Josephus on Alexander the Great and the Book of Daniel

A good deal of biblical scholarship on the book of Daniel assumes that Daniel 7–12 was written after 165 B.C. This date is very difficult to reconcile with the actual historical evidence. For instance, the book of Daniel was embraced by all sects of Judaism, whereas other literature produced after the schisms took place was only embraced by particular groups within Judaism.

As noted in an earlier post, the covenanters at Qumran appear to have gone to the shores of the Dead Sea soon after 200 B.C., and there are at least 8 manuscripts of Daniel at Qumran. Is it plausible that a book produced at that time would be accepted by all groups within Judaism, so that even those who separated themselves from the corrupt temple and retreated to Qumran would take this newly produced book with them to the desert? Amid such fierce controversies, would such a book also have been held sacred back in Jerusalem?

The point of this post is to highlight another piece of historical evidence from the Jewish Antiquities by Josephus. Flavius Josephus describes an event that he presents as having taken place in 332 BC (for the date, cf. the Loeb Classical Library ed. of Ant. XI 317, p. 467 notes c and e):

“. . . he [Alexander the Great] gave his hand to the high priest and, with the Jews running beside him, entered the city. Then he went up to the temple, where he sacrificed to God under the direction of the high priest, and showed due honour to the priests and to the high priest himself. And, when the book of Daniel was shown to him, in which he had declared that one of the Greeks would destroy the empire of the Persians, he believed himself to be the one indicated; and in his joy he dismissed the multitude for the time being, but on the following day he summoned them again and told them to ask for any gifts which they might desire. . .”

Two things to note here: first, Josephus clearly regarded Daniel to be the author of the book of Daniel, “the book of Daniel . . ., in which he had declared . . .” Second, Josephus placed this event in 332 BC, so Josephus believed that the book of Daniel had been written by then.

23 Responses to Josephus on Alexander the Great and the Book of Daniel

  1. G. Kyle Essary November 26, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    I’m just commenting to subscribe to any future comments on this post.

  2. Luxetveritas November 26, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    A couple points:
    1) I don’t understand how you can say that the Qumran community came to the Dead Sea site “soon after 200 B.C.” when all the evidence indicates that the occupation of the site began during the reign of John Hyrcanus (last third of 2nd cent BCE). It seems like a dishonest rhetorical trick to me.

    2) Josephus’s account of Alexander is clearly legendary, as all acknowledge. It has no evidentiary value. It has never been disputed that Josephus himself doubted the authenticity of Daniel, so this is all quite irrelevant.

    3) You are clearly correct that Daniel was accepted widely and early, but a) it was not accepted by “all groups of Judaism” as you say. What about the Sadducees? They don’t seem to have believed in the resurrection so clearly taught in Dan 12. And, the Sadducees were much more numerous and powerful than the Essenes or Pharisees in I CE. b) That Daniel was accepted early is no proof of its authenticity, only the success of its pseudonymity. The book itself tells us that it would be sealed up until the end, the great tribulation, when it would be unsealed and understood. This is a typical ex eventu technique (cf. 1En) and indicates that whenever the book would become known was the time to which the prophecy referred. Thus, when Daniel becomes known in II BCE, it is immediately read in light of the Maccabean crisis.

    I realize I’m wasting my time telling you these things, since your view is not based on evidence but presupposition. However, you really should familiarize yourself with the actual views of those who hold to a Maccabean date for Daniel.

    • Jim Hamilton November 27, 2010 at 9:08 am #

      With all respect:

      1) even if it is the last third of the 2C BC, it was accepted at Qumran stupendously fast if it was composed in the Maccabean crisis–I think impossibly fast.

      2) I’m not seeing evidence that Josephus doubted the authenticity of Daniel. I won’t deny that he sometimes garbles chronology, nor do I deny that many reject his testimony. But on some things his is the only testimony we have. This is one of those cases. So what do we go with: the actual historical evidence and testimony or the conclusions of those who have already concluded Daniel must be ex eventu?

      Can you point me to places where Josephus indicates that he doubts the authenticity of Daniel?

