Kittim: Jewish name for the gentile archenemy in the eschatological age.

One of the "ships of the Kittim": a Roman warship in Egypt (cf. the crocodile)

The "Kittim" are mentioned in several Jewish apocalypses. A famous example, from the book of Daniel, describes cryptically how a "king of the north" invades a "kingdom of the south"

At an appointed time he will again invade the south, but this latter visit will not turn out the way the former one did. The ships of Kittim will come against him, leaving him disheartened.note

In this case, we are quite certain that this refers to the second campaign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes against Ptolemaic Egypt, which was broken off when a Roman ambassador ordered the king to leave. The Kittim must be the Romans, and the translators of the Septuagint (an ancient rendering of the Bible in Greek) translate the word as "Romans".

However, this is not the original meaning. Originally, Kittim referred to the inhabitants of the city of Kition on Cyprus.note The expression was later used to describe the Macedonian and Greek rulers of the Hellenistic world. For example, the War Scroll (one of the Dead Sea Scrolls) refers to a "king of the Kittim", who returns from Egypt and passes through Judaea on his way back to the north. This clearly refers to a Seleucid king.

Similar identifications can be found in the oldest pesharim (translations of Hebrew texts into Aramaic): the Pesher on the Apocalypse of Weeks (4Q247) and the Pesher Isaiaha (4Q161). In younger pesharim, such as the Pesher Habakkuk (1QpHab) and the Pesher Nahum (4Q169), "Kittim" refers to the Romans. The War Scroll was probably written by someone who used "Kittim" as a code name for the Seleucids, appears to have been adapted by someone who was thinking of .both the Seleucids and the Ptolemies, and was again adapted by someone who had the Romans in mind. This second adaptation was easy because there were legions in both Syria and Egypt.

Allthis may be a bit confusing, but the references are quite clear about several things: the Kittim are gentiles, the Kittim are enemies, and the Kittim play a role in the great wars at the end of times. They can be the opponents of the Royal Messiah and it is perhaps possible to translate "Kittim" as "the eschatological gentile archenemy".

This page was created in 2017; last modified on 12 October 2020.