Since the text of Dani-El is in a conflated state -- as though it has been developed over the years -- there are several theories of its composition. Some generally conservative scholars regard the entire book as having been written during the VI century BCE, dismissing the problems associated with such an early date: that portions are in Aramaic; that the later sections are not chronological; that certain Greek words appear in the book; that the book was still being added to when the Septuagint was translated.
On the other hand, most liberal scholars regard the entire book as being the product of the II century BCE. Since much of the content appears to address second century concerns, this identification makes sense, but it too does not explain the compound state of the work.
I propose the following theory, which unfortunately is as complicated as the textual state of Dani-El:
In the third year of the reign of Yoakim king of Judah, Nabu-kudurri-usur king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. And Yahweh gave both Yoakim king of Judah and a part of the vessels of the house of God into his hand. And he carried them into the land of Shinar, to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure-house of his god.
This begins the Hebrew introduction to Dani-El, which prepares the reader for the original Aramaic section.
Aside from the Greek section of Dani-El called "Susanna" (which precedes this account), this is the earliest information that we have on the events surrounding Dani-El's life. Setting the stage for what will follow, the author unambiguously provides a timeline. King Yoakim (or Yehoakim) began his reign in 609 BCE, placing the third year of his reign at c. 606 BCE. According to 2 Kgs 23:36, he was 28 years old at the time of Nabu-kudurri-usur's siege. Yoakim was only king for 11 years, and for three of those years (606-603 BCE) he was dominated by Nabu-kudurri-usur's Babylonia. For the remainder of his reign, the kingdom of Judah was at war with various foreign nations.
Babylon is in the region of the plain of Shinar, and so when Yoakim was taken from Judah, he was led into Shinar (Babylon). Here, as in 2 Kings, the description indicates that it was God's judgment to allow Jerusalem to be plundered. However, the author here appears to regard the region of Babylon as cursed by God as long as they retain the plundered goods, for Nabu-kudurri-usur is given three chances in the Aramaic section of Dani-El to restore Israel, and he does not do it. Furthermore, chapter five, which calls down the judgment on Bel-shur-usur, mentions the plundered temple vessels.
Nabu-kudurri-usur's deity was Bel, who was traditionally the god of the empire.
And the king spoke to his chief eunuch, Ashpenaz, so he would bring young men of the children of Israel, both of the royal seed and of the nobles, in whom there was no blemish, and with fresh faces, and skillful in all wisdom, and familiar with knowledge, and understanding training, and therefore had the ability in them to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the Chaldean writing and language.
The name "Ashpenaz" appears to mean "I will promote the sprinkled one" and may have no significance in the narrative. Eunuchs are often thought of negatively, and under the Torah no eunuch was allowed to enter the holy places. In other societies, eunuchs were considered to be trusted servants. Often, the term "eunuch" became synonmous with "treasurer," and in the case of the eunuch in Ac 8 this is certainly the case. It may not have been a fact that Ashpenaz himself had been castrated; he may merely have occupied the position of palace officer.
Having taken Jerusalem, the king sought healthy young men who might have the wisdom to be able to be trained to become pages. Such knowledgeable children would more likely come from noble families than from poor families, and so the king instructed that his servants look to take children from high ranking families. These children would be schooled in the ways of the court and instructed to speak, read, and write the native language.
And the king assigned them a daily portion of the king's rich food, and of the wine that he drank, to nourish them for three years, so that at the end of the time they would stand in the king's presence.
The term "nourish" is applied not only to the nutritious food that the students were allowed to eat but also to the training that they received. In three years' time, the young men became learned in those areas that related to court service.
Now among these were some of the children of Judah: Dani-El, Hananiah, Misha-El, and Azariah. And the chief eunuch gave them names: to Dani-El he gave the name Bel-te-shatzar, and gave Hananiah the name Shadrach, and Misha-El was named Me-shach, and Azariah was named Abed-Nego.
The original (Hebrew) names had significance -- all of these names referred to Yahweh God. Dani-El means "God is judge." It is quite possibly the fact that he foretold judgment that he acquired that name in oral tradition. Hananiah means "Yahweh has blessed," and Misha-El signifies "one who comes from God." It was common to change the names of slaves, and in particular these slaves were given names that praised their own deities. "Bel-te-shatzar" signifies "Bel's treasure," paying homage to the patron deity of the empire and possibly an indication that Dani-El was part of the spoils of victory. "Abed-Nego" means "Nego's servant," indicating that he now belonged to the sun god (who was also represented by any "morning star" planet.
And Dani-El decided in his heart not to defile himself with the king's rich food, nor with the wine that he drank. And he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not have to defile himself. And God gave favor and mercy to Dani-El in the presence of the chief eunuch. And the chief eunuch told Dani-El, "I fear my lord the king who has assigned your food and your beverages. For if he should he see your faces worse looking than the young men who are your age, then you would endanger my head with the king."
The author of this portion (which is in Hebrew) continues to call the four young men by their Hebrew names, as Dani-El requests not to be compelled to eat food that had most likely been sacrificed to the Babylonian gods. It is also quite likely that the king's food contained unclean animals and may possibly have consisted of animals that were clean but which had been strangled. The dietary considerations of the Torah regarding blood and fat in meat may also have come to mind. Whichever is the case, Dani-El was aware that he was not to eat the king's meat. And Dani-El said to that steward whom the chief eunuch had set over Dani-El, Hananiah, Misha-El, and Azariah, "I beg you, test your servants for ten days; and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our faces be looked at in your presence, and look at the faces of the young men who eat of the king's rich food. And deal with your servants as you see fit."
Dani-El's argument was not merely that his diet of vegetables was healthier than the king's diet. Instead, he believed firmly that although they would eat food that was regarded as less nutritious, God would nourish the four young men beyond what the food was capable of providing. He asked his immediate supervisor (perhaps his teacher) to judge for himself, and even to allow the king to make the judgment, since Nabu-kudurri-usur was interested in the men having the best possible training conditions. Dani-El explained his confidence in God with his willingness to accept their judgment.
And he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. And at the end of ten days their faces appeared fairer and were physically more full than all the young men who had eaten the king's rich food. So the steward took away their rich food, and the wine that they were supposed to drink, and he gave them vegetables. As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all training and wisdom; and Dani-El had understanding in all visions and dreams.
The test proved so successful that Dani-El's steward directed that they be allowed to eat vegetables -- all of which were regarded as clean foods and which normally would not violate the other dietary restrictions in the Torah. But God did not merely provide physical nutrition for the four men, instead granting them the capacity to learn everything that their instructors intended to teach them. The wording makes it appear as though it was at this point in time that Dani-El gained the ability to interpret visions. The author's point may have been to mention this as a reward for having followed the Torah faithfully, although certainly it was intended to lead into the next section of this writing.
And at the end of the days, when the king had told him to bring them all in, the chief eunuch brought them in before Nabu-kudurri-usur. And the king spoke with them all, but none of them were found to be like Dani-El, Hananiah, Misha-El, and Azariah. So, they were the ones who stood in the king's presence. And in all matters of judicious wisdom, about which the king asked them, he found them ten times better than all the scribes and astrologers in his whole realm. And Dani-El continued to the first year of king Cyrus.
Concluding the initial Hebrew introduction to the four Jewish men, the author points out the superiority of following God. Still referring to them by their Hebrew names, the writer brings about the conclusion of their training. Their learning had been superior. Those Jewish men who had not followed the Torah were not the only ones whose knowledge was less than the four faithful men's, for even those scribes and astrologers who were native to the region turned out to have a degree of education that was less than that of these four Jewish slaves. The end result was that Dani-El remained in the king's court through the reign of several rulers: Amil-Marduk (562-559 BCE); Nergal Sharra-usur (559-556 BCE); Labashi-Marduk (556 BCE); and Nabu-na'id (556-539 BCE). Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylonia in 539/8, and at that time Dani-El was still in the king's court, by that time an older man.
Now in the second year of the reign of Nabu-kudurri-usur, Nabu-kudurri-usur dreamed dreams, and his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him. And the king directed to call the scribes, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, to show the king his dreams; and they came and stood before the king. And the king said to them, I have dreamt a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream." And the Chaldeans spoke to the king,
The next oracle relates an event that took place shortly after Dani-El's rise to prominence. Although the exact wording would make the date c. 605 BCE, the author apparently intends to place the date at c. 602 BCE -- during the second year that Dani-El served under Nabu-kudurri-usur. Others suggest that since Nabu-kudurri-usur had reigned together with his father Nabu-apla-usur for two years, the account here refers to the second year of his sole reign. At this time, Dani-El was one of any number of pages or servants at Nabu-kudurri-usur's direction. A year after his appointment, Dani-El was still not particularly important, nor had he used his talent for dream interpretation that God had given him. That was about to change.
Dreams were often thought to reveal both anxieties and
likely future events. King Nabu-kudurri-usur had a recurring
dream that was so troubling that he found himself unable to
sleep at night. (Some interpret "his sleep left him" to
mean that he forgot the dream's contents as he woke up.)
He called not only his usual set of advisors
but also the "Chaldeans" to his side for assistance.
The term "scribes" appears to be Egyptian and may be
used to represent those who interpret difficult subjects,
ancient writings, and the like. Although some people translate
it "magicians," it does not mean "magic" as we employ the term.
The term "astrologers" is variously translated and appears to come from a term meaning "breathe." It is thought to represent certain astronomer-philosophers who claimed inspiration.
The word "Chaldeans" here does not mean the race of Chaldean people. Instead, since a noteworthy class of philosophers had come from the Chaldean region, that term had become associated with this class of philosophers, regardless of their origin. Thus, they were a group of wise men. The king had gathered all of his most important subjects to relate and to explain his dream.
This ends the Hebrew section that frames what appears to be an original oracle in Aramaic. That Aramaic section is preceded (in the later Hebrew text) by the words "in Aramaic" to show that the original oracle had been written in Aramaic.
"Oh king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will explain the meaning."
The king answered, saying to the Chaldeans, "The directive has gone out from me. If you don't make the dream and its meaning known to me, you will be cut in pieces, and your houses will be made into dunghills. But if you explain the dream and its meaning, you will receive gifts and rewards and great honor from me. Therefore show me the dream and its meaning."
The (original ?) Aramaic section of Dani-El begins with the Chaldean wise men asking "the king" (unnamed until later) to explain a dream that he had had. The king refuses. It is possible that the king had forgotten his dream, but what follows makes it appear as though the dream was so important that Nabu-kudurri-usur did not want to risk being taken in by charlatans. Consequently, he deliberately refused to reveal the dream's contents, instead ordering that anyone who claimed to be able to interpret dreams and who proved unable to relate the dream's contents and interpretation to the king would be slaughtered.
The greeting, "live forever," is a typical expression of faithfulness to a ruler or superior.
They answered the second time, saying, "If the king tells his servants the dream, we will show the interpretation." The king answered, saying, "I know for sure that you want to gain time, because you see that the directive has gone out from me. But if you don't make the dream known to me, there is but one decree for you: that you have prepared lying and corrupt words to speak in my presence, until the time has changed. Therefore tell me the dream, and I will know that you can explain its meaning to me."
The king's most learned and noteworthy servants were reluctant to claim that they could provide assistance because they feared being put to death. This was because they realized that they had no divine gift of prophecy or interpretation. King Nabu-kudurri-usur was aware that many of his interpreters were fakers, and so he indicated that anyone who could not relate the contents of the dream (but who claimed to have an interpretation) was clearly lying and stalling for time -- hoping that the time of crisis would pass. He had reasoned that anyone who could truly divine the accurate interpretation of the dream would surely have a source of knowledge that could relate its contents to them.
The Chaldeans in the king's presence answered, saying, "There is no one on earth who can explain the king's matter! Therefore there is no king, however great and powerful, who has asked such a thing of any scribe, or astrologer, or Chaldean. For the thing that the king demands is unusual, and there is no one else who can explain it in the king's presence, except for the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh."
Far from accepting the king's claim that if someone can divine the true meaning of a dream, then they can also divine its content, the Chaldeans complained that not only was such a thing impossible, but also Nabu-kudurri-usur's request was entirely unprecedented. Only a deity could provide both the content and meaning of the dream, and they aren't on earth.
For this reason the king was upset and very angry, and he gave word to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. And the decree went out that the wise men were to be slain. And they sought Dani-El and his companions to slay them. Then Dani-El answered with counsel and prudence to Arioch the captain of the king's bodyguard, who had gone out to slay the wise men of Babylon. He answered, saying to Arioch the king's captain, "Why is the decree from the king so severe?" Then Arioch made the thing known to Dani-El.
By this time, Dani-El, Hananiah, Misha-El, and Azariah were counted among the "wise men." Considering all of them to be frauds, the king gave word for every one of these so-called astrologers, philosophers, and scholars to be put to death, sending out the chief of his royal guard, Arioch, to execute the directive. Dani-El was bold enough to question the order, and Arioch explained, prompting Dani-El to ask to see Nabu-kudurri-usur.
And Dani-El went in, and asked the king to give him time, so that he might show the king the interpretation. Then Dani-El went to his house and made the matter known to his companions Hananiah, Misha-El, and Azariah, so that they would seek the compassions of the God of the heavens about this secret, so that Dani-El and his companions would not be destroyed together with the rest of Babylon's wise men.
