How Jesus Understood Daniel’s ‘Abomination of Desolation’

jesusolivetdisc.JPGI have been misunderstood in light of my recent posts about responsibly interpreting the Book of Daniel, with some of my critics suggesting that I have ignored what Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse regarding the abomination of desolation. I would like to take this opportunity to respond to my critics in a manner which allows for a responsible, historically-critical interpretation of both the Book of Daniel in its original context while also taking seriously the words and teachings of Jesus. There is no use taking Jesus seriously and ignoring Daniel (and vice versa).

I will make my argument in successive numerical points.

Point 1The abomination of desolation in the Book of Daniel is an object, namely, a pagan altar, and not a person. This is confirmed by the earliest interpretation of this phrase in 1 Maccabees (“they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar” – 1 Macc 1:54). This point is observed by the consensus of modern commentators on Daniel, Bible dictionary articles on the phrase “abomination of desolation,” and lexicons attempting to offer definitions without bias. In Daniel, the little horn is distinguished from the abomination of desolation. Particularly in Daniel chapter eleven the final king of the north is likewise distinguished from the abomination of desolation. We need to define our terms carefully.

 

Point 2The historical Jesus almost certainly was aware of the events surrounding the Maccabean Revolt, especially Antiochus Epiphanes and his abominable altar which was cleansed in December of 164 BCE. The Gospels portray Jesus as a faithful Jew, indicating that he likely kept the Jewish festivals, including the Festival of Lights (known today as Hanukkah). “Hanukkah” is the Hebrew word for “dedication,” and Jesus went up to Jerusalem for this particular festival according to the Gospel of John:

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. (John 10:22-23)

During this festival the events of the Maccabean Revolt would have been retold along with the tale of how the zealous Maccabean family led the Jews in revolt, purging Jerusalem of pagan forces and subsequently cleansing the temple. In sum, Jesus would have been well aware of what the abomination of desolation meant back in the history of his Jewish heritage.

 

Point 3Jesus, around the year 30 CE, spoke about a future event in which the abomination of desolation will be standing in the holy place. Both Mark 13:14 and Matt 24:15 tell how Jesus spoke in the Olivet Discourse of the “abomination of desolation.” It is precisely how Jesus understood and reinterpreted this phrase which is the focus of this point. The Greek translated “abomination of desolation” (τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως) is a neuter noun, but Mark modifies it with the masculine participle “standing” in a way which indicates a personal figure. Stated differently, Mark’s Jesus has taken an image from the 160s BCE and reused it in a different way to refer to an abominable personal figure in the future. Note how these commentators likewise understand what Jesus is doing with this phrase:

Daniel is clearly oriented to the great crisis brought on by Antiochus IV. Jesus’ appeal to Daniel’s “abomination of desolation” should be understood in a typological sense. That is, the crisis of long ago, which threatened to bring Judaism and Israel’s national life to an end, will once again threaten Israel and Jesus’ followers. (Craig Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, Word Biblical Commentary 34b, 319)

 

Since the specific events of the Maccabean period were now far in the past, its use in the first century could be understood only of an event or horror which in some recognizable way corresponded to what Antiochus had done. (R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, 520)

 

A climactic event in the period of the final tribulation is the appearance of the “desolating sacrilege” in the holy place. This phrase originally referred to a desecration of the Temple in 167 BCE by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, which became an apocalyptic image reinterpreted many times (see Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11; Mark 13:14). (M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew,” in the New Interpreters Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, vol. VIII, 442)

 

‘The abomination of desolation’ is, as Matthew makes explicit, from the prophet Daniel, where it refers to the pagan altar and/or image of Olympian Zeus set up in the Jerusalem temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 BC (9:27; 11:31; 12:11)…But it is no less likely that our evangelist has in mind some future, eschatological defilement and destruction, and perhaps even activities of an anti-Christ” (W.D. Davies and Dale. C. Allison, Matthew 19-28, International Critical Commentary, 345-6)

As we can observe, many modern experts note that the abomination of desolation had an explicit meaning back in Daniel (referring to the pagan altar) and that this image was reinterpreted by Jesus to refer to someone/something new in the future. I regard Paul’s discussion of a future “man of lawlessness” in the temple claiming to be divine along the same lines of thought (2 Thes. 2:3-4).

