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.



Filed under Bible and Theology, History

10 responses to “Josephus on Alexander the Great and the Book of Daniel

  1. G. Kyle Essary

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

  2. Luxetveritas

    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.

    • 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?


      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,


      • Luxetveritas

        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.

  3. 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

      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.

      • 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

    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

    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!

  6. RD

    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.

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