We know from archaeology that the story of Daniel in the lion’s den was a popular symbol of resurrection (and of Jesus) among early Christians. The story is told in the Old Testament book of Daniel, which we know was written (and translated into Greek) over a century before the time of Christ, and was very popular. As the story goes, when Daniel was entombed with the lions, and thus facing certain death, the Persion king Darius placed a “seal” on the stone “so that nothing might be changed in regard to Daniel” (Daniel 6:17).” The same thing is done in Matthew’s story of Jesus’ burial: the Jewish authorities place a “seal” on his tomb, and post a guard, so they could be sure his body stayed put—a whole incident that conspicuously doesn’t occur in any other Gospel, not even Matthew’s source, Mark, whose account (as also Luke’s and John’s) thoroughly contradicts Matthew’s additions in this regard (thus confirming they are fictional creations of Matthew…). The absence in every other Gospel, especially Matthew’s source Mark, of guards, seal, even prior awareness of a possible plan to steal the body, as well as an ensuing miraculous angelic act, is less likely on the theory that any of this actually happened, than on the theory that Matthew made it all up, intentionally embellishing the story he received from Mark.
In Matthew the placing of the seal (Matthew 27:66) is describe with the exact same verb used in the Greek edition of the Daniel story (sphragizô), which is in both stories a rather unusual detail. This evokes a meaningful parallel: Jesus, facing real death, and sealed in the den like Daniel, would, like Daniel, escape death by divine miracle, defying the seals of man. The parallels are too dense to be accidental: like the women who visit the tomb of Jesus at the break of dawn (Matthew 28:1), the king visits the tomb of Daniel at the break of dawn (Daniel 6:19); the escape of Jesus signified eternal life, and Daniel at the same dramatic moment wished the king eternal life (Daniel 6:21; cf. 6:26); in both stories, an angel performs the key miracle (Matthew 28:2, Daniel 6:22); and after this miracle in Matthew, the guards curiously become “like dead men” (Matthew 27:4) just as Daniel’s accusers are thrown to the lions and killed (Daniel 6:24). The very unusual choice of phrase “like dead men” in Matthew thus becomes explicable as an allusion to these victims in Daniel. The angel’s description is also a clue to the Danielic parallel: in the Septuagint version of Daniel 7:14, an angel is described as “and his garment white as snow”; in Matthew 28:3, the angel is described as “and his garment white as snow,” in the Greek every word identical but one (and that a cognate), and every word but one in the same order. Another angel in Daniel 10:6 is described as “his outward appearance as a vision of lightning” while the angel in Matthew is similarly described as “his appearance as lightning.” The imagery is thus a Danielic marker: Matthew is getting his ideas of what an angel looks like and how to describe one not from eyewitnesses but from Daniel, exactly where he’s getting the lion’s den story. (Matthew was fond of expanding on Mark by lifting ideas from Daniel, e.g., Matthew 17:6-8 takes material from Daniel 10:7-12 to expand on elements of Mark 9.)
Furthermore, Matthew alone among the Gospels ends his story with a particular commission from Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20) that matches many details of the ending of the Greek version of Daniel’s adventure in the den: Jesus says God’s power extends “in heaven and on earth,” to “go and make disciples of all nations” and teach them to observe the Lord’s commands, for Jesus is with them “always” even “unto the end.” And so King Darius, after the miraculous rescue of Daniel, sends forth a decree “to all nations” commanding reverence for the Jewish God, who lives and reigns “always” even “unto the end,” with power “in heaven and on earth” (Daniel 6:25-28). The latter phrase in Greek is even identical in both cases. Th stories thus have nearly identical endings. Indeed, the king’s decree in Daniel reads like a model for the very Gospel message itself (see Daniel 6:25-27). And the episodes are framed the same way: in both Matthew and the Greek text of Daniel the stories introduce their parellel structure with the same verb and object, “to seal” (sphragizô) the “stone” (lithon), and conclude it with the same teaching about the Lord reigning until the “end” (telos; sunteleia) of the “eons” (aiôn; aiônas).
Since the placing of a “seal” is essential to creating the Danielic parallel, Matthew has a motive for inventing the entire motif of the guards in order to create the pretext, not only for the sealing, but for the clue of “becoming like dead men” and the angelic “miracle,” all elements unique to the story. There are more telltale signs that this story is fabricated, and that Matthew fabricates other stories like this with some frequency, but what I’ve summarized here is enough for the present purpose…
Richard Carrier (2012. Proving History: Baye’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus, p. 199-201)