Daniel 10 – Who is the Prince of Persia?

In Daniel 10:20 the angel says he was sent by God immediately when Daniel began to pray, twenty-one days earlier, but he was hindered by the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece.”  Who is the “prince of Persia”?

For many interpreters, the prince of Persia is some kind of a national angel or territorial angel, in charge of the nation of Persia. In 12:1 Michael is the “prince” of God’s people, Israel. In 1 Enoch 20:1-8 for Michael as an archangel (cf., Jude 9).

The idea that nations had a particular angelic being ruling over it in the spiritual world may be behind the idea of local gods, or patron gods of the city-states. In 3 Enoch 35:12 identifies Samma’el as the “prince of Rome” and Dubbie’el as the Prince of Persia; both of these princes sit daily with Satan and write out the sins of Israel in order to deliver them to the seraphim.

3 Enoch 35:12 Why is their name called seraphim? Because they burn the tablets of Satan. Every day Satan sits with Sammaʾel, Prince of Rome, and with Dubbiʾel, Prince of Persia, and they write down the sins of Israel on tablets and give them to the seraphim to bring them before the Holy One, blessed be he, so that he should destroy Israel from the world.

In the Second Temple period the idea of an angelic “prince” developed into a mini-theology of angels. In Genesis 10 there are seventy nations and there were seventy sons of Abraham in Exodus 1:5. In addition, the Masoretic text of Deuteronomy 32:8 says God has fixed the borders of peoples “according to the number of the sons of God.” The Septuagint has “according to the angels of God” (κατὰ ἀριθμὸν ἀγγέλων θεοῦ). From these texts developed the idea there is a divine council with as many as seventy angels in charge of the nations. A Jewish writer would not think the gods of the nations were real, but they would not deny spiritual beings played a role in international politics. Although the text does not specifically mention angels, Sirach 17:17 says:

Sirach 17:17 (NRSV) He appointed a ruler for every nation, but Israel is the Lord’s own portion.

Does the Bible really claim there is a divine council or “regional angels” in charge of the nations? As appealing as this tradition is, it must be emphasized it is only a tradition developed on the Second Temple Period.

If the prince of Persia is not an angelic or demonic being, then the phrase refers to human political leaders. William Shea, for example, argued the princes in Daniel 10 refers to the kings of the Persians and Greeks. The prince of Persia is either Cyrus the Great or Cambyses, not a powerful angelic being. Without identifying specific Persian or Greek kings, but may be the case the cosmic battle between the prince of Persia, the prince of Greece, and the prince of Israel foreshadows the earthly conflict between the Persians, Greeks and the Judeans described in Daniel 11.

The significant elements in Daniel 10 is that the prince of Persia was able to hinder the messenger from God and that messenger was unable to overcome the prince of Persia for three weeks. Even then, he needed help from Michael, the Prince of Israel to overcome. At the very least, the prince of Persia is an enemy of God who (for some unexplained reason) wants to prevent Daniel from receiving the message from God.

 

Bibliography: David E. Stevens, “Daniel 10 and the Notion of Territorial Spirits” BSac 157 (2000): 410-431; William H. Shea, “Wrestling with the Prince of Persia: A Study on Daniel 10,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 21 (1983); David E. Stevens, “Does Deuteronomy 32:8 Refer to ‘Sons of God’ or ‘Sons of Israel’” BibSac 154 (1997): 131-41.; Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the ‘Sons of God,’” BibSac 158 (2001).  S. R. Driver, Daniel, 157 has a brief discussion of the “doctrine of tutelary angels.”

Daniel 10 – Daniel’s Vision of a Great Angelic Being

Daniel 10 is a prologue to the apocalyptic history beginning in 11:2. Like Daniel 9, the chapter begins with Daniel concerned about the end of the captivity. From Daniel’s perspective the seventy years appear to be over. All the Jewish exiles should able to return to Jerusalem, but only few are taking advantage Cyrus’s decree. Daniel therefor turns to the Lord in prayer for his people, asking God when the final vindication of Israel will finally begin.

Angel of FireThis vision is dated to the third year of Cyrus, King of Persia, likely 537 B.C. This third year could refer to Cyrus as king over all the Persian Empire or only to when he conquered the Babylonians. If the latter is the case, then this final vision of Daniel is in his seventieth year of service. The year 537 B.C. is after the first of the Jews began to return to Jerusalem, perhaps the reason for Daniel’s fasting and prayer. Daniel may have sought the Lord on behalf of those who were working in Jerusalem.