      3)

      a) The Sadducees appear to have rejected the resurrection, but you have to show that that also means they rejected Daniel. I don’t think there is such proof. All indications are that Daniel was accepted by all groups before the schisms, as witnessed by the reality of sectarian literature which was only accepted by some groups.

      b) What if Daniel is clearly quoted and used by Tobit, which is widely acknowledged to precede the Maccabean crisis?

      Thanks for the interaction,

      JMH

      • Luxetveritas November 27, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

        Sorry, I miswrote. Instead of “It has never been disputed that Josephus himself doubted the authenticity of Daniel,” read “It has never been argued”–i.e. I don’t know of anyone who says Josephus did doubt Daniel’s authenticity.

        Everything you write about Daniel’s (“impossibly fast”) acceptance at Qumran applies also to other pseudonymous literature, e.g., the Epistle of Enoch, with the Apocalypse of Weeks. The Apocalypse has manuscripts at Qumran dating to the 2nd cent BCE, but is clearly composed ca. 170–a date arrived at on the basis of its “accurate” ex eventu prophecies, but its failed (and vague) future prophecies. This is the same method used to date Dan 7-12. You will notice, too, that a similar Jubilee-based periodization of history structures the book–this is common for apocalyptic works ca. the Maccabean crisis. It’s an indication from genre that the visions of Daniel are to be dated II BCE.

        As to the Sadducees, as you know, our textual sources for their beliefs are few and in large measure unreliable (e.g. later Rabbinic lit). However, would you not agree that the Synoptics’ portrait of Jesus’ dispute with the Sadducees makes little sense if the Sadducees accepted resurrection a la Dan 12? Indeed, it is generally agreed that the sectioning of Judaism likely occurred in the second century in the aftermath of the Maccabean crisis and the rise of Hasidism and Enochic/Danielic movements.

        I am interested in your Tobit-Daniel connection, but I suspect the allusions you have in mind are the verbal similarities in Tobit to the court tales in Daniel. These court tales are often dated earlier than the dream-visions.

      • Darko Bulatovic April 10, 2015 at 2:23 am #

        Quran confirms that Alexander was a beliver and this story fits description of him as well as his tutor aristotel who I doubt would teach him anything if he was any other.

    • zoom July 19, 2012 at 4:20 am #

      The book of Daniel, albeit with some apocryphal additions, was translated into Greek as part of the Septuagint translation. This Greek translation is regarded by scholars to be a product of the mid-to-late 3rd century (245-285) B.C.

      Even if one ignores the existence of the Septuagint and clings to a Maccabean date for Daniel, it fails to explain the “70 weeks” prophesy found in Daniel chapter 9:

      “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the King shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: And after threescore and two weeks shall the Messiah be cut off, but not for himself..” Daniel 9:25-26a

      Noting the Jewish reckoning of “weeks of years,” Gabriel tells Daniel the EXACT DAY that the Christ would present Himself:
      From the degree to re-build Jerusalem (Decree of Artaxerxes Longimanus, March 5, 444 BC) to the Messiah the King (Triumphal Entry/Palm Sunday March 30, 33 AD) was 483 years and 25 days, or 173,880 days (Sir Robert Anderson breaks down the arithmetic for us in his book The Coming Prince). Gabriel then informs Daniel that the Messiah would be executed.. but not for himself. Which is precisely what happened the following weekend.

      There is evidence and there are presuppositions. Each of us does what we choose with both. If I am to conclude that Daniel chapter 9 is recorded history and not prophesy then a much later date than 167-165 B.C. is required. Since a 33 A.D. or later date is not reasonably defensible, I am inclined to accept the massive implications of Daniel as prophesy.

  3. John November 28, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

    So, Josephus recorded a fictitious tale of Alexander reading Daniel, and no one said, “Hey, wait, dude, that book wasn’t written until 200 years later!” Hmmm…

    • G. Kyle Essary November 28, 2010 at 10:28 pm #

      John,
      I think the assumption is that since he himself wasn’t writing for another 250 years after the Maccabees, which are 200 years after Alexander, that Josephus was retelling a false tradition he had received.

      • John November 29, 2010 at 11:01 am #

        Kyle:
        Yes. My point is that there is another assumption in play here: that Josephus and everyone who read him were entirely ignorant of Daniel’s origin, while we some 1,900 years later have finally got it right.

