Read Daniel 10-12
By 400BC all the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) had been written. The years between then and the coming of Messiah are often referred to as the “Silent Years” because there were no recognised Jewish prophets during this time and nothing written was considered worthy of being designated as scripture. Yet, the scriptures are not silent about these years and, as we shall see, God was certainly not inactive during these years as He brought about what had been prophesied by Daniel, and prepared His people for the coming of their Messiah.
332 BC saw a new challenge to Jewish society and religious thought as Greece rose to prominence in the region with the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, and subsequent Hellenization of all their neighbouring peoples.
Almost 200 years before, in the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia (535 BC), Daniel had received his last recorded vision (Daniel 10-12). In this vision Daniel was told that a mighty king would arise in Greece and conquer all.
Then, when this Geek conqueror was strong his kingdom would be broken and divided into four:
“but not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion with which he ruled; for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others besides these.” (Daniel 11:2-4 WEB).
The third beast was like a leopard with four bird wings on its back and four heads (Daniel 7:6).
History now tells us that the Greek ruler, Alexander the Great, defeated the Persians and created one of the largest empires of the ancient world by the age of thirty, but died at just 32yo in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, after which his brother and son were murdered and his empire was divided between his four generals: Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus. (1) These four are referred to as the “Diadochi”, from the Greek, Diadokhoi, meaning “successors”.
The two that would impact Israel in the years to come were Ptolemy (the king of the south) and Seleucus (the king of the north), as they kept jostling for power over that region and shifting the border between them.
God’s prophetic preparations…
Daniel’s visions gave a detailed account of what was to happen in the occupying kingdoms ruling over the Jewish people, and as we study Israel’s history through these years, we find the fulfilment of Daniel’s writings and gain a greater understanding of why there was such fervent expectation that God would send Messiah during the time of Herod’s reign in Jerusalem.
In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream the third kingdom was a middle and thighs of bronze (Daniel 2:32c). The vision in Daniel 8 describes a male goat coming from the west with a conspicuous horn between his eyes who struck the ram, shattered his two horns, hurled him to the ground and trampled on him. This goat magnified himself exceedingly, but as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken and in its place there came up four horns towards the four winds of heaven (Daniel 8:5-8). In Daniel 8:21 -22 this goat is identified as Greece and the large horn between its eyes as the first king, then the four horns that arose to replace it are four kingdoms which will arise from Greece but not with the power of its first king. Daniel 9 gave a timeframe of 69 sevens of years from the decree to re-build Jerusalem until Messiah was to come, and be cut off. Daniel’s final recorded vision, Daniel 10-12, described what was to happen under the rule of the third empire to reign over the Jewish people – Greece; and more particular, as Jerusalem keeps changing hands between the rulers of Ptolemy to the south and the rulers of Seleucus to the north, until a final ruler abolishes the daily sacrifices to God in the temple and sets up “the abomination that causes desolation“.
A godly High Priest…
Shimon Ha Tzaddik was High Priest (Kohen Gadol) at the time of Alexander the Great’s conquest, and the most renown of the High Priests of the second temple era. He is identified in Pirkei Avot (1:2) as “among the last of the Great Assembly.” That fabled institution, the “Men of the Great Assembly”, “Anshei Knesset HaGedolah,” is said to have been founded by Ezra and provided leadership for the Jewish People between the Biblical Period (the years during which the Hebrew Bible was written), and the Talmudic Period of Jewish history. Jews describe the Talmudic Period as the years (from around 330 BCE – 505CE) during which Torah-sages edited and collated the evolving teachings of the Mishna (Oral Torah) and the Talmud (commentary). It was into this period that Yeshua would be born.
Tradition has it that when Alexander the Great came to the gates of Jerusalem intent on destruction, Shimon Ha Tzaddik came out to him clothed in “Bigdei Lavan,” the white garments that he wore on Yom Kippur when he entered the Holy of Holies, and the Emperor descended from his chariot and bowed down to him.
When Alexander’s generals protested,
“Such a great king as yourself bows to that Jew?”
“This face appeared to me before every battle which I won…”
Several miracles are attributed to the piety of Shimon Ha Tzaddik, and his most famous saying is: Upon three things the world is based: upon Torah, upon avodah (service; prayer), and upon acts of kindness. (Pirkei Avot 1:2)
Shimon Ha Tzaddik was followed as High Priest in 320 BC by his son Onias I (Honio ben Jaddua). There was no longer the accountability between prophet, high priest and king that had been the hallmark of early Jewish society. Under their foreign rulers the High Priests now exercised sole authority over the people, and this level of power corrupted many.
From Alexander to his generals…
Daniel’s third and fifth visions go into some detail about the impact of this Greek empire after Alexander’s passing. It may have seemed strange at the time for God to give details concerning the conflicts between northern and southern heathen kingdoms. Now we can look back and see that Israel ended up near the border of the territory of the Seleucids (who ruled Syria “the king of the North”) and the Ptolemies (who ruled Egypt “the king of the South”), and so was greatly impacted by the conflicts between them. During the first 20 years Jerusalem changed hands between the Ptolemies and Seleucids five times. This instability reduced Hellenism’s impact.
