The book of Daniel is very accurate prophecy concerning history and the coming messiah, Jesus. As such, it is much attacked by critics. Daniel 1:1-2 say the following:
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.
The critic challenges this passage with the following:
- The tone of Daniel 1 is that of a fictional story.
- The proper spelling is Nebuchadrezzar, not Nebuchadnezzar, which is a later form of the name. This would indicate a later authorship of the book of Daniel.
- The third year of Jehoakim was 605 BC. But in that year, Nebuchadnezzar had not been crowned king yet. Instead, he was leading the battle of Carchemish against Egypt. He would not have been distracted in an attack on Jerusalem.
- Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem only twice, once in 597 BC and again in 586 BC.
- Thus Daniel missed the historical account, saying the siege of Jerusalem was in 605 when it actually was in 597.
In response to these attacks, we will demonstrate that these criticisms are false.
First, regarding the tone of the chapter, the literary scholars would disagree. (See here). We will accept the professional opinion of those qualified to make such judgements, namely those whose careers have been in evaluating fiction. According to Lewis and Ordway, the Bible accounts read like that of history, not fiction.
Second, regarding the distinction between Nebuchadrezzar and Nebuchadnezzar, we provide the following:
His name in Heb. (neḇūḵaḏre’ṣṣar) transliterates the Bab. Nabū-kudurri-uṣur, meaning perhaps ‘Nabû has protected the succession-rights’. The alternative Heb. rendering (nebūḵaḏne’ṣṣar; cf. Gk. Nabochodonosor) is a not improper form of the name.1
So the distinction in the names is apparently due to the “Babylonian form” of the names. This is no surprise, as all of Daniel and his three friends had their names changed, and the book of Daniel mentions both forms.
Third, regarding the sieges of Jerusalem, a simple view of a map shows that for Babylon to get to Egypt, they must go through Israel. The critic has no proof here except mere speculation that Nebuchadnezzar would not attack Jerusalem. A much more practical battle strategy, as done in numerous military campaigns throughout history, would be to subdue any significant city in your path, which would prevent an attack from a rear flank during a major battle. It would have been militarily foolish for Nebuchadnezzar to bypass Jerusalem on the way to Egypt.
The fact is that Babylon attacked Jerusalem three times, as supported by the following:
While in the field Nebuchadrezzar heard of his father’s death and rode across the desert to claim the Bab. throne, which he ascended on 6 September 605 bc.
In the following year, the first of his reign, Nebuchadrezzar received tribute in Syria from the kings of Damascus, Tyre and Sidon and others, including Jehoiakim, who was to remain his faithful vassal for only 3 years (2 Ki. 24:1; Je. 25:1).2
And more directly:
The Egyptians met him at Carchemish, where a furious battle was fought, resulting in the complete rout of the Egyptians, who were driven back (Jer. 46:2–12), and Syria and Phoenicia brought under the sway of Babylon (B.C. 606). From that time “the king of Egypt came not again any more out of his land” (2 Kings 24:7). Nebuchadnezzar also subdued the whole of Palestine, and took Jerusalem, carrying away captive a great multitude of the Jews, among whom were Daniel and his companions (Dan. 1:1, 2; Jer. 27:19; 40:1).
Three years after this, Jehoiakim, who had reigned in Jerusalem as a Babylonian vassal, rebelled against the oppressor, trusting to help from Egypt (2 Kings 24:1). This led Nebuchadnezzar to march an army again to the conquest of Jerusalem, which at once yielded to him (B.C. 598). A third time he came against it, and deposed Jehoiachin, whom he carried into Babylon, with a large portion of the population of the city, and the sacred vessels of the temple, placing Zedekiah on the throne of Judah in his stead. He also, heedless of the warnings of the prophet, entered into an alliance with Egypt, and rebelled against Babylon. This brought about the final siege of the city, which was at length taken and utterly destroyed (B.C. 586).3
The first deportation of the people of Jerusalem was in 605, the second was in 597, and the third was in 586, which was accompanied by the destruction of Jerusalem.4
So the critic is accurate in that in 605 Nebuchadnezzar was not yet king and was engaged in a battle with Egypt. However, it is a gross misrepresentation to leave it there, for the Babylonian army cut a swath through Palestine, then Nebuchadnezzar’s father died and he was suddenly called back to Babylon to be crowned king. Surely after he left the army, the soldiers settled business between Egypt and all other cities back to Babylon. So it is true that Nebuchadnezzar captured the whole of Palestine in 605 and was crowned king within days of the battle. So just as Daniel 1:1 says, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.
An important note about the phrasing of Daniel 1:2. As Thomas Howe puts it:
Notice that the text does not use the covenant name of God, Yahweh. Rather, Daniel uses the term ‘Adonai.’ It is not as the covenant God of Israel that God gives them into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand, but as the Lord and Master Who is in control and Who is rendering judgment upon the people and the land. Nebuchadnezzar does not take the land or the vessels of the temple. Rather, they are “given” (wayyitten) by the Lord into his hand.
Therefore even if Jerusalem was not a major target of Nebuchadnezzar in any of his campaigns, the one in control was God, who was judging Israel by sending Babylon in to destroy the idolatry that become rampant.
As a side note, God was judging Israel because they had adopted the pagan idol worship of the people of Canaan, including child sacrifice to Molech. If Israel had obeyed God years earlier by destroying Canaan, the subsequent death and judgment would not have happened. (see here)
In the end, the Bible is shown to be true. Our only question is why do we not trust it and submit to its guidance.
(Note: for the best examination of the dating of kings in the Old Testament, see Edwin R. Theile’s book The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (new revised ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1983))
1(D. J. Wiseman, “Nebuchadrezzar, Nebuchadnezzar,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 810.)
3(M. G. Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893)
4(Howe, Thomas A., Daniel: A Commentary, Analysis, and Critique of Preterist Interpretations of Daniel (Kindle ed., 2013)