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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Responsibly Interpreting the Vision in Daniel 8

dan8.JPGIn this third post of my series on historical-critical interpretations of the visions in the Book of Daniel we will examine the easiest of the chapters to discern. Daniel 8 is one of the few places in Scripture where the symbols within the vision are explicitly named with the particular nations. Granted, not all of the details are altogether clear, especially the reference to “2,300 evenings and mornings” in Dan 8:14 (about which more will be said at the end of this post). However, we can begin with what we can reasonably discern, concluding with suggestions for interpreting the cryptic parts.

What is actually interesting regarding this vision is that there is almost a universal consensus from both conservative and critical scholars alike regarding the details of this chapter. The vision begins with a ram possessing two horns (8:3). The specifics of these two horns is vital, I argue, to the identification of its kingdoms. The two horns are described as being lengthy, but one was longer than the other and arising chronologically ramafter the former horn. It will become clear later in the chapter that this animal is representing the “kings of Media and Persia” (Dan 8:20). Although some have suggested that this single animal proves that the Book of Daniel depicts Media and Persia together as a single kingdom (thus allowing for the combination of the two nations in chs. 2 and 7), the details actually prove otherwise. The two kings/kingdoms are differentiated by might (Media is the shorter horn and Persia is the longer horn) and by date (the longer Persian horn arose chronologically after the shorter horn).

The following animal is a male goat possessing a horn of its own (8:5). This horn is also clearly identified as the “king of Greece” in 8:21 (and the Hebrew noun melek, meaning “king,” is used here just as it was used in the plural in 8:20 to described the kings of Media and Persia). The goat easily defeats the ram in battle, demonstrating the victory of Greece over the Persian Empire (which had assimilated, among many other nations, Media). The goat subsequently magnifies himself, resulting in its large horn being broken off. This is an obvious allusion to Alexander the Great, although the divine passive “was broken” in 8:8 suggests God was in control of this historical turn of events. Four horns arose from Alexander’s death (8:8), another easy reference to identify, this time with the four Greek generals who subsequently took control of the Greek Empire.

Then the focus narrows considerably, beginning in 8:9. Out of one of these four horns (Seleucid dynasty) came a “little horn” which pursued the “Beautiful land” (i.e., Israel). It even attacked the host of heaven, successfully causing many of them to fall (8:10). This little horn exalted himself equal to the Commander of the host (i.e., God) and removed the regular sacrifices unto him (8:11). The only Greek king who fits these descriptions was none other than Antiochus IV Epiphanies, the one who considered himself “God manifest” and who halted the sacrificial cult in Jerusalem. This event provoked the Maccabean Revolt from 167-164 BCE.

Daniel hears one of the angels ask another, “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?” (8:13)

In true apocalyptic fashion, the angelic revealer answers how long the awful tragedy will last: “2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.” (Dan 8:14)

 

Here are a few observations:

  1. The little horn in Daniel 8 is the same figure as the little horn described in Daniel 7. This is significant because Daniel 8’s little horn is unambiguously a product of the Greek kingdom, thereby proving that the fourth beast (out of which the little horn arises in 7:8) is also the Greek kingdom, not Rome.
  2. The little horn in Daniel 8 is a persecuting figure, blaspheming both God and his holy place (i.e., the temple). These events are clearly known to us from the Maccabean Revolt.
  3. The angel focuses the emphasis of the vision on this acts of trampling and transgressing the holy place (temple) and the host. The former elements of the vision seem to be narrative devices purposed on bringing the reader up to this point in history.
  4. The author is keen on offering an answer to how long this tragedy will last, a reasonable question for those original readers of Daniel during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanies between 167-164 BCE.
  5. The 2,300 “evenings and mornings” refer to the evening and morning sacrifices which took place at the Jerusalem temple. Therefore, 2,300 sacrifices taking place twice a day equates to 1,150 days, or somewhere between three and three and a half years. In other words, the angel is stating that it would take between three and three and a half years from the time of the temple being profaned (8:13) until its proper restoration (8:14). It is interesting that this very question (almost identical in Hebrew even) asked here in 8:13 reappears again in Dan 12:6. Yet in 12:6-11 a longer duration is given to the very same angelic question: 1,290 days. Then the very next verse (12:12) revises the count yet again to 1,335 days! How the modern interpreter reckons these numerical revisions is something each person needs to wrestle with (although the Book of Daniel continued to be revised in the Greek version with a significant amount of extra material). Some, like the followers of William Miller and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, changed the 2,300 evenings and mornings into 2,300 years and used it to predict events in the future (ending in 1844-45 CE and 1914 CE). Obviously, these efforts were misguided.