Daniel 11:5-35 outlines this conflict which lasted about two centuries. If we read these verses without any detailed knowledge of what took place during those centuries, it is a bit confusing. However, they so closely correlate to what was to come, and has now been, that some modern scholars have concluded that the last chapters of Daniel could not have been written until around the time of the Maccabean revolt in 166 BC.
Where the Greek Bible (Septuagint) came from…
Also the king of the South shall become strong, as well as one of his princes; and he shall gain power over him and have dominion. His dominion shall be a great dominion. Daniel 11:5 NKJV
By 301 B.C. Ptolemy (the king of the South) had grown strong and established a firm hold on the land of Israel. The process of Hellenization (the imposition of Greek language, reasoning, philosophy and culture) now accelerated while the people of Israel still enjoyed relative peace and freedom to practice their religion. Ptolemy’s dominion was great as he had a passion for learning and books and so commissioned the first translation of the Tanakh (Hebrew scriptures) into Greek (the Septuagint).
The spread of Hellenism…
Hellenism spread through several avenues. Military units were stationed throughout Judea and the soldiers who married native women were given homes and fields – incentivising a breakdown of ethnic purity in the captured territories. Many Greek cities were established and run under the Greek democratic model. The Greek language was imposed as the official language for government and the main language for commerce. Greek schools, temples, stadiums and theatres were established to foster the values of Greek culture. This influx of sophisticated culture attracted many of the Jews who began to give their children Greek names and local styles of art and architecture began to imitate Greek models.
One of the most famous aspects of Hellenism is Greek philosophy. As Jews became exposed to this, they reframed it as having begun with King Solomon whose wisdom attracted leaders and thinkers from many regions, including Athens. From this Jewish viewpoint, philosophy was just an adjunct of Torah that was given away to the wise men of Athens who visited Solomon. The Greeks were said to have absorbed Solomon’s methodology and spirit of inquiry, taken it back with them and developed it in their own ways. (4)
Outside Judea, Greek became the lingua franca of the Jewish communities. A Hellenistic Judaism developed which had its metropolis in Alexandria, Egypt. This became the wealthiest, most powerful, influential and sophisticated Jewish community. It is also reported to have been the largest Jewish community at that time. They had built a synagogue that is described as having seated up to 10,000 people, and many other synagogues throughout Alexandria and Egypt. At the court and in the army of the Ptolemies, the Jews rose to prominent positions, just as they had done in the Persian Empire. (5) (6)
Despite such prominence, or perhaps because of it, the Jews attracted ridicule and rebuke in Egypt. Jews and Egyptians did not share a common understanding of their common history. Both saw themselves as superior to the other and had their own historical records to prove it. Thus began a history war that dominated the interactions between Jewish and Hellenistic intellectual interactions throughout the Graeco-Roman period. The earliest records of written attacks on the Jewish people and history are from the Egyptian historian Manetho during this time. He described the Jews as inferior, lacking in intelligence, not possessing proper character or cherished virtues, barbaric and seditious. The criticism and overt persecution of the Jews of Egypt reached its crescendo in the Hellenistic and early Roman periods, largely due to cultural elitism, xenophobia, and the metanarrative and practise of hegemony which came from the ideology of imperialism. (7) (8) (9)
The beginnings of the pharisaic movement…
Onias I (Honio ben Jaddua), was followed as High Priest in 280 BC by his son Simon I. When Simion I (Shimon) died his brother Eleazar became High Priest (260-245 BC) while his most ardent disciple, Antigonus, founded a Torah school to pass on Shimon’s wisdom and further develop the wall around the Torah to protect the people from becoming defiled by the increasing Greek influence. The pharisaic movement had begun and some even referred to Antigonus as “Nassi“, a prince of the people in Torah study and teaching. While the High Priest retained sole governance of the temple worship and political leadership of the people, this growing movement of Torah scholars and scribes saw it as their role to determine the doctrines Jews were to espouse and the laws they were to live under in order to retain their ethnic, cultural and religious purity. (2) (3)
Jews wrestled with Hellenising influences…
Ptolemy commissioned the first translation of the Tanakh into Greek (around 250 BC), the Septuagint, so named because 72 Jewish scholars were involved in translating the text (10) (11). It is the order of the books in the Septuagint that is reflected in modern Christian Bibles, while the Tanakh sequence was finalised in the land of Israel after the time of Ezra. The Egyptian Jews held an annual celebration of the translation of the Septuagint and it was used exclusively in many of their synagogues as Greek had become their mother tongue. They also saw it as an opportunity to open the Torah up to the wider world so it could have a positive influence on Greek society. Around the Septuagint a Jewish-Greek literature was created which soon became extensive.
