Daniel's final vision
Chapters 10, 11 and 12 in the Book of Daniel, or Daniel's final vision, describes a series of conflicts between the unnamed "King of the North" and "King of the South" leading to the "time of the end", when Israel will be vindicated and the dead raised to shame or glory.
The Book of Daniel was written in reaction to the persecution of the Jews by the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167-164 BCE. Its authors were the maskil, the "wise", of whom Daniel is one: "Those among the people who are wise shall make many understand ...", and its fundamental theme is God's control over history. The climax comes with the prophecy of the resurrection of the dead. Chapter 7 spoke of the coming "kingdom of heaven", but Daniel 10-12 does not say that history will end with the coming of the Jewish kingdom; rather, the "wise" will be brought back to life to lead Israel in the new kingdom of God.
In contemporary Christian millennialism, Daniel 11:36-45 is interpreted as a prophecy of the career and destruction of the Antichrist, and Daniel 12 as concerning the salvation of Israel (the modern State of Israel) and the coming kingdom of Christ.
Chapter 10–Prologue: Daniel sees a vision of a man (but clearly a supernatural being) who tells him that he is currently engaged in a battle with the "prince of Persia," in which he is assisted by "Michael, your prince." He must soon return to the combat, but first he will tell Daniel what is written in the "book of truth."
Chapter 11–Vision report: The angel continues: There will be four kings of Persia, and the last will make war on Greece. After him will come a great king, and that king's empire will be broken up. There will be wars and marriages between the kings of the South and the North (described in great detail), and the king of the North will desecrate the Temple and set up "the abomination that causes desolation." At the end-time there will be a war between the king of the South and the king of the North, and the king of the North will meet his end "between the sea and the Holy Mountain."
Chapter 12–Epilogue: At that time (the end-time) "Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise." There will be great distress, but those Jews whose names are written will be saved, the dead will awaken to everlasting shame or life. Daniel asks how long it will be before these things are fulfilled and is told, “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days; blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days."
It is generally accepted by modern scholars that the Daniel who appears as the hero of the Book of Daniel never existed, but that the authors reveal their true identity at the end of Daniel 12: they are the maskil, the "wise", of whom Daniel is one: "Those among the people who are wise shall make many understand ..." The actual background to the book was the persecution of the Jews by the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167-164 BCE, and there is a broad consensus that the book was completed shortly after that crisis ended.
The first six chapters are folktales dating from the late Persian/early Hellenistic period, while the visions of chapters 7-12 date from between 167-164. A probable outline of the composition is as follows:
- An original collection of folktales, currently chapters 1-6;
- Addition of chapter 7 and revision of the earlier chapters;
- Further revision and the addition of chapters 8-12.
Daniel is episodic rather than linear–it has no plot as such. It does, however, have a structure. Chapters 2-6 form a chiasm, a literary figure in which elements mirror each other: chapter 2 is the counterpart of chapter 7, chapter 3 of chapter 6, and chapter 4 of chapter 5, with the second member of each pair advancing the first in some way. Daniel 8 is then a new beginning, and the single vision contained in chapters 10-12 advances that argument further and gives it more precision.
Within the three chapters of Daniel 10-12, Daniel 10 serves as prologue, chapter 11 as the report of the angelic vision, and chapter 12 as the epilogue. The unit begins with a third-person introduction (10:1), then switches to Daniel speaking in his own voice as one of the two primary characters, his angelic partner being the second–this is probably the angel Gabriel, although he is never identified). Then follows Daniel 11, the "Book of Truth": much of the history it recounts is accurate, down to the two successive Syrian invasions of Egypt in 170 and 168 BCE, but the final verses (verses 40-45) are not–there was no third war between Egypt and Syria, and Antiochus did not die in Palestine. The failure of prophecy helps pinpoint the date of composition: the author knows of the desecration of the Temple in December 167, but not of its re-dedication or of the death of Antiochus, both in late 164; Daniel 12:11-12's countdown of days remaining to the end-time differs from that in Daniel 8, and were most likely added after the original prediction failed to eventuate.
Genre and themes
The vision is an apocalypse in the form of an epiphany (appearance of a divine being) with an angelic discourse (revelation delivered by an angel). The discourse forms an ex eventu (after the event) prophecy, with close parallels with certain Babylonian works. The only true prophecy is the prediction of the death of Antiochus, which is probably based on Ezekiel's prophecy of Gog and Magog. The heroes of Daniel 11-12, the "wise", are based on the "Suffering Servant" of Isaiah 53.
The fundamental theme of the Book of Daniel is God's control over history. According to Deuteronomy 32:8-9 God assigned each nation its own divine patron; originally these were subordinate gods, but by the time Daniel came to be written they had been redefined as angels. In Daniel, Michael, the angel of Israel, is in battle with the "prince (i.e., angelic patron) of Persia", and this will be followed by further battle with the "prince of Greece"–the theological point being made is that the fate of nations is decided in heaven, not on earth. The same theme underlies the reference to the heavenly "Book of Truth" which is about to be revealed to Daniel, and which supposedly forms the content of chapter 11: both the past and the future are written already, and God is sovereign over all.
