Daniel’s prophecies of kingdoms

Daniel and NebuchadnezzarBack in February I began to explore whether Jesus’ birth had been prophesied by Daniel’s 70 weeks. I knew I was opening a can of worms but I was mistaken as to what exactly was in that can. I have always understood the controversies surrounding Daniel to be largely eschatological but I’ve now come to discover that the entire book is fraught with controversy at a much higher level. This new information needs to be part of the discussion and is essential to laying the groundwork for a proper evaluation of the relationship between Jesus’ birth and the 70 weeks.

The controversies surrounding Daniel can be examined in two ways: one assessing the authorship of Daniel and one evaluating the fulfillment of prophecy. These two domains are deeply entangled, but as a whole they are too substantial to cover in a single post. The focus of this post is to evaluate the relationship between Daniel’s prophecies of kingdoms and known historical events. Due to the intimate relationship between the nature of the prophecies and the authorship of Daniel, this post should be read and considered as a companion to the post evaluating Daniel’s authorship. I think it will make most sense to read this post first and then the post on authorship second.

What do we know?

Normally my goal with the “what do we know” section is to present the undisputed data – the facts that are acknowledged by all views. From there, I then try to explain the interpretation of the data from both the Christian and naturalist views. In this case, however, I am straying a bit from that recipe. The most clear way I can think to present the data is to combine all of the prophecies into one cohesive list of prophetic elements that covers the full timeline and then juxtapose these against the historical events that best match the prophecy. The problem is that there are numerous different ways these prophecies have been interpreted and my assignments to historical events will not agree with some interpretations. In fact, the assignments I have made here are best aligned with a naturalistic interpretation. The reason I have elected to take this tactic is because a) there are multiple Christian views of Daniel and they don’t consistently assign historical events to the prophecies and b) I think it would be too confusing to try and cover all the possible assignments. I hope that it will become clear that the relationships I have chosen to assign are a good fit and a fair presentation of the most probable historical analog.

Regarding the decision to present all of the prophecies together as one, I have done this because I find it hard to deny the overlap and relationships between the prophecies. When one tries to harmonize the prophecies relative to each other without consideration for the historical analogs (that is, by looking only at the text itself) then the parallels are obvious. It seems reasonable to me that this should be the vantage point that is first established before attempting to assign historical events to the prophecies.

Lastly, before getting to the prophecies it is necessary to present one additional critical data point. In Matthew 24:15-16 Jesus says “So when you see the abomination of desolation – spoken about by Daniel the prophet – standing in the holy place then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.” This is also given in Mark 13:14 as “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be, then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.” This statement would have been uttered sometime around 30 AD and clearly implies a future event. We will see later, in the discussion of interpretations, why this data point is so critical.

So, without further ado, here is a paraphrase of the entire set of kingdom prophecies in Daniel along side my determination of the most probable historical analog.

