Notes on the Book of Daniel: Chapter 11, part 1

Chapter Introduction

This chapter is stunning 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.  (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.


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