On behalf of his friends, Dani-El requested some time to pray to Yahweh God regarding the king's dream. Beginning here, Yahweh is referred to as "the God (or Lord) of the heavens." This is probably a descriptive term, distinguishing Yahweh from the Babylonian deities.
Then the secret was revealed to Dani-El in a night vision, and Dani-El praised the God of the heavens. Dani-El answered, saying, "Blessed be God's name to the most remote age, for wisdom and might are his! And it is he who changes times and seasons. He deposes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to those who know understanding. He is the one who reveals the deep and secret things. He knows what is in the darkness, and the light lives with him.
Some believe that God gave the same dream to Dani-El as Nabu-kudurri-usur had dreamt. The passage only says that he received an explanatory vision at night, so we do not know whether or not he was asleep at the time. At any rate, Dani-El's reaction was to praise God as the "one who reveals," in contrast to the powers possessed by those who worshipped other gods and yet who could not divine the king's dream. God "knows what is in the darkness." That is, he knows everything that exists in secret places, and his "light" reveals those secrets.
"God of my ancestors, I thank you, and I praise you, who have given me wisdom and power, and who have already made known to me what we wanted from you. For you have made the king's matter known to us."
These represent words of specific praise to God for having answered their prayers. Here, Dani-El refers to God in the traditional form as the ancestral deity of the Jewish people.
Therefore Dani-El entered to see Arioch, whom the king had assigned to destroy the wise men of Babylon. He entered, saying this to him: "Don't destroy the wise men of Babylon. Bring me in before the king, and I will explain the interpretation to the king." Then Arioch brought in Dani-El before the king quickly and said this to him: "I have found a man of the sons of the captivity of Judah who wants to make the interpretation known to the king."
Dani-El's access to Nabu-kudurri-usur was not so personal that he was allowed to enter the king's presence unescorted. Therefore he asked Arioch to allow him to gain access to the king, claiming to know both the dream and its meaning.
The king answered, saying to Dani-El (whose name was Bel-te-shatzar), "Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen, and its interpretation?" Dani-El answered in the presence of the king, saying, "The wise men, the astrologers, the scribes, and the astrologers are unable to explain to the king the secret that the king has required, but there is a God in the heavens who reveals secrets, and he is making known to king Nabu-kudurri-usur what will be in later days.
The king's first question is the same as he had asked the Chaldeans. Could Dani-El provide first the content of the dream, proving that he could also yield its proper meaning? At this point, Dani-El's new name was given (for the first time in the Aramaic section), for he would later be referred to by that name. The author himself continues to refer to Dani-El by his Hebrew name.
Dani-El first and immediately points to Yahweh God, the "God in the heavens," as the source of his revelation. The dream concerns things that were about to begin to happen.
"Your dream, and your head's visions, while on your bed are these: Oh king, while on your bed your thoughts came up to you about what will happen later. And the one who reveals secrets has made known to you what will happen. And as for me, this secret has not been revealed to me by any wisdom that I have beyond any living being, but with the purpose that the meaning should be made known to the king, so that you would know your heart's thoughts.
In introducing the dream, Dani-El points out to the king that just as the king was wondering about the future, so also God heard his desire to know the future and granted him a prophetic dream. But just as the king's dream itself came from God, so also Dani-El's ability to interpret the dream was not his own skill or ability but came from God, with the purpose of assisting the king.
"Oh king, look, you saw a large image. This image was mighty, and its glory was brilliant. As it stood in your presence, its appearance was terrifying. This image's head was of fine gold. Its chest and its arms were silver. Its abdomen and its thighs were bronze. Its legs were iron, and its feet were part iron and part pottery.
The image is an idol of human construction, made out of everything from the noblest of metals to the simplest terra cotta. The idol resembles a human being, with the noblest materials occurring nearer the top of the figure.
"You looked on as a stone was excavated [from a mountain] without hands, and it struck the image's feet of iron and pottery, and broke them to pieces. Then the iron, the pottery, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were broken in pieces together, and they became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors. And the wind carried them away, and no place was found for them. And the stone that struck the image became a large mountain, and filled the whole land. This is the dream; and we will tell its meaning in the king's presence.
The words in brackets are found only in the Septuagint. Whether from a mountain or from a quarry, the rock was excavated without being touched by human hands, whereas the human image had been built by people. In the dream, the stone is both the cause of destruction for the image and its replacement, for after the idol is destroyed, the stone is magnified to become a mountain.
"Oh king, you are the most royal king, to whom the God of the heavens has given the kingdom, the power, and the strength, and the glory. And wherever human children, field animals, and the birds of the sky live, he has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all: you are this head of gold.
Nabu-kudurri-usur had asked about the future, and the meaning of the dream begins with him. The oracle begins by mentioning the expanse of his great empire. Although the king did not actually rule the whole civilized world, the exaggeration stands both to praise the king in his presence and to illustrate how great the empire indeed was. Nabu-kudurri-usur's reign is the head because it begins the timeline which will follow. The significance of the other body parts is that they move downward across the body as time passes. The head, at the top, is first.
Similarly, the parts are made progressively of less noble metals, for the Assyrian Empire under rulers after Nabu-kudurri-usur will be progressively less holy (more common), and eventually the state of the empire would be at stake.
"Now after you another kingdom that is your inferior will arise. Then there will be another (third) kingdom of bronze, which will have the rule over all the land. And the fourth kingdom will be strong as iron: for just iron breaks in pieces and subdues everything, and as iron breaks all the other metals, so will it break in pieces and cause injury.
There is disagreement over the identity of the other three kingdoms. The majority of scholars identify the kingdoms as nations: Media; Persia; and Greece. They believe that this identification is valid due to a similar progression in chapter seven. However, I claim that while chapter seven has elements that were based on this dream, the structure of chapters two through six indicates that specific rulerships and not nations are intended by the parts of the idol's body.
The second, inferior, kingdom represents the cogregency of Bel-shur-usur ("Bel-shur-usur"), who will be mentioned in Dani-El after Nabu-kudurri-usur rejects three chances to turn his kingdom over to God. Following Bel-shur-usur, the last reigning Babylonian ruler, was the governorship of Cyaxares II (under the imperial reign of Cyrus the Great). Either he or a certain man called "Gubaru" and "Darya-shah," (Darya-shah) both of which signify some sort of "mighty" ruler or governor, is the man referred to in Dani-El as "Darya-shah the Mede." The iron kingdom represents the rulership of the time of the writing down of the oral tradition. That is, the "fourth kingdom" is the Persian Empire, under the command of Cyrus the Great's son, Kambiz II, who took over after his father's death in 529 BCE and who conquered Egypt in 525 BCE.
The Persian Empire was at its greatest expanse under Kambiz II, but the empire after Cyrus was weakened. In fact, Herodotus reasoned that Kambiz had been insane.
"And since you saw the feet and toes, partly potter's pottery, and partly iron, the kingdom will be divided. But there will be in it the strength of the iron, since you saw the iron mixed with miry pottery. And just as the toes of the feet were part iron and part pottery, that kingdom will be partly strong and partly fragile. And since you saw the iron mixed with miry pottery, they will mix themselves with the seed of men; but they will not cling to one to another, just as iron does not mix with pottery.
This is a reference to the civil war that took place in Persia from 525 to 522 BCE. Kambiz had murdered his brother Bardiya secretly. The man entrusted with Kambiz' household during his Egyptian campaign, Oropasthes (who was called "protector of the kingdom"), conspired with his own brother (Gaumata) to impersonate the brother of Kambiz and to usurp the rulership. Oropasthes' faction granted the people great freedoms in return for their rebellion against Kambiz. This is the instability that is mentioned in Nabu-kudurri-usur's dream. The "iron mixed with pottery" represents the lineage of Cyrus (Kambiz) in power at the same time as the usurper Oropastes, who curried the favor of the people ("mixed with human seed").
"And in the days of these kings the God of the heavens will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed. Its kingship will not be left to another people. It will break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, but it will stand forever. For since you saw that a stone was excavated from the mountain without hands, and that it broke the iron, the bronze, the pottery, the silver, and the gold into pieces -- the great God has made known to the king what will happen later. And the dream is certain, and its meaning is sure."
There are two noteworthy events that are not mentioned here, for the reader was expected to know about them: Babylon's destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (c. 587 BCE) and Cyrus the Great's decree allowing the dispersed Jews to return to their homeland (c. 536 BCE). The primary author of Dani-El points out throughout the writing that the reason for the downfall of the four kingdoms is their rejection of God. Nabu-kudurri-usur had three occasions (mentioned) wherein he could have turned his country over to God, and instead he destroyed the temple and saw his empire fall to the Medes and Persians. Cyrus himself was regarded as great for allowing the Jews to go home, but Kambiz had no such standing, and the civil war and strife that were about to happen were attributable to their failure to turn themselves to God. The freed Jewish people, represented by the stone, would return to their homeland and establish their own kingdom and rulership. Having been hewn from a mountain (according to the LXX), probably Mount Sinai, the growing Jewish state would become a mountain (probably representing Zion). As long as the Jewish people retained proper reverence for God (which, in prophecy, is "forever"), they would rule themselves. The stone had been excavated without hands because God himself had founded the Jewish way of life.
With the explanation given, Dani-El and his friends confirm the certainty of its significance.
Then king Nabu-kudurri-usur fell on his face and bowed to Dani-El, and
he directed that they offer a sacrifice and sweet odors to him.
The king answered Dani-El saying, "Truly it is that your God is the
most divine god, and the lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets,
because you were able to reveal this secret."
Then the king made Dani-El great, and gave him many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon. And Dani-El asked a favor of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego over the administration of the province of Babylon. And Dani-El was at the king's court.
The first trial of Nabu-kudurri-usur ends with his recognition of the greatness of Yahweh God, whom he verbally acknowledges as the greatest of all the gods known to him and as his own superior. Yet the reader knows that the king eventually caused violence to the Jewish people.
For Dani-El and his friends, prosperity and fame arose from their being able to interpret the dream. The others went to various places in Babylonia while Dani-El remained close to the king.
[In his eighteenth year,] Nabu-kudurri-usur the king made a golden image, whose height was sixty cubits, and its breadth six cubits; he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. And king Nabu-kudurri-usur sent to gather together the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image that Nabu-kudurri-usur the king had set up. When the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces, were gathered together to the dedication of the image that Nabu-kudurri-usur the king had set up, as they stood before the image that Nabu-kudurri-usur had set up, the herald called out, "Peoples, nations, and races of every language, you are instructed that whenever you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe, and other kinds of instruments, you will fall down and bow to the golden image that Nabu-kudurri-usur the king has set up. Now whoever does not fall down and bow will that same hour be thrown into the middle of a burning fiery furnace."
The timing of this event is given above, in brackets, by the Septuagint. If that time were correct, the year would be 580 BCE. Others place the date either significantly earlier or later. The Aramaic account gives no indication, although chapters two through six appear to be chronological.
The plain of Dura is probably in a location about six miles south of Babylon. The nature of the golden image is unknown; however, given the general architecture it is possible that the golden image consisted of a pillar, on top of which sat a golden statue of the patron deity Bel.
The officials mentioned are intended to denote appointees of all levels, from regional governors down to local officials. The author demonstrates that the dictate that went out to all levels of government was quite clear. Anyone who did not bow to the image would be burnt in a furnace. If the identification with an idol of Bel is correct, bowing to the image would have been tantamount to accepting Bel as a superior, which (under the Torah) was clearly idolatry.
The list of musical instruments is likewise intended to signify that a large band was commissioned to announce the appropriate times for homage. All known kinds of instruments were included in this band, and some translators include a percussion instrument instead of the bagpipe.
On an interesting note, the Chaldeans appear to have been the first to separate the day into hours. As early as the VIII century BCE, the Babylonian day began at noon and was separated into twenty-four hours. This instance represents the earliest Biblical mention of the custom.
Therefore at that time when all the people heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, harp, psaltery, and all kinds of instruments, all the peoples, nations, and races of every language fell down and bowed to the golden image that king Nabu-kudurri-usur had set up.
Generally, the people complied with the king's unusual request. Chapter four appears to indicate that he was slipping into insanity.
Then at that time certain Chaldeans came near and accused the Jews. They spoke to king Nabu-kudurri-usur, saying, "Oh king, live for ever! Oh king, You made a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, harp, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of instruments will fall down and bow to the golden image, and that whoever does not fall down and bow will be thrown into the middle of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego. Oh king, these men do not respect you. They neither serve your gods, nor do they bow to the golden image that you have set up."
On account of their earlier promotion to positions within Babylonia, certain people of the Chaldean class were jealous of Hananiah, Misha-El, and Azariah, whom they call by their local names. Unconcerned with lower-ranking Jews, the Chaldeans brought Dani-El's friends to the attention of King Nabu-kudurri-usur, with the intent that they be put to death. It is possible that Dani-El himself was too well thought of to be accused in this fashion. At any rate, the accusation was true: the three men did refuse to serve Bel and acknowledge the image. They were in violation of the statute.
