The End of the Age in 163 BCE
Long popular with futurists, the little book of Daniel forms the cornerstone of the modern dispensationalist view of eschatology. The book makes numerous references to the "time of the end", a phrase that pre-millennial conservatives have been conditioned into equating with the soon-coming Apocalypse, and second return of Jesus Christ.
But, is such a view warranted by the text? Is it possible to demonstrate that the author of Daniel had a different time in mind, once which casts serious doubt upon the claim of Biblical inerrancy?
This article will adduce evidence, both internal and historical, to demonstrate that the era that the author of Daniel designated as the "time of the end" has long since past.
Visions upon Visions
Daniel is divided into two parts - the first six chapters contain legendary, third-person stories about the protagonist and his friends in Babylon. The remaining six chapters are written in the first person, and detail a series of visions that the author allegedly received, and which pertain to the end of time, as the author saw it.
These visions follow a similar theme - a series of events are predicted, which lead up to the appearance of a despicable person, an evil king who will persecute and torture the Saints. This person will continue his reprehensible practices until he is dealt justice by God himself, who then inaugurates the Millennial kingdom, ruled over by the once-persecuted Saints.
In order to answer the question of when the "time of the end" was supposed to take place, we need to be able to locate this person in history. As we shall see, he is not a future ruler, but is in fact an actual historical personage, one who had a great impact upon Jewish history.
The Evil King
This person, the focus of all of Daniels prophecies, is consistently described throughout the book. We are told that he is extremely arrogant, to the point of exalting himself as a god (7:20, 7:25, 8:11, 8:25, 11:36, 11:37). He will make war on the Holy (7:21, 7:25, 8:24, 9:26). He will profane the Temple and desolate Jerusalem (8:11, 9:26, 11:24, 11:31), and will abolish the daily sacrifices ands the Jewish Law (7:25, 8:11, 8:12, 8:13, 9:27, 11:31)
As this article will demonstrate, this person was none other than Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king of Syria from 175 to 164 BCE. By following Antiochus career, we can further state that the author of Daniel intended the "time of the end" to be about 164/163 BCE, and that the book was in fact written at this time.
In order to present the facts, it will first be necessary to briefly recount the actions of Antiochus, as it affected the Jews.
Antiochus took the Seleucid throne in 175 BCE following the death of his brother, Seleucus IV. Although not of the royal line, Antiochus managed to secure the throne by subtlety, and, it was alleged, a number of suspicious murders. At about the same time, in Jerusalem, Jason deposed Onias III, the last of the Zadokite priests as the High Priest of the Temple. Jason was a Hellenist sympathizer, and began a campaign of reforms intended to introduce more Greek culture to the Jews. Part of these reforms involved the construction of a Greek gymnasium at Jerusalem, a project that was vehemently opposed by Jews faithful to the old Law.
In 170 BCE, following a series on intrigues by various parties attempting to gain control of the High Priesthood, Onias was murdered, thus bringing to an end the line of Zadokite priests, considered by many Jews of the time to be the only legitimate priests. At about the same time, Antiochus began his first campaign against Ptolemy, the Greek king of Egypt. In 169 BCE, Antiochus plundered the Temple in Jerusalem on return from his Egyptian campaign. In 168 BCE, Antiochus launched a second campaign against Egypt, but was repulsed by a Roman army. Antiochus then ordered his general Apollonius to sack Jerusalem once again. Many Jews were massacred in the fighting, and the Greeks provided the ultimate insult by erecting an altar to Zeus in the Holy Place of the Temple, thus rendering the Temple profane, and unfit for use in Jewish eyes. At the same time, Antiochus issued an edit forbidding all the trappings of Jewish religion. The daily sacrifices were halted, circumcision was outlawed, and the reading of the Torah became a capital crime. This took place in 167 BCE, about 3 years after the murder of Onias III.
The actions of Antiochus stirred a revolt in Jerusalem. Under the leadership of Judas Maccabee and his family, a band of guerillas harried the Greeks, and were eventually able to secure the Temple and rededicate it in 163/4 BCE (an event still celebrated by Jews today during the holiday of Hanukkah). The same year, Antiochus died on a campaign in Persia.
Making the Case - The Ram and the Goat
We will begin our analysis with the vision recorded in Daniel 8. Unlike some of Daniels other visions, this one removes much of the guesswork by actually naming the powers involved. We will show that this vision predicts the rise of Antiochus, and further prophesies the time of the end in the lifetime of the king.
Briefly, the vision involves a Ram and a Goat. The Ram has two horns, the larger having come up last. The Goat has one large horn. Upon overcoming the Ram, the large horn of the goat shatters into four smaller ones. From one of these four horns, a smaller horn grows. This horn turns out to be the Evil king already considered.
