The 19th century liberal Higher Critics who doubted the sixth century BC date of the authorship of Daniel wrote prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948. The discovery of several copies of Daniel at Qumran presents a further problem for the late date Maccabean hypothesis. A noted Dead Sea Scroll researcher from Harvard University wrote the following.
One copy of Daniel is inscribed in the script of the late second century BC; in some ways it is more striking than that of the oldest manuscripts from Qumran (Frank M. Cross, The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies).
The fact that Daniel is among the earliest of the Dead Sea Scrolls indicates an even earlier date outside of that community. If Daniel was written prior to the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, then the bias against the authenticity of Daniel is scattered to the winds.
Was the Book of Daniel referred to in other writings found at Qumran?
To further support the probability of an earlier date, commentaries on Daniel were also discovered at Qumran. These commentaries give us evidence that the community accepted Daniel as inspired and canonical.
One writing refers to the “Anointed of the Spirit, of whom Daniel spoke” (Daniel 9:25-26). There is a quotation of Daniel 12:10 in the Florilegium as being from the “Book of Daniel the prophet.” This is significant for three reasons: (1) It proves that by about 25 BC Daniel was already being quoted as Scripture. (2) It shows that the author of the Florilegium knew Daniel as a complete book. (3) It suggests that at Qumran Daniel was included among the Prophets and not among the Writings. Several other manuscripts – all written in Aramaic – also mention Daniel or events associated with his book. This indicates that at Qumran Daniel was classified among the prophets rather than the writings (Martin G. Abegg, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible).
If the Book of Daniel and commentaries on Daniel appeared at Qumran even a few decades after the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, then the book must have existed earlier in order to have been copied and distributed so widely. If a book was being read as Scripture in a remote desert commune, it is evident that it had already had a wide circulation. Furthermore, since we have still extant copies of Daniel from this time, it is likely that the book existed earlier than that.
No less than eight Daniel manuscripts and two commentaries on Daniel are among the Dead Sea Scrolls collection. One of the Daniel manuscripts is among the oldest discovered at Qumran. The canonical acceptance of the Book of Daniel suggests an earlier origin of the book.
Even though the existence of Daniel among the Dead Sea Scrolls has been known since the 1940s, it was not made available for publication until 1989. From a conservative early date point of view, the significance of the Daniel fragments in the Dead Sea scrolls cannot be overstated.
In 1969, based on the evidence then available regarding the Qumran Daniel texts, Roland K. Harrison had already concluded that the second century dating of the Book of Daniel was “absolutely precluded by the evidence from Qumran, partly because there are no indications whatever that the sectaries compiled any of the Biblical manuscripts recovered from the site, and partly because there would, in the latter event, have been insufficient time for Maccabean compositions to be circulated, venerated, and accepted as canonical Scripture by a Maccabean sect” (Harrison 1969:1127).
In other words, once the accuracy of Daniel’s prophecies became known to the Jews, it enjoyed a wider reading. According to Jewish Talmudic tradition, Daniel was widely copied, distributed and accepted as canonical by the fifth century BC. The Great Assembly (or Great Synagogue) was a group of 120 elders in Judah in the late sixth and fifth centuries during the Restoration period. Historically, the Great Assembly described in Nehemiah 8-10 was a public gathering of Jews who returned to Israel after the exile in Babylon and worshipped at the restored Temple. In this passage, the leaders and people of Judah rededicated themselves to the Law of Moses. The Great Assembly also redacted and canonized the Books of Ezekiel, Daniel and the Book of the Twelve (the Minor Prophets). They composed or compiled the Books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. Then they closed the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, which was known in Jesus’ day as the Tanakh. More importantly they disseminated the canon of Scripture to all Jews, instead of just the priestly class. Since the canon was closed at or shortly after the death of Ezra, the idea that a pseudonymous Book of Daniel could somehow have slipped into the Hebrew canon in the second century BC is highly improbable.
To summarize, there are no less than eight fragments of Daniel among the Dead Sea Scrolls from all parts of the Book of Daniel. Published portions are available from all chapters except chapter 12. Even with minor textual variants, the Book of Daniel reads like the received text we have today. Furthermore, the Florilegium, a commentary on Daniel found at Qumran shows the Jews of this era accepted the book as inspired Scripture. The author of the Florilegium quotes from chapter 12. Other biblical and extra-biblical literature from the pre-Maccabean period seem to be reliant on Daniel.
By the time the Book of Daniel was read by those at the community of Qumran in the early second century BC, it was already accepted as inspired and canonical. There is solid documentary evidence of this in the number of copies and even commentaries on Daniel written by that time. The faithful accuracy between the texts of Dead Sea Scrolls copies of Daniel and in comparison to the later Masoretic text manuscripts is another good indicator of an earlier manuscript. Based on the Dead Sea manuscripts of Daniel found at Qumran, there can no longer be any reason for late-dating the book to after the Maccabean period. Thus Daniel contains remarkable prophecy written before the events predicted came to pass.
It is safe to say that prior to the second century BC, the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Book of Daniel was already recognized as Scripture. Daniel’s literary work had already been included in the “Writings” section of the Hebrew Masoretic canon according to Josephus. Initially, Daniel was not included among the Prophets, but added after the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets and Esther. When Greek Septuagint was compiled under Ptolemy II in 250 BC, the Jews were seeing the prophecy of Daniel being fulfilled before their very eyes. Ptolemy was one of the rulers of the “Third Kingdom” of Daniel chapter 8 and mentioned more specifically in chapter 11. Therefore, Daniel was grouped among the Prophets in the Septuagint.