and Beasts

          The Greek Four-Empire Scheme

          The Origin of “Darius the Mede”

          Was “Darius” an Alias?

          Mixed Messages

          The Brutality of the Fourth Empire

          The Diadochi

          The Maccabean War

          The Traditional Christian Interpretation of the Seventy Weeks

          The Dispensationalist Christian Interpretation of the Seventy Weeks

          The Unfulfilled Predictions

          Religious Forgeries

          Evangelical Damage Control


The prophecies of the Book of Daniel have fascinated readers and created controversy for the past two thousand years. Evangelical Christians believe that the prophet Daniel, an official in the courts of Near-Eastern emperors in the sixth century BC, foretold the future of the world from his own time to the end of the age. Actually, the book was written in Palestine in the mid-second century BC by an author who expected God to set up his everlasting kingdom in his own near future, as we read in the mainline commentaries[1] and Bible dictionaries[2]:

Seeing four immense beasts coming up out of the sea, Daniel becomes duly horrified. Now it is Daniel’s turn to seek enlightenment as to the meaning of the vision, as the pagans did of him in the earlier narratives of the book. An angel explains that the lion symbolizes the Babylonian kingdom; the bear, the Median; the leopard, the Persian; and the terrifying monster with the ten horns, the Hellenistic (Seleucid). Three of the horns are uprooted by a small horn which sprouts up and speaks arrogantly (Antiochus IV Epiphanes). The Ancient One, symbol of God, appears in glory and judgment. The four beasts are slain, and finally everlasting dominion is given to “one in human likeness,” symbolizing the holy ones of the Most High, or the faithful Jews who had been devastated by the wicked Antiochus for three and a half years.[3]

The angel Gabriel again appears and reveals that the seventy years are in reality seventy weeks of years upon the completion of which justice will be done and the temple reconsecrated. The accuracy of Gabriel’s mathematics is apparently of little concern, Daniel’s true interest being the last week of years, from the death of Onias III in 171 B.C. to the inauguration of the Kingdom of God in 164, which followed the roughly half week of years during which Antiochus IV abolished sacrifices and defiled the temple by placing on the altar the “appalling abomination” (or “abomination of desolation”).[4]

The failure of his prediction refutes evangelical claims that the Bible is inerrant and prophecy proves its divine inspiration.

The original purpose of the Book of Daniel was to comfort and encourage persecuted Jews during the Maccabean revolt. It all began in December of 167 BC, when the Seleucid emperor Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem with an idol bearing his likeness. He went on to force his Jewish subjects to abandon the Sabbath, circumcision, and food laws, torturing and killing all who opposed him. At this outrage, the Jews revolted under Judas Maccabeus, driving the Seleucid armies out of Palestine and recapturing the Temple. In December of 164 BC, they rededicated the Temple to Jewish worship on the first Hanukkah.

During the revolt, pious Jews began to circulate an anthology of stories allegedly written four hundred years earlier by a Jewish hero named Daniel. These stories relate how Daniel and his friends, while serving as officials in the courts of pagan kings, risked their lives to avoid breaking Jewish food laws or worshipping false gods. When the mightiest kings on Earth tried to force them to compromise their religious principles, they passively waited on God’s miraculous intervention to save them. The success of Daniel’s prophecies of events up to and including the atrocities of Antiochus supposedly demonstrated that God would miraculously intervene on schedule to rescue the Jews from Antiochus as well.

The prophet Daniel supposedly predicted that four great empires were to rise and fall in succession between his day and the end of the world: Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece. Alexander the Great’s Greek Empire was to break up into four smaller empires, the most important being the Seleucid Empire in Syria to the north, and the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt to the south. After seven Greek kings ruled in succession, the eighth was to snatch the throne from three candidates who had more right to it than he did. This king, Antiochus Epiphanes, provoked the Maccabean War. The Book of Daniel predicted that God would miraculously destroy Antiochus Epiphanes, resurrect the righteous dead, and set up an everlasting, worldwide Israelite Empire three and a half years after the desecration of the Temple; in other words, the Messianic Empire should have begun in June of 163 BC. Since these predictions largely came true until the middle of the war and failed thereafter, we know that the author lived in Seleucid times, not Babylonian times.

Honest Inspirational Fiction

Many critical scholars attribute the obvious historical errors of the book of Daniel to naïveté. I find it more likely that the author generally knew what he was doing and wrote honest anachronistic inspirational fiction, the literary equivalent of the faith-promoting Left Behind series of our own time. His friends and contemporaries already expected God to set up the messianic kingdom very soon in their own lifetimes, and his cycle of short stories regarding Daniel merely gave literary expression to their preexisting beliefs.

Scholars like Leonard J. Greenspoon have suggested that the Hellenistic authors of Judith, Tobit, Esther, and Daniel intentionally salted their works with blatant anachronism as a literary device for cluing readers in that their books were novels rather than history, although later readers did not always take the hint. Judith, for instance, begins with King Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria defeating King Arphaxad of Media in the east, and then sending General Holofernes west of the Euphrates to attack the Jews shortly after their return from the Babylonian Exile. In reality, the lands of Media, Assyria, and Judea were all solidly under Persian rule at the time. According to Greenspoon:

Another characteristic shared by these novels (and the Book of Daniel as well) relates specifically to their historicity. They contain what appear to be historical notices that contradict the historical record preserved elsewhere. So, for example, we know of no Jewish queen in Persia, the forces said to have massed against Judith’s hometown come from different periods, and Daniel is replete both with otherwise unknown–and impossible–personages and with a collapsed or convoluted chronological framework. Although some fundamentalists have sought to expand or correct the generally accepted historical record on the basis of their interpretation of these “historical” details, such efforts must be judged misguided when we realize that their authors were not writing history. They were aware that these things never happened and that these individuals never lived, and their audience had the same knowledge.[5]

As with Esther, Judith, and Tobit, there are [in the Book of Daniel] several deviations from the historical record as known elsewhere. Their utilization in a fully ironic, even mocking, manner makes it unnecessary to charge either ancient author or modern reader with ignorance or carelessness. The author and his initially intended audience fully understood and appreciated Daniel’s novelistic context.[6]

The author of Daniel and his readers knew their history too well for his historical inconcinnities to be an accident. From Daniel 11, we see that he was well-acquainted with the history of the Seleucids and Ptolemies up to a century and half before his time. The author of Bel and the Dragon, an apocryphal addition to Daniel, knew that the last Median king, killed by Cyrus, was Astyages rather than “Darius the Mede,” and presumably this was common knowledge among his contemporaries. The author of 1 Maccabees 1:1 knew that Alexander the Great had defeated “King Darius of the Persians and the Medes” when he conquered the Persian Empire, and he must have known that this king was not the Darius the Great mentioned in the Bible. The Greek historians were well aware that the conqueror of Babylon was Cyrus the Persian, and this was probably common knowledge, so probably the character Darius the Mede was a literary device rather than a crude blunder.

The divergent interpretations of history in the different chapters of Daniel make better sense under the theory that it is honest fiction than under the theory that it is a crude forgery. The book as a whole clearly focuses on the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes and his ultimate destruction by God’s supernatural intervention at the end of the age, but otherwise the author’s description of history varies somewhat from story to story. In some stories, he emphasized the continuity between the Median and Persian empires, but in others, he emphasized the distinction between them. In one chapter, he treated the tyranny of the Seleucid Empire as the direct continuation of the might of Alexander’s empire, but elsewhere, he emphasized that the Seleucid Empire and the other successor states of Alexander’s empire lacked his power. Even while emphasizing that Darius the Mede is the absolute monarch of an independent empire, he betrays an awareness that the empire that destroyed Babylon comprised both the Medes and the Persians. In describing the desolation of the land of Israel under the Babylonian Empire, he uses Jeremiah’s cliché figure of the seventy-year exile, yet betrays an accurate knowledge that the actual period of Jerusalem’s desolation from 587 to 538 BC was forty-nine years. These variations more likely arose from literary considerations than from mere ignorance. A novelist can get away with more creative anachronism than a mere propagandist, just as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could get away with a number of contradictions in his Sherlock Holmes stories that a historian could not.

Scholars have proposed a number of theories for the compositional history of the book. It can be divided into two halves of six chapters each: the stories and the visions. The six stories trace Daniel’s career chronologically through the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede, and Cyrus the Persian. The four visions are likewise arranged chronologically, but they overlap with the stories. Many argue that the stories were composed perhaps a century before the Maccabean revolt, pointing out that although Kings Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius the Mede were hardly models of religious tolerance, at least it never entered their minds to exterminate Judaism outright as Antiochus tried to do. Some insist that the vision of chapter 7 was added as an appendix to the original core of six stories to form a chiastic structure in which chapters 2 and 7 are visions of the four empires, chapters 3 and 6 are stories of Jews resisting pressure to worship false gods, and chapters 4 and 5 are stories of the humbling of proud and arrogant kings. This theory helps explain why chapters 2 through 7 (except for the first three and a half verses of chapter 2) are written in Aramaic, whereas the rest of the book is in Hebrew. It makes little difference to my interpretation, however, whether the writer who assembled these components into their final form was their author or merely their editor. Either way, he crafted his inspirational fiction to inspire and comfort his fellow Jews who were loyal to their religious faith in the face of persecution.

Old Testament chronology is not always an exact science. Depending on the commentary one consults, one finds the fall of Jerusalem variously dated at 587 or 586 BC, and the first year of Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon dated at 539 or 538 BC. Turning to Maccabean times, we find that some commentators place the desecration of the Temple in December 168 BC and its rededication in December 165 BC, whereas the majority shifts both events one year later. I elect to the use the majority chronology as found in Knight and Hartman & Di Lella, which places the fall of Jerusalem at 587 BC, the fall of Babylon in 539 BC, the desecration of the Temple in December of 167 BC, and its rededication in December of 164 BC.

Daniel’s Four Empires

The prophecies in the Book of Daniel all end with the destruction of Antiochus Epiphanes as punishment for his atrocities and sacrileges at the beginning of the Messianic Age, as we shall see in some detail later on. However, different chapters in Daniel arrive at this same destination through two different paths. Chapter 8 emphasizes the continuity between Media and Persia, treating them as Phase 1 and Phase 2 of a single empire. Chapters 2 and 7, on the other hand, emphasize the distinction between them, treating them as two separate entities. Let us begin by examining the four-empire scheme of chapters 2 and 7 and the author’s probable motives in inventing it. In these chapters, the four successive empires are Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece. They are represented by the golden head, silver chest, bronze loins, and iron legs in the vision of the statue in chapter 2, and by the lion, bear, leopard, and dragon in the vision of the four beasts in chapter 7. Clearly our author’s scenario is counterfactual, for Persia under King Cyrus conquered Media in 550 BC before conquering Babylonia in 539 BC.