 

Just to recap our findings over the last three posts:

  1. The four kingdoms in Daniel 2’s vision of the statue were Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece. 
  2. The four kingdoms in Daniel 7’s vision of the beasts were also Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece. Out of Greece came the little horn, a figure easily recognized as Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
  3. Daniel 8 brings us through the same order and sequence (although skipping Babylon): Media, Persia, and Greece. Just like we observed in Daniel 7, the little horn in Daniel 8 is unambiguously a reference to Antiochus Epiphanes.
  4. All three visions, thus far, end with the Greek kingdom.

 

I also want to point to some interesting posts occuring on the Book of Daniel at the “Its In the Text” blog regarding the book’s purpose and dating.

Responsibly Interpreting the Vision in Daniel 7

This is the second post in my series where I critically examine the visions in the Book of Daniel. If you have yet to see my arguments regarding Daniel 2, you can reach that post by clicking here. Although there is a temptation to simply carry over to Daniel 7 the conclusions reached in my previous study in that there are four kingdoms in Daniel 2 and four beasts in Daniel 7, I will allow the text to speak for itself simply as a matter of objectivity.

Daniel-ch-7-Vision-4-beasts-Times-of-the-gentiles-comparisonDaniel 7 is different from the dream given to Nebuchadnezzar in that Daniel’s vision is interpreted by a mediating angel. In fact, the chapter has multiple instances where Daniel asks the angel for further clarification regarding his vision and subsequently receives additional answers. The act of angels revealing heavenly secrets to the protagonist is typical of Jewish apocalyptic works, especially within the Second Temple period. In this manner Daniel 7 differs from Daniel 2. We will continue to observe angelic revelations in the visions of Daniel 8, 9, and 10-12.

The chapter begins (7:1) with the unnamed narrator stating that Daniel had a dream with visions. Upon waking up, he wrote those down. The rest of the chapter tells what Daniel wrote. He notes how four distinct beasts were coming out of the sea. Any Jewish reader would immediately recognize the sea as a symbol for the chaotic evil, a regular portrayal in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 1:2; Psa 74:13; Isa 27:1; 57:20; Jonah 2). The first beast resembled a lion, the second looked like a bear, the third appeared as a leopard, and the fourth was dreadfully terrifying.

This fourth beast is given much more emphasis and attention than the former three. hqdefaultDaniel notes that this fourth beast had ten horns. ‘Horns’ were often used in the Hebrew Bible to symbolize royal power (cf. Psa 132:17; Jer 48:25; Ezek 29:21). Daniel turns his attention to the horns in particular and notes how three of the ten were plucked out by one additional horn. This “little horn” had eyes like a human and a mouth which boasted greatly. Daniel observed how this boasting little horn was eventually slain in judgment.

Then a vision of judgment appears to Daniel in which a enigmatic Son of Man figure, which appears to be a human being categorically distinct from the previous four beasts, is given dominion, glory, and kingship from the Ancient of Days. The kingdom belonging to this human figure will never pass away (7:14) – a stark contrast to the dominion of the beasts which was taken away (7:12).

Sadly, the three initial beasts are not given any further comment or elaboration within the angel’s unpacking of the dream. I will therefore take this opportunity to examine the popular reading of Daniel 7 and point out any weaknesses it might have. Then I will offer up my own critical reading of the passage.

 

The Popular Reading: the four beasts are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome

Lion: The initial beast is generally accepted to refer to the nation of Babylon. In fact, Babylon is elsewhere characterized as a lion by Jeremiah (Jer 4:7; 50:17). Daniel 7:4 notes how the wings of this lion were plucked, suggesting with the divine passive that it is none other than God who took away Babylon’s sovereignty. It was humbled to the point of a worthy comparison to the prideful arrogance of Nebuchadnezzar depicted in Daniel ch. 4, which ended with his humiliation at the hands of Daniel’s God (cf. Dan 4:16).

Bear: According to this interpretation, the following nation is Medo-Persia. The imagery used to describe this bear in Dan 7:5 is cryptic and it is difficult to unearth any clues which offer persuasive pointers. With the many suggestions appearing to be inconclusive regarding the intended meaning of the ribs in the mouth of this beast, one can generally say that it appears as a ferocious animal. It is extremely common to identify the bear with Medo-Persia strictly on the grounds that the second kingdom in Daniel 2 is also popularly regarded as referring to Medo-Persia.

