You are hereGetting Daniel Past the Second Century B.C.: Prologue to Daniel 7-12
Getting Daniel Past the Second Century B.C.: Prologue to Daniel 7-12
by John Evans
For over a century now, the view has prevailed in “mainstream academia” that the “end-time” prophecies of Daniel 2, 7, 8, 9, and 11-12 were all designed so as to point to fulfillment in the second century BC in the time of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, who died ca. 164 BC. Among the many “liberal” mainstream scholars who hold skeptical views about biblical prophecy, it has commonly been assumed that the figure of a Daniel the Prophet who supposedly lived in sixth-century BC is a literary fiction and that even if much of the first half of the Book of Daniel was written well before the Maccabean Revolt in Judea against the rule of Antiochus erupted in 167 BC, the final product that has come down to us was assembled, largely written, and appropriately edited during the years 167 to 164 with the basic purpose of inspiring resistance to Seleucid tyranny. For over a century now, the view has prevailed in “mainstream academia” that the “end-time” prophecies of Daniel 2, 7, 8, 9, and 11-12 were all designed so as to point to fulfillment in the second century BC in the time of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, who died ca. 164 BC. Among the many “liberal” mainstream scholars who hold skeptical views about biblical prophecy, it has commonly been assumed that the figure of a Daniel the Prophet who supposedly lived in sixth-century BC is a literary fiction and that even if much of the first half of the Book of Daniel was written well before the Maccabean Revolt in Judea against the rule of Antiochus erupted in 167 BC, the final product that has come down to us was assembled, largely written, and appropriately edited during the years 167 to 164 with the basic purpose of inspiring resistance to Seleucid tyranny. Consequently, liberals assure us, we can be certain that the prophecies enumerated above were not constructed with the Messiah of Christianity in view and that the villainous character of Antiochus IV is highlighted in each of the four sets of prophecies in Daniel’s second half. As the great conservative (and futurist) scholar Gleason Archer (1916-2004) noted, “liberal scholars throughout Christendom . . . consider the Maccabean date of Daniel one of the most assured results of modern scholarship.”
Among liberals, the prevailing view about the four earthly kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7 has long been that they correspond to four empires that successively controlled Judea and the adjacent lands from late in the seventh century BC to the middle of the second century BC, namely the Babylonia of Nebuchadnezzar, Media, Persia, and the “Greece” of Alexander and his Hellenistic successors, most notably the rulers of Seleucid Syria. Because liberals discern that the author of Daniel’s interest in providing historical detail did not extend beyond the climax or “time of the end” in which Antiochus IV is destroyed that is found in each of the visions of Daniel’s second half, they rule out any possibility that Rome can be seriously considered to be the fourth kingdom of Daniel 2 and 7. In liberal hermeneutics, the thought that this fourth kingdom should be identified as Rome and only Rome is not to be entertained seriously by genuine scholars.
Despite the pronounced bias toward secularlistic/liberal worldviews that has long prevailed in mainstream academia in the nations that have embraced different forms of Western Democracy, and notwithstanding that this bias has actually intensified since the late 1960s, sufficient intellectual freedom has been retained in these nations so that some scholarly works that do not totally exclude the possibility of genuine biblical prophecy are considered by it to be acceptable. Such works tend overwhelmingly to be of a “moderate” nature in that they typically avoid harsh criticism of biblical liberalism. Thus, while the liberal authorities who have imbibed deeply in the elixir of the Higher Criticism often completely ignore or summarily dismiss conservative writings on Daniel that deserve to be taken seriously on their merits, there are tenured moderates in mainstream academia who have succeeded in calling attention to some of the weak points in liberal scholarship on Daniel while refraining from giving undue offense to the most esteemed guardians of the dominant paradigm. Some of these tenured moderates have even suggested that there probably was a real prophet Daniel who lived in Babylon in the sixth century BC. In general, however, moderates have avoided a direct frontal assault on the liberals’ bedrock contention that the end-time prophecies of Daniel were written with fulfillment in the time of Antiochus in mind. They prefer instead to invoke the hermeneutical approach called “idealism,” which allows prophecies generous scope for multiple fulfillments. Thus, even though the end-time prophecies of Daniel were presented so as to have their primary fulfillments in the second century BC, these moderates hold, they can be and have been appropriately “recycled” so as to also apply to later times, including the first century AD.