The Pharisees in Judea were horrified at the thought of others having access to their holy book. They saw no good in having the sacred words of scripture being translated into such a profane language as Greek. To them this was not the spread of Judaism but the pollution of Judaism with the evils of Hellenization. (12)
Despite their religious and social isolation, it was impossible that the Jewish communities dispersed to the west of Israel, and thus immersed in Greek culture and modes of thought, should remain unaffected by such. The earnest Jew living in these lands could not shut his mind against Greek thought. That restless, searching, subtle Greek intellect would penetrate everywhere, it was in the forum, in the market, in the counting house, in the street; in all that a Jew saw, and in all to whom he spoke. Alfred Edersheim described the dilemma facing the observant Jew in the Greek world:
It was refined; it was elegant; it was profound; it was supremely attractive. He might resist, but he could not push it aside. Even in resisting, he had already yielded to it. For, once he opened the door to the questions which it brought, if it were only to expel, or repel them, he must give up that principle of simple authority on which traditionalism as a system rested. Hellenic criticism could not so be silenced, nor its searching light be extinguished by the breath of a rabbi. If he attempted this, the truth would not only be worsted before its enemies, but suffer detriment in his own eyes. He must meet argument with argument, and that not only for those who were without, but in order to be himself quite sure of what he believed. He must be able to hold it, not only in controversy with others, where pride might bid him stand fast, but in that much more serious contest within, where a man meets the old adversary alone in the secret arena of his own mind, and has to sustain that terrible hand-to-hand fight, in which he is uncheered by outward help. But why should he shrink from the contest, when he was sure that his was Divine truth, and that therefore victory must be on his side? … so the Hellenist would seek to conciliate the truths of Divine revelation with those others which, he thought, he recognized in Hellenism. … there was the intellectual view of the Scriptures – their philosophical understanding, the application to them of the results of Grecian thought and criticism. It was this which was peculiarly Hellenistic. … Strip these stories of their nationalism; idealise the individual of the persons introduced, and you came upon abstract ideas and realities, true to all time and to all nations. But this deep symbolism was Pythagorean; this pre-existence of ideas which were the types of all outward actuality, was Platonism! (8) (emphasis mine)
This engagement of the Jewish dispersion with Greek thought conversely engaged the Greek world with Jewish thought. Thus, the Greek world, despite popular hatred and the contempt of the upper classes, could not wholly withdraw itself from Jewish influences. Indeed, there were many converts to Judaism among the Gentiles.
Daniel 11 fulfilled in conflict between northern and southern Greek kingdoms…
And at the end of some years they shall join forces, for the daughter of the king of the South shall go to the king of the North to make an agreement; but she shall not retain the power of her authority, and neither he nor his authority shall stand; but she shall be given up, with those who brought her, and with him who begot her, and with him who strengthened her in those times. Daniel 11:6 (NKJV)
Around 252 BCE, king of the South, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, sent his daughter Berenice to king of the North, Antiochus II Theos. His plan was to stop the war that was raging (the Second Syrian War) and unite the two kingdoms through their marriage. In order to secure the peace and regain most of the Syrian possessions his father had lost to the king of the south, Antiochus II put away his wife, Laodice and her children, and married Berenice. When Berenice gave birth to a son, Antiochus III, he was named as successor to the throne. However, after Ptolemy II died in 246 BCE, Antiochus II repudiated his 6-year marriage to Berenice and returned to his first wife, Laodice. Doubting his faithfulness, Laodice quickly murdered Antiochus II with poison and convinced her 19yo son, Seleucus II, to kill both Berenice and her young son.
But from a branch of her roots one shall arise in his place, who shall come with an army, enter the fortress of the king of the North, and deal with them and prevail. Daniel 11:7 NKJV
Ptolemy III Euergetes, the eldest son of Ptolemy II and brother of Berenice, invaded the Seleucid kingdom in retaliation for the murder of his sister and nephew. His armies defeated the forces of new king of the North, Seleucus II and killed Laodice.
And he shall also carry their gods captive to Egypt, with their princes and their precious articles of silver and gold; and he shall continue more years than the king of the North. Daniel 11:8 NKJV
During the Third Syrian War, the king of the South, Ptolemy III, is credited with recovering many of the sacred statues that the Persian forces of Cambyses had carried off during their conquest of Egypt some three hundred years earlier. Because of this, he was known as Euergetes (“Benefactor”). Ptolemy III acquired much gold and silver during his victorious campaign. In fact, from Seleucia alone he received 1,500 talents of silver annually as tribute (about 10% of his annual income). Ptolemy III outlived Seleucus II by four or five years.
Connection between Jewish and Samaritan High Priests…
Back in Jerusalem Eleasar’s uncle, Manasseh, succeeded him as High Priest in 245 BC, but he had married a foreign woman and was given the choice to either leave the priesthood or divorce his wife – tradition has it that he left the priesthood in 240 BC to become high priest in the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim. Onias II (son of Simion I), who had been too young for the office when his father died, now ascended to be High Priest. According to the 1st Century Jewish historian Josephus, Onias II was a covetous man of limited intelligence, thus giving further impetus to the growing conviction among the Pharisees that they alone were qualified to lead the nation spiritually.
Continued Greek conflicts and intrigue…
Also, the king of the North [lit. “he”] shall come to the kingdom of the king of the South, but shall return to his own land. Daniel 11:9 NKJV
In 240 BCE, the king of the North, Seleucus II, attempted to invade Egypt (the king of the South) in response to the humiliation he had suffered at the hands of Ptolemy III. However, he had to return in defeat after his fleet perished in a storm.
