Last Updated 12/22/98
Outline of Daniel
Who was Daniel?
The author of Daniel
Daniel's Historical Problems
The Siege of Jerusalem
Darius the Mede
The Persian Kings
The Visions of Daniel
The First Vision - Nebuchadnezzar's Statue
The Second Vision - The Four Beasts
The Third Vision - The Ram and the Goat
The Fourth Vision - The Seventy Weeks
The Fifth Vision - The King of the North
The little book of Daniel has long been a popular text among futurists, who see in it a revelation of the end of time. Outside of the New Testament book of Revelation, no document has been subjected to more study, interpretation and speculation by those anxious to divine the course of the future. Its rich and sometimes obscure imagery and symbolism has proved a fruitful source for other apocalypts, and echoes of Daniel can be found in the so-called "little apocalypse" of Mark 13, and, of course, in the book of Revelation. Outside of the Bible, numerous references to Daniel can be found, in works as diverse as those of Josephus, the histories of the Maccabees and countless non-canonical Christian apocalypses.
But where did the book of Daniel actually come from? What can we say about its author and his purpose? Does Daniel really reveal the future, or, like all the other books in the apocalyptic genre, does he record the past?
Outline of Daniel
The book of Daniel purports to be written by one of the Jewish exiles, taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. There, with his companions, Daniel impressed the king of Babylon with his faithfulness and wisdom, and quickly rose to a position of some prominence in the Babylonian kingdom.
The book of Daniel can be divided into two parts. The first six chapters contain legendary stories about Daniel and his companions in Babylon, and later under the Persians. The remainder of the book details a series of visions that Daniel received. These visions relate to the end of time, as the author saw it, revealing the eventual triumph of God over the forces of Darkness, of good over evil.
Who was Daniel?
A legendary figure by the name of Daniel is mentioned in the Old Testament in Ezekiel 14:14,20 and 28:3. However, since the spelling of the name of this Daniel differs from that of the book of Daniel, and considering that this Daniel is mentioned in the company of such august figures as Job and Noah, most scholars suspect that Ezekiel was referring to a mythical Canaanite hero by the name of Danel, known to us through the Ras-Shamra texts found at Ugarit in Northern Syria.
Outside of of the book of Daniel itself, no other early references to a Daniel, a Jew in the Babylonian court, exist. An analysis of intertestamental Jewish literature will reveal that no references to the book of Daniel can be reliably dated prior to the Maccabean rebellion, a fact that significantly affects the debate surrounding the date of the Book..
The author of Daniel
Although the book itself claims to be the record of Daniel in Babylon, internal and external evidence reveals that it was written in Jerusalem about the year 164 BCE. Technically, the book belongs to the class of texts known as pseudepigraphia, since it is attributed to a legendary figure, while in reality it was written at a much later time by an unknown author. Other books in this genre include the book of 1 Enoch, the Assumption of Moses, and the Apocalypse of John, although the latter was written much closer to the time of its namesake.
A question naturally arises as to how many authors the book of Daniel actually had. (Since all manuscripts had to be written and copied by hand, it was not unusual for a book to undergo later expansion and editing, a process all but impossible in the age of the printing press.) Some scholars propose at least two authors, based on the fact that the book of Daniel was written in two original languages - Aramaic from 2:4b to 7:28, and Hebrew for the remainder. (The Septuagint, and consequently the Roman Catholic versions of Daniel include several sections not found in the Hebrew/Aramaic version. These sections were written in Greek, and consist of the legends of Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Azariah and the the Song of the Three Young Men. Since these sections are very obviously later additions to the text, they will not be considered here). Other scholars prefer one author, and state that this author included oral legends of the mythical Daniel into the first section of the book, and wrote the remainder himself. Since this is a complicated, and ultimately unanswerable question, this study will assume a single author. It should be borne in mind, however, that this might not be the case.
The book of Daniel encompasses many centuries of history in its pages. Occasionally, as we shall see, this history cannot be reconciled with the known facts, which provides a clue to the author's true time period. In order to set the scene, as it were, a quick overview of Middle Eastern history, as it affected the Jews, is necessary.
The story begins with the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. This story is recorded in II Kings 24, and II Chronicles 36 (as well as portions of the book of Jeremiah). Unfortunately, these two sections are not completely compatible, so a recourse to Babylonian history is necessary. Jerusalem was besieged in about 597 BCE. Following the siege, Nebuchadnezzar took the Jewish king Jehoiachin and his family to Babylon in fetters. In his place, he installed a puppet king, whom he named Zedekiah, to govern Judea. Zedekiah eventually rebelled, prompting Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the city and the Temple in 587 BCE, and deport a large section of the population.
While Babylon had control of Palestine, other forces were stirring in Asia Minor. Persia was, at that time, a vassal state of Media, under the Median kings Cyaxares and then Astyages. The Greek historian Herodotus records a (possibly apocraphyl) story of the birth of a prophesied child, named Cyrus, who lived among the Persians. Despite attempts by Astyages to have the infant executed, Cyrus survived and later led a revolt of the Persians against their Median overlords. In 550 BCE, Cyrus defeated Astyages, and seized control of the Median empire. Having gained control of Media, Cyrus set his sights on Babylon, and eventually took the capital city in 536 BCE. Cyrus then allowed the Jewish captives to return to their homeland and begin to rebuild the city, as recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The Persians dominated Asia and the Middle East for more than two centuries. During this time, the Persian religion had a profound effect on Judaism, and ultimately Christianity, introducing such concepts as Satan (called Ahriman in the Persian religion), and Heaven and Hell (the Jews up to this point had no discernible belief in an after-life).
Eventually, the last Persian king, Darius III, was conquered by the Greek, Alexander the Great, in 333 BCE. Alexander himself died about ten years after this point (some legends claim that he contracted Malaria). After his death, his newly-won empire was distributed among his four generals Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy and Seleucus. Of these, the latter two established dynasties, Ptolemey in Egypt, and Seleucus in Syria, which continually fought for control of Judea for the next several centuries. From the Seleucid line, there sprang a particularly reprehensible person by the name of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Antiochus instituted a policy of forced hellenization in Judea in about 170 BCE. He forbade the practice of Judaism, outlawed the reading of the Torah and the observance of the daily sacrifice and annual feasts, as well as the rite of circumcision, and finally desecrated the Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus in the holy place, and sacrificing a sow on the Jewish altar. (The deeds of Antiochus are recorded in the deuterocanonical books of I and II Maccabees.)
The atrocities of Antiochus led, inevitably, to a revolt. After the death of Antiochus in 163 BCE, the Jews revolted against the Greeks under the leadership of the Maccabees, who established the Hasmonean dynasty, and won autonomy for Judea from the Greeks. This autonomy ended with the coming of the Romans in 63 BCE, and was not re-established until 1948 CE.
