Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 11 (part 3)

ae4coinThis is part 3 of our historical journey through the prophecy in Daniel 11. To get caught up to speed, be sure to check out the previous posts on Dan 11:1-9 and 11:10-19. This post will over the events over the next nine verses with greater detail than I have been writing before. This added emphasis is due primarily because some of my critics seem to be unconvinced by my attempts to take the historical context of this passage responsibly, both as an interpreter and as a historian.


Daniel 11:20-28

After the death of Antiochus III (Dan 11:19), his son Seleucus IV began to rule in his place. During his reign, he was alerted to the fact that the Jerusalem temple was filled with treasure. In what was likely an attempt to fund his military campaigns (which were suffering due to his father’s defeat at the hand of the Romans) Seleucus sent his chief minister Heliodorus to Jerusalem in order to pillage the Jewish treasury. Daniel 11:20 references this account with the phrase “one will arise who will send an oppressor through the Jewel of the kingdom.” However, Heliodorus was thwarted by angelic guards who beat him nearly to death, thus protecting the Jerusalem temple from being robbed. The account is narrated in 2 Maccabees chapter three (with some legendary details likely added):

But when he arrived at the treasury with his bodyguard, then and there the Sovereign of spirits and of all authority caused so great a manifestation that all who had been so bold as to accompany him were astounded by the power of God, and became faint with terror. For there appeared to them a magnificently caparisoned horse, with a rider of frightening mien; it rushed furiously at Heliodorus and struck at him with its front hoofs. Its rider was seen to have armor and weapons of gold. Two young men also appeared to him, remarkably strong, gloriously beautiful and splendidly dressed, who stood on either side of him and flogged him continuously, inflicting many blows on him. When he suddenly fell to the ground and deep darkness came over him, his men took him up, put him on a stretcher, and carried him away (2 Macc 3:24-28)

Heliodorus survived this encounter and eventually assassinated Seleucus IV in the year 175. This is what Dan 11:20 means when it says that “he will be shattered, though not in
house of seleucus.JPGanger or in battle.” At this point, the crown should have passed onto the eldest son, Demetrius. However, he was a hostage in Rome at the time, and thereby unaware that his father had perished. His younger brother, an infant named Antiochus, was crowned king by his mother, Laodice, who herself was made regent. At this time, another Antiochus, known to us as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, secured an army from the king of Pergamum. Antiochus IV had Heliodorus removed and eventually slew the infant Antiochus. Prior to murdering the young Antiochus, Antiochus IV strategically married Laodice, thereby making him coregent with his new stepson. Five years later, the young Antiochus was murdered, thus leaving Antiochus IV the only king, despite the fact that “the honor of kingship had not been conferred upon him” (11:21).

The remaining twenty-four verses of Daniel 11 deal with Antiochus IV, thus giving him over half of the chapter’s complete attention. Daniel 11:22 seems to be a general characterization of Antiochus’ career as a whole. The initial descriptions of flooded and shattered forces are broad but the mention of the prince of the covenant also being shattered is clear. It was already noted back in Dan 9:26 that an anointed figure, the high priest Onias III, was cut off, and it seems that he is also spoken of here. During this period, the only person who could be spoken of as the “prince of the covenant” would be the Jewish high priest (note that the high priest Joshua was also called a “prince” in Dan 9:25). The alliance made so as to “gain power with a small force of people” was already mentioned with the pact with the king of Pergamum, King Eumenes II (11:23). One of the feats which Antiochus IV accomplished which was never attempted by his predecessors was the lavish spending and gift giving he appropriated unto his troops, at times even paying his army a year’s salary in advance (11:24). This, of course, led to some financial problems, observed by the author of 1 Maccabees:

He feared that he might not have such funds as he had before for his expenses and for the gifts that he used to give more lavishly than preceding kings. He was greatly perplexed in mind; then he determined to go to Persia and collect the revenues from those regions and raise a large fund. (1 Macc 3:30-31)

The Ptolemaic forces down in Egypt, which haven’t been mentioned lately in the prophecy, show up again in 11:25. The Sixth Syrian War was fought between Antiochus and Egypt, lasting from 170-168 BCE. Daniel 11:25 indicates that Egypt, led by Ptolemy VI, was able to amass a much larger army than ptolemy6Antiochus. However, the king of the south did not stand for long as he was ousted by two Alexandrian aristocrats in his court, Comanos and Cineas. This is what 11:26 refers to by “those who eat his choice food will destroy him.” Although the war ended in 168 BCE, Daniel continues to narrate the details of the life of Ptolemy VI. While in Egypt, Antiochus successfully besieged Alexandria, but was unable to take the city completely. Both Ptolemy VI and Antiochus IV eventually met in Memphis in 169 BCE with evil attempts at working out a “peaceful” agreement (11:27). The narrator of Daniel lets the reader know that the end of Antiochus IV is still to come “at the appointed time,” indicating that although his actions appear out of control, the God of Israel is still sovereign over the situation.  The next verse notes how Antiochus IV returned to his land (from Memphis, Egypt) in the autumn of 169 BCE. On his way north, he stopped by the Jerusalem temple and took much of the gold and silver from its treasury (11:28). These events are recorded in 1 Maccabees chapter one:

After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred forty-third year. He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures that he found. Taking them all, he went into his own land. He shed much blood, and spoke with great arrogance (1 Macc 1:20-24)


Do the historical details make sense or should we rather place Daniel 11 into the future, prior to the end of the age? Leave a note in the comments section and please look forward to further updates on the historical prophecy recorded in Daniel 11.

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