Was Daniel a Prophet?

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The very title of this blog might comes as a surprise to some. I myself was raised in a church tradition that honored Daniel as one of the great prophets. His personal conduct was exemplary, a perfect model for any younger soul, and the subsequent favor of God gave him clear and detailed prophetic insight. His dreams and visions formed the broad structure of our understanding of salvation history, proving the accuracy of Scripture and demonstrating among other things that Jesus was Messiah and that he was to die. Daniel was a prophet of the first order.

It might come as a surprise, then, to learn that in the Hebrew Scriptures the Book of Daniel is found not among the Prophets but among the Writings. This is not a matter of canonization: the book that bears his name is cherished in the Hebrew Scriptures and Judaism celebrates him as a champion of the Hebrew faith. Yet in the canonical lists of the Talmud, in which the Scriptures are divided into three parts – Torah, Prophets, and Writings – the book of Daniel is placed among the latter, also known as the Hagiographa.1

When did this happen and why? Neither question has a clear answer. We do have material from Qumran on Daniel (4Q174) in which he is specifically called a prophet: "This is the time of which it is written in the book of Daniel, the prophet."2 The New Testament, in texts written somewhere around 70 CE, refers to him as a prophet as well in the parallel passages of Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14. The Jewish historian Josephus, writing a couple decades later, also calls Daniel a prophet: "Darius . . . took Daniel the prophet, and carried him with him into Media."3 The famous chronology Seder Olam Rabbah, dating probably from the 2nd century AD, places Daniel with the prophets in the sixth century, with Baruch and Seraiah, followed by the prophets Mordecai, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. He is considered a “son of man” along with the prophet Ezekiel.4

Thus, it is somewhat surprising that in the subsequent centuries he is not placed with the prophets. In the Talmud, in an extended discussion of the Megillah and the Targumim, an interesting comment is made on Daniel 10:7. Daniel has been given a vision, and though he is with a group of men, he alone sees that vision. The rest of the men are filled with dread and flee the scene.

Who were these men [who were with Daniel]? Rabbi Yirmiyah answered, and some say it was Rabbi Chiya bar Abba, “They were Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. They were superior to him, and he was superior to them. They were superior, because they were prophets and he was not. He was superior, because he saw the vision and they did not.”

The Rabbis assume Daniel is not a prophet. Yet they do not want to deny honor to Daniel. Daniel 10:7 allows them to put Daniel on a par with the last three prophets listed in the division of the Prophets – Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. They are superior in that they are “prophets,” yet Daniel is superior in having vision, putting all four of them on equal footing, as it were. They do not deny the historicity of Daniel, nor do they deny that Daniel is worthy of honor. Yet he is not a prophet.5

Later scholars have wrestled with this assumption that Daniel is not a prophet, each in their own way. The great medieval physician and philosopher, Moses Maimonides (who is called reverently “Rambam”), looked for a philosophical solution to the problem. After exploring in depth the different types of prophetic utterance, he lays out varying degrees of prophecy, putting Isaiah with Jeremiah, Nathan and Elijah among those in the first degree. Daniel he places with David and Solomon in his second degree of prophecy, using this nuanced philosophical argument to explain Daniel's place among the Writings.6 Look for philosophy from a philosopher.

Modern historians may be forgiven if they look for historical answers. Rambam had no problem whatsover with the miraculous, with prophecy revealed from Heaven, with a world in which the divine is active and moving. Many modern scholars struggle with such a worldview. Marshalling an array of linguistic, cultural, and exegetical arguments, they conclude that Daniel's amazingly accurate account of Persian and Greek history was due not to divine inspiration, but to the authorship of the book of Daniel in the second century BCE “after the fact.”

The modern argument is common. Since Daniel is not quoted in the Wisdom of Sirach (c. 200 BCE), and since Sirach quotes much of the rest of the Old Testament, it was probably unknown to that author and must have been written after Sirach. It is honored and studied at Qumran, however, and is quoted in a section of the Sibylline Oracles that is commonly dated to the 2nd century BCE. Thus, it must have been composed right around the Maccabean Revolt. Since Daniel 11 contains a very accurate account of the last actions of Antiochus Epiphanes during the revolt, confirmed by outside historical sources, but has an account of his death that has no outside confirmation, it is concluded that Daniel was finished between 167 and 164 BCE. Daniel 11 is accurate because it is recounting past history; it becomes inaccurate when it loses knowledge of past history and attempts to be truly prophetic and predict the death of Antiochus. Thus, we can suggest that Daniel is not in the Prophets because it was not in existence when the Prophetic section of the canon was closed around 200 BCE.7 Our historians have found an historic answer.

