Honest Theology – Pilot episode

Today was the beginning of a new show/podcast/livestream/radio program (not sure what it really is) called Honest Theology. The aim of Honest Theology is to help you interpret the Bible with honesty and truthfulness.

In this episode, the pilot, we talked about the Synoptic Problem and why most scholars have settled upon Mark and Q being written sources for Matthew and Luke. We also looked at excellent commentaries for Matthew’s Gospel. Furthermore, we performed exegesis upon Rev 1:1-3.

Let me know what you think of the show. The plan is to have the show livestreamed weekly from 10:30am – noon EST every Sunday morning. If you do not have a place of fellowship during that time, please consider joining us on the livestream!

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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.

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 9 (part 2)

gab2This is a continuation of my previous post where I began examining the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24-27. We left off at the end of 9:24 where the apocalyptic revealer Gabriel was unpacking the historical reality of what the seventy weeks were to accomplish. He expressed these purposes with six infinitives, many of which clearly find their fulfillment in the climax of the Maccabean Revolt in 164 BCE. The following verse (9:25) will move the listener through history to a particular period of emphasis stressed by the author.

9:25 “And you will know and discern that from the going forth of the word to bring back and build Jerusalem up to an anointed ruler [there will be] seven weeks then sixty-two weeks. It will return and be built up, both plaza and moat, in times of distress.”

This passage is in dire need of commentary, so I will begin with a few observations:

  1. The passage breaks down the seventy weeks into three explicit groups. The first group involves seven weeks (a jubilee?) in which there will be a decree to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it. This group seems to end with some unnamed anointed ruler (more on him later). The second group is a massive sixty-two weeks, about which nothing clear is said. This leaves only a single week – the seventieth week (to be discussed more fully in 9:26-27).
  2. It has become common for interpreters interested in predictive prophecy to reckon the ‘seven weeks’ and ‘sixty-two weeks’ as a group of periods needing to be combined, assuming along the way that Gabriel intended for an entire sixty-nine week period to be understood here (rather than two distinct periods). This kind of reading is open to scrutiny for a variety of reasons. First, weeks.JPGthe verse explicitly says “seven weeks and/then sixty-two weeks,” using the noun “weeks” twice in qualification of the two given numbers. If Gabriel all along had meant sixty-nine weeks, why does he fail to say so? Secondly, critical editions of the Hebrew text place a symbol called an atnah (atnah.JPG), delineating a pause or a break, upon the first occurrence of “weeks.” This effectively separates the seven weeks from the sixty-two weeks. The Masoretes placed this mark here to avoid the potential confusion. For these reasons I have translated the phrase in question, “[there will be] seven weeks, then sixty-two weeks.
  3. Now, many English translations interpret the Hebrew mashiach here as if it were the Anointed One, i.e., the Messiah. Unfortunately, the Hebrew does not have the definite article here, so an explicit christological reference is very unlikely. The noun mashiach  is initially used in the Hebrew Bible when referencing other anointed individuals such as priests (cf. Lev 4:3, 5, 16; 6:15). Since the first group (seven weeks) involves the rebuilding of Jerusalem and a ruling anointed figure, the most likely candidate for an “anointed ruler” is Joshua the high priest, a critical figure in Jewish history frequently mentioned during this period (Hag 1:1, 12, 14; 2:2, 4; Zech 3:1, 3, 6, 8-9, 11). Of course, the Jews did not possess a kingly anointed figure for 500 years after the Babylonian exile, but the Persians tolerated a high priest to function as a ruler.
  4. The verse stresses that Jerusalem will indeed be rebuilt and that there will be a physical returning from Babylonia. This, of course, was one of the main emphases in Daniel’s prayer (Dan 9:16, 19). There will even be a town plaza and moat in Jerusalem, as even these minor details are given to assure Daniel that the physical exile will come to an end. There is a minor caveat that there will be times of distress, but these are not qualified any further so as to gain any certain perspectives. They may very well be references to the troubles of rebuilding the temple, the marriage issues with Ezra, the subjugation by Alexander, or even the conflicts between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. As we can see, there are plenty of options for unnamed times of distress.
  5. I again must stress that the periods of weeks were not intended to literally be multiplied out in order to ascertain the specific day, month, and year of these events. There have gab been many interpreters over the past 2,000+ years who have tried this, and none of their timelines have ever worked to a consensus of scholarly  satisfaction. I noted in my previous post that there are multiple instances in apocalyptic works where various periods of “weeks” are used to divide and move through history, similar to different eras or blocks of time. If there is anything we can take away from ‘seven weeks’ and ‘sixty-two weeks’ it would be that there is a descent sized period with possible jubilee overtones (forgiveness from punishments of exile?) followed by a much more sizable period unqualified by specific events.
  6. I also need to point out that Gabriel’s explanation (9:24-27) covers four verses in a manner similar to what we have seen in every one of the dreams/visions in Daniel chs. 2, 7, and 8 wherein the narrator moves quickly over the initial portions of history only to focus more specifically upon the final kingdom and its “little horn” Antiochus IV. Note how much emphasis in the four verses is given to each subject:
    • 9:24 is the summary of the entire schema,
    • 9:25 deals with the first sixty-nine weeks
    • 9:26-27 focuses entirely on the final week.