Daniel says he was fasting and mourning (10:2-3). This could be a “bread and water” fast since the text says he ate no choice food or wine nor did he use lotions. Oils and lotions were a luxury and a sign of joy and happiness (Ps 45:7). They would have been inappropriate during a fast.

What was the purpose of his fasting? Some suggest Daniel was upset the work in Jerusalem was going slowly. Others suggest he was still perplexed over the previous vision and was seeking the Lord for a clarification of the visions in Daniel 8 and 9. This fast begins before Passover and continues ten days beyond. During this period the Jews typically reflect on the Exodus, perhaps Daniel is looking forward to a new Exodus, from Babylon back to Jerusalem.

But fasting is associated with visions in the apocalyptic literature. Reflecting of the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah and Baruch fast for seven days (2 Baruch 9:2). In 4 Ezra the prophet fasts before visions in response to the command of the angel Uriel (4 Ezra 5:20). In the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra 1:5, Michael the archangel commands Ezra to “lay aside bread for seventy weeks,” and he claims to fast “twice sixty weeks.” After 120-week fast, Ezra has a series of visionary experiences. In the New Testament Peter has a vision after a short fast (Acts 10:10). Daniel’s fast may be significant because one of the many things Antiochus does is forbid the Jewish fast day (1 Macc 1:39).

In his vision, Daniel sees a “man” dressed in linen, a common outfit for an angel in Scripture (Ezek 9:2 and 10). White linen is considered to be ritually pure, a priestly garment (Lev. 16:4). This would be a bleached white garment, or brilliantly white. This form of a man wears a sash of gold, a common symbol of wealth in the Ancient Near East. His body is like chrysolite and his face is like lightning, literally, has the appearance of lightning, and his eyes are like flaming torches, again, bright light, glowing, radiant, emphasis on the burning (Ezek 1:4). The man’s arms and legs are like polished bronze (Ezek 1:7).  His voice was like the sound of a multitude.  A huge noisy crowd, overwhelming, incomprehensible.

There are similar angelic beings in apocalyptic literature. For example, in the Apocalypse of Abraham 11:1-3:

And I stood up and saw him who had taken my right hand and set me on my feet. The appearance of his body was like sapphire, and the aspect of his face was like chrysolite, and the hair of his head like snow. And a kidaris [royal tiara worn by Persian kings] was on his head, its look that of a rainbow, and the clothing of his garments (was) purple; and a golden staff (was) in his right hand.

Similar features appear in the description of angelic beings in 3 Enoch 35:2. [For more on angels in 3 Enoch, see this post.]

Every angel is as the Great Sea in height, and the appearance of their faces is like lightning; their eyes are like torches of fire; their arms and feet look like burnished bronze, and the roar of their voices when they speak is as the sound of a multitude.

In the Apocalypse of Zephaniah the prophet encounters an angel he believes is the Lord himself. The angel identifies himself as Eremiel, an angel in charge of the abyss and Hades where “all of the souls are imprisoned from the end of the Flood.”

I saw a great angel standing before me with his face shining like the rays of the sun in its glory since his face is like that which is perfected in its glory. And he was girded as if a golden girdle were upon his breast. His feet were like bronze which is melted in a fire

Who is this angelic being in Daniel 10? Because of the glory associated with the appearance of the man it is assumed at the very least Daniel saw an angel of some kind similar to these later apocalyptic texts. A common suggestion this is the same angel Daniel met in chapter 9, Gabriel. But some have suggested this is a theophany similar to Ezekiel seeing God’s glory in his inaugural vision. There are many parallel between these two visions. There is also a remarkable similarity between this passage and the description of Christ in Revelation 1. Many Christian commentators, especially the early church, identified this being as the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ.

However, if this being is the same who speaks in in 10:10-14, then it has been hindered by the “prince of Persia” and needed the assistance of Michael. This being was sent by God with the answer to Daniel’s prayer, making it unlikely to be God himself. One solution is that the vision in 10:1-9 is different than the angelic being who speaks in 10:10.

Whatever the case, Daniel’s final vision begins with a powerful angelic being. He is overwhelmed by this vision and fell into a deep sleep before the angel reveals “what is inscribed in the book of truth.”

