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The Chronological Relationship between Daniel 1 and 2

June 10, 2012


For centuries, the book of Daniel has been a storm centre for biblical scholarship.  The wind and waves of criticism have primarily swirled and blown around the historicity of the book itself.[1]  Everything from the dating of Daniel to the historical figure of Daniel has been the subject of intense debate between liberal and conservative Christians.  Among the many apparent historical inconsistences noted by biblical critics is that of the chronological relationship between Daniel 1 and 2.  The following essay will provide a description of the problem, evaluate the various explanations that have been proposed to solve the problem, and conclude with a solution that best fits the evidence.

The Problem

Daniel begins his book with a historical reference to “the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah” (1:1),[2] which is generally considered to be the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (605 B.C.E.).  However, careful readers are immediately presented with an apparent historical contradiction.  Jeremiah, who scholars consider to be a far more reliable historical source, states that the first year of Nebuchadnezzar was the fourth year of Jehoiakim, not the third (25:1).  But this discrepancy is easily explained by the differences between the Babylonian and Palestinian methods of dating, the former being based on accession year reckoning.[3]  So far, so good.  The following chapter of Daniel begins with another historical reference, this time to “the second year of the reign Nebuchadnezzar” (2:1).  There is no problem with this historical marker, except as it relates to the three years of education that the young exiles had to complete (1:5, 18).  The dating of chapters 1 and 2 do not seem to allow for three years between the first and second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.  How then, do we explain this chronological conundrum?


Critical scholarship has responded to this problem by dismissing the dating of chapter 2 as being fictional or unimportant.  Louis Hartman simply states that it has “no historical value.”[4]  Along with other recent commentators, John Collins concludes that Daniel 2 was not originally written to fit the context provided in Daniel 1.[5]  Following Collins, Daniel Smith-Christopher argues that the editor who compiled the stories of chapters 1-6 chose to “leave some of the enigmatic chronological notes alone, rather than straighten them out.”[6]  Robert Anderson waves his hands in the air, saying that the date “is not capable of reconciliation with the historical superscription to the book.”[7]  But to say that the dates are too hard to reconcile or that they are non-historical is an inadequate explanation.  Without wading into the debates on the composition and authorship of Daniel, it would be ignorant to say that the editor or compiler simply did not notice the discrepancy.[8]  The chronological markers seemed to be strategically placed throughout the book.[9]  If they were merely fictional and only added later during the compiling process, one would expect there to have been an even greater attempt on the part of the editor to make sure that they did line up.  It would be far more reasonable to say that they must have somehow made sense to the original audience.  The apparent contradiction should thus be explicable within its ancient context.  This brings us to the various historical explanations.


Perhaps one of the earliest attempts to synchronise the chronology of Daniel 1 and 2 was by Josephus.  In Antiquities of the Jews, he interpreted the “second year” in 2:1 as the second year after Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Egypt.[10]  Following in his footsteps, Jerome commented that the second year refers to Nebuchadnezzar’s “reign over all the barbarian nations” including Assyria, Egypt, and Moab.[11]  This interpretation, however, hasn’t found support with any modern historians.[12]  Calvin attempted to reconcile the dates by arguing that Nebuchadnezzar conjointly reigned with his father Nebopolasser at the time of Daniel’s deportation.[13]  While there is some evidence for this, the fact remains that Nebuchadnezzar ascended the throne in the same year (605 B.C.E.) following his father’s death.[14]  Judah Slotki points out that “Jewish commentators argue that this date refers to the time from the destruction of the Temple in 587 B.C.E. and not from Nebuchadnezzar’s accession”.[15]  This creative explanation seems to ignore the fact that 2:1 specifically refers to the second year of his reign as king.[16]  Some have suggested that the original date was the twelfth year, not the second.  Although this theory was first advanced without a shred of evidence, support has been found in MS 967, an Old Greek translation of Daniel from the third century.  However, because this is the only manuscript with this date, it is best explained as a scribal gloss rather than the original reading.[17]

