Daniel 11 as history.


It has long been thought that the visions of Daniel, that are found in the second half of the canonical book of Daniel, were actually veiled historical descriptions rather than prophecies of a coming future written during the Jewish exile in Babylon. Besides inaccuracies in details while providing background to the visions, the historical information suddenly stops being accurate just before the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes the Seleucid monarch. This would suggest that that was the point of reference for the writing, sometime before 164 BCE, supported by the fact that the rededication of the Temple under Judah Maccabee is nowhere indicated. But what can it tell us about Jewish history at that time? I will consider the reports in chapter 11 to see what they yield.

First the arrival of Alexander on the scene followed by the breakup of his kingdom in 11:2-4, (the Persians) shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece. Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do according to his will. And when he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the dominion which he ruled; for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others beside these.

The struggles between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids:

Daniel has led us to the point where the two major powers are starting to come to the fore: the Seleucids, his kings of the north, and the Ptolemies, his kings of the south, who had the stronger kingdom early in the fourth century. 11:5, Then the king of the south shall be strong, but one of his princes will be stronger than he and his dominion shall be a great dominion. The strong king of the south is almost certainly Ptolemy II Philadelphus (283-246 BCE), who extended his territories at the expense of Antiochus I who was having trouble securing the Seleucid throne (ca.280-279 BCE). The prince was his successor, Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221), who proved to be an even stronger ruler.

11:6, After some years they shall make an alliance, and the daughter of the king of the south shall come to the king of the north to make peace; but she shall not retain the strength of her arm, and he and his offspring shall not endure; but she shall be given up, and her attendants, her child, and he who got possession of her.Antiochus II Theos repudiated his first wife, Laodicea, in order to marry the daughter of Ptolemy II, Berenice, bringing about a short-lived alliance referred to above. Antiochus II soon returned to his first wife and poor Berenice and her young son were killed.

The following verse seems to supply the results of this situation in our writer's eyes: 11:7, In those times a branch from her roots shall arise in his place; he shall come against the army and fortress of the king of the north, and he shall deal with them and shall prevail. Ptolemy III was Berenice's brother. He inflicted a heavy defeat on the Seleucids in what is now known as the 3rd Syrian War (246-241 BCE), taking the Seleucid capital at Antioch and having free reign in the area, only to be brought back to Egypt by a revolt. 11:8, He shall also carry off to Egypt their gods with their molten images and with their precious vessels of silver and of gold; and for some years he shall refrain from attacking the king of the north. Almost contemporaneously, Seleucus II Callinicus began his reign in Syria (247-226 BCE). It was he who suffered the defeat, being forced into a peace confirming Ptolemy III's newly won possessions.

Daniel tells us that Seleucus II attempted to regain his possessions: 11:9, Then the latter shall come into the realm of the king of the south but shall return into his own land. It was at this time that Antiochus Hierax, the brother of Seleucus II, attempted to win the throne, so Seleucus II was forced to return home to deal with this strife.

Ascendancy of the Seleucids:

The fortunes of Seleucus II's sons, first Seleucus III Ceraunus (226-223 BCE) then Antiochus III (223-187 BCE) are then taken up: 11:10, His sons shall wage war and assemble a multitude of great forces, which shall come on and overflow and pass through, and and again carry the war as far as his fortress. In 218 Antiochus III the Great, who had, through great effort, rebuilt and strengthened the Seleucid empire, took his forces all the way to Ptolemais, retaking all the territories lost to the late Ptolemy III Euergetes, succeeded by Ptolemy IV Philopator (226-204 BCE).

Ptolemy IV responded quickly the following year at Rafia (217 BCE): 11:11-13, The the king of the south, moved with anger, shall come out and fight with the king of the north; and he shall raise a great multitude, but it shall be given into his hand. And when the multitude is taken, his heart shall be exalted, and he shall cast down tens of thousands, but he shall not prevail. For the king of the north shall again rise a multitude, greater than the former; and after some years he shall come on with a great army and abundant supplies. Antiochus III lost at Rafia, but this was only a setback, for he was soon organising his next move.

Here Daniel first talks about the Jews: 11:14, In those days many shall rise up against the king of the south; and the men of violence among your own people shall lift themselves up in order to fulfil the vision; but they shall fail. There seems to be a legendary account of these events in the first chapters of 3 Maccabees, which tells us that after the victory at Rafia, Ptolemy IV went to Jerusalem to make a sacrifice and attempted to enter the Temple. Despite resistence, he probably got his way -- if this is what Daniel is referring to.

