How Jesus Understood Daniel’s ‘Abomination of Desolation’

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

I will make my argument in successive numerical points.

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


Responsibly Interpreting the Visions of Daniel 11 (part 4)

Daniel In this final post on the history described in Daniel 11 we will cover verses 29-45. My aecoinattempts all along have been to responsibly read the text of Daniel firmly rooted in its historical context so as to best make sense of its message. Although there still seem to be readers who wish to dismiss these historical readings outright in favor of theological positions which place all of these events in the unknown future, I nevertheless insist that these texts must be taken seriously in all of their details, both geographically and politically. As Ben Witherington III used to regularly say in class, “a text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to mean.”


Daniel 11:29-30a

The temporal phrase “at the appointed time” serves to highlight the events which are to follow as climactic. In the year 168 BCE Antiochus IV again invaded Egypt, attempting to cripple the military forces of Ptolemy VI and his siblings. In particular, he moved against the grand city of Alexandria. This act of aggression, as the text indicates, would not turn out as it did previously for Antiochus. The Roman army, which was strong enough to “play referee” in the Mediterranean, moved to intervene against Antiochus IV. The reference to the “ships of Kittim” indicate Italian/Roman forces according to other contemporary usages (cf. 1QpHab 2.12, 14; 3.4, 9; 4.5, 10; 4Q161 frgs. 8-10 3.5-8; 4Q169 1.3).

Neither Rome nor Syria desired to go to war with one another, and Rome certainly feared how the balance of power would significantly shift if Syria controlled Egypt. The historian Polybius recounts how the Roman ambassador Gaius Popillius Laenas personally met Antiochus at Alexandria and submitted unto him Rome’s terms on what historians call the “Day of Eleusis”:

But when [Antiochus], after reading [the terms], said he would like communicate with his friends about this intelligence, Popilius acted in a manner which was thought to be offensive and exceeding arrogant. He was carrying a stick cut from a vine, and with this he drew a circle around Antiochus and told him he must remain inside this circle until he gave his decision about the contents of the letter. [Antiochus] was astonished at this authoritative proceeding, but, after a few moments’ hesitation, he said that he would do all that the Romans demanded. (History 29.27.4-7)

Inevitably, Antiochus retreated back toward the north. During his time in Egypt, rumors of his death had spread to Jerusalem. This provoked Jason, the formerly-ousted high priest, to violently engage the current high priest Menelaus. Jason was eventually defeated and forced to retreat, leaving Menelaus still in charge of Jerusalem.


Daniel 11:30b-31

In light of the skirmish between Jason and Menelaus (which Antiochus understandably assumed to be a revolt) Antiochus send his agent Apollonius the Mysarch to Jerusalem with a contingency of Syrian troops. This occurred in the summer of 167 BCE. The author of 1 Maccabees refers to Apollonius as a “chief collector of tribute” who came with a “large force” (1 Macc 1:29; cf. 2 Macc 5:24). The situation appeared peaceful at first, but soon turned deadly;

Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel (1 Macc 1:30).

Menelaus the high priest was a strong proponent of Hellenizing Judea, even going so far, according to 2 Macc 13:3, as personally partnering up with Antiochus in hopes of being established in his office as high priest.

In 167 the Syrian forces desecrated the Jerusalem temple and halted the sacrificial system from continuing to function. A pagan altar was placed on top of the altar used for burnt sacrifices. This pagan altar is the object described by Dan 11:31 as “the abomination of desolation.” Note carefully that the A of D in 11:31 is a thing (not a person). This is confirmed by the contemporary writer of 1 Maccabees who states that “they set up the abomination of desolation upon the altar” (1 Macc 1:54). When the Maccabean forces succeeded at driving out the Syrians in 164 BCE, the removal of this abomination is likewise spoken of as an object rather than a person;

they had pulled down the abomination, which he had set up upon the altar in Jerusalem (1 Macc 6:7).

From the perspective of pious Jews in Jerusalem, the pagan influences were coming from both Antiochus and from the reigning high priest. This was nothing short of a national disaster. The struggle was real.


Daniel 11:32

With smooth words Antiochus will turn those acting wickedly toward godlessness. mattatiasHistorically, Antiochus’ officials attempted to persuade the Jews to offer sacrifices upon this pagan altar (1 Macc 2:14). Mattathias, the father of the Maccabean family, was told that “you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts” (1 Macc 2:18). Mattathias slew the commander in righteous zeal, ushering the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt. Daniel 11:32 frames the nature of those who resisted Hellenization as “those who know their God,” thus highlighting their fidelity to the God of Israel.


Daniel 11:33-35

These next verses will highlight the varied reactions to the abomination of desolation which Antiochus’ forces erected. “Those who have insight” refer to a select group known as the maskilim whose ideal characteristics are highlighted throughout the Book of Daniel. The four Hebrew youths exiled to Babylon are described with the same Hebrew verb (Dan 1:4), particularly in regard to their refusal to compromise strict Jewish kosher (1:8) in addition to their rejection of pagan idols (3:18; 6:10). In Daniel chapter twelve the maskilim are further identified as leading many in faithful covenant observance (i.e., “righteousness” – 12:3) and those possessing discernment/understanding (12:10). What is interesting from a social standpoint is that the maskilim, in each of these references (including 11:33), are never described as actively contributing to the violent uprising or armed rebellion against the agents of Hellenism. It would appear that since the initial four Hebrews and the further references to the maskilim in Daniel 11 and 12 are highly considered that the authors of the Book of Daniel shared this wise and nonviolent ideology and wanted to persuade the readers to adopt it as well. For the maskilim, the appropriate response to pagan oppression is nonviolent resistance, refusal to compromise faithful Jewish practices, and a willingness to be martyred for their covenant commitment to Yahweh.