However his sons shall stir up strife, and assemble a multitude of great forces; and one shall certainly come and overwhelm and pass through; then he shall return to his fortress and stir up strife. Daniel 11:10 NKJV
The sons of Seleucus II were Seleucus III, Ceraunos (“Thunder”) and Antiochus III (the Great). Seleucus III, the eldest son of Seleucus II, began a war against the Egyptian provinces in Asia Minor. However, he was unsuccessful and was assassinated by members of his army in Asia Minor in 223 BCE. Seleucus II’s younger son, Antiochus III, took the throne at the age of 18 after his brother’s death. In 219-218 BCE, Antiochus III victoriously went through Judea, coming almost to the borders of Egypt.
On Onias’ death in 218 BCE his son Simon II succeeded him as High Priest and was greatly respected by all as he steered the nation through the turbulent times of the shift in Greek power to the Seleucians. (12) (11)
And the king of the South shall be moved with rage, and go out and fight with him, with the king of the North, who shall muster a great multitude; but the multitude shall be given into the hand of his enemy. Daniel 11:11 NKJV
Antiochus III met Ptolemy IV at the Battle of Raphia (also known as the Battle of Gaza) in 217 BCE. Antiochus III, the king of the North, had 62,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and 103 war elephants. But the forces of Ptolemy IV, king of the South, were victorious in the battle and Antiochus III was forced to withdraw into Lebanon.
When he has taken away the multitude, his heart will be lifted up; and he will cast down tens of thousands, but he will not prevail. For the king of the North will return and muster a multitude greater than the former, and shall certainly come at the end of some years with a great army and much equipment. Daniel 11:12-13 NKJV
After the death of Ptolemy IV in 204 BCE, Antiochus III rallied his forces once again to attack the kingdom of the South. In the Fifth Syrian War (202-195 BCE), Antiochus III swept down into Judea and retook the territory that he had occupied some eighteen years previously.
Now in those times many shall rise up against the king of the South. Also, violent men of your people shall exalt themselves in fulfilment of the vision, but they shall fall. Daniel 11:14 NKJV
Antiochus III negotiated an alliance with King Philip V of Macedonia to divide up Egypt’s Asian possessions and in 199 BC inflicted a crushing defeat on the Ptolemaic forces near the headwaters of the Jordan River. According to Josephus, the Jews went over to Antiochus and readily assisted him when he besieged the garrison which was in the citadel of Jerusalem.
Then the king of the North shall come and throw up siege works and take a well-fortified city. And the forces of the South shall not stand, or even his best troops, for there shall be no strength to stand. But he who comes against him shall do according to his own will, and no one shall stand against him. He shall stand in the Glorious Land with destruction in his power. Daniel 11:15-16 NKJV
Following his defeat at Paneas, Scopas fled to the fortified port city of Sidon. But after Antiochus III besieged it, Scopas surrendered in 199 BCE in exchange for safe passage out of the city back to Egypt. He and his troops were allowed to leave the city naked after giving up their weapons. With his final victory over Scopas at Sidon, Antiochus the Great took the Holy Land away from the Egyptians for good. Judea and Jerusalem had passed from the king of the South to the king of the North.
Formation of the Sanhedrin…
In 198 B.C. the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus of Syria (Antiochus the Great / Antiochus III) won control of Judea. As in other states under Greek rule, he created a Senate (or Council) in Jerusalem to govern the nation. (Greek: συνέδριον, gerusia “sitting together”, hence “assembly” or “council”, always signifies an aristocratic body; Hebrew:: סנהדרין, sanhedrin). In Greek and Roman literature the senates of Sparta, Carthage, and even Rome were also called Sanhedrin. This aristocratic council of priests and elders was presided over by the hereditary leader of the nation, in this case the High Priest. Since the reins of government were held by the High Priest during this time, Simon II, he also bore the title “Nassi” (prince). This became the official title for the president of the Jewish Sanhedrin, which was composed of seventy members, plus the president. The number seventy drew links back to Moses’ seventy elders (Exodus 18:13-26; 24:1; Numbers 11:11-17, 24-30) and so brought a sense of Jewish respectability to this otherwise Hellenistic institution. (13) (14)
Under the Seleucians there arose among the Jewish population in Judea a group called the Misyavim, meaning Hellenists, who adopted Greek culture as a way of life to such a degree that they were considered by the Pharisees to have given up their Jewish culture and identity. With increasing division between the different schools in Judaism over what constituted Mosaic Law, whether it included the ‘Oral Torah’ or not, how it was to be interpreted and what of Hellenism was to be embraced or rejected, the composition and decisions of the new gerusia (which was to become the Sanhedrin) were no small matter when it came to the development of Judaism. As the initial gerusia were comprised of the aristocracy of Jerusalem, most of whom had been far more eager to embrace Hellenism than the general populace, the direction they tried to lead the nation was not always the one people wanted to follow. This provided strong impetus for the Pharisees to continue all the more vigorously building their wall around the Torah throughout all the towns of Judea and seek the political power of being admitted to, and dominating, the Sanhedrin.
Rome enters the picture…
He shall also set his face to enter with the strength of his whole kingdom, and upright ones with him; thus shall he do. And he shall give him the daughter of women to destroy it; but she shall not stand with him, or be for him. Daniel 11:17 NKJV
Young Ptolemy V had entered into a treaty with Antiochus III after his military defeat in the Fifth Syrian War. Through this treaty, Antiochus III tried to strengthen his position and expand his empire even further. Ptolemy V surrendered his Asian holdings to the king of the North and accepted Antiochus III’s daughter, Cleopatra I, as a bride. They were married in 194 BCE. Through this marriage, Antiochus III sought to gain a foothold in Egypt itself but his plan backfired. Cleopatra I was a true wife to Ptolemy V, standing by him instead of seeking to benefit her father. Cleopatra I was beloved by the Egyptian people for her loyalty to her husband.