The evidence for this identification of Daniel’s four empires is as follows. Most importantly of all, the fourth empire is clearly Greece. The second half of Daniel consists in four visions: the vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7, the vision of the ram and the he-goat in Daniel 8, the seventy weeks prophecy in Daniel 9, and the prophecy of the kings of the north and the south in Daniel 10-12. All four end with an antichrist figure who blasphemes God, overthrows the Jewish law, and persecutes righteous Jews for three and a half years. This is clearly Antiochus Epiphanes, the ruler of the main successor state of the fourth empire. The visions go on to say that God would supernaturally overthrow the blasphemous king and impose his righteous rule over the whole world at the appointed time of the end. The failure of this prediction demonstrates that the four purported prophecies of Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean revolt were actually written after the fact.

We identify the second empire by elimination. Daniel 2:37-38 explicitly says that the first empire was Babylonia. Persia must be the third empire because it was conquered by the fourth empire, Greece, in 331 BC (Daniel 8:20-21; 10:20; 11:2-4). Daniel served as an official in the imperial courts of the following kings in succession: the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1,2,3,4) and his son Belshazzar (Daniel 5; 7:1; 8:1); the fictitious Median King Darius, who killed Belshazzar and took over his kingdom (Daniel 5:30-31; 6; 9:1; 11:1); and the Persian King Cyrus (Daniel 1:21; 6:28; 10:1,13,20). Therefore, Daniel’s second empire has to be the semifictitious Median Empire.

In order to explain away the nonfulfillment of Daniel’s predictions, most evangelicals identify Daniel’s four empires as Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. They argue that the symbolism of the statue and the beasts fit this interpretation more naturally and straightforwardly than the critical interpretation. Supposedly, the slow, lumbering bear with three ribs in its mouth symbolizes the Medo-Persian Empire with its three main conquests: Lydia in the north, Babylonia in the west, and Egypt in the south (Daniel 7:5; 8:4). The swift, agile leopard with four wings and four heads symbolizes the swift conquests of Alexander the Great, and the breakup of his empire into four kingdoms as described elsewhere in Daniel (Daniel 8:21-22; 11:4). (The swiftness of the growth of the Persian Empire in Isaiah 41:3 is conveniently ignored.) The terrifying ten-horned monster with teeth of iron symbolizes the unprecedented power of the Roman Empire, the mightiest empire the world had yet seen. The two legs of Daniel’s statue symbolize the division of the Roman Empire into two halves, the Latin-speaking West and the Greek-speaking East. The ten toes of the statue, which are incapable of adhering together, and the ten horns of the fourth beast symbolize the smaller nations that arose after the fall of Rome. Supposedly, Jesus will make his second coming in the days of these successor states of the Roman Empire.[7]

Actually, Daniel would still be a false prophet even if the evangelical interpretation were correct. Under this theory, the Roman Empire was to be the last world empire before Jesus’ second coming, and all four were important to the author of Daniel because they controlled Judah and Jerusalem. In real history, however, the Islamic and Ottoman Empires falsified Daniel’s prophecy because they succeeded Rome and likewise occupied Judah and Jerusalem. In fact, they were much larger and lasted far longer than the Babylonian Empire of Daniel’s prophecy.

The Symbolism of the Statue and Beasts

There is a saying, “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” The evangelical interpretation of Daniel 2 & 7 is based on a superficial reading, but a deeper acquaintance with the literature and culture of Hellenistic times shows that the critical interpretation actually accounts for the symbolism more economically and straightforwardly. To begin with, the four empires with their metals and beasts fall into a simple pattern: they are listed in order of decreasing splendor and increasing strength and cruelty to symbolize their moral degeneration from one to the next (cf. Daniel 2:39).

In the vision of the statue in Daniel 2, the four empires are symbolized by four metals: viz., the golden head of Babylonia, the silver chest of Media, the bronze loins of Persia, the iron legs of Greece, and the iron-and-clay feet of the successor states of Greece. The metals decrease in monetary value yet increase in strength from the top to the bottom of the statue.

Our author probably got the idea of the four ages from Hesiod, an eighth-century BC Greek poet. Hesiod taught that the world has gone through four ages, each one morally inferior to its predecessor: viz., the ages of gold, silver, bronze, and iron (Works and Days 106-201).[8] Our author need not have read Hesiod; he and his fellow Jews probably picked up the idea from Greeks living in that part of the world.

Even apart from Hesiod, it is easy to see why our author chose exactly these four metals. The only metals mentioned in the Bible are gold, silver, bronze, iron, copper, tin, and lead (cf. Isaiah 60:17; Daniel 5:4,23). Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, harder than either pure copper or pure tin. The soft nonprecious metals copper, tin, and lead clearly did not fit into his scheme.

Turning now to the vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7, we find that the four empires are symbolized by beasts of descending value and splendor: viz., lion, bear, leopard, and dragon. The noble lion has the wings of a noble eagle, whereas the leopard has merely the wings of an ordinary bird. The dragon is stronger and more destructive than any of the preceding beasts. Since God’s eternal kingdom is of more value than any of the four earthly empires, it is fittingly enough symbolized by a human being with no unusual physical attributes (Daniel 7:13-14), and it was supposed to supplant the four empires and rule the Earth forever (Daniel 2:34-35,44-45; 7:17-18,22,26-27).

It is easy to see why our author chose exactly these beasts of prey. The lion, bear, leopard, wolf, and jackal were the only large predators in Palestine, and the only ones mentioned in the Bible. The lion, bear, and leopard, the most dangerous of the lot, were the only beasts mentioned by the prophet Hosea in his poetic accounts of attacks by wild animals (Hosea 13:7-8–cf. 1 Samuel 17:34-37; Proverbs 28:15; Isaiah 11:7; Jeremiah 5:6; Lamentations 3:10; Amos 5:19); these are the same beasts that appear in Daniel’s vision.

The add-on attributes of each beast indicate its rank. Since the kingdom of God ranks first in splendor and glory, the four earthly empires can rank only second through fifth. Babylonia, the second in rank, is symbolized by an otherwise normal lion that has two wings and walks on two feet. Media, the third, is symbolized by a bear that has three ribs or tusks in its mouth and apparently walks on three legs, for it is “raised up on one side.” Persia, the fourth, is symbolized by a leopard with four heads and four wings. Greece, the fifth, is symbolized by a dragon with apparently two rows of five horns each. [9]

The Greek Four-Empire Scheme

Evangelicals argue that the critics’ distinction between Media and Persia is artificial and arbitrary. Actually, our author borrowed the idea from the Greeks, forcing real history to fit into a four-empire scheme that was already a part of the culture of his times and familiar to his readers. Greeks and Romans in the Hellenistic Age believed that in all history there had been four consecutive world empires: Assyria, Media, Persia, and Greece. Some contemporary Romans, like the historian Aemilius Sura, who flourished between 179 and 171 BC, believed that their own empire had the messianic destiny of supplanting the four empires forever:

Aemilius Sura in his book on the chronology of Rome: The Assyrians were the first of all races to hold power, then the Medes, after them the Persians and then the Macedonians. Then, when the two kings Philip and Antiochus, of Macedonian origin had been completely conquered, soon after the overthrow of Carthage, the supreme command passed to the Roman people.[10]

The four-empire scheme is also found in the works of later Greek and Roman historians: viz., Tacitus (Histories 5.8-9), Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1.2.1-4), Appianus (Roman History introduction), and Polybius (Histories 38.22.1-3).[11] Even before the Greek Empire arrived on the scene, the Greek authors Herodotus (Histories 1.95,30) and Ctesias (quoted in Diodorus Siculus 2.1-34) alluded to a scheme of three world empires: namely, Assyria, Media, and Persia.[12]

The Book of Daniel follows the pagan four-empire scheme in distinguishing Media from Persia, yet differs in substituting Babylonia for Assyria. The reason for the switch is that direct foreign rule over Judah had begun with the Babylonian Empire and was destined to last though the four empires. The reason Babylonia does not figure in the pagan Greek scheme is that it was weaker than and mostly contemporaneous with Media.

Daniel’s four beasts also correspond to the four winds (Daniel 7:2-3–cf. Zechariah 2:6; 6:5; Ezekiel 37:9; Enoch 18:2; 2 Esdras 13:5). A map of the ancient Near East confirms that Babylonia lay to the south, Media to the north, Persia to the east, and Greece to the west. The Babylonians used animals to symbolize the cardinal points of the compass: the lion, bear, and leopard represented the south, north, and east, respectively.[13]

In the exile in Babylonian times, the prophet Ezekiel mentioned a trio of holy gentile heroes, Noah, Job, and Daniel, who lived in his own mythological past (Ezekiel 14:14,20; 28:3). Ezekiel’s Daniel (more properly Dan’el) is actually the mythological Canaanite sage Dan’el who appears in the Ugaritic tablets in the Legend of Aqhat, Son of Dan’el.[14] Assuming that Ezekiel’s Dan’el was Jewish and a contemporary of Ezekiel, our author used him as a peg on which to hang his stories. Apparently, the Jews had no qualms about adopting the pagan sage Dan’el as one of their own, just as they adopted the legendary Assyrian sage Ahiqar in Tobit 1:21-22; 2:10; 11:18; 14:10.[15]

The Origin of “Darius the Mede”

Our author created a counterfactual history by attributing the conquest of Babylon to King Darius the Mede rather than Cyrus the Persian. This Darius is no mere vassal, vizier, or viceroy, but the absolute monarch of a completely independent Median Empire. Supposedly, Darius, the son of Xerxes or “Ahasuerus” (Daniel 9:1), first conquered Babylon by force of arms at the age of sixty-two years (Daniel 5:30-31; 11:1) and then appointed 120 governors or satraps over his realm (Daniel 6:1). He issued his decrees to all the nations of the land (Daniel 6:25) in the same royal style as Emperors Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:1–cf. verses 11,20,22,35) and Cyrus (2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2). His royal edicts were irrevocable according to the laws of the Medes and Persians (Daniel 6:8,12,15). Darius had the power to decree that he was the only god or man in the empire to whom petitions might be made (Daniel 6:7)–a foolish move to make indeed if he were just a governor or puppet king who owed allegiance to Cyrus and the Persian Empire.

