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Daniel 11

Chapter 11:

Chapter Introduction

This chapter is amazing in the accuracy and detail of its prophecies.  In fact, it is so accurate and detailed that skeptics feel compelled to believe that it must have been written after the events it describes.  As a result of this detailed accuracy, there is very little disagreement about how to interpret the chapter itself but only about whether or not to call it genuine prophecy or history masquerading as prophecy.

The skeptic’s argument runs as follows: 11:2-35[1] describes history so well that this section must have been written after the events it describes, whereas 11:36-45 is so inaccurate by contrast that it must represent the author’s failed attempt to predict (in a purely natural way according to human reason) the future.  The chapter, therefore, must have been composed before the events of vs. 36-45 (i.e., those leading to and surrounding the death of Antiochus IV in 164 B.C.) took place.  According to this argument, the author intended to inspire the Jews of his day to resist the persecution of Antiochus IV by giving them the false hope of believing that the ancient prophet Daniel had predicted the ultimate demise of Antiochus.  Thus, J.C. Dancy writes, “It is indeed difficult to see what would be the relevance or object of the book if published when the persecution was over” (23).

I disagree with this argument and believe that the chapter was written before the events it describes.  It seems to claim very earnestly that these are prophecies and that they should be attributed to the man, Daniel.  If the book is an innocent work of historical fiction, or even an outright fraud, it seems odd to me that the Jews who accepted it would have been thus deceived about its nature, especially since the book would have had to appear after the facts that it claims Daniel predicted.  I outline my general objections to this skeptical argument in the Introduction to these notes.

In this specific chapter, the skeptical argument turns on the seemingly false prediction that Antiochus IV would die “between the seas and the glorious holy mountain,” in other words, in the Holy Land. He actually died on the boarders of Persia and Babylon in the year 164 B.C.  By contrasting this inaccuracy with the author’s earlier accuracy, proponents of this skeptical argument claim that one should be able do deduce that the author wrote these last verses before the death of Antiochus.

I can think of three possible answers to the skeptical argument as it applies to this chapter.  I favor the first one of these three.

First, the reference in vs. 36-45 may not be to Antiochus IV.  Sometimes pronoun references are not clear in prophecy, even in this one that is so unusual in its clarity.  Notice, for instance, how obscure the pronoun references in vs. 22-23 are (see notes there).  Vs. 22-23 are in the very midst of the section which nearly everyone, skeptic and believer alike, interprets as clearly referring to known historical events, and yet these verses are obscure.  Vs. 36-45 are similarly obscure, and may, therefore, refer to some future “king of the north,” not Antiochus.  In support of this view, see also notes on vs. 36-39.

Second, the reference may be to Antiochus, but the last sentence, which says, “Yet he shall come to his end with no one to help him,” may simply express the inevitability of Antiochus’s doom without reference to where that doom will take place.  The sentence does not say, after all, that he will die “between the sea and the beautiful holy mountain,” only that he will pitch his tents there.  These terse, prophetic verses often compress events of time in such a way that one could easily imagine some significant space of time elapsing between Antiochus’s stay in the Holy Land and his later, inevitable death (on the boarders of Persia and Babylon, as it turns out).

Third, Barnes, citing Porphory, believes that these verses do fit Antiochus, contrary to what most commentators (believers and skeptics alike) claim.  See notes on vs. 40-45

As a supplement to the notes in this chapter, see the Kings of the North and Kings of the South Appendix.

v. 2: This is Xerxes I of Ester’s time.  Notice here the use of the number four.  It seems very prevalent in the book.  See, particularly, chapter 8.

v. 3: The mighty king is Alexander the Great.  Upon his death, his empire was divided into four parts by his generals.  The kings of the south are the Ptolemies, the dynasty of kings founded by Alexander’s general Ptolemy Soter.  They ruled in Egypt.  The kings of the north are the Selucids, the dynasty of kings founded by Alexander’s general Seleucus Nicator.  They ruled in Syria.  The directions “north” and “south” are relative to The Holy Land: Syria is north of The Holy Land and Egypt is south of it.

v. 4: Notice again the number four.  Compare with 8:8.

v. 6: Bernice, daughter of Ptolemy II, married the Seleucid king, Antiochus II, but Laodice, the divorced wife of Antiochus II, poisoned the king, Bernice, and her child.  Laodice then set her son, Seleucus II, on the throne.[2]

v. 8: Ptolemy III, the brother of Bernice, attacked Seleucus II successfully after the murder of Bernice.

v. 9: Seleucus II attempted a counterattack but failed and returned home.

v. 10: After Seleucus II returned home, his sons renewed the attack, and one of them (Antiochus III, surnamed “The Great”) was successful.

v. 11: Ptolemy IV in turn defeated Antiochus III at the battle of Raphia.

