Daniel In this final post on the history described in Daniel 11 we will cover verses 29-45. My attempts all along have been to responsibly read the text of Daniel firmly rooted in its historical context so as to best make sense of its message. Although there still seem to be readers who wish to dismiss these historical readings outright in favor of theological positions which place all of these events in the unknown future, I nevertheless insist that these texts must be taken seriously in all of their details, both geographically and politically. As Ben Witherington III used to regularly say in class, “a text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.”
The temporal phrase “at the appointed time” serves to highlight the events which are to follow as climactic. In the year 168 BCE Antiochus IV again invaded Egypt, attempting to cripple the military forces of Ptolemy VI and his siblings. In particular, he moved against the grand city of Alexandria. This act of aggression, as the text indicates, would not turn out as it did previously for Antiochus. The Roman army, which was strong enough to “play referee” in the Mediterranean, moved to intervene against Antiochus IV. The reference to the “ships of Kittim” indicate Italian/Roman forces according to other contemporary usages (cf. 1QpHab 2.12, 14; 3.4, 9; 4.5, 10; 4Q161 frgs. 8-10 3.5-8; 4Q169 1.3).
Neither Rome nor Syria desired to go to war with one another, and Rome certainly feared how the balance of power would significantly shift if Syria controlled Egypt. The historian Polybius recounts how the Roman ambassador Gaius Popillius Laenas personally met Antiochus at Alexandria and submitted unto him Rome’s terms on what historians call the “Day of Eleusis”:
But when [Antiochus], after reading [the terms], said he would like communicate with his friends about this intelligence, Popilius acted in a manner which was thought to be offensive and exceeding arrogant. He was carrying a stick cut from a vine, and with this he drew a circle around Antiochus and told him he must remain inside this circle until he gave his decision about the contents of the letter. [Antiochus] was astonished at this authoritative proceeding, but, after a few moments’ hesitation, he said that he would do all that the Romans demanded. (History 29.27.4-7)
Inevitably, Antiochus retreated back toward the north. During his time in Egypt, rumors of his death had spread to Jerusalem. This provoked Jason, the formerly-ousted high priest, to violently engage the current high priest Menelaus. Jason was eventually defeated and forced to retreat, leaving Menelaus still in charge of Jerusalem.
In light of the skirmish between Jason and Menelaus (which Antiochus understandably assumed to be a revolt) Antiochus send his agent Apollonius the Mysarch to Jerusalem with a contingency of Syrian troops. This occurred in the summer of 167 BCE. The author of 1 Maccabees refers to Apollonius as a “chief collector of tribute” who came with a “large force” (1 Macc 1:29; cf. 2 Macc 5:24). The situation appeared peaceful at first, but soon turned deadly;
Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel (1 Macc 1:30).
Menelaus the high priest was a strong proponent of Hellenizing Judea, even going so far, according to 2 Macc 13:3, as personally partnering up with Antiochus in hopes of being established in his office as high priest.
In 167 the Syrian forces desecrated the Jerusalem temple and halted the sacrificial system from continuing to function. A pagan altar was placed on top of the altar used for burnt sacrifices. This pagan altar is the object described by Dan 11:31 as “the abomination of desolation.” Note carefully that the A of D in 11:31 is a thing (not a person). This is confirmed by the contemporary writer of 1 Maccabees who states that “they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar” (1 Macc 1:54). When the Maccabean forces succeeded at driving out the Syrians in 164 BCE, the removal of this abomination is likewise spoken of as an object rather than a person;
they had pulled down the abomination, which he had set up upon the altar in Jerusalem (1 Macc 6:7).
From the perspective of pious Jews in Jerusalem, the pagan influences were coming from both Antiochus and from the reigning high priest. This was nothing short of a national disaster. The struggle was real.
With smooth words Antiochus will turn those acting wickedly toward godlessness. Historically, Antiochus’ officials attempted to persuade the Jews to offer sacrifices upon this pagan altar (1 Macc 2:14). Mattathias, the father of the Maccabean family, was told that “you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts” (1 Macc 2:18). Mattathias slew the commander in righteous zeal, ushering the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt. Daniel 11:32 frames the nature of those who resisted Hellenization as “those who know their God,” thus highlighting their fidelity to the God of Israel.
These next verses will highlight the varied reactions to the abomination of desolation which Antiochus’ forces erected. “Those who have insight” refer to a select group known as the maskilim whose ideal characteristics are highlighted throughout the Book of Daniel. The four Hebrew youths exiled to Babylon are described with the same Hebrew verb (Dan 1:4), particularly in regard to their refusal to compromise strict Jewish kosher (1:8) in addition to their rejection of pagan idols (3:18; 6:10). In Daniel chapter twelve the maskilim are further identified as leading many in faithful covenant observance (i.e., “righteousness” – 12:3) and those possessing discernment/understanding (12:10). What is interesting from a social standpoint is that the maskilim, in each of these references (including 11:33), are never described as actively contributing to the violent uprising or armed rebellion against the agents of Hellenism. It would appear that since the initial four Hebrews and the further references to the maskilim in Daniel 11 and 12 are highly considered that the authors of the Book of Daniel shared this wise and nonviolent ideology and wanted to persuade the readers to adopt it as well. For the maskilim, the appropriate response to pagan oppression is nonviolent resistance, refusal to compromise faithful Jewish practices, and a willingness to be martyred for their covenant commitment to Yahweh.