By accommodating moderate interpretations of Daniel within mainstream academia’s conception of what constitutes acceptable biblical scholarship, its more secularist members have co-opted potential critics and induced them to cede vital ground. In effect, the moderates have obtained “a piece of the action” by tacitly agreeing not to be unduly harsh on liberals. In doing so, they have refrained from seriously challenging the bedrock liberal contention that the primary fulfillments of the end-time prophecies of Daniel 2, 7, 9, and 11-12 all took place in the second century BC; and they have failed to acknowledge that a strong case can be made for believing that in the four kingdoms sequence of Daniel 2 and 7, the fourth kingdom is Rome. That this kingdom is Rome, incidentally, was the prevailing belief of the leading authorities on Christianity until the nineteenth century.
That the Christian faith has necessarily benefited from academia’s recognition of moderate interpretations of Daniel as acceptable scholarship is open to question. “Half a loaf is better than none” goes an old saw, and it is certainly arguable that by being allowed to pose the possibility that there may, after all, have been a real prophet Daniel who lived in Babylon in the sixth century BC and foresaw events that would occur almost four centuries later (without foreseeing the Messiah of Christianity) does a good deal to inspire Christian belief. I confess, however, that it does not inspire me. On the other hand, it is obvious that a much greater boost to such belief would be achieved if some mainstream scholars seriously entertained the possibility that the end-time prophecies of Daniel 2, 7, 9, and 11-12 are genuinely messianic in the Christian sense; i.e. with end-time fulfillments that look beyond Antiochus IV to the time of the ministry of Christ and other events that culminated in the obliteration of Jerusalem and its Temple in AD 70.
Two outstanding examples of the application of idealism to Daniel so as to achieve prophetic recycling are provided by Daniel 7:13 and Matthew 24:15. In each case, moderates have managed to procure a little breathing space for Christian belief in academia by offering Messianic secondary applications of prophecies that supposedly received their primary fulfillments in the time of Antiochus IV. Here are both of these verses in full as translated by the NASB:
Daniel 7:13: “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming. And he came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him.
Matthew 24:15: “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)
In mainstream exegesis, because the “little horn” of Daniel 7 is Antiochus IV and the events associated with his demise occurred in the second century BC, the “One like a Son of Man” of Daniel 7:13 who comes before the Ancient of Days following the removal of the fourth beast cannot be Christ unless the prophecy is interpreted so as to allow a secondary fulfillment in the first century AD. The most popular mainstream explanation of the Son of Man figure of this verse is that he symbolizes the people of God as represented by the faithful Jews of the time of the Maccabean Revolt. Some mainstream scholars, however, have been dissatisfied with this “collective” view of the Son of Man and have suggested that he could be the angel Michael, who is identified in Daniel 12:1 as the guardian angel of the Jews. The moderates suggest that while the Son of Man is not a messianicly Christian figure with regard to the prophecy’s primary fulfillment, Christ appropriately reworked this figure so as to apply it to Himself. I submit that this is a rather tepid interpretation that has had a deservedly modest impact in terms of encouraging Christian belief. If, however, mainstream academia were to take seriously the possibility that the one like a Son of Man is Christ and only Christ, I suspect that the effect in terms of encouraging belief would be quite considerable.
There are three passages in Daniel in which the translation “abomination of desolation” or “abomination that causes desolation” is to be found: 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11. Since mainstream analysts associate each of them with the time of Antiochus IV, they correspondingly suggest that in Matthew 24:15, Christ is asking his followers to reapply prophecies that were fulfilled two centuries earlier to their own time. Some scholars have suggested, of course, that since Daniel the prophet never existed, Christ here demonstrates his lack of divine status. Others have opined that it could be that although He knew that Daniel never existed, He sought to capitalize on the fact that most Jews did regard Daniel as an actual prophet. Within the context of mainstream analysis, it is also possible, of course, to suggest that the parenthetical wording “let the reader understand” was inserted to alert readers and listeners that Christ was applying to Himself prophecies that were initially fulfilled in the time of Antiochus.