After this he shall turn his face to the coastlands, and shall take many. But a ruler shall bring the reproach against them to an end; and with the reproach removed, he shall turn back on him. Daniel 11:18 NKJV
In 192 BCE, the ambitious Antiochus III crossed into Greece to aid the Aetolians. Then went to war against Rome. He sailed across the Aegean Sea and took some strongholds in Asia Minor but in so doing alienated his former ally, Macedonian king Philip V. The Roman army entered Asia Minor and defeated the larger forces of Antiochus III at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BCE. In the peace treaty of Apamea in 188 BCE, Roman general Publius Scipio set a high cost on Antiochus III for peace. He demanded twenty hostages (including his son, Antiochus IV), a reduction of naval ships to twelve, and payment to Rome for the cost of the war totalling 15,000 talents over the next twelve years. The all-consuming ambition of Antiochus III had finally brought defeat to the kingdom of the North.
Then he shall turn his face toward the fortress of his own land; but he shall stumble and fall, and not be found. Daniel 11:19 NKJV
As a consequence of the Roman victory over Antiochus III, the outlying provinces of the Seleucid empire again reasserted their independence. Antiochus III, in dire need of funds with which to pay Rome for the cost of the war, attempting to plunder a pagan temple in Babylon and was murdered in 187 BC.
Simon II’s son, Onias III, succeeded him as High Priest and head of the Sanhedrin in 185 BC. Onias III is described as a pious man, of the religious persuasions of the Pharisees, who argued strongly against the policies of the Hellenizers in the Sanhedrin.
His successor will send out a tax collector to maintain the royal splendour. In a few years, however, he will be destroyed, yet not in anger or in battle. Daniel 11:20 NIV
Antiochus III’s eldest son, Seleucus IV, took over after his father’s death. Due to the heavy debt burden imposed by Rome, he was forced to seek an ambitious taxation policy on his shrunken empire. This included heavy taxation on the people of Israel and even extracting money from the temple in Jerusalem.
The Roman senate decided to trade hostages; therefore, they ordered Seleucus IV to send his son Demetrius, the heir to the throne, to Rome. In return, the Romans released Seleucus IV’s younger brother, Antiochus IV. When released, Antiochus IV went to Athens. In 175 BCE, after Demetrius had been sent away to Rome, Seleucus IV was poisoned by his minister Heliodorus. Some historians think that Heliodorus desired the throne for himself, while others believe that Antiochus IV was behind the murder. Seleucus’ young son, (another Antiochus – age 5) was put on the throne in his place. However, Heliodorus was the actual power behind the throne.
And in his place shall arise a vile person, to whom they will not give the honour of royalty; but he shall come in peaceably, and seize the kingdom by intrigue. Daniel 11:21 NKJV
With Seleucus IV dead, the rightful heir to the throne was the young Demetrius. However, he was no longer available, having been sent to Rome as a hostage. At the time of the murder, Antiochus IV was in Athens. When he heard of his brother’s death, he quickly sailed to Pergamum. Once there, he sought the help of Eumenes II, the king of Pergamum. By flattering Eumenes II and his brother Attalus, he received their support and backing. Antiochus IV arrived in Seleucia with a powerful ally and thwarted Heliodorus’ designs on the throne. It was still 175 BC when Antiochus IV took power to become co-regent and protector of Seleucus IV’s 5yo son.
With the force of a flood they shall be swept away from before him and be broken, and also the prince of the covenant. Daniel 11:22 NKJV
Corruption overruns the Jewish priesthood…
Because of his ability to charm people and ally himself with them, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) was able to overcome all threats to his throne. He had little regard for the religion of the Jewish people and took advantage of the corruption in the priesthood at that time, upsetting the line of succession of the High Priests. As local governance, with all the accompanying power, prestige and accumulation of wealth, was the domain of the priests, with the High Priest ruling over all, this position was highly sought by those with personal ambition. The prince of the covenant here is a reference to the Jewish high priest Onias III, whom Antiochus IV replaced with his brother Jason for a bribe that same year. Jason and the Sanhedrin promoted Greek culture in Jerusalem by introducing many Greek customs and building a gymnasium.
Just three years later Jason’s emissary to Antiochus, Menelaus, made use of his position to bribe the king and was thus appointed High Priest in 172 BC, even though he was not of the priestly line. Menelaus proceeded ruthlessly to oppress his people and plunder the treasures of the Temple. Menelaus and his brother Lysimachus took the golden vessels of the Temple and sold them to raise the money they needed to pay the royal tribute and keep their positions of power. When Onias III, the lawful High Priest, protested this act, they had him murdered.
Jewish society in the cities, while generally still adhering staunchly to monotheism, was becoming increasingly Hellenised in language, sports, entertainments and clothes. With such rapid change came ever stronger divisions in Jewish society between the Hellenists and traditionalists.
