Is there any historical evidence from the Babylonian or Persian side corroborating the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found in Daniel chapters 1-3? What is the general state of records of events from that time area? What sources are available to research the validity of the Biblical account?

Such public miracle would likely have been documented by multiple sources. Are there surviving sources other than the Old Testament Scriptures? Are there validated reasons to take this particular Biblical account as accurate history? A modern day skeptic like me would say that the Jews could have just made the story up.

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  • Yes history site is a good place to ask then. If you can migrate it then please. I asked the same question in sceptic stack exchange and they delete it because it's religious. It's hard to get the truth nowadays. You get bumped out everywhere. But thanks. – Jim Thio Oct 31 '11 at 8:39
  • I can migrate. The problem you're going to run into is that you picked a really obscure example. Christianity has plenty of much better documented miracles. The one you pick comes from an empire and age of history that doesn't have a lot of documentation about big events like wars, much less the smaller event here. As Christians sometimes we just have to trust the sources we have based on their accuracy on the ones we can reasonably verify. – Caleb Oct 31 '11 at 8:51
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    I've removed the ranting from the question pre-migration to History.SE. Please don't use questions as a soap box, only to give background for clear concise questions. – Caleb Oct 31 '11 at 9:10
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Maybe, maybe not.

The trouble is, the cuneiform tablet with the evidence hasn't been translated yet. Let me explain by way of an example:-

On the 5th July 2007 I expect Dr Michael Jursa jumped a bit for joy in London on completing his translation of what is now known as the "Nebo-Sarsekim Tablet". This tablet confirms a name found in Jeremiah 39 verse 3. The King James Bible translators had not been sure how to separate the various names in the list of names, so the King James Version is wrong "Samgar-nebo, Sarsechim, Rabsaris..." because of Dr Jursa’s translation we now know it should read "Samgar, Nebo-sarsechim, the Chief Eunuch.." (because "Nebo" belongs to sarsechim and it is also now known that “Rabsaris” is not someone’s name but means “Chief Eunuch” in Assyrian).

So in what month had the Nebo-Sarsekim Tablet been retrieved from an archaeological site? Early 2007 maybe?? Not so. It was first found in the 1870s.

The point is there are thousands and thousands and yet more thousands of cuneiform tablets not on display but stored away in museums all over the world, waiting to be translated. The problem is the world doesn’t have enough cuneiform translators. Though it is true we don't yet have evidence external to the Bible corroborating the story of the three men in the fiery furnace, it is kind of misleading to simply assert "there is no extra-Biblical evidence". We are not likely to have it, because the potential evidence has not yet been translated: we haven't yet had a chance to translate the vast majority of the material from which such evidence is likely to arise.

Though we don't yet have specific corroborating evidence, there is a fascinating aspect of the events in the book of Daniel. I guess we all know that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace during the rule of the Babylonians and, later, Daniel was thrown into a “lion’s den” during the rule of the Persians. But please note that if it had been the other way round then we would be justified in having serious doubts as to the authenticity of the whole book: if the book of Daniel claimed that the three men were thrown to the lions under Babylonian rule, and Daniel had been thrown into a fiery furnace under the Persian rule then we would have good reason to doubt the author was familiar with the Persian Empire or Persian sensitivities.

This is because the Persians were heavily influenced by Zoroastrianism. Cyrus the Great was himself a Zoroastrian. And Zoroastrians (both now as also then) have a special regard for fire. For them fire is pure and clean. They have Fire Temples where they perform ceremonies. It isn’t so much that the fire is used in worship, as that the fire itself is reverenced for its purity. For instance, Zoroastrian priests wear face masks to cover their mouths when performing their rituals in front of the fire to make sure that they don't inadvertently spit or otherwise contaminate the purity of the fire. Much less would they think to throw a person or people into any fire, it would be sacrilege.

When we come across more and more of this kind of circumstantial evidence it has, or at least it ought to have, a cumulative effective upon us.

Why did the Babylonians have hot fires anyway? It’s been suggested: to produce the finish on the brickwork for their wonderful constructions such as the Ishtar Gate, with its glazed brickwork.

And why did they have a “lion’s den”? It wasn’t a place where lion’s chose to live; it was a place where lions which had been captured (or purchased from abroad) were kept alive until such a time as the King was ready to have a lion hunt. At the time of the lion hunt the King and his friends and bodyguard would be ready on horseback in some deserted place, the lion would be released, and then the lion would be hunted down and killed. You can see huge frescos of a lion hunt on the walls of the British Museum, London, from the time of the Assyrian Empire. The Babylonians adopted the same entertainment. In these hunts the King would be the one to finish off the lion, demonstrating his prowess, bravery, power, and his willingness to be the Protector of his subject peoples.

