Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 11 (part 1)

Alas, we are on the homestretch of these visions in Daniel. The eleventh chapter encompasses the largest and longest of the visions within the book. Lucky for us, the majority of the details find universal agreement among scholars, both conservative and critical. This is due in part to the fact that the events of Daniel 11 fit the known descriptions of the stretch of history seleucus1.JPGbeginning in the Persian period and lasting well into the Hellenistic period. I should warn readers that this post will contain a lot of names, dates, and historical events (so those of you who struggled in history class might find this rather boring). I will do my best to keep the dates clear and the names sorted out, noting that the pronouns used in the Hebrew text often are not very clear. So here goes nothing…

 

Daniel 11:1-4

The passage begins with an unnamed apocalyptic revealer speaking with Daniel after a twenty-one day fast (10:2-3). The angel unveils to the story’s protagonist key historical alexgreat.JPGevents which are to take place soon after. Daniel 11:2 notes how three more kings will arise out of Persia while a fourth will arouse his kingdom against Greece. These four Persian rulers are not identified, but we do know that the leopard in Dan 7:6 possessed four heads. Furthermore, Ezra 4:5-7 mentions four Persian rulers by name (Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes). What matters for the author of Daniel is that he only gives one verse to describe the tenure of the Persian Empire (11:2), choosing to move rather quickly to the kingdom of Greece. Within the Greek kingdom a mighty king (Alexander the Great) is said to arise for awhile (11:3), but his kingdom will be broken up towards the four points of a compass (cf. Dan 8:8) and given over to rulers who are not his offspring. Alexander possessed no children, so his kingdom was passed onto his four generals (11:4). It is important to note that this divided kingdom is still the Greek kingdom, since all four of the generals were Greeks and the text does not introduce a new realm/nationality. I should point out here that the remainder of Daniel 11 deals with this same empire: the Greek kingdom. It is safe to say that although the reader is carried from Daniel’s time through the Persian period, which lasted over two hundred years, the author wants to emphasize the events of the Greek kingdom from Dan 11:3-45. I have noted in Daniel 2, 7, 8, and 9 that the final kingdom always is stressed with more words and emphasis that any of the previous kingdoms, and Daniel 11 is no different. Readers need to seriously consider why Daniel stresses the Greek kingdom as much as he does.

 

Daniel 11:5-9

The eleventh chapter will continue to alternate between two primary actors; described respectively as the “King of the North” and the “King of the South” (whom I will abbreviate as ‘KN’ and ‘KS’ henceforth). From the perspective of the nation of Israel, the KN would represent the ruler in Syria. daniel-11-mapSeleucus I, one of the famous generals taking over part of Alexander’s realm, reigned from this particular territory. Also, the KS, from Israel’s perspective, easily would be represented by Egypt. Another famous general of Alexander’s, Ptolemy I, ruled from Egypt. Both Seleucus I and Ptolemy I established massive dynasties which ruled from these two geographical territories. Poor Israel was caught in the crossfire of Syria and Egypt (see map), which was nothing new for them as this dilemma was a longstanding struggle dating back to the minostry of the eighth century BCE prophet Isaiah. Of course, the particular individuals functioning in the roles of the KN and the KS changed over time, just as ancient Persia had a variety of successive rulers and modern America functions with a variety of successive presidents.

With that introduction we can move onto the exegesis. Daniel 11:5 describes how the KS (Ptolemy I) will grow strong, reigning from 323-285 BCE (thirty-eight years). The verse also notes how one of Ptolemy’s princes will eventually possess extensive dominion (Seleucus I as a satrap). The next verse (11:6) describes an alliance made between the KS and the KN. Historically this was fulfilled around 250 BCE with Antiochus II, the grandson of Seleucus I, marrying Berenice, the daughter of Ptolemy II. This intermingling in marriage had peaceful intentions, but it did not last long, as Antiochus II was allegedly poisoned by his ex wife Laodice. Berenice and her newborn child were likewise murdered in due course. This alliance was hinted at back in Dan 2:43, a section describing the fourth kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, thereby confirming that the fourth kingdom in Daniel is Greece. Daniel 11:7 notes how one of the descendants in Berenice’s line, her brother Ptolemy III, will arise to take her place. He ruled from 246-221 BCE. He brought his armies against the KN, who at that time was seleuc2a.gifSeleucus II. This military campaign was rather successful, as the gods of Syria were plundered from the Syrian fortress and taken back to Egypt by Ptolemy III, who held off further attacks on the KN for some time (11:8).  However, Seleucus II attempted a counter-invasion of Egypt, but was unsuccessful with his attack (11:9) in comparison to the victory achieved earlier by Ptolemy III. Seleucus II, the KN, was forced to return home.

 

Stay tuned for the next installment of Daniel 11’s exegesis.

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