11:15-16, Then the king of the north shall come and throw up siegeworks, and take a well-fortified city. And the forces of the south shall not stand, or even his picked troops, for there shall be no strength to stand. But he who comes against him shall do according to his own will, and none shall stand before him; and he shall stand in the glorious land, and all of it shall be in his power. Taking advantage of the instability in Egypt after the death of Ptolemy IV, Antiochus the Great moved against Egypt and by 202 BCE he had taken Gaza, the "well-fortified city", returning all the possessions previously lost and going further than any Seleucid previously. He then consolidated his position a few years later defeating the Ptolemies again at Panion. It was around this time that Judaea came under the power of the Seleucids: this is probably what is referred to with his standing "in the glorious land".

In order to legitimate these conquests in the eyes of the world -- and especially Rome who was starting to take an interest in Seleucid affairs -- Antiochus III attempted to forge an alliance with Egypt by marrying his daughter, Cleopatra I (called Sira), to the young Ptolemy V Epiphanes (204-180 BCE), though this arrangement proved to be unsuccessful. 11:17-18, He shall set his face to come with the strength of his whole kingdom, and he shall bring terms of peace and perform them. He shall give him the daughter of women to destroy the kingdom; but it shall not stand or be to his advantage. Afterwards he shall turn his face to the coastlands, and shall take many of them; but a commander shall put an end to his insolence; indeed he shall turn his insolence back on him. Antiochus turned his hopes toward Asia Minor and the Aegean coastlands, leading him into direct confrontation with Roman interests in the area (note the reference to commander = consol) and bringing him a humiliating defeat at Magnesia in 190 BCE, which left him enormous reparations to pay.

Antiochus III's end was extremely bitter, having to find money and losing all hopes of empire: 11:19, Then he shall turn his face back toward the fortresses of his own land; but he shall stumble and fall, and shall not be found. Antiochus the Great was killed while attempting to rob a temple in Elymais, to pay the Romans.

He was succeeded by his son, Seleucus IV Philopator (187-175 BCE), under whom Heliodorus was an official, who 2 Maccabees 3:7-40 tells us tried to rob the temple. 11:20, Then shall arise in his place one who shall send an exactor of tribute through the glory of the kingdom; but within a few days he shall be broken, neither in anger nor in battle.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes:

11:21, In his place shall arise a contemptible person to whom royal majesty has not been given; he shall come in without warning and obtain the kingdom by flatteries. Demetrius, the son of Seleucus IV, was sent to Rome as a hostage in exchange for Antiochus IV (175-163 BCE), another son of Antiochus the Great. On Seleucus IV's sudden death, Antiochus IV aided by the king of Pergamum took the throne at the loss of Demetrius. (Naturally we can't expect an unbiased analysis of the person responsible for the pollution of the Temple.)

Daniel doesn't supply much background to help us understand the following events, but the indications given are rather interesting: 11:22, Armies shall be utterly swept away before him and broken, and the prince of the covenant also. Antiochus IV was a vigorous king who proved successful in his early years. It was on his succession to the thrown that Onias III the high priest in Jerusalem -- almost unanimously acknowledged as the prince of the covenant of this passage -- was found in Antioch. The unfortunate Onias was not permitted to return home, but was replaced with his brother, Jason (Yeshua?), who seems to have offered suitable bribes to gain the office of high priest. (2 Maccabees 4:30-34 tells us that Onias III was killed three years later at the instigation of Menelaus.)

This indication of Onias III is intriguing especially when considered in the light of the earlier reference to Jerusalem at the time of Ben Sira's lauded high priest Simon (BS 50:1-24) who doesn't even warrant a mention here. Suddenly there is a covenant and it has a prince. This stirs comparison with the covenant of the Dead Sea Scrolls which seems to have flowered with the same sort of rapidity.

With Jason and his supporters in control in Jerusalem, Daniel continues: 11:23, And from the time that an alliance is made with him he shall act deceitfully; and shall become strong with a small people. (Daniel actually supplies no indications of the leaders of the small people -- the pro-Seleucid junta in control of Jerusalem --, but it was around this time that Jason was replaced by Menelaus, probably because he offered more financial support to Antiochus IV, and the Seleucids were in need of cash.)

Antiochus IV Epiphanes continued in the steps of his father, attempting to enlarge his kingdom and gain money: 11:24, Without warning he shall come into the richest parts of the province; and he shall do what neither his fathers nor his fathers' fathers have done, scattering among them plunder, spoil and goods. He shall devise plans against strongholds, but only for a time.