Vs. 13-15: Continuing the history, Antiochus III gathered an even larger army after the defeat at Raphia, and enlisted the help of some Israelites in Palestine to attack Ptolemy V (because Palestine was part of the Ptolemaic, i.e., Egyptian, kingdom).  In this effort against Egypt, Antiochus III was successful and captured Sidon.  It was this campaign that gave Palestine to Syria (the Seleucids).

Vs. 16-17: Antiochus III now controls Palestine and arranges a marriage between his daughter, Cleopatra, (not Marc Anthony’s) and Ptolemy V, who is only a boy.

v. 18: Antiochus then made war on Rome, centering his attention on Greece (a Roman possession) and Mediterranean islands in the area of Greece.  He had some success but was eventually defeated by Scipio Asiaticus, brother of Scipio Africanus.  Thus, Scipio Asiaticus brought the reproach of Antiochus against the Romans to an end.  After this, Syria became a Roman province.

v. 19: Having suffered defeat at the hands of the Romans, Antiochus waged no more foreign wars but rather tried to secure his own country defensively.  He died (“stumbled and fell”) trying to plunder the temple of Elymaïs, perhaps in an attempt to gather Roman tribute.  The plundering caused an insurrection in which he and his accompanying soldiers were killed.

v. 20: Antiochus was immediately succeeded by Seleucus Philopator, his eldest son, who ruled eleven years (only “a few days” relative to his father’s thirty-seven year reign).  The pressure of coming up with Roman tribute made Seleucus Philopator infamous as a tax-collector.  He died “not in anger or in battle” but by poison.

v. 21: The vile man who succeeded Seleucus Philopator was Antiochus IV, surnamed Epiphanes (“the illustrious”).  His subjects came eventually to devise another (more appropriate) surname which plays upon the sound of the first: Epimanes (“the insane”).  He did not “have the honor of royalty” because he was not in direct line to succeed Seleucus Philopator; Demetrius, only son of Seleucus Philopator, was.  (Antiochus IV was the younger brother of Seleucus Philopator.)  But Demetrius was a hostage in Rome and Antiochus IV contrived to steal the throne from the usurper who had poisoned Seleucus Philopator.

vs. 22-24: Barnes believes that this Prince of the Covenant was Ptolemy Philometor, king of Egypt, with whom Antiochus had a covenant of peace which he (Antiochus) broke, but an equally reasonable (and, I believe, more popular) theory is that the Prince of the Covenant was Onias III, the high priest of the Jews whom Antiochus conspired to overthrow in 175 B.C., the very year that Antiochus came into power (2 Maccabees 4:7-10).  I cannot decide between them.  The Prince of the Covenant does seem like a title that would be more appropriate for the high priest, and Antiochus did replace Onias with Jason, but Barnes’s explanation fit history nicely as well.  And if the “him” of “after the league is made with him he shall act deceitfully,” refers to the high priest so that the line should read, “after the league is made with Onias, Antiochus shall act deceitfully,” then I do not quite understand the meaning.  Perhaps the “him” refers to Jason, who had supplanted Onias with the corrupt support of Antiochus.  Antiochus, thus, made a covenant of sorts with Jason, whom he subsequently betrayed in favor of Menelaus (2 Maccabees 4:23-29).  If, however, “him” refers to the position of “high priest” rather than to a specific high priest, then the exact interpretation of the reference at any point in the chapter can be a little tricky.  Note that, although he believes the Prince of the Covenant is Onias III, Dancy says that the references of vs. 23-24 “cannot be identified” (26).  See also notes on vs. 36-39 where I discuss a similarly difficult reference to the king of the north in vs. 40-45.

Vs. 25-27: Barnes says that Antiochus IV invaded Egypt four times:

First invasion – Antiochus IV takes Pelusium and winters in Tyre.

Second invasion – Antiochus IV, with a relatively small force, comes into Egypt, captures Memphis, lays siege to Alexandria, and takes Ptolemy Philometor into his custody all with hardly any fighting.  He came under the pretense of friendship with Ptolemy Philometor, claiming that his invasion was an attempt to strengthen Ptolemy’s reign.