  4. RD November 30, 2010 at 9:52 am #

    Jim, You mention that there were numerous copies of TBoD found at Qumran. Isn’t each copy, though, different from the others with regard to content?
    Hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving!

  5. James December 6, 2010 at 11:08 pm #

    I know this is off the subject, but….. Yeshua is our Messiah and our faithfulness is Torah. Talmud also helps with our living out of Torah. Also so you are not confused … Yeshua never claimed to be G-d, never was G-d, and never will be G-d. Yeshua is Torah made flesh! And He was also from man and woman. G-d said to Abraham…”In your seed, all nations will be blessed.” Sounds like Yeshua to me… sounds like Joseph’s Son. “The Father is greater than I”-Yeshua……”Why do you call me good? There is only One who is good and that is Elohim.”-Yeshua.

    The only thing holding Judaism back from accepting Yeshua as the Messiah is Christianity! The movement is growing though and the rebuilding of the Temple is near. Baruch HaShem Adonai!

    • zoom July 19, 2012 at 4:50 am #

      I agree with you that Yeshua is our Messiah. But If Yeshua never claimed to be G-g then why was he crucified? Wasn’t His supposed crime blasphemy? If He was blaspheming then he was guilty and deserved the death that He received, and we are yet in our sins. But if He was blameless then He was indeed the perfect sacrifice for sin that was required.

      And no mere man is sinless. Numerous passages in the Tanakh equate the Messiah with the Almighty. It is mysterious, but the man Yeshua is the YHWH of the Torah or he never would have allowed Himself to be worshiped.

    • Wayne R. December 10, 2012 at 2:19 am #

      James, are we to believe the report of the disciples is contrary to the teaching of the One who discipled them?

      Zec 12:10 “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto me whom they have pierced” How does this not equate to God speaking in first person and claiming to have been pierced?
      Also consider the tetragrammaton (YHWH), the very name of God: the letters carry the meanings “hand” “behold” “nail” “behold” .
      YHWH is first used in Gen 2:4 given as the name of “Elohiym”, a plural singular, One God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are made in His image as body, soul and spirit, also a “plural singular”.
      The Gospel is given in the genealogy of Adam in Gen 5: Adam (man), Seth (is appointed), Enos (mortal), Cainan (sorrow), Mahalaleel (the blessed God), Jared (shall come down), Enoch (teaching), Methuselah (His death shall bring), Lamech (the despairing), Noah (rest).
      It is not Christianity “holding Judaism back from accepting Yeshua as the Messiah”, it is failure to recognize Him in the scriptures.

  6. RD December 7, 2010 at 10:38 am #

    James,
    Very interesting comments. My own studies of the scriptures over the past several years have led me to think that Jesus’ original disciples likely didn’t view him as divine. Read the Book of Acts closely. As the disciples move about ministering and sharing the good news of Jesus as Messiah they never refer to him as God’s son. In fact, Peter often refers to Jesus as a man annointed by God through whom God worked miracles and healings. But he doesn’t say that Jesus did this because he was, himself, God. They understood him to be the Messiah of Israel (and ultimately all the world) in the Jewish context of Messiah. I believe that the idea that Jesus was divine came from Paul and was later passed along among early Christian communities. None of the communities really knew HOW Jesus became God and man, though. That’s why I think we have differing stories of Jesus’ birth (early Christian tradition was assigning a way that Jesus had come from God to earth, but different details were told in different communities). Paul never mentions that Jesus was born of a virgin. In his letter to the Romans Paul makes the passing comment in the beginning of the letter that Jesus became God’s son when God raised him from the dead. Again, nothing about being God’s son because Mary had conceived by way of the spirit of God.

