Daniel 11:2-20 – Who are the Kings of the North and South?

Daniel 11 is begins with a general history of the end of the Persian Empire (11:3), the Rise of Alexander the Great (11:3-4) and the complicated maneuvering of the Greek Ptolemaic kings in Egypt  and Greek Seleucid kings in Syria. In this chapter, the Ptolemies and the kings of the south and the Seleucids are the kings of the north.

The history begins with three Persian kings, then a fourth who is far richer than the others (11:2). Assuming Daniel has the vision during the reign of Cyrus, thus the next three Persian kings would be Cambyses, Smerdis, and Hystapes, (Ahasuerus, Artaxerxes and Darius as they are known in the Bible). Xerxes (486-465) has been identified as the fourth king since the time of Jerome’s commentary.  Xerxes was perhaps the wealthiest of the kings of Persian, building the empire with the largest army of the era, 2.6 million men.  He invaded Greece, although was turned back in 480 B.C. The Persian Empire lasted another 150 years before Alexander conquered it, likely in response to the sacking of Athens.

The problem with the “three more, then a fourth” king is Persia had nine kings from Cyrus to Alexander. Some commentators therefore point to this lack of precision as a lack of knowledge of the Persian Empire by a second century author. He does manage to cover 200 years of Persian in a single verse! Another possibility is the vision covers Persian history in the same way it covered world history, in a series of four epochs.

The vision then briefly describes a mighty king, undoubtedly Alexander the Great (11:3-4). Alexander’s kingdom was divided between four generals known as the Diadochi: Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Cassander. This four-fold division of Alexander’s kingdom is implied in Daniel 7:6 and 8:8.

Antiochus III the Great

Antiochus III the Great

The Kings of the North and South are the subject of the Daniel 11:5-20, culminating in the rise (11:9-16) and fall (11:17-19) of Antiochus III the Great. Antiochus III’s defeat will pave the way for Antiochus IV Epiphanes to take the control of the Seleucid dynasty. He will persecute the Jewish people and lead to the events of the Maccabean revolt.

As Daniel 11:5 implies, the Seleucid Dynasty did in fact get the major share of the Empire, by 281 B.C. Seleucus I Nicator (312-280) controlled territory from the Punjab (NW India) to the Hellespont (Asia Minor).  Seleucus was the Satrap of Babylon in 321 but was supplanted by Antigonus.  He lived in Egypt until Antigonus was defeated and he returned to Babylon in 312.  Seleucus lived like a great eastern king and was said to rival Alexander in his aristocratic behavior.

Ptolemy I Soter (323-285) controlled Egypt, first as a “satrap”, but took the title “king” in 305.  While this was a smaller territory, Egypt was incredibly wealthy.  Eventually this wealth, especially in the form of massive food stores, will attract the attention of Rome. The geography of these two “kings” leaves Palestine as a buffer zone, a key strategic point for both kingdoms.

Antiochus III the Great (241-187) was determined to drive the Ptolemies out of Syria.  He drove south to the city of Dura, recapturing all of the territory lost to the Ptolemies.  He also suppressed rebellions throughout Seleucid controlled territory (Daniel 11:9-10).

Ptolemy IV Philopater (221-203) was a weak and indecisive king and did not act to defend his territory until the Antiochus III was in Egypt (11:11-12).  When he did act, he was relentless. When the two armies met at Raphia in 217 Antiochus III had 62,000 men, 6000 cavalry and 102 elephants; Ptolemy had a nearly equal force of 70,000 men, 5000 cavalry, and 73 elephants (Polybius, Histories, 5.79). Antiochus lost 17,000 men in this battle and Ptolemy annexed Palestine. Ptolemy made peace with Antiochus III which turned out to be a mistake since Antiochus would recover and shift the balance of power in favor of the Seleucid dynasty.

Antiochus III recovered quickly from this defeat and began expanding his empire, campaigning in the east (11:13-16). By 202 B.C. he had built his army to the point that he was ready to attack Egypt. Ptolemy IV and his wife had died, possibly by poison, and left a 4-year-old heir, Ptolemy V Epiphanies (203-181). Antiochus III saw his chance, made an alliance with the King of Macedonia, and attacked Egypt. His army was larger and better prepared than before, and Egypt was struggling through an internal rebellion.

It is at this point in Daniel 11 the Judeans are first mentioned. The angelic guide says “many of your own” will join the king of the North. Indeed, many Jews joined the destruction of the Ptolemy V’s army. Antiochus offered to reduce taxes by a third and grant a tax exemption for three years in exchange for Judean assistance against Ptolemy (this was a false promise – Antiochus could not afford to reduce taxes).

These “violent men” respond to Antiochus in “fulfillment of a vision.” What vision is in mind here?  For many commentators, the vision is Daniel 11 itself. But the text may mean these men responded to a vision at the time that encouraged them to join with Antiochus III against Ptolemy.  The leader of the pro-Seleucid faction was Simon the Just, the high priest, and the rich and powerful Tobias family.  Was “Simon the Just” quite as lawless as Daniel makes him out to be?  This depends on which side of the political conflict you favor. In Sirach 50:1-4 he is listed among the righteous. This is may reflect a prejudice in the writer of Sirach, or as C. L. Seow suggests, a prejudice in the writer of Daniel (Daniel, 174).

Antiochus III now controlled all of Palestine, and placed the Jews under a harsh government, using the region as a staging ground to attack Egypt, stationing much of his army there. There is an increasing focus in the chapter on the land of Palestine in general and specifically Jerusalem.  In verse 16 the “Beautiful Land” refers to Judea and Jerusalem (cf. Ezekiel 20:6, Daniel 8:9)

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?”