Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel Chapters 10-12

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.

10.1 Summary and analysis of Chapters 10 through 12
This is the final prophecy in Daniel, and it is the most detailed. It is also the one that without any doubt concerns Antiochus IV and pretty much cements the case that Daniel is a product of Maccabean times (circa 167 BCE) instead of the time the book claims (6th century BCE). In order to lessen the confusion, the analysis will be incorporated into the summary of the prophecy.

The prophecy is set in the third year of the reign of Cyrus (536 BCE). Daniel is standing along the banks of the Hiddekel River (now known as the Tigris River) when he sees the archangel Gabriel coming to him. Gabriel tells Daniel that he (Gabriel) along with the archangel Michael is engaged in a struggle with the Persians. But since Daniel has found favor in heaven, Gabriel has taken some time out to tell him of future events.

Gabriel starts out by telling Daniel that there will be 4 Persian kings. This is not true. There were 9 Persian kings. They were Cyrus (549–529 BCE), Cambyses (529–522 BCE), Darius I (521–485 BCE), Xerxes (or Ahasuerus, 485–465 BCE), Artaxerxes I (465–425 BCE), Darius II (425–405 BCE), Artaxerxes II (404–358 BCE) and Darius III (338–330 BCE). However, only four of these kings are mentioned in the bible (Cyrus, Darius I, Ahasuerus [Xerxes], and Artaxerxes I). So the author of Daniel assumed that was all there were. This just further illustrates the poor historical knowledge he had concerning that time. However, he is about to become much more accurate with his history.

In order to see the numerous events described that lead up to Antiochus IV (the time that Daniel was really meant to refer to), it is useful to quote verses along with a description of the history. It is this “prophecy” that allows us to date when Daniel was actually written. All quoted verses are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Daniel 11:4:

“And while still rising in power, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the dominion with which he ruled; for his kingdom shall be uprooted and go to others besides these.”

This verse begins with a reference to Alexander the Great. At the height of his power, Alexander died. Three relatives wanted to take control of the kingdom: his sons, Alexander and Herakles, and his half-brother Philip Arrhidaeus. However, none of them could forge a sufficiently strong coalition, and the empire was broken up and ruled by Alexander’s four top generals; Macedonia and Greece went to Cassander, Pergamon and Asia Minor went to Lysimachus, Syria and Babylon went to Antigonus, and Egypt and Palestine went to Ptolemy. Thus, in this prophecy, the “kingdom of the North” refers to Syria and Babylon, while the “kingdom of the South” refers to Egypt. Palestine will at different times be a part of each kingdom.

Daniel 11:5:

“Then the king of the south shall grow strong, but one of his officers shall grow stronger than he and shall rule a realm greater than his own realm.”

Ptolomy is the first king of the South. His general Seleucus I defeated Antigonus in a battle at Gaza and took over the rule of the kingdom of the North. He expanded his territory into that of the other three kingdoms, even taking Palestine away from Ptolemy.

Daniel 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 ratify the agreement. But she shall not retain her power, and his offspring shall not endure. She shall be given up, and her attendants, and her child, and the one who supported her.”

70 years after Seleucus I became king of the North, his grandson Antiochus II was king. A peace agreement was reached between the Ptolemaic empire (the kingdom of the South) and the Seleucid empire (the kingdom of the North). Ptolemy II gave his daughter Berenice to Antiochus II to marry. Antiochus II had to divorce his wife Laodice and disinherit his two sons by declaring that any son that Berenice would have would succeed him to the throne. Berenice did have a son. However, after Ptolemy II died, Antiochus reneged on the promise and “gave up” Berenice and took back Laodice. Laodice evidently was not about to let something similar happen again. She plotted to have Berenice, her son, all of her servants and attendants, and even Antiochus II assassinated.

Daniel 11:7-9:

“In those times a branch from her roots shall rise up in his place. He shall come against the army and enter the fortress of the king of the north, and he shall take action against them and prevail. Even their gods, with their idols and with their precious vessels of silver and gold, he shall carry off to Egypt as spoils of war. For some years he shall refrain from attacking the king of the north; the latter shall invade the realm of the king of the south, but will return to his own land.”

After Ptolemy II died, Berenice’s brother Ptolemy III took over. In retaliation for his sister’s murder, he attacked Syria, defeating Laodice’s son Seleucus II. He captured the capital city of Seleucia (later to become the port city of Antioch). Thus, Ptolemy III took over Syria. However, there was an uprising back in Egypt and Ptolemy III had to return, but not before he hauled back all the precious metals he could lay his hands upon. After a number of years, Seleucus II attacked Egypt, but his attack ended in costly defeats and he was forced to return to Syria which was back under his control.

Daniel 11:10-11:

“His sons shall wage war and assemble a multitude of great forces, which shall advance like a flood and pass through, and again shall carry the war as far as his fortress. Moved with rage, the king of the south shall go out and do battle against the king of the north, who shall muster a great multitude, which shall, however, be defeated by his enemy.”