Jewish temple and worship in Egypt…
Onias III’s son, Onias IV, fled to Egypt and built a Jewish Temple at Leontopolis where he presided as High Priest. Onias IV justified building a temple outside Jerusalem on the basis of Isaiah’s prophesy:
In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the Lord because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Saviour and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them. Then the Lord will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day, and will make sacrifice and offering; yes, they will make a vow to the Lord and perform it. Isaiah 19:19-21
The Leontopolis temple served the large Jewish population in Egypt who sacrificed regularly there, even while continuing to fulfil their duty towards the temple in Jerusalem. All the Jewish sacrifices and feasts were performed at this temple under the continuing Zadok line of the High Priesthood. This persisted until the Romans destroyed this temple, three years after destroying the Jerusalem temple. (15) (16) (17) (18)
And after the league is made with him he shall act deceitfully, for he shall come up and become strong with a small number of people. Daniel 11:23 NKJV
In Egypt, the 14-year old Ptolemy VI Philometer had become king. He was the nephew of Antiochus IV; his mother (Cleopatra I) being Antiochus IV’s sister. Antiochus IV sought an alliance with Ptolemy VI, seeking to take advantage of what he perceived as weakness in the Ptolemaic kingdom and gain Egypt for himself. He moved through Syria and Judea into Egypt with a small army, so as to not arouse suspicion to his true motive, and seized Egypt. His cover story was that he was coming to act as the “protector” of his nephew, Ptolemy VI.
He shall enter peaceably, even into the richest places of the province; and he shall do what his fathers have not done, nor his forefathers: he shall disperse among them the plunder, spoil, and riches; and he shall devise his plans against the strongholds, but only for a time. Daniel 11:24 NKJV
Antiochus IV pursued a novel plan for gaining the Egyptian-controlled provinces. He moved into the parts of the kingdom that were the richest. Then he did something that no other Seleucid king had ever done, spread around some of the spoils from his war campaigns to secure the loyalty of the people. It is even reported that he would go into the streets and throw money to the citizens there. However, this was only the beginning of Antiochus IV’s plan. Using his cunning, he visited Egyptian strongholds to find out their power.
He shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the South with a great army. And the king of the South shall be stirred up to battle with a very great and mighty army; but he shall not stand, for they shall devise plans against him. Yes, those who eat of the portion of his delicacies shall destroy him; his army shall be swept away, and many shall fall down slain. Daniel 11:25-26 NKJV
In 170 BCE Antiochus IV decided to take Egypt by force in what came to be known as the Sixth Syrian War. The Egyptians had a large army arrayed against him at Pelusium, which is near the Nile Delta. Ptolemy VI’s army, although large, was not able to withstand Antiochus IV who had corrupted several of the Egyptian ministers and officers.
In the midst of man’s evil, God is still sovereign…
Both these kings’ hearts shall be bent on evil, and they shall speak lies at the same table; but it shall not prosper, for the end will still be at the appointed time. Daniel 11:27 NKJV
With that phrase “for the end will still be at the appointed time” Daniel gives us the sense that despite all of man’s intrigues and plans, God is still sovereign and has a divine timetable for the events of history. After he took control of Pelusium and Memphis, Antiochus IV set his sights on Alexandria. Due to the intrigues of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) mentioned in verse 26, the Alexandrians had renounced their allegiance to Ptolemy VI, and had made his younger brother, Ptolemy VII Euergetes, king in his place. While at Memphis, Antiochus IV and Ptolemy VI had frequent conferences. Antiochus IV professed his great friendship to his nephew and concern for his interests, but his true plan was to weaken Egypt by setting the brothers against one another. Conversely, Ptolemy VI professed gratitude to his uncle for the interest he took in his affairs. He laid the blame of the war upon his minister Eulaeus, one the guardians appointed to watch over him after his father’s death. All the while, Ptolemy VI sought to smooth over things with his brother Ptolemy VII so they could join forces against their deceitful uncle, Antiochus IV.
In 170 BCE, the younger Antiochus was murdered while Antiochus IV was conveniently absent, paving the way for him to take sole possession of the throne.
While returning to his land with great riches, his heart shall be moved against the holy covenant; so he shall do damage and return to his own land. Daniel 11:28 NKJV
While Antiochus IV was engaged in Egypt, a false rumour arose in Judea that he had been killed. This prompted deposed high priest Jason to raise an army of 1,000 men and attack Jerusalem. His army captured the city and forced Antiochus IV’s appointed high priest Menelaus to take refuge in the Akra fortress in Jerusalem.
When news of the fighting in Jerusalem reached Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) , he took it to mean that Judea was in revolt against him. In 170 BC Antiochus IV left Egypt and on his way home marched against Jerusalem. His army massacred the inhabitants in three days, 80,000 Jewish men, women and children. A similar number were captured and sold into slavery. He also entered the Temple and took the holy vessels, including the golden altar, the menorah (seven-branched golden lampstand), the table for the showbread, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple, then returned to Antioch. Menelaus was restored to the high priesthood and retained that position until 161 BC. (12)
Many of the wealthier Jews in the cities of Judea were drawn to the apparent sophistication, great learning and philosophical thought of Hellenism. Some even embraced this as superior to their own traditions. Totally contrary to the example set by Daniel and his three friends so many years before in Babylonian captivity, these Jews considered success for themselves and their children as their top priority and the pathway to such as being paved with Greek culture and education. Conflict was growing within the Jewish community between those who embraced Hellenization and those who despised it. The official leaders of the people, High Priest and most of the Sanhedrin, were among those who promoted Hellenism at this time. That left Jews trying to hold onto their traditional way of life feeling increasingly dispossessed in their own nation, stirring calls to depose their leaders.
