What does it means to say that "Daniel wrote/Did not write the book of Daniel?" Are we saying: 1. Daniel did not produce the finish product but could have provided the notes 2. Daniel had nothing at all to do with the production or compilation of of the book?
The traditional Jewish and Christian identification of the author of the book of Daniel is, of course, Daniel himself. All biographical details about Daniel in the book are taken at face value: he was a young member of the Judean nobility, deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in the year 605 BC, who quickly found favor with the Babylonian court for his wisdom, and subsequently became an interpreter of dreams and had prophetic dreams of his own.1
The entire book is obviously the work of one writer. . . . . If Daniel is named as the one who received certain revelations, it follows that he must be the author of the whole book. Therefore the book purports to have been written in the sixth century before Christ. It claims to be the fruit of the ministry of a Jewish captive named Daniel who occupied high positions in the courts of the kings who ruled Mesopotamia. The book's claims are bolstered by the fact that the historical context of Daniel is the Babylonian and Persian empires, and not the Hellenistic world of the second century when critics date the book.
The answer of critical scholarship is much more complex. The book of Daniel is divided into two sections on the basis of its content: the 'court tales' of chapters 1-6, and the 'apocalyptic visions' of chapters 7-12. However, adding to the confusion is that chapters 2-7 are preserved in Aramaic, while chapters 1 and 8-12 are in Hebrew.
In the late 19th century the Nabonidus Chronicle was published, a document which 'revealed that Nabonidus had been absent from Babylon for several years'.2 Hence, scholars speculated for decades that the story of Nebuchadnezzar's seven-year madness in Daniel 4 was actually based on Nabonidus' absence. Then the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and among them a document labeled 4Q242, which reads:3
The words of the prayer uttered by Nabunai king of the l[and of Ba]bylon, [the great] king, [when he was afflicted] with an evil ulcer in Teiman by decree of the [Most High God]. I was afflicted [with an evil ulcer] for seven years . . . and an exorcist pardoned my sins. He was a Jew from [among the children of the exile of Judah, and he said], 'Recount this in writing to [glory and exalt] the name of the [Most High God'. And I wrote this:] 'I was afflicted with an [evil] ulcer in Teiman [by decree of the Most High God]. For seven years [I] prayed to the gods of silver and gold, [bronze and iron], wood and stone and clay, because [I believed] that they were gods . . .
This granted the hypothesis substantial support: the 'court tales' appear to have originated separately from the apocalyptic chapters of the book; they were stories of folklore about an idealized sage in a foreign court (comparable to Joseph in Genesis, Mordecai in Esther, or Ahikar in extra-biblical literature). These stories of a Jewish sage in Babylon may have floated independently of one another, or they may have been collected together. (The Greek additions to Daniel would also have come from this 'Daniel Cycle' of folklore.)
The book of Daniel is replete with historical inaccuracies regarding the Babylonian and Persian periods, indicating it was written quite some time after those eras. Between this point, and the independent nature of the court tales, the person of 'Daniel' appears to be a literary fabrication, not a historical figure (and hence, not the author of the book). Davies suggests this 'Daniel' character may not have been a well-known figure in Jewish culture before the book was completed,4 and Collins is one scholar to suggest the very name 'Daniel' was chosen for the anonymous Jewish sage of the folklore out of inspiration from the ancient sage 'Danel', mentioned by Ezekiel and Ugaritic texts.5
The apocalyptic visions offer more details to us as to who the author(s) might have been. Chapters 7-12 are almost exclusively focused on Antiochus Epiphanes and the ensuing Maccabean Revolt. (See my answers to two other questions here and here for a fuller exposition on these details.) The concern here is the resolution of the Revolt, the cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem, and the reinstitution of the sacrifices, offerings, and Torah observance. Critical scholars have long noticed that the apocalyptic section's grasp on history during the Maccabean Revolt appears to suddenly disappear a year or two before its conclusion.
Some scholars also go a little further than simply identifying the time period of the author, by also trying to deduce his specific theological or ethical identity. Hill notes:6
Unlike many apocalypticists, Daniel did not foresee a great battle in which the armies of Israel would vanquish their foes. Instead, the victory would be God's alone. In the meantime, believers were to batten down the hatches and weather the storm.
This mindset is thematically found in the court tales: neither Daniel nor his fellow exiles resort to violence against their Babylonian captors; they only endure through their adversities, trusting that God will vindicate them. Going into Daniel 11, Hill continues:7
Almost certainly, the author of this text was among the "wise" teachers to whom these verses [11.33-35] refer. There is no consensus about who helps them ("a little") or what form that assistance takes. Many have interpreted the saying as an early reference to the Maccabees, but that identification is by no means certain.
Davies also locks onto references to these 'wise':8
At the close of the book of Daniel comes a passage of four verses in which a group within Israel, called the 'wise,' are promised an extraordinary deliverance (12.1-4). . . . The reference [in 11.32-35] to a 'little help' and to those who 'join themselves to them with flattery' are taken by virtually every commentator as a disparaging reference to the Maccabean resistance. If this is so (see the following Chapter), the reason is quite obvious: the time of deliverance is the time appointed by God, and the death of the righteous in the meantime is to test and purify them; hence active resistance would be neither theologically appropriate nor politically effective. The advocacy of passive resistance is in harmony with the stories; the heroes are powerless to defend themselves, but in any case their witness rests not on their power to resist but the power of their God to assert his sovereignty. This is the stance of the 'wise' in our passage; their role is not to lead resistance, but to teach and to suffer: they 'make many understand' and they (or some of them) 'fall'.