“Darius the Mede” is actually a creative inference based on a real Darius and a real Median Empire. Elsewhere the Hebrew Bible contains some prophecies that Babylon would be conquered by the Medes (Isaiah 13:17; 21:2; Jeremiah 51:11,28) rather than the Persians. In real history, the Persians conquered Babylon twice: once in 539 BC when Cyrus marched into Babylon unopposed, and again in 522 BC when Darius the Great put down a revolt and took Babylon by force. Our author apparently collapsed the two conquests into one: if Darius conquered Babylon, as oral tradition said, and if the Medes conquered Babylon, as the prophets of old had said, then supposedly Darius had to be a Mede.

Our author constructed his character Darius out of several isolated pieces of information taken from the Bible and secular history. The real Darius, son of Hystaspes, was the father (not the son) of Xerxes, and he divided his empire into twenty provinces or “satrapies.” According to the Bible, the Persian Empire in the days of Xerxes extended from India to Ethiopia and comprised 127 provinces (Esther 1:1; 8:9; 9:30). The royal decrees of Xerxes were irrevocable according to the laws of the Persians and Medes (Esther 1:19; 8:8). This all sounds a lot like Darius the Mede in Daniel 6.

Our author apparently considered Darius the Mede’s conquest of Babylon and Cyrus the Persian’s liberation of the Jewish exiles to be two separate events perhaps a year apart. In general, the Bible presupposes that Cyrus conquered Babylon, but it never says so explicitly. It only says that Cyrus authorized the Jews to return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem with its Temple (2 Chronicles 36:20-23; Ezra 1:1-4; 6:3-5; Isaiah 44:24-28; 45:1-7).

Contemporary documents prove the nonexistence of Darius the Mede beyond reasonable doubt. The documents and contracts produced after the fall of Babylon routinely mention Cyrus by name and are dated in terms of year of his reign. For an entire year after Cyrus’ takeover, Cyrus appointed his son and crown prince Cambyses as the nominal king of Babylonia, so business documents are dated both in terms of Cambyses as “King of Babylon” and Cyrus as “King of Lands.” None of these documents ever mentions “Darius the Mede.”[16] The presence of Cyrus as emperor and Cambyses as king precludes the possibility that Darius the Mede held either office.

Was “Darius” an Alias?

To explain away this deafening silence, evangelicals insist that “Darius the Mede” is simply the throne name of a ruler who is known to secular history under some other name, just as Pulu the Assyrian king bore the throne name Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:19; 1 Chronicles 5:26), Kundun the fourteenth Dalai Lama bears the throne name Tenzin Gyatso, and Dr. Joseph Ratzinger has become Pope Benedict XVI. Some argue that “Darius the Mede” is known to secular history as Gobryas, governor of Babylonia.[17] Whereas Cyrus and Cambyses held the royal honor, Gobryas/Darius did the actual day-to-day work of administering Babylonia as a province of Persia. In support of this theory, they point out that the Bible says Darius “received the kingdom” (Daniel 5:31) and “was made king” (Daniel 9:1), presumably by Cyrus.[18]

There are three problems with this theory, however. To begin with, Gobryas was a mere governor who owed allegiance to Cyrus and the Persian Empire. If he valued his job and his life, it would be foolish and reckless of him to challenge the authority of Cambyses and Cyrus by arrogating all worship and homage to himself as we read of Darius in Daniel 6.

Secondly, to comfort Jews persecuted for their faith by mighty pagan rulers, the author emphasizes throughout the book that God is the one who sets up and deposes kings (Daniel 1:2; 2:21,37-38; 4:17,25-26,32; 5:18-21,26,28; 7:12-14,22,27; 11:1). Therefore, we should probably understand that Darius was made king by and received the kingdom from God, the ruler of history.

Thirdly, ancient Aramaic documents demonstrate that the expression “to receive the kingdom” was just the normal way of saying that someone became king. As for the statement that Darius “was made king,” evangelicals have to assume the accuracy of the vowels in the traditional Hebrew text, known as the Masoretic text. The problem here is that the Hebrew Bible was written for many centuries without vowels. The currently used system of vowel points was first invented ca. 600 AD, at the beginning of the Middle Ages, by the Masoretes, the Jewish scribes of Tiberias in Galilee. To this day, the vowels are considered optional punctuation, not letters of the alphabet. Thus Torah scrolls for synagogue use are written without vowels, and in Israel vowels are only written in schoolbooks for children. Therefore, with different vowels, the word “was made king” in Daniel 9:1 can be rendered as “became king.” This is the rendering followed by the ancient versions of the Bible: namely, the Septuagint, Theodotion, the Peshitta, and the Vulgate.[19]

The big problem with these evangelical speculations is that if “Darius” were the official throne name of a ruler born under a different name, then we should find the name “Darius” inscribed in official contemporary documents rather than the name Gobryas. Daniel (Daniel 6:21) and the satraps (Daniel 6:6) address the king saying, “O King Darius, live for ever!” (cf. Daniel 3:9; 5:10), so our author clearly intends us to understand that “King Darius” is his official name, not just a personal name, in the same way that bishops and cardinals address the Pope as His Holiness Pope Benedict rather than as Dr. Ratzinger. Therefore, the silence of contemporary Babylonian documents regarding Darius proves beyond reasonable doubt that he is fictitious.

In cases like this, evangelicals normally retort, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” I admit arguments from silence must be used with caution. However, silence does amount to denial if a contemporary author would have probably mentioned a particular event if he had known about it, and if he would have probably known about it if it had really happened. The silence of classical Roman authors, for instance, is excellent evidence that planes, trains, and trucks were not used in Rome in the days of Jesus. If the sole sovereign of Mesopotamia after the fall of Babylon in 539 BC were a man who ruled under the name of Darius the Mede as we read in Daniel 6, it would be inconceivable that the documents of the time should contain copious references to Cyrus as emperor, Cambyses as king, and Gobryas as governor, but no references whatever to Darius.

Silence carries even more weight as evidence if positive facts get in the way. Babylonian documents happen to contain copious references to Cyrus as emperor, Cambyses as king, and Gobryas as governor in Babylonia–but no references whatever to Darius. These known rulers leave no room for Daniel’s Darius the Mede as the sole sovereign of Babylon, thereby proving his nonexistence at that time beyond a reasonable doubt.

I’m not interested in what’s possible; I’m interested in what is most likely. If several competing hypotheses purport to explain the same body of evidence, the historian selects the best of the lot, the one that explains the most evidence the most simply and straightforwardly. In other words, historians insist on making the inference to the best explanation.

Is it possible that Darius the Mede really existed more or less as described in Daniel 6? Yes, barely. However, that would require some outrageous and convoluted concatenation of events not explicitly mentioned in Daniel. Maybe Gobryas suffered from delusions of grandeur, or maybe he began to assume imperial authority over an independent Babylon as soon as he heard a false rumor of Cyrus’ death. However, the best and most likely explanation of the evidence is that Darius the Mede is an imaginary character.

Mixed Messages

Earlier in this essay, I pointed out that our author utilized two different prophetic paths for arriving at the messianic kingdom in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, depending on which one made a better story at the time. The tension between the two schemes is real, but the author cavalierly varied his approach on the basis of literary rather than historical considerations, and his initial readers apparently did not mind.

In chapters 2 and 7, as we have seen, he emphasized the distinction between the Median and Persian Empires where he wanted to utilize and adapt the four-empire scheme of the Greeks, which was familiar to his readers.

In the vision of the ram and he-goat in chapter 8, however, our author chose instead to treat the Median and Persian Empires as two phases of the same political entity. Here, the nations of Media and Persia are represented by the two horns of the ram. Under the first and smaller horn, the ram represents the Empire of the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:28; 6:8,12,15; 8:20), whereas under the later and larger horn, the ram represents the Empire of the Persians and Medes (Daniel 8:1-4,7,20–cf. Esther 1:19). This reflects the fact that in real history, the Median Empire was transformed into the Persian Empire through internal revolt rather than external conquest. Cyrus the Persian, the son of one Cambyses and descendant of Achaemenes, began his career in the city of Anshan as king of the province of Persia and vassal of the Median Emperor Astyages, but then he proceeded to murder his overlord and take over his empire. And of course the he-goat represents Greece (Daniel 8:5-8,21).

Our author’s imagery was influenced by two possible sources. First of all, the metaphor of a shepherd judging between sheep and goats is found elsewhere in the Bible (Ezekiel 34:17; Matthew 25:32-33). Also, according to the first-century AD Babylonian astrologer Teucer, Persia was ruled by the sign Aries, and the Greek kingdom of Syria (i.e., the Seleucid Empire) by the sign of Capricorn.[20]

The Brutality of the Fourth Empire

Daniel’s fourth empire, the Greek empire of Alexander, is the next step in the countdown to the Maccabean War and the end of the world. In the eyes of our author, this empire was the most brutal of all toward the Jews. Most empires, being content to collect tribute from the nations they conquered, rarely interfered with local customs or outlawed the worship of the local gods. According to Daniel 3, for instance, Nebuchadnezzar attempted to force Jews to worship a false Babylonian god, but he never outlawed Jewish worship, and in fact came to honor the Jewish God (Daniel 3:28-29–cf. Daniel 2:46-47; 4). Antiochus stands out in the crowd as the emperor who went out of his way to stamp out Judaism, so our author stresses his arrogance and brutality above all other kings. He happened to be emperor of the primary successor state of Alexander’s empire.

Antiochus Epiphanes did not just single out Judaism, for he was versatile in his impiety. He suppressed the cults of Tammuz-Adonis (Daniel 11:37–cf. Ezekiel 8:14) and other Asiatic gods as well (1 Maccabees 1:41-43; Daniel 11:36-39).[21] He not only desecrated the Jerusalem Temple and outlawed Judaism, but even neglected Apollo, his family’s patron god,[22] to promote the cult of Zeus Olympios,[23] known in Syria as Baal Shamem.[24] Although eastern despots like the Seleucid emperors routinely accepted divine honors from their subjects as a matter of ceremony, Antiochus took his own divinity altogether too seriously (Daniel 8:10-12,25; 11:36-39; 2 Maccabees 5:21; 9:7-12).[25] On the coins minted in his lifetime, he referred to himself as “Theos” or God,[26] he gave himself the title “Epiphanes” or “God Manifest,” [27] and the image of his face was doctored to resemble Zeus Olympios.[28] To consummate his impiety, he continually raided temple treasuries to pay his armies and to pay the indemnity imposed by the Romans on the Seleucid Empire after their defeat of his father Antiochus the Great at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BC.[29] In particular, as we shall see in more detail below, Antiochus Epiphanes looted the Jerusalem Temple in 169 BC, and he died in 164 BC while looting a temple in his Persian territory.

