Responsibly Interpreting the Vision in Daniel 8

dan8.JPGIn this third post of my series on historical-critical interpretations of the visions in the Book of Daniel we will examine the easiest of the chapters to discern. Daniel 8 is one of the few places in Scripture where the symbols within the vision are explicitly named with the particular nations. Granted, not all of the details are altogether clear, especially the reference to “2,300 evenings and mornings” in Dan 8:14 (about which more will be said at the end of this post). However, we can begin with what we can reasonably discern, concluding with suggestions for interpreting the cryptic parts.

What is actually interesting regarding this vision is that there is almost a universal consensus from both conservative and critical scholars alike regarding the details of this chapter. The vision begins with a ram possessing two horns (8:3). The specifics of these two horns is vital, I argue, to the identification of its kingdoms. The two horns are described as being lengthy, but one was longer than the other and arising chronologically ramafter the former horn. It will become clear later in the chapter that this animal is representing the “kings of Media and Persia” (Dan 8:20). Although some have suggested that this single animal proves that the Book of Daniel depicts Media and Persia together as a single kingdom (thus allowing for the combination of the two nations in chs. 2 and 7), the details actually prove otherwise. The two kings/kingdoms are differentiated by might (Media is the shorter horn and Persia is the longer horn) and by date (the longer Persian horn arose chronologically after the shorter horn).

The following animal is a male goat possessing a horn of its own (8:5). This horn is also clearly identified as the “king of Greece” in 8:21 (and the Hebrew noun melek, meaning “king,” is used here just as it was used in the plural in 8:20 to described the kings of Media and Persia). The goat easily defeats the ram in battle, demonstrating the victory of Greece over the Persian Empire (which had assimilated, among many other nations, Media). The goat subsequently magnifies himself, resulting in its large horn being broken off. This is an obvious allusion to Alexander the Great, although the divine passive “was broken” in 8:8 suggests God was in control of this historical turn of events. Four horns arose from Alexander’s death (8:8), another easy reference to identify, this time with the four Greek generals who subsequently took control of the Greek Empire.

Then the focus narrows considerably, beginning in 8:9. Out of one of these four horns (Seleucid dynasty) came a “little horn” which pursued the “Beautiful land” (i.e., Israel). It even attacked the host of heaven, successfully causing many of them to fall (8:10). This little horn exalted himself equal to the Commander of the host (i.e., God) and removed the regular sacrifices unto him (8:11). The only Greek king who fits these descriptions was none other than Antiochus IV Epiphanies, the one who considered himself “God manifest” and who halted the sacrificial cult in Jerusalem. This event provoked the Maccabean Revolt from 167-164 BCE.

Daniel hears one of the angels ask another, “How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?” (8:13)

In true apocalyptic fashion, the angelic revealer answers how long the awful tragedy will last: “2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.” (Dan 8:14)

 

Here are a few observations:

  1. The little horn in Daniel 8 is the same figure as the little horn described in Daniel 7. This is significant because Daniel 8’s little horn is unambiguously a product of the Greek kingdom, thereby proving that the fourth beast (out of which the little horn arises in 7:8) is also the Greek kingdom, not Rome.
  2. The little horn in Daniel 8 is a persecuting figure, blaspheming both God and his holy place (i.e., the temple). These events are clearly known to us from the Maccabean Revolt.
  3. The angel focuses the emphasis of the vision on this acts of trampling and transgressing the holy place (temple) and the host. The former elements of the vision seem to be narrative devices purposed on bringing the reader up to this point in history.
  4. The author is keen on offering an answer to how long this tragedy will last, a reasonable question for those original readers of Daniel during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanies between 167-164 BCE.
  5. The 2,300 “evenings and mornings” refer to the evening and morning sacrifices which took place at the Jerusalem temple. Therefore, 2,300 sacrifices taking place twice a day equates to 1,150 days, or somewhere between three and three and a half years. In other words, the angel is stating that it would take between three and three and a half years from the time of the temple being profaned (8:13) until its proper restoration (8:14). It is interesting that this very question (almost identical in Hebrew even) asked here in 8:13 reappears again in Dan 12:6. Yet in 12:6-11 a longer duration is given to the very same angelic question: 1,290 days. Then the very next verse (12:12) revises the count yet again to 1,335 days! How the modern interpreter reckons these numerical revisions is something each person needs to wrestle with (although the Book of Daniel continued to be revised in the Greek version with a significant amount of extra material). Some, like the followers of William Miller and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, changed the 2,300 evenings and mornings into 2,300 years and used it to predict events in the future (ending in 1844-45 CE and 1914 CE). Obviously, these efforts were misguided.

 

Just to recap our findings over the last three posts:

  1. The four kingdoms in Daniel 2’s vision of the statue were Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece. 
  2. The four kingdoms in Daniel 7’s vision of the beasts were also Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece. Out of Greece came the little horn, a figure easily recognized as Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
  3. Daniel 8 brings us through the same order and sequence (although skipping Babylon): Media, Persia, and Greece. Just like we observed in Daniel 7, the little horn in Daniel 8 is unambiguously a reference to Antiochus Epiphanes.
  4. All three visions, thus far, end with the Greek kingdom.

 

I also want to point to some interesting posts occuring on the Book of Daniel at the “Its In the Text” blog regarding the book’s purpose and dating.

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