Then in rage and fury Nabu-kudurri-usur gave word to bring Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego, and the men were brought before the king. Nabu-kudurri-usur spoke to them, saying, "Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego, is it on purpose that you do not serve my god, nor bow to the golden image that I have set up? Now at the time when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, harp, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of instruments, if you are ready to fall down and bow to the image that I have made, very well. But if you don't bow down, that same hour you will be thrown into the middle of a burning fiery furnace: and who is the God that will deliver you out of my hands?"
The king's wording indicates that the three men were given a way out: they could claim ignorance. But if they were indeed not ignorant, then they would be put to death. Nabu-kudurri-usur's final question shows that indeed he had not learned from his experiences with Dani-El that Yahweh God is supreme.
Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego answered, saying to the king, "Nabu-kudurri-usur, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that were so, our God whom we serve is able to rescue us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will rescue us from your hand, oh king. But if he does not, let it be known to you, oh king, that we will not serve your gods, nor bow to the golden image that you have set up."
The three affirm that God had the power to rescue them, and that even if they knew that Yahweh would choose not to rescue them, they would still remain loyal to him and would refuse to pay homage to Bel in any way.
Then Nabu-kudurri-usur was full of rage, and the form of his face was changed against Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke, and gave word that they should heat the furnace seven times hotter than it was accustomed to be heated. And he directed the strongest men in his army to bind Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego, and he had them thrown them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their cloaks, their turbans, and their tunics, and their undergarments, and were thrown into the middle of the burning fiery furnace. Since the king's directive was strict, and the furnace was so very hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who had taken Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the middle of the burning fiery furnace.
The three men saw that they had a means of escaping the decree and had chosen not to avail themselves of it, instead refusing to comply. The king's attitude changed, for he had been slighted, and he became so angry that he ordered that the fire be made seven times hotter than normal before throwing the men into it. Instead of "strong" men, others render "mighty men" by "generals." The term may signify a high constitution.
The traditional attire of the day included an undergarment or inner tunic, over which was worn an outer tunic. Over these, one would normally wear a cloak, and a turban on the head. The account then lists these from the outermost inward.
The fire is depicted as "so hot" and raging so uncontrollably that as the three were thrown into the furnace, flames jumped from the furnace and killed the "strong men" who had brought them there. Then the account places them squarely in the midst of the furnace, burning seven times hotter than usual.
At this place, the Septuagint breaks off and includes a long prayer by Azariah and the "Song of the Three Young Men." These are not found in the Aramaic portion that has survived to us, although proponents of the LXX claim that the addition was written in Aramaic originally.
Then Nabu-kudurri-usur the king was astonished, and got up quickly. He spoke, asking his counselors, "Didn't we throw three men bound into the middle of the fire?" They answered, saying to the king, "True, oh king." He answered, saying, "Look, I see four men loose, walking in the middle of the fire, and they have no injuries. And the fourth one looks like a divine being."
The three young men had been tied up, but now they were loose, and what's more: they were simply walking around in the fire, as though they were unharmed. Even more than that, they appeared to be talking to a supernatural being (literally, a "son of the gods," the usual term for "divine being," as contrasted with "son of humanity"). This divine being was a messenger from God -- proof to Nabu-kudurri-usur that God himself had intervened to save the three men.
Then Nabu-kudurri-usur approached the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, "Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego, you servants of the highest God, come out and come here." Then Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego left the middle of the fire. Now the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, and the king's counselors, were gathered together, and they saw these men over whose bodies the fire had had no power, nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their cloaks charred, nor did they smell like fire.
As the men left the furnace, not only the king but also his cabinet of advisors and governors noticed that they were unharmed. In a fire, the hair (composed of dead material) would burn first. Of all the clothing, the cloak was outermost and would have been the first to show fire damage. Yet the four men did not show a trace of having been in the furnace; they didn't even smell like smoke.
Nabu-kudurri-usur spoke, saying, "Praiseworthy is the God of Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego, who sent his messenger and rescued those servants who trusted in him, and who nullified the king's statement, and who gave up their bodies so that they would neither give religious service to nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I am making a decree that among every people, nation, and language, whoever speaks anything bad against the God of Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego, will be cut into pieces, and his house will be made into a dunghill, because there is no other God that is able to rescue in this manner." Then the king promoted Shadrach, Me-shach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon.
This second time, Nabu-kudurri-usur has seen the power of God unfold before him, and again he seems to have realized God's might and to have bowed before God's sovereignty. Yet still, history shows that this reaction was only temporary. The king's degree does not promote Yahweh to the status of supreme deity in the kingdom but only establishes tolerance for Jewish people. For their ordeal, the three men were given higher positions.
"Nabu-kudurri-usur the king
to all the peoples, nations, and races of every language, that live in all the land:
"Peace be multiplied to you. It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders that the highest God has wrought toward me. How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.
The timing of this decree is again unknown. Most commentators place the oracle at c. 579 BCE, although some suppose that Nabu-kudurri-usur was near the end of his reign. The account itself makes no indication, and in fact, the events may have occurred prior to the destruction of the temple, which is not mentioned.
The form of the statement generally follows a typical decree, although later portions of the form break down, and perhaps the proper decree consisted only of the section listed above. The LXX and MT disagree as to which sections of the sequence that follows were written in the first person.
Here, an indication is given that God's dominion is the continual one alluded to in chapter two.
"I Nabu-kudurri-usur was at rest in my house, at ease in my palace.
I saw a dream that frightened me, and the thoughts I had while
in my bed and my head's visions worried me.
[And I made a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon before me, that they might make the dream's meaning known to me. Then the scribes, the sorcerors, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers came in, and I related the dream in their presence, but they did not make its meaning known to me. But last of all Dani-El came in before me, whose name is Bel-te-shatzar (according to the name of my god), and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. I told the dream in his presence:"
"Bel-te-shatzar, chief of the scribes, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and that no secret is too hard for you, tell me the visions the dream that I saw and its meaning.]
The section in brackets is lacking in the early Septuagint.
It is possible that the king's conquests had made him arrogant, but most likely the author was pointing out that another trial was going to happen to the king because he continued to oppose God's will, despite his earlier claims to recognize Yahweh's soverignty.
By this time, Dani-El was a chief among the scribes of Babylon. His subordinates did not possess a divinely-given ability to interpret dreams, and so neither they nor any of the king's other aides could understand its content. This time, the king had explained the content, but only Dani-El understood it. The king attributes this to "the spirit of the holy gods" and not to Yahweh God.
"This is how the visions of my head upon my bed were: I saw, and look, there was a tree in the middle of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew and strengthened; its height reached to the sky, and it could be seen in the most remote parts of the land. Its leaves were beautiful, and its fruit was abundant and was food for everyone. The field animals found shade under it, and the birds of the sky nested in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.
The vision of a tree is similar in general to that of Ezek 17:3-8 and particularly to Ezek 31:3-14. If this oracle precedes Ezekiel's oracle in 31:3ff. (which he received in June of 587 BCE), then perhaps it came to prefigure the one that Ezekiel received. If it came later, then knowledge of the earlier one may have been what triggered Dani-El's horror at hearing this dream.
"I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and look: a watcher and a holy one came down from the heavens. He called out, saying, this: 'Chop down the tree, and cut off its branches. Shake off its leaves, and scatter its fruit. Let the animals get out from under it, and let the birds leave its branches. Nevertheless leave the stump of its roots in the ground, even with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field. And let it be bathed with the dew of the sky, and let its inheritance be with the wild animals in the grass of the ground. Let its mind be changed from a human being's, and let an animal's mind be given to it; and let seven years pass over it.' This sentence is by the decree of the watchers, and the decision by a statement of the holy ones: so that the living would know that the Highest One rules over the human kingdom, and gives it to whomever he wants, and sets up the humblest people over it.
In the vision, the tree is cut down, but its stump is not removed from the ground, allowing it to grow back. The dream itself indicates that the purpose for this is to show everyone that God, and no human being, truly rules the land.
The watchers are God's messengers and are mentioned in other literature (e.g., 1 Enoch). Apparently those called watchers had been given a certain latitude to pass judgments.
"I, king Nabu-kudurri-usur, saw this dream. Now you, Bel-te-shatzar,
tell the meaning, since as all the wise men of my kingdom are unable to
make the meaning known to me; but you are
able, for the spirit of the holy gods is in you."
Then Dani-El, whose name is Bel-te-shatzar, was astonished for one hour, and his thoughts worried him. The king spoke and said, "Bel-te-shatzar, Don't let the dream or its interpretation worry you." Bel-te-shatzar answered, saying, "My lord, let the dream be for those who hate you, and let its interpretation happen to your enemies!
Again, Nabu-kudurri-usur does not acknowledge the sovereignty of Yahweh, indicating only that Dani-El is guided by "the spirit of the holy gods."
Possibly recognizing the connection to the oracles of Ezekiel, which may have been well known by the time, Dani-El was immediately struck by the dream's content, knowing what it signified. Dani-El was loyal to the king, expressing hope that none of the things in it would happen to him, but to his enemies instead.
"'The tree that you saw, which grew and strengthened, whose height reached to the sky, and which could be seen in all the land, whose leaves were beautiful, and its fruit abundant and was food for everyone, under which the animals of the field lived, and in whose branches the birds of the sky had their dwelling:
Dani-El begins by identifying the magnificent tree.
"Oh king, it is you who have grown and become strong, for your greatness has grown, and reaches to the sky, and your dominion to the most remote part of the land. And since the king saw a watcher and a holy one coming down from the heavens, saying, 'Chop down the tree, and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots in the ground, even with a band of iron and bronze, in the tender grass of the field.' And, 'Let it be bathed with the dew of heaven, and let its inheritance be with the beasts of the field, until seven years pass it by,'
The tree represents Nabu-kudurri-usur himself, whose empire was large and whose fame and authority were widespread.
"This is the meaning, oh king, and it is the decree of the Highest One,
which is coming to my lord the king:
They will drive you from men, and your dwelling will be with the field animals, and they will make you eat grass like oxen, and you will be bathed with the dew of the sky; and seven years will pass you by, until you know that the Highest One rules over the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever he wants. And whereas it was directed to leave the stump of the roots of the tree; your kingdom will remain yours, after you know that the heavens rule.
Dani-El is careful to continue to express reverence for the king, but the judgment has come from a higher power: God himself. On account of his high-mindedness, Nabu-kudurri-usur would be driven mad. For seven years, he would think that he was an animal. Some early authors describe the supposed disease of lycanthropy this way (i.e., werewolves, werejaguars, etc.).
After seven years of incoherence, the king's faculties would be restored, and he would be allowed to take charge of his kingdom again.
"'Therefore, oh king, let my advice be acceptable to you, and break off your sins by justification, and your iniquities by being merciful to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of your tranquility.'"
Dani-El expressed a hope that the king would turn himself over to God, but this was not to happen. Although the king's pride proved to be an integral part of his downfall, his arrogance was only a part of his refusal to make Yahweh his lord. Dani-El had hoped that Nabu-kudurri-usur would help the poor, retaining a more godly attitude.
All of it happened to king Nabu-kudurri-usur.
Twelve months later, he was walking in the royal palace of Babylon. The king spoke, saying, "Isn't this Babylon great, that I have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?"
While the statement was in the king's mouth, a voice fell from the sky: "King Nabu-kudurri-usur, to you this is spoken: The kingdom has left you. And they will drive away from people, and your dwelling will be with the field animals. You will be made to eat grass like oxen. And seven years will pass you by, until you know that the Highest One rules over the human kingdom and gives it to whomever he wants."
The opening statement is simple: it happened. A description follows, showing the king's arrogance. He had so forgotten God, and had even neglected his subjects, that he believed that all of the wealth of Babylon -- and by extension, the empire -- was due entirely to his own ability. The messenger passed on God's judgment, which was exactly as Dani-El had indicated it would be. The dream had been a third warning for Nabu-kudurri-usur, but he had not heeded it.
The saying was fulfilled for Nabu-kudurri-usur that same hour, and he was driven away from people and ate grass like oxen. And his body was bathed with the dew of the sky, until his hair grew like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' talons.
The hair and nail growth serve to indicate the passage of time. What follows occurs seven years later.
"And at the end of the days I, Nabu-kudurri-usur, lifted up my eyes to the sky, and my understanding returned to me, and I blessed the Highest One, and I praised and honored the one who lives for the age, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom lasts from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the land are regarded as nothing; and he does what he wants with the powers of the heavens, and among the inhabitants of the heartland; and no one can stay his hand or say to him, 'What are you doing?'
This appears to be another section of the original proclamation. Nabu-kudurri-usur claims to have finally realized that God is supreme, but (as various prophecies were fulfilled) this recognition did not last long. Nabu-kudurri-usur II was replaced by inferiors.
"At the same time my understanding returned to me; and the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and brightness was returned to me. Then my counselors and my nobles sought me, and I was reestablished in my kingdom, and excellent greatness was added to me.
"Now I Nabu-kudurri-usur praise and lift up and honor the king of the heavens, all whose deeds are true, and his paths are just. And he is able to humble those who walk in pride."
Even with such a devout statement of realization, Nabu-kudurri-usur did not retain his humility. After giving the king three opportunities to discover him, Yahweh God turned to his successors.