The empires of the Macedonian Greeks were unusual in one other respect as well. Whereas most empires consist of ethnic states that annex their neighbors, the Greek ruling class of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria were aliens in their own empires. Our author expected the Babylonians, Medes, and Persians to survive as ethnic groups and small kingdoms, despite their loss of empire, until the arrival of the Messianic Kingdom (Daniel 7:7,11-12), but at that time God was to supernaturally destroy the evil Seleucid Greeks in person.[30]

The Diadochi

When Alexander the Great died, his generals (the Diadochi or successors) carved up his empire into four smaller kingdoms in the wars of succession, represented by the four horns on the ram in Daniel 8:8,22 and the four winds in Daniel 11:4. Ultimately, Seleucus seized Syria, Babylonia, and Persia; Ptolemy seized Egypt; Lysimachus seized Thrace and Asia Minor; and Cassander seized Greece and Macedonia.[31] The empire founded by Seleucus I Nicator was the primary successor state of Alexander’s empire, being larger and more powerful than the other three combined.[32]

Our author pays particular attention to the Seleucids or “kings of the north” and the Ptolemies or “kings of the south” (Daniel 11:5-20) because his homeland was caught in the crossfire between them. In Daniel’s vision of the statue, the Seleucid dynasty is represented by the iron in the feet of the statue, and the Ptolemaic dynasty by the clay (Daniel 2:33,40-45). The clay and iron are mixed together without sticking; this symbolizes the breakdown of the marriage alliances between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic families (Daniel 2:43; 11:6,17).

Different chapters in Daniel put two different spins on the wars of succession. Daniel 2, 8, and 11 stress the discontinuity, saying the four successor states were but a pale reflection of the glory and strength of Alexander’s empire. In the vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7, on the other hand, our author treated the empires of Alexander and Antiochus as two different phases of the same evil and powerful empire because of the exceptional arrogance and brutality of the latter.

The ten horns of the fourth beast of Daniel 7 are probably the ten Greek kings of the Fourth Empire and its primary successor state from Alexander the Great to Antiochus Epiphanes and the end of the world. Now scholars have proposed several different theories for identifying the ten kings, but in all probability, the seven successive kings are Alexander the Great, Seleucus I Nicator, Antiochus I Soter, Antiochus II Theos, Seleucus II Callinicus, Seleucus III Soter Ceraunus, and Antiochus III the Great. The little horn that uproots three other horns is Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The three supplanted horns are three individuals who had more right to the throne than Antiochus did, and stood in his way: King Seleucus IV Philopator and his two sons, the crown prince Demetrius and the infant Antiochus.[33]

In actual history, Seleucus Philopator became king in 187 BC after the murder of his father, Antiochus the Great. In the aftermath of the battle of Magnesia, Antiochus Epiphanes, the younger brother of Seleucus, was sent to Rome as a political hostage in 187 BC. In 175 BC, Demetrius, the first horn, was sent to Rome to replace Antiochus as official hostage. (Incidentally, Demetrius I Soter eventually became king in 162 BC, after the Book of Daniel was written–1 Maccabees 7:1-4; 2 Maccabees 14:1-2.) Seleucus Philopator, the second horn, was assassinated at the order of Prime Minister Heliodorus, who then proceeded to take control of the Seleucid Empire as regent in the name of the dead king’s infant son Antiochus. As soon as Antiochus Epiphanes arrived at Antioch from Rome, he had Heliodorus killed and became regent for the infant prince. The infant Antiochus, the third horn, was finally murdered by one Andronicus, who in turn was executed under orders from Antiochus Epiphanes. With his three royal relatives out of the way, Antiochus, the little horn, became king (Daniel 11:21)

Evangelicals insist that since the horns of the fourth beast appear simultaneously in the vision, they must represent kingdoms that exist concurrently rather than consecutively, namely ten states that formed out of the dissolution of the Roman Empire.[34] This assertion is refuted by the dreams of the chief butler, the chief baker, and Pharaoh himself in Genesis 40-41. Here items that appeared concurrently in the dream symbolized events that were to occur consecutively in the real world. In particular, the seven fat and seven lean cows appear concurrently in Pharaoh’s dream, but they symbolize fourteen consecutive years of plenty and famine. The four metals that symbolize four consecutive empires likewise appear concurrently in the vision of the statue in Daniel 2. The other problem with the evangelical interpretation is that the ten horns of Daniel do not plausibly correlate with ten successor states of the Roman Empire.

The Maccabean War

With Antiochus Epiphanes on the throne, the stage is set for the Maccabean revolt. According to the seventy-weeks prophecy of Daniel 9, God was to intervene in the war and enable the Jewish rebels to restore the Holy Place and usher in an era of everlasting righteousness. The following discussion of these predictions is adapted from Andre Lacocque.[35] He and the mainline commentators concur regarding the big picture,[36] although they differ in their interpretation of verse 25 as discussed below.

The seventy-weeks prophecy begins in 538 BC, the first year of “Darius the Mede,” with Daniel reading Jeremiah’s prophetic “word” concerning the desolation of Jerusalem for seventy years and its subsequent restoration (Daniel 9:1-2,25; Jeremiah 25:1,11). (Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, a divine “word” is a revelation from God: Daniel 9:23; 10:1; Isaiah 2:1; 55:11; Jeremiah 7:1; 11:1.) Supposedly, Darius had just conquered Babylon (Daniel 5:30-31), thus bringing Jeremiah’s seventy-year exile to a close (2 Chronicles 36:20-23; Ezra 1:1-4; Jeremiah 25:11-14; 29:10-14–cf. Jeremiah 30:18; 31:38-40) and exciting Daniel’s curiosity. Moved by these prophecies, Daniel pleaded with God in prayer to forgive the sins of the Jews that had made the Exile necessary in the first place, and to restore both Jerusalem and its Temple (Daniel 9:3-19–cf. Baruch 1:15-3:8).

God replied by sending the angel Gabriel to deliver an inspired commentary on Jeremiah’s prophecy (Daniel 9:20-23). Gabriel explained how God planned to bring all the prophecies of old to their final and complete fulfillment, atone for the sins of the Jewish people, usher in a new era of everlasting righteousness, and restore Jerusalem and the “most holy place” (Daniel 9:24-27). Here I quote the prophecy in the Revised Standard Version, with a major deviation in verse 25:

9:24 “Seventy weeks of years [490 years] are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem [the prophetic oracle of Jeremiah in 605 BC, cited in Daniel 9:1-2 and precisely dated in Jeremiah 25:1,11] to the coming of an anointed one, a prince [Onias III, the high priest, ca. 171 BC: cf. Daniel 11:22], there shall be seven weeks [49 years, 587-538 BC, during which Jerusalem lay in ruins, concurrent with the sixty-two weeks] and sixty-two weeks [434 years, from 605 BC to 171 BC]. It [Jerusalem] shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. [Here I depart from the RSV, which renders this verse to say “seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat…”] 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one [Onias III] shall be cut off [in 171 BC], and shall have nothing; and the people of the prince who is to come [Antiochus Epiphanes and his army] shall destroy the city and the sanctuary [in December, 167 BC]. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war; desolations are decreed [the Maccabean War]. 27 And he shall make a strong covenant with many [apostate Jewish collaborators] for one week [nominally 7 years, lasting 171-163 BC and in error by one year]; and for half of the week [3-1/2 years, lasting from December 167 BC to June 163 BC] he shall cause sacrifice and offering to cease [the desecration of the Temple with an idol and the sacrifice of swine’s flesh in December 167 BC]; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate [Antiochus Epiphanes], until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator [in June 163 BC].”

Jeremiah had predicted that the Babylonian Exile would last seventy years. However, our author apparently believed that seventy years of desolation and Babylonian rule in Judah were not enough to atone for the sins of pre-Exilic Jerusalem. Despite the rebuilding of the Temple, the Jews in his lifetime still suffered under the oppression of a foreign empire as punishment for their sins.

Therefore, Gabriel reinterpreted Jeremiah’s seventy years as seventy “weeks” of years (cf. Genesis 29:27-28; Leviticus 25:8; 26:18,21,24,28; Numbers 14:34)–i.e., seventy sevens of years, or 490 years in all. This idiom has parallels in Greek literature: Aristotle (Politics VII.16) and Gellius (Attic Nights III.10) spoke of “hebdomads” or periods of seven years much as we speak of a decade.[37] The author may have had in mind the failure of the Jews to leave their farmland fallow every seventh year as required by Old Testament law (2 Chronicles 36:21–cf. Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:1-8,18-22; 26:34-35,43).

This 490-year scheme is subdivided into three periods: seven sevens or 49 years, sixty-two sevens or 434 years, and one seven or 7 years. To make his scheme fit real history, our author artificially broke off the seven sevens and made them concurrent with the sixty-two sevens, making them almost superfluous. If he did not have a seventy-week scheme to defend, he could have simply eliminated the three words “seven weeks and,” and the rest of his prophecy would have made perfect sense without them.

Three prophetic periods overlap in an interlocking pattern. The sixty-two weeks of Daniel are probably the period of general pagan dominion over the Holy Land from 605 to 171 BC. The “seventy years” of Jeremiah are the sixty-seven-year period of Babylonian dominion over the Holy Land from 605 to 538 BC. The “seven weeks” or 49 years of Daniel are the time that the Babylonians left Jerusalem in ruins from 587 to 538 BC.

Let us follow the author’s scheme in chronological order. In the year 605 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia took control of Syria and Palestine and made vassals of the local kings in the aftermath of the Battle of Carchemish on the Euphrates (2 Kings 24:1,7; Jeremiah 25:1,11; 46:2–cf. Daniel 1:1-2).[38] At that time, Jeremiah received his “word” or revelation of the seventy years (Daniel 9:1-2,25; Jeremiah 25:1,11), and the seventy years of Jeremiah and the sixty-two weeks of Daniel officially began. In the year 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Judah, Jerusalem, and the First Temple (2 Kings 25).[39] Thus the seven weeks of Daniel began. About the year 538 BC, after Babylonia fell to the Medes and Persians, the first exiles returned to Jerusalem.[40] At this time, Daniel purportedly received his “word” or revelation of the seventy weeks (Daniel 9:23), and the seven weeks of Daniel and the seventy years of Jeremiah officially came to an end. In the year 171 BC, High Priest Onias III was assassinated.[41] He is “an anointed one, a prince” who was “cut off” at the end of the sixty-two weeks and the beginning of the final week.