The discovery of accession year reckoning has made most of these explanations redundant.  As we saw earlier, the chronological discrepancy in Daniel 1:1 that mystified commentators for centuries makes perfect sense when viewed through the lens of this ancient dating system.  Samuel Driver was one of the first commentators to use this method as a way of explaining how the three years of education could have taken place between the first and second year of Nebuchadnezzar.[18]  The year in which Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem (605 B.C.E.) is counted as his accession year, not his first.  Therefore, by modern reckoning the second year of his reign (2:1) is really his third.  Stephen Miller provides the following diagram to demonstrate how this works:[19]

Years of Training

Year of King’s Reign


First Accession Year From Sept 605 (the time Nebuchadnezzar assumed the throne) to Nisan   (Mar–Apr) 604 B.C.E
Second First Year Nisan 604-603 B.C.E.
Third Second Year Nisan 603-602 B.C.E


But this raises an important question, had Daniel completed his three years of education before, during, or after the events described in chapter 2? 

Throughout the centuries, most readers have naturally understood the events of chapters 1 and 2 as being chronological.  There must therefore be an explanation that allows enough room for a period of time between the graduation of Daniel and his three friends (1:18-20) and the recognition of Daniel’s God-given wisdom following his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (2:46-49).    Based on this assumption, many have suggested that the period of education may not have been three complete years, since Hebrews often reckoned part of a year as a whole.[20]  Zdravko Stefanovic points out that “the inclusive way of reckoning time was widespread in the ancient world… thus… the three years of training of Daniel and his companions lasted less than two full calendar years”.[21]  This explanation has been favoured by most conservative commentators.[22]

However, the assumption that the chapters are chronological is open to question.  First, it is important to note that the book of Daniel is not primarily arranged chronologically, but symmetrically.[23]  While chapters 8-12 are arranged according to their order of events, chapters 2-7 are arranged according their theme.[24]  Chapter 1 seems to have been written as a general introduction to and overview of the whole book, providing the necessary details as to how and why Daniel and his friends were in the Babylonian court.  Verses 17 and 21 in particular appear to serve as a summary of the rest of the book.  Having provided the context, the remaining chapters should be seen as being an elaboration of how Daniel and his three friends demonstrated their God-given “knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom” (v. 17).[25]

Second, the fact that the three years of education are referred to as a definite period of time would suggest that they were full years.  Leon Wood draws attention to a parallel period of training in Persian culture that covered three full years.[26] If the Babylonian education system was the same or similar, the three years of training would take us beyond the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and into his third.  This would significantly tip the balances in favour of the events of chapter 2 taking place within the three years.

Third, even a cursory reading of chapter 2 suggests that Daniel had not yet completed his training.[27]  He was not summoned by Nebuchadnezzar when the other wise men were (2:2), and he wasn’t even aware of the situation (2:15).  He also appears to disassociate himself from the other wise men.[28]  This would seem strange if Daniel had already “entered the king’s personal service” (1:19).  Later, when he is presented before Nebuchadnezzar, he is introduced as though he were not previously known (2:25).  Either the king had short-term memory loss, having recently praised Daniel and his three friends (1:18-20), or this was in fact their first encounter.  It is thus entirely possible that the events of Daniel 2 took place after the story in 1:8-17, but before the end of the three-year period.  Chapter 2 could therefore be seen as a flashback.[29]

A couple of objections have been raised against this explanation.  Since Daniel was immediately promoted to the position of chief wise man after interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (2:48), he must have already completed his training and been considered part of the group of wise men.[30]  One possible answer to this is offered by John Goldingay who suggests that 1:18-20 and 2:45-49 may refer to the same event.[31]  This is a possibility, though not without some difficulties.[32]  Another objection is that Daniel and his three friends must have already been given their position as wise men before Nebuchadnezzar had his dream because they were included in the order that all the wise men be killed (2:13).  Wood responds to this by arguing that because they were being educated for this specific type of work, “they were included in the blanket order”.[33]


