Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 12 (with application)

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

 

Daniel 12:1-3

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

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

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

 

Daniel 12:4

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

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

People will stagger from sea to sea

And from the north even to the east;

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

But they will not find it.

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

 

Daniel 12:5

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

 

Daniel 12:6-7

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

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

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

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

“When will they end?”

“How much longer do we have to suffer?”

This question, worded differently, was also raised by the two angels back in 8:13, “How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?” Put differently, Dan 12:6 asks how much longer until the end of the wonders of Antiochus and Dan 8:13 asks how long will the horrifying transgression interrupt the sacrifices leading to the persecution of the Jerusalem temple and the host. Both questions cover the very same events. This is also argued by John Collins in his Hermeneia commentary on Daniel:

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

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

 

Daniel 12:8-10

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

 

Daniel 12:11-12

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

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

 

Daniel 12:13

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

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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 11 (part 3)

ae4coinThis is part 3 of our historical journey through the prophecy in Daniel 11. To get caught up to speed, be sure to check out the previous posts on Dan 11:1-9 and 11:10-19. This post will over the events over the next nine verses with greater detail than I have been writing before. This added emphasis is due primarily because some of my critics seem to be unconvinced by my attempts to take the historical context of this passage responsibly, both as an interpreter and as a historian.

 

Daniel 11:20-28

After the death of Antiochus III (Dan 11:19), his son Seleucus IV began to rule in his place. During his reign, he was alerted to the fact that the Jerusalem temple was filled with treasure. In what was likely an attempt to fund his military campaigns (which were suffering due to his father’s defeat at the hand of the Romans) Seleucus sent his chief minister Heliodorus to Jerusalem in order to pillage the Jewish treasury. Daniel 11:20 references this account with the phrase “one will arise who will send an oppressor through the Jewel of the kingdom.” However, Heliodorus was thwarted by angelic guards who beat him nearly to death, thus protecting the Jerusalem temple from being robbed. The account is narrated in 2 Maccabees chapter three (with some legendary details likely added):

But when he arrived at the treasury with his bodyguard, then and there the Sovereign of spirits and of all authority caused so great a manifestation that all who had been so bold as to accompany him were astounded by the power of God, and became faint with terror. For there appeared to them a magnificently caparisoned horse, with a rider of frightening mien; it rushed furiously at Heliodorus and struck at him with its front hoofs. Its rider was seen to have armor and weapons of gold. Two young men also appeared to him, remarkably strong, gloriously beautiful and splendidly dressed, who stood on either side of him and flogged him continuously, inflicting many blows on him. When he suddenly fell to the ground and deep darkness came over him, his men took him up, put him on a stretcher, and carried him away (2 Macc 3:24-28)

Heliodorus survived this encounter and eventually assassinated Seleucus IV in the year 175. This is what Dan 11:20 means when it says that “he will be shattered, though not in
house of seleucus.JPGanger or in battle.” At this point, the crown should have passed onto the eldest son, Demetrius. However, he was a hostage in Rome at the time, and thereby unaware that his father had perished. His younger brother, an infant named Antiochus, was crowned king by his mother, Laodice, who herself was made regent. At this time, another Antiochus, known to us as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, secured an army from the king of Pergamum. Antiochus IV had Heliodorus removed and eventually slew the infant Antiochus. Prior to murdering the young Antiochus, Antiochus IV strategically married Laodice, thereby making him coregent with his new stepson. Five years later, the young Antiochus was murdered, thus leaving Antiochus IV the only king, despite the fact that “the honor of kingship had not been conferred upon him” (11:21).