At the appointed time he shall return and go toward the south; but it shall not be like the former or the latter. Daniel 11:29 NKJV
In 168 BCE Antiochus IV once again sought to go to war against Egypt. However, this time he would not have the same success as he achieved previously.
For ships from Cyprus [Kittim] shall come against him; therefore he shall be grieved, and return in rage against the holy covenant, and do damage. So he shall return and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant. Daniel 11:30 NKJV
The “ships from Kittim” here refer to the ships which brought the Roman legions to Egypt in fulfilment of their new defence pact with the Ptolemy brothers who were now aligned. In 167 BC Antiochus IV and his army marched toward Alexandria and were met by three Roman senators led by Gaius Popillius. There, Roman ambassador Popillius delivered to Antiochus IV the Senate’s demand that he withdraw from Egypt. When the king requested time for consultation, Popillius drew a circle around Antiochus IV with a stick he was carrying and told him not to leave the circle until he gave his response. Astonished and humiliated by this display of Roman arrogance, Antiochus had no choice but to bow to their demands.
“Truth was thrown to the ground…“
Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) retreated back to Syria in a rage and disturbed by reports of growing conflict among the Jews decided to salve his wounded pride by exerting his will over Jerusalem.
And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation. Daniel 11:31 NKJV
Here we’re brought back to Daniel 8 where he sees a little horn come out of one of the four divisions of the Greek empire that exalted himself and took away the daily sacrifices (Vs 9-14 & 21-26).
Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land… It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the Lord; it took away the daily sacrifice from the Lord, and his sanctuary was thrown down. Because of rebellion, the Lord’s people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground. … In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue, will arise. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy those who are mighty, the holy people. He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Daniel 8:9, 11-12, 23-25a NIV
Antiochus IV’s army descended on Jerusalem, slaughtered multitudes, desecrated the Temple and stopped the daily sacrifices. On the 15th Kislev, in December 167 BC, the Syrians built a pagan altar over the altar of burnt offering in the Temple and placed an image of Zeus upon it – the ‘abomination of desecration’. Ten days later, on the 25th Kislev, swine’s flesh was offered on the altar to Zeus.
Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the Lord’s people?”
He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.” Daniel 8:13-14 NIV
Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest“) was an anti-Christ (anti-Messiah/ anti-the anointed one) determined to exterminate the Jewish religion. He outlawed any possession, reading of or obedience to Torah and resorted to every conceivable torture to force the Jews to renounce their religion, their laws and their God, seeking to replace Judaism with a universal religion of Greek polytheism. Only those in the city who had forsaken the Torah and allied themselves with him and his Greek polytheistic religion survived this attack.
With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him. Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time. Daniel 11:32-35 NIV
According to II Maccabees 6:2, Antiochus IV ordered the Temple to be renamed for Zeus Olympios. Worst of all, he managed to convince many of the Jews that they were being modern, sophisticated and open minded in rejecting Judaism and joining him in the persecution of their ‘backward brothers’ who were ‘stuck in the past’. “Many also of the Israelites consented to his [Antiochus’] religion, and sacrificed unto idols, and profaned the Sabbath” (I Macc.1:20-53). Others, particularly peasants in the countryside, were horrified and a group called Hasidim (the “pious ones”) emerged in resistance to these changes. Rabbinical sources describe Antiochus IV as “the wicked.” (19) (20) (21) (22) (5) (6) (10).
Antiochus IV is considered to be a ‘type’ of the antichrist to come. One who considered himself above God and attempted to abolish all worship of God and obedience to His Torah. Surely, many thought, such a time as this is when Messiah would come to destroy the kingdoms of this world and establish God’s eternal kingdom on earth. Gabriel had told Daniel “the vision concerns the time of the end” (Daniel 8:17). As Daniel’s other visions had made it clear that the Greek empire was not the “time of the end”, this riddle suggested that history repeats itself, that the Greek ruler Antiochus IV was just a picture of the one who was to come in the end time and rage against the Lord’s anointed. But still the time was not yet. The fourth beast had not yet arisen, the iron legs kingdom had not yet arisen over Israel, and still they must wait for the appointed time of Messiah’s coming and reign. (23) (24) (25) (26) (27)
1. Kaiser, Walter C. The Book of Daniel. Torah Class. [Online] [Cited: 23rd Oct. 2016.] http://www.torahclass.com/archived-articles/1402-the-book-of-daniel-lesson-10-chapters-10-11-12.
2. Sanhedrin. Biblical Training. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/sanhedrin.
3. Wilhelm Bacher, Jacob Zallel Lauterbach. SANHEDRIN. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 3rd Sept 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13178-sanhedrin.
4. The Coming of the Greeks. Jewish History. [Online] [Cited: 1st Sept 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-coming-of-the-greeks/.