Inevitably he returned to the ever-present Egyptian danger: 11:25-26, And he shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the south with a great army; and the king of the south shall wage war with an exceedingly great and mighty army; but he shall not stand, for plots shall be devised against him. Even those who eat his rich food shall be his undoing; his army shall be swept away, and many shall fall down slain. Antiochus IV invaded the Nile delta capturing Ptolemy VI Philometer (180-145 BCE). Ptolemy VII Euergetes II took power in Alexandria and had some success, till Antiochus IV took the side of Ptolemy VI, gaining good advantage. Daniel suggests that there is a more complicated story here, though it is too arcane for other historical sources to clarify. 11:27, And as for the two kings, their minds shall be bent on mischief; they shall speak lies at the same table, but to no avail; for the end is yet to be at the time appointed.

Antiochus IV then returned to Antioch with his spoils, perhaps paying a passing visit to Jerusalem. 11:28, And he shall return to his land with great substance, but his heart shall be set against the holy covenant. And he shall work his will, and return to his own land. The will that he worked against the holy covenant isn't indicated in the few sources that tell us about the period. Yet, here again we have the covenant, this time it's clarified as "the holy covenant", as though what came before the covenant was relatively inconsequential, for it didn't warrant comment.

Antiochus IV tried his luck again against the Egyptians: 11:29-30a, At this time apponted he shall return into the south; but it shall not be this time as before. The ships of the Kittim shall come against him, and he shall be afraid and withdraw". Whereas in the earlier expedition Rome showed little interest, the times had changed and Antiochus was given an ultimatum to retire from Egypt. Still in debt with the Romans and unwilling to incur their enmity, he was obliged to leave his gains. It should be noted that the reference to Kittim here is unlike the earlier biblical references that referred to Cyprus: here it obviously refers to Rome, making another connection between Daniel and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Antiochus IV pollutes the Temple:

It was at this time that Jason, probably with support from Hyrcanus Tobiad, tried to make a comeback in Jerusalem. Antiochus IV, returning from Egypt, enraged by his losses and by Jason's action imposed his will on Jerusalem: 11:30b-31, and [he] shall turn back and be enraged and take action against the holy covenant. He shall turn back and give heed to those who forsake the holy covenant. Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolation. Probably Jason's attempt to regain power made Antiochus realise that proceedings in Jerusalem weren't going to succeed in the hands of those in power at the time, so he decided to tackle the problem forcefully. 1 Maccabees 1:54 tells us that this happened on the fifteenth day of Chislev, 167 BCE.

Antiochus IV proceeded systematically to turn Jerusalem into a hellenistic centre, not only culturally, but religiously as well: 11:32-33, He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant; but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And those among the people who are wise shall make many understand, though they shall fall by the sword and flame, by captivity and plunder, for some days. Antiochus tried to stimulate people to turn toward the pagan religious practices, and persecuted those who didn't.

It is plain that we only have Daniel's biased analysis of the situation. One could imagine Antiochus, who was brought up in Rome and by no means an uncultured man, finding the culture of these "obstreperous" people in Jerusalem who had been causing so many problems backward and the probable cause of their discontent. His may have been a misguided attempt to improve the life of people in Jerusalem.

The term "wise" in this verse and that which follows is in Hebrew "maskilim", instructors, teachers (of wisdom) and is found often in the Dead Sea Scrolls, eg Damascus Document XIII, 5, translated as "overseer" or "inspector". Another important term that Daniel uses relates to the flattery of those who take the wrong direction, found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, for example in the Pesher Nahum, in the form "dorshei chalaqot", the "flattery seekers".

11:34-35, When they fall, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery; and some of those who are wise shall fall, to refine and to clease them and to make them white, until the time of the end, for it is yet for the time appointed.

Thus far, despite Daniel's veneer of visionary writing, the text seems remarkably accurate, and we are left thinking that the more obscure parts of this chapter probably hide real historical events, and it is only when the writer moves into real prediction that his account goes wrong, ie when he attempts to deal with the events after the time of writing, including the death of Antiochus IV which he gets completely wrong (see 11:40ff).

It is my understanding from Daniel's interest in the holy covenant that suddenly blooms with Onias III that we may be dealing with the birth of the movement embodied in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Jewish "enemy" in 11:34 was strongly linked to flattery as were the enemy in the dss. The leaders of those who were faithful in 11:32-35 were maskilim, as were the leaders in the dss. Some of the later verses here can be paralleled with events narrated in the opening of the War Scroll, and the movement he refers to led by the wise, which marks the start of resistence against Antioch and their Jewish representatives in Jerusalem, reflects the disinherited sentiments found in a number of the Dead Sea Scrolls.


This page was created by Ian Hutchesson. Copyright 1997.
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