Once Rome is recognized as the fourth kingdom, the interpretation of Matthew 24:15 changes dramatically. In subsequent articles, I shall argue that Daniel 11:31 is to be applied to the time of Antiochus, while 9:27 and 12:11 were both fulfilled in the first century AD. Christ, I am confident, knew very well that 11:31 referred to the great crisis in Jewish history that had occurred two hundred years earlier, and in Matthew 24 He warned His followers that another great crisis lay before them that would come to a head in the lifetime of some of them. This crisis would result in the complete destruction of the Temple (v.2), but that great complex was to be defiled before being demolished. Accordingly, verse 16 has Christ telling His followers that when they witness the defilement that Daniel warned about, “then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.” Notice that the warning here is to “those who are in Judea,” not “those who are in Jerusalem.”
For well over a hundred years now, mainstream academia has shown great resistance to the idea that Rome might be Daniel’s fourth kingdom. This resistance has undoubtedly contributed to the general decline in fervency of Christian belief that has occurred in the West. Contributing to the negative influence of mainstream biblical scholars’ embrace of Maccabean dating for the fulfillment of Daniel’s end-time prophecies has been the impact of that scholarship upon historians and other academics who have relied upon it when referring to theology and ancient history. With depressing uniformity, non-biblical scholars tend to assume that the judgment of the academic authorities on Daniel is to be trusted.
Reinforcing the certainty with which mainstream academia has pronounced its verdict on the dating of Daniel’s end-time prophecies has been its general (and correct) perception that the prevailing approach for presenting the case that Rome is the fourth kingdom is weak. Regrettably, those who assert that Rome is the fourth kingdom have generally been evangelicals who have insisted on futurist interpretations of these prophecies. It is true that some futurist scholars have accurately pinpointed numerous weaknesses in mainstream scholarship on Daniel, but their insistence on speculating about fulfillments that have yet to occur for such prophecies as the striking of the feet and toes of the great statue of Daniel 2, the judgment scene and the persecution of the “saints” of Daniel 7, and at least part of the seventieth “week” of the Daniel 9 has allowed liberals to “get off the hook.” By highlighting the glaring weaknesses of futurist interpretations of Daniel, mainstream scholars have diverted attention from the shortcomings of their own position.
Among mainstream scholars, it is generally taken for granted that the “little horn” that emerges in Daniel 7:8 by uprooting three of the ten horns on the fourth beast is identical to the “small horn” of Daniel 8:9 that grows out of one of the four horns of the goat that is identified in 8:21 as Greece. As the context of 8:21-22 makes clear, these four horns symbolize the four kingdoms that arose in the immediate aftermath of the struggle among Alexander’s generals for control of his empire after his death. Note that since the “small horn” of 8:9 is said to come from one of the Hellenistic kingdoms that was formed from Alexander’s empire, equating this horn with the “little horn” of 7:8 would appear to be ruled out if the fourth beast of Daniel 7 is taken to be Rome. Nevertheless, there are some biblical authorities who identify Rome as the fourth kingdom who also manage to equate the “little horn” with the “small horn” of Daniel 8, but this is an interpretation that I summarily reject. I am firmly of the opinion that the little horn of Daniel 7 goes with Rome and that its counterpart in Daniel 8 goes with the “Greece” and Seleucid Syria of Daniel 8.
That the reign of Antiochus IV led to a major crisis in Judea that threatened the existence of the system of worship centered on the Temple of Jerusalem is clear. Indeed, it was by far the greatest crisis to confront the Jewish people since the time of the Babylonian Captivity. Accordingly, if there really was a Jewish prophet in the sixth century who was empowered to foresee key features of the future of God’s people during the next few centuries, it would hardly be surprising if he prophesied about the reign of Antiochus IV. But an even greater crisis arose in Judea around two centuries after the demise of Antiochus, a crisis that permanently ended the Temple-centered system of worship and brought forth a New Covenant that enormously expanded the potential for recruitment into the ranks of God’s people. It thus stands to reason that if the Book of Daniel is genuinely prophetic, its prophecies should give greater emphasis to the events of the first century AD than to those of the second century BC. The first-century events, it should be noted, provided confirmation of Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament that were not fulfilled in the Maccabean era.