The constant preoccupation of the vision chapters is Antiochus' replacement of the "tamid", the twice-daily burnt offering to the God of Israel, by the "abomination of desolation".[Notes 1] The predicted reversal of the blasphemy will usher in the end of history, the theme of the four earthly kingdoms first introduced in Daniel 2 and developed in Daniel 7 and 8; they will be replaced by the Kingdom of Heaven, a kingdom in which Israel will be given domination over the world.
The climax comes with the prophecy of the resurrection of the dead. Prior to the Babylonian exile, all the dead went to Sheol, irrespective of their good or bad deeds, but the idea that the righteous would be rewarded and the wicked punished began to appear in the 3rd century, and is clearly expressed in Daniel 12:2-3: "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake..." (although the "many" implies that not all will be resurrected).[Notes 2] Chapter 7 spoke of the coming "kingdom of heaven", but Daniel 10-12 does not say that history will end with the coming of the Jewish kingdom.
Daniel's final vision is set in "the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia": this marks 70 years since Daniel's own captivity began (606 BCE), and thus the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy that the exile would last 70 years. Chapter 11, the centre-piece of the revelation, gives a broad sweep of history from the 6th century BCE to the 2nd, but the coverage is uneven: two centuries of Persian history plus Alexander the Great's conquests and the breakup of his empire, over two and a half centuries of history, are covered in three verses, but the century and a half of wars between the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria receive 16 verses, and the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, which lasted less than ten years, gets 25.
Verses 20-39, the bulk of the historically accurate verses, deal with Antiochus, who reigned 175-164 BCE. Verse 21 describes him as "the contemptible person to whom royal majesty has not been given," meaning that he came to the throne by questionable means. Verse 22 notes his removal of the High Priest Onias III, (Antiochus sold the priesthood twice over, first to a relative of Onias named Jason, and then to a rival of Jason's named Menelaus), and verses 23-24 apparently refer to his liberality in scattering the spoils among his supporters. Verses 25-28 describe his first war with Egypt, in 170 BCE, in which he was largely but not entirely successful. In 169, on his way back to Syria, he stopped in Jerusalem to plunder the Temple (verse 28).
In 168 Antiochus invaded Egypt again, but this time he was stopped by the Romans (the "ships of Kittim") and forced to retreat (verses 29-30).[Notes 3] Verses 30-31 describe the events that followed: passing once more through Jerusalem, Antiochus instituted a persecution of Jewish customs and religion, desecrated the Temple, and established a garrison there. Verses 32-39 describe the response of "the wise" (the group associated with the Book of Daniel) and "the many" (the population at large): the wise suffer and die so that the many will understand. In time the faithful receive "a little help" (possibly, but not certainly, a reference to Judas Maccabeus, who led an armed revolt against the Greeks). Verses 36-39 carry Antiochus' history to the cosmic plane, detailing the blasphemy of the tyrant who considered himself a demi-god. He "spoke astonishing things against the God of gods" and gave "no heed to the god of his fathers".
Verses 40-45 finish the chapter with the prophecy that Antiochus would make war once again against Egypt, and would die in Judea. In the event this did not happen: there was no third war and Antiochus died in Persia or in Babylon.
The following table shows the prophetic symbols and the empires they probably represent in the original historical context of the Book of Daniel.
|Neo-Babylonian Empire||Medean Empire||Achaemenid Empire||Macedonian Empire|
|Daniel 2||Head of gold||Chest and 2 arms of silver||Belly and thighs of bronze||2 Legs of Iron (Empire of Alexander)
Feet of mixed iron and clay
(division of the empire)
|Daniel 7||Winged Lion||Lopsided Bear||4 Headed/4 Winged
|Iron toothed beast
|Daniel 8||2-horned Ram||He Goat
Great Horn (Alexander the Great)
Four horns (Diadochi)
|Daniel 11-12||Three Kings of Persia||Great Warrior King (Alexander)
King of the South (Ptolemies)
King of the North (Seleucids)
Daniel and Christian millennialism
Christian millennialism is the belief in the resurrection of the martyrs and their thousand-year rule with Christ, followed by general resurrection, the last judgement, and the creation of a new heaven and new earth in which the faithful will be vindicated. Most 21st century Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants do not hold millennialist beliefs, but they remain strong among American evangelicals. A central role in the end-time drama is given to the figure of the Antichrist: opposed to God and his plan, he is either or both a military/political enemy and/or a deceiver who seeks to lead the faithful from Christ.
About a third of American evangelicals follow a form of millennialism known as Dispensationalism,. One important and representative dispensationalist work, Tim LaHaye and Ed Hinson's Popular Bible Prophecy Commentary, interprets Daniel 11 as a description of the reign of Antiochus as far as verse 36, where it switches to prophecy of the far future (far from Daniel's 6th century BCE perspective, but near for modern millennialists). The "King of the North" from this verse onwards refers not to the 2nd century Syrian king but to the Antichrist: he will deceive the Jews, who will accept him as their promised Messiah and enable the Temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem, but he will not be a Jew and he will betray them. He will be a military conqueror, with his headquarters on the Temple mount (Daniel 11:45), and he will wage war through the Middle East and the world until he will be destroyed by the true Messiah as predicted in Daniel 11:45. LaHaye and Hindson go on to explain Daniel 12, which tells how Israel's suffering will lead to its salvation and the millennial kingdom of Christ.