Prophecy (Paraphrased) Most Probable Historical Analog
  • [7:4] The first beast is a lion with eagles wings
The Babylonian empire (reigned over Israel from 597 – 539 BC). The national symbol was a lion and they built many statues of winged creatures (Lamassu). Many Jews were exiled to Babylon in 587 BC, which defines the historical context for the person of Daniel.
  • [2:39] The silver kingdom is inferior and follows after Babylon.
  • [7:5] The second beast is a bear with three ribs in its mouth.
  • [8:3] A ram with two horns, the shorter horn is first.
  • [8:20] The ram with two horns are Media and Persia.
Daniel consistently distinguishes between the Medes and the Persians, as seen in 8:20 (left) and 5:28 (the handwriting on the wall is interpreted as the kingdom being divided and given to the Medes and Persians). It’s likely that the silver kingdom and the second beast are the Median Empire, which is then clearly identified as the shorter horn in chapter 8. Media may have been viewed as a separate kingdom, even though it never reigned over Israel, because it was distinct and dominant over Persia until about 550 BC. The Medes also worked along side Babylon to battle Assyria (e.g., at Nineveh). As such, the distinct Median kingdom that existed prior to the unified Medo-Persian Empire would have almost certainly been well known to the Jews.
  • [2:39] The bronze kingdom rules all the earth.
  • [7:6] The third beast is a leopard with four wings and four heads.
  • [8:3] A ram with two horns, the longer horn is second.
  • [8:20] The ram with two horns are Media and Persia.
  • [11:1] Three more kings for Persia, the fourth king will rise up against Greece.
The Persian Empire (reigned over Israel from 539 – 332 BC). The four wings and heads are most likely an allusion to the four kings identified in 11:1. There were actually 14 kings but it’s likely that the last 150 years of the empire are being ignored. The fourth king of the Persian empire was Darius the Great, who “rose up against Greece” in the Greco-Persian wars.
  • [9:25] The issuing of the command to restore Jerusalem.
There is much dispute about the event which corresponds to this. This will be covered in detail by the post which discusses the 70 weeks.
  • [2:40] The iron kingdom rises up.
  • [7:7] The fourth beast is dreadful and strong with iron teeth and tramples everything.
  • [7:23] The fourth kingdom is different from the others and devours all the earth and tramples everything.
  • [8:5] A goat comes from the west with one prominent horn.
  • [8:6-7] The goat defeats the ram and tramples everything.
  • [8:21] The goat is Greece and the prominent horn is the first king.
  • [11:3] A powerful king will arise, doing as he pleases.
Alexander the Great (reigned over the Israel from 332 – 323 BC). The kingdom is different because a) it is more powerful and expansive and b) it brought a strong Hellenistic influence, whereas the previous kingdoms shared a relatively similar ancient near-east culture. Alexander’s conquest originated out of Macedonia (the west) and was swift and expansive (tramples everything). The prominent horn is clearly Alexander himself.
  • [2:40-43] The iron kingdom breaks apart but continues to rule, some parts weak (clay), some parts strong (iron).
  • [7:7] The fourth beast has 10 horns.
  • [7:24] The 10 horns are 10 kings.
  • [8:8] The goat’s prominent horn is broken and four horns rise in its place.
  • [8:22] The four horns are the kingdoms that arise after the first king is broken.
  • [11:4] The kingdom is broken up and distributed to the four winds.
Alexander’s sudden death in 323 BC left his kingdom without a leader but his generals (Diadochi) carried on and divided the kingdom amongst themselves.
At first it may seem that the 10 kings of chapter 7 do not align with the four kingdoms of chapters 8 and 11. On closer inspection, however, we see that these are two different descriptions of the fallout after Alexander’s death.
The 10 kings are most likely referencing the Seleucid lineage that starts with Alexander and culminates in the emergence of Antiochus IV Ephiphanes as the 11th horn that displaces 3 others, where the three displaced horns are Seleucus IV and his sons (see below). Conversely, the four kingdoms are probably the four dynasties in the western part of the Alexandrian empire, namely the Seleucid, Ptolemaic, Antigonid and Attalid dynasties. So whereas chapter 7 is alluding to the legacy within the Seleucid empire, chapters 2, 8 and 11 are alluding to the division of Alexander’s kingdom into separate empires.
  • [11:5] The king of the south and one of his princes will grow strong.
The king of the south is Ptolemy I Soter and his prince is Seleucus I Nicator, who was the original satrap of Babylon. In 316 BC he fled to Egypt to escape Antigonus Monophthalmus and served under Ptolemy for several years. In 312 they defeat Antigonus’ son Demetrius Poliorcetes and regain control of Babylon.
