In the previous post we began trekking through the climactic prophecy of the Book of Daniel – chapter eleven. We observed how the chapter begins with a brief prediction of the Persian Empire which was eventually overtaken by the Greek armies led by the young Alexander the Great. After Alexander died his dominion was ultimately passed onto his four generals due to his lack of offspring. Although these four generals took to the four points of the compass, only two of them are in focus for this particular prophecy. The general which ended up taking control of Syria (and the Middle East) was Seleucus I. Ptolemy I, on the other hand, took Egypt as his territory. Both of these generals eventually established lengthy dynasties. From the perspective of Jews living in Judea, these kings in the north and in the south were the major ‘power players’ for the next few hundred years and the nation of Israel was unfortunately caught in the midst of their crossfire. This post will cover the life and military campaign of the Greek ruler Antiochus III (Dan 11:10-19), a king given substantial treatment in this prophecy.
The sons of Seleucus II, being Seleucus III and Antiochus III, begin to amass their armies for Syria (11:10). Seleucus III reigned only three years, from 226-223. His brother, Antiochus III, ruled for much longer (223-187). His military success was much more evident than his brother’s. The imagery of “coming and overflow and pass through” (NASB) suggests an epic quality to Antiochus’ campaigns, as he secured northern Palestine both east and west of the Jordan, including Samaria and Galilee. He made his way down to Egypt, culminating in the Battle of Raphia on June 22, 217 BCE. The KS at that time was Ptolemy IV, who ruled from 221-204. Ptolemy’s forces succeeded in the Battle of Raphia after raising a sizable force (11:11) which crushed much of the Syrian army, but not quite a crippling defeat so as to completely wipe out Antiochus III (11:12). This battle is described further (with some legendary details) in 3 Macc chapter one.
Daniel 11:13 notes how Antiochus III will continue with his military activities, focusing on Syria and Palestine in particular. The former Battle at Raphia ended with a peace treaty between the two kings, lasting as long as the kings lived. However, with Ptolemy IV’s death in 204 BCE Antiochus no longer felt that the treaty was in effect. This is what Dan 11:13 means with the phrase “after an interval of some years.” Meanwhile, Egypt suffered from a local native uprising/rebellion. The angel tells Daniel that “the violent ones among your people (i.e., the Jews) will also lift themselves up…but they will fall down,” indicating that some Jews had switched sides and freely supported Antiochus’ cause. In the year 200 BCE, Antiochus finally attacked Egypt, defeating the ruler (Scopas) at the Battle of Panion. Many Jews supported Antiochus III with provisions and helped remove the Ptolemaic garrison which was located in Jerusalem. The details of the outcome of this engagement are recorded by Josephus (Ant. 12.138-46). It is likely that these Jews had hoped that by removing Ptolemaic forces from Jerusalem that the holy land would be cleansed from pagan overlords, but their ambitions did not come to fruition (11:14 – “they will fall down”).
After Scopas, the reigning KS, was defeated at the Battle of Panion he retreated to Sidon with his hired Aetolian mercenaries. Antiochus III eventually took the city in the year 199 BCE after Scopas surrendered (11:15-16). This victory effectively took Palestine away from Ptolemaic rule. In the year 197 Antiochus began negotiating another peace treaty with Ptolemy V, although it required Ptolemy to openly recognize Antiochus’ territorial claims. Cleopatra I, the daughter of Antiochus III, was betrothed to Ptolemy as a part of the treaty (11:17). This marriage occurred sometime between 194-193 BCE. Antiochus has secretly wanted Cleopatra to undermine the Ptolemaic kingdom from the inside, but she ended up embracing her new husband’s ambitions instead. This is what the angel meant with the phrase “she will not take a stand for him or be on his side.” With the death of Ptolemy V in 180 BCE, his widow Cleopatra I continued to remain powerfully influential for some time, likely in part to her son being too young to rule.
Antiochus, seemingly bent on reclaiming the lands once possessed by his forefather Seleucus I, marched his armies towards Thrace and the Greek territories along the coastlands (11:18). However, Rome at this time was powerful enough to withstand Antiochus’ forces, stopping him in central Greece in the year 191. Two years later (189 BCE), Rome dealt Antiochus a decisive defeat in Asia Minor (11:18). The commanding officer mentioned in this verse was P. Cornelius Scipio, who personally presented Antiochus III conditions of peace in 188, costing him 15,000 talents, elephant and naval troops, and the release of Roman hostages. This so-called ‘agreement’ was an obvious attempt by the Romans to cripple the Greek armies belonging to Antiochus. This defeat in turn provoked a few rebellions in the eastern parts of the Greek kingdom, resulting in Antiochus’ death in the year 187 BCE. This occurred when Antiochus attempted to sack the temple (“fortress” – 11:19) of Bel in the city of Elemais, likely seeking the funds depleted from his ‘agreement’ with the Romans.
In the next post we will continue trekking through the history in Daniel 11. Be sure to subscribe for further updates!