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.

Who are ‘the Spirits in Prison’ in 1 Peter 3:19?

delugeThe Spirits in prison, to whom Jesus made proclamation, have been a matter of dispute and confusion for centuries. Who are these ‘spirits’ and when was it when Jesus preached to them? The passage, located, in 1 Peter 3:18-20, has traditionally been understood in three primary ways:

Option 1: Jesus preached, in some preincarnate state prior to his birth, to the spirits, who are the disobedient persons who failed to get on the boat when Noah preached;

Option 2: Jesus preached, during the conscious intermediate state between his death and his resurrection, to the spirits (either the disobedient persons or the sinful angels);

Option 3: Jesus preached, after his resurrection from the dead, to the spirits in prison (i.e., the angels who sinned).

All three of these options have been argued by expositors over the last two thousand years. How can we deduce which option is the most likely meaning of 1 Peter? Lets begin with some important points. 1 Peter 3:18 should be read as saying that Jesus was put to death but was made alive (via resurrection) in/by the spirit. The contrast of ‘being put to death’ and ‘being made alive’ elsewhere clearly denotes death and bodily resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22; Rom. 4:17; 8:11; John 5:21; 2 Kings 5:7 LXX). The beginning of 3:19 (“in which also he went”) indicates that it was in Jesus’ resurrected state that he made said proclamation. This rules out options 1 and 2.

The reference to the ‘spirits’ could mean a number of things. It would be odd to refer to human beings as spirits (although cf. 1 John 4:1). However, angels are described with this term within the Second Temple period in a few important passages:

But to which of the angels has He ever said, “sit at My right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?” Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? (Heb. 1:13-14)

Who makes his angels spirits, and his ministers a flaming fire (Psa. 104:4 LXX; quoted in Heb. 1:7)

Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing on His right and on His left. The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab king of Israel to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.‘ (2 Chron. 18:18-20)

The spirits (angels) in prison seem to be those who were disobedient during the flood of Noah (1 Pet. 3:20). This episode appears in Gen. 6:2-4, where the “sons of God” refer to disobedient angels. This reading is confirmed by the other occurrences of the “sons of God” (b’ne haelohim) in the OT (cf. Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Psa. 89:6; Dan. 3:25). Further NT testimony for this can be found in Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4.


Part 6 – Did the Early Christians Worship Jesus? book review

Dunn’s final chapter contains his concluding thoughts on his study of early Christian worship. I will take the time here to discuss his conclusions and comment with my own.

Potential dangers and problems with a too-narrowly defined worship of Jesus: Dunn is quite nice and diplomatic when he writes this critique, but anyone familiar with American Christianity will soon realize what he is trying to get across. Many Churches, Christian songs, media, and books are worthy of the critique which Dunn calls “Jesus-olatry”- which is the giving of worship to Jesus which falls short of the worship due to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Dunn compares this to idolatry, where the idol (in whatever shape or form) takes the place of the one true God. Then he comes out and says it: Jesus has been substituted for God.

This is a rather stunning critique indeed, but upon further reflection (a week after finishing the book) I think that it is well founded. Too many Christians think that Christianity is all about Jesus. Two examples will hopefully get my point across. I overheard a conversation between a young Christian and Jew who were about to eat lunch. The Jew asked the Christian to make the mealtime prayer “non-specific.” The young Christian was puzzled and asked his friend, “Well, I have always prayed to Jesus, who else is there to pray to?” His Jewish friend replied. “You can pray to the Father.” The Christian responded that he has never prayed to the Father, only to Jesus. I personally wonder if this Christian has ever read the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus commanded prayers to be directed to the Father who is in heaven. Dunn makes a similar point that the Father has almost been forgotten by citing another book which makes the same point. My second example comes from a Christian song called ‘One Way’ which I believe is still on the radio. Here is a Youtube link to it: . The chorus lyrics go like this: “One way, Jesus, You’re the only one that I could live for.” These examples, I hope, show that Dunn’s critique is very real and should be heard by all professing Christians.