There is another possiblilty for the existence of the lion's den:-

The religious teacher Zoroaster was teaching well before Daniel. But Zoroastrianism is not today a truly major religion. How does it not have many more followers today than it does? It is supposed that one of the reasons that Zoroastrianism is not more popular is because of the way they dispose of their dead. Zoroastrians do not bury their dead because that would be to defile the purity of the earth, nor do they cremate their dead... that would be to defile the purity of the fire.

How then do Zorostrians dispose of dead bodies, both then and today? They give the body to wild animals to eat. This might be a reflection of the part of the world where it probably originated, eastern Persian/Iran, maybe Afghanistan. In the Himalayas even today the ground is too icy hard for much of the year to bury the dead. The body of a loved one is given (for a price) to a man who takes it up the mountain to be given, out of sight, to the wild animals. When the Persian and Median rulers came to Babylon, I'm speculating, they brought lions with them for their form of "burial". I suppose it would have been especially wanted for their royalty and elite: to "bury" their dead in this gruesome way privately away from the inquisitive eyes of the general masses of the people (and especially because many of these would not be Zoroastrian and thus would be even more inquisitive). The foreign Median and Persian rulers would want to minimise the possibility of the death of a ruler to become the cause of riotous celebration amongst the populace.

In short, Daniel was taken to the place where the dead of the Persian and Median ruling elite were disposed of.

It is noteworthy that when King Darius came to the den early in the morning he did not call for a light and look down into the den to see if Daniel was OK... he called out to Daniel (Daniel 6:19,20). The hint of Daniel 6 verse 19,20 is that there were no windows for simply looking in, the lions were not in cages to be seen and admired. They were out of sight. Is that not precisely what everybody would want if the lions had the gruesome task of eating deceased loved ones? If the lions performed the tasking of eating loved ones, then you really would not want either yourself or anyone else to even have the option to be looking on.

Whether this speculation is true or not, at least the book of Daniel doesn't make a major blunder and have Daniel being thrown into a fiery furnace during the Persian Empire. Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian ordered the three men into the fire: he wasn't Zoroastrian.

Finally, there is a photo of archaeologist of Dr Clifford Wilson standing in a small room with high walls and no ceiling/roof, (and no door or windows(?), difficult to be sure from photo), essentially a pit, at the ruins of Babylon: he estimated that the surrounding walls were about 5 meters high. He suggests it is a lion's "den", a place to keep lions. The photo is on page 125 of "The Stones Still Shout" by Drs Clifford and Barbara Wilson, Pacific International University, 1999, currently for sale on amazon.com, and good value!

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    The first part of your answer seems rather misleading. You say "Corroborating evidence for this story has indeed been found" but then subsequently contradict yourself when you acknowledge "Though we don't yet have specific corroborating evidence ...". – sempaiscuba Oct 10 at 9:57
  • @sempaiscuba Thanks. But that is my whole point: "No" is every bit as misleading as my introduction. If someone says "No", no one seems to complain, if I say "it has been found, it just hasn't been translated yet".... ok, its a bit more misleading, but just a bit of revenge for the same error from the "opposition". – Andrew Shanks Oct 10 at 10:09
  • @sempaiscuba Besides that, read on and there is a circumstantial evidence. – Andrew Shanks Oct 10 at 10:16
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    Actually, "No" is not misleading at all in this context. The question is "do we have any corroborating evidence", and the answer - as you acknowledge - is no. – sempaiscuba Oct 10 at 10:17
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    I did read on. "A pit at the ruins at Babylon", interpreted as a "lion's den"? Well, perhaps, but probably only if you are a "young-earth creationist archaeologist". Most of us will simply say it is a pit. – sempaiscuba Oct 10 at 10:20

Barring some archaeological find in the future, the answer is:

No.

On skeptics.SE, there is a question about the Biblical figures who are also historical and there's a fairly long list of people who verifiably existed. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego don't make that list. On the other hand, you might need to readjust your historical lens. If the events did take place, they were under the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled from c. 605 BCE to c. 562 BCE. Records at that time were primarily kept on clay tablets. We do have some stone stela and clay cylinders, but these more appropriately document the great events in the reigns of kings as they require a good deal of effort to produce. Other records written on leather, papyrus, or wax, would not have survived.

Clay tablets were easy to use and if we are to have any records of these minor Jewish nobles, we would hope to find their names on some tablet. However some hurdles the records would have to overcome include:

  1. Someone would have to find the men or the events surrounding their lives interesting enough to record. That's not as likely as the question seems to imply. For one thing, the story makes the king look inept. If King Nebuchadnezzar was willing to condemn people to death for failing to worship his image, how much more would he punish someone for writing about a time he couldn't carry out a death sentence? Even events that effected far more people, such as the Great Fire of Rome hundreds of years later, have relatively few sources in the historical record. Modern people have a completely incorrect sense of what sort of information ought to be available about the ancient past.