Seleucus II was succeeded by his son Seleucus III, who fought against Egypt, but not successfully. After he was assassinated Antiochus III took over. He also fought against Egypt and was more successful. In 218 BCE he assembled a large army that advanced through Palestine and into Gaza. The king of Egypt (now Ptolemy IV) counterattacked at Raphia near Gaza and smashed Antiochus III forces causing him to retreat back to Syria.

Daniel 11:12-13:

“When the multitude has been carried off, his heart shall be exalted, and he shall overthrow tens of thousands, but he shall not prevail. For the king of the north shall again raise a multitude, larger than the former, and after some years he shall advance with a great army and abundant supplies.”

For some reason Ptolemy IV did not follow the defeated Syrian troops but went back to Egypt instead. This allowed Antiochus III to rebuild his forces and attack Egypt again. The attack was somewhat of a standoff. A 13 year period of peace prevailed in which Antiochus III solidified his forces, and extended his empire to the east. Ptolemy IV died in 203 BCE and was succeeded by his 5-year old son Ptolemy V. Antiochus III took this opportunity to launch another attack on Egypt.

Daniel 11:14-17:

“In those times many shall rise against the king of the south. The lawless among your own people shall lift themselves up in order to fulfill the vision, but they shall fail. 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, not even his picked troops, for there shall be no strength to resist. But he who comes against him shall take the actions he pleases, and no one shall withstand him. He shall take a position in the beautiful land, and all of it shall be in his power. He shall set his mind to come with the strength of his whole kingdom, and he shall bring terms of peace and perfom them. In order to destroy the kingdom, he shall give him a woman in marriage; but it shall not succeed or be to his advantage.”

Antiochus III defeated the Ptolemaic general Scopas at the battle of Sidon, a strongly fortified city, in 198 BCE. A rescue force sent out from Egypt failed to stop the siege. With this defeat Palestine (“the beautiful land”) comes under long-term control of the Seleucid empire. Antiochus III was restrained from invading Egypt proper because of an alliance the Egyptians had with Rome, a new power at the time. So instead, he decided to conquer it peacefully. His plan was to give his daughter, Cleopatra I, to Ptolemy V (at that time only 14 years old) and rule through her. The plan failed because Cleopatra I became loyal to her husband.

Daniel 11:18-19:

“Afterward he shall turn to the coastlands and shall capture many. But a commander shall put an end to his insolence; indeed, he shall turn his insolence back upon him. Then he shall turn back toward the fortresses of his own land, but he shall stumbe and fall and shall not be found.”

After that Antiochus III invaded the coastal areas of Asia Minor. He was initially successful. However, when he tried to extend his reach into Greece he was defeated by the Roman general Scipio at Magnesia in 190 BCE. While retreating back to his own land, Antiochus III was killed by an enraged mob while he was pillaging a temple in Elymais.

Daniel 11: 20-21:

“Then shall arise in his place one who shall send an official for the glory of the kingdom; but within a few days he shall be broken, though not in anger or in battle. In his place shall arise a contemptible person on whom royal majesty had not been conferred; he shall come in without warning and obtain the kingdom through intrigue.”

Seleucus IV succeeded Antiochus III. He was left cash-strapped by his father’s military adventures, so he sent his finance minister Heliodorus to seize funds from the temple treasury in Jerusalem. When Heliodorus returned, he poisoned and killed Seleucus IV, then took the throne. The end result was that Antiochus IV, a contemptible man (at least from the viewpoint of a pious Jew in Jerusalem) and younger brother of Seleucus IV, quickly overthrew Heliodorus and seized the kingdom.

Daniel 11:22-24:

“Armies shall be utterly swept away and broken before him, and the prince of the covenant as well. And after an alliance is made with him, he shall act deceitfully and become strong with a small party. Without warning he shall come into the richest parts of the province and do what none of his predecessors had ever done, lavishing pluder, spoil, and wealth on them. He shall devise plans against strongholds, but only for a time.”

Antiochus IV entered Judah under a banner of peace. 3½ years later, he broke his treaty and desecrated Jerusalem and its temple, killing Onais, the high priest in 175 BCE.

Daniel 11:25-28:

“He shall stir up his power and determination against the king of the south with a great army, and the king of the south shall wage war with a much greater and stronger army. But he shall not succeed, for plots shall be devised against him by those who eat of the royal rations. They shall break him, his army shall be swept away, and many shall fall slain. The two kings, their minds bent on evil, shall sit at one table and exchange lies. But it shall not succeed, for there remains an end at the time appointed. He shall return to his land with great wealth, but his heart shall be set against the holy covenant. He shall work his will, and return to his own land.”

In the meantime, there was chaos in Egypt. Two of Cleopatra I’s sons were vying for power. Antiochus IV developed a coalition with Ptolemy VI and invaded Egypt. The invasion was partly successful, but they were unable to conquer the forces of Ptolemy VII in Alexandria. Returning with loot from Egypt, Antiochus IV stopped off in Jerusalem to put down a revolt led by Jason, the brother of the slain high priest Onais. Antiochus took this opportunity to loot the temple once again.