The high priest is called an “anointed one” or mashiakh in Daniel 9:25-26. This usage finds parallels elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. The high priest is called an anointed one in Leviticus 4:3,5,16; 6:22–cf. Exodus 28:41; 29:7; 30:30; 40:13,15; Leviticus 6:20; 7:36; 8:12; 16:32; Numbers 3:3; 35:25; Zechariah 4:11-14; 2 Maccabees 1:10.

Similarly, the high priest is called a nagid or “prince” in Daniel 9:25. This usage finds parallels in 1 Chronicles 9:11,20; 12:27; 26:24; 2 Chronicles 31:12-13; 35:8; Nehemiah 11:11; Jeremiah 20:1; Daniel 11:22. The Hebrew word nagid is simply the functional equivalent of the English words “leader” or “ruler”: it can refer to kings, princes, governors, and military officers. The high priest ruled the Jewish community after the exile in the absence of a king descended from David (Zechariah 3:6-10; 4:11-14; 6:9-13), so he likewise qualifies as a “prince.”

The most serious difficulty with this interpretation is that Daniel’s dates for Jeremiah’s seventy-year prophecy are off by three years. However, this is a problem for believers as well as skeptics. Some evangelical commentators maintain that the seventy years represent the time that Babylonia dominated the Holy Land, lasting from Nebuchadnezzar’s rise to power in 605 BC to the fall of Babylon followed by the return of the first exiles in 538 BC.[42] However, this period of time is only 67 years, which happens to be three years too short. Others maintain that the seventy years represent the time that the Temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins, lasting from the destruction of the First Temple in 587 BC to the dedication of the Second Temple in 515 BC (Zechariah 1:12; 7:5).[43] However, this is 72 years, two years too long. No commentator of any theological persuasion has managed to come up with a better interpretation.

Until now, my interpretation of the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks of Daniel 9:25 has been adapted from Andre Lacocque. However, I must here pay my respects to the alternative interpretation of the mainline commentators. Fortunately, the differences between them do not affect my overall conclusions. Under either interpretation, the author’s tidy but artificial scheme of seventy sevens is too long to fit the messy facts of real history. Under either theory, the final week of Daniel 9 applies to the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean Revolt from 171 BC to 163 BC. Under either interpretation, the resurrection of the dead and the restoration of Israel should have occurred in 163 BC, and of course the prediction failed. That’s the main thing.

Lacocque makes the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks concurrent. The advantage of his theory is that the dates and numbers come out almost exactly, unlike the majority theory. Also, it is more natural to place the starting point of the sixty-two weeks in 605 BC as discussed above. Now the second-century Greek astronomer Ptolemy of Alexandria compiled a list of kings from Assyrian times down to his own time, with the length of their reigns in years. It was cited by subsequent ancient astronomers to calculate absolute dates of lunar and planetary observations that had originally been dated in terms of the years of the reign of one king or another. Known as Ptolemy’s Canon, it forms the backbone of the chronology of Persian and Babylonian times.[44] Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that the author of Daniel was similarly well-informed. The accuracy of his account of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies in Daniel 11 demonstrates that he could recount accurate history when he wanted to.

The majority theory, on the other hand, makes the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks consecutive. The advantage of this theory is that this arrangement is more natural and straightforward. However, the sixty-two-week period is sixty-seven years too long. Under this theory, one must assume the author either did not know any better, or simply did not care. The Jewish historian Josephus was thirty to sixty years off in his dating of events in Persian times,[45] so it is equally reasonable to suppose that the author of Daniel was similarly hazy about the chronology of those times. His legends of Belshazzar’s feast in Daniel 5 and Darius the Mede in Daniel 6 demonstrate that he could indulge in creative anachronism when he wanted to.

Mainline commentators follow the rendering of Daniel 9:25 in the Revised Standard Version, which seems a more natural rendering of the original Hebrew:

9:25 Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince [Joshua son of Jehozadak, the first high priest after the Exile], there shall be seven weeks [49 years, 587-538 BC, during which Jerusalem lay in ruins]. Then for sixty-two weeks [538-171 BC, nominally 434 years, though the actual time span was 367 years] it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.

Under this interpretation, there are two “anointed ones,” the first and the last legitimate high priests after the Exile. At the beginning of the sixty-two weeks, “an anointed one, a prince” appeared. This is Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the first high priest after the Babylonian Exile in 538 BC (Ezra 3:2; 5:2; Nehemiah 12:1,8; Haggai 1:1,12,14; Zechariah 3:1; 6:11). At the end of the sixty-two weeks, “an anointed one” was “cut off.” This is Onias III, the last legitimate high priest, assassinated on the eve of the Maccabean War in 171 BC (2 Maccabees 4:33-38). Jerusalem would be rebuilt after the exile, and true high priests would serve in its Temple for sixty-two weeks, though the Jews would still be under foreign rule. The Lacocque interpretation is more likely to be correct because the dates and numbers come out far more exactly, but the majority view is not impossible.

Under either theory, the sixty-two weeks end and the final week begins in 171 BC with the assassination of High Priest Onias III (Daniel 9:26; 2 Maccabees 4:33-38), the “prince of the covenant” (Daniel 11:22). The last period of 7 years is the beginning of the end for the evil Earth. Throughout this period, Antiochus, “the prince who is to come,” persecuted the Jewish saints and brought continuous “war” and “desolations” to Jerusalem with its Temple. In the process, he was to “make a strong covenant with many” apostate Jewish collaborators (1 Maccabees 1:10-15; Daniel 11:23-24). For the first time since the Babylonian Exile, the legitimate high priesthood was abolished and Jerusalem with its Temple devastated.

In the first half of the 7-year period, Antiochus twice invaded Egypt before turning on the Jews. In 169 BC, after the first invasion, he looted the Jewish Temple of all its gold and silver (1 Maccabees 1:16-28; 2 Maccabees 5:5-21–cf. Daniel 11:25-28).[46] After his conquest of Egypt in 168 BC, the Roman navy appeared and the Roman envoy Gaius Popilius Laenas threatened to attack him if he did not withdraw from Egypt. In the face of this overwhelming show of force, he had to back down. Humiliated and angry, he burned, looted, and tore down the walls of Jerusalem (1 Maccabees 1:29-40; 2 Maccabees 5; Daniel 11:29-30). Thus “the people” of Antiochus did “destroy the city and the sanctuary.”[47]

The second half-week begins in December of 167 BC with the desecration of the Temple and the outbreak of the Maccabean revolt. (As I said earlier, some commentators place this event in December of 168 BC instead. If correct, this date would much better fit the author’s scheme of one “week” divided into two equal halves.) In different ways, all four visions in the second half of the book (Daniel 7-12) make it clear that at the end of history, Antiochus Epiphanes would persecute the Jews, overthrow their religious laws, and “cause sacrifice and offering to cease” (Daniel 9:27) for three and a half years (Daniel 7:25; 8:13-14; 9:27; 12:6-7,11).

The details are as follows. In general, Antiochus bankrupted his treasury lavishing land grants and other gifts on his collaborators (1 Maccabees 2:17-18; 3:28-30,35-36; 6:21-24; 2 Maccabees 4:30; 7:24; Daniel 11:39). With the help of apostate Jewish collaborators (1 Maccabees 1:41-53; Daniel 9:27; 11:30), he sacrificed swine’s flesh on the altar, set up the “abomination that makes desolate” (a statue of the Olympian Zeus), and stopped the Jewish priests from performing the “continual burnt offering” (1 Maccabees 1:54-61; 2 Maccabees 6:1-6; Daniel 8:9-14,23; Daniel 9:27; 11:30-31; 12:11).[48] Our author therefore portrayed Antiochus as exceptionally arrogant and blasphemous (Daniel 7:8,20,24-25; 8:10-11,25; 11:36-39–cf. 1 Maccabees 1:24; 2 Maccabees 5:21; 9:7-12), and as viciously singling out the Jewish “saints” or “holy ones” for attack (Daniel 7:21,25; 8:9-13,23-25; 11:33,35).

This outrage was the last straw; the Jews, flocking to the banner of the Maccabee family in the countryside, revolted against the Seleucid Empire. The Book of Daniel was probably published toward the beginning of the revolt when the outlook was bleak for the rebels (Daniel 7:21-22,25; Daniel 9:27; 11:33-35; 1 Maccabees 2). If pious Jews could just hold out for three more years, God would supernaturally intervene to destroy Antiochus and set up the eternal Messianic Kingdom.

The Traditional Christian Interpretation of the Seventy Weeks

At this point, I must examine two alternative interpretations of the seventy weeks prophecy proposed by conservative Christians. Let us begin with the classical interpretation. Historically, Protestant Christians have maintained that Daniel’s seventy weeks begin about 458 BC with the decree issued by Emperor Artaxerxes I in his seventh year (Ezra 7:7, in the context of Ezra 7) authorizing Ezra to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem (Ezra 9:9).[49] The seventy weeks end with the ministry of Jesus and the founding of the Church. During the final week of Daniel’s prophecy, the Gospel is preached only to the Jews because of the “strong covenant” that Jesus the “anointed one” or Messiah made with the Jewish people. The seventieth week begins in the fall of 26 AD with Jesus’ baptism by John and the beginning of his ministry to the Jews. It culminates in the spring of 30 AD with Jesus being “cut off” at the Crucifixion. Jesus’ atonement on Calvary did thereby “finish the transgression,” “put an end to sin,” “atone for iniquity,” and “seal both vision and prophet” (Daniel 9:24), thus rendering “sacrifice and offering” at the Temple obsolete. Finally, the seventieth week ends in the fall of 33 AD with the martyrdom of Stephen and the conversion of Paul and Cornelius. At this point the mission to the Jews ends and the mission to the Gentiles begins.[50]

The advantage of this theory is that it interprets the 490-year period in a straightforward way, and it has more-or-less plausible starting and ending points. However, it does have its problems. To begin with, the classical Christian theory does not provide a plausible explanation for Daniel’s clear distinction between the seven weeks and the sixty-two weeks.