Dunn’s second point deals with monotheism and the unity involved therein. He states that the evidence is fair enough to remind readers that God’s oneness is not a mathematical unity. God has revealed himself in the past through his Wisdom, Spirit, angels, and his Word, without detracting from him being the one and only God. Dunn does not say that this divides that God into something other than one (like two or three) but his point is that the one God of the Shema is that he has revealed himself in many ways, expressed his purpose and mission in different outlets and opportunities. As John 1:18 states, it was Jesus Christ who ultimately exegetes the Father to the world. Early Christians in the first century never worshipped the Holy Spirit, as he points out in a footnote.

I think I am persuaded by Dunn’s logic here, even though I agreed with his reasoning prior to reading the book. I just never came to the wording of the conclusion he has on my own. I do still see God as one, but understand his way of revealing himself in the terms of agency. Perhaps I need to nuance that and say that when God sends his angel, messenger, Spirit, prophet, king, or even Messiah out on a mission that God not only invests his authority in this agent but also his presence and identity. I think that too often Christians have confused the invested authority and titles given to these agents with the one who sent them. Nobody really thinks that Steve at your front door delivering Papa John’s Pizza really is Papa John. Steve is the agent delivering on behalf of Papa John’s. It is true in some sense to say that, “Papa John’s is at the door.” But we understand that Steve is only representing the business that sent him. Since the Ancient Near Eastern culture was fully a functionally agentival readers of the Bible need to take this area of context seriously.

This realm of agency (if that is the best way to define the concept) is used in Dunn’s closing thoughts. He states that “The only one to be worshipped is the one God.” Yet he goes on to say that hymns and petitions should still be offered to Jesus, but to the glory of God the Father. This is why Christians pray “in Jesus’ name” because prayer is offered to the heavenly Father but through Jesus Christ.

Here the direction is seems to be a vertical one, going up from the congregation to Jesus (as mediator) and then on up to the Father, God. This is not a horizontal rendering.

As for the answer to the question which brings about the title of the book, Dunn admits that it is less relevant, less important, and misleading. I agree. On the whole, early Christians reserved worship for the Father and expressed it in terms of point #3 above.

Of course, what we think of the meaning of the word ‘worship’ is much narrower that it is used in the Scriptures. The point must always be kept in mind when pursuing these topics.

Part 4: Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?

 In the 3rd chapter, Dunn puts away the toys and brings out the big guns, err, the theological big guns. It is by far the most complex and important chapter up to this point. Since the end of the previous chapter the driving question was forced to be revised. Therefore, Dunn seeks the consideration of the following points:

  1. Generally, what did Israel’s monotheism entail?
  2. How did the mediation of angels small and great reflect the one true God of Israel?
  3. How were God’s Spirit, Wisdom, and Word understood by Israel?
  4.  In what sense were select human beings spoken in terms of apotheosis?

Monotheism is summarized in the first section. Dunn reminds his readers that the Shema denoted the oneness of Israel’s God. This is similar to what we read in the first of the Ten Commandments. Dunn cites both Philo and Josephus who both report in their writings that Jews understand God to be one, even amidst their pagan neighbors. Only one God was deemed worthy of worship: the God of Israel.

That being said, Dunn points out that the noun ‘god’ does not carry only one meaning within the pages of the Hebrew Bible. Moses, acting as God’s agent, was called ‘god’ in the book of Exodus. The Davidic king (probably Solomon) who ruled on God’s behalf was called ‘god’ in Psalm 45. Even human judges, who judge in place of God, are given the title ‘god’ on a few occasions. Dunn concludes this section that even though the Shema was of central and crucial importance for Jews it was not something which restricted the use of the title ‘god’ in metaphoric or poetic fashion.

The next section deals with angels/messengers who bear messages on God’s behalf. Within the Hebrew Bible there are various accounts of these messengers not only bringing forth the word from the LORD but also carrying his name and very presence. Sometimes the narrator of these accounts seemingly switches back and forth between the voice of the messenger and the LORD himself. Dunn argues that the best way to understand these accounts is to recognize that the angel was not God as such but could be said to be God in his self-revelation. The Hebrew concept of the ‘agent bearing the authority of the one who sent him/her’ seems to be the best piece of context in bringing the meaning of these passages to light. Dunn cites Exodus, various pseudopigraphal texts, and the Dead Sea Scrolls which identify the messenger as ‘the angel of the presence’. The Apocalypse of Abraham bears an account where the angel Yahoel is spoken of having God’s very name in him. Yahoel itself seems to be a combination of YHWH and el, the divine name and the Hebrew word for ‘god’. The level of the divine presence represented by this angelic messenger is at one of the highest levels possible.