Keeping the historical context of the Middle East in mind, we can approach the question of when the book of Daniel was written. The book itself claims to be the work of an exiled Jew in Babylon, during the period of about 586 to 536 BCE. As we shall see later, however, an analysis of the book turns up some interesting facts.
The first point to note is that there is no mention of the book of Daniel prior to the second century BCE. As Artur Weiser explains:
"The book of Daniel is first attested in late literature; it is not mentioned in the 'praise of our forefathers' in Ecclus. 44 ff., but first in the Sibylline Oracles III, 338 ff. (about the year 140 B.C.) and in I Macc, 2:59 f. (about 100 B.C.)." (Einleitung in Das Alte Testament, 1961, pg 315, translated by Dorothea M. Barton.) The date of the Sibylline Oracles III is not without controversy, however, as scholars have suspected a late anti-Hellenist revision of this particular section (see the introduction and notes in Charlesworth's Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol I). Thus, it can be said with some confidence that the earliest indisputable reference to the book of Daniel occurs in the book of I Maccabees (2:60), dated from internal evidence to approximately 100 BCE. The earliest known manuscript copy of a fragment of Daniel would probably be 4QDan from Qumran, also dated to approximately 125-100 BCE.
The second point is that Daniel's history of the Exile and the fall of Babylon is at odds with known historical facts. In addition, he appears to be confused about details of the reign of the Persian kings. In contrast to this, Daniel's record of the Greeks, and Antiochus in particular, is detailed and precisely accurate - up to a point. That point is 164 BCE. After this point, Daniel predicts further altercations between Antiochus and Ptolemey (the Egyptian king) which never took place. Common sense thus tells us that the book was written just before the death of Antiochus, during a severe persecution of the Jewish people.
And herein lies the purpose for the book of Daniel. Like his New Testament counterpart, the Revelation of John, Daniel was written to strengthen his people during a difficult time. Whereas John wrote to Christians under the persecution of Domitan, Daniel wrote to Jews under the persecution of Antiochus. By casting his history as a series of predictions, Daniel hoped to show that the present sufferings were indeed a part of God's plan for his people. If the author could successfully convince his readers that he was able to accurately foretell the future, he would further be able to convince them that his predictions of the death of Antiochus and the establishment of God's kingdom were predetermined and unavoidable.
How well Daniel succeeded in this endeavor is a matter of speculation. Although he influenced those of an apocalytpic bent (particulary the Essene community), his work was largely ignored by the mainstream Judaism of his time. It did eventually find a niche in the Jewish canon, but was placed in the section called the Writings. It was not accorded the status of a prophetic book.
Daniel's Historical Problems
The Siege of Jerusalem
Daniel 1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.
The book opens by claiming that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem in the third year of Jehoiakim, and carried the king into Babylon along with some of the temple treasures. In fact, the chronology of the Exile in II Kings 24 places the first siege in the first year of the reign of Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim's son, some eight years later than Daniel's chronology.
II Kings 24:8-13 Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months...At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged...And Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers: and the king of Babylon took him in the eighth year of his reign...And he carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the Lord...
The book of Jeremiah agrees with this date, but fails to mention any earlier siege during the reign of Jehoiakim.
Jeremiah 29:1-2 Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon; (After that Jeconiah [Jehoiachin] the king, and the queen, and the eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the carpenters, and the smiths, were departed from Jerusalem...)
In fact, in Jeremiah 36:9, we find Jehoiakim in Jerusalem in his fifth year, two years after the time that Daniel claims he was carried away to Babylon. The Babylonian records indicate that Nebuchadnezzar made Judah a vassal state in about 603 BCE, when Jehioakim was still king, but do not record a capture of Jerusalem at that time. At the time that Daniel claimed that Nebuchadnezzar was engaged in a siege against Jerusalem, the Babylonian records indicate that he was occupied with a war against Necho, king of Egypt (Jeremiah 46:2), and then returned home to Babylon to succeed his father as king.
How did Daniel arrive at the conclusion that the siege took place in the third year of Jehoiakim? One possibility is that he had before him two incompatible accounts of the Exile - II Kings 24 and II Chronicles 36. The latter passage claims that Jehoiakim was indeed carried away to Babylon, although this fact is not mentioned in any other Biblical account (in fact, it seems to contradict Jeremiah), nor does it square with the Babylonian account of the wars of Nebuchadnezzar. Being a true Bible believer, Daniel obviously decided that both accounts must be true, and combined them to create a third account, one which is incompatible with both Kings and Chronicles. Another possibility is that Daniel misread II Kings 24:1, and assumed that the three years of vassalage referred to the third year of Jehoiakim.
The word Chaldeans originally referred to a Babylonian tribe that overthrew the Assyrians in the seventh century BCE, and established the neo-Babylonian empire. At the time of the Exile and later, the word was synonymous with the Babylonians (5:30, 9:1). In time, however, the word Chaldeans also came to refer to the educated, priestly class in the Babylonian society, and it is this later usage that Daniel employs (see 2:2, 3:8, 4:7, 5:7).
Darius the Mede
Daniel records that the Babylonian Empire fell to a certain king by the name of Darius, a Mede. (5:31, 9:1). Neither the Babylonian nor the Persian histories record such a person. Herodotus, who wrote his history about 440 BCE, records that Babylon fell to the Persian army, under the control of King Cyrus. Darius the Mede is never mentioned. In fact, the Median kingdom was conquered and assimilated by Cyrus as early as 550 BCE, when he defeated Astyages, king of Media.
There is good evidence that the person that Daniel imagined to be Darius the Mede was in fact Darius I Hystaspes, the king of Persia from 521 to 485 BCE. The author of Daniel, writing in the second century BCE, confused this king with his own creation, Darius the Mede.
In Daniel 9:1, Darius is said to be the son of Ahasuerus, commonly acknowledged to be a variant spelling of Artaxerxes (Esther 1:1). The problem, of course, is that Artaxerxes was a persian. Artaxerxes was the father of a Persian king named Darius, but this was Darius II, who reigned from 425 to 405 BCE. Had Daniel been alive in the first year of this Darius, he would have been at least 160 years old, assuming that he was infant when he was carried to Babylon.
Darius Hystaspes was the father of a king called Xerxes, and this may be the person that Daniel confusedly imagined to be the father of Darius the Mede.
A further point of evidence that Darius the Mede was in fact Darius Hystaspes comes from Daniel 6:1. Here, Darius is said to have set up 120 "princes" (better translated as Satraps) over the kingdom. In fact, as Herodotus points out, it was Darius Hystaspes who instituted the satrapy system.