The classical interpretation also ignores the obvious parallels between Daniel 9:24-27 on the one hand, and Daniel 8:9-26; 11:31-45 on the other. Actually, all three passages unmistakably describe Antiochus Epiphanes committing a desolating sacrilege or “abomination that makes desolate” at the Temple and bringing normal Jewish sacrifices to an end for about three and a half years (cf. Daniel 7:25; 12:6-7,11). Daniel 9 places this event at the end of the seventy weeks, and the other two passages place it at “the time of the end.” The “abominations” of “the prince who is to come” in Daniel 9 are to be understood in the light of the unspeakable blasphemies of Antiochus Epiphanes described in the other two passages (cf. also Daniel 7:8,20,25).

To make their scheme work, adherents of the classical Christian theory must interpret verses 26 and 27 as references to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The problem here is that the fall of Jerusalem lies thirty-seven years outside of the seventy-weeks scheme. Since “desolations are decreed,” the Romans under General Titus, “the people of the prince who is to come,” were to “destroy the city and the sanctuary” of Jerusalem in 70 AD, long after the seventieth week is over, to punish the Jews for their murder of their Messiah. This is an awkward and arbitrary leap.

Another problem with this interpretation is that the Hebrew word here translated in verse 26 as “destroy” is shakhat. In its various grammatical forms, it only means to “mar,” “injure,” “spoil,” “ruin,” “pervert,” or “corrupt.”[51] This can easily refer to the trashing of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes, but not to Titus’ razing of Jerusalem and its Temple to the ground.

The Dispensationalist Christian Interpretation of the Seventy Weeks

Dispensationalist Christians like Dr. Harold Hoehner have a totally different theory.[52] They claim the seventy weeks begin in 444 BC with the decree issued by Emperor Artaxerxes I in the twentieth year of his reign authorizing Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1-8). The obvious problem with this theory is that the seventieth week would then last from 40 to 47 AD–too late to connect with the crucifixion of Jesus in 30 or 33 AD, or with any other plausibly significant event.

To make the numbers add up and the problem go away, dispensationalists have invented an artificial “biblical year” of 360 days, arguing that in God’s eyes a biblical month is invariably thirty days. Reading obviously round numbers with micrometer precision, they argue that the story of Noah’s Flood equates five months with an exact period of 150 days (5 months X 30 days/month–Genesis 7:11,24; 8:3-4). Similarly, they point out that the Book of Revelation equates 42 months (3 1/2 years X 12 months/year–Revelation 11:2; 13:5) and 1260 days (42 months X 30 days/month–Revelation 11:3; 12:6) with 3 1/2 years (Daniel 7:25; 9:27; 12:7; Revelation 12:14).

Dispensationalists weave their 360-day years and Daniel’s seventy weeks together as follows. Supposedly, the seventy weeks began on 1 Nisan, or 5 March 444 BC, when Artaxerxes I issued his decree to Nehemiah. (Actually, Nehemiah 2:1 does not specify the exact day in the month of Nisan that the decree was given.) The sixty-ninth week ended on 10 Nisan, or 30 March 33 AD, when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem–the “coming” of the “anointed one, a prince” in Daniel 9:25. This span of time is exactly 173,880 days, which happens to be a difference of exactly sixty-nine sevens of years consisting of 360 days each: 69 weeks X 7 prophetic years/week X 360 days/prophetic year = 173,880 days. The “cutting off” of the “anointed one” after the sixty-nine weeks in verse 26 is the Crucifixion on 14 Nisan, or Friday, 3 April 33 AD. According to dispensationalists, the seventieth week did not begin on 31 March 33 AD as one might reasonably expect, but has been postponed to the indefinite future for reasons to be explained below.

Hoehner’s theory has several flaws. First of all, the Jews have never used an inflexible 30-day month or 360-day year in either biblical or postbiblical writings in their entire history. They have always used a lunar calendar that varies between 29 and 30 days per month, and has 354 days per year. Since this is eleven days too short, the Jews add a thirteenth month to the calendar every few years to keep it in sync with the solar year. As complex as this system may seem, it succeeds in keeping the agricultural holidays of the Jewish Torah in the seasons where they belong, unlike Hoehner’s 360-day fantasy.

Now admittedly, some calendars like the French Republican Calendar[53] and the calendar of ancient Egypt[54] consist of twelve months of thirty days each because these make nice round numbers. (Efforts by Hoehner to document this claim by citing Immanuel Velikovsky, among others, in six separate footnotes will certainly raise eyebrows among serious scholars.)[55] However, one way or another, these nations have always added at least five extra days each year to make the calendar year track the solar year. To the best of my knowledge, no nation anywhere on Earth at any time in history has ever used a 360-day calendar without the additional days to track time over a period of many years.

Secondly, the Jews were in the habit of using round and stereotyped numbers, just as we do when we speak of a “ninety-day wonder” or a person who works a “24/7” job. To cite a parallel example, it was an acceptable round-number approximation for the biblical authors to say that the Molten Sea in Solomon’s Temple (a huge, circular bowl of water) was ten cubits in diameter and thirty cubits in outer circumference (1 Kings 7:23-24; 2 Chronicles 4:2-3). Their measures were accurate to the nearest cubit if the diameter was actually 9.65 cubits, and the circumference was actually 30.30 cubits.

Similarly, stereotyped spans of time like forty years (Genesis 25:20; 26:34; Joshua 14:7; Judges 3:11; 5:31; 8:28; 13:1; 1 Samuel 4:18; 2 Samuel 2:10; 15:7; 1 Kings 2:11; 11:42; 2 Kings 12:1; 2 Chronicles 9:30; 24:1; Ezekiel 29:11-13) and multiples thereof (Deuteronomy 31:2; 34:7; Judges 3:30; 2 Samuel 19:32,35; 1 Kings 6:1) crop up in the Bible far more often than chance would allow. Admittedly, some biblical authors treated these figures as exact numbers: e.g., Aaron was supposedly eighty-three years old when Moses was eighty (Exodus 7:7), Israel stayed at Kadesh-Barnea for thirty-eight years (Deuteronomy 2:14) out its forty-year sojourn in the wilderness (Exodus 16:35; Numbers 14:33-34; 33:38; Deuteronomy 1:3; 2:7; 8:2,4; 29:5; Joshua 5:6; Nehemiah 9:21; Psalms 95:10; Amos 2:10; 5:25), and David’s forty-year reign (2 Samuel 5:4; 1 Kings 2:11; 1 Chronicles 26:31; 29:27) is broken down into seven years at Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:5; 1 Kings 2:11; 1 Chronicles 3:4; 29:27). However, these round clichéd figures are in all probability legend rather than history. Similarly, “forty-two months” and “1260 days” are tolerable round-number approximations of three and a half years.

If God used a 360-day “biblical year” in Daniel 9 as Hoehner claims, then consistency demands that he should have used it elsewhere in the Bible as well, or at least elsewhere in biblical prophecy. Thus Jeremiah’s seventy prophetic years would have to be 367.5 days (5.25-day shortfall X 70 years) shorter than seventy real years–in other words, a little less than sixty-nine years. Similarly, the Millennial Reign of Jesus will have to be at least 5,250 days or over fourteen years shorter than a real millennium–in other words, only a little less than 986 real years. I have never run across a dispensationalist author who takes the prophetic year theory to this logical and absurd conclusion.

Thirdly, Hoehner’s theory ends on the wrong day even if his math is correct. If the Crucifixion took place on Friday, 3 April 33 AD, then the Triumphal Entry on 30 March must have fallen on a Monday. To place this event on Palm Sunday where it belongs, we must place the beginning of the sixty-nine weeks on the last day of the month before Nisan of 444 BC, contrary to the requirements of Nehemiah 2:1 as interpreted by his theory.

Fourthly, Hoehner’s math is actually incorrect. To explain why this is so, I must first digress and explain the difference between the Julian versus the Gregorian calendars. Before 1582, Christian countries used the Julian or “Old Style” calendar as originally devised by Julius Caesar. Every fourth year was made a leap year without exception because it was assumed that the solar year was exactly 365-1/4 days long. Since the actual solar year is actually a bit shorter, namely 365.24219879 days, the calendar since the days of Caesar had deviated 11 days out of sync with the seasons. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar to repair this defect. Of course, most years divisible by 4 are still leap years in the Gregorian or “New Style” Calendar as they were in the Julian calendar. Any year divisible by 400 is still a leap year, but any year divisible by 100 and not by 400 is not a leap year. Thus the year 2000 AD was a leap year, but the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not.[56]

Hoehner miscalculates the number of days between 5 March 444 BC and 30 March 33 AD by confusing the two calendars. He admits the two dates are Julian dates, but then proceeds to use the Gregorian figure of 365.24219879 days/year in an inappropriate manner as follows. The difference between 5 March 444 BC and 5 March 33 AD is exactly 476 Julian years. (In calculating this figure, one must remember that there was no year zero. In other words, the year 1 BC was immediately followed by the year 1 AD.) It so happens that 476 years X 365.24219879 days/year = 173,855.2866 days, which rounds down to 173,855 days. We must add an extra 25 days to the 173,855 days to arrive at the 173,880 days required by Hoehner’s sectarian interpretation of Daniel 9. This takes us from March 5 to March 30 of 33 AD.[57]

Hoehner should have multiplied by the Julian figure of 365.25 days/year instead. Calculating with the correct figure, we find that 476 Julian years X 365.25 days/Julian year + 25 days = 173,884 days between March 5 of 444 BC and March 30 of 33 AD instead. This result places the last day of Hoehner’s sixty-nine “weeks” or 173,880 days on 26 March rather than 30 March, four days too early for Hoehner’s “Palm Monday.” Now admittedly, this error is not fatal to his theory, since Artaxerxes could have given his decree on 4 Nisan rather than 1 Nisan to have the sixty-nine weeks end on Palm Sunday of 33 AD. However, it does show that Hoehner is operating outside his area of expertise.

Fifthly, Hoehner’s theory starts on the wrong month, dating Nisan a month too early. Parker & Dubberstein provide tables of the Julian equivalents of Babylonian dates for the Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenistic kings. Hoehner misquotes these tables to prove that 1 Nisan 444 BC in the 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes I fell on 5 March.[58] Actually, they say that 1 Nisan 444 BC fell on 3 April, and 4 March was actually 1 Adar, the first day of the previous month.[59] This places the endpoint of the 69 weeks about a month too late for Palm Sunday and Good Friday of 33 AD.