Fortunately for our analysis, an angel helpfully explains that the two horns of the Ram represent Media and Persia, the latter having arisen later (8:20). The large horn on the goat is the first King of Greece (8:21), obviously Alexander the Great. After his death, Alexanders kingdom was divided among four of his generals (8:22). The angel goes on to explain that from one of these generals (Seleucus), at the end of the reign of the four kings, a powerful king will arise, who will cause much destruction (8:23ff). This king will be broken without human hand (8:25).
What can we learn from this study? Note firstly that the little horn is said to magnify himself against the prince of the Host (i.e. the High Priest), and further causes the daily sacrifices to cease, and the sanctuary to be defiled (8:11). All of these actions, as we have seen, fit Antiochus perfectly. Note further that by following the progression of the kings, we arrive at the conclusion that the little horn must be a Greek king. Again, Antiochus fits the bill.
Since the angel states that this vision pertains to the end of time (8:17), it further follows that the author of Daniel intended for the End to come with the death of Antiochus. This conclusion is bolstered by several other lines of evidence.
The Little Horn and the Four Beasts
The vision of the seventh chapter follows the same pattern as the others, although in this case the time period is expanded. Daniel sees a succession of terrible beasts come out of the sea. The fourth beast is said to be more terrible and fierce than the others, and has ten horns. As Daniel was watching, a "little horn" came up and uprooted three of the others. This horn was arrogant and blasphemous, and made war with the Saints. He is said to change times and the Law (7:25).
Once again an angel elucidates: the four beasts are four kingdoms, and the fourth will be the greatest of them all, but it will be judged and destroyed by the Ancient of Days, and his dominion given to the Saints of the Most High (7:26-27).
This vision is obviously related to an earlier incident - that of Nebuchadnezzars dream in the second chapter. Like the interpretation of that dream, the vision of chapter seven represents four world-empires. The first, as explained in the second chapter, is Babylon. According to the author, Babylon fell to Darius the Mede (5:31), and thus we conclude that the second empire was Media. (This is historically inaccurate, more proof that the book of Daniel was not in fact written during the Exile, but much later). Support for this theory comes from 2:39, where the second kingdom is said to be inferior to Babylon. The Persian empire was almost three times as large as the Babylonian, and lasted almost a hundred years longer. Persia could not be said to be inferior to Babylon, and thus cannot have been the second empire, as some allege.
Taking our cue from the vision of chapter eight, we note that the author said that Persia followed Media (the larger horn of the Ram that came up later), and this therefore is the third kingdom. Again from chapter eight, Greece is said to follow Persia, and therefore we can equate the fourth beast with Greece.
Once again, the little horn is said to be of Greek descent. He is said to try and change the times (a reference to the daily sacrifices and annual feasts) and the (Jewish) Law. This little horn is obviously the same little horn of chapter eight - Antiochus.
Laying it on the (Time)-Line
Daniel 9 contains one of the most complicated and oft misinterpreted of all the visions. It lays out a sequence of seventy weeks (understood by most commentators to be weeks of years, i.e. seven years each). The seventy weeks are divided into three periods (9:25-27), seven weeks (49 years), sixty-two weeks (434 years) and one week (7 years). The first two periods are terminated by an anointed one (the literal meaning of the Hebrew mashiach).
The seventy weeks are said to start with the word to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (9:25). This word is the word that came to Jeremiah in 9:2. After predicting a period of seventy years servitude to Babylon (Jer 25:11-12), Jeremiah goes on to predict a return to Jerusalem, and the restoration of the city (Jer 29:10, 30:17-18, 31:38). Several internal pointers in the text of Jeremiah indicate that this prediction was made at the start of the Exile, about 586 BCE.
This, then, is the starting point of Daniels timeline. The first seven weeks, or 49 years, take us to about 536 BCE, when the first anointed one appeared to destroy Babylon, and free the Jews from captivity. This may have been Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1), or, possibly, Daniels fictional creation, Darius the Mede.
The author intended the next sixty-two weeks to take him to the year 171 BCE. Unfortunately, his calculations were a little off. This is really not surprising, given that there was no internationally recognized system of counting years at the time. Long time periods had to be calculated by synchronizing the reigns of various kings with known historical events, and adding up the intervening years. Obviously, this process was prone to error.
How can we be so sure that the author intended 171 BCE to be the end of the second period? Quite simply because the prince that shall come (9:26) is obviously Antiochus. Note once again that this prince is said to destroy the city and the sanctuary. (The word translated destroy in the KJV also carries the connotation of corrupted or defiled. See Deut 31:29, for example.) Again, we are told that he will prohibit the sacrifices and offerings, and profane the Temple (9:27). All of these deeds, as we have already seen, were commited by Antiochus in 167 BCE.
This year is significant. Note that the prince is said to begin these persecutions in the middle of the last week (9:27), that is 3 ½ years into Daniels seventieth week. Who, then, was the second Messiah, the one that was cut off at the end of the sixty-two weeks (9:26)? 3 ½ years back from 167 BCE takes us to about 170 BCE - close to the time that the last Zadokite priest, Onias, was murdered.
