The Historical Daniel



Damien F. Mackey


With Daniel’s governorship of Babylon enduring for possibly about half a century, then it should not be so terribly difficult to find some traces of him in the Neo-Babylonian history.  





From the details given in the Book of Daniel it may be argued that Daniel’s floruit as the governor of Babylon extended from the early reign of Nebuchednezzar II until the early reign of Cyrus. In conventional terms, this would be, in round figures, from 600 BC to 540 BC – approximately 60 years. King “Nebuchednezzar”, in awe of Daniel’s wisdom after the Jewish sage had recalled and interpreted the king’s dream, had made Daniel the ruler of Babylon (Daniel 2:48): “Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men”. V. 21: “And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus”.

The last date that the Book of Daniel gives us for its hero is the third year of King Cyrus (10:1): “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision”.

Daniel may have died at about that stage, or he may simply have retired from official business. Whatever be the case, it should be possible to find in the Neo-Babylonian records a governor of Babylon of long duration, who had continued until the early reign of Cyrus.

Less optimistic about the possibility of finding any such sort of account of Daniel (Belteshazzar) in the historical records , however, is Robert D. Wilson (Studies in the Book of Daniel, Vol. 2)


Was Daniel An Historical Character?


There are those who doubt the historicity of Daniel upon the grounds that his name does not appear in the records of the period of the exile. One noted critic stated the case thus: “It is natural that we should turn to the monuments and inscriptions of the Babylonian, Persian, and Median Empires to see if any message can be found of so prominent a ruler, but hitherto neither his name has been discovered, nor the faintest trace of his existence.”

Dr. Wilson discusses this phase of the question thoroughly, looking at the various types of inscriptions that have come to us and showing that it is most unreasonable to base an argument upon the kind of data that we have, especially upon the lack of evidence. After setting forth the case in an impartial manner and discussing pro and con every possibility, Dr. Wilson draws this conclusion:

“Inasmuch, then, as these inscriptions mention no one filling any of the positions, or performing any of the functions or doing any of the deeds, which the book of Daniel ascribes to its hero Belteshazzar; how can anyone expect to find in them any mention of Daniel, in either its Hebrew or its Babylonian form? And is it fair, in view of what the monuments of all kinds make known to us, to use the fact that they do not mention Daniel at all as an argument against his existence? “What about the numerous governors, judges, generals, priests, wise men writers, sculptors, architects, and all kinds of famous men, who must have lived during that long period? Who planned and supervised the building of the magnificent canals, and walls, and palaces, and temples of Babylon? Who led the armies, and held in subjection and governed the provinces and adjudged cases in the high courts of justice, and sat in the king’s council? Who were the mothers and wives and queenly daughters of the monarchs who sat upon the thrones of those mighty empires? Had the kings no friends no favorites, no adulatory poets or historians, no servile prophets, no sycophantic priests, no obsequious courtiers, who were deemed worthy to have their names inscribed upon these memorials of royal pride and victory; that we should expect to find there the name of Daniel, a Hebrew captive, a citizen of an annihilated city, a member of a despised and conquered nation, a stranger living on the bounty of the king, an alien, a slave, whose very education was the gift of his master and his elevation dependent on his grace? Let him believe who can. As for me, were the documents multiplied tenfold, I would not expect to find in them any reference to this humble subject of imperious kings.”


[End of quotes]


Let us not give up so easily.


A Possible Candidate for Daniel


If my recent revision of Neo-Babylonian history is correct, then this should affect somewhat – but also assist, hopefully – the search for the historical Daniel. Given my argument that some of the Neo-Babylonian kings have been duplicated, and perhaps even triplicated:


Neo-Babylonian Dynasty Needs ‘Hem Taken Up’. Part One: Seven Kings Become Four

“This article will be an attempt to streamline the Neo-Babylonian (or Chaldean) Dynasty according to the author’s view that its present arrangement may contain duplications”.


Neo-Babylonian Dynasty Needs ‘Hem Taken Up’. Part Two: How the Kings Line Up


this series being supplemented by another article:


“Nebuchednezzar” of the Book of Daniel



then one might expect the potential 60 years of floruit for Daniel as governor of Babylon to be somewhat reducible.

Whilst there may not be any known governor of Babylon from the early reign of Nebuchednezzar II until the first few years of Cyrus – as I’d anticipate from the Book of Daniel that there should be – with my new identification of Nebuchednezzar II (and Daniel’s “Nebuchednezzar”) with King Nabonidus, then such an official comes right into view. He is Nabu-ahhe-bullit, who was governor of Babylon from at least Nabonidus’s 8th year until the 3rd year of Cyrus. Thus we read in the following article



From the contemporary cuneiform contract tablets, we know that Terike-sarrutsu was the governor (shakin mati) of Babylonia in Year 1 Nabunaid [Nabonidus] (555/4 BC).

Nabu-ahhe-bullit succeeded him as office holder by Year 8 Nabunaid (548/7 BC). This man remained in office down to Year 3 Cyrus but became a subordinate of the governor Gubaru, the appointee of Cyrus, when Babylon was captured by the army of Cyrus in 539 BC. He is not to be confused with Ugbaru.

[End of quote]


Rather than Daniel’s having at this stage become “a subordinate” of Gubaru’s, though, he may have departed (one way or another) from the political scene.

By now Daniel would have been in his 60’s or 70’s.

This is how I would tentatively reconstruct the chronology of his governorship:


Daniel, as Nabu-ahhe-bullit, had been appointed governor of Babylon close to the third year of Nebuchednezzar II (= Nabonidus), who reigned for 43 years. That is a service of four decades.

He continued on through the 2-3 years of Belshazzar, son of Nabonidus, envisaging himself in Susa (Daniel 8:1-2): “In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me. In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam …”.

He was still in Babylon in the 1st year of Cyrus, but then moved to Susa, Cyrus’s capital, and served the king until his 3rd year.


The Name


It is thought that the Babylonian name that “Nebuchednezzar” gave to Daniel, Belteshazzar, is not actually a Bel name, as definitely is Belshazzar (Bel-sarra-usur), “Baal protect the King”.

That Belteshazzar is more of a balatu (“life”) type of name. Correspondingly, we read at ( “Thus the name Belteshazzar seems to be connected in the writer’s mind with Bel [sic], the favourite deity of Nebuchadrezzar; but it can only mean Balatu-utsur , “his life protect,” which looks like a mutilation”.

That does not mean that the name given to Daniel would have lacked reference to a deity. For “Nebuchednezzar” specifically said (Daniel 4:8): “Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)”. From this it might be expected that Daniel was given the name of the god whose name was held likewise by the king (Nebuchednezzar/Nabonidus): namely, Nabu.

Appropriately, in the name of the long-lived governor of Babylon, Nabu-ahhe-bullit, we have both the Nabu element and the balatu -like element in bullit. This element, bullit, at least, is an appropriate one for the first part of the name, Belte-shazzar.

However, there is also the Nabu-ahhe-bullit like name, Nabubullitsu (e.g. in Sir W. Budge’s Babylonian Life and History, Index, p. 159), that comes yet closer to Belteshazzar, which is, after all, a foreign transliteration of an originally Babylonian name.


Finally, now with my revised Neo-Babylonian history, we have virtually a perfectly matching chronology for Daniel and his proposed alter ego, Nabu-ahhe-bullit.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s