"This he [Darius Hystaspes] set up in Persia; and afterwards he proceeded to establish twenty governments of the kind which the Persians call satrapies, assigning to each its governor, and fixing the tribute which was to be paid him by the several nations." (Histories, Book III)
Recognizing the problem, several Bible scholars have tried to find solutions. The most popular states that Darius the Mede was Gubaru (or Gobyras), governor of Babylon during the reign of Cyrus. The problem with this approach (quite aside from the fact that there is no historical reason to make such a connection) is that Darius is often addressed as "king" (Daniel 6:6, note the royal appelation "live forever"), and was said to have enacted laws throughout the whole kingdom (Daniel 6:8-9). Neither can be said to be true of a mere governor. Further, Gobyras was a Babylonian, not a Mede.
The problem of Darius the Mede is bound up with the problem of the succession of the Persians over the Babylonians. As we shall see later, it appears that Daniel thought that the Median kingdom succeeded Babylon, and was in turn conquered by the Persians. Of course, this is not correct. Media had been conquered as early as 550 BCE by Cyrus, and never regained political power. The Persian kingdom was on occasion called the kingdom of the Medes and Persians (see Esther 1:19 and I Maccabees 1:1 for example), but this was no doubt due to the fact that Persia had at one time been a vassal state of Media.
The Persian Kings
In Daniel 11, the angel Gabriel informs the prophet that there will be four Persian kings before the coming of Alexander the Great.
Daniel 11:2-4 And now will I shew thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia. And a mighty king [Alexander] shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will. And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven. [Alexander's kingdom was divided among his four generals after his death.]
Since Daniel supposedly wrote during the reign of Cyrus (Daniel 10:1), this would then make him the first Persian king of Daniel 11:2. Cyrus defeated Babylon in 536 BCE. Alexander took the kingdom from the last Persian king in 333 BCE. This gives us 203 years for the Persian reign. Split among four kings, we get an average of about 51 years each, which is somewhat excessive.
The truth of the matter is that there were nine Persian kings from Cyrus to Alexander. They are:
Cyrus (549 - 529 BCE)
Cambyses (529 - 522 BCE)
Darius I (521 - 485 BCE)
Xerxes (485 - 465 BCE)
Artaxerxes I (465 - 425 BCE)
Darius II (425 - 405 BCE)
Artaxerxes II (404 - 358 BCE)
Artaxerxes III (358 - 338 BCE)
Darius III (338 - 330 BCE)
Daniel may have been misled by the fact that the Old Testament only mentions four of the nine Persian kings - Cyrus (Ezra 1:1), Darius I (Ezra 4:5), Xerxes I (Ahasuerus - Ezra 4:6) and Artaxerxes I (Ezra 4:7).
Daniel's Court Tales
As already mentioned, the first six chapters of the book contain stories regarding regarding Daniel and his friends in Babylon. Whether these stories were written by the later author himself, or whether they were obtained from an older source and collected into the later work is not possible to say. It does seem significant that these stories generally follow the same theme. Daniel and his friends were commanded or tempted to disobey some point of the Jewish Law. They refused, and as a reward, God spared them from harm.
In the first chapter of the book, we find that the four friends refuse the king's food, in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. So as not to risk defiling themselves, they instead consume only vegetables and water (1:12). At the end of this time, they are found to be wiser and stronger than their counterparts (1:15), and were promoted to the King's court (1:19).
The moral of this tale is clear - those who choose to obey God's laws in the face of adversity will be rewarded for their faith. The book of II Maccabees records several stories of pious Jews in the time of Antiochus who chose to die rather than defile themselves with unclean food. (See II Maccabees 6:18-7:42).
The third chapter of the Book records another tale, this time involving only Daniel's three friends. Nebuchanezzar constructed a giant statue of Gold (3:1). He required that all his subjects worship the statue, on pain of death by fire (3:6). Naturally, Daniel's friends refused to pay homage to he image (3:12), and were thus cast into the flames (3:20). Instead of being consumed, however, the three friends were unharmed by the flames, due to the protection of an angel (3:25). Once more, the tale ends with the righteous Jews being promoted in the Babylonian Kingdom (3:30).
Again, the moral of the tale is clear. Both books of the Maccabees record that Antiochus tried to enforce the worship of the Greek god Zeus in Palestine (II Maccabees 6:1-2). Some Jews accepted the new regime, but others resisted, usually paying with their lives. Daniel here states that those who follow God in all things will eventually have their reward.
The sixth chapter of the Book records a very similar story, this time involving only Daniel. In this tale, King Darius enacted a law which forbade prayer to any deity but the king himself (6:7 - the kings of Babylon were usually regarded as semi-divine beings). Daniel, being a pious Jew, refused (6:10), and found himself cast into a den of lions (6:16), from which he was rescued by divine help (6:22). Again, the moral of the tale teaches that God will reward and succor those who follow his laws, even in the face of persecution, a situation that the Jews faced under the rule of Antiochus.
The Visions of Daniel
At its heart, the book of Daniel was intended to be a prophetic book. To this end, Daniel records five visions in which the course of the future is made progressively clearer. Daniel employs a few standard symbols in these visions. The wicked gentile nations are represented by chimerical beasts; kings are represented by heads or horns.
As will become clear, each of Daniel's visions have a common theme. They all lead up to a specific point - the kingdom of Greece, and Antiochus in particular.
The First Vision - Nebuchadnezzar's Statue
The first of Daniel's visions actually occurs in the first part of the book, as part of the legendary stories of Daniel and his friends. In the second chapter of the book, Daniel records that the king Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream, Unable to remember the dream the following day, the king summoned his astrologers and magicians, and commanded them to recall his dream, and give him the interpretation. Obviously, Nebuchadnezzar's astrologers were unable to comply. In a fit of rage, the king began executing all his wise men. Daniel and his friends also came under sentence of death. Daniel prayed to God for deliverance, and was rewarded with a vision (2:19) which revealed the king's dream.
Daniel then appeared before the king and told him his dream. This dream, and its interpretation, is the key to the whole prophetic scenario that is to follow.
Nebuchadnezzar's dream consisted of a large statue (2:31). The head was made of Gold, the chest and arms of silver, the stomach of bronze, and the legs of iron. The feet were composed of iron and clay (2:32-33). In his dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a "stone cut without hands" strike the statue and shatter it to pieces (2:34). The stone then became a huge mountain which filled the earth (2:35).
Daniel then gives his interpretation of the dream. The four sections of the statue represent four kingdoms which would last from the time of Nebuchadnezzar until the end of the ages. Daniel explains that Nebuchadnezzar (i.e. Babylon) is the first kingdom (2:37-38). The other three kingdoms are not identified by name. It is only by referring to the other visions of Daniel that we are able to determine who they are.
The identity of these three remaining kingdoms is a matter of no small debate. For reasons that will become clear when the visions are examined, the best interpretation is that the silver kingdom is Media, the bronze is Persia, and the iron is Greece. This interpretation is generally rejected by futurists, however. The reason is not hard to find. Daniel specifically predicted that the kingdom of Greece would be followed by the theocratic kingdom of God - Heaven come down to earth. Obviously, this did not happen. The implication then is that Daniel was not a true prophet of God, and the presence of this book in the Biblical canon becomes problematic.