 

Point 4Both Mark and Matthew insert their voice in Jesus’ teaching about this abomination of desolation as “let the reader understand,” thus signaling that the reader is to carefully note that Jesus is in fact reinterpreting Daniel typologically. Mark in particular uses these editorial remarks often to direct the reader to understand the teachings of Jesus as Mark himself regards them (cf. Mark 3:17; 5:41; 7:19; etc.). The command for the reader to understand what Jesus is saying calls for a discerning attitude, rather than a naive approach.

 

Point 5Jesus did not teach that there will be a ‘three and a half year’ period of tribulation once the abomination of desolation is set up, but instead clearly stated that he does not know the day or hour of his second coming (Matt 24:36; Mark 13:32). If this point can be taken seriously, a lot of end-times reconstructions would simply disappear. In other words, Jesus did not use any numbers of periods of time in Matthew 24 or Mark 13 (or Luke 21 for that matter) in which one might use to mark their calendars. He did, however, say that he was completely unaware of the day and hour of the second coming. We would be wise to not presume ourselves as more insightful than Jesus himself.

 

In sum, Jesus Christ taught that there would be a future, personal abomination of desolation in the Jerusalem temple. In doing so, he reinterpreted the image from Daniel from a pagan altar under Antiochus IV to a future abominable person.

 

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 12 (with application)

In this final post on responsibly interpreting the visions of Daniel, I will offer up my thoughts on chapter twelve. Furthermore, I have included at the end of each section the practical applications (in italics) which seek to demonstrate how this book would have been used to direct and comfort the original readers.

 

Daniel 12:1-3

This chapter begins with a temporal phrase “at that time” which connects it with the previous verse, Dan 11:45. The death and demise of Antiochus is predicted by the author of Daniel, and the beginning of chapter twelve attempts to understand this event in light of what is taking place within the heavenly realm. Michael the prince, the angel who is guards the Jewish people (in contrast to the angels representing other nations in 10:13, 20), will arise to action. What particular action Michael takes at this point is not answered by the narrator. The next thing mentioned is a time of distress/trouble unlike anything which had taken place up to that time. Sadly, we wish that the author would offer up some specifics regarding this time of distress. The only clue we receive is the comment regarding how those written in the book (literally: scroll) will be rescued. But what kind of rescue? Deliverance from battle? Or could the promised deliverance be in reference to the resurrection mentioned in the next verse (12:2)? If so, Dan 12:1 serves to encourage that those recorded in God’s book/scroll to rest assured that they will indeed be vindicated from their distress. The verse then has more of an encouraging ethical slant to it than being a specific account of verifiable events in history.

graves.JPGDaniel 12:2 gives readers arguably the first clear reference to bodily resurrection in the Bible. If this verse was intended to expand upon the nature of the deliverance mentioned previously, then the particular details offered are likely the intended emphasis stressed by the author. Many persons are described as “sleeping,” a metaphor for unconscious death in the grave used in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Where are they sleeping? In the dust of the ground (not in heaven). What will happen to those sleeping? They will awake (i.e., be raised from the grave). Then those raised are described as belonging in one of two groups. Either they are resurrected to everlasting life or they are raised to shame and everlasting abhorrence. The promise that the faithful will be raised from the dead to unending life would again encourage the readers to remain loyal and true, even if faced with martyrdom.

The maskilim appear again in Dan 12:3, this time indicating that their resurrection state will be glorious and bright like the firmament of heaven. The passage then notes how these will lead many toward faithful covenant behavior (“righteousness”). The reference to stars might indicate that they will share in the state of the host of heaven (cf. Dan 8:10; Luke 10:18; 20:36). If the maskilim will be thus rewarded then this passage would encourage the readers to either adopt the maskilim ideology and response to persecution or to dedicate themselves to following their leading.

 

Daniel 12:4

At this point, the mediating angel turns to Daniel and commands him to seal up these words. This implies that he has been writing down these visions all along, although the text only now mentions this point. These words are to be sealed up until “a time of an end” (no definite articles). Some translations wrongly translate this Hebrew phrase as “the end of time,” which is both unfair as a translation and utterly nonsensical (will time cease to be?). One needs to conclude as to which “end” the angel is referring. Since the crisis of Daniel 11 (not to mention chs. 2, 7, 8, and 9) has always ended with struggled involving the Greek kingdom, often explicitly in conjunction with the little horn setting up the abomination of desolation, the “end” naturally refers to his demise and the subsequent relief of the faithful people of God. The act of “sealing” involved a signet ring with both authenticated the document and protected it from tampering. Those living in the midst of the persecution under Antiochus IV would feel extremely privileged to be reading these insights, thus encouraging them to make the appropriate social and ethical responses to the ensuing Syrian persecution.