    • Wayne R. December 9, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

      To: RD, I must disagree: “Acts” was originally part of the book of Luke, written by Luke, and separated at a later date. Luke was a disciple of Paul. Matthew was known to have been written by the disciple Matthew, but not signed. Mark was a disciple of Peter and wrote “Peter”. The “Gospels” were the memoirs of the disciples and only later referred to as “Gospels”. Ireneaus was the first to establish the distinguishing of “authorized” writings (published in 180 AD) based upon “eyewitness testimony” verifiable through chain of custody of disciples of the Apostles. i.e. Ireneaus knew Polycarp who was a disciple of Paul. This was felt needed due to the forgeries published by heretics at the time.
      Mat 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah happened in this way. When his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, before they lived together she was discovered to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
      Mat 1:23 “See, a virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel,” which means, “God with us.”
      Mar 1:1 This is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.
      Mar 1:2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See! I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.
      Mar 1:3 He is a voice calling out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord! Make his paths straight!'”
      Joh 1:1 In the beginning, the Word existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
      Joh 1:2 He existed in the beginning with God.
      Joh 1:3 Through him all things were made, and apart from him nothing was made that has been made.
      Luk 1:1 Since many people have attempted to write an orderly account of the events that have transpired among us,
      Luk 1:2 just as they were passed down to us by those who had been eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning,
      Luk 1:3 I, too, have carefully investigated everything from the beginning and have decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
      Luk 1:4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
      Luk 1:26 Now in the sixth month of her pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth,
      Luk 1:27 to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
      Luk 1:28 The angel came to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!”
      Luk 1:29 Startled by his statement, she tried to figure out what his greeting meant.
      Luk 1:30 Then the angel told her, “Stop being afraid, Mary, because you have found favor with God.
      Luk 1:31 Listen! You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus.
      Luk 1:32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.
      Luk 1:33 He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.”
      Luk 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this happen, since I have not had relations with a man?”
      Luk 1:35 The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come over you, and the power of the Most High will surround you. Therefore, the child will be holy and will be called the Son of God. (ISV)

      • Wayne R. December 10, 2012 at 1:23 am #

        Correction: “Mark was a disciple of Peter and wrote “Peter”.” I meant to write: “Mark was a disciple of Peter and wrote “Mark”.

    • Mary February 13, 2017 at 6:41 am #

      If you are right that the Apostles never believed Jesus was divine, it’s pretty strange that the disciples died rather than deny that Jesus was God the Son. They knew what He meant when He said, “Before Abraham came to be, I am,” as well as the Jews who tried to stone Jesus for this utterance. Your mistaken interpretation is due to your materialist view that only the Scriptures are to be believed as Divine Revelation, but the Scriptures themselves say that “Not everything Jesus said was written down,” in John 21:25. Jesus is the Eternal Word of God. Everything He said and did is Divine Revelation, not just what was written down in the Bible. Jesus Himself wrote nothing down. He formed His New Creation, the Church, by preaching the Word of God, just as God the Father created the Universe by His spoken Word. The Bible wasn’t compiled into 1 book until 383 A.D. by Pope Damasus I at the Council of Rome. Before that, the Church lived and grew and was martyred for over 300 years by the oral preaching of the 12 Apostles and their successors. In Mt 28:20, Jesus said, “Go … Teach them all I have commanded you.” Protestants do not know ALL that Jesus commanded, because they rely on the material word written in the Bible, though, as referred above, the Bible itself says “not everything was written down.” The Bible also says, “Hold fast to the traditions you have received from us, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thess 2:15) Word of mouth is mentioned first, but protestants have rejected the oral teaching of the Apostles, becoming materialists idolizing the written word as if it were the sole rule of Faith. But how can this be, when the Church lived and grew before the Bible was compiled into one book? Obviously, it is wrong to attempt to know Jesus and to formulate one’s own Christology apart from the authority of the teaching Church He established.

  7. Colin Morrison August 11, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    In my opinion the mainstream consensus that all the prophecies in Daniel 7-12 were written between 167 and 165BC is not the most likely hypothesis even from a strictly secular perspective. The most likely hypothesis is that while Daniel 8 and 10-12 were almost certainly written in Maccabean times and are mainly ex-eventu (the exception being Daniel 11: 36-44 which is a guess), Daniel 7 and 9 were already in existence before the time of Antiochus Epiphanes.

