Briton Riviere, Daniel in the Lions’ Den, 1872, Walker Art Gallery

It might seem like a silly question to some: of course Daniel wrote the book of Daniel! However, biblical books generally don’t bear the names of their authors. Samuel certainly wasn’t written by the judge-prophet Samuel (because it records his death and events long after he died); the books of Joshua, Ruth and Esther are about these individuals, but were not written by them; even the books which bear the names of prophets were – in some cases at least – written later by scribes who recorded the speeches of the prophets (the book of Jeremiah even names Baruch as the scribe who actually wrote it). The story of Daniel is set in Babylon during the exile (597-539 BCE) but was almost certainly written much later between 167 and 164 BCE (see my earlier post for arguments about this dating), so it could not have been written by the prophet Daniel (incidentally, Daniel is called a prophet in the New Testament, but the book of Daniel is not included in the “prophets” section of the Hebrew Bible (Nevi’im) but rather in “Writings” (Ketuvim) as it does not meet the strict definition for prophecy.)

So, if it was not written by a person named Daniel who, in fact, did write the book? Most scholars are agreed that “Daniel” probably had more than one writer, for several reasons.

  • First, the book is divided by language: most of it is written in Hebrew, but a very sizeable portion (2:4b-7:28) is written in Aramaic. The Aramaic section begins naturally enough with “The Chaldeans said to the king אֲרָמִית in Aramaic …” but then, weirdly, after the end of the quote the writer continues in Aramaic for several chapters, as though he has forgotten that the Aramaic quote has long ended!
  • Second, the first six chapters of the book which consist mostly of “court tales” are a very different style to the second six chapters which are “apocalyptic,” although this division does not line up with the Hebrew-Aramaic division. It would be nice if the different styles lined up with the different languages because then we’d have a simple explanation for the question of authorship (two authors writing with different styles and in different languages) but, alas, things are rarely that simple in biblical studies! Strangely, the “court tales” (in Aramaic) end at 6:28 but the use of the Aramaic language continues for another chapter to 7:28. The remainder of the book is both “apocalyptic” and in Hebrew. However, the apocalyptic section begins in 7:1, so the whole of chapter 7 is in Aramaic but stylistically fits better in the Hebrew section. It is a real enigma.
  • Third, the ancient Greek translations include additional material which is found in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles (and in the Apocrypha of some Protestant Bibles) and there are good arguments for thinking that this additional material was translated from a Hebrew/Aramaic source which suggests there were at least two versions of Hebrew-Aramaic Daniel circulating from an early time.

There are a few more issues which raise questions about authorship, but these will do for now.

It’s unlikely that the whole book was written at the same time by a single author, as there would be no credible explanation for why a single author would write in two languages for no clear reason. The most likely scenario is that Daniel began as a collection of “court tales” (written in Aramaic) set in the Babylonian exile (e.g. Daniel in the lions’ den, Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar’s image, and the story of Daniel and Susannah which is found as one of the ‘additions’ in the Greek versions). Whether a collection of court tales existed independently at some time, or whether the stories circulated seperately either orally or in written form and were brought together at the same time as the rest of the book was written is a matter for conjecture. Some time later, another writer (or writers) either decided that the court tales (which conclude with an apocalyptic-style vision) needed more apocalyptic material, or alternately they decided to write an apocalyptic book (in Hebrew) and felt that the existing Aramaic court tales would make a good introduction to their book as it establishes Daniel’s credibility as a wise person with an ability to predict the future. Either way, the book would also need a better introduction to tie it together, so 1-2:4a was written (in Hebrew) and tacked on at the beginning.

The two languages suggest that there was at least two writers and the two sections were written at different times. The Hebrew introduction may have been written by the same writer(s) as the Hebrew section at the end, which seems likely to me, or possibly by a third person (or group) even later. At what point the additional material (which was probably originally in either Hebrew or Aramaic but is now only extant in Greek) was written we cannot tell. There are several possibilities for why this material is preserved in the Greek Bible but not in the Hebrew Bible:

  1. The translators (from Hebrew & Aramaic to Greek) may have added some material (in Greek) which wasn’t in the Hebrew-Aramaic version from which they were translating. If so, it’s hard to imagine why they would do this, unless they somehow knew of this material even though it wasn’t in the text they were translating. Perhaps they were stories which had been orally transmitted, or written down in another document(s).
  2. Alternately, the translators may have used a Hebrew-Aramaic manuscript for their translation which at some point had added some material to an earlier version, although the shorter version was also preserved. Why or when this material was added, if that’s what happened, we cannot tell.
  3. It’s also possible that at some point some “editors” or redactors of the Hebrew-Aramaic Daniel, for reasons unknown, decided to delete some material for their redacted version of Daniel. This is possible, although unilkely, as there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason why this material should be deleted.
  4. The scribes who preserved the Hebrew-Aramaic version which is now known to us as the Masoretic Text (which is used for most English translations) may have copied a different version of Daniel to that which was used by the Greek translators. This suggests that at least two versions of Daniel in Hebrew and Aramaic existed in ancient times. This is a real possibility because we have evidence in other biblical books (for example by comparing the ancient translations and the Dead Sea Scrolls with the Masoretic Text) that multiple versions existed of some books in the biblical era as they were re-worked, expanded and edited.

So, to answer the question of who wrote Daniel, we can be sure of a few things. First, “the book of Daniel” is about a person named Daniel but was not written by him. Second, the book had at least two authors writing at different times and in different languages. Third, at some point these two writings came together either by the second author who incorporated the earlier work into his own, or by a third writer or editor who may have added some material of his own. Finally, when I say “writer” I accept the very real possibility that the work of writing and editing may have been done by a group rather than by an individual or individuals. However, we know almost nothing about these individuals or groups. There is a hint at the end of the book that the writer(s) may have belonged to a group called the מַּשְׂכִּלִ֔ים maskelim, or “the wise” (although this is not the regular term for the wise). The term occurs in two verses – Daniel 12:3,10 and no where else – which refer to a group who will be go through some difficult times but will understand the outcome (because of the visions of the book) and will ultimately be vindicated. Who these maskelim were we can only guess (and there is a fair bit of debate and speculation about this in scholarly circles), but it’s likely that the writer of Daniel was associated with them.