Many of the maskilim will unfortunately fall by sword, fire, captivity, and by plunder. These unfortunate consequences have already been observed in the lives of Daniel and his three friends. The martyred mothers and brothers refusing to compromise with Hellenism are beautifully depicted in 2 Macc 6-7. The apocalyptic nature of Daniel’s oracles here clearly reflects the understanding that the righteous will indeed suffer at the hands of the wicked in this age as they wait expectedly for God’s intervention in history.

The maskilim will receive a little help, but the results will yield little fruit because those helping only in hypocritical words. The insincerity of their initial followers will not help their cause (in contrast from the more dominant form of resistance in the violent revolt of the Maccabean militia). In the meantime, some of the maskilim will “refine, purge, and make pure.” These same three verbs reappear in Dan 12:3 to contrast the maskilim with the wicked, further encouraging Daniel’s readers to adopt their worldviews in the midst of pagan persecution. Their actions, according to Dan 11:35b, will continue until a time of the end, and “the end” in sight for Daniel’s readers will be the intervention of God to remove the Greek oppressor Antiochus Epiphanies, thus liberating Jerusalem from pagan oppression.


Daniel 11:36-39

These verses break up the historical narrative by offering focus on the character of aecoin2.JPGAntiochus IV. Throughout the history detailed in Daniel 11 there were many kings fighting against each other. Antiochus Epiphanies goes a step further and magnifies himself against the God of gods, Israel’s God. Antiochus IV was the first king in history to promote himself on coins as “god” and “god manifest” (note the coin on the left with the Greek BASILEOS ANTIOCHOU THEOU EPIPHANOUS NIKYFOROY – “Antiochus, God made manifest, bearer of victory”). Of course, the author of Daniel would have considered these titles blasphemous. Antiochus’ history of plundering other temples of the gods only further proves his arrogant attitude and disdain for other deities. However, 11:36 assures the readers that God’s decree against Antiochus will indeed be accomplished, thus offering comfort to those living during this oppressive period.

It is further noted that Antiochus will not regard the god of his father, specifically Apollo, the sacred ancestral god of the Seleucid dynasty. In actuality, Antiochus revered Zeus Olympias instead of Apollos on coins dating as early as 173/172 BCE. The placement of an altar to Zeus upon Jerusalem’s sacrificial alter in 167 BCE further demonstrates this point. The author of 2 Maccabees recounts how Antiochus sent one of his agents to Hellenize the Jerusalem temple and “to call it the temple of Olympian Zeus” (2 Macc 6:2). The “desire/beloved of women” is usually regarded as the deity Tammuz from Ezek 8:14, although admittedly historians possess very little data on this god.

Daniel continues to frame the actions of Antiochus with religious terms in 11:39. Antiochus will move against the Jerusalem fortress with “help” from his pagan deity. Many followed Antiochus in this regard, including some compromising Jews, as noted by a variety of indications from 1 Maccabees:

All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the Sabbath. (1 Macc 1:43)

Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: “You are a leader, honored and great in this town, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the people of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the Friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.” (1 Macc 2:17-18)

a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein, according to the king’s command. (1 Macc 2:23)

This passage again highlights both the political and religious plight facing conservative Jews who refused to accommodate Hellenism during the reign of Antiochus.


Daniel 11:40-45

While Dan 11:27 notes that the skirmishes between the king of the north and the king of the south were not yet the appointed “time of the end,” Dan 11:40 indicates that this definitive time has finally arrived. However, it is at this point in the narrative, after thirty-nine verses of accurate historical “predictions,” that the account departs from what actually took place in history. This point has been the primary grounds upon which critical attempts at dating the Book of Daniel, in its final form, have produced the date of 164 BCE. Stated differently, the events from 11:1-39 are remarkably accurate while the events in the final six verses do not match up well with history. How is one to responsibly account for this interpretive dilemma? The best explanation, according to the vast majority of modern commentators on Daniel (Collins, Goldingay, Newsom, Pace, Seow, Smith-Christopher, Towner), is that the author was living in the midst of the Maccabean Revolt and could therefore look back on the historical events of Dan 11:1-39 as “predictive” history while acknowledging that 11:40-45 are actual predictions. Interestingly enough, Antiochus did in fact die and the abomination of desolation was removed in the year 164, much to the relief of the conservative Jews in Jerusalem.

The fact that the author of Daniel is forced to predict the final results of the life of Antiochus and the Maccabean Revolt can be confirmed when we examine the different (and increasing) answers to the typical apocalyptic question; “’How long, O Lord,’ will you allow this act of godless pagan oppression upon your chosen people to remain?” Daniel 8:13-14 asks and answers the question with the answer 2,300 evenings and mornings (1,150 days). As this prediction began to look questionable, it was revised in 12:6 (“How long until the end of wonders?”) and answered in 12:11 with 1,290 days. Then, the answer is again further revised in Dan 12:12 with 1,335 days.

Ultimately, the final redactor notes the comforting reality that the protagonist Daniel will die and rise up in resurrection at the end of days (Dan 12:13).

Those who would read Daniel 11 during the midst of Antiochus’ persecutions would be offered with three different religious responses to these horrifying events:

Option one – They could join with the Hellenizers (Antiochus, the Syrians, and Menelaus the high priest). This would be the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” option.

Option two – They could join the Maccabees in armed revolt against the pagan forces. Those who took this option could draw upon biblical examples such as Phinehas and Elijah for inspiration.

Option three – They could join the maskilim and nonviolently resist Hellenistic accommodation and await Israel’s God to vindicate this situation. This would have been the option chosen by Jesus Christ if his teachings were any indication.


The author of Daniel hopes that his readers take option three.

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 9 (part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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 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.