Daniel 11 and History

Daniel 10-12 form a grand conclusion to the book of Daniel. That God has not forgotten his people is a major theme of the whole book, but these final three chapters present God as not only aware of the suffering of his people, but actively moving in history to defend them when the coming great crisis comes. The book of Daniel presents God as sovereign overall the nations, including the Persian and Greek Empires.

Daniel 11These final three chapters are the most detailed in terms of prophetic events in the Old Testament. This make for difficult reading because most readers are not aware of the history of the period after the exile other than a few major key historical points. Joyce Baldwin recommends we read Daniel 11 with the Cambridge Ancient History volume 7 in hand (Daniel, 184).

Because Daniel 11 is so detailed, most interpreters consider the chapter a prime example of vaticinium ex eventu, history written as prophecy. There are other examples of apocalyptic literature which use this method. For example, the Animal Apocalypse in 1 Enoch 85-90 is a theological interpretation of history leading up to the Maccabean Revolt. Like Daniel 11, the Animal Apocalypse tracks the relationship of the post-exilic community and the nations, including Persia and the Greeks.

The Animal Apocalypse is more detailed in the Maccabean period (1 Enoch 90:6-12). Like Daniel, a “great horn” grows on one of the lambs and rallies the sheep against the oppressors. But this is not the arrogant little horn of Daniel 8 and 9, the apocalypse likely refers to Judas Maccabees. In 1 Enoch 90:13-19 the sheep (Israel) battle the beasts (Gentiles in general, Seleucid in particular). The Lord of the Sheep intervenes in wrath; he strikes the ground with his rod and a great sword is given to the sheep to kill the beasts of the earth. This probably refers to the conclusion of the Maccabean Revolt, but it is highly exaggerated. Unless this “Lord of the Sheep” is Judas Maccabees, this history re-told is wrong. God or a messianic figure did not directly intervene in the revolution against Antiochus IV Epiphanies. Verse 19 is the key: “a great sword was given to the sheep.” This divine passive indicates a human agent was given permission by God to successfully make way against the Gentiles (cf. a similar divine passive in Revelation 6:4).

The text of the Animal Apocalypse seems to go beyond history at this point to a prophetic vision of a future judgment of Israel’s oppressors. God intervenes to judge the nations who have oppressed his people. In 1 Enoch 90:20-27 a great throne is set up in the pleasant land (Israel) and “he sat upon it,” implying the Lord of the Sheep who struck the earth with his rod. The Lord of the Sheep then judges the sheep and their shepherds. In verse 20 the books are opened and seven shepherds are punished for killing more sheep that they were ordered to (verse 22). These bad sheep and shepherd are cast into the fiery abyss (v. 24), the seventy shepherds are found guilty as well and cast into the abyss to the right of the house (v. 26, presumably Gehenna to the east of the Temple).

So the Animal Apocalypse is “history written as prophecy,” but it shifts perspective to a future divine intervention and final judgment which does not seem to jive with well-known history as the rest of the Apocalypse does. I would suggest this the same strategy as Daniel 11. The vision accurately portrays historical events concerning the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kings up to a certain point. But in Daniel 11:40-45 the ultimate fate of Antiochus IV Epiphanes is wrong, or at least, not quite right. Antiochus does not die in the way described, nor does the great prince Michael come to defend his people (12:1), the ones who sleep in the dust do not rise (12:2-3).

Although it is possible this is all propaganda supporting the Maccabean Revolt, I think Daniel 11:40 turns to a genuine prediction. Like the Animal Apocalypse the writer begins to look forward to God’s intervention in history to deal with Israel’s enemies in a climactic judgment which sends some to some to everlasting life, and others to shame and everlasting contempt (12:2). This is how apocalyptic histories work, allegorical yet accurate history up to a certain point, then the writer expresses hope for a glorious future.

Daniel 9:20-27 – The Prophecy of the Seventy Sevens

The history of the exegesis of the 70 Weeks is the Dismal Swamp of O.T. criticism…. the trackless wilderness of assumptions and theories in the efforts to obtain an exact chronology fitting into the history of Salvation, after these 2,000 years of infinitely varied interpretations, would seem to preclude any use of the 70 Weeks for the determination of a definite prophetic chronology. J. A. Montgomery, Commentary on the Book of Daniel, 400-401.