Many of the maskilim will unfortunately fall by sword, fire, captivity, and by plunder. These unfortunate consequences have already been observed in the lives of Daniel and his three friends. The martyred mothers and brothers refusing to compromise with Hellenism are beautifully depicted in 2 Macc 6-7. The apocalyptic nature of Daniel’s oracles here clearly reflects the understanding that the righteous will indeed suffer at the hands of the wicked in this age as they wait expectedly for God’s intervention in history.
The maskilim will receive a little help, but the results will yield little fruit because those helping only in hypocritical words. The insincerity of their initial followers will not help their cause (in contrast from the more dominant form of resistance in the violent revolt of the Maccabean militia). In the meantime, some of the maskilim will “refine, purge, and make pure.” These same three verbs reappear in Dan 12:3 to contrast the maskilim with the wicked, further encouraging Daniel’s readers to adopt their worldviews in the midst of pagan persecution. Their actions, according to Dan 11:35b, will continue until a time of the end, and “the end” in sight for Daniel’s readers will be the intervention of God to remove the Greek oppressor Antiochus Epiphanies, thus liberating Jerusalem from pagan oppression.
These verses break up the historical narrative by offering focus on the character of Antiochus IV. Throughout the history detailed in Daniel 11 there were many kings fighting against each other. Antiochus Epiphanies goes a step further and magnifies himself against the God of gods, Israel’s God. Antiochus IV was the first king in history to promote himself on coins as “god” and “god manifest” (note the coin on the left with the Greek BASILEOS ANTIOCHOU THEOU EPIPHANOUS NIKYFOROY – “Antiochus, God made manifest, bearer of victory”). Of course, the author of Daniel would have considered these titles blasphemous. Antiochus’ history of plundering other temples of the gods only further proves his arrogant attitude and disdain for other deities. However, 11:36 assures the readers that God’s decree against Antiochus will indeed be accomplished, thus offering comfort to those living during this oppressive period.
It is further noted that Antiochus will not regard the god of his father, specifically Apollo, the sacred ancestral god of the Seleucid dynasty. In actuality, Antiochus revered Zeus Olympias instead of Apollos on coins dating as early as 173/172 BCE. The placement of an altar to Zeus upon Jerusalem’s sacrificial alter in 167 BCE further demonstrates this point. The author of 2 Maccabees recounts how Antiochus sent one of his agents to Hellenize the Jerusalem temple and “to call it the temple of Olympian Zeus” (2 Macc 6:2). The “desire/beloved of women” is usually regarded as the deity Tammuz from Ezek 8:14, although admittedly historians possess very little data on this god.
Daniel continues to frame the actions of Antiochus with religious terms in 11:39. Antiochus will move against the Jerusalem fortress with “help” from his pagan deity. Many followed Antiochus in this regard, including some compromising Jews, as noted by a variety of indications from 1 Maccabees:
All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the Sabbath. (1 Macc 1:43)
Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: “You are a leader, honored and great in this town, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the people of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the Friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.” (1 Macc 2:17-18)
a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein, according to the king’s command. (1 Macc 2:23)
This passage again highlights both the political and religious plight facing conservative Jews who refused to accommodate Hellenism during the reign of Antiochus.
While Dan 11:27 notes that the skirmishes between the king of the north and the king of the south were not yet the appointed “time of the end,” Dan 11:40 indicates that this definitive time has finally arrived. However, it is at this point in the narrative, after thirty-nine verses of accurate historical “predictions,” that the account departs from what actually took place in history. This point has been the primary grounds upon which critical attempts at dating the Book of Daniel, in its final form, have produced the date of 164 BCE. Stated differently, the events from 11:1-39 are remarkably accurate while the events in the final six verses do not match up well with history. How is one to responsibly account for this interpretive dilemma? The best explanation, according to the vast majority of modern commentators on Daniel (Collins, Goldingay, Newsom, Pace, Seow, Smith-Christopher, Towner), is that the author was living in the midst of the Maccabean Revolt and could therefore look back on the historical events of Dan 11:1-39 as “predictive” history while acknowledging that 11:40-45 are actual predictions. Interestingly enough, Antiochus did in fact die and the abomination of desolation was removed in the year 164, much to the relief of the conservative Jews in Jerusalem.
The fact that the author of Daniel is forced to predict the final results of the life of Antiochus and the Maccabean Revolt can be confirmed when we examine the different (and increasing) answers to the typical apocalyptic question; “’How long, O Lord,’ will you allow this act of godless pagan oppression upon your chosen people to remain?” Daniel 8:13-14 asks and answers the question with the answer 2,300 evenings and mornings (1,150 days). As this prediction began to look questionable, it was revised in 12:6 (“How long until the end of wonders?”) and answered in 12:11 with 1,290 days. Then, the answer is again further revised in Dan 12:12 with 1,335 days.
Ultimately, the final redactor notes the comforting reality that the protagonist Daniel will die and rise up in resurrection at the end of days (Dan 12:13).
Those who would read Daniel 11 during the midst of Antiochus’ persecutions would be offered with three different religious responses to these horrifying events:
Option one – They could join with the Hellenizers (Antiochus, the Syrians, and Menelaus the high priest). This would be the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” option.
Option two – They could join the Maccabees in armed revolt against the pagan forces. Those who took this option could draw upon biblical examples such as Phinehas and Elijah for inspiration.
Option three – They could join the maskilim and nonviolently resist Hellenistic accommodation and await Israel’s God to vindicate this situation. This would have been the option chosen by Jesus Christ if his teachings were any indication.
The author of Daniel hopes that his readers take option three.