In order to extend the reach of this, and the other visions, futurists insist that the second empire is the combined Medo-Persian empire, the third is Greece, and the fourth is Rome. The fourth empire will never really be conquered, but will be divided until the end of time, when a revived and reunited Roman empire challenges God for control of the Cosmos, and ushers in the final conflict.
There are several problems with this interpretation. First, as we shall see, Daniel refers indirectly to this dream during his interpretation of the other three visions. The remaining visions can definitely be shown to culminate in the Greek empire, and Antiochus specifically.
Second, Daniel states that the second empire would be inferior to the first (2:39). At its height, the Persian empire encompassed more than three times as much real estate as the Babylonian empire, and held power for more than two hundred years, almost a century longer than the Neo-Babylonian empire. It is difficult to see how Persia could be said to be "inferior" to Babylonia.
Finally, it can easily be shown that the futurist interpretation still makes Daniel out to be a false prophet, because it implies that Rome would be the final world empire to control the Middle East. The late Fundamentalist author, John. R. Rice, put the situation thusly:
"At last appeared the the Roman Empire...Then no other world empire followed, as the Scripture makes clear they will not follow. The papacy, Charlemagne, Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia, Hitler, Stalin, Mao of China, all have aspired the world empire as the communists do today, but they all failed and all must fail." (Our God-Breathed Book - The Bible, 1969, pg 305).
Unfortunately, whatever other strengths the redoubtable Dr. Rice may have possessed, history was not one of them. The Turkish Ottoman empire began a period of rapid expansion in the thirteenth century CE, and eventually controlled much of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Asia minor and parts of Northern Africa. The Ottomans held control of Palestine, and its capital Jerusalem for several centuries (prompting the Catholic Church to enter into a series of disastrous wars - the Crusades). At its height, the Ottoman Empire easily rivalled any of the ancient empires in wealth, size and influence. It seems strange that Daniel's prophetic vision would completely miss this extremely important era of history.
In order to strengthen their case, futurists will often point out that the statue had two iron legs, which, they contend, represent a division of the empire. Since Greece was divided four ways (11:4), a two-fold division would better fit the split of the Roman empire into the Eastern and Western factions. While this interpretation is compelling, it is important to note that Daniel himself never attached any significance to the two legs, and it seems rash to place words in the author's mouth. Instead, Daniel refers to the ten toes as representative of a division (note also that he does not attach any significance to the number ten - he may simply have intended it to mean "many"). Such a division of Rome cannot historically be located, but it does fit with the breakup of Alexander's kingdom into four, and then many warring factions. Further, Daniel states that these factions would "mix with each other" (2:43), a phrase understood by some translators to refer to marriage contracts (see the RSV for example). The eleventh chapter of Daniel does indeed record such marriage contracts between two of the warring dynasties, but these political marriages generally failed to achieve the desired effect, again as Daniel predicted in 2:43.
How then are we to understand Daniel's vision? We can easily locate Babylon as the first empire, and as we shall see in time, Greece was the fourth. Which empires constituted the second and third? We know that Persia could not be the second, since Persia was in no way "inferior" to Babylonia. Instead, the description of the third empire "which shall rule over all the earth" is a far better description of Persia. The identity of the second empire remains enigmatic. Since, as we have seen, Daniel thought that Babylon fell to the Medes (5:30-31), it seems that Media is a good candidate for the second empire. This interpretation seems to be strengthened by the fact that only four empires are mentioned by name throughout the book of Daniel. These are Babylon (1:1), Media and Persia (8:20) and Greece (8:21). As we shall see later, Rome (or, more precisely, one of the city-states that would later become part of the Roman empire) is mentioned in passing in chapter 11, but never identified by name.
On the other hand, a case could be made that Daniel thought that Media and Persia were allies, and ruled at the same time. In this case, the second empire might be that of Lydia, under Croesus, defeated by the Persians prior to taking Babylon.
In either case, Daniel's statement that Babylon was ruled by a Mede is incorrect. As already noted, the Medes lost political power to Cyrus in 550 BCE, and while the combined kingdom was still occasionally referred to as the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians (Cyrus himself was partly of Median descent, although his allegiance remained with the Persians), it was the Persians who exercised complete control (starting with Darius I, all the Persian kings were of pure Persian blood).
How did Daniel come to the conclusion that Babylon had fallen to the Medes? The answer is not hard to find. In chapter 9, Daniel relates that he was perusing the book of Jeremiah for clues to the future. As it happens, the prophet Jeremiah made a prediction that Babylon would be conquered by the Medes.
Jeremiah 51:11 Make bright the arrows; gather the shields: the Lord hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes: for his device is against Babylon, to destroy it; because it is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance of his temple.
When Jeremiah wrote this prophecy in about 609 BCE, Media was still a strong empire. He obviously did not know that one of Media's upstart vassals would rise up to overthrow their slave-masters, and take control of the empire. Daniel, however, could not conceive of the possibility that his beloved Jeremiah had uttered a false prophecy, and so decided that Babylon had in fact fallen to the Medes.
The Second Vision - The Four Beasts
The Beasts out of the Sea
Daniel's second vision is found in the seventh chapter of the book. In a dream, Daniel saw four beasts come up out of the sea (7:2-3). The first was a lion with eagle's wings (7:4), the second a bear with three ribs between its teeth (7:5), the third a leopard with four wings and heads (7:6), and the fourth a beast with ten horns (7:7). Out of these horns, Daniel saw a little horn emerge and uproot three of the ten (7:8).
Daniel was anxious to know what the vision meant, so he approached a person standing nearby (in his dream) and asked for an explanation (7:15-16). This person, presumably an angel, explained that the four beasts are four kings "which shall arise out of the earth" (7:17). This then ties this vision to the first, that of Nebuchadnezzar's statue. Evidently, these four beasts correspond to the four empires of Daniel's interpretation.
The first beast, the lion with eagle's wings, is then Babylon. Jeremiah likened Nebuchadnezzar to a lion in Jeremiah 4:7, Ezekiel used an eagle to symbolize Babylon in Ezekiel 17:3. The enigmatic reference to the beast being "lifted up, and made to stand like a man" (7:4) may be a reference to Nebuchadnezzar, whom Daniel portrayed as personifying Babylon (2:37-38).
The second beast is probably Media (or, possibly, Lydia). The symbolism of the three ribs has been a matter of much speculation, but the meaning remains obscure.
The third beast is Persia. The four wings and four heads may represent the four directions of expansion, or, more likely, they are a reference to the four Persian kings that Daniel mistakenly thought ruled Persia from Babylon to Greece (11:2).
