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 11 (part 1)

Alas, we are on the homestretch of these visions in Daniel. The eleventh chapter encompasses the largest and longest of the visions within the book. Lucky for us, the majority of the details find universal agreement among scholars, both conservative and critical. This is due in part to the fact that the events of Daniel 11 fit the known descriptions of the stretch of history seleucus1.JPGbeginning in the Persian period and lasting well into the Hellenistic period. I should warn readers that this post will contain a lot of names, dates, and historical events (so those of you who struggled in history class might find this rather boring). I will do my best to keep the dates clear and the names sorted out, noting that the pronouns used in the Hebrew text often are not very clear. So here goes nothing…


Daniel 11:1-4

The passage begins with an unnamed apocalyptic revealer speaking with Daniel after a twenty-one day fast (10:2-3). The angel unveils to the story’s protagonist key historical alexgreat.JPGevents which are to take place soon after. Daniel 11:2 notes how three more kings will arise out of Persia while a fourth will arouse his kingdom against Greece. These four Persian rulers are not identified, but we do know that the leopard in Dan 7:6 possessed four heads. Furthermore, Ezra 4:5-7 mentions four Persian rulers by name (Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes). What matters for the author of Daniel is that he only gives one verse to describe the tenure of the Persian Empire (11:2), choosing to move rather quickly to the kingdom of Greece. Within the Greek kingdom a mighty king (Alexander the Great) is said to arise for awhile (11:3), but his kingdom will be broken up towards the four points of a compass (cf. Dan 8:8) and given over to rulers who are not his offspring. Alexander possessed no children, so his kingdom was passed onto his four generals (11:4). It is important to note that this divided kingdom is still the Greek kingdom, since all four of the generals were Greeks and the text does not introduce a new realm/nationality. I should point out here that the remainder of Daniel 11 deals with this same empire: the Greek kingdom. It is safe to say that although the reader is carried from Daniel’s time through the Persian period, which lasted over two hundred years, the author wants to emphasize the events of the Greek kingdom from Dan 11:3-45. I have noted in Daniel 2, 7, 8, and 9 that the final kingdom always is stressed with more words and emphasis that any of the previous kingdoms, and Daniel 11 is no different. Readers need to seriously consider why Daniel stresses the Greek kingdom as much as he does.


Daniel 11:5-9

The eleventh chapter will continue to alternate between two primary actors; described respectively as the “King of the North” and the “King of the South” (whom I will abbreviate as ‘KN’ and ‘KS’ henceforth). From the perspective of the nation of Israel, the KN would represent the ruler in Syria. daniel-11-mapSeleucus I, one of the famous generals taking over part of Alexander’s realm, reigned from this particular territory. Also, the KS, from Israel’s perspective, easily would be represented by Egypt. Another famous general of Alexander’s, Ptolemy I, ruled from Egypt. Both Seleucus I and Ptolemy I established massive dynasties which ruled from these two geographical territories. Poor Israel was caught in the crossfire of Syria and Egypt (see map), which was nothing new for them as this dilemma was a longstanding struggle dating back to the minostry of the eighth century BCE prophet Isaiah. Of course, the particular individuals functioning in the roles of the KN and the KS changed over time, just as ancient Persia had a variety of successive rulers and modern America functions with a variety of successive presidents.

With that introduction we can move onto the exegesis. Daniel 11:5 describes how the KS (Ptolemy I) will grow strong, reigning from 323-285 BCE (thirty-eight years). The verse also notes how one of Ptolemy’s princes will eventually possess extensive dominion (Seleucus I as a satrap). The next verse (11:6) describes an alliance made between the KS and the KN. Historically this was fulfilled around 250 BCE with Antiochus II, the grandson of Seleucus I, marrying Berenice, the daughter of Ptolemy II. This intermingling in marriage had peaceful intentions, but it did not last long, as Antiochus II was allegedly poisoned by his ex wife Laodice. Berenice and her newborn child were likewise murdered in due course. This alliance was hinted at back in Dan 2:43, a section describing the fourth kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, thereby confirming that the fourth kingdom in Daniel is Greece. Daniel 11:7 notes how one of the descendants in Berenice’s line, her brother Ptolemy III, will arise to take her place. He ruled from 246-221 BCE. He brought his armies against the KN, who at that time was seleuc2a.gifSeleucus II. This military campaign was rather successful, as the gods of Syria were plundered from the Syrian fortress and taken back to Egypt by Ptolemy III, who held off further attacks on the KN for some time (11:8).  However, Seleucus II attempted a counter-invasion of Egypt, but was unsuccessful with his attack (11:9) in comparison to the victory achieved earlier by Ptolemy III. Seleucus II, the KN, was forced to return home.


Stay tuned for the next installment of Daniel 11’s exegesis.

Responsibly Interpreting the 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.