Among liberal scholars, few believe that Daniel is the work of the sixth century BC prophet Daniel, but a later work composed by at least two scribes – one in Aramaic and the other in Hebrew. Liberals date the book just after the time of the Seleucid-Syrian invasions and the oppression of Antiochus Epiphanes from 167 to 165 BC as recorded in 1 and 2 Maccabees. The entire book understood from a liberal point of view is vaticinium ex eventu – “a prophecy after the event” – probably written in 164 BC since Antiochus died the following year. If this were true, then the prophecy of Daniel is not a prophecy at all and the book is not inspired of God. A bias against the supernatural is at work here. Yet it can be demonstrated that Daniel is a supernatural, divinely inspired book – perhaps the most remarkable predictive prophecy ever written.
A few liberal scholars see the earlier portion of Daniel 2-7, written in Aramaic, which records prophecies and events fulfilled in the downfall of the Babylonian kingdom, as the work of either Daniel himself or a Post-Exile Jewish scribe who recorded the story of a hero named Daniel in Babylon who lived in the sixth century BC. However, they believe that Daniel 8-12 is the writing of a Jew living in the Maccabean period around 164 BC. This scribe also purportedly composed chapter 1 in Hebrew as an introduction. The evidences offered for this are based on the linguistic and stylistic changes between chapters 7 and 8 of the Book of Daniel.
Liberal scholars up until the time of the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls assigned a later date to many Old Testament prophecies because so many of the prophecies about the Messiah were fulfilled to the letter by Jesus Christ. Since liberals reject the supernatural in Scripture, they thought these texts must have been composed as “glosses” – or notations that were used to revise and edit the Old Testament – by later Christian scribes. But with the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947, we have each of the books of the Old Testament. This proves that these books existed in their current form as far back as the early 2nd century BC and earlier. All of the books of the Hebrew Bible are represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls except Esther.
Archaeological and historical evidences indicate that Qumran was founded in the second century BC, during the time of the Maccabean/Hasmonean Dynasty, a priestly Jewish family that ruled Judea in the second and first centuries BC. Several great catastrophic events are thought to have led to the removal of a radicalized Jewish sect from populated Judea to a desert community near the Dead Sea that is known as Qumran.
- 171 BC – Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded and subjugated Judea in order to raise taxes.
- 168 BC – Antiochus IV Epiphanes captured and pillaged Jerusalem.
- 167 BC – Antiochus IV Epiphanes built a statue of Jupiter Olympus in the holiest part of the Temple in Jerusalem. This began the Maccabean War of Liberation against Antiochus.
- 165 BC – Judas Maccabeus liberated the Jewish people.
In the liberal modernist school of thought, “Daniel” was a scribe living around 164 BC who compiled Jewish folklore concerning a hero named Daniel together with an apocalyptic literary work of the contemporary Maccabean period meant to give comfort to Jews living during the final and critical days of the crisis.
Vaticinium Ex Eventu?
The liberal opinion is that a pseudonymous Daniel wrote a vaticinium ex eventu – “prophecy after the event” – book describing history leading up to the Maccabean revolt. According to this view, “the abomination that causes desolation” in Daniel 9:27 and 12:11 is thought to describe the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus in 167 BC, but not the desecration of the Temple by the Roman general Titus in AD 70 – as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:15,16.
Above I explained that the orthodox position of preterism in no way implies hyper-preterism. I will here also differentiate preterism from “liberal preterism.” This is a view that came into vogue in the late 19th century among scholars who denied the supernatural in Scripture. To these commentators, Daniel, Matthew 24 and Revelation were indeed prophecies that came to pass in events up until the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but they were prophecies written afterward by authors assuming the pseudonyms of Daniel, Matthew and John. For example, the 19th century preterist F.W. Farrar wrote in his commentary, The Book of Daniel.
If we have found much to lead us to serious doubts as to the authenticity and genuineness i.e., as to the literal historicity and the real author of the Book of Daniel in its historic section, we shall find still more in the prophetic section. If the phenomena already passed in review are more than enough to indicate the impossibility that the Book could have been written by the historic Daniel, the phenomena now to be considered are such as have sufficed to convince the immense majority of learned critics that, in its present form, the Book did not appear before the days of Antiochus Epiphanes. The probable date is 164 BC. As in the Book of Enoch 90:15,16, it contains history written under the form of prophecy…. The attempt to refer the prophecy of the seventy weeks primarily or directly to the coming and death of Christ, or the desolation of the Temple by Titus, can only be supported by immense manipulations, and by hypotheses so crudely impossible that they would have made the prophecy practically meaningless both to Daniel and to any subsequent reader.