In Daniel 9 Daniel reads from a scroll of Jeremiah and understands the 70-year exile must be coming to an end. While Daniel is praying an angel is sent to him to give an answer to his prayer. Unfortunately it was not the answer he may have been expecting. Rather than a confirmation the Judah’s exile would soon be over, Daniel is told the seventy years have become seventy “weeks of years,” or 490 years in all. At the end of the period prophecy and vision will be sealed up and the Most Holy Place will be anointed (9:24).

However, before the 490 years are complete the final seven years (the seventieth week) will be a time of war and desolation. At the end of the sixty-ninth week, the “anointed one will be cut off and have nothing,” the ruler of the people to come will destroy the Jerusalem and the sanctuary and the “end will come like a flood.” This ruler will confirm a covenant but break it in the middle of the final seven-year period. When he breaks the covenant he will put an end to sacrifice and “set up an abomination that causes desolation.” (9:27).

Is this a literal period of 490 years? If so, when does the period end? The majority of modern commentators (Hartman and Di Lella, Driver, and Montgomery, for example) think the years are literal and extend into the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The beginning of the period is the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., although the “decree” is Jeremiah’s prophecy (dated to 605 B.C.) As is well known, Antiochus desecrates the altar in the Temple by sacrificing a pig, something which can be describing as an “abomination that causes desolation.” The rededication of the temple after Antiochus was in 164 B.C., so the period is about 65 years short. For most, this is simply a miscalculation on the part of the second-century writer (Montgomery, 393).

In this view, the “cutting off of the anointed one” is the assassination of Onias III the high priest, about 170 B.C. Sacrifices stopped for a slightly more than three years, not quite a full three and a half years (time, times and half a time, 1260 days), nor is the period 2300 mornings and evenings from Daniel 8:14 accurate, either as 1150 days or a full 2300 days (neither number is three and a half years or a full seven years).  Nevertheless, the numbers work out generally to the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the period of seven years is approximately correct. Stylized apocalyptic numbers do not need to be precisely accurate; there is no need to impose modern precision on the seventy sevens.

A second approach is to interpret the years are symbolic of the time from the end of the exile to the coming of messiah. E. J. Young argued a “seven” was an indefinite period of time and ran the whole 490 years from the return from exile up to the time of Christ. Even the last seven has been completed, starting sometime in the ministry of Christ and ending before A.D. 70. (Young, Daniel, 203).

A third approach takes the years as a literal period of time, but begins the period with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem (not Cyrus’ decree). The first 483 years begin with the Artaxerxes permitting Nehemiah return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city (Neh 2), approximately 445 BC. The 483 period ends sometime in the ministry of Jesus. There are several very detailed attempts to count days and calculate the exact moment in Jesus’s ministry the 483 years end (the most common suggestion is Jesus’s baptism or the triumphal entry). But this is almost impossible since the years may be lunar or solar, there may be intercalculary months, etc. The cutting off of the anointed one is the crucifixion, but the final seven year people is still in the future.

In this view, the book of Revelation picks up the final seven year period to describe a final confrontation between the arrogant kingdom of man and God’s coming kingdom. The Christian writer to first suggest this appears to have been Julius Africanus in A.D. 200, mentioned in Jerome’s commentary on Daniel. But even here, there are scholars who interpret the tribulation described in Revelation as wholly fulfilled by the Roman destruction of Jerusalem or persecution of Christians in the late first century. Others read Revelation as looking to the distant future and events leading up to the return of Messiah Jesus to establish his kingdom.

Which approach is best? Theological presuppositions often guide the answer to this question. If an interpreter is committed to a second-century date, then the author of Daniel only knows history up to the 160’s B.C. and only the first view is viable. But the prophecy of Daniel was read in the first century as not completely exhausted by the events leading up to the rededication of the Temple. Jesus alludes to Daniel 9 and the “abomination that causes desolation” in Mark 13:14. For Jesus, this is still a future event: “when you see ii, then let those in Judea flee…” Revelation is another thread of evidence that at least some Jewish Christians expected a future seven-year period of extreme suffering prior to the coming of the Messiah.

If the seventy years of captivity is taken literally by Daniel, it seems reasonable to take the extension of the seventy years as a literal period as well. I really do think the events leading up the Rededication of the Temple are part of Daniel’s vision, but prophecy often predicts something in the near future which also refers to the eschatological age.

The third option seems to be the way the text was read in the first century, “how soon until the exile was really over?”