The remaining twenty-four verses of Daniel 11 deal with Antiochus IV, thus giving him over half of the chapter’s complete attention. Daniel 11:22 seems to be a general characterization of Antiochus’ career as a whole. The initial descriptions of flooded and shattered forces are broad but the mention of the prince of the covenant also being shattered is clear. It was already noted back in Dan 9:26 that an anointed figure, the high priest Onias III, was cut off, and it seems that he is also spoken of here. During this period, the only person who could be spoken of as the “prince of the covenant” would be the Jewish high priest (note that the high priest Joshua was also called a “prince” in Dan 9:25). The alliance made so as to “gain power with a small force of people” was already mentioned with the pact with the king of Pergamum, King Eumenes II (11:23). One of the feats which Antiochus IV accomplished which was never attempted by his predecessors was the lavish spending and gift giving he appropriated unto his troops, at times even paying his army a year’s salary in advance (11:24). This, of course, led to some financial problems, observed by the author of 1 Maccabees:

He feared that he might not have such funds as he had before for his expenses and for the gifts that he used to give more lavishly than preceding kings. He was greatly perplexed in mind; then he determined to go to Persia and collect the revenues from those regions and raise a large fund. (1 Macc 3:30-31)

The Ptolemaic forces down in Egypt, which haven’t been mentioned lately in the prophecy, show up again in 11:25. The Sixth Syrian War was fought between Antiochus and Egypt, lasting from 170-168 BCE. Daniel 11:25 indicates that Egypt, led by Ptolemy VI, was able to amass a much larger army than ptolemy6Antiochus. However, the king of the south did not stand for long as he was ousted by two Alexandrian aristocrats in his court, Comanos and Cineas. This is what 11:26 refers to by “those who eat his choice food will destroy him.” Although the war ended in 168 BCE, Daniel continues to narrate the details of the life of Ptolemy VI. While in Egypt, Antiochus successfully besieged Alexandria, but was unable to take the city completely. Both Ptolemy VI and Antiochus IV eventually met in Memphis in 169 BCE with evil attempts at working out a “peaceful” agreement (11:27). The narrator of Daniel lets the reader know that the end of Antiochus IV is still to come “at the appointed time,” indicating that although his actions appear out of control, the God of Israel is still sovereign over the situation.  The next verse notes how Antiochus IV returned to his land (from Memphis, Egypt) in the autumn of 169 BCE. On his way north, he stopped by the Jerusalem temple and took much of the gold and silver from its treasury (11:28). These events are recorded in 1 Maccabees chapter one:

After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred forty-third year. He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures that he found. Taking them all, he went into his own land. He shed much blood, and spoke with great arrogance (1 Macc 1:20-24)

 

Do the historical details make sense or should we rather place Daniel 11 into the future, prior to the end of the age? Leave a note in the comments section and please look forward to further updates on the historical prophecy recorded in Daniel 11.

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 11 (part 2)

In the previous post we began trekking through the climactic prophecy of the Book of a449df20b21ffdb618c9eeb223e46ecaDaniel – chapter eleven. We observed how the chapter begins with a brief prediction of the Persian Empire which was eventually overtaken by the Greek armies led by the young Alexander the Great. After Alexander died his dominion was ultimately passed onto his four generals due to his lack of offspring. Although these four generals took to the four points of the compass, only two of them are in focus for this particular prophecy. The general which ended up taking control of Syria (and the Middle East) was Seleucus I. Ptolemy I, on the other hand, took Egypt as his territory. Both of these generals eventually established lengthy dynasties. From the perspective of Jews living in Judea, these kings in the north and in the south were the major ‘power players’ for the next few hundred years and the nation of Israel was unfortunately caught in the midst of their crossfire. This post will cover the life and military campaign of the Greek ruler Antiochus III (Dan 11:10-19), a king given substantial treatment in this prophecy.