Bel-shur-usur the king held a great feast with a thousand of his nobles, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand. As he tasted the wine, Bel-shur-usur gave word to bring the golden and silver vessels that Nabu-kudurri-usur his predecessor had taken out of the temple that had been in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines, would drink from them. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple, God's house that had been at Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines, drank from them. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and of silver, of bronze, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
While Bel-shur-usur could be referred to as "king," the title of "crown prince" was more accurate. After Nabu-kudurri-usur came Amel-Marduk (562-560 BCE), who was followed by Nergal-shar-usur (560-556 BCE), who in turn was succeeded by Labashi-Marduk. Labashi-Marduk was murdered after a few months, and one of the conspirators in his death, Nabu-Na'id, succeeded him. In the third year of Nabu-Na'id's reign (553 BCE), he appointed his son Bel-shur-usur to be co-regent, at times entrusting the kingship to him. Bel-shur-usur reigned with Nabu-Na'id until the fall of Babylonia (sometime in 539-535 BCE). This particular oracle occurs at the very end of his reign, which some sources date to 539 BCE and others at 538.
The passage begins by reminding the reader that Nabu-kudurri-usur had first plundered and then destroyed the temple. It was Bel-shur-usur's blatant disregard for Yahweh God that caused judgment to come upon him. By drinking wine from the temple vessels and by praising "gods of gold and of silver" (of which the vessels were made) and other false deities, the king invoked God's anger. The author appears to be pointing out that the same metals forged by human hands to make vessels holy to God were being worshipped profanely and foolishly by Bel-shur-usur and his party.
In the same hour fingers of a man's hand came out and wrote opposite the candlestick on the plaster of the wall of the king's palace, and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's facial color was changed, and his thoughts worried him, and he lost control of his bowels, and his knees struck against one another.
The writing on the wall was not simply there, as though someone had placed it there previously. The king himself saw a bodiless hand writing the words on the wall, and the sight so frightened him that from head to toe he quaked in fear. The description moves downward from his pale facial expression to his knocking knees (as his legs no longer supported him).
The king called out to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king spoke and said to the wise men of Babylon, "Whoever reads this writing and shows me its meaning will be clothed in purple, and will have a chain of gold about his neck, and will be the third ruler in the kingdom." Then all the king's wise men entered, but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the meaning.
After nearly collapsing under the horror of the sight, the king realized that it was a message intended for him. Riches were promised to anyone who could read the words that the finger had written. In fact, the king promised to promote anyone who understood the writing to the third highest position in the kingdom -- the highest being occupied by Nabu-Na'id, and the second highest being his own. The finger writing on the stone wall is reminscent of the finger of God writing the Ten Words on stone tablets for the people of Israel. What was written in stone is a stern directive, but none of the king's usual associates could understand the words.
Then king Bel-shur-usur was greatly worried, and his facial color was changed, and his nobles were confused. The queen, because of the king's words (and his nobles'), entered the banquet-house. The queen spoke, saying, "Oh king, live for ever! Don't let your thoughts trouble you, nor let your facial color be changed. There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your predecessor, light and understanding and wisdom (like the wisdom of the gods) was found in him. So king Nabu-kudurri-usur your predecessor made him chief of the scribes, astrologers, Chaldeans, and astrologers, since an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, dream interpretation, and explanations of hard sayings, and problem-solving, were found in the same Dani-El, whom the king named Bel-te-shatzar. Now let Dani-El be called, and he will show the meaning."
When no one could understand such an important writing, Bel-shur-usur's pale facial expression returned, and no one could figure out what to do. Dani-El's status in the kingdom under Nabu-Na'id was evidently not what it had been under Nabu-kudurri-usur, for the king himself had no knowledge of him.
Yet his wife recalled that Nabu-kudurri-usur had favored Dani-El because "the spirit of the holy gods" had given him the ability to interpret dreams, to resolve riddles, and to solve difficult problems. Therefore, she urged that her husband call on this Jewish man. By now, the age roles have been reversed. Dani-El is no longer a young man but a wiser man of middle age. The regent, by contrast, was fairly new to his position.
Then Dani-El was brought into the king's presence. The king spoke to Dani-El saying, "Are you that Dani-El, from the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my predecessor brought out of Judah? Now I have heard of you, that the spirit of the gods is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. Yet now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make its meaning known to me, but they were unable to show the thing's meaning."
"But I have heard of you, that you are able to give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you are able to read the writing, and make its meaning known to me, you will be clothed with purple, and will have a chain of gold about your neck, and will be the third ruler in the kingdom."
With the queen's recommendation, Dani-El was introduced to Bel-shur-usur. His identity was confirmed, and he was asked to read the writing. The same stature was promised him that had been offered to the others.
Then Dani-El answered in the king's presence, saying, "Let your gifts remain yours, and give your rewards to another. I will still read the writing to the king, and make the meaning known to him.
Monetary rewards were unimportant to Dani-El, but freely he offered to read and interpret the writing.
"Oh king, the Highest God gave Nabu-kudurri-usur your predecessor the kingdom, and greatness, and glory, and majesty; and for the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and races of every language, trembled and feared before him: he killed whoever he wanted to, and he kept alive whoever he wanted. Now he lifted up whoever he wanted, and he humbled whoever he wanted. But when the king's heart was lifted up, and his spirit hardened to presumption, he was deposed from the throne of his kingdom, and they took his glory from him. And he was driven from the sons of men, and his heart was made like the field animals, and he lived with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of the sky, until he knew that the Highest God rules over the human kingdom, and that he sets over it whoever he wants.
"Now you, Bel-shur-usur, his successor, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all of this. Instead, you have elevated yourself against the Lord of the heavens. They brought the vessels of his house into your presence, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines, drank wine from them. Then you praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor know. Yet you have not glorified the God in whose hand your breath -- and all your ways -- are. Then part of a hand was sent from his presence, and this writing was written.
Probably looking over at the wall, Dani-El begins his explanation by mentioning the splendor of the empire under Nabu-kudurri-usur II, attributing every positive aspect of that splendor to Yahweh God. It was God, not the king, who was able to do everything that it pleased him to do, and so when Nabu-kudurri-usur proved that he would not acknowledge God, Yahweh humbled him by taking away his kingdom for seven years (as the author has already described). In this way, Dani-El summarizes the failure of the previous king to recognize God.
Similarly, Bel-shur-usur was treating God and his people with the greatest of contempt. By showing such disrespect, Bel-shur-usur had demonstrated that he was not worthy to be king, for he had scorned the same God whom he knew to have humbled Nabu-kudurri-usur. He had failed to learn from the mistakes of his predecessor, and so the hand had written a message directed at him.
"And this is the writing that is written: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PERES. This is the the thing's meaning:
MENE, God has added up your kingdom and finished it;
TEKEL, you have been weighed in the scales and are found lacking;
PERES, your kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians."
The reason why no one could read the writing is that the words were in Biblical Hebrew. Dani-El was able to read them because he was Jewish. The interpretation of those words came from God. Some manuscripts do not have "MENE" repeated; some have PERSIN (a plural) instead of PERES.
All three words have a connected double meaning. A mina was a standard unit of an accumulation of weight -- something of roughly a pound or more would be weighed in minas. The shekel (or tekel) was one standard monetary unit, which was named for a standard unit of weight, normally of metals, which were weighed in scales. Sixty shekels comprised one mina. Between the two weights was the parsu, or "half mina."
The terms all stem, etymologically, from verbs. These verbs signify, in order, "to add" (number, count), "to weigh", and "to divide." Dani-El uses these verbs in making his applications: since "mene" is reminiscent of addition, God used the term to indicate that God had totaled Bel-shur-usur's kingdom. That is, it was finished. The term "tekel" indicated that he had been "weighed." A fair balance scale normally had standard weights that were used to find out the weight of an unknown object. In the analogy, Bel-shur-usur did not weigh enough. That is, his debt was greater than he could pay. Therefore, as "peres" indicates, his kingdom would be divided up. In this case, the Medes and Persians (who were operating together) would take his kingdom from him. Some interpreters, perhaps rightly, understand the reference to "parsu" as a double reference to "Parsa" (Persia). This was indeed a grisly prediction.
Then Bel-shur-usur gave word, and they clothed Dani-El with purple, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation about him that he would be the third ruler in the kingdom. Bel-shur-usur, the king of the Chaldeans, was slain that night. And Darya-shah the Mede, who was about sixty-two years old, received the kingdom.
Although the prediction was horrible, the king kept his word and rewarded Dani-El. Outside history records that Bel-shur-usur had redirected the Eufrates River. Following the old river bed, and guided by certain traitors, the Persian forces wrested the kingdom from Bel-shur-usur as he partied -- just as Dani-El records.
The death of Bel-shur-usur and arrest of Nabu-Na'id brought an end to the Babylonian/Assyrian Empire and marked the beginning of the Persian Period in Mesopotamian history. The ultimate ruler of Persia at that time was Cyrus (or Koorush) the Great. Cyrus' exploits were tremendous, and his fame among the Jewish people grew to popularity, for in 538 BCE he declared that any Jews who had been displaced during the Babylonian Exile could return to their homeland. Cyrus ruled at first together with his uncle, Cyaxares II, who was Median and did establish various provincial leaders. Since "Darya-shah" (Darya-shah) is merely a title indicating a form of leader, Cyaxares II is often identified with the Biblical Darya-shah. On the other hand, Cyrus appointed a certain Gubaru (or Ugbaru), who was Median and had been governor of Gutium, to oversee Babylonian affairs after Cyrus took Babylon. He is mentioned also as having the authority necessary to appoint leaders. One of these men is the Biblical Darya-shah, whose kingdom is the third one mentioned in chapter two. It is quite probable that Cyrus himself is NOT mentioned negatively in the book due to his general favor among the Jews. Thus, Cyrus' uncle (or regional "king") and his son are mentioned (or alluded to), but Cyrus himself is never maligned.
It pleased Darya-shah to set over the kingdom a hundred and twenty satraps, who should be throughout the kingdom. And he set over these three presidents -- of whom Dani-El was one -- to whom these satraps should give an account, and so that the king should suffer no loss. Now this Dani-El was distinguished above the presidents and the satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king thought to set him over the whole realm.
The "kingdom" here refers to Babylonia. Dani-El was chosen to occupy a position in which only two men were his equals, and the account says that Darya-shah was considering making him the second highest authority in Babylonia. This was a proper position for Dani-El, considering that Bel-shur-usur had granted him a similar role. The author credits Dani-El's wisdom to giftedness from God.
Then the presidents and the satraps sought to find a reason to complain against Dani-El about the kingdom, but they could not find any reason or fault because he was trustworthy. And there was no error or fault found in him. Then these men said, "We aren't going to find any reason to complain against this Dani-El, unless we find it against him in connection with his god's "Torah.'"
This is the first time that the Torah is mentioned in the book, and here it is deemed the only possible reason for accusing Dani-El of wrongdoing. That is, they were going to concoct a scheme so that Dani-El would have to follow the Torah rather than some edict of the ruler. The relationship between the Jewish leaders and Jesus was quite similar.
Then these presidents and satraps came as a unit to the king, and said this to him: "King Darya-shah, live for ever! All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects, and the satraps, the counselors, and the governors have consulted together to establish a royal statement, and to make a firm decree, that whoever asks a prayer of any god or man for thirty days, except of you, oh king, he will be cast into the lions' den. Now, oh king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, so that it will be unable to be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be altered." Therefore king Darya-shah signed the writing and the decree.
The Medes and Persians had declared that a royal statement (or "order") could not be changed at the whim of a ruler. Thus, for a thirty day period, the order would be unchangeable. In this case, the law was to forbid any sort of prayer or petition -- except from the king -- the pretext being that the king was to be recognized as supreme. The penalty for a violation, which was presumed to be on account of treason, was death by the horrible means of being torn apart by lions.
Even after Dani-El knew that the writing was signed, he entered his house, and, with his windows open in his upper chamber, he faced toward Jerusalem three times a day, knelt on his knees, and prayed and gave thanks in the presence of his God, as he had done previously.
As an extension of an interpretation of 1 Kings 8:48, during the Exile, many Jewish people had developed the habit of facing Jerusalem when they prayed. Originally, this appears to have been symbolic of their desire to return to their homeland freely. The practice continued after the Exile, in reverence of the holy land, and was later adopted by the professed prophet of Islam, Muhammad, who soon changed the practice to the now-familar prayer facing Mecca. Dani-El knew that the decree forbidding prayer had been signed, but he continued to pray to God. His windows were open because he believed that he should not conceal his faith.
Now those men came as a unit and found Dani-El praying and
giving thanks in the presence of his god. Then they neared the
king and spoke in his presence about the royal decree: "Haven't
you signed a decree, that anyone who asks anything of any god or
man within thirty days, except of you, oh king, will be thrown
into the lions' den?"
The king answered, saying, "That's true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be altered." Then they answered in the king's presence, saying, "Oh king, that Dani-El, who is of the children of the captivity of Judah, does not respect you, nor the decree that you signed, but he makes his prayers three times a day."
Knowing that the Torah taught prayer, and that the Jewish people normally prayed regularly, the accusers saw Dani-El praying and reported it to the king, who admitted that the penalty must be as he had previously specified.
Then when he heard these words, the king was deeply bothered
by them, and he set his heart on Dani-El to save him. He
worked until sunset to rescue him. Then these men came as a
unit to the king, and said to the king, "Oh king, you know that
the law of the Medes and Persians states that no decree nor
statute which the king establishes may be changed."