5. Schiffman, Lawrence H. Palestine in the Hellenistic Age. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/palestine-in-the-hellenistic-age/#.
6. Palmer, Micheal W. History & Literature of the Bible The Hellenistic Age. Greek Language. [Online] 19th October 2002. [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] http://greek-language.com/bible/palmer/11hellenisticage.pdf.
7. Thayer, Bill. The Fragments of Manetho. Manetho. [Online] [Cited: 2nd Oct. 2016.] http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Manetho/History_of_Egypt/2*.html.
8. Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, Ml: : Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1886.
9. Armin Lange, K.F.Diethard Römheld, Matthias Weigold. Judaism and Crisis: Crisis as a Catalyst in Jewish Cultural History. Oakville : Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011.
10. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. The Hell in Hellenism. Jewish History.com. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-hell-in-hellenism/ .
11. A.M., William Whiston. Josephus – The Complete Works. Nashville : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.
12. God’s Secret. 2nd Temple History and More – Persian and Hellenistic Periods (538-142 BCE). [Online] 19th Sept. 2008. [Cited: 19th Sept. 2016.] https://godssecret.wordpress.com/2008/09/19/what-do-you-want-know-who-you-stand-before/.
13. Gerousia. The Sanhedrin – History and Function. St John Lutheran. [Online] 2008. [Cited: 6th Sept. 2016.] http://www.stjohnlutheran-elyria.org/images/11-25-The%20Sanhedrin%20-%20History%20and%20Function.pdf.
14. Morrison, W. D. The Sanhedrin, or Supreme National Council. Heritage History. [Online] [Cited: 6th Sept. 2016.] http://www.heritage-history.com/?c=read&author=morrison&book=romanjew&story=sanhedrin.
15. Lists of High Priests of Israel. Wikipedia. [Online] [Cited: 4th Sept. 2016.] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_High_Priests_of_Israel#Herodian-Roman_period.
16. The Return of the Priests of the House of Zadok. Bible Searchers. [Online] [Cited: 3rd Sept. 2016.] http://www.biblesearchers.com/yahshua/davidian/dynasty3.shtml#ReturnZadok.
17. Richard Gottheil, Samuel Krauss. Leontopolis (Greek = Lion City). Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 4th Sept. 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9772-leontopolis.
18. Kantrowitz, Jonathan. Jewish Temples of Onias & Elephantine in Egypt. Archaelology News Report. [Online] 6th Sept. 2008. [Cited: 4th Sept. 2016.] http://archaeologynewsreport.blogspot.com.au/2008/09/jewish-temples-of-onias-elephantine-in.html.
19. Antiochus IV Epiphanes. New World Encyclopedia. [Online] 5th April 2016. [Cited: 31st Oct. 2016.] http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Antiochus_IV_Epiphanes#Antiochus_and_the_Jews.
20. Antiochus IV Epiphanes Bust. Bible History. [Online] [Cited: 31st Oct. 2016.] http://www.bible-history.com/archaeology/greece/2-antiochus-iv-bust-bb.html.
21. Bright, John. The History of Israel. Kentucky : Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.
22. Tenney, Merrill C. The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 4: Revised Full-Color Edition. s.l. : Zondervan.
23. Kaiser, Walter C. The Book of Daniel Lesson 10:Daniel Chs. 10,11,12. Torah Class. [Online] [Cited: 25th Oct. 2016.] http://www.torahclass.com/archived-articles/1402-the-book-of-daniel-lesson-10-chapters-10-11-12.
24. Gordon, I. Book of Daniel Bible Study Chapter 11 A Tale of Three Madmen. Jesus Plus Nothing. [Online] [Cited: 25th Oct. 2016.] http://www.jesusplusnothing.com/studies/online/Daniel11.htm#_ftn1.
25. Franklin, Pat. Daniel 11 as History. Christian + Revolution. [Online] [Cited: 25th Oct. 2016.] http://www.christian-revolution.net/studyRender.php?studyID=29.
26. Walvoord, John F. 11. World History From Darius To The Time Of The End. Bible.org. [Online] [Cited: 25th Oct. 2016.] https://bible.org/seriespage/11-world-history-darius-time-end.
27. Huie, Bryan T. DANIEL 11 – PROPHECY FULFILLED! Here a Little, There a Little. [Online] 2nd January 2012. [Cited: 16th Oct. 2016.] http://www.herealittletherealittle.net/index.cfm?page_name=Daniel11.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on some of the following questions…
* Sometimes God speaks and sometimes God acts. What actions was God doing between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New?
* What has God been doing in your community?
* What are some differences between western (Greek) ways of thinking and eastern ways of thinking like the Jews were working hard to hold on to?
* What ways of thinking and educating are dominant in your culture?
* Some of the actions that were considered virtues in Greek thought were considered abominations to God. Are there things that your culture calls good that God calls evil?
* In many ways the Jewish people were being moulded by the Greek culture surrounding them, but they were also impacting that culture and seeing people converted to Judaism. In what ways is your church being moulded by the surrounding culture and in what ways is it changing the surrounding culture?
* Why are the wealthy often the most compromised with the ways of the world around us?
* How could the people know that it was not yet time for Messiah when Antiochus IV set up the abomination in the Temple?