In the Wikipedia article on Daniel, the writer states: "the broad consensus is that Daniel never existed.[1]" One book from 1999 written by John J. Collins is referenced with this statement, but I do not have access to it.

What is the evidence to suggest that Daniel was a legendary figure and not an actual living person as the Bible seems to describe him to be?


In order to prove a negative, you need to demonstrate that the biblical figure is mentioned nowhere outside the one ancient book that contains information about him, and then show that the book is not historically true.

In most cases, the absence of any information about a famous person from the past can be explained away by the paucity of extant records from the relevant period, or simply that the person was not of sufficient repute to have been mentioned by most of his contemporaries. However, plentiful records do exist from both Babylon and Persia. And if Daniel rose up to become the second most powerful person in the Babylonian Empire, then soon after became the second most powerful person in the Persian Empire, there ought to be many manuscripts and tablets that mention him. Yet there is no mention of him in any other Hebrew writings, nor in the extensive Babylonian and Persian records available to scholars.

Leonard J. Greenspoon, in 'Between Alexandria and Antioch: Jews and Judaism in the Hellenistic Period', published in The Oxford History of the Biblical World (edited by Michael D. Coogan), page 322, describes the Book of Daniel as a Jewish novel. This view, also held by most biblical scholars, is partly based on the book's historical errors and fragmented authorship. A very clear historical error is to be found the account of the Persian conquest of Babylon, in Daniel 5:31: "And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old." It was Cyrus the Great who conquered Babylon. Darius I was a successor who followed Cyrus somewhat later, but Daniel 6:28 places Cyrus after Darius. An error in respect to Belshazzar is explained by the Jewish Encyclopedia:

The following important differences between Belsharusur and the Belshazzar of Daniel are patent. The former was the son of the last king of Babylon [Nabonidus], but never reigned, except possibly as coregent with his father; while the latter is distinctly called the last king and the son of Nebuchadnezzar, both of which statements are undoubtedly made in perfectly good faith by the author of Daniel.

The chief character in a work of fiction is often not a person who ever existed. Parallels to another Daniel briefly mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel point to Daniel as a literary creation.

  • 1
    Can you add some references for the second paragraph, and explain what some of the historical errors are? Citing Greenspoon really looks like just an appeal to authority. People may think it is a novel, but that's just a restating of the question, not evidence that answers it.
    – curiousdannii
    Nov 12 '16 at 2:02
  • 2
    @curiousdannii Thank you for the suggestion. I have added two historical errors I thought particularly significant, with an authoritative explanation of the second. Nov 12 '16 at 4:51
  • I wonder, if Daniel is not mentioned in the records of Babylon and Persia, are many other high officials mentioned?
    – Steve
    Dec 22 '16 at 5:04
  • @Steve In answer to your question, many Babylonian and Persian nobles and officials are mentioned. More importantly, the one man in history to have risen to second in command of both empires (according to Daniel) is never even mentioned! Aprt from the Babylonians and Persians, the Jewish returnees should have proudly mentioned him (outside Daniel) and other subject states should have mentioned his decrees, judgements or taxes. Dec 22 '16 at 6:17
  • 1
    Some of the things you wrote about are attested to in this article: tektonics.org/af/danieldefense.php
    – Steve
    Dec 25 '16 at 14:51