One further point of correspondence - Daniel claims that the king will make a covenant with the Jews, and then break it in the middle of the last week. Josephus briefly makes mention of this event in his Antiquities:
Now it came to pass, after two years, in the hundred forty and fifth year (i.e. 167 BCE), on the twenty- fifth day of that month which is by us called Chasleu that the king came up to Jerusalem, and, pretending peace, he got possession of the city by treachery and in order to plunder its wealth, he ventured to break the league he had made (Antiquities, Book XII, 5:4)
Since the vision allotted seventy weeks to seal up all prophecy, it follows that the author expected the time of the end 3 ½ years from 167 BCE - sometime about 164/163 BCE. As we will see from an examination of the final vision, this also happens to be the about the time that the book of Daniel was actually written.
North and South
Daniels fourth and final vision is also the longest and most intricate. It spans three chapters of the book - 10, 11 and 12, although the most detailed section can be found in chapter 11.
This section outlines, in sometimes tedious detail, the interactions and altercations between two ruling dynasties - represented by the "kings of the North" and the "kings of the South". The vision follows a familiar outline. Beginning with the Persian Empire (11:2), through Alexander the Great and his four generals (11:2-4), the vision then concentrates on two of these generals, the King of the South and the King of the North (11:5-6). These two kings were Seleucus, who took control of Syria in the North, and Ptolemy, who retained control of Egypt in the South.
The Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties fought for centuries for control of the strategically placed land that lay between them - Palestine. Daniels vision provides a brief history of these struggles, and finally turns the spotlight on one of the Seleucid kings (11:21). He is said to be contemptible, a king not born of royal blood, who takes the throne by intrigue (11:21). The description of this king takes a familiar turn. He is said to commit bloodshed in the Holy Land (11:24). He profanes the Temple, and orders to daily sacrifices to cease. He sets up the "abomination that desolates" (11:31). This person, quite obviously, is Antiochus.
While Daniels vision is suspiciously precise up to this point, it then begins to go strangely awry. We are told that a further altercation between the King of the South and Antiochus will result in victory for the Seleucid, who will then go on to take complete control of the Holy Land (11:40-43). However, the kings good fortune is short lived. He dies, with no-one to aid him, between the Mediterranean Sea and Jerusalem (11:45).
Verse 40 and following never happened. Instead, Antiochus died on a campaign in Persia, shortly before the Maccabean rebels regained control of Jerusalem. This section represents the authors real predictions: the preceding was, in fact, prophecy after the fact, not prediction but, instead, real history. The fact that there is such a clear break between verifiable history and failed prophecy in this chapter allows us to date the book with remarkable precision: it was obviously written shortly before the death of Antiochus, in 163/164 BCE.
Once more we are told that this vision pertains to the time of the end (10:14, 11:40). Once more we see that the author of Daniel equates the rise and fall of Antiochus with the end of age, to be followed by a time of great tribulation and the eventual vindication of God (12:1-3).
On a number of occasions, Daniel is instructed to "seal up" the prophecy, as it was intended for the end of time. (See 8:26, 12:4,9) This is the clearest proof that the author of Daniel intended the "end of time" to occur in his own lifetime.
How so? Quite obviously, the prophecies of Daniel have been unsealed, since they are known to us, and have been for millenia. In fact, we can point to a general time when these books were "unsealed".
The earliest known manuscript of Daniel, from the Dead Sea Scrolls, is dated to 100 BCE. The earliest unequivocal reference to the Book is found in I Maccabees, dated to about 120 BCE. Prior to this, not a single known work of Jewish religion mentions the Book of Daniel. Even the third-century Wisdom of Sirach, which spends considerable time praising the great Jewish heroes, is strangely silent on the subject of Daniel.
The conclusion is obvious. The prophecies of Daniel were "unsealed" sometime in the late second century, which, not coincidentally, is also the time that the book was written, as we have seen.
The anonymous author of the Book of Daniel was faced with a problem. He had written a series of revelations, supposedly granted to a great Jewish hero during the Babylonian Exile. He now wanted to make his work public, but was aware that the very first question to be raised would address the years of silence. If God had granted these visions to Daniel four centuries earlier, why had they never come to light in the intervening years?
The solution was to place an internal plot device in the text itself: the book was to be sealed, the angel said, until the time of the end. Since it would be obvious to any contemporary reader that the "time of the end" was now, the question of the centuries of silence was neatly answered.
Daniel forms the basis for much of the intense apocalyptic speculation and general crackpottery that is the hallmark of the fringe Christian Church. Conservative commentators from Jack Van Impe, to John Hagee, to Jerry Falwell point to Daniel as the key to understanding Biblical Eschatology.
This is ironic, because, as we have seen, Daniel predicted the time of the end for the late second century BCE. Obviously Daniels prophecy failed, as have the countless predictions that followed. And, without any doubt, we may confidently state that any further predictions based on an interpretation of Daniel are doomed to fail. The house cannot stand if the foundations have rotted away.