In forthcoming articles, I shall emphasize how both Daniel 8 and Daniel 11 highlight the crisis brought on by the persecution of Antiochus IV, but I shall also argue that Daniel 8 does not look beyond that crisis and that the last ten verses of Daniel 11 and all of Daniel 12 skip from the time of Antiochus to an even greater crisis, the one that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in AD 70. I shall also argue that the end-time events of Daniel 7 and 9 fit comfortably into the time of this second great crisis. In presenting my case, I shall direct my critical observations more toward the “moderate” position on Daniel than toward the position held by liberals.
In the second article in this series, I argued that the prophecies of Daniel 2 point to a sequence of four kingdoms that would successively dominate the part of the world that includes the Holy Land prior to the ministry of Christ. This sequence consisted of the Babylonia of Nebuchadnezzar and his successors, the Medo-Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great and his successors, the Greece of Alexander and the Hellenistic kingdoms that succeeded him, and the Rome that became the empire of the Caesars. Among the points that I emphasized were the following: (1) the great statue of Daniel 2 is a remarkably accurate historical timeline; (2) the four metals that symbolize the four “kingdoms” had remarkably close historical associations with the metals chosen to represent them; (3) the feet of clay symbolize the incorporation into the Roman Empire of a discordant element that undermined its cohesiveness, namely the Jews; (4) the rock that strikes the feet of the statue and causes the statue to disintegrate symbolizes the arrival of the Kingdom of Christ in the first century AD and its spiritual authority over all earthly dominions; and (5) the growth of the rock into a mountain that covers all of Earth symbolizes the gradual growth of this Kingdom until it comes, in fact, to exercise dominion over the whole world. In my judgment, the growth of the rock into the mountain corresponds to the thousand years of Revelation 20:3.
To date, I have not had a great deal of feedback to this second article, to my other articles on Daniel 2, and to the book that I put out last year entitled The Prophecies of Daniel 2. The most notable response of which I am aware is Kurt Simmons’s review of this book, which he featured in his newsletter of last November. I very much appreciate that Kurt took the trouble to read my book and carefully review it, and given that we have some differences about the interpretation of Daniel 2, I thought he was quite kind. I remain convinced, however, that my interpretation is correct.
Simmons is in general agreement with my proposition that the statue serves as a remarkably accurate timeline, at least with respect to the four earthly kingdoms in what I term “the Roman sequence” that runs from the time of Nebuchadnezzar to the first century AD. He differs from me here in that while I associate the rock’s arrival with the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ ca. AD 30, he prefers the date of AD 70 for that event. Tellingly, none of the alternatives offered by either mainstream scholars or futurists comes remotely close to having the statue serve as a timeline. Consequently, the mainstreamers simply ignore or deny the possibility that the statue was intended to do so while futurists tend to invent a gap somewhere in the feet of the statue that allows “Rome” to reemerge in the apocalyptic windup of human affairs that yet awaits us. Of course, nothing in the description of the statue suggests the existence of such a gap. And in view of the facts that verse 45 specifically states that the dream of Daniel 2 was revealed to Nebuchadnezzar in order that the future would be revealed and that the five different portions of the statue obviously form a sequence, it is implausible to argue that the statue was not intended to be understood as a timeline for a continuous period of human history.