  • [11:5] The prince will resist and rule a greater kingdom.
Between 311 and 309 BC Seleucus wins several wars to initiate the Seleucid Empire. In 301 he gains control of Syria. In 281 he defeats Lysimachus to gain control of Macedonia. The Seleucid Empire became the dominant empire in the west. In 281 Seleucus’ son, Antiochus I Soter assumes control and in 261 Antiochus II Theos succeeds to rule the empire.
  • [11:6] The king and the prince will form an alliance. The daughter of the king of the south will come to the king of the north to make an agreement.
In 252 Antiochus II Theos and Ptolemy II Philadelphus make a treaty. To seal the treaty, Antiochus marries Ptolemy’s daughter, Berenice Phernephorus.
  • [11:6] She will not retain her power and will be delivered over.
In January 246 Antiochus leaves Berenice and returns to his first wife, Laodice. In July, Antiochus dies and Berenice tries to assume power with her son. The supporters of Laodice end up killing her son and eventually Berenice herself.
  • [11:7-8] One from her family will become ruler of the southern kingdom and successfully advance on the king of the north, but then withdraw.
Berenice’s brother, Ptolemy III Euergetes, assumes the throne for the Ptolemaic Empire in January 246. To avenge the death of his sister and nephew he attacks the Seleucids (the Third Syrian War).  He advances to Babylon by December 246 but in the summer of 245 he withdraws to defend his Aegean possessions against Antigonus II Gonatas.
  • [11:9] The king of the north will advance on the southern kingdom, but then withdraw to his own land.
The new king of the Seleucid Empire, Seleucus II Callinicus, takes advantage of the withdrawal and pushes back to regain Babylon. By 242 he advances toward Egypt but is defeated and withdraws.
  • [11:10] Successors of the northern kingdom will continue to advance upon the southern kingdom.
The first son of Seleucus II, Seleucus III Keraunos, only rules three years. Then his brother, Antiochus III the Great, takes power. In 219 he initiates the Fourth Syrian War against Ptolemy IV Philopator. He is successful in reclaiming the northern ports of Seleucia and Tyre.
  • [11:11-12] The king of the south will defeat the northern kingdom, become arrogant and will cause the death of thousands and thousands.
Ptolemy IV Philopator stops the Seleucid advance with a defeat at Raphia. The book of 3 Maccabees describes Ptolemy as having visited Jerusalem after the battle at Raphia but was supernaturally paralyzed when he tried to enter the holy of holies. This enrages him and he orders the death of many Jews. These events in 3 Maccabees have no external historical corroboration and most scholars take it to be legendary.
  • [11:13] The king of the north will build a stronger army.
After his defeat at Raphia, Antiochus III the Great is successful in several campaigns in the north and east from 216-205 BC.
  • [11:14] Many will oppose the king of the south, including the Jews.
Ptolemy IV Philopator dies in 204 and is succeeded by Ptolemy V Epiphanes, who is only five at the time. Philip V of Macedonia and Antiochus III form an alliance to initiate the Fifth Syrian War in 202.
  • [11:15-16] The king of the north will advance on the king of the south and take over a well-fortified city and the land of Israel.
In 200 BC, a victory in the Battle of Paneion gives Antiochus III control over Judea.
  • [11:17] The king of the north will give his daughter in marriage to the king of the south.
To seal the peace at the end of the Fifth Syrian War in 195 BC, Antiochus III gave his daughter, Cleopatra Syra, to be married to Ptolemy V at the age of ten.
  • [11:18-19] The king of the north will capture many coastal regions but will be stopped by a commander. He will turn his attention to his own fortresses but will fall.
The Romans told Antiochus III to not advance against Egypt and so he turned his attention to a northwest expansion. He captures Cilicia, Lycia and Thrace before running into Rome, initiating the Roman-Syrian War. The Romans win out under the command of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus and Antiochus III gives up the land north of the Taurus mountains. In ending the war (The Treaty of Apamea) one of his sons, Mithradates, is held ransom by the Romans.
  • [11:20] His successor will send out an exactor of tribute and then will fall.
In 187 Antiochus III dies and is succeeded by his son, Seleucus IV Philopator. When Seleucus IV assumes the throne Mithradates is replaced by Seleucus’ son, Demetrius, in Roman custody. To pay money due to the Romans (tribute), Seleucus IV sends Heliodorus to seize money from the Jewish temple but when Heliodorus returns in 175 BC he kills Seleucus IV and tries to take the throne for himself.