Christian historicism treats Daniel 10-12 as part of the unfolding symbolic narrative of the Book of Daniel as a whole. The following table gives a more comprehensive overview of the place of these chapters in the prophetic plan in the book as interpreted by Christian historicists.
|Chapter||Parallel sequence of prophetic elements as understood by Historicists|
|The Past||Present||The Future|
|Chest & 2 arms
|Belly and thighs
|2 Feet with toes
Clay & Iron
God's unending kingdom
left to no other people
|Daniel 7||Winged Lion||Lopsided Bear||4 Headed/4 Winged
|Iron toothed beast
|A son of man comes in clouds
Given everlasting dominion
He gives it to the saints.
|Daniel 8||2-horned Ram
|Uni- / 4-horned Goat
4 Winds (Greece)
A Master of Intrigue
|Cleansing of Sanctuary
|(Kingdom of God)|
|North & South Kings
4 Winds (Greece)
|North & South Kings
Person of Intrigue
|North & South Kings
|Michael stands up
Many dead awake
To everlasting life
- The tamid offering was a lamb accompanied by fine flour, oil and wine, burnt in the morning and the evening. See Lust, 2002, p.672. The exact nature of the "abomination" is somewhat mysterious, but it was clearly a blasphemous pagan disruption of the worship of the God of Israel, possibly involving the sacrifice of swine.
- The valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14 does not refer to individual resurrection but to the restoration of the nation of Israel - see Towner, p.166.
- Kittim: originally the town of Kition (now Larnaca) in Cyprus, but applied to the Greeks and Romans; the same verse mentions Ashur, meaning Syria, and Eber, meaning Palestine.
Appendix: Interpretations from the 1st to 19th centuries
|Interpretations of the North and South kingdoms of Daniel 11 by Biblical expositors from the 1st to 19th centuries|
- Collins 2001, p. 2.
- Davies 2006, p. 406.
- Levine 2010, p. 1234.
- Collins 1984, p. 103.
- LaHaye & Hindson 2006, p. 259-263.
- Collins 1999, p. 219.
- Levine 2010, p. 1233.
- Collins 2001, p. 29.
- Goldingay 2002, p. 624.
- Seow 2003, p. 153.
- Hill 2008, p. 176.
- Seow, p. 166.
- Levine 2010, p. 1257 fn..
- Collins 1984, p. 99-100.
- Hammer 1976, p. 102-103.
- Lust 2002, p. 671-684.
- Cohen 2006, p. 86-87.
- Hill 2008, p. 175.
- Towner 2003, p. 157-158.
- Newsom & Breed, p. 339.
- Towner 2003, p. 160.
- Towner 2003, p. 160-161.
- Towner 2003, p. 162.
- Towner 2003, p. 164-165.
- Watson 2000, p. 900.
- Weber 2007, p. 379-380.
- Hill 2000, p. 66-67.
- Weber 2007, p. 380.
- Smith, U., 1944, Daniel and Revelation, Southern Publishing Association, Nashville, TN
- Anderson, A., 1975, Pacific PRess Pub. Assoc., Unfolding Daniel's Prophecies, Mountain View, CA
- Daniel 7:13-27 see verses 13, 14, 22, 27
- After table in Froom 1950, pp. 456–7
- After table in Froom 1950, pp. 894-75
- After table in Froom 1948, pp. 528–9
- After table in Froom 1948, pp. 784–5
- After table in Froom 1946, pp. 744–5
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- Cohen, Shaye J.D. (2006). From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 9780664227432.
- Collins, John J. (1984). Daniel: With an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature. Eerdmans. ISBN 9780802800206.
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- Collins, John J. (2003). "From Prophecy to Apocalypticism: The Expectation of the End". In McGinn, Bernard; Collins, John J.; Stein, Stephen J. The Continuum History of Apocalypticism. Continuum.
- Coogan, Michael (2009). A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 400.
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- Froom, Le Roy Edwin (1950). Early Church Exposition, Subsequent Deflections, and Medieval Revival. The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation. 1. The Review and Herald Publishing Association. p. 1006.
- Froom, Le Roy Edwin (1948). Pre-Reformation and Reformation Restoration, and Second Departure. The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation. 2. The Review and Herald Publishing Association. p. 863.
- Froom, Le Roy Edwin (1946). PART I, Colonial and Early National American Exposition. PART II, Old World Nineteenth Century Advent Awakening. The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation. 3. The Review and Herald Publishing Association. p. 802.
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- Hammer, Raymond (1976). The Book of Daniel. Cambridge University Press.
- Harrington, Daniel J. (1999). Invitation to the Apocrypha. Eerdmans.
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