Hoehner cites Horn and Wood to prove that the Jewish year according to Nehemiah 1:1; 2:1 began in the fall in the month of Tishri.[60] However, Horn and Wood actually agree with Parker & Dubberstein in placing the month of Nisan too late for Hoehner’s theories. They cite fourteen Jewish documents spanning the fifth century BC from among the Elephantine Papyri in Egypt with equivalent dates in both the Egyptian solar calendar and the Babylonian lunar calendar in use at the time. This supplies us with enough information to calculate the Julian equivalent of the dates in each document, as well as the Julian equivalent of 1 Nisan of each year. These documents show that for the fourteen years in question, 1 Nisan fell on Julian dates ranging from 26 March to 24 April.[61] This demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that Hoehner is one month off in his calculations.

Now admittedly, Horn and Wood disagree with Parker and Dubberstein by one whole year. On the basis of certain ancient documents, Parker and Dubberstein place 1 Nisan of Artaxerxes’ 20th year on 13 April 445 BC rather than 3 April 444 BC.[62] If they are right, then Hoehner’s theory is off by a year. Conversely, Horn and Wood argue on the basis of their fourteen double-dated papyri that the accession year or “year zero” of Artaxerxes’ reign lasted from fall 465 BC to fall 464 BC, a finding that places the Nisan of the 20th year of his reign in 444 BC. This would be more congenial with Hoehner’s theory. Even so, both sources agree that even if Hoehner got the year right, he still got the month wrong.

Finally, the biggest problem of all with the dispensationalist theory is that the seventieth week never happened. The Roman “people of the prince who is to come” should have cruelly oppressed the Jews and destroyed Jerusalem along with its Temple from 33 to 40 AD, after which Jesus should have come to rule the Earth. To dispose of this error, dispensationalists have argued that God postponed the seventieth week to the distant future because the Jews crucified Jesus instead of accepting him as their king on his terms rather than theirs. Under this interpretation, Daniel’s seventieth week is the Tribulation Period in our future, and the “prince who is to come” is the Antichrist, who will desecrate the Tribulation Temple in the middle of the period. The Church Age, a mystery that God had kept hidden until Pentecost, fills an invisible gap of many centuries separating the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. To describe this theory is to refute it.

The Unfulfilled Predictions

Daniel 10-12, the fourth vision and the key to the entire book, describes the history of Israel from Daniel’s day until the Messianic Kingdom. Mostly, it describes the wars between the main successor states of the Greek Empire, namely the Seleucid “king of the north” in Syria and the Ptolemaic “king of the south” in Egypt, culminating in the career of Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean War. However, from Daniel 11:40 until the end of the book, the prophecy’s description of the fate of Antiochus at the end of the world deviates seriously from real history.

Writing during the Maccabean revolt, our author made the following mistaken predictions. He said Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of the north, was to conquer Egypt once more, apparently unopposed by Rome (Daniel 11:40-43). Then he was to return to his realm and pitch his royal pavilion in central Palestine (Daniel 11:44-45) in 163 BC at the very end of Daniel’s last “week,” 3 1/2 years after the original desecration of the Temple (Daniel 12:7,11–cf. Daniel 7:25; 9:27). (As stated above, some scholars place this event in 164 BC instead. If they are correct, then the chronological scheme of the author works out better, with exactly seven years between the death of Onias in 171 BC and the end of the world in 164 BC.) At the appointed time of the end (Daniel 11:27,35-36,40; 12:1,9,13–cf. Daniel 8:17,19; 10:14; 11:29), God was to miraculously intervene to destroy Antiochus and his empire (Daniel 7:9-14,17-22,26-27), sending Michael the Archangel to do the job (Daniel 12:1) like the stone that broke Daniel’s statue without human hands (Daniel 2:34-35,44-45; 8:25). At that time, the dead were to be resurrected, with glory for the saints and shame for the sinners (Daniel 12:2-3).

In real history, the Messianic Kingdom never appeared as predicted. Antiochus fell ill and died in 164 BC while he was looting the treasuries of the temples in the Persian territories of his empire (1 Maccabees 6:1-17; 2 Maccabees 1:11-17; 9).[63] The Maccabee family (also known as the Hasmoneans) surprised everybody by driving out the Seleucid armies and eventually setting up an independent Jewish state under their rule that was to last for over a century.

The usual evangelical explanation for these errors is that the prophecy at Daniel 11:36 mysteriously jumps over two thousand years into the future. At this point, Daniel is no longer talking about Antiochus Epiphanes in the past, but the Antichrist in our future.[64] I am not impressed.

As I pointed out earlier, our author was not always consistent from chapter to chapter. In particular, chapter 8 does not quite fit in with the other chapters of his book. Here he successfully predicted the rededication of the Temple, but got the date wrong. Now the Temple was desecrated on 15 Chislev in the year 145 of the Seleucid Era (1 Maccabees 1:54), or 6 December 167 BC, and the Jewish rebels rededicated it to Jewish worship on 25 Chislev in the year 148 of the Seleucid Era (1 Maccabees 4:52), or 14 December 164 BC.[65] In chapter 8, our author predicted that the Temple would miss 2,300 evening and morning continual burnt offerings between its desecration and its rededication (Daniel 8:11-14). This amounts to 1,150 days, or three years plus 55 days. In the Julian calendar, the rededication should have taken place on 30 January 163 BC, almost two months too late to fit actual history.

Religious Forgeries

Christian apologists frequently argue that if Daniel were full of historical errors, as the critics say, learned Jews would have spotted those errors and prevented the book from being canonized in the Hebrew Bible. Actually, this argument carries little weight because successful religious forgeries have been common throughout history.

To begin with, many a Mormon today embraces Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon, an alleged history of ancient America miraculously translated from gold plates that had been buried in a hill in upstate New York fourteen centuries before his time. Some of our nation’s most brilliant doctors, lawyers, engineers, computer scientists, and corporate executives are devout Mormons. This dubious book demands and receives self-sacrificing morality, honesty, and obedience from its adherents. Alas, mitochondrial DNA studies show that Native Americans are Asian rather than Jewish.[66] In addition, the Book of Mormon contains many other errors demonstrating that it was written by a modern American rather than an ancient Native American.[67]

The Mormons are not the only ones to embrace forgeries. Ignatius of Antioch had written seven genuine epistles in the early second century, but a fourth-century impersonator interpolated false passages into his genuine epistles, and forged six more epistles in his name. The fraud was exposed only in modern times, but for centuries the Catholic Church used the expanded collection of Ignatius’ epistles to support the authority of the Catholic hierarchy.[68]

The Donation of Constantine is a forgery produced by eighth-century Catholic leaders to support the Popes’ temporal claim to the Papal States of Italy and their spiritual claim to rule all Christendom. Emperor Constantine supposedly issued this decree early in the fourth century to donate the Papal States to Pope Sylvester I in gratitude for his miraculous cure from leprosy upon his baptism.[69]

The Donation of Constantine is one part of a much larger collection, the False Decretals. These documents are a collection of papal letters and decrees of church councils purportedly compiled by Saint Isidore of Seville around 600 AD. Many of the documents happen to be genuine. However, many of the letters, including all those dating from the first three centuries of the Church’s existence, were forged to prove that the clergy have always had political rights that secular kings dare not interfere with. The ninth-century pope Nicholas I declared the Decretals authoritative, and had them incorporated into the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. Although the Church has admitted for some time that these works are forgeries, they were official Church documents for many centuries.[70]

Millions of Arabs and other enemies of the Jews continue to cite the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to this day as proof of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. This infamous forgery supposedly comprises the minutes of twenty-four meetings of a congress in Basle, Switzerland, in 1897. Supposedly, Jewish political and economic leaders from all over the world collaborated with the Freemasons to hatch a diabolical plot to subvert the morals of young people and foster liberalism and socialism. Thus they hoped to destroy the economies of all nations and thereby take over the world.[71]

We read in the Book of Daniel that God’s angels ordered the venerable prophet Daniel to “shut up” and “seal” his book (Daniel 8:26; 12:4,9). Perhaps the author meant us to understand that Daniel was to conceal the meaning of the book from the unworthy (Daniel 12:9-10), but these verses can also be understood as saying that the book was to be concealed until the time that all its predictions about the end of the world were due to come to pass in the Maccabean Age.[72] If an ancient Jewish author asserted that in an old trunk somewhere he had just discovered a book of prophecy that was four centuries old, such a claim would be hard to disprove without modern forensic equipment.

The canonization of the Book of Daniel was probably a matter of politics. Pious Jews apparently embraced the book, despite its historical errors, false predictions, and recent origins, because it supported their political movement. Even if the age of everlasting righteousness did not appear as expected, the political independence of the Jews for the first time in over four centuries seemed to be miracle enough to confirm Daniel’s prophecies. The details of the unfulfilled predictions were probably reinterpreted in a more figurative and “spiritual” manner, much as Jehovah’s Witnesses have repeatedly rationalized the failure of their own predictions for the imminent end of the world. Thus religious fantasies like the Book of Daniel will survive if the political factions that embrace them prevail in the end, and it is the winners who write the history books.

Evangelical Damage Control

Many skeptics do not realize that conservative Christians for centuries have been well aware of errors in the Bible, and that they have contrived many ingenious but unlikely damage-control hypotheses to explain this evidence away. In this essay, I have addressed the most important of their objections to the critical interpretation of Daniel. Admittedly, each individual error can be demonstrated only with probability rather than certainty, and the believers always have their excuses at the ready. However, the weight of the evidence is cumulative, just as it is in a court of law.

Let’s translate this into the language of everyday life. I was late for work one morning many years ago because I had negligently forgotten to set my alarm clock the night before. When I finally arrived at work, to save face, I told the story that my cats had knocked a bottle of olive oil from the kitchen counter and onto the floor, where it shattered with dire results. Of course, that was not the sort of accident a person could just walk away from. Now it happened that my story was believed because I am normally quite punctual, and freak accidents like this do happen once in a great while. However, you know perfectly well what a boss would think if a habitually tardy employee offered outrageous excuses like this two or three times per week.

Similarly, if there were only a half dozen errors in the entire Bible, then the fundamentalist excuses for these errors might be tolerable, since strange and unlikely things do happen once in a blue moon. However, with hundreds if not thousands of errors to dispose of, the credibility of the damage-control explanations offered by the Christian apologists wears mighty thin. Fundamentalists who struggle to explain away the errors in the Bible frequently attack the errors of the holy books of other religions as eagerly as any freethinker,[73] and I see no reason to treat the Book of Daniel any differently.