The fourth beast is Greece, or, more specifically, the Seleucid empire that resulted from the breakup of Alexander's kingdom. The ten kings are somewhat obscure. They may represent the seven kings of the Seleucid dynasty (Seleucus I, Antiochus I, Antiochus II, Seleucus II, Seleucus III, Antiochus III and Seleucus IV) that led up to Antiochus IV, plus Alexander and two members of the Greek ruling class whom Antiochus overtook to become king (Demetrius and Heliodorus). The latter two, along with Seleucus IV, were involved in a conspiracy to control the Greek throne. This conspiracy was foiled by Antiochus, who then secured the throne for himself (11:21).
Once again, this interpretation is rejected by futurists, who see the fourth beast as Rome. In this, they follow the lead of the author of the New Testament book of Revelation (as well as Mark and Josephus), who borrowed Daniel's imagery from this vision and applied it to Rome (Revelation 13:1-2, Mark 13:14). Since there was no time in the history of Rome that could be applied to the "ten horns", futurists see in this a prophecy of the end-times, when the Antichrist will arise out of a ten-nation confederation, composed of nations from the former Roman empire. The "little horn" of Daniel's vision is then taken to be a reference to the Antichrist.
However, as we shall see, Daniel describes the "little horn" with terminology that he elsewhere applies to Antiochus. Daniel says that the "little horn" will speak "mighty things against the Most High" (7:25). This may be a reference to the surname that Antiochus chose for himself. "Epiphanes" in Greek means "God made manifest", a blasphemous name to a Jew. We meet this same phraseology in 11:36, where the reference is again to Antiochus. The deuterocanonical book of I Maccabees uses almost the same wording of Antiochus.
I Maccabees 1:24 And when he had taken all away, he went into his own land, having made a great massacre, and spoken very proudly.
Daniel says that the "little horn" will persecute the saints of the Most High (7:25). The entire first chapter of I Maccabees details the horrors that Antiochus visited upon the Jews. At one point, the author records that Antiochus had several woman executed, along with their infants, when he found out that they had allowed their children to be circumcised (I Maccabees 1:60-61). Antiochus is again charged with the murder of the Jews in 8:24 and 11:33.
Daniel goes on to say that the "little horn" would seek to "change times and law" (7:25). This is no doubt a reference to the fact that Antiochus commanded that the Jews were no longer to observe their regular sacrifices and feasts, and forbade the rite of circumcision and the reading of the Torah.
I Maccabees 1:44-57 For the king had sent letters by messengers unto Jerusalem and the cities of Juda that they should follow the strange laws of the land, And forbid burnt offerings, and sacrifice, and drink offerings, in the temple; and that they should profane the sabbaths and festival days...That they should also leave their children uncircumcised, and make their souls abominable with all manner of uncleanness and profanation...And whosoever was found with any the book of the testament, or if any committed to the law, the king's commandment was, that they should put him to death.
Evidently, Daniel regarded the abolition of the sacrifices as one of Antiochus' greatest crimes, because he refers again and again to this incident (8:11, 9:27, 11:31).
Daniel then says that the saints would be given into his (Antiochus') hand for "a time and times and half a time". This is evidently meant to refer to three and a half years, corresponding to the latter half of Daniel's seventieth "week" (9:27).
The Ancient of Days
This vision of the four beasts was followed by another - Daniel saw thrones put in place, and the "Ancient of Days" seated on this throne, like a king in his court (7:9-10). The fourth beast was then slain, and its body burned (7:11). The other beasts had their power taken away, but were allowed to live a short while longer (7:12).
The Ancient of Days is evidently God himself (Psalm 90:2). The terminology employed here in this passage is strikingly similar to another apocalyptic book, the book of Enoch.
Enoch 46:3-5 And there I saw One who had a head of days, And His head was white like wool, And with Him was another being whose countenance had the appearance of a man, And his face was full of graciousness, like one of the holy angels. And I asked the angel who went with me and showed me all the hidden things, concerning that Son of Man, who he was, and whence he was, and why he went with the Head of Days? And he answered and said unto me: This is the son of Man who hath righteousness, With whom dwelleth righteousness, And who revealeth all the treasures of that which is hidden, Because the Lord of Spirits hath chosen him, And whose lot hath the pre-eminence before the Lord of Spirits in uprightness for ever.
The dating of the book of Enoch is a little more problematic, but sometime in the second century BCE seems likely, about the same time that Daniel was writen. It is thus not possible to determine which book influenced the other, if any. It is also possible that both books draw on an older apocalyptic tradition, perhaps the Zoroastrian Zend-Avesta.
The king is seated on his throne in judgement. He determines that the fourth beast is to die. This is one more reference to the fact that Daniel expected God himself to pass judgement on Antiochus, and institute his own kingdom in the place of earthly government (2:34-35). The other three beasts were allowed to live a little longer, but their power was removed. This may refer to the fact that Babylonia, Media and Persia still existed when the Greeks held sway, but lacked any political power.
The Son of Man
Finally, in the third phase of the vision, Daniel saw one "like a son of man" brought before the Ancient of Days, and given an eternal kingdom (7:13-14). This section greatly influenced the author of the gospel of Mark, and we see allusions to this passage in the mouth of Jesus himself (Mark 13:26, 14:62).
Who is this person? The first point to note is that the verse actually lacks the definite article. It should read "one like a son of man" (as in the NIV and RSV). In other words, the phrase simply refers to a human, as the phrase "son of man" is used to indicate a human in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:1, for example). As the angel explains, this man represents the "saints of the Most High" (7:22, 7:27), in other words, the faithful Jews who refused Antiochus' hellenization policies. These saints would rule in the theocratic kingdom, which God himself would institute following the death of the fourth beast, Greece (7:27).
The Third Vision - The Ram and the Goat
Daniel's third vision is found in the eighth chapter of the book. It begins with a vision of a Ram with two horns - one larger than the other. The larger horn, says Daniel, "came up last" (8:3). The Ram pushed west, north and south (indicating that it came from the east), and could not be resisted (8:4).
Daniel then sees a male goat, with a conspicuous horn (8:5). The male goat moved with rage against the ram, and broke the two horns (8:6-7). The male goat then grew very large, but its large horn was broken, and four conspicuous horns came up in its place (8:8). From one of these horns sprang a "little horn", which grew towards the south, the east and the "glorious land" (Palestine).
In this vision, Daniel has removed much of the obscurity that was present in his previous visions. This time, the beasts are given the names of nations.
The horns on the Ram, the angel Gabriel explains, are the kings of Media and Persia (8:20). The larger horn, which came up later, obviously represents Persia. In this, Daniel is partly correct. The Persians did indeed rise up and overthrow their Median overlords, but his timing is off. Daniel thought that Media conquered Babylon (5:30-31), and was then overthrown by Persia. In fact, as we have seen, Media had been subjugated by Persia at least fourteen years before Cyrus captured Babylon.