Then the king gave word, and they brought Dani-El to the lions' den and threw him in. The king spoke to Dani-El, saying, "May your God whom you serve continually save you." And a stone was brought, and set over the mouth of the den. And the king sealed it with his own signet ring, and with the signet of his nobles, so that his intention regarding Dani-El would not be changed.
The king tried to think of a legal maneuver that would allow him to revoke or escape his own dictate. Thus, the author presents Darya-shah (who was under Cyrus) as having been quite sympathetic -- much in the manner of how Pontius Pilatus is presented. But Dani-El was thrown into the lions' den, and since Darya-shah regretted it so much, he sealed the den with wax, marking it with his ring and those of his nobles. That way he would be unable to return later and change his mind.
Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting. No concubines were brought into his presence, and his sleep escaped him. Then at sunrise, the king got up and went to the lions' den quickly. And when he neared the den, he called out to Dani-El with a sad voice. The king spoke to Dani-El, saying, "Dani-El, servant of the living god, has your god whom you serve continually been able to save you from the lions?"
The king's sleep was restless, and he could neither eat nor have sex, for his remorse was so great. In the morning, he went to the den -- possibly a royal menagerie -- and called out to Dani-El. The tone of his voice indicates that he doubted that Dani-El would still be alive (let alone unharmed).
Then Dani-El spoke to the king. "Oh king, live for ever! My God has sent his messenger and has shut the lions' mouths, so that they have not harmed me, since innocence was found in me in his presence -- and also I have done no wrong in your presence, oh king."
Dani-El's voice emerged from the den. God had spared him, and Dani-El pointed out that his own innocence was known both to God and to Darya-shah.
The king was very happy about this, and he gave word for them to take Dani-El up out of the den. So Dani-El was taken up out of the den, and no kind of injury was found on him, because he trusted in his god. And the king gave word, and they brought those men who had accused Dani-El, and they threw them into the lions' den -- them, their children, and their wives -- and the lions dominated them and crushed all their bones in pieces even before they reached the bottom of the den.
Realizing that Dani-El's accusers had deliberately deceived him into having Dani-El wrongly executed, Darya-shah ordered that the same penalty be carried out against them. In their case, the lions ripped their flesh as they struggled. The author provides a typical exaggeration as to the speed with which the lions killed Dani-El's accusers.
Then king Darya-shah wrote to all peoples, nations, and races of every language, who dwell in all the land:
"Peace be multiplied to you.
I am making a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men should tremble and fear in the presence of Dani-El's god, for he is the living God, who endures forever, and it is his kingdom that will not be destroyed, and his rule will exist even to the end. He saves and delivers, and he works signs and wonders in the sky and on land: the one who has saved Dani-El from the power of the lions."
And so Dani-El prospered in the reign of Darya-shah, in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
The decree of Darya-shah serves to point out to the readers that the "fourth kingdom" of chapter two is a restored Israel. Cyrus' reign allowed the Jewish people to return and to rebuild their temple, and the civil war under his son's reign was predicted by Dani-El the prophet. The temple in Jerusalem was rededicated in 515 BCE, even though its construction did not compare favorably with the temple of Solomon. Zerubabel, who had been told by the prophet Haggai to lead his people, had become partly responsible for unifying Israel and completing the temple. In fact, Zerubabel's leadership was seen as a prefigure of the coming of the Messiah, and Second Zechariah (Zech 9-12, probably IV and III centuries BCE) looks ahead to the Messianic Age, building on the oracles of Zechariah about Zerubabel. From the oracles of Malachi, it appears that unfaithfulness toward God among even the priests caused God to end the indeterminate period of blessing promised by Dani-El.
In the first year of Bel-shur-usur king of Babylon, Dani-El had a dream and visions in his head as he was lying on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and explained its content.
Thus begins a vision which does not fall into line chronologically with the original section of Dani-El. The timing of the vision itself is unimportant. It is possible that the visions recorded in chapters seven through twelve were obtained by Dani-El and retained as oral tradition until near the time of their fulfillment. More likely, the visions were received by later prophets and collected in Dani-El's name because of the similarity of the events foretold in them and the events in Dani-El chapter two.
Dani-El said: "I saw in my vision at night, and look, the four winds of the sky were stirring up the great sea. Four large wild animals, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.
This section distinguishes itself from what was written earlier because the author writes in the first person. The author sees a vision not of four parts of the same idol (as in chapter two) but of four different animals. The imagery is of the primordial ocean, from which various monsters were supposed to arise. Some authors suppose that the sea represents chaos, but the Mediterranean Sea may be intended. The four winds coming together on the sea indicate a storm.
The first one was like a lion, but it had the wings of an eagle. As I watched, its wings were torn off and it was lifted off of the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being. And a human mind was given to it.
Of the four animals, the lion is the one recognized as the most noble. The eagle was considered the noblest of birds, and so this creature was the noblest of the four. But its wings were removed, and it became human.
And in my presence there was a second animal that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three tusks in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, "Get up and eat much flesh!"
The bloodthirsty bear was the second animal. The author does not say who authorized it to eat flesh, but he presumes that the reader will realize that the authority to grant such a prerogative comes from God.
I watched after that, and look, there was another one that looked like a leopard. And it had four wings like a bird's on its back. This animal had four heads, and it was given rulership.
The third animal was given still more authority -- not only to kill but also to rule. The leopard was swift, and the bird's wings made it still faster.
After that, I watched in my night vision, and look, there was a fourth animal - terrifying and frightening and very strong. It had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed its victims and trampled whatever was left with its feet.
The fourth and final animal is described as the most terrifying of all. Interestingly, it was not "given" authority, but the author appears to insinuate that it imposed its rule on others. It is not described as being "like" any earthly animal.
[It was different from all the previous animals, and it had ten horns. I was thinking about the horns, and look, there was another horn, a little one, sprouted among them. Three of the former horns were uprooted by it. And look, this horn had eyes like a human being's eyes and a mouth that spoke great things.]
Without the mention of the horns, the vision appears to belong to an earlier period, c. 325 BCE. A later author/prophet seems to have added the reference to the horns so that they refer to events that occurred in the II century BCE. Since Dani-El was still being added to in the IV century BCE, and since its translations into Greek in the III century contained differences, these indicators of an unfinished book were likely what caused Dani-El not to be placed by the early sages among the Prophets; the book is found in the Writings, the third section of the Hebrew Bible.
The author of this section draws attention to the horns because they are important to his interpretation. As he wonders what the horns mean, he notices that the horn represents a boastful person.
As I looked, thrones were set into place, and an Old One took his seat. His clothing was white like snow, and the hair of his head was like pure wool. His throne was flaming fire, and its wheels were burning with fire. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from his presence. Thousands of thousands served him; ten thousands of ten thousands stood before him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
The Old One is reminiscent of certain non-Jewish tales. The metaphor of fire represents in this case impending judgment, and all of the imagery portrays imminent judgment. The fact that the figure is an old man conveys the wisdom of his coming judgment.
[Then I watched because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking.] As I looked, the wild animal was slaughtered, and its body was destroyed and handed over to the burning fire. The other animals had their rule taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.
The fourth animal, described only in terms of a monster, is put to death because of its unnatural monstrosity. The other animals were not executed in the judgment. The fire here is the fire of destruction, which often accompanies judgment.
I watched in my vision at night, and look, there was someone who seemed mortal, coming with the clouds of the sky. He approached the Old One and was led into his presence. He was given rule, and glory, and the kingdom. All peoples, nations and races of every language would bow to him. His rule is an everlasting rule that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.
Coming with the judgment ("with the clouds of the sky") was a human being -- someone who seemed mortal rather than divine. As the Old One stripped the fourth animal of its power, he gave that power to the mortal, because the mortal was found worthy in judgment.
I, Dani-El, worried spiritually, and the visions in my head bothered me. I approached one of those who was standing there and asked him for the truth about all of this. So he told me and made the meaning of these things known to me.
The author asked someone in his vision to explain the four animals, and he received an explanation (which follows). He did not ask the Old One for the interpretation but merely someone who was standing there -- an onlooker in the judgment proceedings.
"The four great animals are four kings who will rise from the land. But the Highest One's holy ones will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever - yes for ever and ever."
The animals represent four kings: Nabu-kudurri-usur; Bel-shur-usur; Cyrus; and Alexander the Great. A later interpretation follows in chapter eight. The "mortal" is a representation of the Jewish people. After Alexander's downfall, the Jewish people are promised that some time later will come a period of Jewish rule. The representation of the first king as a lion with eagles' wings is not uncommon, since Babylonians used such an animal from time to time as a symbol signifying themselves.
[Then I wanted to know the truth about the fourth animal, which was different from all the others and was very terrifying, with its iron teeth and bronze claws -- the animal that devoured and crushed its victims and trampled whatever was left under its feet.
The first three animals, and even their identity, are unimportant. The judgment comes upon the fourth animal -- the fourth king. The description of the animal is repeated for emphasis; it is in this manner that the fourth animal is different from the earlier three. This probably belongs in the later section.
...and about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that sprouted, before which three of them fell -- the horn that had eyes and eyes and a mouth that spoke great things and which seemed greater than the others. As I watched, this horn warred against the holy ones and was victorious over them, until the Old One came and judgment was given for the Highest One's holy ones, and the time came when they received the kingdom.
The later addition mixes the metaphor with the reality of the identification (of the "mortal" and Israel). In the vision, there had been no war between the mortal and the fourth monster, just as Alexander was not at war with the people of Israel. But this human horn is described as dominating Israel at the time of the judgment.
He said this: "As for the fourth animal, there will be a fourth kingdom on the land that will be different from all the kingdoms and will devour the whole land, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones. He will put down three kings. He will speak against the Highest One and will oppress the Highest One's holy ones and will think to change the times and the law. The holy ones will be handed over to him for a year, two years, and a half a year.]
In the earlier section of chapter seven, the animals were kings, not kingdoms. Instead of judging Alexander, God (the Old One) will now judge the remains of his kingdom in the II century BCE. The earlier kingdoms now represent those of Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece -- in relation to Israel. This identification is made on the basis of the author's understanding of chapter two and the earlier section of chapter seven.
Alexander's empire was European in origin, and Alexander had imposed Hellenization on the people of his empire, establishing Greek as the official language and imposing certain customs on his areas of conquest. Alexander had often represented himself as Herakles, and after his death he was deified.
But the later author is not as concerned with Alexander, who had died in 323 BCE, as he is concerned with the Seleucid kings, who emerged after Alexander to govern the region which contained Israel, just as the Ptolemies ruled Egypt. These consisted of: Seleucus I (312-280 BCE); Antiochus I (280-261), called "Savior"; Antiochus II (261-246 BCE), called "God"; Seleucus II (246-226 BCE); Seleucus III (226-223 BCE); Antiochus III (223-187), called "the Great"; Seleucus IV (187-175 BCE), called Philopator; Antiochus IV (175-164 BCE), called Epiphanes; Antiochus V (164-162 BCE), called Eupator; Demetrius I (162-150 BCE), called "Savior". The Jewish people achieved some level of freedom under Demetrius, making peace with Syria in 158 BCE. They allied with his successor, Alexander Balas (the usurper), and with Demetrius I and Demetrius II after Balas was defeated. In 141 BCE, the Jews obtained self-rule, but with strife, until 63 BCE when the Roman Period began.
The ten horns represent the Seleucids, and the "little horn" that rose from among the others represents Antiochus IV, who called himself "the Illustrious One" (Epiphanes). Antiochus bribed and murdered his way to the reins of rulership, plundered and desecrated the temple, and sold the high priesthood. The time of three and one half years represents half of the Jewish number of perfection. That number also corresponds to the period of persecution under Antiochus. 1 Macc 1:41-43 report that he ordered the Jewish people to give up their customs, something that many of them did.
"But the court will sit, and his rule will be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. Then the kingdom, rule, and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the holy ones, the Highest One's people. Their kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom and all rulers will bow down and listen to them."]
The author predicts that after the downfall of Antiochus IV, the Jewish people will increase their self-rule until the other nations recognize it and listen to them.
This is the end of the matter. I, Dani-El, was very worried by my thoughts, and my color became pale, but I kept the matter in my mind."
The presumed author, Dani-El "kept the matter in his mind." This is the author's device for revealing that the oracle had been written down several centuries after the life of the historic Dani-El. Dani-El himself had not revealed these things, but they had been given to a later prophet who wrote in the style of Dani-El.
This ends the Aramaic portion of Dani-El. The oracles that follow are intended to be read in the order in which they are included, with each one explaining the previous ones in more detail. These later oracles were compiled shortly after the inclusion of chapter seven in its final form. Because they are based in part on chapter seven, chapters 7-12 are normally considered as a unit.
In the third year of the reign of king Bel-shur-usur a vision appeared to me, even to me, Dani-El, after the one that had appeared to me earlier.
The author of this section relates the current vision to the vision in chapter seven, for certain of the imagery is the same.
And I saw things in the vision. When I saw, I was in the fortress of Susa, which is in the province of Elam. And when I saw in the vision, I was by the river Ulai. Then I lifted up my eyes, and saw, and, look, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last.
