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Daniel 11 in Context



Although the Biblical book of Daniel describes the visions of a prophet who is presented as having lived in sixth-century Babylonia, the text is very young, as can be deduced from the fact that in the Jewish Bible, it is not included among the prophets (nevi'im), but, almost as an afterthought, to the last part of the writings (ketuvim), together with other late texts (Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles). Another clue is language: it is written in Aramaic with Persian and Greeks loan words, which again suggests that it was not written in the sixth century.

The most convincing argument for a young date, however, is chapter eleven, in which Daniel has a vision of the Syrian Wars, waged between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Empires, successors of the empire of Alexander the Great. The prophecy is very accurate: all major conflicts are mentioned, and the Sixth Syrian War is even mentioned in great detail. However, after the author of Daniel has given his description of the desacration of the temple, the persecution of the Jews, and the beginning of the Maccabaean revolt in 166 BCE, his prophecy goes astray: he predicts a new war between the Ptolemies and Seleucids. This never took place; instead, the Seleucids had to fight in the east. It proves that the text was finished after 166.

Below, you can find the text of Daniel (New International Version) and some comments that indicate what events are referred to.
 

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Alexander bust from Delos. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Alexander, bust from Delos (Louvre)

Now then, I tell you the truth: Three more kings will appear in Persia, and then a fourth, who will be far richer than all the others. When he has gained power by his wealth, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece

Then a mighty king will appear, who will rule with great power and do as he pleases. After he has appeared, his empire will be broken up and parceled out toward the four winds of heaven. It will not go to his descendants, nor will it have the power he exercised, because his empire will be uprooted and given to others.

The king of the South will become strong, but one of his commanders will become even stronger than he and will rule his own kingdom with great power.
 

The fourth king is Artaxerxes III Ochus, who reconquered Egypt and was richer than his predecessors. He indeed pursued an aggressive policy towards Greece.

The mighty king is Alexander the Great, who was not succeeded by his descendants. His empire was divided by his descendants.

"King of the South" is the name of the Ptolemaic dynasty. In 316, Ptolemy I Soter offered asylum to Seleucus I Nicator, who later accepted command of a small Ptolemaic army, launched the Babylonian War, and created a kingdom in Iraq: the Seleucid Empire, or -to use the phrase from Daniel- the "King of the North".

Bust of Ptolemy III Euergetes. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Bust of Ptolemy III Euergetes (Louvre, Paris)

After some years, they will become allies. The daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of the North to make an alliance, but she will not retain her power, and he and his power will not last. In those days she will be handed over, together with her royal escort and her father and the one who supported her.

One from her family line will arise to take her place. He will attack the forces of the king of the North and enter his fortress; he will fight against them and be victorious. He will also seize their gods, their metal images and their valuable articles of silver and gold and carry them off to Egypt. For some years he will leave the king of the North alone. Then the king of the North will invade the realm of the king of the South but will retreat to his own country.
 

From 260 to 253, the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Empires fought the Second Syrian War. When peace was signed, the Seleucid king Antiochus II Theos married to princess Berenice, daughter of Ptolemy II Philadelphus. When Ptolemy II died in 246, Antiochus repudiated her.

Berenice's brother Ptolemy III Euergetes avenged his sister's honor in the Third Syrian War (246-241). In the first year, he captured the Seleucid capitals Seleucia, Antioch, and Babylon, and returned home.

In 242, the Seleucid king Seleucus II Callinicus proceeded to the south, but he was repelled. Peace was concluded in 241; the Seleucids accepted the loss of Seleucia.

Coin of Ptolemy IV Philopator. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Jona Lendering.
Ptolemy IV Philopator
(British Museum)

His sons will prepare for war and assemble a great army, which will sweep on like an irresistible flood and carry the battle as far as his fortress. Then the king of the South will march out in a rage and fight against the king of the North, who will raise a large army, but it will be defeated. When the army is carried off, the king of the South will be filled with pride and will slaughter many thousands, yet he will not remain triumphant. For the king of the North will muster another army, larger than the first; and after several years, he will advance with a huge army fully equipped.

In those times many will rise against the king of the South. The violent men among your own people will rebel in fulfillment of the vision, but without success.
 

War was renewed by the son of Seleucus II, Antiochus III the Great: the Fourth Syrian War broke out in 219. The Seleucid army reconquered Seleucia, proceeded to Tyre, and met the Ptolemaic army at Raphia in 217. The battle was won by the Ptolemies, who had employed native troops, who now demanded equal rights (the "fulfillment of the vision"). Ptolemy IV Philopator found it hard to control the situation.

Antiochus III the Great. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Antiochus III the Great (Louvre, Paris)

Then the king of the North will come and build up siege ramps and will capture a fortified city. The forces of the South will be powerless to resist; even their best troops will not have the strength to stand. The invader will do as he pleases; no one will be able to stand against him. He will establish himself in the Beautiful Land and will have the power to destroy it. He will determine to come with the might of his entire kingdom and will make an alliance with the king of the South. And he will give him a daughter in marriage in order to overthrow the kingdom, but his plans will not succeed or help him. Then he will turn his attention to the coastlands and will take many of them, but a commander will put an end to his insolence and will turn his insolence back upon him. After this, he will turn back toward the fortresses of his own country but will stumble and fall, to be seen no more.
 