 

Daniel 11:10-19

The sons of Seleucus II, being Seleucus III and Antiochus III, begin to amass their armies for Syria (11:10). Seleucus III reigned only three years, from 226-223. His brother, antiochus 3rdAntiochus III, ruled for much longer (223-187). His military success was much more evident than his brother’s. The imagery of “coming and overflow and pass through” (NASB) suggests an epic quality to Antiochus’ campaigns, as he secured northern Palestine both east and west of the Jordan, including Samaria and Galilee. He made his way down to Egypt, culminating in the Battle of Raphia on June 22, 217 BCE. The KS at that time was Ptolemy IV, who ruled from 221-204. Ptolemy’s forces succeeded in the Battle of Raphia after raising a sizable force (11:11) which crushed much of the Syrian army, but not quite a crippling defeat so as to completely wipe out Antiochus III (11:12). This battle is described further (with some legendary details) in 3 Macc chapter one.

Daniel 11:13 notes how Antiochus III will continue with his military activities, focusing on Syria and Palestine in particular. The former Battle at Raphia ended with a peace treaty between the two kings, lasting as long as the kings lived. However, with Ptolemy IV’s death in 204 BCE Antiochus no longer felt that the treaty was in effect. This is what Dan 11:13 means with the phrase “after an interval of some years.” Meanwhile, Egypt suffered from a local native uprising/rebellion. The angel tells Daniel that “the violent ones among your people (i.e., the Jews) will also lift themselves up…but they will fall down,” indicating that some Jews had switched sides and freely supported Antiochus’ cause. In the year 200 BCE, Antiochus finally attacked Egypt, defeating the ruler (Scopas) at the Battle of Panion. Many Jews supported Antiochus III with provisions and helped remove the Ptolemaic garrison which was located in Jerusalem. The details of the outcome of this engagement are recorded by Josephus (Ant. 12.138-46). It is likely that these Jews had hoped that by removing Ptolemaic forces from Jerusalem that the holy land would be cleansed from pagan overlords, but their ambitions did not come to fruition (11:14 – “they will fall down”).

After Scopas, the reigning KS, was defeated at the Battle of Panion he retreated to Sidon with his hired Aetolian mercenaries. Antiochus III eventually took the city in the year 199 BCE after Scopas surrendered (11:15-16). This victory effectively took Palestine away from dleo1Ptolemaic rule. In the year 197 Antiochus began negotiating another peace treaty with Ptolemy V, although it required Ptolemy to openly recognize Antiochus’ territorial claims. Cleopatra I, the daughter of Antiochus III, was betrothed to Ptolemy as a part of the treaty (11:17). This marriage occurred sometime between 194-193 BCE. Antiochus has secretly wanted Cleopatra to undermine the Ptolemaic kingdom from the inside, but she ended up embracing her new husband’s ambitions instead. This is what the angel meant with the phrase “she will not take a stand for him or be on his side.” With the death of Ptolemy V in 180 BCE, his widow Cleopatra I continued to remain powerfully influential for some time, likely in part to her son being too young to rule.

Antiochus, seemingly bent on reclaiming the lands once possessed by his forefather Seleucus I, marched his armies towards Thrace and the Greek territories along the coastlands (11:18). However, Rome at this time was powerful enough to withstand Antiochus’ forces, stopping him in central Greece in the year 191. Two years later (189 BCE), Rome dealt Antiochus a decisive defeat in Asia Minor (11:18). The commanding officer mentioned in this verse was P. Cornelius Scipio, who personally presented Antiochus III conditions of peace in 188, costing him 15,000 talents, elephant elephantbattleand naval troops, and the release of Roman hostages. This so-called ‘agreement’ was an obvious attempt by the Romans to cripple the Greek armies belonging to Antiochus. This defeat in turn provoked a few rebellions in the eastern parts of the Greek kingdom, resulting in Antiochus’ death in the year 187 BCE. This occurred when Antiochus attempted to sack the temple (“fortress” – 11:19) of Bel in the city of Elemais, likely seeking the funds depleted from his ‘agreement’ with the Romans.

 

In the next post we will continue trekking through the history in Daniel 11. Be sure to subscribe for further updates!

Responsibly Interpreting the Visions in Daniel 9 (part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 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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Responsibly Interpreting the Vision in Daniel 2

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t.

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

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

This seems dishonest and misleading.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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