Susa was the winter capital of the kings of Persia, located east of Babylonia. Darya-shah I and Ardeshia Deraz Dast (Artaxerxes) I built palaces there. Susa was the location of Alexander's victory celebration and wedding in 324 BCE. The Ulai River borders the northern side of Susa. By the time of writing, the area had been fully Hellenized.
The ram is a noble two-horned animal, and here it is represented fully naturally.
I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; and no animals could stand before him, nor was there anyone that could rescue people from his hand. Instead, he did whatever he wanted, and he made himself great.
The empire represented by the ram spread out in all directions, overcoming the other nations that had existed previously. The identity of the two horns will be spelled out shortly.
And as I was thinking, look, a male goat came from the west over the face of the whole land, and it was not touching the ground. Now the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. And he approached the ram that had the two horns, which I had seen standing by the river, and he trampled him in a powerful rage.
Even as the former empire (the ram) was spreading, along came a more powerful expanding empire (the goat). The goat is an animal that was largely undesirable and not as noble as the ram. It came from the west, Makedonia, and overwhelmed the previous empire. The spread of this new empire is described as rage.
And I saw him approach the ram, and he was aggravated against him. He struck the ram and broke his two horns, and the ram was powerless to stand in his presence. Now he tossed him down to the ground and trampled over him. And there was no one who could rescue the ram from his hand.
The empire represented by the ram was utterly destroyed by the onslaught of the newer empire. Such destruction indicates that the new empire imposed its own culture on the peoples and nations that it conquered.
And the male goat greatly strengthened. And when he was strong enough, the great horn was broken. Instead of it four conspicuous ones sprouted, pointing toward the four winds of the sky. And out of one of them came out a little horn which grew toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the place of glory -- it became very great.
The new empire, represented by the goat, had originally been unified under one horn. That great horn broke, and now four others appeared in its place. From one of these horns came a smaller horn, representing a portion of the goat's empire. This smaller empire occupied the southeastern portion of the goat's empire, including the "place of glory" -- the land of Israel.
And it grew great, even to heaven's host, so that it cast down some of the host of the stars, and it trampled over them. Yes, it continued to make itself great, even to the prince of the host. And it took away from him the continual burnt-offering, and the location of his holy place was overthrown. And the host was handed over to it, together with the continual burnt-offering on account of the detestable thing. And it cast truth down to the ground, and it acted and prospered.
Even against "the stars," also called "heaven's host," the new empire proved itself unstoppable. It "trampled" God's people. That is, it imposed its culture on them, too, to the point of angering God (the "prince") by profaning the temple, so that the offerings could no longer be made there on behalf of the people. Something detestable would cause the temple's defilement.
Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to whatever one was speaking, "How long will the vision of the continual burnt-offering, and the desolating detestable thing last, causing both the holy place and the host to be trampled underfoot?" And he said to me, "After two thousand and three hundred evening and morning [sacrificial] times, then the holy place will be cleansed."
The temple would remain defiled until 2,300 daily (evening and morning) sacrifices are lost. That is, the time that would pass until the rededication of the temple would be 1,150 days, or about three and one half years -- the same time frame as described in chapter seven.
And after I, even I Dani-El, saw the vision, it happened that I tried to understand it. And look, someone stood before me who appeared like a human being. And I heard someone's voice between the banks of the Ulai that called out, saying, "Gabri-El, make this man understand the vision."
God himself directs his messenger, Gabri-El, to explain the vision. A "human-like" figure is a "geber," and so there is a play on words in the name, Gabri-El, which means (roughly) "God's man." This is the first occurrence of Gabri-El in the Bible.
So he neared where I stood, and when he approached, I was frightened and fell on my face. But he told me, "Understand, mortal, that the vision belongs to the time of completion."
The messenger explained that the events that he saw would not begin to take place during the life of Dani-El but would happen later on, at the appropriate time of completion (or "time of the end"). The expression "end time" has caused great confusion, but it was only intended to signify a later time when the events would unfold.
Now as he was speaking with me, I fell into a deep sleep face down on the ground. But he touched me and set me on my feet. And he said, "Look, I will make known to you what will be in the later time of rage. For it belongs to the appointed time of completion.
Again the messenger stresses to the prophet that the conflict of empires and the involvement of the people of Israel are not for the time of Dani-El but for some later period. This literary device points the period of the time of writing in the II century BCE.
"The ram that you saw, that had the two horns -- the horns are the kings of Media and Persia. And the shaggy male goat is the king of Greece: and the large horn between his eyes is the first king.
The Medo-Persian empire is the empire represented by the ram. Even as the empire was spreading, it was weakening. for approximately one hundred years, the empire had been seized by rebellions and ruled poorly. After two men in line for the throne were poisoned, Codomannus (or Darya-Shah III) ascended to power in 336 BCE. Codomannus had planned to retake Egypt, but all of his achievements were to amount to nothing, for Alexander defeated him for the first time in 333 BCE. Within three years, Alexander had taken the empire. It is Greece that is represented by the goat, with Alexander himself being the "first king" of the great empire.
"And as for the horn that was broken, in the place of which four stood up, four kingdoms will rise from his nation, but not with his power.
After Alexander's death in 323 BCE, his kingdom was divided among his successors ("diadochi"), who fought for control. The power was ultimately split into four segments: Greece/Makedonia (ruled by Kassander); Asia Minor (ruled by Antigonos); Egypt (ruled by Ptolemy); and the Middle East (ruled by Seleucus). As the account indicates, none of their kingdoms ever rose to the stature of Alexander's.
And in the later time of their kingdom, when the wanderers have fully come, a king with a bold attitude who understands dark sayings will arise. And his power will be mighty, and he will cause frightening destruction and will act in prosperity. And he will destroy mighty ones and the holy people.
The author's concern is not the dissolution of the Greek Empire but the second century BCE Seleucid kingdom. Here as in chapter seven, the "little horn" represents Antiochus IV, a bold king who was skilled in intrigue. Instead of "frightening," perhaps "confusing" is closer to the word: the destruction caused by Antiochus created great wonderment. He was known to be both ruleless and political. Antiochus' destruction of "mighty ones" is not surprising, but together with that he destroyed pious Jews living in Israel -- the "holy people." Antiochus rose to prominence in 175 BCE.
"Through his cunning he will make deceit prosper under his hand, and he will make himself great in his own mind. Now while they think they are secure, he will destroy many, even also standing up against the prince of princes. But he will be broken by nohuman hand.
Although the kingdom of Antiochus was not the empire of Alexander, Antiochus is recorded as having bragged of his own greatness. In Israel, innocents were slaughtered -- even those who thought they were safe. In desecrating the temple -- slaughtering pigs there and erecting a statue of Zeus -- Antiochus is portrayed as rivaling God. The expression, "detestable desolating thing" is a word play, for the word sounds like the word "Shamem," and "Ba'al Shamem" -- Lord of the Heavens -- was a title of Zeus Olympias. 2 Macc 6 mentions this explicitly, also indicating that Antiochus demanded that the Jewish people stop making sacrifices, stop adhering to the Torah, and leave behind the ways of their ancestors.
"And the vision of the evenings and mornings that was told is true. Now you seal up the vision, for it belongs to many days later."
In completing the explanation, Gabri-El explains again that the vision pertains to the time of Antiochus IV and not the time of Dani-El. Therefore, the vision was "sealed up" until the II century BCE. (Contrast this with the language in Revelation, where the vision was NOT to be sealed up because it DID relate to John's own generation.)
And I, Dani-El, passed out, and was sick for some days. Then I got up and took care of the king's affairs, but I was appalled at the vision, which I did not understood.
In the narrative, Dani-El "did not understand" the vision because it was not for his own people but for the people of the II century BCE.
In the first year of Darya-shah the son of Achash-verosh, of the stock of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans, in the first year of his reign I, Dani-El, understood from the scrolls the number of the years about which the declaration of Yahweh (for the accomplishing of the desolations of Jerusalem) had come to Jeremiah the prophet; that is, seventy years.
The title, Achash-verosh ("Ahashuerus") indicates a ruler with the personality of a lion, a "lion king." In this case, this refers to Astyages, the Median. His two children were Cyaxares (Darya-shah) and Mandane. Mandane married Kambiz I and became the mother of Cyrus the Great. Thus, this is the same Darya-shah the Mede who was mentioned in the Aramaic section of Dani-El. The oracle is set during 539/8 BCE, after Babylonia fell to the Medes and Persians.
Jer 25:1 places the time of Jeremiah's oracle about the seventy years in 605 BCE. The number 70 is a round number representing the length of the Babylonian Exile (which took place from 587 BCE until c. 536 BCE, although the temple was not rededicated until 515 BCE). The number itself probably indicates the death of the complete generation of the people who had gone into the Exile. The author of Dani-El chapter nine sees an extended period. Writing as though the Exile were about to end (538, remember?), the author received a prophetic interpretation that views the current state of affairs as about to end.
And I turned toward the Lord God, to seek the answer through prayer and questions, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. And I prayed to Yahweh my God and made an acknowledgement, saying, "Oh, Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and mercy with those who love him and keep his precepts, we have sinned, and have twisted the Torah, and have done evil, and have rebelled, turning aside from your precepts and tenets. Nor did we listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
Just as Jeremiah had recognized that the sins of the people of Israel had caused God to judge the nation and to send them into exile, the author of this chapter sees the nation's sins as being responsible for the current state of affairs (under Antiochus IV). He begs forgiveness both for his own sins and for the sins of the people.
"O Lord, justification is yours, but ours is shame of face
even to this day. To the men of Judah, and to the residents of
Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who
are far away, through all the countries where you have driven
them, because of the wandering that they have
wandered away from you.
"O Lord, ours is shame of face -- to our kings, to our princes, and to our ancestors -- because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness. For we have rebelled against him; we haven't listened to the voice of Yahweh our God, who said to walk in his instructions that he placed in our presence through his servants the prophets.
"Yes, all Israel has wandered from your instruction, turning aside, so as not to listen to your voice. Therefore the curse and the oath that is written in the Torah of God's servant Moses have been poured out on us. For we have sinned against him, and he has established those words of his that he spoke (against us and against our judges who judged us) by bringing on us a great bad thing. For under the whole heaven nothing has been done like what has been done to Jerusalem.
The author looks at himself and on his people with disgrace, because the people themselves are to blame for what Antiochus has done. He reads the Torah (Dt 28:15ff.) and sees the penalties for not "listening to Yahweh's voice" and not "keeping his precepts," and he applies the passage to the Jewish people of second century BCE Israel. Judgment has come to them, just as judgment was promised by God through Moses. Those people who gave themselves over to the idols worshipped by Antiochus brought on themselves the curse mentioned by Moses (Dt 27:15) and affirmed by all the people. And so, it should not surprise the reader that the promise of Dt 28:36 (to be dominated by nations with other gods) would happen. It may be that the author of chapter nine views the people as having been idolatrous even prior to the coming of Antiochus.
"As it was written in Moses' Torah, all this badness has happened to us: yet have we not begged for the favor of Yahweh our God, so that we should turn from our iniquities, and have discernment in your truth. Therefore Yahweh has watched over the bad thing, and has brought it to us; for Yahweh our God is just in all those deeds that he does, but we have not listened to his voice.
The passage brings to mind the typical prayers for forgiveness, for the people of Israel were often promised that if they changed their minds and returned to God, then he would show favor to them. The author states bluntly that since the people have not asked forgiveness, God has allowed the desecration of the temple to happen. In his eyes the people are without excuse.
"And now, oh Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and who made yourself famous, even to this day, we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
This final acknowledgement of the sins of the people points out that the author remembers the mighty deeds of God. Often the people are faulted for not remembering, but the author has returned to remember, and to listen to God.
"O Lord, according to all your ethics, I pray, let your anger and your rage be turned away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain, because for our sins and for the lawless deeds of our ancestors, Jerusalem and your people have become a reproach to everyone around us.
Having acknowledged his own faults and those of Israel, the author begs for forgiveness and recognizes that everyone who sees Jerusalem and the state of Israel realizes that God chastens his people when they desert him.
"Now therefore, our God, listen to the prayer of your servant, and to what he asks, and make your face shine upon your desolated holy place, for the Lord's sake. Oh my God, give your ear and hear. Open your eyes, and look at our desolations and at the city that is called by your name. For we aren't presenting what we ask in your presence for our own justification, but for your great mercies' sake.
"O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and do; do not delay, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name."
The temple has been "desolated" by Antiochus, and the author begs that God reverse the temple's fortunes, allowing it to be restored. This chapter was written after the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes and prior to its restoration. The author asks for its restoration not so he or the people would feel forgiven but because he realizes that they deserve what they have received by God through Antiochus and because he knows how merciful God is. Therefore, he asks not for justice but mercy.
And while I was speaking, and praying, and acknowledging my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting what I asked in the presence of Yahweh my God for the holy mountain of my God, yes, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabri-El, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, and who was flying swiftly, touched me at about the time of the evening offering.
If the oracle had stopped there, it would have remained very typical of the prayers of the prophets on behalf of the people of Israel, but as the account continues, Gabri-El the messenger appears to him.
Since he finds himself in the situation described earlier (in which Gabri-El appeared), the author of chapter nine presents his plight as a natural extension of what had been written previously. Gabri-El appears to him as he prays for Jerusalem and wonders about the seventy weeks that Jeremiah had written about. The timing of the intervention (at the time of offering) indicates that God had accepted the author's plea. Gabri-El flies "swiftly," indicating the speed at which God answered his prayer.