The Fifth Syrian War broke out in 202. Antiochus III defeated the armies of Ptolemy V Epiphanes and occupied Judaea. When peace was signed in 195, the Ptolemaic king married to a Seleucid princess, Cleopatra Syra.

In 192, Antiochus turned his attention to the far west, where he hoped to improve his position in the Aegean Sea (Syrian War). The Roman commanders Lucius and Publius Cornelius Scipio defeated the Seleucid army decisively at Magnesia (190). After admitting defeat in the Peace of Apamea (188), Antiochus III went to Babylon and Susa, but was killed when he attacked the city.


His successor will send out a tax collector to maintain the royal splendor. In a few years, however, he will be destroyed, yet not in anger or in battle.
 

Seleucus IV Philopator succeeded his father, and sent Heliodorus to Jerusalem to collect money, which was needed to pay the Romans. On his return. Heliodorus killed the king.

Coin of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Antiochus IV Ephiphanes

He will be succeeded by a contemptible person who has not been given the honor of royalty. He will invade the kingdom when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue. Then an overwhelming army will be swept away before him; both it and a prince of the covenant will be destroyed. After coming to an agreement with him, he will act deceitfully, and with only a few people he will rise to power. When the richest provinces feel secure, he will invade them and will achieve what neither his fathers nor his forefathers did. He will distribute plunder, loot and wealth among his followers. He will plot the overthrow of fortresses - but only for a time.
 

Antiochus IV Epiphanes, brother of Seleucus IV, ascended the Seleucid throne in 175, after several intrigues, which included the assassination of Heliodorus and an infant son of Seleucus. The prince of the covenant who is destroyed, is probably Onias III, who was in 174 killed and succeeded by his brother Jason. He was replaced as high priest in 171 by Menelaus, a "hellenizer".

Bust of Ptolemy VI Philometor, from Aegina. Now in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens (Greece). Photo Jona Lendering.
Bust of Ptolemy VI Philometor (National Archaeological Museum, Athens)

With a large army he will stir up his strength and courage against the king of the South. The king of the South will wage war with a large and very powerful army, but he will not be able to stand because of the plots devised against him. Those who eat from the king's provisions will try to destroy him; his army will be swept away, and many will fall in battle. The two kings, with their hearts bent on evil, will sit at the same table and lie to each other, but to no avail, because an end will still come at the appointed time.

The king of the North will return to his own country with great wealth, but his heart will be set against the holy covenant. He will take action against it and then return to his own country.

At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different from what it was before. Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him, and he will lose heart.

Almost immediately, the Sixth Syrian War broke out (169): Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded Egypt, where Ptolemy VI Philometor not only had to cope with the invader, but also with advisers who wanted to give power to his sister-wife Cleopatra II and his brother Ptolemy VIII Physcon. Antiochus and Ptolemy VI concluded a treaty that allowed the Egyptian king to fight against his relatives, but made him a vassal of the Seleucids.


In the winter of 169/168, Antiochus IV was in Jerusalem.

In the meantime, the quarreling Ptolemies were reconciled, forcing Antiochus to invade Egypt for a second time, in 168. He was about to capture Alexandria, when the Romans intervened and forced him to give up his conquests.


Then he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant. He will return and show favor to those who forsake the holy covenant.

 His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him.

 Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.

The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place.  He will show no regard for the gods of his fathers or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all. Instead of them, he will honor a god of fortresses; a god unknown to his fathers he will honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. He will attack the mightiest fortresses with the help of a foreign god and will greatly honor those who acknowledge him. He will make them rulers over many people and will distribute the land at a price.
 

On his return to Asia, Antiochus returned to Jerusalem and showed his sympathy for the hellenizing policies of Menelaus. According to 2 Maccabees 5, Jason had briefly returned, and Antiochus intervened violently.

Not much later, the temple cult was reformed and dedicated to Zeus Olympius. Many Jews resisted these measures, and in 166 the Maccabees decided to revolt; the author of Daniel is not convinced of the sincerity of all adherents.

At more or less the same time, 167 BCE, Antiochus' general Eucratidas got himself into trouble in the east, where he had tried to subdue Parthia and Aria, which had been seized by the Parni. King Antiochus had to direct his attention elsewhere.


At the time of the end the king of the South will engage him in battle, and the king of the North will storm out against him with chariots and cavalry and a great fleet of ships. He will invade many countries and sweep through them like a flood.  He will also invade the Beautiful Land. Many countries will fall, but Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon will be delivered from his hand. He will extend his power over many countries; Egypt will not escape. He will gain control of the treasures of gold and silver and all the riches of Egypt, with the Libyans and Nubians in submission. But reports from the east and the north will alarm him, and he will set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many. He will pitch his royal tents between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.

This is the moment where the prophecy "goes astray". The Ptolemaic king never came to Judaea, nor did Antiochus intervene and fight against the Maccabees, or conquer Egypt, Libya, and Nubia. Instead, Antiochus went to Armenia, Babylonia, and Susa.



Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2008
Revision: 24 June 2008
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