Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 8

First post in this series can be found here.
This article is not my own, but was originally posted by Darwin’s Beagle. The author has given permission for the article to be reposted here.

8.1 Summary of Chapter 8
This narrative is supposed to take place in the third year of Belshazzar’s reign. Again Daniel has a vision. He sees a ram with two horns. The two horns grow out one after the other, and the second horn is the bigger one. The ram pushes westward, northward, and southward defeating everything in its path. It looks invincible. But, then a goat with a “notable” horn between its eyes comes from the west so fast it hardly touches the ground. The goat knocks the ram down and destroys it.

When the goat is at the height of its power, the one great horn breaks and 4 smaller ones arise from its spot. They grow toward the north, south, east, and west. From one of these horns a little horn grows and becomes very great in the south, east, and “the pleasant land”. It becomes great enough to challenge the “host of heaven,” and even knocks some stars out of heaven and tramples them. The horn takes away the daily sacrifices and brings low the “place of sanctuary”. It transgresses against the heavenly hosts and prospers.

Daniel then overhears some “saints” talking. One asks the other how long this transgression is going to last and the other says 2,300 days and then “the sanctuary will be cleaned”.

Daniel wonders about the meaning of the vision, and a voice tells the archangel Gabriel to explain it to him. Gabriel tells him first that it is a vision “of the time of the end”. He says the two horns of the ram represent the kings of Media and Persia. The goat is Greece and the great horn is its first king. When that king dies at the height of his power, the kingdom will be split into four as represented by the other four horns that grow from the broken great horn. These kingdoms will not be as great as that of the first king. The last horn that is talked about represents a king that comes to power during the latter part of the kingdom. This king will destroy all manner of things and prosper in doing so. He will destroy “mighty and holy people”. He will even try to take on the “Prince of princes”, but he will eventually be destroyed by God.
Gabriel then leaves Daniel with the caveat to keep this vision sealed since it deals with the far off future.

8.2 Analysis
8.2.1 Minor problems
The archangel Gabriel is introduced here. Mainstream religious scholars say that Gabriel and other named angels did not enter the Jewish traditions until the Persian period, well after the purported time Daniel was to have written it.

Also note that Daniel is left with instructions to keep the prophecy sealed since it deals with the end of times. This suggests that the prophecy should become unsealed close to that time. The first historical references we have to the book of Daniel date back to Maccabean times. Thus, the author of Daniel was writing about what he thought WAS going to be the end-times when God’s everlasting kingdom was going to be established. He is actually trying to exhort his oppressed friends to maintain their faith because relief is just around the corner.

8.2.2 The interpretation of the prophecy
Gabriel is quite specific concerning the meaning of the ram. The horns represent the kings of Media and Persia. Extreme bible-believers use this as evidence that the author did have in mind a combined Medo-Persian empire. However, they ignore the fact that the prophecy specifically states that the second horn (the Persian empire) grew bigger. How can a single empire be different sizes? The goat is going to represent 5 empires, Alexander’s and those of the 4 generals who took over after him. Thus, it is not the case that the ram represents a single empire. It represents two empires that can trace their origins to the same region, as the goat represents 5 empires that can trace their origins to the same region. Note also that the fact that the second horn of the ram grew bigger lends support to the interpretation of the Median empire (the one inferior to Nebuchadrezzar’s) as being the second empire.

Gabriel explicitly states that the goat is Greece. The goat comes from the west. That is where Greece is in relation to Jerusalem. It bashes and destroys the ram. Alexander devastated the area when he conquered it. The notable horn between the eyes of the goat represents Alexander himself. At the height of his power, Alexander died and his kingdom was split. The four horns that arise out of the first one represent Alexander’s generals, Cassander (who controlled Macedonia and Greece), Lysimachus (who controlled Pergamon and Asia Minor), Antigonus (who controlled Syria and Babylon), and Ptolemy (who controlled Egypt and Palestine).

One of Ptolemy’s generals, Seleucus I, defeated Antigonus, took over that area, and established the Seleucid empire. Antiochus IV is the “little horn” that comes from one of the four (the Seleucid empire) and grows great in the south, and the east, and the “pleasant land” (Judah). We have already seen how Antiochus fits well into the rest of the prophecy.

Note here that the prophecy has explicitly stated Greece as the source of this “little horn”. This adds support to interpretation in the previous prophecies that all of them were referring to Greece as the kingdom during the latter days.

Again this fits very well with the findings of modern biblical scholars that Daniel was written in the 2nd century BCE at the time of Antiochus IV and NOT as traditional dating suggests in the exilic period (the 6th century BCE).

The next post will deal with the “70 weeks” prophecy, a prophecy that some extreme bible believers have claimed not only deals with Jesus, but pinpoints the beginning of his ministry to the exact day. Needless to say that is not the conclusion that modern scholarship reaches.

Links to the other articles


3 thoughts on “Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 8”

  1. Let me see if I am following the dating scenario. Would Daniel have been written during the time of the bad stuff going on and being presented at that time as being an older book of prophecy of what was happening presently? Am I making sense?


  2. Yes, that’s right. As the book goes on, it becomes even more apparent that Daniel is talking about the events during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. There’s a point in chapter 12 where it seems that the writer actually gives his own prophecies, because up to that point, his description of events is completely accurate. That’s why scholars have dated it so precisely — between 167 and 165 BCE. That’s around the point that he seems to lose accuracy.


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