Is There Any Archaeological Support for the Prophet Daniel?

Archaeology and science provides evidence for the existence of Belshazzar, the purpose of lions’ dens and the explanation for Nebuchadnezzar’s strange behavior.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, “Daniel in the Lions’ Den,” between 1907 and 1918
Henry Ossawa Tanner, “Daniel in the Lions’ Den,” between 1907 and 1918 (photo: Public Domain)

I shall examine some secular, non-biblical evidence that backs up the text of the book written by the prophet Daniel (6th-5th centuries BC). The Wikipedia article on Daniel bluntly states:

The consensus of most modern scholars is that Daniel is not a historical figure and that the book is a cryptic allusion to the reign of the 2nd century BCE Hellenistic king Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Well, a lot of skeptical scholars didn’t think King David existed, either, till in 1993 an artifact was found with the words “House of David” written on it.

 

Persian Kings Cyrus and Darius

The Wikipedia article “Cyrus Cylinder” states:

It dates from the 6th century BC. … The Cylinder’s text has traditionally been seen by biblical scholars as corroborative evidence of Cyrus’ policy of the repatriation of the Jewish people following their Babylonian captivity

By implication, this (at least indirectly) supports the historical accuracy of the book of Daniel (6:1-2, 28; 11:1), which portrays Daniel as a servant of King Darius I (“the Great”), who ruled over the Achaemenid Empire from 522 to 486 BC, and (seemingly) also of the prior King Cyrus the Great (r. 559-530). Daniel (6:25-26) presents King Darius as being tolerant of Judaism, just as Cyrus had been. Secular history broadly agrees with this picture. Flavius Josephus (c. 37-c. 100) the eminent Roman Jewish historian, in his Antiquities of the Jews (Book XI, chapters 1-4), verifies the biblical accounts of Cyrus and Darius regarding the Jews and specifically the rebuilding of their Temple.


Belshazzar

Belshazzar was a figure formerly found only in the Bible, and so scholars could and did question his historicity, since he couldn’t be documented anywhere else. He is mentioned eight times in Daniel (chapters 5, 7 and 8), and nowhere else in the Bible. But lo and behold, in 1854, four cuneiform cylinders with inscriptions from King Nabonidus of Babylonia (r. 556-539 BC) were found in Ur, in the foundation of a ziggurat. And they contained a mention of Belshazzar, who was Nabonidus’ eldest son.

Nabonidus isn’t even mentioned in the book of Daniel or anywhere in the Bible, as far as I can tell. Why would that be, seeing that he was the last king of Babylon before it was conquered by Cyrus the Great and the Persians? Instead, we have a chapter (5) devoted to Belshazzar, who is called “king of Babylon” (Daniel 7:1), “the Chaldean king” (5:30) and simply “king” (5:1, 5-10, 13; 8:1). Is this not a serious historical error? No, it’s not, once the full story is understood. It turns out that Nabonidus wasn’t even present in Babylon for nine or 10 years (552 to 543 or 542 BC), according to the Wikipedia article devoted to him. Thus, Belshazzar, ruling in his absence or stead, could sensibly be called “king” since he was the regent — the one in charge during the true king’s absence. And this is what the prophet Daniel called him.


King Nebuchadnezzar Eating Grass

Nebuchadnez’zar ... was driven from among men, and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws. (Daniel 4:33)

Oddly enough, doctors and psychiatrists have identified an odd malady called boanthropy that likely describes Nebuchadnez’zar’s bizarre condition. The website, Online Psychology Degree Guide has an article, “15 Scariest Mental Disorders of All Time.” It describes this disease as follows:

Those with Boanthropy are even found in fields with cows, walking on all fours and chewing grass as if they were a true member of the herd. Those with Boanthropy do not seem to realize what they’re doing when they act like a cow, leading researchers to believe that this odd mental disorder is brought on by dreams or even hypnotism.


Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and the Fiery Furnace

This famous story is found in Daniel 3:14-15, 21. James A. Montgomery, in his volume,  A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel stated on that the fiery furnace “must have been similar to our common lime-kiln, with a perpendicular shaft from the top and an opening at the bottom for extracting the fused lime …” and noted “the existence of similar ovens in Persia for the execution of criminals.”

Tawny L. Holm, in his article, “The fiery furnace in the book of Daniel and the ancient Near East” (J. of the American Oriental Society, Jan. 1, 2008) provided further examples of execution by burning in Mesopotamia and Egypt. These historically verified examples overcome the usual knee-jerk skeptical objection that such things “never happen” or happen so rarely as to cast doubt, prima facie, on the Daniel story.


Daniel in the Lion’s Den

Then the king commanded,” says Daniel 6:16, “and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions.”

The British Museum has an article entitled, “Lion hunting: the sport of kings.” It stated that the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC) was an avid hunter of lions, from his chariot. But this was not conventional hunting in the wild. It was “staged events within the game parks of the city ...  public spectacles, comparable to Roman arena games.” Lions, accordingly, were kept in cages in order for the king to engage in these “hunts.” The Joy of Museums website and its article, “Lion Hunting Scene – 750 BC” concurs with this description. The Persians also followed this practice (see the article “The Horse and the Lion in Achaemenid Persia: Representations of a Duality.”)

Daniel (in this scenario) was cast into a place of confined lions (“den”), which existed for the purpose of staged spectacle-hunting.

Francisco de Zurbarán, “The Family of the Virgin,” ca. 1650

Why Do We Ask Mary to Pray for Us?

“After her Son’s Ascension, Mary ‘aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers.’ In her association with the apostles and several women, ‘we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation.’” (CCC 965)