Critics such as Farrar explain the interpretation of Daniel’s “abomination that causes desolation” (Daniel 9:27; 12:11) as a “prophecy after the event” describing Antiochus IV Epiphanes who desecrated the Temple in 167 BC. The application of Daniel 9:27; 12:11 by Jesus in the Mount Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14) and the aside, “Let the reader understand,” is the destruction of the Temple by the Roman Emperor Vespasian and his son, the Roman general Titus, in AD 70. But according to liberal preterists, this is thought to be as a scribal gloss that first occurred in the Gospel According to Matthew or Mark in the early 70s. A “gloss” is a short aside or note of explanation in the margins or between the lines of the text. It is thought by liberals that these notations then were copied as part of the lines of Scripture by later scribes.
Liberals believe the parallel text in Luke 21:20 was a further gloss made at least a decade after Matthew and Mark were written.
“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.”
Conservatives would counter that since Matthew and Mark were written to an audience who were familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, there was no need for an elaborative explanation beyond, “Let the reader understand.” Since Luke was writing to a Gentile audience, he explained in equivalent Greek terms what the Hebrew phrase “abomination of desolation” meant. Since liberals do not believe that Jesus and the Gospel writers were communicating the inspired Word of God, they do not accept that the siege of Jerusalem by Roman armies and the destruction of the Temple could have been predicted 40 years prior to the event.
There is a simple and obvious counter-argument to the liberal contention that the Gospels were written at a late date. Although the Mount Olivet Discourse predicts the destruction of the Temple, neither the Gospels nor any of the New Testament writings make any mention of the Temple being destroyed in the past tense. In fact, in the numerous times the Temple is mentioned in the New Testament, it is spoken of as still standing. Several well-known liberal critics, such as the 20th century scholar J.A.T. Robinson, have used this internal evidence to refute the position of their colleagues who late date nearly every New Testament book.
One of the oddest facts about the New Testament is that what on any showing would appear to be the single most datable and climactic event of the period – the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, and with it the collapse of institutional Judaism based on the temple – is never once mentioned as a past fact. It is, of course, predicted; and these predictions are, in some cases at least, assumed to be written (or written up) after the event. But the silence is nevertheless as significant as the silence for Sherlock Holmes of the dog that did not bark (J.A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament, emphasis mine).
We should recognize that liberal commentators can sometimes be right. Farrar, Robinson and others are correct in many particulars even though they miss the big picture. That is, they deny that the Bible is a supernaturally inspired book containing many predictive prophecies that have come to pass. However, Robinson admits that late dating is arbitrary and not based on any argument that can be presented. He relates that it is due rather to the liberal critic’s prejudice that if he appears to agree with the traditional position, he will be thought among his liberal colleagues to be no better than a backwards fundamentalist crackpot.
Therefore, Robinson’s thesis in his book, Redating the New Testament, is interesting because it is evidence against self-interest. As a liberal, he must deny the supernatural nature of predictive prophecy, yet in posing an early date for the Mount Olivet Discourse he allows for a remarkable prediction of the future by Jesus Christ concerning the destruction of the Temple. Robinson correctly notes that no one in their right mind writes a false prophecy after the fact. That is, no one writes a verifiably fake prediction and then delivers it to a tightly-knit contemporary audience who are in a position to know with certainty that this writing did not exist prior to the described events.
This is true of the Book of Daniel as well. The idea that Jews of the second century BC would not have been in a position to know this was a spurious, pseudepigraphal writing is unlikely. Furthermore, by assigning the authorship to a pseudonymous scribe at the late date of 164 BC, liberal skeptics still have to contend with the references to the era of Roman dominance that run throughout the visions of Daniel. Sometimes liberals simply deny that these passages refer to anything later than the Seleucid invasions. The other popular liberal position is that the author of the Book of Daniel predicted a subsequent war involving a Seleucid king that simply did not come to pass.
Regardless of the liberal view, the “abomination of desolation” described in Daniel 12:9-12 is interpreted by Jesus in Matthew 24:15 as having a future fulfillment in the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Thus the liberal position has created its own conundrum. If the Mount Olivet Discourse contains the authentic words of Jesus, then it certainly contains a remarkably accurate prediction of events 40 years prior to their occurrence. This would mean that Daniel is also a remarkable prophecy of future events.
For a fuller treatment of the Mount Olivet Discourse, see the section on “New Testament References and Allusions: Daniel and the Mount Olivet Discourse.”