Daniel 11:29-31:

“At the time appointed he shall return and come into the south, but this time it shall not be as it was before. For ships of Kittim shall come against him, and he shall lose heart and withdraw. He shall be enraged and take action against the holy covenant. He shall turn back and pay heed to those who forsake the holy covenant.”

Antiochus IV returned to Egypt, but Rome sent Popilius Laenas who ordered Antiochus to withdraw. Rome was much too powerful to take on, so Antiochus IV did withdraw. As an aside, the prophecy refers to Rome as the ships of Kittim (aka Chittim). During the 6th century BCE Kittim referred to Cyprus; it was not until Maccabean times that the term changed to refer to Rome.

When Antiochus IV returned, he took his frustrations out on Jerusalem and the temple. He sacrificed swine to Zeus and decreed that no religion other than that of the Greeks could be practiced, forbidding the daily sacrifices, the readings of the torah, and the all the annual celebrations and rites the Jews had previously engaged in.

Daniel 11:32-35:

“He shall seduce with intrigue those who violate the covenant, but the people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action. The wise among the people shall give understanding to many; for some days, however, they shall fall by sword and flame, and suffer captivity and plunder. When they fall victim they shall receive a little help, and many shall join them insincerely. Some of the wise shall fall, so that they may be refined, purified, and cleansed, until the time of the end, for there is still an interval until the time appointed.”

Antiochus IV courted the support of some of the less devout Jews in his Hellenization efforts; the more openly devout Jews he killed. The Maccabean guerilla forces did manage to give some of these people a little help though. Some Jewish priests acquiesced to Antiochus while others were persecuted.

Daniel 11:36-39:

“The king shall act as he pleases. He shall exalt himself and consider himself greater than any god, and shall speak horrendous things against the God of gods. He shall prosper until the period of wrath is completed, for what is determined shall be done. He shall pay no respect to the gods of his ancestors, or to the one beloved by women; he shall pay no respect to any other god, for he shall consider himself greater than all. He shall honor the god of fortresses instead of these; a god whom his ancestors did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. He shall deal with the strongest fortresses by the help of a foreign god. Those who acknowledge him he shall make more wealthy. He shall appoint them as rulers over many and shall distribute the land for a price.”

These verses describe Antiochus IV from the viewpoint of a pious Jew of Maccabean times. He “exalt[ed] and magnif[ied] himself above every god,” and he spoke “blasphemies against the God of gods”. Antiochus pushed his program of Hellenization of Palestine by instituting the worship of Greek gods in temples. He even set up an altar to Zeus in the temple of Jerusalem. His policies forbade the worship of other gods, including the traditional gods of the Syrians (ie, the gods of his ancestors). Antiochus IV even suppressed the worship of Tammuz, a traditionally worshipped Syrian god who was “desired of woman”.

At this point something curious happens in the prophecy. The first 39 verses of Daniel Chapter 11 have accurately described the events up to Maccabean times. However, the last 6 verses of the chapter are in error. They predict another attack from Egypt in which Antiochus IV will be victorious. It predicts that Antiochus will add Libya, Egypt, and Ethiopia to his realm. Alarming news will come from the East and the North and will cause him to set up his tent between the Mediterranean and Jerusalem where he will be supernaturally destroyed by God. After this happens, God’s everlasting kingdom is supposed to reign (Daniel 12).

In point of fact, Antiochus IV died in Persia, after an illness. This event took place somewhere between September and December in the year 164 BCE. The obvious reason that Daniel becomes inaccurate is that the author is actually making prophecies here. This allows accurate dating of the book of Daniel (or at least this section of it). Since the last of the accurate history ends with the temple desecrations which took place in 167 BCE and all “prophecies” after that are wrong, it is reasonable to conclude Daniel was written in 167 BCE.

The next post will consist of some final thoughts on this study of the Book of Daniel.

Links to the other articles

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3 thoughts on “Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel Chapters 10-12”

  1. With all due respect sir I believe that you may have it wrong. I know that traditionaly this version of the story is accepted but I think that while a few parts may be accurate I believe that the reason that you are having trouble ascribing the last part as “personal prophecy” is because it is actually dealing with end time prophecy. In which case the “pieces of the puzzle” that is Daniels prophecy would fit. One reason that I see that it may be this way is because I am one who believes that every word in the Gospel is true, not always literally of course, but truth none the less. As such it cannot be possible for some of the prophecy to be accurate whilest the rest is not.

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  2. Hi Chris, thanks for your comment!

    I used to believe the entirety of the Bible was true myself. And I’ve heard people say this before — that the end of this section skips ahead to the end times. But I’ve always had trouble finding any context clues to make the think the time and setting has changed. What in these passages gives you an indication that he begins talking about something totally different? While it does say “at the time of the end,” it continues to talk about the same “king of the north/ king of the south” characters that it’s been talking about all along, so I struggle to see how we can reasonably apply “at the time of the end” to the end of the world, instead of just the end of the time period he’s discussing (you know, the end of the period right before God’s kingdom is established).

    Thanks!

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