And he instructed me and talked with me, saying, "Oh Dani-El, I have come out now to give you wisdom and understanding. As you began to ask, the statement went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore, consider the statement and understand the vision.
The author's favor with God was so great, that God issued the answer to Dani-El's question as soon as he began to ask it.
"Seventy groups of seven are decreed for your people and for your holy city, to finish the wandering, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting justification, and to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place. Therefore, know and discern that there will be seven sevens from the issue of the precept to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem to the anointed one, the prince. Then for sixty-two sevens it will be built again, with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.
Jeremiah had been told to look for an approximate time period of seventy years. After that time, the temple was rebuilt. The author's current state of affairs will soon end, for seventy times seven (490) years -- sometimes called "seventy weeks of years" -- would pass until the end of the second century BCE plight. These 490 years do correspond roughly to the time frame from the time of Jeremiah until the time of the deposing of Antiochus IV, although again, the expression of time is supposed to be long and approximate and not precise.
As mentioned before, the author sees his own people as being ultimately responsible not only for the Babylonian Exile but also for the current conditions. At the chosen time, God's people will stop wandering and will return to him. At that time, they will rebuild and rededicate the temple and atone for their sins. From the author's point of view, these things are about to happen.
The term "anointed one" here refers to a priest, and the High Priest coming out of the exile was Yeshua (Hag 2:2). Some prefer Zerubbabel as the anointed one, but the term later refers to the high priest and so Yeshua is probably intended here, even though Haggai does refer to Zerubbabel as a chosen servant (Hag 2:23). From the rebuilding of the temple (515 BCE) until the later period during which the author lives, there would be "62 weeks" of years -- that is, a comparatively longer period.
"Then after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one will be cut off and will have nothing. Then the people of the ruler who comes will destroy the city and the sanctuary; its end will be with a flood, and there will be war to the end; desolations are decreed.
This anointed one was Oniah III, whose tenure as high priest lasted from 198 BCE to 175 BCE. He is mentioned in 2 Macc 3:1ff., where he is called by the Greek form of his name (Onias). When Antiochus IV took over, he sold the priesthood to Onias' brother, Yeshua (whose Greek name was Jason). An account of Onias' removal is given in 2 Macc 4:7f. and again in 4 Macc 4:15f.. The Maccabean literature also indicates Antiochus' successful removal (via Jason) of certain Jewish customs and of the agreements between earlier Seleucids and the Jewish people. 2 Macc 4:10 indicates that Jason immediately "shifted his countrymen over to the Greek way of life."
The Hellenization of the Palestinian Jews is referred to in the verse that follows as a "firm covenant with many." Antiochus so opposed the Jewish way that he sacrified pigs -- an unclean animal -- in the temple, an act which defiled it. He also plundered its holy vessels, an act similar to what Nabu-kudurri-usur had done in Dani-El's day (2 Macc 5:15-16). Antiochus reportedly ordered a death decree on any Jewish person who practiced Judaism (4 Macc 4:24-6), and the conflict that engulfed the region may have begun as early as 169 BCE (2 Macc 5:1, 5, 11f.). And so the region was left desolate.
"And he will make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the middle of the week he will cause the sacrifices and the offerings to cease; and on the wing of detestable things someone will come who causes desolation, until the determined end, when it will be poured out upon the desolator."
The Hellenization of Israel was to last throughout the "week" (a period of approximately seven years. The cessation of the sacrifices is something that I have already mentioned. In Jewish literature, Antiochus is regarded as a brutally disgusting man. In 172 BCE, Jason was removed from the priesthood as a certain member of the tribe of Ben-Yamin named Menelaus outbid Jason for the honor of being high priest. It was under Menelaus that the temple was looted and desecrated. Since Menelaus was not from the tribe of Levi (as specified in the Torah), for the first time since Aaron the priestly lineage had been broken. Menelaeus promised money to Antiochus IV and never paid it (2 Macc 4:27), increasing existing tensions. He too robbed the temple (2 Macc 4:32), an act which resulted in the murder of Oniah III (2 Macc 4:34). According to Josephus, Oniah was also Menelaus' original name.
The desecration of the temple happened during the middle of the "week." The sacrifice of the detestable animals and pillaging of the temple only served to signal the final desolation of Jerusalem, but in the end Antiochus himself would be judged.
In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a message was revealed about a great conflict to Dani-El, whose name was called Bel-te-shatzar. And the thing was true, and he understood the message, and had understanding of the vision.
In stating that Dani-El understood the vision and its significance, the author places the beginning of its unfolding during the time of Dani-El rather than during his own time. The message concerned "a great conflict," which the author will shortly reveal.
In those days I, Dani-El, was mourning for three whole weeks. I ate no rich food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth. Nor did I anoint myself at all, until three whole weeks had been completed.
The vision is presented as direct testimony, and so, like the earlier portions of Part Two, it is in the first person. The vision reportedly came during a time of particularly strong devotion toward God, including prayer and fasting. The reader is to glean from this that the contents of the vision are to be taken even more seriously than what was written earlier. The interpretation of the vision will result in the essential details of the relationship between Israel and other nations during the Hellenistic Period, and up through the time of the present author. Indeed, the second century BCE author may have been praying and fasting at the time when he received his visions. The author did not even bathe.
And during the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was by the side of the great river, which is Chiddekel, I lifted up my eyes and saw. And look, there was a man clothed in linen, whose waist was wrapped with pure gold of Uphaz. His body too was like the chrysoberyl, and his face was like the brilliance of lightning, and his eyes were like flaming torches, and his arms and his feet were similar to burnished bronze, and the sound of his words were like the voice of a crowd.
The author sat by the banks of the river called "chiddekel," which means "rapid." Most people identify the "rapid" river with the Tigris, although the term occurs only here and at Gen 2:14. The timing was immediately after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and so the author may have been mourning the fact that his people were oppressed and had been compelled to become like the Greeks -- much in the same way that the Israelites in Egypt had been oppressed and had chosen to become Egyptian in some of their ways.
The figure is probably to be identified with Gabri-El, who had visited one of the authors of Dani-El previously. Gabri-El was depicted revealer of secrets, and a mystery was about to unfold. Every part of the figure is portrayed as shining or glowing in some way, including his clothing, for the message to be revealed to the author came from the presence of God and his messengers. His words were difficult to understand, like the many voices that one hears in a crowd, but the author would be made to understand them.
And I, Dani-El, saw the vision by myself, for the men who were with me did not see the vision. Instead, a great trembling fell upon them, and they fled to hide themselves.
There were other people with the author at the time of the vision, but the appearance was so brilliant and so frightening that they became incapable of understanding what was going on. A similar thing happened to Saul on the road to Damaskus.
So I was left alone and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me. My facial appearance turned into decay, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the sound of his words, and when I heard the sound of his words, then I fell on my face into a deep sleep, with my face toward the ground.
After the others fled, the author was still barely capable of comprehending what was going on. His face paled, he became weak, and he fell to the ground in a trance. The great effect of Gabri-El's appearance illustrates the importance of the vision's content.
And look, a hand touched me, lifting me to my knees and to the palms of my hands. And someone said to me, "Dani-El, you greatly loved person, listen to the words that I am speaking, and stand up. for I have now been sent to you." And when he had spoken this statement to me, I stood trembling.
Gabri-El lifts the author, raising him to the role of an equal (for it would have been appropriate for him to have remained on his face or knees in the presence of a superior). The messenger touches the author, and so this was a real appearance and not merely a dream. The author stands.
Then he said to me, "Do not be afraid, Dani-El, for from the first day that you set your mind to understanding, and humbled yourself in the presence of your god, your words have been heard: and I have come on account of your words.
The author had spent three weeks praying and fasting, but God had dispatched Gabri-El immediately, just as he had previously done. Whatever the author feared, God had sent his messenger to show what was going to happen.
"But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me for twenty-one days. But look, Micha-El, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I left him there with the kings of Persia.
The term "prince" here indicates a divine messenger. Here, each nation is portrayed as having a divine representative who stands up for that nation. The author intends to convey the gravity of the situation: if the nations are at stake, then their messengers are at war. And so the present conflict is deeper than the things that the Jewish people observe around them.
Micha-El is the patron messenger of the Jewish people, and so he is depicted as fighting for Israel so that Gabri-El might deliver his message of comfort.
"Now I have come to let you know what will happen to your people in later days, for the vision is for many days from now."
While the vision will commence with the kings of Persia, its focus will be on the time of writing -- near the time of the Maccabean Revolt.
Now when he said these statements to me, I set my face toward the ground and became mute. And look, the one in the likeness of the mortals touched my lips. Then I opened my mouth and spoke, saying to the one who stood before me, "My lord, my sorrows have turned on me because of the vision, and I retain no strength. How can my lord's servant talk with my lord? For immediately no strength remained in me, nor was there breath left in me."
The importance of the vision immediately struck the author, and again he was unable to speak. He recognized Gabri-El as his superior ("lord") and disputed that he should even talk with someone who was engaged in the conflict of nations. Gabri-El's might in contending for all Israel has caused the author to shift his wording. Instead of calling him "a man," the author now says only that he looks or seems mortal. In the narrative, he has now fully realized that Gabri-El is more than human. "Seeming mortal" alone does not indicate this, but the shift in wording does show the author's perception of the messengers.
Then the one who looked mortal touched me again, and he strengthened me. And he said, "Greatly loved person, do not be afraid. Peace to you. Be strong, yes, be strong." And while he was speaking to me, I was strengthened and said, "Let my lord speak; for you have strengthened me."
Just as Gabri-El's touch had brought the author back to his senses before, so also it provides comfort a second time. Although the message that he brings is ominous, Gabri-El forsees a future that is not to be feared. At this point, the author is prepared to hear the message.
Then he said, "Do you know why I have come to you? And now I will return to fight with the prince of Persia: and when I go back, look, the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is written in the scroll of truth, and there is no one who stands with me against these, except for Micha-El your prince.
Gabri-El again describes the struggle between Israel and the other nations. In Dani-El's day, the struggle was with Persia, but Persia would someday be conquered by Greece, and so Israel would have Greece to contend with. The things in the scroll of truth are things that would surely happen. Some of these things had already happened at the time of writing, but the important predictions were soon to come. Gabri-El is portrayed as having an air of urgency about him -- only he and Micha-El represent Israel in influencing the other nations. That is, mere human beings (such as the readers) could not direct the fate of the Jewish people in this instance, because the things that were going to happen were in the hands of God and his messengers.
"Now as for me, in the first year of Darya-shah the Mede, I stood up to confirm and strengthen him, and now will I show you the truth. Look, three kings will arise in Persia, and a fourth will be far richer than all of them. Now when he has become strong through his riches, he will stir everyone up against the realm of Greece.
Darya-shah had been part of the rule of Cyrus the Great, who had supported a degree of freedom for the Jewish people and who was highly regarded. Since Persia would not always be that way, the author paints a picture of coming conflict.
More than "three kings" followed Cyrus, but the author is only concerned with marking important ones. These are Kambiz, Darya-shah I ("the Great"), and Xerxes I, who went to war with the Greeks. The fourth king is possibly Ardeshia Deraz Dast (Artaxerxes I) or Darya-shah III, who was the last independent ruler of Persia.
And a mighty king will arise who will rule with great sovereignty and do whatever he wants. And after he rises, his kingdom will be broken, and will be divided toward the four winds of the sky, but not to his descendants, nor according to the sovereignty with which he ruled. For his kingdom will be snatched up for people other than these.
The "mighty king" is Alexandros (Alexander) the Great. Even though he had conquered nearly all of the known world, he was unable to dictate who his successor would be. Therefore, Greece was not divided among his descendants or others of his choosing but among four would-be successors.
Then the king of the south will be strong, but one of his princes will be stronger. And he will be strong enough to be over him and will be sovereign. His sovereignty will be a great one.
Ptolemy I, one of the "kings of the south" (Ptolemies), was strong, but Seleucus I resisted him and carved out a place of his own (described below as being in "the north") after the defeat of Antonigus. He expanded the "Seleucid Empire" to include the northern region of the area once controlled by Alexander.
And at the end of years they will join together, and the daughter of the king of the south will come to the king of the north to make an agreement. But she will not retain the strength of her arm, nor will he stand, nor his arm. Instead, she will be given up, and those who brought her, and the one who fathered her, and the one who strengthened her in those times.
In later years, c. 250 BCE, Ptolemy II had been fighting a costly and lengthy war against the Seleucids. Ptolemy sent his daughter Bernike to Antiochus II in order to cement an agreement. However, his wife (and the mother of Seleucus II), whose name was Laodike, successfully plotted against the alliance, which would have meant that Laodike and her sons would have been disinherited. After Ptolemy's death, Antiochus II accepted Laodike and her sons back, but she had him assassinated, along with Bernike and her attendants. Therefore, Seleucus II took over his throne.
But out of one branch from her roots someone will arise in his place. He will come out against the army and will enter the fortress of the king of the north, and he will deal will them and will be victorious.
Bernike's brother, Ptolemy III (Euergetes), succeeded Ptolemy II in Egypt. After his sister was murdered, he ordered an attack on Syria (where the Ptolemies were headquartered). The city of Seleucia was captured, and soon Syria retreated under his power.