  • [7:8] A small horn grows where three horns were uprooted and speaks arrogantly.
  • [7:24] A king will arise after the 10 kings and subdue three of them.
  • [8:9] A small horn grows from one of the four horns and grows toward the south, east and the beautiful land (Israel).
  • [8:23] Toward the end of the rule of the four kingdoms a deceitful king arises.
  • [11:21] A despicable person, who was not the rightful owner of the throne, comes to power through deceit.
When Seleucus IV was killed the rightful heir to the throne was his son, Demetrius, but he was being held by the Romans. The next son, Antiochus, was too young to rule so Seleucus’ brother, Mithradates, did away with Heliodorus and took power. He then took the name Antiochus IV Epiphanes and established himself as ruler that same year (175). Five years later he would have Seleucus’ son, Antiochus, killed to maintain ownership of the throne. Collectively, these are the acts of subduing three kings in chapter 7.
  • [11:22-24] He will sweep away armies, the armies and a covenant leader will be destroyed, he will break an alliance and ascend to power with a small force, he will accomplish what his fathers could not, he will distribute loot to his followers and make plans against cities.
These verses are part of the introduction to Antiochus IV Epiphanes and provide a generalization of his reign. The goal here seems to be to demonstrate his power and treachery. To “accomplish what his fathers could not” was to gain entrance into Egypt, something no other Seleucid king had attained. Verse 25 then commences with the description of specific events.
  • [9:26] After the 62 weeks an anointed one will be cut off.
  • [11:22] A prince of the covenant will be destroyed.
In 2 Macc. 4:32-34 we are given an account of the murder of Onias, a well respected High Priest who opposed the Greek influences infiltrating the Jewish culture and religious traditions. There are no landmarks to pinpoint the date for this event but by looking at its place in the sequence of events in 2 Maccabees it seems likely to have occurred in 171 or 170 BC.
  • [9:27] He will confirm a covenant for one week (7 years)
There is no obvious historical analog here. If we work back 3 1/2 years from the halting of sacrifices, this would have been about June of 170 BC. The covenant may be related to Antiochus IV respecting the populace and avenging the death of Onias by having his murderer humiliated and killed (2 Macc. 4:37-38). It could also be referring to the vague covenant described in 1 Macc. 1:11-15, where some Jews established a covenant with the king to institute Greek customs.
  • [11:25] He will be victorious in battle against the king of the south.
The Sixth Syrian war starts in 170 BC. In 169 Antiochus IV advances into Egypt and defeats Ptolemy VI Philometor.
  • [11:26] The king of the south will be betrayed by others in his court.
On the recommendation of his advisor, Ptolemy VI tried to escape but was caught and taken by Antiochus IV to Memphis. The people of Egypt reject his authority raise up Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra II as new rulers in Alexandria.
  • [11:27-28] The kings of the north and south will meet and then the king of the north will return to his own land.
Antiochus IV, working with Greek ambassadors, recognizes Ptolemy VI as king of Egypt and returns home toward the end of 169, leaving Egypt in a state of division. Eventually the brothers reconcile and present a unified leadership for Egypt.
  • [11:28] He will take action against the holy covenant after his victory and before returning home.
1 Macc. 1:20-24 recounts how Antiochus IV, on his return from the first trip to Egypt, stopped by Jerusalem and looted the temple.
  • [11:29-30] Later, the king of the north advances again on the south but the ships of Kittim will stop him.
In 168 BC Antiochus IV invades Egypt again but this time Rome intervenes and Gaius Popilius Laenas orders Antiochus to return home.
  • [7:21] The small horn wages war against the holy ones and was defeating them.
  • [7:25] The small horn harasses God’s people.
  • [8:10] The small horn battles and defeats some of heaven’s army.
  • [8:12] The small horn is victorious in defeating heaven’s army.
  • [8:24] The small horn causes terrible destruction and defeats powerful people and the people of the holy one.
  • [9:26] The people of the coming prince will destroy the city and the sanctuary.