This indicates that the primary purpose of the Gabriel’s explanation in 9:24-27 is to bring the reader through history only to focus primarily upon the events of the final week. Therefore it will be that week which will occupy my next post.

For those interested in further reading on Daniel 2 and its four kingdoms, see the recent post over at the “Its in the Text” blog.

 

Responsibly Interpreting the Vision in Daniel 9 (part 1)

In our fourth installment of this ongoing series on the Book of Daniel’s visions we will begin to examine the famous prophecy of the Seventy Weeks. I’ve been working at this material for some time now and even had this semester’s Hebrew students translate the significant sections in class as an experiment. Now I must admit that the final four verses of Daniel 9 are complicated, so I will try my best to simplify the data without watering down the details.

danielwriting.JPGThe chapter begins narrated in the first year of Darius the Mede. Without getting into all of the problems regarding this person’s identity, it is safe to say that the author places this event in 536 BCE, exactly seventy years from the reported beginning of Daniel’s story in Dan 1:1 (606 BCE). The protagonist notes how he observed that Jeremiah the prophet prophesied about the duration of exile in his scrolls (the length of the Book of Jeremiah would have taken up multiple Hebrew scrolls). This duration, described as pertaining to the “completion of the desolations of Jerusalem” (9:2), were to last seventy years (Jer 25:11). According to the chronology given in Daniel, the seventy year penalty has just finished up, but readers of Daniel chs. 7 and 8 know that the desolations upon Jerusalem, its people, and its holy temple certainly have not yet ceased. Furthermore, the return from exile did not restore ownership of Israel to the Jews and they were not allowed to reinstate the Davidic monarchy. In other words, if the exile is over then why aren’t the conditions restored back to their former glory?

For those Jews who returned by Babylon, this was a considerable problem in need of answers. So Daniel offers a very humbling and pious prayer to his God, focusing specifically upon the sins of “Jerusalem and your people” (9:16, 19). The petition concludes with the prayerful request for God to “let your face shine upon your desolate sanctuary” (9:17), that is, the Jerusalem temple which in 536 BCE was still destroyed.

During the prayer, an angelic messenger named Gabriel appears to Daniel so as to accomplish the apocalyptic function of the heavenly revealer of the prophecy. Just as we have observed in Daniel chs. 7 and 8, an angel will reveal the details to Daniel (one of the major differences between Daniel and the Major Prophets of the Hebrew Bible wherein they are directed by the “word of the LORD”). Daniel 9:24-27 records are all the words of Gabriel the apocalyptic insider, the one unveiling God’s will for his people. The original  readers are placed in a position of privilege.

I will now begin to take each of the four remaining verses in order, noting along the way some of the popular interpretations, pointing out their inconsistencies, and suggesting a more persuasive alternative. The renderings of the verses are my own translation from the Hebrew text. This post will cover Dan 9:24 and the subsequent posts will cover the remaining three verses.

9:24 – “Seventy sevens (weeks) have been determined upon your people and upon your holy city; to complete the cultic law violation, to seal sins, to cover iniquity, to bring in perpetual covenant faithfulness, to seal the vision and the prophet, and to anoint the holy of holies.

