Let us start by outlining three simple, basic observations:
- Secular historians place the first year of Darius in 423 BCE.
- Traditional Jewish reckoning places the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple in 68 CE, which does indeed differ mildly from the scholarly accepted date of 70 CE.
- From 423 BCE until 68 CE there are precisely 490 years (because there is no Year Zero).
Of course, one could object that, in theory, the 490 years are to be counted not from the first year of Darius (when Daniel's prophetic vision takes place, 9:1-2), but rather from the first year of Cyrus (9:24-27, compared to the last two verses from the Second Book of Chronicles, as well as the first, fourth, fifth, and sixth chapter of Ezra).
- However, it is well-known that Daniel conflates the two Babylonian kings, as is evident from the verses at the end of its fifth chapter, and the beginning of its sixth, wherein Darius is named, but Cyrus' deeds are described; specifically, his exact age at the conquest of Babylon from Belshazzar, and his administrative division of the Persian Empire into a certain number of satrapies. It is precisely this conflation between the two historical characters that allows us to transform the first year of one (539 BCE) into the first year of the other (423 BCE), which, in its turn, yields the aforementioned well-known date, marking the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple.
This is by no means the only such conflation:
Indeed, even from its first two verses (1:1-2), the book conflates the last two kings of Jerusalem, a father and a son, with (almost) identical names; the former reigned for eleven years (2 Kings 23:36), the latter for only three months (2 Kings 24:8), and it was at the end of these three months that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, invaded the land of Judah, taking him, along with many of his subjects, into Captivity (2 Kings 25); but Daniel reads three years, an obvious mixture of the lengths of their respective reigns.
Its various conflations seem to stem from or be related to the historical coincidence of the Second Jerusalem Temple having been defiled twice, by two pagan emperors (Antiochus Epiphanes and Vespasian), both of which were reckoned as ninth, both groups of nine emperors being immediately preceded by a man far greater than any of them, but not counted among them (Alexander of Macedon, in the case of the Seleucid Empire, and Gaius Julius Caesar, in the case of the Roman Empire); the tenth horn defeats other three, in what would henceforth be called the year of the four emperors, as detailed in its seventh chapter; Antiochus also appears to have been fourth in line to the throne.
The very last verse of its aforementioned ninth chapter seems to simultaneously point to both the three years of desolation mentioned in the First Book of the Maccabees, as well as the 70 CE fall of the Second Jerusalem Temple in the middle of the First Jewish-Roman War, raging from 66 to 73 CE.
Its eleventh chapter, in particular, is replete with conflations of both persons and events, specifically stemming from both Rome and Antioch lying north of Egypt:
Thus, the sixth verse seems to conflate two queens of the same name, namely Cleopatra Syra and Cleopatra Philopator. (Its thirtieth verse seems to strengthen this connection, by apparently alluding to the decisive naval battle marking the end of Egyptian self-rule).
The fortieth verse has also long puzzled scholars and sages alike, due to its being apparently out of place, since, on a surface level, many of the preceding verses read like a straightforward description of Antiochus' military campaign, culminating in the defilement of the Maccabean Temple; but then, all of a sudden, the similarities end abruptly, and a seemingly non-existent battle against Egypt is described; this, however, is perfectly understandable, considering that, even though the famous African empire did not fall prey to Antiochus, it did, nevertheless, fall eventually, and, when that happened, its conqueror was none other than precisely that only other superpower, except for the one governed by the aforementioned Epiphanes, to have ever defiled the Second Jerusalem Temple.