The male goat, the angel explains, is Greece, and the conspicuous horn is its first king (8:21). This horn is evidently Alexander the Great, the Macedonian conqueror. The male goat is said to come from the west (8:5), which, of course, is where Macedonia would be in relation to Palestine.
The four conspicuous horns that sprang from the first horn are explained to be four kings that replaced the first (8:22). Again, this is correct. After Alexander's untimely death in 323 BCE, the empire was divided among his four generals after a brief power struggle. From one these horns (the Seleucid dynasty) sprang a king with a "fierce countenance", who "understands sinister schemes" (8:23). This king will be mighty, but his power derives from the forces of Darkness. He will destroy many people, including the holy (8:24).
This king will be proud and arrogant. Daniel says that he will "magnify himself in his heart", and even rise up against the "prince of princes" (8:25).
This "little horn", as should be obvious by now, is Antiochus. Once again, Daniel refers to the removal of the daily sacrifices (8:11). He also charges Antiochus with the desecration of the Temple (8:11). This Antiochus did a number of times.
I Maccabees 1:20-24 And after that
Antiochus had smitten Egypt, he returned again in the hundred
forty and third year, and went up against Israel and Jerusalem
with a great multitude, And entered proudly into the sanctuary,
and took away the golden altar, and the candlestick of light, and
all the vessels thereof...And when he had taken all away, he went
into his own land, having made a great massacre, and spoken very
I Maccabees 1:37 Thus they shed innocent blood on every side of the sanctuary, and defiled it...
I Maccabees 1:39 Her sanctuary was laid waste like a wilderness, her feasts were turned into mourning, her sabbaths into reproach her honour into contempt.
Antiochus' pride and arrogance are also mentioned several times by Daniel. We have already seen in the previous vision that the "little horn" is said to have a mouth speaking "great things against the Most High" (7:25). In a later vision, Antiochus is said to "exalt and magnify himself above every god" and "speak blasphemies against the God of gods" (11:36).
As in the previous vision, a time is given during which the temple will be defiled (8:13). This time, it is said to be 2,300 "evenings and mornings", a reference to the daily sacrifices. In other words, 1,150 days, or three years and two months. It is not clear why this period differes from the previous three and a half years.
This dream presents something of a problem for futurists. This time, there can be no denying that the focus of the vision is Greece, and Antiochus in particular. As we have seen, futurists insist that the fourth kingdom is Rome, and that the "little horn" of the previous vision is the Antichrist, who will arise from a revived Roman empire. However, Daniel uses very similar imagery in both visions, even to the point of referring to the focus of each vision as a "little horn" (7:8 and 8:9). A further problem is created by the fact that Daniel specifically states that this vision relates to the end of time (8:17, 8:19 and 8:23), and that Antiochus would be slain by supernatural means (8:25).
The usual response is to treat this vision as a "type" of the Last Days, and Antiochus as a "forerunner" of Antichrist. It hardly needs to be stated that there is no textual reason for arriving at such a conclusion. The only possible reason is to try and preserve the status of Daniel as a prophet, for, should it be admitted that Antiochus is indeed the sole focus of this and the other visions, it follows that Daniel's prophecies were not fulfilled.
The Fourth Vision - The Seventy Weeks
The ninth chapter of Daniel contains what is arguably the most complicated and least-understood of Daniel's visions. In this section, the author attempts to put a date to the Last Days. Not surprisingly, when closely examined, this date turns out to be close to the author's own time, that of the late second century BCE.
Daniel begins the section by stating that he was reading Jeremiah's book, specifically the prophecy that states that the Jews would be seventy years in exile (9:2). This prophecy is found in Jeremiah 25.
Jeremiah 25:11-12 And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the Lord, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations.
Daniel then prays for his people, and acknowledges their sins (9:3-19). Curiously, Daniel's prayer is very similar to one found in the apocraphyl book of Baruch 1:15-2:19. Once again, the dating of the book of Baruch is problematic, so it is not possible to say which work influenced the other.
While Daniel is praying, he is interrupted by the angel Gabriel, who informs him that his prayer has been heard, and gives him another vision (9:20-23). This vision concerns a period of seventy "weeks", which appears to culminate in the end of time (9:24). Gabriel goes on to say that these seventy weeks are divided into three periods, seven weeks, sixty-two weeks and one week (9:25). After the sixty-two weeks, Messiah will "be cut off", and the city and Temple will de devastated by a coming prince (9:26), who will make and then break a treaty with the Jews (9:27) in the middle of the seventieth week.
How are we to understand this prophecy? Because it refers to a Messiah, this section has been a favorite piece of text for Christian apologists, who see in it a prophecy of the coming of Jesus. As we shall see, this interpretation is probably incorrect.
The meaning of verse 25 is obscure for a number of reasons. It is difficult to determine when Daniel intended the "seventy weeks" to begin, and this problem is further exacerbated by the confusing wording, leading some scholars to speculate that the text might be corrupt at this point. However, by examining the context of this vision, it is possible to make an educated guess as to its intended meaning.
The key to the vision is verse 2, Jeremiah's prophecy of seventy years servitude to Babylon. The problem was that the Exile did not last seventy years. The mass deportation of Jews from Judea, following Nebuchadnezzar's second siege of Jerusalem (II Kings 25:11) is reliably dated to 587 BCE. Cyrus conquered Babylon in about 536 BCE, ending the Jew's captivity shortly thereafter. This means that the Babylonian Exile actually lasted no more than fifty years. From another point of view, the Exile never ended at all. Although the Jews were allowed to return home when Cyrus took Babylon, they remained under Persian rule for the next two centuries. Following the Persians, Palestine was variously controlled by either the Ptolemaic or the Seleucid Greeks. What to do, then, with Jeremiah's apparently failed prophecy?
In time-honored fashion, Daniel re-interprets Jeremiah's seventy years to be seventy "weeks" of years (the Hebrew word translated "week" is the same word for "seven"). This then extends the reach of Jeremiah's prophecy to 490 years, during which period Daniel expected the Jews to make full restitution for their sins (9:24), and for God to institute his theocracy.
Daniel divides these 490 years into three periods - seven "weeks" (49 years), sixty-two "weeks" (434 years) and one "week" (7 years). Verse 25 seems to indicate that the first two periods would each culminate in an "Anointed One" (the literal meaning of the word translated "Messiah"). When one reads this passage from a Christian perspective, it is easy to make the mistake that there can be only one Messiah, and that it must be Jesus. In fact, for an ancient Jew, the word simply indicated a person anointed to perform a priestly or royal function. Thus, anyone who fulfilled these functions would be called "Messiah".
In order to understand verse 25, we need to be able to locate the event that Daniel referred to as the "word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem". The most obvious candidate is the decree of Cyrus, recorded in Ezra 1:1.
Ezra 1:1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem.
Critics have pointed out that this decree does not mention the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which Daniel referred to. However, second Isaiah understood this decree to encompass both the Temple and the city.