It appears here that Jeremiah the prophet’s prediction of seventy years has undergone a substantial revision. It has now been multiplied by seven, a number within apocalyptic schemes which denotes completion or perfection (cf. Matt 18:21-22; the Book of Revelation). Furthermore, the literary technique of dividing particular sections of history into ‘weeks’ is extremely common in contemporary apocalyptic texts. I have over the years gathered a plethora of examples (1 Enoch 10:11-12; 91:12-17; 93:1-10; 4Q181 frag. 2:1-4; 4Q390 frag. 2:4-6; Jubilees [title]; 3:15) which have persuaded me that the use of ‘weeks’ to depict sections of history is meant to be understood figuratively rather than with a scientific calculator. This point, in addition to the number seven used to multiply the original seventy weeks, caution us from concluding with a multiplied-out 490 years as a specific number to be placed on a timeline. I will have more to say on this in the exegesis of Dan 9:25-26.

Daniel 9:24 says that Jeremiah’s seventy week prediction has been modified and reinterpreted to accomplish six particular infinitive statements:

#1 “to complete the cultic law violation” – The first purpose of the seventy weeks is to complete the violation to the cultic laws. The Book of Daniel has already alerted us to the “little horn” Antiochus Epiphanes who was predicted to transgress the regular temple sacrifices and desecrate the holy temple (Dan 8:12-14), using the same noun pesha appearing here in Dan 9:24.

#2 “to seal sins” – The second infinitive is to, in a sense, ‘put a lid on the problem’ of these sins which have brought about the temple’s desecration and the people’s plight. The verb ‘to seal’ is used in 1 Kgs 21:8; Jer 32:10, 11, 44 to indicate the act of containing something inside or holding something in check. It should be noted that the Hebrew text has “to seal sins” as the ketiv reading (“that which is written) while the scribes later modified it to say “to finish sin” with the qere reading (“that which is read”). I, of course, went with the original reading and not what some later scribe altered the text to say. It is also sad that modern English translations which give both readings do not tell the reader which is the ketiv and which is the qere reading. Some Christian readers, who have not observed that there are two readings, have jumped on the “to finish sin” qere reading and interpreted it in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. While I agree that the salvific act of Jesus is of extreme importance, it is puzzling to me how it deals with the problem of the historical Babylonian exile and desolated Jerusalem temple.

#3 “to cover iniquity” – This third infinitive addresses the specific iniquities (Hebrew avon) spoken by Daniel in his prayer (Dan 9:13, 16). In other words, the seventy weeks will cover the specific iniquities confessed by Daniel in this chapter’s petition.

#4 “to bring in perpetual covenant faithfulness” – With the Jerusalem temple out of commission during the Babylonian exile and the initial years of the Persian period there would be no sacrifices taking place. Furthermore, if Antiochus and his armies are ae4.JPGgoing to profane the temple in 167 BCE as predicted in Daniel chs. 7 and 8, then the Jewish covenantal act of faithfulness and obedience would need to be restored. The Jerusalem temple needs to be thoroughly cleansed (from being spoiled by the Greeks in the 160s) before perpetual covenant faithfulness can be established. Some Christian readers have read this infinitive to refer to the establishment of the new covenant in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but this does not make any sense as a historical answer to Daniel’s prayer and requires the reader to read into the text the new covenant (about which Daniel 9 says absolutely nothing).

#5 “to seal up the vision and the prophet” – This fifth infinitive sets out to seal/complete the vision (presumably the vision which Gabriel formerly gave back in Daniel 8 regarding the desolations upon the temple and the Jewish people). The “prophet” is easily identified as Jeremiah the prophet already mentioned in this chapter (9:2), the one who uttered the into seventy year prophecy. In other words, the seventy weeks will accomplish all that Jeremiah originally hoped to achieve with his seventy year prediction.

#6 “to anoint the holy of holies” – Both in 536 BCE and during the events of the Maccabean Revolt was the Jerusalem temple in great disarray, either in pieces or profaned by corrupt priests and Greek influences. The seventy weeks prophecy will end with the temple being holyofholiesanointed, thus restoring the holy of holies. Christian readings of this which point to the death and resurrection of Jesus are unable to offer a persuasive answer for how Good Friday brought an anointing upon the temple’s holy of holies, something which the four Gospel writers never mention). However, the Jewish people, after forcing Antiochus’ troops out of Jerusalem in 164 BCE, did in fact cleanse and restore the Jerusalem temple, free from Greek contamination.

 

As I look at my word count I think it is best to take a break at this point in the exegesis, leaving the remaining three verses for future posts. I will make one small observation at this point and note how it is not a coincidence that the events surrounding the Maccabean Revolt seem to be saturated in Dan 9:24, similar to what we observed with the “little horn” in both Daniel 7 and Daniel 8.

Stay tuned for further updates on the rest of Daniel 9.

 

 

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.

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