This part of the history can be read in 1 Maccabees chapter 1 and in 2 Maccabees chapter 4 and chapter 5. First, a little background that I haven’t addressed yet. Early in the reign of Antiochus IV a man named Jason bought himself the appointment as the high priest. Several years later Jason sent Menelaus to pay a tribute and but Menelaus ended up buying the high priesthood for himself. Both of these men were friendly to the king and welcomed Greek influence and customs. Their lack of loyalty to the Jews and willingness to adopt foreign customs began to stir up some of the Jews, giving rise to minor disturbances. This sets the stage for understanding this portion of the prophecy. In 167, while Antiochus IV was in Egypt, Jason gets wind of a rumor that he had been killed and decides to use the opportunity to attack Jerusalem and usurp Menelaus. After Antiochus IV is turned away by Rome in Egypt (see above), he hears of the fighting in Jerusalem and sends Apollonius to put down the revolt. Apollonius feigns peace upon reaching Jerusalem but, once inside, starts to purge the city for the purpose of converting it into a military fortress. This involves the killing of many Jews, selling many into slavery and the sacrilegious use of the temple.
  • [7:8] The small horn speaks arrogant things
  • [7:25] He speaks words against God.
  • [8:11] The small horn acts arrogantly against the prince of heaven’s army.
  • [8:25] The small horn uses deceit and trickery and holds an arrogant attitude.
  • [11:36-39] He exalts himself above all gods and blasphemes Yahweh, he will rule until the wrath is complete, he will not honor the gods of his fathers (even the god loved by women) but rather give treasures to a foreign deity (the god of fortresses), he will favor those who honor him and hand over land for money.
These verses aren’t necessarily describing historical events but I’ve included them as a group to show how the prophecies use similar language to describe the arrogance of Antiochus IV. The title he took for himself, Epiphanes, literally means “God Manifest”. The verses are given at this point in the prophecies to emphasize the lack of respect that Antiochus IV held for the god of the Jews. This lack of respect is evident in the events surrounding this character description. The “respecting foreign gods” in chapter 11 is most likely a reference to the mixing of Greek and Roman gods that was occurring during this time.
  • [7:25] The small horn changes “times and law” (Jewish customs) for “time, times and a half” (3 1/2 years).
  • [8:11] The small horn removes daily sacrifice and throws down the temple.
  • [9:27] In the middle of the week (3 1/2 years) after confirming the covenant he will bring sacrifice and offering to a halt.
  • [11:31] He stops the daily sacrifice.
  • [12:7] The events are for a “time, times and a half” (3 1/2 years).
Once the fortification of Jerusalem was complete, Antiochus IV began a transformation of the city to eliminate the Jewish religion and institute his own pagan beliefs. He issued an edict that forbade the practice of Jewish rituals (e.g., daily sacrifice, circumcision, keeping the sabbath, etc..) and began to use the temple for pagan rituals. With Menelaus as his guide, he again plundered the temple treasures. Daniel 7, 9 and 12 all identify the duration of this state of affairs to be 3 1/2 years.
  • [8:13] The small horn performs a destructive act of rebellion.
  • [9:27] The one who destroys comes with abominations.
  • [11:31] He sets up the abomination that causes desolation.
The infamous abomination of desolation. We are given an exact date for this event in 1 Macc. 1:54 – December 3, 167 BC. It’s not definitively stated exactly what the abomination is but from the sources it seems that this was the construction of a pagan alter on top of the existing alter. They then commenced the sacrifice of pigs and other unclean things on the alter, accompanied by the installation of idols to make the temple into the temple of Jupiter / Zeus.
  • [11:32] He will corrupt those who reject the covenant.
From all accounts there were many Jews who did not oppose the changes and adopted the new way of life.
  • [11:32-35] Those who know God will act valiantly against the king but will fall. Some of the wise will stumble, preparing them for the time of the end.
The drastic changes instituted by Antiochus IV only fueled the already growing resistance. 2 Maccabees chapter 6 and chapter 7 tell the stories of some insurgents who faced death. The first leader of a unified resistance is Mattathias, who would die in 166 BC and leave the leadership to his son Judas Maccabeus.
  • [11:40-45] The king of the south will attack again but the king of the north will defeat him and will extend his power to many lands, including Egypt and parts of Africa, until he sets up camp in Israel.