Simmons tends to dismiss the importance of my finding that the four metals of the statue had close historical associations with the specific kingdoms that they symbolize. Thus, he disposes of my linkage of silver to Medo-Persia with the comment that “the only historical association of silver with the Persian Empire is that it was allegedly used to pay the army,” and he fails to mention the close linkage I describe in detail between bronze and Greece. In response, I must insist that the ability of the Achaemenid Empire of Cyrus the Great and his successors to amass the huge military establishment of that empire was directly—not allegedly—dependent upon the possession of large amounts of silver derived from Cyrus’s conquest of Lydia. Also, while Kurt dismisses my emphasis upon the fact that the Roman military machine developed a historically great reliance upon iron with the comment that the important thing about iron and the fourth kingdom is that “the fourth empire would be ‘strong as iron’ (Dan. 2:40) not that it made the most abundant use of that metal,” I must observe that Rome was “strong as iron” both symbolically and literally, and I simply do not see why these two understandings of the meaning of the iron must necessarily be opposed to each other.
In my analysis of the five distinct segments of the statue, I assume that the solid iron portion runs from just above the knees to the area where the ankles (feet) begin. Just what years this should correspond to historically is difficult to nail down precisely. Arguably, Roman domination of the area that encompasses the Holy Land began as early as 190 BC, when the Romans defeated the forces of Antiochus III (father of Antiochus IV) at the Battle of Magnesia in what is now southwestern Turkey. At the other end—and, I think, more plausibly—one could go with a date as late 146 BC, the year in which the Romans destroyed Corinth, or 142 BC, which is when Maccabean Judea, with Roman diplomatic support, formally gained its independence from Seleucid Syria. In my book on Daniel 2’s prophecies, I opted for 164 BC as the most reasonable starting point for the historical equivalent of the iron, that being the year when the Maccabees wrested Jerusalem from the Syrian forces. In retrospect, I am not certain that this year is better than either 146 or 142.
Locating the historical equivalent for the beginning of the clay in the feet is also a challenge. In my book on the prophecies of Daniel 2, I suggested that a reasonable beginning point for the clay would be 63 BC, the year in which Pompey occupied Jerusalem and effectively incorporated Judea into the realm of the Roman Republic. I also suggested that terminal date for the iron and the clay should be about AD 30. Subsequently, I have become inclined to go with a somewhat later starting date that coincides more closely with the designation by the Roman Senate of Herod as the King of the Jews. This designation was conferred upon him in 40 BC, but it did not become effective until three years later, by which time the Romans had finally managed to establish firm control of Judea. At present, therefore, I tend to view the clay in the feet as corresponding to a historical period of about 66 years (no year zero). This compares with a period of roughly 109 years corresponding to the solid iron portion of the statue, 186 years corresponding to the bronze, 207 years for the silver, and 66 for gold.
I have insisted in my writings on identifying the clay in the feet with the Jews of the Roman Empire, and this is a point with which Simmons definitely disagrees. He denies the validity of my using Isaiah 64:8 and Jeremiah 18 to warrant applying the concept of potter’s clay specifically to the Jews of the Herodian era. “Clearly,” he states, “these verses provide no basis for identifying the Jews as the clay to the exclusion of other people and nations,” and he suggests that I have allowed my paradigm to drive my analysis. In reply, I argue that it is my understanding of these passages that while God ultimately acts as the “potter” who shapes all of humanity, these passages do lend themselves to being applied to specific historical periods in which God intervenes to shape the destiny of particular peoples. And among the peoples of the Herodian era, where do we find the most persuasive evidence of divine intervention to shape the destiny of a particular group? If not the Jews, then who? I trust that Kurt will be elaborating upon the matter in his soon to be in print full commentary on Daniel, whose appearance I very much look forward to. With the publication of James Jordan’s commentary last year and Kurt’s this year, it appears that important headway is now being made toward the cultivation of one the most neglected and mismanaged fields of biblical scholarship.
In my next article to be posted in this series, I shall undertake the analysis of Daniel 7. Among other things, this will involve the harmonization of Daniel 7 with Daniel 2. My expectation is that it will take me two articles to cover the ground that I want to cover before moving on to Daniel 8.
Gleason L. Archer, Jr., “Daniel,” Daniel-Minor Prophets, vol. 7, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelin (Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan, 1985), 13.
Kurt Simmons, “Review of John S. Evans’ The Prophecies of Daniel 2,” The Sword & the Plow, Vol. X, no. 10 (November 2008), 1-6.