Verses 25-27 describe what Barnes numbers as the third invasion.

Third invasion (168[3] B.C.) – In the absence of Ptolemy Philometor (Antiochus had taken him back to Syria after the previous invasion) Ptolemy Physcon, brother of Ptolemy Philometor, usurped the throne of Egypt.  Antiochus returned to Egypt in order to oust the usurper and put Philometor back on the throne, again under the pretense of friendship toward Philometor.  He defeats Physcon’s navy soundly and makes a show of returning the kingdom to Philometor, leaving him in Memphis.  He did not entirely conquer Egypt, however, and Physcon remained in the besieged city of Alexandria.  This is the invasion described by 1 Maccabees 1:17.

I am not quite sure who the two kings of v. 27 are.  I suppose they are “the king of the north and the king of the south,” but there are two candidates for the king of the south: Ptolemy Philometor and Ptolemy Physcon.

Verses 29-30 refer to what Barnes numbers as the fourth invasion.

Fourth invasion (167[4] B.C.) – Eventually, Ptolemy Philometor began to suspect Antiochus’s deceitful intentions toward him and made a league with his brother, Physcon, against Antiochus.  This act prompted Antiochus to drop all pretense of friendship and invade Egypt yet again.  However, the Ptolemy brothers had sought and received aid from Rome (the ships of Kittim in v. 30), and the power of Rome drove Antiochus back.

v. 28: 1 Maccabees 1:20-24 parallels this verse.  Antiochus returned from invading Egypt (Barnes’s Third Invasion-see notes on vs. 25-27) and ransacked the holy temple on his way back to Syria.

Vs. 29-30: These verses describe what Barnes calls the Fourth Invasion (see notes on vs. 25-27).  After being turned back by the ships of Kittim[5] Antiochus retreats to Syria, stopping again in Jerusalem to put down a rebellion that had begun there.  Jason, the former high priest (see notes on vs. 22-24) instigated the rebellion after the rumor got around that Antiochus was dead.  2 Maccabees 5:1-14 parallels these verses.

Vs. 31-32: After seizing Jerusalem, Antiochus condemned to death all who practiced Judaism, and he set up the abomination of desolation, “a pagan altar which was on top of the altar of the Lord” (1 Maccabees 1:59).  1 Maccabees 1:62 goes on to say, “Yet many in Israel found strength to resist.”

Vs. 33-35: These verses describe the Jewish resistance (led by the Hasidim and the Maccabees) to Antiochus’s persecution.

vs. 36-39: The connection of these verses to Antiochus is difficult to make.  Nobody (neither skeptic nor believer) seems very certain of their application or of who “the one beloved by women” or “the god of fortresses” is.  Dancy says, for instance, that this section is “cryptic,” and (according to Barnes[6]) Jerome and Newton did not see the connection to Antiochus.  This difficulty has prompted many to connect these, as well as the following verses, to some other king of the north who lived after Antiochus.  I must admit, that does seem like a reasonable thing to do.  I believe they refer to some Roman leader or possibly the Antichrist.

Those who claim that these verses should be applied to Antiochus do so because they see no clear transition from Antiochus to another king of the north.  The fact that there is no evidence of a clear transition, however, does not mean that a transition does not occur.  For instance, compare the references to “the king of the south” in earlier verses.  In v. 9, the king of the south is Ptolemy III, but in v. 11 it is Ptolemy IV, and there is no hint in the narrative itself that the reference has changed.  If one could not tell from history that v. 11 is talking about another “king of the south,” there would be no way of knowing that this latter king is different from the former.  Thus, if one believes that vs. 36-45 do not match the history of Antiochus, one would be justified in concluding that they must refer to another king of the north besides Antiochus IV.

Vs. 40-45: I believe these verses refer to the some Roman leader or possibly the Antichrist.  Myers’s commentary suggests that they do not apply to Antiochus IV Epiphanes because the events mentioned do not match history.  Antiochus IV, for instance, never attacked Egypt after 168 B.C. and never in any case conquered Egypt, Lybia, and Syria.   He believes they describe the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. in which Marc Anthony (the king of the south – a Roman now) is defeated by Octavian (the king of the north – also a Roman).