There are no known historical events which agree with this. After the events in Jerusalem, Antiochus IV went east to defend his eastern borders against the Parthians. He left Lysias in control in the west. There were no further wars between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic Empires and both slowly deteriorated until the Romans assumed control of the Mediterranean territories.
  • [8:14] The temple and sacrifice is restored after 2300 mornings and evenings.
Chapter 8 doesn’t explicitly identify when the 2300 mornings and evenings start but the implication is that it starts when the sacrifice is halted. Assuming the morning and evenings refer to the two sacrifices (Exodus 29:39, 2 Chronicles 13:11) and thus occur twice per day, this would occur 1150 days after the sacrifice is halted. Counting forward from the date for the abomination of desolation, Dec 3 167, this event would have occurred about Jan 27 of 163. 1 Maccabees gives a date for the restoration of the temple on Dec 10 164. This is about 48 days early but may be within the margin of error for the assigned dates.
  • [12:1] Michael arises and Israel enters a time of distress.
  • [12:11] The end is 1290 days after the sacrifice is stopped and the abomination that causes desolation.
It seems that the 1290 days is the point at which God begins to intervene and the angels directly enter into the war against Antiochus IV. Counting forward from Dec 3 167, this would have occurred about June 16 of 163. There are no known historical analogs to which this can be reasonably aligned.
  • [7:9-10] God sets up his judgement throne with a river of fire proceeding forth.
  • [7:22] God renders judgement on the small horn.
  • [7:26] The small horn receives judgement.
  • [12:2-3] The dead are resurrected and judged.
The sequences in the prophecies indicate that there is a transition point from the war to the levying of judgement. The judgement is universal, involving the resurrection of the dead and, in chapter 7, the judgement is particularly waged against the small horn. There are no known historical analogs to which this can be reasonably aligned, except perhaps the death of Antiochus IV (see next).
  • [2:34, 45] The stone which destroys all the kingdoms was not cut by human hands.
  • [7:11] The fourth beast is killed and thrown into the fire that flowed from God.
  • [7:26] The small horn is destroyed and abolished forever.
  • [8:25] The small horn is defeated not by human hands.
  • [9:27] The end is poured out on the one who destroys.
  • [12:7] The one who shatters the holy people comes to an end (after the 3 1/2 years).
This is the only event that is found in all five of the kingdom prophecies. In short, a supernatural power brings an end to the human kingdoms to which the Jews have been subject for hundreds of years. In chapters 7, 8, 9 and 12 the destruction is specifically applied to the figure presented in the previous verses (fourth beast, small horn, one who destroys, the one who shatters). Historical records indicate that Antiochus IV died in Tabae, Persia in 164 or 163 (using 1 Macc. 6:16 I calculate this to have occurred in 163 but many other sources indicate 164 and I am not sure where that date comes from). In that respect, the timing of his death actually corresponds fairly well with the timing of the prophecies, though the supernatural context and location of his death do not fit.
  • [2:44-45] God raises up an eternal kingdom that rules over all the earth.
  • [7:13-14] One like the son of man comes on the clouds and God gives him ruling authority over the eternal kingdom and over all nations.
  • [7:18] The holy ones posses the eternal kingdom.
  • [7:22] God’s judgement on the small horn ushers in the eternal kingdom.
  • [7:27] God establishes for his people an eternal kingdom that rules over all other kingdoms.
  • [12:12] Blessed is the one who waits and attains to the 1335 days (after the halting of sacrifices and the abomination that causes desolation).
Once the wicked kingdom has been done away with, God establishes an eternal kingdom for his people, the Jews. The 1335 days in 12:12 are most likely referring to the commencement of that kingdom. Counting forward from Dec 3, 167 the 1335 days would place this around Sept 30, 163. The closest analog to this comes in acknowledging that Israel was more or less an independent state for about 100 years, until Rome asserted its power around 63 BC. It goes without saying that 100 years is not the same as eternal.