Daniel 8 –The Ram and the Goat

Daniel 8 is an expansion on the four-kingdom scheme of chapters 2 and 7, expanding on events during the third empire. The vision concerns the fall of Persia and the establishment of the Greek empire. As Miller observes, nearly every commentator agrees this prophecy concerns the events of the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, although they disagree on whether the events are prophetically described by Daniel or current events cast as prophecy by an unknown second century writer (Daniel, 219)

Ram, Goat

The time is identified as the third year of Belshazzar’s reign, about 550 B.C. About this same time Cyrus the Persian was consolidating his power with the Medes. About twelve years later Cyrus will capture Babylon while Belshazzar held a great banquet (Daniel 5).

Daniel is “in the citadel in Susa” (v.1). The city of Susa was built on the Ulai Canal and was the capitol of the Persian Empire. Was Daniel literally in the city of Susa? He may have been in the city on some business for the government of Babylon, or perhaps he retired to the city.  Josephus (Antiquities 10.11.7) seems to think he was physically in the city. It is more likely Daniel was transported in his vision to Susa. This is similar to Ezekiel’s visionary experience, he is caught up and taken from Babylon to Jerusalem to witness the glory of the Lord departing form the city (Ezek 8-11).

Daniel has an unusual vision of a ram fighting a goat (8:3-14) which is interrupted by an angelic guide in 8:15-26). A ram with two unequally sized horns represents the Medes and Persians (v. 20). This ram begins its conquest in the east and goes in the three other directions just as Persia was in the east and made conquests into the west (literally to the sea, the Mediterranean Sea), then south into Egypt and north into Asia Minor.

The goat with a prominent horn (8:5-8) is interpreted as the king of Greece (8:21), undoubtedly Alexander the Great. Some will point out the first king of Macedon was led to a location by a herd of goats where he founded a city, Aege, or the Goat City. The goat comes out of the west very fast and destroys the ram. This fits well with what we know about the conquest of the world by Alexander.  Alexander may have been motivated to conquest because of Persian invasions of Greece in 490 B.C. by Darius I and 480 by Xerxes.

After the prominent horn is cut off, it is replaced by four horn, likely referring to the Diadochi, the Greek generals who took parts of Alexander’s empire after his death. But they are not the main interest of this vision, Daniel saw a “little horn” (8:9-14), undoubtedly the same as the little horn in Daniel 7. Stephen Miller argues this is not possible, since the little horn in chapter 7 is associated with the blasphemy of the final kingdom prior to the establishment of the kingdom of God.  Chapter 8 concerns the Greek kingdom, the third beast in chapter 7 (Daniel, 225, note 22).

This little horn will cause some of the starry host to fall (8:10). This begins with the assassination of Onias III in 170, the sacking of the temple in 169, and the general persecution of Jews in the period which follows (see also 1 Maccabees 1:41-64; 2 Maccabees 6:1-5).

2 Maccabees 5:11-14 When news of what had happened reached the king, he took it to mean that Judea was in revolt. So, raging inwardly, he left Egypt and took the city by storm. 12 He commanded his soldiers to cut down relentlessly everyone they met and to kill those who went into their houses. 13 Then there was massacre of young and old, destruction of boys, women, and children, and slaughter of young girls and infants. 14 Within the total of three days eighty thousand were destroyed, forty thousand in hand-to-hand fighting, and as many were sold into slavery as were killed.

1 Maccabees 1:29-34 Two years later the king sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute, and he came to Jerusalem with a large force. 30 Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. 31 He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. 32 They took captive the women and children, and seized the livestock. 33 Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. 34 They stationed there a sinful people, men who were renegades. These strengthened their position.

The little horn sets itself up as the “prince” of that fallen host (11). Antiochus attempted to set himself against God when he forbade the practice of the Jewish Law (1 Maccabees 1:41-50).

The little horn will take away the daily sacrifice and brought low the sanctuary (11). The daily sacrifice (tamid) was to be offered twice each day.  Priests offered sacrifices on behalf of all the people (Exodus 29:38-41, Numbers 28:3-8). In 167 B.C. Antiochus ordered these daily sacrifices to be stopped (1 Maccabees 1:44-45).