The problems with this reading are easy to identify. First, Media and Persia were two separate nations outright before Persia conquered Babylon and Media. There is nothing in the bear’s description that warrants the pairing of two nations together. Secondly, the bear is said to be propped up on one side (one arm and one leg pointed upwards?), which could very reasonably indicate a general lack in any meaningful historical achievement. If that is indeed the meaning then is seems unlikely that the height of the Persian Empire fits this description. Although the Media-conquered Persian Empire was known for its ferocity, Media itself demonstrated a fair amount of ‘fight’ when it attacked the much larger Babylon in the 550s BCE (Media’s king Astyages went to war with Babylon’s Nabonidus). Barring the problem of questionably combining two kingdoms into one for the bear, there is nothing in its description that persuasively demonstrates Persian characteristics.

Leopard: According the popular view, Medo-Persia is followed by the kingdom of Greece, and therefore must fit the role of Daniel’s leopard. Its four wings and four heads could be used to refer to the four Greek generals who took control of the empire after Alexander the Great’s death.

However, Greece only fits when two kingdoms are shoved into the number 2 spot above (bear). The leopard, which is known for its speed, is described with four wings, further highlighting its swiftness. However, it is difficult to pinpoint how ‘speed’ relates to the Greek kingdom. On the other hand, Isa 41:3 describes Cyrus the Persian as a swift conqueror. Therefore, the suggestion that the leopard represents Greece finds no support in the text.

greeceTerrifying Fourth Beast: This last beast, according to the popular view, is none other than the Roman Empire. Rome naturally follows Greece in time. It had plenty of rulers to equate with the many horns, whether one wants to suggest Roman emperors or particular Popes from the Catholic Church which sprung out of Rome. Of course, this reading was popular mainly with Protestant Christians.

Unfortunately, Rome is technically the fifth kingdom (not the forth), since Media and Persia were separate nations. Furthermore, it is not altogether clear how a Roman little horn will wear down God’s holy ones for “time, times, and a half a time” – a phrase regarded as three and a half years. Even Josephus, the Jewish general who turned to the dark side of the force (i.e., over to the Roman side), interprets the fourth beast’s little horn as the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes:

And there would arise from their number a certain king who would make war on the Jewish nation and their laws, deprive them of the form of government based on these laws, spoil the temple and prevent the sacrifices from being offered for three years. These misfortunes our nation did in fact come to experience under Antiochus Epiphanes, just as Daniel saw and wrote that they would happen. –Ant. 10.275-6, Loeb translation

Note carefully how Dan 7:25 says that this little horn “will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a times.” So Josephus, one who knew well the might of Rome’s armies, nevertheless regarded the fourth kingdom in Daniel 7 to refer to Greece.

I suggest that equating the four beasts of Daniel 7 with Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome is not the most honest reading of the passage, failing multiple times to hold up to basic historical scrutiny.

 

The Modern Scholarly Reading: the four beasts are Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece

Lion: As mentioned above, the lion is generally agreed upon as referring to Babylon. Support comes from Jeremiah’s references to Babylon specifically as a lion (Jer 4:7; 50:17).

Bear: Media seems to fit the bear better than a constructed two-in-one kingdom of Medo-Persia. The bear described as being propped up on one side suggests a lack in historical achievements, while the ferocious attributes of this bear nevertheless indicate Media’s tenacity in battle observed by going to war with the Babylonian king Nabonidus.

Leopard: The next kingdom in line is Persia. The swiftness of a leopard possessing wings is also observed in Isaiah’s depiction of the Persian conqueror Cyrus as one pursuing so quickly that his feet “do not even touch the path” (Isa 41:3). The four heads could very easily refer to the four Persian kings which the Book of Daniel itself mentions in 11:2 – “Behold, three more kings are going to arise in Persia. Then a fourth will gain far more riches than all of them; as soon as he becomes strong through his riches, he will arouse the whole empire against the realm of Greece.” Furthermore, the “dominion given to” the leopard (Dan 7:6) suggest the vastness of Persia’s conquered territory, which again fits Persia’s history better than Greece’s.