The mention at the conclusion of 12:4 regarding many who will “go back and forth” draws upon Amos 8:12 which states that,

People will stagger from sea to sea

And from the north even to the east;

They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,

But they will not find it.

The sense in Amos is that people will actively seek God’s word and direction, but will come up short. Daniel, in contrast, declares that “knowledge will increase.” The unsealing of these words will provide the appropriate response for the people of God in the midst of persecution in addition to providing them with the hope that if they suffer as martyrs then they will indeed rise from the grave on the last day.

 

Daniel 12:5

At this point the narrator becomes Daniel, who hasn’t spoken since chapter ten. He observes two other angels standing on opposite sides of the Tigris River (cf. 10:4). This recalls the dialogue back and forth with two angels in 8:13-14. It is no surprise that both in 8:14 and in 12:6 the very same question is asked (“How long…”). If this phrase keeps showing up, as it commonly appears in other prophetic works seeking to comfort those in the midst of pagan persecution (cf. Rev 6:10; Hab 1:2), then it would here serve to offer authoritative guidance from heaven as to when God’s intervention will soon take place in order to deliver the afflicted from the situation’s plight, thus encouraging the faithful to loyally stick it out just a little bit longer.

 

Daniel 12:6-7

One of the angels asks the other the important question. Daniel again is situated as the listener of this important dialogue between heavenly messengers, just as the reader gets to share in the same receptive experience. The specific questions deals with how long it will be until the end of wonders. The Hebrew translated “wonders” (hapilaot) appears in two other places in Daniel, so it would be prudent for interpreters to see to which “wonders” are being alluded here. The phrase shows up in 8:24 and 11:36:

His power will be mighty, but not by his own power, and he will destroy to an extraordinary degree (literally: “wonderful things”) and prosper and perform his will; He will destroy mighty men and the holy people. (Dan 8:24 NASB)

Then the king will do as he pleases, and he will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will speak monstrous things (literally: “wonderful things”) against the God of gods; and he will prosper until the indignation is finished, for that which is decreed will be done. (Dan 11:36 NASB)

Both in Dan 8:24 and in 11:36 the subject clearly is Antiochus Epiphanes. Therefore, the question asked by the angel in Dan 12:6 seeks to know “how much longer will the wonderful acts of Antiochus continue?”

“When will they end?”

“How much longer do we have to suffer?”

This question, worded differently, was also raised by the two angels back in 8:13, “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?” Put differently, Dan 12:6 asks how much longer until the end of the wonders of Antiochus and Dan 8:13 asks how long will the horrifying transgression interrupt the sacrifices leading to the persecution of the Jerusalem temple and the host. Both questions cover the very same events. This is also argued by John Collins in his Hermeneia commentary on Daniel:

The question, “How long?” is the one raised in 8:13. The root פֶּ֫לֶא, “wonder,” is used in a different form for the deeds of Antiochus Epiphanies in 8:24 and 11:36. If the reference is the same here, the angel is asking not about the end of the resurrection and judgment but about the end of the events descried down to the end of chapter 11. (p. 399)

In other words, the question of the angel deals with the end of the extraordinary/wondrous atrocities committed by Antiochus and not about the number of days between the wonders and the resurrection spoken of in 12:2. The second angel responds in 12:7 by giving a cryptic phrase “time, times, and half a time” (referring to three and a half years). After this designated period of time, “all these will be completed.” The Hebrew construction here indicates that “all these” are feminine plural, matching the plural feminine word hapilaot specifically asked about in the question of 12:6. In sum, the heavenly messengers give encouraging news that Antiochus will only perform his wondrous acts of evil for a short period of three and a half years before God intervenes.

 

Daniel 12:8-10

The protagonist does not seem to understand this cryptic response, so he asks for clarification. The angel responds by telling him to go on his way, as these oracles are sealed up for “a time of an end” (again, no definite articles in this Hebrew phrase). The angel continues by noting how those with insight (the maskilim) will purge, purify, and refine. The wicked, however, not understand. This emphasis on the three verbal actions of the maskilim has already appeared in their description back in 11:35. Daniel’s readers are again encouraged to follow the lead of the maskilim, namely, their nonviolent and faithful ideology.