Whenever critical scholars point out that Daniel’s purported predictions were written after the fact, Christian believers routinely retort that they are merely showing a philosophical prejudice against the possibility of supernatural prophecy. Actually, it is not a question of philosophical presuppositions, but a question of hard evidence and inference to the best explanation. Daniel’s “predictions” of events up to the desecration of the Temple in 167 BC and the beginning of the Maccabean revolt substantially came true–yet its predictions of a new invasion of Egypt by Antiochus and the Resurrection of the Dead soon thereafter totally failed. The author correctly “predicted” the rise of Alexander the Great, and the history of the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kings, but he fared far worse in his predictions that God would supernaturally slay Antiochus Epiphanes, raise the dead, and inaugurate the messianic age in 163 BC. The most likely explanation of this strange pattern is that these prophecies were first composed just before the time they started to fail by an author who had no genuine talent for predicting the future.

To cite a parallel example, the Book of Mormon prophets, who purportedly flourished between 600 BC and 400 AD, supposedly gave explicit predictions about Jesus Christ’s career in first-century Palestine (Helaman 14 et passim), Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America (1 Nephi 13:10-12), the Revolutionary War (1 Nephi 13:15-19), and Joseph Smith’s prophetic career in nineteenth-century America (2 Nephi 3). However, the book is totally silent about events after 1830, the year the book was first printed. The most likely explanation is that the book was Smith’s own composition, and a heavy burden of proof lies on Mormon apologists to prove otherwise. And the exact same reasoning applies to the prophecies of Daniel.

The biblical prophets themselves admitted that their credibility stands or falls with the fulfillment or failure of their predictions.[74] We read, for instance, in the Book of Deuteronomy:

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’–when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

Now of course nobody should ever be executed for their religious beliefs, and the Book of Daniel is probably just a novel rather than a serious prophecy. Even so, the dramatic failure of the prophecies in the Book of Daniel demonstrates that whatever else it is, it is not the inspired word of God.


[1] Louis F. Hartman and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Book of Daniel, Anchor Bible Series, vol. 23 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978); Arthur Jeffery, “The Book of Daniel: Introduction and Exegesis” in Interpreter’s Bible ed. George Arthur Buttrick, 12 vols. (New York & Nashville: Abingdon, 1951-1957), vol. 6 (1956): 339-549; George A. F. Knight, “The Book of Daniel” in Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary on the Bible, ed. Charles M. Laymon (Nashville & New York: Abingdon, 1971): 436-450; Andre Lacocque, The Book of Daniel, trans. David Pellauer (Atlanta: John Knox, 1979).

[2] Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, ed. George A. Buttrick and Keith R. Crim, 4 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), s.v. “Daniel, Book of”; Anchor Bible Dictionary ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), s.v. “Daniel, Book of.”

[3] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 5.

[4] Ibid., p. 6.

[5] Leonard J. Greenspoon, “Between Alexandria and Antioch: Jews and Judaism in the Hellenistic Period” in Oxford History of the Biblical World ed. Michael D. Coogan: 317-351 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998), p. 323.

[6] Ibid., p. 340.

[7] King James Bible Commentary, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), p. 970.

[8] John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Vision of the Book of Daniel (Missoula, MT: Scholar’s Press, 1977), p. 40.

[9] Jeffery, “Book of Daniel,” p. 455.

[10] Quoted by the ancient author Velleius Paterculus, Roman History 1.6.6, cited in Collins, Apocalyptic Vision, p. 37.

[11] Ibid., p. 62n25.

[12] Ibid., p. 63n31.

[13] Elias Bickerman, Four Strange Books of the Bible (New York: Schocken Press, 1967), p. 102.

[14] James B. Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1958), pp. 118-132; D. Winton Thomas, ed., Documents from Old Testament Times (London: Thomas Nelson, 1958), pp. 124-128.

[15] Pritchard, Ancient Near East, pp. 270-275; Thomas, Documents, pp. 245-249.

[16] H. H. Rowley, Darius the Mede and the Four World Empires in the Book of Daniel (1935; repr. Cardiff: Univ. of Wales Press Board, 1964), p. 12, 26.

[17] Klaus Koch, Anchor Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Darius the Mede.” Whitcomb offers a more intricate version of this theory: John C. Whitcomb, Darius the Mede (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1963).

[18] Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), pp. 287-288; King James Bible Commentary, p. 968, comment on Daniel 6:31.

[19] Rowley, Darius the Mede, pp. 51-53. In the traditional Hebrew text of Daniel 9:1, the verb homlak in the hoph’al verb form is rendered “was made king.” However, the vowels are a guess invented centuries after the book was originally written. With different vowels, the word himlik in the hiph’il verb form, by analogy with the Aramaic aph’el verb form, can be rendered “became king.”

[20] Collins, Apocalyptic Vision, p. 107, 121n34; Lacocque, Book of Daniel, p. 157, 160.

[21] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, pp. 301-302.

[22] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, pp. 301-302; Lacocque, Book of Daniel, p. 232.

[23] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 42, 302; Lacocque, Book of Daniel, p. 153.

[24] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 253, 299.

[25] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 301; Lacocque, Book of Daniel, p. 141, 231.

[26] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 301; Jeffrey, “Book of Daniel,” p. 534, comment on Daniel 11:36.

[27] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 40, 301; Jeffrey, “Book of Daniel,” p. 534, comment on Daniel 11:36.

[28] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 301; Lacocque, Book of Daniel, p. 141, 231; Jeffrey, “Book of Daniel,” p. 534 (comment on Daniel 11:36), p. 535 (comment on Daniel 11:37).

[29] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 302, 305.

[30] Rowley, Darius the Mede, pp. 121-123.

[31] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 5, 288; Lacocque, Book of Daniel, p. 161.

[32] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 289.

[33] Knight, “The Book of Daniel,” p. 445, commentary on Daniel 7:7-8; Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, “The Book of Daniel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck, David L. Peterson, and Thomas G. Long, 12 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995-2002), 7: 17-152 (1996), pp. 102-103, commentary on Daniel 7:7-8.

[34] Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook: An Abbreviated Bible Commentary, 24th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1965), p. 346; King James Bible Commentary, 970-971, comment on Daniel 7:22-24.

[35] Lacocque, Book of Daniel, p. 187, 195.

[36] E.g., Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, pp. 238-254; Jeffery, “Book of Daniel,” pp. 484-498; Knight, “Book of Daniel,” pp. 447-448.

[37] Jeffery, “Book of Daniel,” p. 493, comment on Daniel 9:24.

[38] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, pp. 33-34, 128.

[39] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 34, 247.

[40] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, pp. 35, 190-191, 240, 251.

[41] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 252; Lacocque, Book of Daniel, pp. 225-226.

[42] King James Bible Commentary, p. 891, comment on Jeremiah 25:11-14.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Livius: Articles on Ancient History, “Ptolemy’s Canon,” (accessed August 4, 2007); Wikipedia, “Canon of Kings,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canon_of_Kings (accessed May 10, 2007).

[45] Josephus placed the interval from the end of the Babylonian Captivity in 539 BC to the death of the Hasmonean King Hyrcanus and the crowning of Aristobulus as king in 104 BC as 481 years, an error of 46 years (Antiquities XIII.xi.1). The actual interval from the first year of Cyrus the Great (in 539 BC) to the first year of Antiochus Eupator (in 164 BC) was 375 years, but Josephus gives the interval as 414 years, an error of 39 years (Antiquities XX.x.i). Josephus mistakenly synchronized the building of the Second Temple, which took place in the days of Haggai in 515 BC, with “the second year of Cyrus the king” in 538 BC. Either way, he says the Second Temple lasted 639 years until it was destroyed by Emperor Vespasian in 70 AD. Depending on the starting point, the error is either 32 years or 55 years (Wars VI.iv.8).

[46] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, pp. 41, 296-297; Lacocque, Book of Daniel, p. 228.

[47] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, pp. 41-42, 297-299; Lacocque, Book of Daniel, p. 228.

[48] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 42, 299; Lacocque, Book of Daniel, p. 229.

[49] Archer, Encyclopedia, pp. 289-292; Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, p. 349.

[50] Gary Demar, End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration of the ‘Left Behind’ Theology (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), pp. 42-46; Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, p. 349; Steve Wohlberg, End Time Delusions: The Rapture, the Antichrist, and the End of the World (Shippensburg, PA: Treasure House, 2004), pp. 39-47.

[51] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), pp. 1007-08.

[52] Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977), pp. 115-139; Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 2nd ed. (San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ, 1979), pp. 170-75.

[53] Encyclopaedia Britannica: Micropaedia, 15th ed., s.v. “French Republican Calendar.”

[54] Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia, 15th ed., s.v. “Calendar: Ancient and Religious Calendar Systems.”

[55] Hoehner, Chronological Aspects, p. 135n63-66, 136nn67-68, citing Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1950).

[56] Encyclopaedia Britannica: Macropaedia, 15th ed., s.v. “Calendar: The Western Calendar and Calendar Reforms.”

[57] Ibid., pp. 137-138.

[58] Ibid., p. 128.

[59] Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.-A.D. 75, 2nd ed. (Providence, RI: Brown University Press, 1956), p. 32.

[60] Hoehner, Chronological Aspects, p. 127.

[61] S. H. Horn and L. H. Wood, “The Fifth-Century Jewish Calendar at Elephantine,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 13 (January 1954): 1-20.

[62] Parker & Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology, pp. 17-18, 32.

[63] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, p. 305.

[64] Archer, Encyclopedia, p. 292; King James Bible Commentary, p. 977, comment on Daniel 11:36.

[65] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, pp. 215-216, 253-254.

[66] Thomas W. Murphy, “Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics” in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, ed. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature, 2002), pp. 47-77.

[67] Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm, 1972).

[68] Encyclopaedia Britannica: Micropaedia, 15th ed., s.v. “Ignatius of Antioch, Saint.”

[69] Ibid., s.v. “Constantine, Donation of.”

[70] Ibid., s.v. “False Decretals.”

[71] Ibid., s.v. “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.”

[72] Hartman & Di Lella, Book of Daniel, pp. 310-311.

[73] E.g., Walter R. Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, rev. ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1985).

[74] Deuteronomy 18:20-22; 1 Kings 22:28; 2 Kings 19:25; 2 Chronicles 18:27; Isaiah 19:12; 25:1; 30:8; 34:16; 37:26; 41:4,21-29; 42:8-9; 43:9,12; 44:7-8,24-28; 45:20-21; 46:8-11; 48:3-8,16; Jeremiah 28:8-9; 32:6-8; Ezekiel 6:10; 33:33; 38:17; Habakkuk 2:2-3; John 13:19; 14:29; 16:4.

Copyright ©2007 Chris Sandoval. The electronic version is copyright ©2007 by Internet Infidels, Inc. with the written permission of Chris Sandoval. All rights reserved.

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