The sacrifices are suspended for 2300 days.  There are several schemes for showing paralleling with Antiochus’ suspension of sacrifice. Is this 1150 days, since there 2300 are morning and evening sacrifices?  Keil argues a Jewish reader would never read the text half-days, since a “morning and evening” is a complete day (Daniel, 304). This is a period of three years and 55 days, the period begins on just before the altar is desecrated and ends with the temple is rededicated in 168 B.C. Alternatively, the time from the murder of Onias III (the legitimate High Priest, killed by Antiochus) in 171 and the death of Antiochus in 164.

Does the little horn only refer to Antiochus? Is there any room for “future” fulfillment of these prophecies? Is this an example of multiple fulfillment of prophecy? Did Daniel’s vision only concern events leading up to the Maccabean Revolt, or did the vision concern a time events leading up to the coming of the Messiah in the future?

Daniel 7:9-14 – The Heavenly Throne Room

Daniel 7:9-14 is an apocalyptic throne room scene. The description of a great throne room is common in prophetic and apocalyptic literature. Isaiah has his inaugural vision of the Lord, “high and exalted, seated on his throne,” surrounded by angelic creatures (Isaiah 6:1-5). Ezekiel’s first vision describes the glory of God as a glowing otherworldly man seated on a throne of lapis lazuli accompanied by strange “living creatures” (Ezek 1:25-28).

1 Enoch has several throne room scenes similar to Daniel 7:9-14.

1 Enoch 14:18-25 18 And I observed and saw inside it a lofty throne—its appearance was like crystal and its wheels like the shining sun; and (I heard?) the voice of the cherubim; 19 and from beneath the throne were issuing streams of flaming fire. It was difficult to look at it.  20 And the Great Glory was sitting upon it—as for his gown, which was shining more brightly than the sun, it was whiter than any snow. 21 None of the angels was able to come in and see the face of the Excellent and the Glorious One; and no one of the flesh can see him—22 the flaming fire was round about him, and a great fire stood before him. No one could come near unto him from among those that surrounded the tens of millions (that stood) before him. 23 He needed no council, but the most holy ones who are near to him neither go far away at night nor move away from him. 24 Until then I was prostrate on my face covered and trembling. And the Lord called me with his own mouth and said to me, “Come near to me, Enoch, and to my holy Word.” 25 And he lifted me up and brought me near to the gate, but I (continued) to look down with my face.

1 Enoch 40:1-2 And after that, I saw a hundred thousand times a hundred thousand, ten million times ten million, an innumerable and uncountable (multitude) who stand before the glory of the Lord of the Spirits. 2 I saw them standing—on the four wings of the Lord of the Spirits—and saw four other faces among those who do not slumber, and I came to know their names, which the angel who came with me revealed to me; and he (also) showed me all the hidden things.

1 Enoch 60:1-3  In the year five hundred, in the seventh month, on the fourteenth day of the month in the life of Enoch; in the same parable (I saw) that the heaven of heavens was quaking and trembling with a mighty tremulous agitation, and the forces of the Most High and the angels, ten thousand times a million and ten million times ten million, were agitated with great agitation. 2 And the Antecedent of Time was sitting on the throne of his glory surrounded by the angels and the righteous ones. 3 (Then) a great trembling and fear seized me and my loins and kidneys lost control. So I fell upon my face.

Like Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7, Enoch sees a flaming throne and a being with bright clothing light lightning. The name of the one on the throne in Daniel “Ancient of Days” is similar to the “Antecedent of Time” (sometimes translated as “the head of days.” There is a huge multitude of angelic witnesses in both Daniel and 1 Enoch, 1 Enoch also refers to four “living creatures.” Even the reaction of the visionary is similar. Isaiah cries out “woe is me” because he has seen the living God, Daniel is deeply trouble at the end of this vision (7:28) and in his final vision he is completely devastated by a vision of a man/angel/God, he falls into a deep sleep with his face to the ground (10:7-9).

In Daniel 7:9-10, the judge on the throne is the Ancient of Days. The Ancient of Days is usually interpreted as title for God even though there no other uses of the phrase in the Hebrew Bible. Identifying the on one the throne is complicated by the description of this ancient being giving his authority to the (young) son of man. The older figure sits on one throne while delegating judgment to the “son of man” on a second throne. Phillip Munoa has a list of interpretations (Four Powers in Heaven: The Interpretation of Daniel 7 in the Testament of Abraham. JSPSup 28. Sheffield: Sheffield University Press, 1998).