 

Daniel 12:11-12

In this verse (12:11) the angel gives a numerical answer which is clearer than the previous cryptic phrase of “time, times, and a half a time.” From the moment when the regular temple sacrifice is interrupted and the abomination of desolation is set up in place of that altar there will be 1,290 days. This number equates out to three and a half years, and it is not a coincidence that the pagan altar (abomination of desolation) remained from its erection in the summer of 167 until its removal in December of 164.

Then Dan 12:12 offers a revised number, offering a blessing upon those who wait for an extra forty-five days, totally in 1,335 total. As I noted in my previous post, there are three increasing numerical answers to the same “How long?” question asked. Daniel 8:14 answers it in what was likely the first prediction: 1,150 days. Daniel 12:11 answers it with a revised number: 1,290 days. Then the very next verse (12:12) revises the prediction yet again to 1,335 days. In the end, the final verse (12:13) gives a specific answer to Daniel which serves to definitively conclude the dialogue and the book itself. Needless to say, readers of Daniel in the midst of the persecution begun by Antiochus and his Syrian forces can rest assured that God will intervene and defeat the evil king in roughly three and a half years from the setting up of the abomination of desolation on top of the sacrificial altar.

 

Daniel 12:13

The angel turns to Daniel and speaks about his fate. Daniel will indeed die (“rest”) and rise up in resurrection. He will come to his allotted portion of inheritance upon arising resssfrom his grave. All of this will take place at the “end of days.” What is interesting for critical readers is that the Hebrew words used here for “rest” and “rise” both differ from the synonymous words used in 12:2 (“sleep” and “awake”), strengthening the case that the final verses of Daniel chapter twelve were added by the final redactor in order to revise the predicted 1,150 and 1,290 day periods. Regardless of how the predictions turned out, the final word in Daniel is that he, the prototypical maskil who refused pagan accommodation and idol-worship, would be rewarded with a resurrection unto his allotted inheritance. This would serve to again encourage the reader to follow in the footsteps of Daniel in hopes of attaining the same resurrection hope and reward.  

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions of Daniel 11 (part 4)

Daniel In this final post on the history described in Daniel 11 we will cover verses 29-45. My aecoinattempts 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.”

 

Daniel 11:29-30a

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.

 

Daniel 11:30b-31

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.

 

Daniel 11:32

With smooth words Antiochus will turn those acting wickedly toward godlessness. mattatiasHistorically, 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.

 

Daniel 11:33-35

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.

 

Daniel 11:36-39

These verses break up the historical narrative by offering focus on the character of aecoin2.JPGAntiochus 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.

 

Daniel 11:40-45

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.

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 9 (part 3)

maccabeanbwThis will be the final post on the Seventy Weeks prophecy in Daniel 9. For a recap of my thoughts on the passage’s introduction and verse 9:24, click here. Yesterday’s post regarded the exegesis of Dan 9:25 (here). Today’s post will deal with the final two verses (9:26-27) and some concluding matters of interpretation.

9:26  “And after the sixty-two weeks an anointed one will be cut off and no one will come to his aid. Then the people of the coming prince will spoil the city and the sanctuary. But his end will come with a flood unto an end; a war is being decided; desolating things.”

9:27  “He will confirm a covenant with the great ones for one week. But in the middle of the week he will remove the sacrifice and the grain offering; and upon a wing of abominations he will be desolating, up to the point of a complete destruction being decided which will be poured out upon the one desolating.” 

Quite a few remarks need to be stated in regard to this passage. I will number them for the sake of making organized conversation points:

  1. As I noted in the previous post, these two verses focus entirely upon the events after the initial two periods of history (‘seven’ weeks and ‘sixty-two’ weeks). In other words, the final week of the Seventy Weeks prophecy gets the most attention, making its events the crux of the passage’s emphasis.
  2. The beginning of this passage moves the listener over a long period of time up to this decisive moment where an anointed figure will be killed. Since there is a massive sixty-two week period separating these events from those described in 9:25, it seems obvious that the anointed figure in 9:26 is not the same individual as the one back in 9:25. It has been common ground for Christians to regard this anointed figure again as the Anointed One (i.e., Jesus Christ). Again, this argument fails to hold up to scholarly scrutiny. For one, we again have the Hebrew noun mashiach without the definite article, requiring the translation “an anointed one” rather than “the anointed one.” Sadly, many modern English translations have not been entirely honest on this point. Secondly, if this were a predictive prophecy about the death of Jesus Christ, why does the passage qualify this death with “no one will come to his aid”? Shouldn’t the passage (if it were referring to the death of Jesus) say that he will be supernaturally vindicated in glorious resurrection by God the Father? Why then does the passage actually say that no one will come to his aid? This is hardly a reference to Jesus. Furthermore, the New Testament Christians (who searched the Hebrew Bible diligently for any hint of messianic predictions) never once quote Daniel 9:26 to refer to Jesus’ death. Instead, they focus primarily upon Isaiah 53 and other verses, but never once is Dan 9:26 quoted in the New Testament to refer to Jesus. This suggests that its interpretation had an accepted reading which excluded Jesus from being its object of focus.
  3. In fact, we possess a perfect candidate for this anointed figure onias 3mentioned in 9:26. In the year 171 BCE a high priest named Onias III was in fact murdered. Unfortunately for him, none of the Jews came to help him or avenge his death. Instead his brother, the Hellenistic sympathizer Jason, took control of the temple. The actions of Jason were instrumental in the events leading up to the Maccabean Revolt.
  4. Around this time, the Seleucid Empire ruled by Antiochus IV made an agreement with some of the leading officials in Jerusalem in order to hellenize the city and its people. This agreement is the “covenant” mentioned in Dan 9:27. This is recorded in detail in 1 Maccabees:

    In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.” This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and they removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil. (1 Macc 1:11-15)

  5. After the murder of the anointed high priest Onias III the Seleucid armies, commanded by Antiochus Epiphanes, came into Jerusalem. The act of circumcision was restricted and the Sabbath was profaned. But the most detestable act was the macc placement of a statue of Zeus upon the temple’s sacrificial altar. Jews were forced to offer sacrifices to this image.These offensive acts are what Dan 9:26 refers to as the “spoiling of the city and the sanctuary” and what 9:27 describes as the plural “abominations.” These events were too much for the conservative Jews who were resistant to Hellenization (thus provoking the Maccabean Revolt).
  6. As I just noted in #5, the Syrian forces led by Antiochus brought about desolating abominations upon Jerusalem and its people. Note carefully that these abominations of desolation are plural, not singular. Furthermore, they are plural objects, not persons. This is something different from what Jesus stated in Mark 13:14 (i.e., a single, personal abomination of desolation). This point should not be taken lightly; Daniel 9:24-27 refers to plural abominations as things/objects and Mark 13:14 refers to a single person who is an abomination of desolation. We should let Daniel 9 say what it wants to say and let Mark say something else (without harmonizing the two accounts). Jesus is likely reusing the terrible events of the past as a rubric to convey the future abomination of desolation.
  7. Daniel 9:26 promises that there will indeed be divine retribution upon the coming prince Antiochus. His end will come with a “flood” – a common prophetic anti4hyperbole for a swift death (cf. Isa 8:8; 10:22; 30:28; Ezek 13:13; Nah 1:8). Furthermore, 9:27 says that a destruction has been decreed by God (divine passive). This reassures the original readers that this national catastrophe will not go unpunished by Israel’s God, encouraging them to resist the hellenizing influences in covenantal faithfulness. Antiochus IV did indeed die in the year 164 BCE.
  8. To connect some loose ends, it is important to remember that some of the significant dates need to be kept in the forefront of these discussions:
    • Onias III, the Jewish high priest, was murdered in 171 BCE. This began the agreement/covenant (1 Macc 1:11-15) between the Seleucids and the leading Jews to hellenize Jerusalem and its people,
    • The Syrian forces led by Antiochus halted sacrifices and offerings by placing an idol of Zeus upon the altar. This occurred in 167 BCE,
    • The Maccabean Revolt ended in 164 with the cleansing of the holy temple, thus removing all of the abominations from it,
    • 171 minus 164 equals 7. How many years are in a single week? Seven. When did the sacrifice and offerings cease? In the middle of this period (167 BCE).
  9. If the seventieth week deals with the events from 171-164 BCE, then prophetic schemes expecting a future seven year tribulation prior to the end of the age have absolutely no biblical basis for their theology.

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