Terrifying Fourth Beast: This leaves us with the fourth beast as Greece. This fits nicely based upon a variety of data. First, little horn was identified as the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes by Josephus (quoted above). Secondly, the three horns plucked up by this little horn are easily observed historically to be the Greek kings Seleucus IV, Demetrius, and the infant Antiochus, all of whom were killed by the Antiochus Epiphanes. Thirdly, the time of ‘three and a half years’ (“time, times, and half a time”) from Dan 7:25 exactly fits the period of the Jewish Maccabean Revolt against the Greek armies of Antiochus from 167-164 BCE. Fourthly, the First and Second books of Maccabees independently regard the one who made “alterations in times and in laws” (Dan 7:25) as the Greek tyrant Antiochus (1 Macc 1:45; 2 Macc 6:6). He in fact changed, momentarily, the Jewish calendar, making it difficult to keep the holy days. Fifthly, the manner of identifying individual kings with horns in iconography and on minted coins began with the Greeks (specifically with Seleucus I [see coin] and Antiochus I). seleucus 1 horn.JPGAdditional verification comes from 1 Enoch 90:9 which used horned animals to refer to the Maccabean Revolt against the evil Greek Empire. In regard to the ten horns used in the vision in order to bring the listener from the beginning of the Greek kingdom’s dominance (330s BCE) up to the life of the little horn Antiochus Epiphanes (170s BCE) suggests the figure of “ten” as a number of totality, often used in apocalyptic texts for designating successive periods in time (cf. especially 11Q13 2.6-8; 1 Enoch 91:15; Sib. Or. 2.15).

 

It is prudent to explore some of our findings at this point:

  1. The four beasts are not equally represented in the vision. One verse is given to explaining the lion (Dan 7:4), one verse on the bear (Dan 7:5), one verse on the leopard (Dan 7:6), and eleven given to the fourth beast. It would therefore make sense to state that the vision is primarily about about the fourth beast (and its little horn) while the former three beasts are a mere prelude to the fourth. A similar emphasis in one particular nation can be observed in the statue vision of Daniel 2 wherein the fourth nation is detailed with far more words than all of the previous three combined.
  2. It is not shocking that the scheme of Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece best fits both the four nations in Daniel 2 and also in Daniel 7.
  3. Within the emphasis given to the fourth (Greek) kingdom, there is considerable focus on the actions of the little horn which is best understood as Antiochus IV Epiphanes. One needs to ask why Daniel seems so obsessed with this particular Greek king. The answer almost surely lies in his persecuting harassment of the holy ones of God (Dan 7:21, 25) which was clearly felt during the events leading to the Maccabean Revolt in 167 BCE.
  4. The removal and judgment of the little horn (Antiochus IV) is not achieved by Jewish military power or warfare. Instead, God himself is the one who removes this evil figure. Therefore, the vision would encourage those suffering during the Maccabean Revolt to trust in God to deliver them rather than trusting in their weapons and zealous rebellion.

 

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Do you find the scholarly reconstruction persuasive? Please stay tuned for further posts on Daniel’s visions.

daniel7-812

 

 

 

Responsibly Interpreting the Vision in Daniel 2

This will be the beginning of a number of posts dealing with the historical critical interpretation of the visions in the Book of Daniel. There is a lot of, how should I say it, speculative nonsense in the internet that the naive and untrained take in uncritically. My goal in this post and those that follow is to persuade readers to what the author of the Book of Daniel wanted his original readers to understand regarding his visions. This is my interpretive approach, and my hope is that I can avoid reading into the text popular dispensational theories of prophecy.

In Daniel chapter two the great Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar has a troubling dream that he desires to be interpreted. He summons his court of wise men and demands that they not only tell him what his dream was about but also to interpret it for him. Of course, no one can ascertain what King Neb’s dream consisted of out of thin air, so after a course of events, the young exile Daniel is given a chance to provide an explanation. Daniel reveals that the King had a vision of a large statue made up of differing metals. The head was made of gold, the breast/arms of silver, the legs of bronze, and the feet a mixture of iron and clay. Then out of the sky came a rock made without hands which struck the statue and filled the entire earth as a mountain. Here is a visual for those who like these sort of things: daniel statue

Daniel then offers an interpretation of the King’s vision. Sadly, this interpretation requires the modern reader to interpret it further, and the last 2,000+ years have yielded a plethora of readings regarding this particular vision’s meaning.

I will begin by outlining one popular reading of this vision and then demonstrate the weakness in its argument. Afterwards, I will offer up what I (and the majority of biblical scholars writing on Daniel today) have concluded is the more persuasive reading.

 

The Popular Reading: the four kingdoms are Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome

Gold kingdom: Daniel gives this one to us for free; “You are the head of gold” he declares to Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:38).