Throughout this essay, we’ve evaluated many of the creative and not-so creative explanations that have been offered to try and make sense of the chronology between Daniel 1 and 2.  Dismissing the dates as being unimportant was shown to be unacceptable.  The discovery of accession year reckoning for the dating of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and inclusive reckoning for the three years of education has provided satisfactory answers for many.  However, the assumption that chapters 1 and 2 are chronological has been shown to be questionable.  Three lines of evidence have been explored which seem to suggest otherwise.  Although it is not without some weaknesses, the wind of evidence has blown us in the direction of understanding the events of chapter 2 as having taken place during (or at the conclusion of) the three years of education, not after.

[1] For a liberal assessment of the historicity of Daniel, see John J. Collins, A Commentary on Daniel (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1993), 29-33; for a more conservative view, see Joyce B. Baldwin, Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1978), 19-29; and for a more popular presentation of the issues, see Josh McDowell, Daniel in the Critics’ Den (San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ International, 1979).

[2] All Scripture quotations are from the NASB.

[3] Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983), 183; see also see Francis D. Nichol, ed. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 4. (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1977), 747-748.

[4] Louis F. Hartman and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Book of Daniel: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978), 143. In fact, he considers all of the dates artifical (138).

[5] John J. Collins, A Commentary on Daniel (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1993), 155.

[6] Daniel L. Smith-Christopher The Book of Daniel: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7, edited by Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996), 49.

[7] Robert A. Anderson, Daniel: Signs and Wonders (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 11.

[8] Such as Collins, 155.

[9] J. Paul Tanner, “The Literary Structure of the Book of Daniel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 160, no. 639 (2003), 278.

[10] Flavius Josephus, Josephus Complete Works, translated by William Whiston (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1960), 223.

[11] Jay Braverman, Jerome’s Commenary on Daniel (Washington, DC: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1978), 72.

[12] Collins, 154.

[13] John Calvin, Daniel, translated by T. H. L. Parker (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 46.

[14] For a helpful description of the historical situation, see Nichol, 756.

[15] Judah J. Slotki, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah: Hebrew Text and English Translation (London: Soncino, 1951), 7.

[16] The same phrase, used of Jehoiakim in 1:1, can only refer to kingly reign.

[17] Ernest Lucas, Daniel (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2002), 62.

[18] Samuel R. Driver, The Book of Daniel (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1922), 17; followed by Edward J. Young, A Commentary on Daniel (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1948), 55; Desmond Ford, Daniel (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1978), 89; Lucas, 62.

[19] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 76,

[20] Young, 55; Nichol, 762; Baldwin, 85. Cf. 2 Kings 18:9, 10; Matt. 12:40.

[21] Zdravko Stefanovic, Daniel: Wisdom to the Wise (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2007), 82.

[22] Such as those referred to in the footnotes above.

[23] Baldwin, 59-60.

[24] Chapter 6 takes place in the time of Darius, while chapter 7 relates to the earlier time of Belshazzar’s kingdom.

[25] Another example of a broad overview followed by a more detailed account can be seen in the comparison between the creation accounts in Gen. 1-2.

[26] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1973), 49; cf. Collins, 140.

[27] Mark K. Mercer, “Daniel 1:1 and Jehoiakim’s Three Years of Servitude,” AUSS 27, no. 3 (1989), 187-188.

[28] Ibid, 50.

[29] Danna Nolan Fewell, Circle of Sovereignty: A Story of Stories in Daniel 1-6 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1988), 49.

[30] Miller, 76.

[31] John Goldingay, Daniel: Word Biblical Commentary 30 (Dallas, TX: Word, 1989), 45.

[32] Such as the different language that is used to describe the two events. Also the fact that only Daniel is recognised for his God-given wisdom in chapter 2, while both Daniel and his friends are recognised for their skill and wisdom in chapter 1.

[33] Wood, 49.


From → Academic Papers

One Comment
  1. Excellent, pithy but careful analysis – thanks you.

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