  2. Someone would have purposely preserved the record. Tablets were routinely soaked in water and reused unless the tablet was fired in a kiln. (Occasional tablets were fired accidentally when the building they were stored in was burned down.) Once again, there's no particular reason to suppose that would have been done.

  3. The record would have survived intact until found by an archaeologist who could read it. Tablets face(d) many dangers and are prone to breakage.

  4. An expert would have to read and recognize the names on the tablet. The Royal Library of Ashurbanipal contains over 30,000 fragments of tablets, including copies of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which sat unremarked in the British Museum for years. Maybe we'll find the three men's names in the future when all the fragments are digitalized, but I'm not holding my breath.


It seems to me that whether or not you trust the stories in the Bible depends far more on you presuppositions than on the evidence itself. Take for instance the debate between Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace on the trustworthiness of the New Testament. It turns out they more or less agree on the technical questions in the field of textual criticism. But they are on opposite edges of the spectrum about what conclusions we ought to draw from the evidence. In truth, the question comes down to a subjective judgement.

  • very good answer +1. I don't know what to believe and I do not like use presuppositions. – user4951 Mar 1 '12 at 4:03

Backing up Jon's answer a bit here...

The surrounding events place Daniel's life at around the seventh and sixth century BC. Daniel however is a rather unique book in the Hebrew scriptures, in that it was actually not written in Hebrew. Instead, it appears to be a work of Aramaic.

Why the difference? Well the most logical reason would be that it was written much later than the rest of the Old Testament. At around about the third century BC, Hebrew had become a "Dead language" (much like we use Latin today), and the common folk wrote and spoke Aramaic.

In fact, there are now several theories among scholars about when Daniel was written, but all agree that it was probably written in the fourth to second centuries BC (the vast majority the second).

The most widely accepted theory seems to be the following:

The stories of chapters 1-6 are considered to be a literary genre of legends that are older than the visions of chapters 7-12. The visions in the latter half of Daniel are theorized to be written by an anonymous author in the Maccabean era, who assembled the legends with the visions as one book, in the 2nd century BCE.

What this means is that nothing in the first half of Daniel can really be taken as a literal "history", as it was at best an oral tradition for 400 years before being written down.

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    Two small corrections: 1) half of Daniel (chapters 2-7) is Aramaic and the rest in Hebrew, and 2) Hebrew probably was spoken through the Roman occupation of Judea. There is considerable uncertainty in the dating of the Book of Daniel. But there's doubt in my mind that this story was, well, a story told orally for some time before being recorded. – Jon Ericson May 11 '12 at 23:36
  • @T.E.D - "was at best an oral tradition for 400 years before being written down" - no basis for such a claim. As in the case of most of the biblical books, it's probable that the material that makes up Daniel was committed to writing at the time of the events, and simply included as part of a complete 'book' by some writer/editor at a later time. – user2590 Aug 21 '13 at 2:59

According to Professor William Shea, a startling find from Babylon may record the actual names of Daniel's three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

THE BIBLE states in Daniel chapter 1:6-7: "Now from among those of the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-Nego."

A five sided clay prism found in Babylon and now housed in the Istanbul museum gives a list of men and their titles. Three men listed on the prism have pronunciations which are very similar to the names of Daniel's three friends. Whether or not they are the actual men mentioned in the Bible is uncertain.
Found on the list is the name Ardi-Nabu, Official of the royal prince. This name is the equivalent to the Aramaic name Abednego and may in fact be the first mention of one of Daniel's friends outside of the bible. Another name found on the list is Hanunu, Commander of the king's merchants. The name Hanunu may be the Babylonian equivalent for the Hebrew name Hananiah. Another name found on the list is Meshallim -Marduk, who was an official to Nebuchadnezzar. Marduk was the name of a Babylonian god. If Marduk is left out of the name we wind up with Meshallim which may refer to Mishael. Notice that each of these men held an administrative position in Babylon.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Do you have a link to the Professor's work/paper? – CGCampbell Jul 31 at 13:58
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    William Shea does seem to have a real PhD in archeology. However, since he's part of a group that states "Our mission is to develop a scientifically credible view of earth history consistent with scripture, to conduct scientific research related to this goal and to promote our view through publication and education." there is a possibility of bias on his part. There's also a possibility that biblehistory.net may have over-interpreted him, given that the sources they cite are quite old. – John Dallman Jul 31 at 15:48

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