Dunn turns next to the complicated subjects of defining God’s Spirit, Wisdom, and Word within the Hebrew Bible, apocrypha, and pseudopigrapha. These terms were used to express God’s interaction and intervention within his creation. The Spirit of God is defined by Dunn as “a way of characterizing God’s presence and power.” It also is used as a synonym for ‘breath’, God’s ‘presence’, and God’s ‘hand’. In the 2nd Temple literature the Spirit of God seems to have taken the role of a semi-independent divine agent. Various passages in the Psalms, Proverbs, Book of Wisdom, Judith, and even 2 Baruch depict the Spirit in ways which are more poetic and independent from God. The evidence, according to Dunn, seems to be describing how the unseen and invisible God can interact in revelation, salvation, and inspiration to his creation. Also, Dunn points out that worship is never ascribed to his Spirit in any text. He concludes from this fact that Israel never understood this poetic way of describing God’s action as something “semi-independent of God.” God reveals himself and is active by means of his personal and powerful Spirit/breath.

The pursuit of wise and honorable living came to be expressed by the personification of divine Wisdom within the literature of the Jews. In the Book of Proverbs Wisdom is depicted as a lady sought after by young men. She is also seen as God’s personal companion in the poetic reconstructions of creation. This same theme is picked up in Sirach as well as the Book of Wisdom. Dunn summarizes the available evidence to argue that Wisdom should be understood as metaphorical and poetic in nature, not as an independent being from God. In both Sirach and Baruch it is ‘Torah’ which is the ultimate interpretation of Wisdom.

God’s word is the general way of depicting God in his communication and speech with his creation. The various days in the Genesis creation are opened by with God speaking them into existence. Dunn points out that over 90 percent of the occurrences of ‘the word of the LORD’ refer to inspired prophecy. God’s word also seems to at times take on a personality of its own, such as when God establishes his word, or when the word gets praised, gets trusted in, and even hoped in. Many of the poetic sections of the Bible and the post-biblical literature speak of God’s word being the means of God’s creation, such as Psalm 33:6 where the word is used synonymously with his ‘breath’. Dunn argues that these passages hardly constitute the designation of a semi-independent or hypostatic status to the word itself. He cites Philo who in his most extended discussion of God’s creative activity likens it to an architect who plans the city he is building in a blueprint. For Philo, the Logos (word) is “the archetypal idea, the overall plan that comes to material expression in creation.” In similar fashion to God’s Spirit, the divine Word/Logos of God was never worshipped, even in Philo’s writings.

What might be the most surprising part of this chapter to readers unfamiliar with the subjects and literature would be the next section Dunn tackles: that of the exaltation of select human beings within Israel’s understanding. He points out that “we need to be alert to the fact that the concept of a human person being divinized was not unfamiliar in the world as Jesus’ time.” He cites evidence of Moses, Elijah, and Enoch all being exalted into the heavens. Other literature suggests that even Adam was thought of having been exalted to a heavenly throne. Dunn states that this evidence raises the possibility within monotheistic Judaism of a great human figure being exalted to heaven as permissible.

Dunn’s next chapter will seek to take all the evidence surveyed up to this point and place the New Testament rightly within this very context. As for my own comments, these are my thoughts at the moment:

-It is interesting that within a strict monotheistic religion that human beings appointed by God can rightly be called ‘god’. What is even more interesting is that when the book of Hebrews wishes to call Jesus ‘God/god’ that it cites one of these looser passages (Heb. 1:8-9/Psalm 45:6-7).

-Angels/messengers seem to unambiguously carry the divine presence and even God’s very name in the way which can only intelligently be understood under the principle of agency.

-I’m not sure what to think of the thought of exalted human beings, but it seems that figures of importance within the Israelite religion surely were honored with exaltation and even worship at times.

-Dunn’s assessment of Wisdom, Spirit, and Word need to be taken seriously by anyone looking at this subject in relation to Christology or multiple persons of the Trinity.

-Philo in particular should be read by anyone who wishes to make any definitive statements about the interpretation of John 1:1-18, especially his De Opificio Mundi 16-44.