What is the Christian interpretation?

The Christian view assumes that the prophecies were composed during the Babylonian exile and that the correspondence with historical events (specifically chapter 11) is evidence of the divine nature of the prophecies. With respect to the eternal kingdom arising at the end of the prophecies, this is generally explained in one of two ways:

  1. The preterist view states that the eternal kingdom prophesied in Daniel was in fact realized through Jesus and the establishment of the church.
  2. All other views state that the eternal kingdom prophesied in Daniel is a still future event and the events leading up to it may or may not correspond to events that have already happened.

The preterist view most closely aligns with the presentation given above. This view agrees with many of the assignments I have given except that it combines Media and Persia in chapters 2 and 7 so that Greece slides up in the sequence and Rome moves into the spot of the fourth kingdom. In chapter 11 this view interprets a transition from Greece to Rome in verse 36. With these shifts in place, the events that immediately precede the eternal kingdom (such as the stopping of sacrifices and the abomination of desolation) are pushed out to the first century AD and are fulfilled by Jesus and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

From what I can tell, the preterist view is not a mainstream view in Christianity. The “partial preterist” view, which places the eternal kingdom as a future event while maintaining the historicity of the prior events, seems to be more common but this is still not as widely held as the futurist (dispensationalist) and historicist views. I won’t go into much detail explaining all these different views. You can visit the links for a decent summary. What it comes down to is that all these views have at least two elements in common which makes them distinct from the view presented above:

  1. The kingdom prophecies in Daniel are prophetic and were written to describe events that had not yet occurred.
  2. The abomination of desolation and establishment of the eternal kingdom was to occur after Jesus’ time.

These two tenets are grounded in that one critical data point that I introduced in the beginning – the fact that Jesus is said to have viewed Daniel as a prophet and that he considered the abomination of desolation to be a future event.

What is the naturalistic interpretation?

As stated at the beginning, the data I presented in the table above is representative of the naturalist view. The table shows that the prophecies present the course of events leading up to and including the actions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes with remarkable accuracy. However, the prediction of the fall of Antiochus IV and the subsequent rise of God’s kingdom did not play out as described and this then becomes the primary reason for the assignment of the critical date of authorship around 165 to 164 BC (though the companion post provides additional reasons for the later date). antiochus-epiphanes_desecration_of_templeIf Daniel was written after Antiochus’ “abomination of desolation” then one can clearly see how the prophecies might simply be a recounting of the events which led to the current state of affairs coupled to a hopeful declaration of how the situation will be made right. With this understanding the prophecies are only accurate because they’re retrospective. A date later than 164 BC is generally not given because no historical analog is found for the description of Antiochus’ conquest in 11:40-45 and the lack of the eternal kingdom that concludes all the prophecies about 3 1/2 years after the halting of sacrifices. That said, it would not be entirely unreasonable to assign a slightly later date based on the relative accuracy of the dates for the restoration of the temple and the death of Antiochus IV. In that case, a date somewhere in 163 might reflect the hope seen in the rise of Judas Maccabeus toward liberating the Jews, such that the author perhaps saw this as the start of the eternal kingdom.

