Did Daniel Get the History Wrong?

Biblical skeptics like to make the argument that “Daniel got the history wrong” when they assert later dating of his Biblical book. I will present examples from this argument along with refutations.

Who is Belshazzar’s father?

Daniel referred to Belshazzar’s father as Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 5:13) and indicated that Belshazzar was the king just before being overthrown by the Medes and Persians. The generic term for father also meant ancestor, so Daniel’s writings claim Belshazzar is related to Nebuchadnezzar. He was an heir and eventual successor to the throne. Compare this with the reference to Jesus as the “Son of David.” Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s grandfather through Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter, Nitocris.

What do we know about Belshazzar?

Belshazzar had thrown a lavish party for his friends with silver and gold wine goblets he had stolen from the Jewish Temple. A hand suddenly appeared on the wall, writing “mene mene tekel peres” (5:25). The hand frightened Belshazzar and no one in his courts could interpret its meaning.

Daniel 5:7-12 “’Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.’ Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled. The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. ‘May the king live forever!’ she said. ‘Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale!  There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.’”

The king offered Daniel the “third highest ruler in the kingdom” (since he and his father Nabonides were in the two highest positions) if he correctly interpreted the words.

Daniel (5:26-28) said “Here is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Was Belshezzar a king?

Critics point to a record written by Berossus (~281 B.C.) and recorded by Josephus and Eusebius, which failed to list Belshezzar as the king. Berossus claimed that Nebuchadnezzar died after reigning as the king for 43 years and he was followed by his son Evil-Merodach. Neriglissar, Labashi-Marduk and Nabonidus followed. Berossus also claimed that Nabonidus reigned for seventeen years before fleeing from Babylon and eventually surrendering to Cyrus the Persian.

“In the seventeenth year of his reign Cyrus, after he had come out of Persia with a great army and subdued all the rest of the kingdom, advanced against Babylonia. On learning of the invasion Nabonnedos met him with an army and opposed him in battle. After being defeated, he fled with a small retinue and took refuge within the city of the Borsippians. Cyrus meanwhile seized Babylon and ordered that the outer walls of the city be thrown down because the city seemed to him to be very formidable and hard to capture. Cyrus then marched on Borsippa to lay siege to Nabonnedos. Nabonnedos, however, did not await the siege but surrendered himself first. Dealing with him in a gracious manner, Cyrus granted him Carmania as his residence and sent him out of Babylonia. [King Darius, however, took away a part of his province for himself.] Nabonnedos, therefore, died after spending the remainder of his life in this country” (Burstein, quoting the Babylonaica of Berossus, 1978, pp. 28).

Yet note that Berossus’ work contained flaws. “Even in its present fragmentary state the Babyloniaca contains a number of surprising errors of simple fact of which, certainly, the most flagrant is the statement that Nabopolassar ruled Egypt. Beyond revealing such slips, the fragments allow no doubt that Berossus offered only the most superficial explanations of the events he recorded and made no attempt to compensate for the biases of his sources. In a historian such flaws would be damning, but then Berossus’ purpose was not historical, it was apologetic. He intended that his book would change Greek ideas about Babylon, and this it signally failed to do” (Burstein, 1978, pp. 8).

For thousands of years, we had no record other than Daniel of Belshazzar as the king, so claims that Daniel got the history wrong abounded. That changed in 1851, when the “Nabonidus Cylinder” was excavated. The clay cuneiform cylinder listed Belshazzar as regent in Babylon while his father was absent – and his father was named as Nabonidus. Daniel was absolutely correct.

The order of the kings is as follows: Nebuchadnezzar 605-561; Evil-Merodach 561-560; Neriglissar 560-556; Labashi-Marduk 556; Nabonidus 556-538; Belshazzar (coregent with Nabonidus) 553-539.

Daniel survived the lion’s den, once again!


Burstein, S.M. (1978). The Babylonaica of Berossus. Volume 1, fascicle 5 http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/wp-content/uploads/Babylonaica-of-Berossus.pdf

Josephus. Against Apion. Retrieved 9/4/2019 at http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/josephus/apion1.html


4 Replies to “Did Daniel Get the History Wrong?”

  1. So SJ makes a number of claims attempting to do apologetics and save face for the Book of Daniel.

    1) Daniel uses the Hebrew ’abi to refer to the king before Belshazzar. The Hebrew word ’abi occasionally is used for “ancestor” but it is not in this case. Here is the problem, first of all Daniel is said to be privy to having been through the exile. The passage makes clear that the king who declared the exile is the ’ab (father) of Belshazzar. For example, 5:2 says also that Nebuchadnezzar is the father of Belshazzar, and also relates that Daniel was appointed by “your father”. It should be noted that almost every time that the Bible uses ’abi for “ancestor” it leaves it generic or makes it plural, and doesn’t name the individuals, and usually the pronoun is plural as well (“our fathers”). SJ’s claim that this refers to ancestor here simply seems unlikely, since the court present, including Daniel, always refer to the father of Belshazzar in singular form, named as Nebuchadnezzar, and they were also all present for Nebuchadnezzar’s existence. There is never any ruler mentioned in between. SJ’s position is, thus, 100% conjecture and nothing more. There is no linguistic standing for it in this case.
    2) Belshazzar is not mentioned as king… anywhere. Nabonidus is still king in the seals and remained king until 539 and was then succeeded by the conqueror Cyrus the Great… there was no king of Babylon after this, merely vassals. As such, even if Belshazzar could be said not to be the son of Nabonidus, he was NEVER king of Babylon, since his father surrendered to Persia and Cyrus became king of Babylon as a result. So, Daniel is completely wrong regardless. Then there is the fact that literally not a single record of Belshazzar anywhere mentions him as king. The seal specifically states that Nabonidus is king, not Belshazzar. So, Daniel’s characterization of him as king means Daniel is wholly wrong.
    3) There is no way that SJ can also appeal to Daniel being under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. She could attempt to cite Ezekiel 14:14, as many apologists do, but firstly there is little reason to think Ezekiel would know of Daniel if he existed, and secondly, that is not “Daniel” in Ezekiel but dan’el. There is no yod there. Masoretes and other scribes would offer notes or make alterations to the text, but the discovery of the folk hero of Ugarit, dan’el has all but sealed for most scholars that the figure mentioned in Ezekiel is a folk hero of Canaanite lore, much like Job and Noah are ancient folk heroes as well (this actually helps make far better sense of the passage in Ezekiel as well). See: John Day, “The Daniel of Ugarit and Ezekiel and the Hero of the Book of Daniel”, Vetus Testamentum 30.2 (1980), pp. 174–184
    4) In short, there is no evidence to support SJ’s claims. The cylinder seal does not make a case for Belshazzar as king. It does not mention Daniel either. The mention in Ezekiel 14:14 does not mention Daniel but Dan’el, a Canaanite folk hero (the missing yod is not a mistake, given we know the Israelites came from Canaanite origin and used there myths… Leviathan => Lotan anyone). And the fact that they consistently use ’ab which is a common word for “father” in the literal sense (without distinction), and the fact that information on Belshazzar was basically nonexistent (as Berossus is indicative of), means that there is little to no reason at to accept what SJ suggests.


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