I love literature and philosophy by nature, which means I would rather read Maimonides than many modern historians. As a pastor I have also developed a high regard for the amazing, surprising, often baffling complexity of human life, which means I have low view of how much we can know about much of anything in the past apart from clear sources. Some historians find it more likely that Daniel was written in the 2nd century BCE because it is unmentioned in Sirach, included in the Writings of the Hebrew Bible, and unverified in its account of Antiochus' fall. I personally find it much harder to believe that Daniel would be included in the Hebrew Scriptures at all written that late – how did a book as unique as Daniel manage to become so holy in such a short time that it made it into the Septuagint, the life of Qumran, and the Sibylline Oracles?8

I find more likely a literary solution, far closer in kind to Maimonides. He works with brilliance and depth on the definition of prophecy itself. On a much more modest level, I might point out simply that Daniel is a unique work in the Hebrew Scriptures. He never claims to be a prophet – he is a statesman. The book does not start like a prophetic work, with the vision or word or burden of the Lord coming upon Daniel, and it has very little poetry. Ezekiel is the closest work to Daniel, and Zechariah has parts that come close to Daniel's apocalyptic style. But what other prophetic work combines in such fashion third person narratives with first person recollections and sweeping apocalyptic visions – and a royal letter from Nebuchadnezzar for good measure? Daniel might be orbiting the same Sun as the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures, but it has its own wobble and trajectory.

It could have been a lively debate on where to put Daniel in the canon. We still debate today what to do with Daniel as literature. And one need not resort to chronology to find reason for debate.

It might be helpful to return to the Talmud at this point and reflect on the brilliance of the rabbinic discussion. There is no doubt that Daniel is revered and honored as Scripture. Yet it is found in the Writings, and this might cause it to be regarded less than the Prophets. How do we affirm the tradition in its decision to place Daniel in the Writings, and yet maintain and even heighten its honor?

Daniel 10:7 provides an elegant solution. Daniel is honored in that he saw the vision when others did not. Who were those others? The last three of the minor prophets. Those three are exalted over him by their prophetic office; Daniel is exalted over them because he saw the vision. The two are thus put on even ground. If anything, Daniel might be a bit ahead of the others, because just as the sages, he was given deeper insight than the prophets.9

Or, we could follow our Lord's words in Matthew 24:15, and call Daniel a prophet.

1 Bava Batra, 14b.

2 4Q174, 2.4.

3 The Antiquities of the Jews, 10.11.4. See also Antiquities, 10:11.7, where Daniel's unique revelations were given to him as to “one of the greatest of the prophets.”

4 Seder Olam Rabbah, ch. 20.

5 Megillah, 3a. It is accepted by the sages that 48 men prophesied to Israel and seven women. But while the women are enumerated, the men are not. On this see Megillah, 14a, and Rashi's commentary on that section. See also Rashi;s earlier comments in Halachot Gedolot, 76.

6 Moses Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, vol.2, ch. 45. The actual argument goes beyond the scope of a blog. Suffice it to present his definitions. “The first degree of prophecy consists in the divine assistance which is given to a person, and induces and encourages him to do something good and grand, e.g., to deliver a congregation of good men from the hands of evildoers; to save one noble person, or to bring happiness to a large number of people; he finds in himself the cause that moves and urges him to this deed. This degree of divine influence is called 'the spirit of the Lord...'” As for the second degree, “A person feels as if something came upon him, and as if he had received a new power that encourages him to speak. He treats of science, or composes hymns, exhorts his fellow-men, discusses political and theological problems; all this he does while awake, and in the full possession of his senses. Such a person is said to speak by the holy spirit.” (The translation is that of Friedländer, 1904.)

7 This can be found in most modern commentaries and various biblical encyclopedias, even among those who do not share Rationalism's doubts about the miraculous.

8 Possibly more to the point, my presuppositions are not those of Rationalism. As a Christian I believe in the miraculous, that the Creator God converses with humans whenever he wishes, and that he can reveal to them whatever he wishes about past, present, or future. I also believe God is active in the formation of sacred traditions. Both of those make me predisposed to find Daniel a much older work. Rationalism predisposes others to find it late. We are left debating theology and philosophy.

9 See Bava Batra, 12a.

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