Coming up to chapter 12, Collins points something out regarding the date-setting in the final verses of the book:9
The heat of persecution also underlies the attempts in Daniel to specify the number of days until the end. Such attempts are rare in the apocalypses. In the case of Daniel, contradictory numbers were allowed to stand side by side (Dan 12:11: 1,290 days; 12:12: 1,335 days). This shows that they were not taken with absolute literalness. The final figure was presumably the result of a revised calculation when the first date passed.
It would be impossible to enumerate and identify every writer who contributed to the book of Daniel. Most of them are anonymous. At the bare minimum of historical possibility we would have two authors: the earlier authors(s) having written the original court tales, and the later author(s) having written the apocalyptic visions and having edited the court tales to bring them into cohesion with the visions. Possibly also a third author, if we do not assume the second author was the one who added the revised calculations in chapter 12.
The actual number of authors, however, is likely more than just two or three. The court tales may have originated independently, with a later author simply unifying them into a collection. Some of the apocalyptic visions may have directly adapted earlier sources before also being unified, such as Daniel 7 being a reshaped story from the Baal mythos. For the sake of simplicity, let's simply look at the final author(s), the one who gave us the (bulk of the) book in its present (Hebrew) form:
- Wrote the book about 166-165 BC, while in Judea.
- Highly valued the Jerusalem temple and all the related commamds in the Torah concerning it. As such, he would have opposed the Hellenization many of his contemporaries had undergone (cf. 1 Maccabees 1.11-15).
- Considered himself among 'the wise', a group which favored a pacifistic approach, at least as regarding foreign occupation of his homeland, because they believed God would directly intervene on their behalf.
- Rejected the violent resistance of the Maccabees, another group of Jews who opposed Hellenization and the foreign occupation of Judea, though at least recognized they were working toward the same goal (hence calling them 'a little help').
1 James E. Smith, Daniel: A Christian Interpretation, 14.
2 John J. Collins, Daniel, 62.
3 Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 329.
4 Philip R. Davies, Daniel, 42.
5 John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, Chapter 3. (Kindle edition.)
6 Craig C. Hill, In God's Time, Chapter 5. (Kindle edition.)
8 Davies, 109-110.
9 Collins, Apocalyptic Imagination, Chapter 3.
One point I would like to add, Jesus attributed the authorship of the book of Daniel to the prophet Daniel and Jesus very clearly acknowledged the existence of this person.
KJV Matthew 24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
Daniel spoke about the abomination of Desolation - this clarifies that Daniel was a real person and the events described in the book are real including the prophecies.
Who so ever reads, let him understand - Meaning whatever Daniel saw was recorded and at that recorded clearly and correctly. If it had been erroneously recorded then Jesus would not have asked His followers to read and understand. Thus, the recorded portion of Daniel's prophecies are accurate according to Jesus Christ.
The Book of Daniel does not contain an attribution or claim to authorship, but is nevertheless traditionally attributed to Daniel, living during the entire period of the Babylonian Exile and in the early years of the Persian period. Some of the text is written in the first person, and after all, if the book is historically accurate, only Daniel could have known so much detail about events in his life.
There is no evidence that Daniel was a real historical person, and some scholars believe the name for the principal character of the Book of Daniel may have been inspired by Ezekiel 14:14, written a little before the timeframe of Daniel:
Ezekiel 14:14: Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD.
Scholars long believed that the Book of Daniel was entirely written during the Maccabean period, but Philip R. Davies says in 'The social world of apocalyptic writings', published in The World of Ancient Israel (edited by R. E. Clements), page 256, that chapters l-6 are now "widely accepted as not only earlier, but reflecting a different social setting from the visions of Chapters 7-12." In other words, there were at least two main authors of Daniel, one living during the Maccabean period and one living at least a century earlier. Neither of these authors was Daniel, the character portrayed in the book.
Leonard J Greenspoon says, in 'Between Alexandria and Antioch: Jews and Judaism in the Hellenistic Period', published in The Oxford History of the Biblical World, page 341:
All but the most conservative interpreters agree that these chapters [7-12] date from the time of the Maccabean revolt, specifically to the period between Antiochus' decrees of 167 BCE and Judah's cleansing of the Temple at the end of 163.
Although we know when these chapters are believed to have been written, and the final composition of the book, we will probably never know who the anonymous author was.
A similar problem applies to the earlier chapters of Daniel. It would be comforting to see these chapters as having been written by Daniel himself, but that does not appear to be the case. Lester L. Grabbe says in Ancient Israel, page 211, "the author of Daniel seems to know of Nebuchadnezzar only through the biblical text." The Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies says that a fragmentary Dead Sea Scroll known as 4Q2424, or 4Q Prayer of Nabonidus, preserves an earlier Jewish tradition that pre-dates the Book of Daniel and has some similarities to the neo-Babylonian texts. The Prayer of Nabonidus may explain the origin of the biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar living like a beast.
Once again, we do not know who wrote these chapters in the Book of Daniel.