Isaiah 44:28 That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.
This then seems a logical choice for the starting point of Daniel's prophecy. Unfortunately, forty-nine years from 538 BCE does not seem to point to any conspicuous event. A better starting point would be to once again take note of the context of chapter 9, specifically 9:2. After prophesying the Exile, Jeremiah then goes on to predict that Judah will be restored, and the city rebuilt.
Jeremiah 29:10 For thus saith the
Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will
visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to
return to this place.
Jeremiah 30:17-18 (NIV) But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,' declares the Lord, `because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.' "This is what the Lord says: "`I will restore the fortunes of Jacob's tents and have compassion on his dwellings; the city will be rebuilt on her ruins, and the palace will stand in its proper place.
Jeremiah 31:38 (NIV) "The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate.
From the context of 9:2, this is obviously the "word" that Daniel was referring to. (The KJV rendering of "decree" has obscured the meaning of 9:25. The Hebrew word dabar simply means "word", and Daniel used this same terminology in 9:2). Since Jeremiah wrote just before the Exile, the first 49 years of 9:25 is a good match for the approximately 49 years of the Exile. Who was this first Messiah? One possibility is that it was Cyrus himself, who is called God's Messiah by second Isaiah.
Isaiah 45:1 Thus saith the Lord to his anointed [Messiah], to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden...
Another possibility may be Joshua, the first high priest instituted after the Exile. (Haggai 1:1, Zechariah 3:1, 4:14).
What of the second group of sixty-two weeks (9:25)? Sixty-two weeks (434 years) from 538 BCE takes us to about 104 BCE. This seems a little late for Daniel's time, although we should not expect total accuracy from him, given his confusion about the reigns of the Persian kings (11:2). However, it is possible that the wording of 9:25 can be taken to mean that these two periods of time started simultaneously. If this is the case, then 434 years from 587 BCE takes us to about 153 BCE. If we consider that Jeremiah probably wrote his prophecy just after the first siege of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 29:1), this puts us at about 597 BCE, and the sixty-two weeks then takes us to about 163 BCE, which is very close to the actual time that the book of Daniel was written.
Who would this second Messiah be? Most commentators suspect that this is a reference to Onias III, the last high priest of the Levitical line. Onias was murdered at about the same time that Antiochus came to power (II Maccabees 4). The phrase "but not for himself" in the KJV could also be rendered "he shall have nothing" (the Hebrew text is corrupted at this point, so it is not possible to come up with a completely accurate translation), possibly a reference to the fact that Onias represented the last of the legitimate (in Daniel's eyes) Jewish priests.
How can we be so sure that Daniel intended his seventy weeks to end in his own time? This can be surmised from 9:26 and 27. Daniel here says that the "prince that shall come" will desolate the city and the Temple. This occurred under Antiochus after his first Egyptian campaign.
I Maccabees 1:20-21 And after that Antiochus had smitten Egypt, he returned again in the hundred forty and third year, and went up against Israel and Jerusalem with a great multitude, And entered proudly into the sanctuary, and took away the golden altar, and the candlestick of light, and all the vessels thereof...
Daniel then says that the prince will make a treaty with "many", which he will then break in the middle of the last week (9:27a). The book of first Maccabees relates that Antiochus' tax-collector came into Jerusalem under a banner of peace, but this turned out to be a deception. This was verified by Josephus.
I Maccabees 1:29 And after two years fully expired the
king sent his chief collector of tribute unto the cities of Juda,
who came unto Jerusalem with a great multitude, And spake
peaceable words unto them, but all was deceit: for when they had
given him credence, he fell suddenly upon the city, and smote it
very sore, and destroyed much people of Israel.
Antiquities Book XX 11:3 ...the king came up to Jerusalem, and, pretending peace, he got possession of the city by treachery...and in order to plunder its wealth, he ventured to break the league he had made...
This incident was followed in short order by the ban on the Jewish religion, which Daniel refers to in 9:27b.
I Maccabees 1:44 For the king had sent letters by messengers unto Jerusalem and the cities of Juda that they should follow the strange laws of the land, And forbid burnt offerings, and sacrifice, and drink offerings, in the temple; and that they should profane the sabbaths and festival days...
The meaning of the phrase translated "and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate" in the KJV is obscure, but it is generally thought to refer to the same incident as 11:31, the "abomination of desolation". The author of I Maccabees understood this to refer to the incident wherein Antiochus entered the Temple and erected an altar to Zeus in the holy place.
I Maccabees 1:54 Now the fifteenth day of the month
Casleu, in the hundred forty and fifth year, they set up the
abomination of desolation upon the altar, and builded idol altars
throughout the cities of Juda on every side...
Antiquities Book XX 11:3 And when the king had built an idol altar upon God's altar, he slew swine upon it, and so offered a sacrifice neither according to the law, nor the Jewish religious worship in that country.
The activities of the "prince that shall come" (9:26) perfectly match the deeds of Antiochus, and we may confidently state that Daniel thus intended his seventy weeks to end in 164 BCE.
The futurist interpretation of this passage is, of course, quite different. The KJV phrase "...unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks..." (9:25) invites an attempt to turn this into a prophecy of Jesus. Ignoring the grouping of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks, futurists interpret this phrase to mean that the Messiah will come sixty-nine weeks (483 years) after the "commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem". As we have already seen, the decree of Cyrus is far too early to apply to Jesus, since it lands us at about 55 BCE. So, an alternative decree must be sought.
The second chapter of Nehemiah records an incident in which Nehemiah asked permission from Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem to assist with the rebuilding project. The king assented, and gave Nehemiah letters of safe conduct to Judea, as well as orders for his foresters to donate timber to the project. Despite the fact that this passage does not technically record a decree, and that the restoration of Jerusalem was already underway when Nehemiah arrived, this incident is chosen as the starting point of Daniel's seventy weeks by futurists, because it occurred in 444 BCE. This then takes the end of the sixty-nine weeks to about 38 BCE. While this is closer to the time of Christ, it is still a few years too late. In order to rectify this problem, futurists note that the Jews used a lunar year of twelve months of thirty days. Using a year of 360 days then puts the end of the sixty-nine weeks at about 33 BCE, exactly, so the story goes, at the point that Jesus was crucified. The problem with the latter is that the Jews knew that their lunar year eventually got out of sync with the solar year. In order to rectify this situation, they inserted an extra month of thirty days every two or three years. This means that, on average, the Jewish year was about 365 days long.
Another problem with the futurist interpretation soon becomes apparent. If the sixty-nine weeks ended with the crucifixion of Jesus, that means that the seventieth week must have ended about 40 CE. However, no person fitting the description of Daniel's prince appeared on the scene at that point. In order to circumvent this problem, futurists insert a gap of indeterminate duration between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. The seventieth week, so the story goes, will begin when the "times of the gentiles" (Luke 21:4) are completed. So far, this gap has lasted two thousand years, with no end in sight.