    The reason this is far more likely than the orthodox position is that the different writing styles, language and content make it very unlikely that these passages were all composed by a single author. This means we have no reason to assume (as mainstream scholars do) that the events and personalities portrayed in Daniel 7 and 9 are the same as those portrayed in 8 and 11. Whether or not that is the case should be determined from what the appropriate passage says and how well it describes the history of the period in time it claims to be describing (as it would have been perceived by a Maccabean writer according to all the available evidence). If it does not fit well it ought to be assumed to be a guess (as is the case with Daniel 11:36-45).

    Since the four heads and four wings of the third beast in Daniel 7 make it undeniably representative of Alexander’s empire (as perceived, for example, by the Maccabean writer of Daniel 8), and since all the other evidence in the Book of Daniel clearly supports this conclusion, the fourth beast could only be either a portrayal of the Seleucid part of Alexander’s empire or a guess at a future world-dominating kingdom. Since the Maccabean perception of the Seleucid empire is clearly described in Daniel 8 and obviously does not fit the characteristics of that fourth kingdom (which is represented in any case by a head and a wing of the third beast), the only rational conclusion for secular scholars is that the fourth beast is the writer’s guess at what the next world-dominating kingdom would be like. Since Rome was already giving orders to the Seleucid monarchs at the time Daniel 8 and 11 were written (according to this hypothesis), it is in fact most likely that the writer is imagining his people’s future domination by Rome as Christian scholars have claimed all along.

    A similar analysis applies to Daniel 9. It requires a huge amount of arbitrary hypothesis to justify the view that the ‘the ruler who will come’ is Antiochus Epiphanes. It is far simpler to assume that the writer of this passage was making a genuine guess at the future as the writer of Daniel 11: 36-45 has. After all, a Maccabean writer had every reason to include such a guess in his finished book because if there were no such guesses it is extremely unlikely that people would accept his claim that the sealed up (and therefore recently discovered) visions of Daniel 11 and 8 were really written in the 6th century BC. It would also have been very sensible for him to opt for the inclusion of the little known writings of a Jew who had collaborated with the Babylonian regime but whose predictions about the future (as in the four headed leopard) did appear to have started coming true. That these were already known beyond the writer’s close associates can be inferred from the fact that the writer has not tried to doctor them to include, for example, a ‘little horn’ on one of the heads of his leopard in Daniel 7. All he has done, in my opinion, is translate Daniel 9 from Aramaic into Hebrew.

    If Daniel’s prophecies (or guesses) about the distant future did originally comprise only Daniel 2, 7 and 9, Ben Sira’s omission of Daniel from his list of famous men (c 180BC) is perfectly understandable. If, on the other hand, they had included Daniel 8 or Daniel 11 they would surely by then have been famous for accurate prophecy making his omission inexcusable (and hence very unlikely).

    Hence, although Alexander was probably not told he was the prominent horn of the goat in Daniel 8, it is just about conceivable that the high priest guessed he was the Leopard in Daniel 7.

  8. Wayne R. December 9, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    I find any justification for impeaching Josephus’ report difficult to accept. Josephus was a Jewish historian, expert in the customs, language, religion and history. He was a General opposing the Romans in 70 AD and taken captive to Rome. He became so well respected by his former enemy, the Emperor, he gave him authority over the libraries of Rome. To assume Josephus would record hearsay as fact is too deny his credibility. Additionally: it is very safe to assume Josephus would have had access to records and reports long since lost over the last 1900 years. Also, minor language issues have been cited as reason for suspicion of the early dating of the writing of Daniel, however, Josephus, being an expert in the language, and traditions, would have had those same concerns if valid. The fact that Josephus was removed by 400 years has also been raised by some, yet if age removed is a valid impeachment it more pertains to the one raising it nearly 2000 years removed.
    As pointed out by “Zoom”, all modern efforts to impeach the prophetic nature of Daniel, and of scripture as a whole for that matter, fails in face of the prophecies of the Messiah. No scriptural prophecy has ever proven to fail! Some have been misunderstood due to the filters of assumption and bias, but never proven to have failed.

  9. steve March 20, 2015 at 9:15 am #

    How could Josephus record this ..
    He was born years after alexandr’s death

    • JMH March 20, 2015 at 9:18 am #

      How does any historian ever record anything that happened before they were born?

  10. steve March 20, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    It should be recorded at their time period

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