  • The medieval Jewish scholar Jephet took the “ancient of days” to be an angel, Ibn Ezra specified the Ancient of Days to be Michael the archangel.
  • Rabbi Hayyim Galipapa (1310-1380) identified the Ancient of Days with Matthias Maccabees, the “old man” of the Maccabean revolt, imply the “son of man” was Judas Maccabees.
  • In the sixth century Jewish text, Gedullat Mosheh, the writer identifies God as the ancient of days, but the con of man is an angel, Metatron.
  • In the Testament of Abraham, the Ancient one is Adam, the son of Man is Abel (as the protomartyr).

If Daniel is consistent with earlier apocalyptic throne room scenes then the one on the throne is God. It is his kingdom which will subdue the kingdoms of men. People of all nations will worship the son of man (7:14) and the kingdom of the Most High will be everlasting (7:26).

Who is the “Little Horn” in Daniel 7:8?

Among the ten horns, a single “little horn” makes itself prominent and “speaks blasphemously.” (Daniel 7:8) This little horn is given more details.  It has eyes and a mouth, perhaps to indicate this is a person rather than a kingdom. Eyes are often associated with pride (Isaiah 2:11, 5:15). It speaks boastfully and uproots three of the other horns. In the judgment scene which follows the other horns are not specifically judged along with the little horn.

Who this arrogant “little horn”? There are at least three possibilities. First, the majority of scholarship accepts a Maccabean origin of the book of Daniel, so this arrogant horn is an obvious reference to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In fact, this identification seems clear in Daniel 8:23-26. The vision in Daniel 7 is therefore not prophecy, but a retelling of Judea’s relationship with Babylon, Persia, Alexander’s Greece and the Seleucid king Antiochus IV.

Second, for the minority of scholars who argue the fourth and final beast is Rome, the little horn is a Roman emperor, usually Nero or Domitian, but the first century has plenty of candidates for blasphemous kings! Revelation 13 and 17 seems to take up the imagery of beasts and arrogant horns from Daniel 7 and apply it to the Roman Empire.

Third, it is also possible to argue this arrogant little horn is a future enemy since the final kingdom is destroyed by the kingdom of God (the rock not cut by human hands in Daniel 2 or the son of man in the next paragraph). If the prophecy extends to the time of the messiah then the little horn is plausibly explained as the antichrist, the leader of the rebellion against God in the last days. I would suggest that is how Revelation read Daniel 7.

While it might sound like dodging the question, perhaps the prophecy applies to Antiochus, Rome and the end times all at once. From the perspective of the Jewish people, there will be waves of anti-Jewish kings and governments throughout history. Prophecy often functions in this way in the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah 7:14 predicts a child being born to a young woman who will be called Emmanuel. A child was born at that time, and by the time that child can eat solid food, King Ahaz’s political rivals will be gone. Yet Matthew picks up that prediction and applies it to another virgin and another child, the ultimate “God with us,” Jesus.

One reason I am favor this combination view is the problem of failed prophecy. If Daniel was written in the mid-second century BC and the little horn refers only to Antiochus IV, then the spectacular defeat and apocalyptic judgment of Antiochus never really happened. Something like a son of man does not end the power of the arrogant king, nor does the Ancient of Days establish a kingdom that is sovereign over the whole world which will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:21-22 cannot refer to the fall of Antiochus since the Ancient of Days did not come and judge in favor of the holy people.

Unless Daniel 7:21-22 is over-the-top propaganda for the Hasmonean Dynasty (and many scholars think it is), then the prediction of a king and kingdom more glorious than Babylon never happened. Readers of Daniel living in the first century AD would have certainly not agreed that Daniel 7:21-22 was fulfilled in Judas Maccabees or the Hasmonean dynasty. Apocalyptic at the end of the first century (Revelation, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch) certainly did not think the arrogant little horn was Antiochus; by that time in history they had bigger and better arrogantly little horns, the Romans who had destroyed Jerusalem!

I know some readers will want a more precise identification of the arrogant little horn as some current political leader. But this game of “naming the antichrist” is not very productive, usually resulting in embarrassing predictions which have to be abandoned when history proves the prediction wrong. Trying to name the antichrist also misses the point of Daniel 7: God will defeat the kingdoms of man and replace it with the kingdom of God. Read from the perspective Jews enduring the oppressive policies of Antiochus IV, Rome, or Christian empires up to the present time, there is some comfort knowing God will ultimately be victorious and he will establish his rule in the future.