The Fifth Vision - The King of the North
Daniel's fifth and final vision is also the longest and most detailed. Fortunately, it is also one of the easiest to interpret, due to the amount of detail it contains. This vision encompasses the last three chapters of the book, but the part of real interest is found in chapter 11.
This section begins with the angel Gabriel telling Daniel that there would still be four kings in Persia. As we have already seen, this number is incorrect. The angel goes on to say that the final Persian king would become so rich that he would "stir up the kingdom of Greece" (11:2). A mighty king would arise from Greece, and defeat the Persians. As with 8:5, this king is obviously Alexander the Great. Once again, we are told that Alexander's kingdom would be split four ways after his death (11:4). The remainder of this vision concerns two of these kingdoms, and the dynasties that sprang from them.
The king of the south (11:5) was Ptolemy I, who gained control of Egypt after Alexander's death. The king of the north (11:6) was Seleucus I, who became ruler of Syria.
Antiochus II (the king of the north), grandson of Seleucus I, married Berenice, the daughter of Ptolemey II (the king of the south), about 253 BCE in an effort to keep peace between Egypt and Syria. This effort failed, and Berenice and her son were murdered. This precipitated the third Syrian war, led on the Egyptian side by Ptolemy III, Berenice's brother (11:6).
Seleucus II (the king of the north) was defeated by Ptolemy III (the king of the south) in this third Syrian war. Seleucus II died in 225 BCE and was succeeded by his son Seleucus III, who was in turn murdered, and succeeded by his brother Antiochus III (11:7-9).
Antiochus III raised an army for the fourth Syrian war, but lost to Ptolemy IV at Gaza in 217 BCE (11:10-12). Antiochus III recovered from his defeat and raised a new army. He finally won the fifth Syrian war at the battle of Panium in 200 BC, which gave him control of Palestine (the "glorious land" - 11:13-16).
In order to make an alliance with Ptolemy IV, Antiochus III gave his daughter Cleopatra I to Ptolemy. But, when Ptolemy died, Cleopatra reigned in his stead as regent of Egypt (11:17). After losing Egypt, Antiochus III tried to invade Thrace, but was repulsed by the Roman army and was forced back into Syria (11:18). He was killed in Susa in 187 BCE and was succeeded by his son Seleucus IV (11:19).
Seleucus IV reigned from 187-175 BCE before being assassinated. As a consequence of his father's loss at the battle of Magnesia two years earlier, Seleucus had to pay a huge indemnity to Rome. This he tried to do with funds confiscated from the temple at Jerusalem, but met with resistance and failed. (11:20 - see II Maccabees 3).
At verse 21, the focus once again turns to Antiochus IV, the culmination of all of Daniel's visions. Antiochus succeeded Seleucus IV in 175 BCE, even though he was not part of the royal line. As we saw previously, Antiochus took the throne by force, after disposing of the rightful heir (11:21).
Daniel once again informs us that Antiochus entered Judea under a banner of peace, but later broke his own treaty, and spoiled the city and the Temple (11:22-24 - see I Maccabees 1:29).
In Egypt, rival factions were supporting two of Cleopatra's sons as king. Antiochus took the side of Ptolemy VI Philometer, and these two kings conquered much of Egypt, but were unable to dislodge the forces of Ptolemy VII Physcon in Alexandria (11:25-27). Returning to Syria with booty from Egypt, Antiochus stopped off in Jerusalem to quell a revolt led by Jason, the brother of Onias III, whom Antiochus had previously deposed from the high priesthood. Once there, Antiochus took the opportunity to loot the Temple again (11:28).
On a return campaign to Egypt, Antiochus was opposed by a Roman emissary, Popilius Laenas, and ordered to withdraw. Antiochus was furious, but had no choice but to comply. In his rage, he returned again to Jerusalem, and committed his most heinous acts yet (11:29-30). ("Kittim" originally referred to Cyprus, but later, as in the Dead Sea Scrolls, came to refer to Rome.)
One more, Daniel recites Antiochus' catalogue of horrors. The sanctuary was defiled - Antiochus erected an altar to Zeus in the holy place (the "abomination of desolation" - see I Maccabees 1:54), and sacrificed a swine there to his Olympian god. He decreed that no religion but the Greek could be practiced, and thereby outlawed the daily sacrifices and annual feasts, and forbade the Jews from engaging in any of the rituals prescribed by the Law (11:31). Some of the less devout Jews supported Antiochus' hellenization policies, and Antiochus courted these (11:32). The righteous Jews, however, were slaughtered daily (11:33), though they received "a little help" (11:34 - probably from the Maccabean guerillas).
Daniel now turns to the character of the man himself. Once more, Antiochus' pride and arrogance are revealed. He shall "exalt and magnify himself above every god", and "speak blasphemies against the God of gods" (11:36). Antiochus suppressed the worship of any god, even those traditionally supplicated in his own realm, as well as the "one desired of woman" (probably Tammuz). In their place, he worshipped a foreign god, the Olympian Zeus. (11:37-39).
Daniel now begins his true predictions in verse 40, and it is this that allows us to so precisely date his book, for the remaining predictions that follow never came to pass. The author predicts another attack from Egypt, with Palestine as the scene of the battle, although the transjordan countries will be spared (11:40-41). This time, Antiochus will be successful against Egypt, and will capture the entire territory, along with Libya and Ethiopia (11:42-43). Alarming news from the east and the north will bring him out to these parts, where he will annihilate many (11:44). He will pitch his tent between the Mediterranean and Jerusalem, and there come to his end (11:45).
Historically, Antiochus did die about the time that Daniel predicted, but this happened in Persia (I Maccabees 6:1-16).
Once again, the futurist interpretation of this vision is very different. Most evangelical commentators accept that 11:21-35 refer to Antiochus, but they then state that verse 36 onwards refer to a different person, the Antichrist who will wage war against God himself in the latter days. It should be fairly obvious that this interpretation is not supported by the text. Not only is there no discernible break between verses 35 and 36, but the character of the king of the north, as described in verse 36, is the same as that which Daniel elsewhere applied to Antiochus (7:8,25, 8:25). In addition, Daniel still continues to use the same "king of the north" designation in 11:40, well after the time that he is supposed to have switched his focus to the Antichrist.
While an interesting book in its own right, the book of Daniel is not a record of the future. It is, in fact, a testament to the time that inspired it, the terrible persecutions of the Jews under Antiochus in the late second century BCE. To cast it as a prophecy of days to come, divorced of its historical context, is to miss its real meaning.
"The Interpreter's One Volume Commentary on the
Bible" (1971), Charles M. Laymon, ed.
"Who wrote the Gospels" (1997), Randel Helms
"Mythology's Last Gods" (1992), William Harwood
Glenn Miller presents a comprehensive defense of the traditional date of Daniel