Daniel replied, “There are no wise men, enchanters, magicians, or fortune-tellers who can reveal the king’s secret. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and he has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the future. Now I will tell you your dream and the visions you saw as you lay on your bed.” [Daniel 2:27-28 (NLT)]
The book of Daniel begins with the arrival of the first set of Judean captives in 605 BC and the first six chapters describe the events occurring in Babylon until around 536 and the beginning of the Persian empire. In contrast, chapters seven through twelve are filled with visions and dreams. As part of the Jewish and Christian canon, the traditional view is that this book is a factual recounting of Daniel’s life and a record of supernatural predictions written during the late 6th century BC. Skeptics, however, call its author a fraud and the book fiction because of the mention of Belshazzar as the last king of Babylon, Darius the Mede as the one who took over Babylon, and the incredible accuracy of Daniel’s fulfilled prophecies. They claim that the book had to have been written (or amended) 400 years later in the 2nd century BC by someone claiming to be Daniel.
For centuries, ancient historians reported that Nabonidus (who Daniel never mentions) was the last king of Babylon. It was not until the late 19th century that a cuneiform text known as the Nabonidus Chronicle was discovered. Written in 539 BC, immediately after Babylon fell, it tells us that Babylon’s King Nabonidus was away from Babylon for ten years and was not in Babylon at the time it fell. In his absence, he “entrusted the kingship” to his son, the crown prince Belshazzar. The existence of a coregency helps explain Belshazzar offering the position of “third highest ruler in the kingdom” to Daniel; the other two would have been Nabonidus and Belshazzar. With Nabonidus’ absence the fateful night Babylon fell, it was Belshazzar who was seated on the throne, hosting a feast for 1000, and acting as king in his father’s absence. For all purposes, Belshazzar was Babylon’s last king!
Another point of contention among critics is Daniel’s mention of “Darius the Mede” taking over as king of Babylon. According to the Nabonidus Chronicle, Greek historian Xenophon (c. 430 to 354 BC), and Babylonian records, Cyrus appointed Gubaru, a Mede, to be ruler of Babylon. These ancient texts also tell us that Gubaru was born in 601 BC. which make him 62 when he took over Babylon in 539—exactly the same age Daniel said Darius was. Both nationality and age match but we still have the different name. Darius is a Persian word meaning “the Royal One” and, rather than his given name, Darius may have been an honorific title.
Seeing how the first six chapters of Daniel are supported by extra-biblical sources, the book’s author appears to have possessed first-hand knowledge of all that happened between 586 and 536 BC. Perhaps the real motive behind denying the book’s historicity is theological. To avoid concluding that Daniel’s predictive prophecies in the later chapters are the inspired word of God, critics hold that the impossibility of such accurate predictions means that someone added to his work after the events happened.
While skeptics say such accurate foretelling of the future is impossible, as believers, we know nothing is impossible with God! A God who can speak the entire universe into existence should be able to see into the future! A God who can’t show His prophet visions of the future certainly wouldn’t be able to generate a flood, create plagues, part the sea, send manna, make water spring from a rock, order a drought, deliver three men from a fiery furnace or an old man from a lion’s den. Foretelling the future would be child’s play compared to making water into wine, cleansing lepers, feeding a multitude with a boy’s lunch, giving sight to the blind, or raising the dead! When we start picking and choosing which prophecies and miracles we accept and which we don’t, it seems we’re left with only two choices: all or none!
Out of necessity, the skeptic must discredit both the Bible’s miracles and predictive prophecy since, if just one miracle or prophecy is allowed to stand, he must accept the existence of God and the divine origin of the Bible. Either Daniel was one of the greatest prophets of Judaism and Christianity or a scholar who was a fraud. You decide.