The naturalist view, aside from being able to show clear historical associations, is also supported by several parallelisms in the prophecies, which serve to demonstrate the validity of a single congruent timeline for all the prophecies:

  1. The kingdom that breaks apart: This is present in chapters 2, 7, 8 and 11. In chapter 8 the kingdom is explicitly identified to be Greece.
  2. The small horn, a king who is deceitful and arrogant: This figure is singled out in chapters 7, 8 and 11. The sequence of events leading up to this person in chapter 11 make it clear that this is Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This assignment is further supported by the subsequent actions attributed to this figure.
  3. The war with the holy ones: The deceitful king \ small horn is said to wage war against the Jews (people of the holy ones, heaven’s army) in chapters 7, 8, 9 and 11.
  4. The stopping of sacrifices: The deceitful king \ small horn is the one who stops sacrifices in chapters 7, 8, 9 and 11.
  5. The eternal kingdom: Chapters 2, 7 and 11 identify the rise of God’s eternal kingdom. What is most significant to the naturalist view, however, is that these all specify that the eternal kingdom arises in the aftermath of the supernatural defeat of the deceitful king \ small horn. The eternal kingdom is clearly an immediate outcome from that event. Chapter 8 also states that the small horn is defeated not by human hands.

Lastly, the implied continuity in the prophecies is well regarded under the naturalist view. For example, from chapter 8 we see that Greece defeats the Persians and then we see that Greece breaks into four pieces and the small horn arises from this, such that the small horn has a Greek heritage. The small horn is then responsible for the stopping of sacrifices(7:25, 8:11, 11:31). The figure responsible for stopping the sacrifices is then identified as the one who is defeated by God to usher in the eternal kingdom (7:22, 12:1).

Which interpretation seems more probable?

There was a point during my research for this post at which I developed an antagonistic attitude toward the Christian scholarship on Daniel. I felt like I could see that Christian scholars were blatantly propagated views that disregarded the most lucid explanation for a text. While I still believe that this is in some sense true, I am now not antagonistic toward those who have done the propagating. When I took the time to consider how such a view relates to Jesus it became apparent why the traditional Christian interpretations of Daniel were necessary. Any view which asserts that Daniel’s prophecies do not project to events after the time of Jesus is essentially saying that Jesus was wrong when he spoke of Daniel and the forthcoming abomination of desolation. To the Christian, there is little, perhaps nothing, that can be more authoritative than the words of Jesus. From that perspective, the view presented by the Christian scholar is not disingenuous but rather an honest attempt to incorporate what is to them the greatest source of truth. For them, Jesus’ words rings so true that there is no option but to try and understand Daniel in light of Jesus’ understanding that the final events had not yet occurred.

That said, it is still clear to me that the naturalistic view of Daniel’s prophecies provides the best explanation of the text. The alternative views proposed by Christian scholars unnecessarily disrupt the alignment between prophecies and introduce yet unfulfilled futurist expectations. These views struggle against the implicit parallelism, continuity and immediacy of the prophecies in Daniel. The contortions required to affirm Jesus’ view of Daniel are not insignificant. It’s no wonder that these texts have given birth to so much controversy and conjecture over the years.

In the end, an honest assessment of truth must be willing to put aside personal convictions and follow the evidence where it leads. When I do my best to follow the evidence regarding the prophecies of Daniel, I come to see that the naturalistic view offers the most coherent explanation. This leads me to assign the probabilities as follows:

Christianity
20%
Naturalism
80%
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4 thoughts on “Daniel’s prophecies of kingdoms

  1. It is interesting that most Christian commentators argue the 4th kingdom must be Rome. I suspect that they would be forced to admit that this conclusion is based on faith rather than evidence when faced with the compelling argument you make for the 4th kingdom being Greece.

    I would argue that this is one of the most compelling proofs that the Bible is not inerrant. It ranks up there with Noah’s flood as something in the Bible where evidence for and against can be objectively considered.

    • It’s completely understandable why they’re compelled to argue as they do once you consider that Jesus referenced Daniel’s prophecy as a future event. It’s hard to reconcile Christianity with a Jesus who misinterprets a pseudo-prophecy of a past event as being a reference to his own future return.

  2. Very, very well done. Glad I took the time to read this. Next time I get into a discussion with someone on Daniel, I’m going to point them here, even more so than the articles on my blog. I think dealing with all the prophecies at once makes it much clearer.

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