Barnes believes that the verses describe Antiochus, pointing out that Antiochus heard rumors of rebellion in the north and east (i.e., Persia) which drew him in that direction to the land “between the seas and the beautiful holy mountain,” (i.e., between the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf and some holy mountain unknown to us in that region.)  There Antiochus pitched his tents, and there he died of a wasting disease according to all the historical accounts we have of him.[7] As for v. 40, which seems to describe a fifth (by Barnes’s count[8]) invasion of Egypt, Barnes says that the writer is merely summing up material from depictions of the earlier invasions of Egypt, not telling about a new invasion.

Barnes cites the fragmentary commentary of Porphory, which is preserved for us in Latin by Jerome, for support of the view that these verses describe the final chapter of Antiochus’s career.  The philosopher Porphory, a late third century A.D. antagonist of Christianity was an early advocate of what I have been calling the Skeptical Argument.  He was convinced that these verses as well as those preceding them, were written after the death of Antiochus because, in his opinion, they match history so well.  This may surprise someone who has only read about the more modern version of the Skeptical Argument, which says that these particular verses are erroneous attempts to guess at what the future held for Antiochus.  It is amusing to note what Dancy, a modern advocate of the Skeptical Argument, says of Porphory.  He confesses, “The merit of Porphory as a critic is that he used classical authors, now lost, including Polybius,” but since Dancy sees vs. 40-45 as failed attempts to predict the future (by the natural process of reason), he warns us that “his [Porphory’s] comments on vv. 40-45 have to be used with extreme caution” (28-29).  Dancy imagines that Porphory had “a lurking sense of the true meaning of ‘between the seas and the Holy mountain’” (29).  He thus implies that Porphory would have been disturbed to conclude that “between the seas and the Holy mountain” truly meant “in the Holy land,” but why would this disturb him?  Porphory was an enemy of Christianity, and he was trying to discredit this chapter as prophecy by demonstrating that it was written after the events it claims to predict.  If he thought the writer of these verses meant to apply them to Antiochus, and if he thought that the writer meant to say that Antiochus died in the Holy Land, and if he also knew that Antiochus did not die in the Holy Land, I believe he would have pointed this inconsistency out.  Pointing out an incorrect prediction in it would discredit the prophecy just as easily as proving that it was actually history masquerading as prophecy.  To me it seems much more likely that he knew the history of Antiochus from sources which are now lost to us and concluded from that knowledge that these verses must have been written after the events they describe.  Or, if he did try to force them to fit Antiochus (as Dancy claims) in spite of a lurking suspicion that they did not fit, it seems to me that his lurking suspicion would be that they were meant to fit someone besides Antiochus, some other king of the north.

[1] See note on vs. 36-39.


[2] See Kings of North and South Appendix.

[3] Other commentaries say 169 B.C.  I will go with 169 B.C. since that seems to be the common opinion.

[4] Other commentaries say 168 B.C.  I will go with 168 B.C. since that seems to be the common opinion.

[5] Kittim is the island of Cyprus (Genesis 10:4), but here it represents the Romans.

[6] Barnes himself, however, does connect them to Antiochus.

[7] First Maccabees has him die after he hears of the temple’s being rededicated to God, but Second Maccabees has him die before.  Second Maccabees is probably correct (Bartlett 64).

[8] See note on vs. 25-27.


9 Responses to “Daniel 11”

  1. […] those who follow this line of thinking (which I will hereafter refer to as the Skeptical Argument) run into serious problems when they attempt to identify the fourth kingdom that certain visions […]

  2. […] those who follow this line of thinking (which I will hereafter refer to as the Skeptical Argument) run into serious problems when they attempt to identify the fourth kingdom that certain visions […]

  3. […] [1] See notes on 11:40-45. […]

  4. […] [1] See notes on 11:40-45. […]

  5. […] of Antiochus Epiphanes and the end of his reign of tyranny over the Jews.  See notes on 11:21 and […]

  6. […] of Antiochus Epiphanes and the end of his reign of tyranny over the Jews.  See notes on 11:21 and […]

  7. […] skeptic’s argument runs as follows: 11:2-35[1] describes history so well that this section must have been written after the events it describes, […]

  8. […] v. 6: Bernice, daughter of Ptolemy II, married the Seleucid king, Antiochus II, but Laodice, the divorced wife of Antiochus II, poisoned the king, Bernice, and her child.  Laodice then set her son, Seleucus II, on the throne.[2] […]

  9. […] skeptic’s argument runs as follows: 11:2-35[1] describes history so well that this section must have been written after the events it describes, […]

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