Silver kingdom: This next one is interpreted in this scheme as the Medo-Persian Empire, combining two kingdoms into one. Media was a kingdom outright but it was eventually conquered by Cyrus the Persian, and Babylon soon fell to the Persian Empire afterwards. Regarding the silver kingdom Daniel says, “After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you” (Dan 2:39a).

The problem with this interpretation is that it takes two kingdoms and combines it into one. Media was its own empire and Persia was its own empire. Many ancient historians note how Media was its own independent empire apart from Persia prior to being conquered (just as Babylon was an autonomous empire prior to be assimilated by Persia). The Greek historian Herodotus notes how Media was distinct from Persia in history (1:95-97, 130-132) and the Roman historian Velleius Paterculus reported the same facts (History of Rome, 1.6.6). Furthermore, the supposed Medo-Perisan Empire lasted over two hundred years, spanning from the mid sixth century until it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 333-31 BCE. How does a nation which existed for a longer duration than Babylon and covered more territory than Babylon fit the description of “another kingdom inferior to you” (Dan 2:39a)?

It doesn’t.

Bronze kingdom: In this interpretation, the Greek kingdom of Alexander the Great is suggested. The rest of Dan 2:39 says, “then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth” (Dan 2:39b). This is possible, since Greece conquered Persia, an empire which could also fit this description based upon its conquered territory.

The problem with this reading is that Greece being equated to the third kingdom ignores the fact that Media and Persia were formerly two separate empires, making Greece the fourth kingdom rather than the third. In other terms, one can only arrive at Greece being the third kingdom if they take the two kingdoms of Media and Persia and combine them into one kingdom, thus forcing Greece into the third slot.

This seems dishonest and misleading.

Iron/clay kingdom: The fourth kingdom (and I must stress that the text only posits four kingdoms in the statue [cf. 2:41, 42]) is therefore Rome in this prophetic scheme, since Rome is the next major empire to arise in history.

The problems with this reading are many. First of all, Rome is technically the fifth kingdom (as Media and Persia were originally two separate empires). Secondly, it is difficult to ascertain what Dan 2:42 means in regard to Rome when it says that “some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle.” The Roman interpretation of this clue is not obvious. Thirdly, Dan 2:43 tells how this kingdom will have mixed marriages which will not result in peace (“they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another”). This does not fit Rome and its emperors at all. However, we do have evidence in a later vision in the Book of Daniel where the Greek kings mingled in marriage (Dan 11:6, 17). These attempts to marry off daughters to a rival ruler in order to bring peace did not last, as we will observe in a later post regarding Daniel chapter 11.

Needless to say, the Popular Reading (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome) is problematic and does not hold up to historical scrutiny.

 

The Modern Scholarly Reading: the four kingdoms are Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece

Gold kingdom: Again, this is clear. Daniel said that Babylon is “the head of gold” (Dan 2:38).

Silver kingdom: Since Media, a small and inferior kingdom, existed outright, I suggest that this is the second kingdom. No need to combine this with Persia and forcing kingdoms #3 and #4 into different slots. Media, an insignificant kingdom in regard to the Jewish people, perfectly fits the biblical description “another kingdom inferior to you” (Dan 2:39a).

Bronze kingdom: Persia is the next kingdom in line, the kingdom which conquered by Media and Babylon. Its ruling territory extended much farther than Babylon ever possessed. This fits the description of a kingdom “which will rule over all the earth” (Dan 2:39b)

Iron/clay kingdom: The fourth kingdom is now Greece. It is well known that after Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE his empire was split among his four Greek generals. Two of them become quite prominent in history: Seleucus (who ruled from Syria) and Ptolemy (who ruled from Egypt). This explains how the fourth kingdom was a, in the words of Daniel, “divided kingdom” (Dan 2:41). The other two lesser-known generals eventually did not last into history with their respective portions of the Greek kingdom while the Seleucids and the Ptolemies established lengthy dynasties. Granted, the Seleucids became the most powerful Greek dynasty among the four generals. This adequately explains Daniel’s reference to the divided kingdom with the words “some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle” (Dan 2:42). Furthermore, we are aware that there was intermingled marriages among these surviving Greek dynasties (cf. Dan. 11:6, 17), especially Antiochus II with Berenice in 252 BCE and Ptolemy V to Cleopatra in 193 BCE.

 

In sum, I propose that the four kingdoms in the vision of Daniel 2 are Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece.

daniel-dream