And he will carry captive into Egypt even their gods, with their molten images, and their choice vessels of silver and of gold. And he will stay away from the king of the north for several years.
Trouble in Egypt prevented Ptolemy from keeping his armies in Syria, and so he withdrew, taking the spoils of war with him. Prior to the capture of Syria by Seleucus, Egypt had stored various riches in the province; when he returned to Egypt, Ptolemy III took those items with him.
And he will enter the realm of the king of the south, but he will return to his own land.
In 242 BCE, Seleucus II invaded Egypt, but his forces were rebuffed.
And his sons will war, and will gather a crowd of great forces. They will come on, and overflow, and pass through. And they will return and war as far as his fortress.
Seleucus II was succeeded by Seleucus III (Ceraunus). He conducted a war with Egypt, but he was assassinated in 223 BCE. His brother, Seleucus II's other son, was Antiochus III, nicknamed "Antiochus the Great." Antiochus continued the war, and by 218 BCE he had amassed a great army. His forces swept through Palestine into Gaza.
Then the king of the south will be moved with anger, and will come out to fight with him (with the king of the north). And he will raise a great crowd, but the crowd will be given into his hand. And the crowd will be lifted up, and his heart will be lifted. And he will cast down tens of thousands, but he will not be victorious. For the king of the north will return, and will bring on a crowd greater than the earlier one. And after some years, he will return with a great army having abundant supplies.
Ptolemy IV (Philopator) was now king in Egypt. He sent armies into Palestine and defeated Antiochus III at Raphia. However, Antiochus was able to counter by defeating Ptolemy at Banias. This appears to have been due to a serious military blunder on Ptolemy's part, for after his victory, he returned to Egypt rather than demolishing his foe. Antiochus III had the time to rebuild his forces and claim the eventual victory.
And in those times many will opppose the king of the south. Even the children of violence among your people will lift themselves up to establish the vision. But they will fall.
Ptolemy V (Epiphanes) was only five years old when his predecessor died (203 BCE). Antiochus III took advantage of this and pressed the attack. Furthermore, a general sense of unrest and an alliance between Antiochus and Philip V of Makedonia caused the Ptolemaic Empire to suffer temporarily. Some Jewish people allied themselves with Antiochus, hoping to rid themselves of Ptolemaic rule. However, Egypt retained control of both their empire and of Palestine, and so "the vision" of Israel's independence did not come true.
So the king of the north will come and set up siege engines, and he will take a well-fortified city. And the forces of the south will not stand, nor will his chosen troops. Nor will there be any strength to resist.
Later, the Ptolemaic general Skopas stood against the forces of Antiochus, but Antiochus pursued him to Sidon. Laying siege to the city, he was able to take it in 198 BCE. Some of Ptolemy's generals tried to support and rescue Skopas, but even their hand-picked troops could not overcome Antiochus' army, and so Sidon fell to Antiochus.
But the one who comes against him will do whatever he wants, and no one will resist him. And he will stand in the Land of Glory, and destruction will be in his hand. And he will fix his mind to come with the strength of his whole kingdom. He will bring terms of peace, and he will carry them out. So he will give him the daughter of women to destroy the kingdom, but it will not stand or be his.
After his victory at Sidon, Antiochus took Palestine (the "Land of Glory"). Antiochus campaigned to take over Egypt, but the rising Roman Republic vowed to help Ptolemy if he continued. Antiochus changed his strategy, offering his daughter Kleopatra to Ptolemy V, who was now 14 years of age. This would seem to bring peace, but Antiochus planned to use the marriage in order to take over Egypt through the influence of the alliance. But Kleopatra became loyal to her husband and opposed her father's wishes, and so the kingdom was not his.
After this will he set his mind on the coastlands, and he will take many, but a commander will cause the insolence offered by him to cease. Yes indeed, he will turn his insolence back on him.
Antiochus returned from Egypt, deciding to invade the coastal areas of Asia Minor. This campaign was successful until he met up with the Roman commander, Scipio, who prevented Antiochus from entering Greece. Thus, Antiochus' daring presumption (to take Greece) was turned back on him.
Then he will turn himself to the fortresses of his own land, but he will stumble and fall, and he will not be found.
Antiochus retreated to his own fortresses and looted a temple in Elumais, where an angry mob ran him down and murdered him.
Then someone will stand up in his place who will cause an exactor of tribute to pass through the glorious kingdom. But within few days he will be broken, neither in anger nor in battle.
Antiochus III was succeeded by Seleucus IV (Philopator), who was determined to regain financial stability, since his father had spent so much on the war effort. He sent out tribute takers, one of whom (Heliodorus) went to Palestine to take money from the temple treasury. When Heliodorus returned to Seleucus, he reportedly poisoned him (at least that is the rumor). Therefore, Seleucus died, but not in anger or in battle. His son, Demetrius, was heir to the throne, but Heliodorus and others sought to sieze command of the Seleucid Kingdom.
And in his place a contemptible person will arise, to whom they had not given the honor of the kingdom. Still, he will come in a time of security and will obtain the kingdom by treachery.
"Coming in a time of security" signifies "coming without warning," and that is what Seleucus' eventual successor did. Antiochus IV was not the rightful heir to the kingdom, but Antiochus was able to have him sent to Rome, so that he could not take over. After murdering Heliodorus and Selucus' infant son, Antiochus IV "Epiphanes" was able to take control of the empire, even though the royal majesty ("honor of the kingdom") had not been conferred on him.
And the armies will be swept away from his presence and broken. Yes, and so will the prince of the covenant. And after an alliance is made with him he will work deceitfully. For he will come up, and will become strong with a small people.
Antiochus' southern campaign ran through Palestine, where Oniah III was removed from the office of high priest. He established an alliance whereby Jason was set up as high priest, and his troops were permitted to plunder Palestine without taking it by force.
In a time of security he will come even upon the richest parts of the province, and he will do what his predecessors, and their predecessors, did not do, scattering plunder, and spoils, and goods among them. Indeed, he will devise plots against the strongholds, but only for a time.
The plunder of Palestine was sudden, and none of his predecessors nor earlier nations had taken spoils from the whole land of Palestine.
And he will stir up his power and his courage against the king of the south with a great army. And the king of the south will wage war with a vast and mighty army. But he will not stand, for they will devise plots against him. Indeed, those who eat his rich food will destroy him, and his army will overflow, and many will fall down slaughtered.
Antiochus invaded Egypt, which was now under the control of Ptolemy VI (Philometor), who was captured by treachery in 169 BCE. The throne was given to his brother, Ptolemy VIII ("the Pot Bellied").
And as for both these kings, their minds will incline to do mischief, and they will speak lies at the same table. But it will not prosper, for the end will still happen at the chosen time.
At Memphis, Antiochus and Ptolemy VI frequently held conferences, even pretending to befriend one another. Ptolemy and his brother were conspiring to overthrow Antiochus, though. However, their plans did not succeed, and the author's reason is was that it was not time for Antiochus' reign to end.
Then will he return into his land with great substance; and his mind will be set against the holy covenant. And he will do what he pleases and will return to his own land.
It was on his way home from Egypt that Antiochus Epiphanes sacked and looted the temple treasury (and Jerusalem).
At the chosen time he will return and enter the south, but it will not be in the later time as it had been in the earlier time, for ships from Kittim will come against him. Therefore he will be disappointed, and will return, and will be indignant with the holy covenant. And he will take action, and he will return, and pay respect to those who forsake the holy covenant.
During his second campaign against Egypt, Antiochus was forced to withdraw because Roman ships from Kupros (Kittim) intervened, stopping him just seven miles from Alexandria. Antiochus was forced to yield to the Roman Senate and return to Syria. Angry that his plans failed, Antiochus turned his anger on Palestine. In 167 BCE he again attacked Jerusalem.
And forces of his will profane the temple and the fortress, and they will remove the continual burnt offering, and they will set up the detestable thing that causes desolation. And those who violate the covenant he will seduce with flattery, but the people who know their God will withstand and take action. And those who are wise among the people will instruct many, yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by capture and by plunder, for some days. Now when they fall, they will be helped with some small assistance, but many will join themselves to them through flatteries. And some of those who are wise will fall, to refine and cleanse them, and to make them white, until the time of the end. Because it is still not the chosen time.
As he defiled the temple by slaughtering pigs in it, Antiochus IV set up a statue of Zeus Olympias in the temple -- the detestable thing that caused desolation -- for the temple was dedicated to a foreign idol. God's true people, says the author, refused to allow their faith to be taken away even though its chief symbols were removed. But still some time would have to pass before Antiochus met his end -- the book of Dani-El reports that this desecration took place in the middle of the last "week of years." The "help" is probably the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt.
And the king will do what he wants, and he will elevate himself, and make himself great above every god, and will speak astonishing things against the most divine God. And he will prosper until the anger has been accomplished, for that which was decided will happen.
Antiochus is portrayed, here as in secular history, as being a self-serving man who had no true allegiance.
He will not even show respect to the gods of his ancestors, nor the desire of women, nor will he respect any god; for he will magnify himself above all. But in his place he will honor the god of fortresses and he will honor with gold, and silver, and precious stones, and pleasant things, a god whom his ancestors did not know. And he will deal with the strongest fortresses with the aid of a foreign god. He will promote with glory whoever acknowledges him. And he will cause them to rule over many, and will divide the land for a price.
In setting up shrines to Zeus, Antiochus even rejected the deities of his ancestors. Adonis, "the desire of women," was also a favorite there, but Antiochus prefered Zeus Olympius, a "god whom his ancestors did not know." In the name of this foreign god, Antiochus conquered, claiming divine honors for himself. Anyone who acknowledged him was granted favors, and even the priesthood was sold to the highest bidder.
And at the time of the end, the king of the south will thrust at him, and the king of the north will rush at him like a whirlwind: with chariots, with cavalry, and with many ships. And he will enter countries, and will overflow and pass through. He will also enter the Land of Glory, and many will be overthrown, but these nations will be delivered from his hand: Edom, and Moab, and the majority of Ammon's descendants. He will stretch out his hand also over the countries, and the land of Egypt will not escape. But he will have authority over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all of Egypt's precious things. And the Libyans and the Ethiopians will follow in his steps.
At this point, the author's commentary on past history ends and his prediction of the future end of Antiochus begins. No historical records exist of a final Egyptian campaign, but the Maccabean books clearly elevate the role of the Revolt in Palestine. We do know that Ptolemy VIII took control of Egypt in 164 BCE, since Ptolemy VI had escaped to Rome. However, there were pleas for Ptolemy VI to return, and eventually he came back and split up the empire with his brother -- ruling Egypt while Ptolemy VIII held the western regions.
The death of Antiochus IV came a few months before the return of Ptolemy VI, during a time when Egypt was somewhat weakened. Ptolemy VI had been forced to flee to Rome, where for several months he pretended to be a common citizen. Although Antiochus never took control of the treasury, when taken in general, this was the event that the author was predicting.
But news from the east and from the north will trouble him, and he will go out with great fury to destroy and utterly to sweep away many. And he will plant the tents of his headquarters between the sea and the glorious holy mountain. Yet he will meet his end, and no one will assist him.
Antiochus did hear bad news from all fronts. The Maccabean Revolt was distressing (1 Macc 6:8), and before that, he had realized a need to strengthen his political position by imposing his armies on the northern areas of Persia. In the north, he raided temples in order to gain enough funds to support his efforts.
"The sea" does not refer to the Mediterranean but what we call the Persian Gulf. The Maccabees were in the process of restoring the temple, and -- encamped somewhere in Persia -- Antiochus became violently ill, an illness that 1 Maccabees attributes to the news of Jewish successes. 2 Maccabees places his location as Ecbatana, on his way to Babylon. 2 Maccabees also portrays him as vowing to avenge the Jewish victories, whereas 1 Maccabees only goes so far as to say that he realized that his illness was because of what he had done in Jerusalem. As Antiochus fled from his defeated attempts at plundering Persia, he reportedly decided to advance on Jerusalem once more. However, his intestinal illness was so strong that he was unable to maintain control of his chariot (2 Macc 9:7), and he was thrown. True to the words of the author, no one was able to assist him, and the dying Antiochus IV turned over control of the Seleucid Kingdom to his son, Antiochus V.
And at that time Micha-El will stand up -- the great prince who stands for the children of your people, and there will be a time of affliction, like which there never has been since the nation existed, even to that very time. And at that time your people will be saved -- everyone who is found written in the scroll.
The author predicts the restoration of the temple and attributes the judgment of Antiochus Epiphanes to Micha-El, God's messenger-warrior who fights on behalf of Israel. The time of affliction on Israel will be the worst in its history, but those who did not forsake the covenant (as Antiochus had directed) would be spared.
And many of those who are asleep in the dirt of the ground will wake up: some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
The Jewish people who died in the Maccabean Revolt will be symbolically judged. In actuality, each person's judgment was at the time of his death, but here they are portrayed as happening at the same time. Everyone who left the covenant would be disgraced, but those who kept God's principles would have eternal life.
And those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to what is right will shine like the stars to the most remote age.
This is a promise for the faithful Jews of the Maccabean period. The wise ones are the ones who keep the covenant, and after Antiochus' death, everyone will realize their wisdom. And those pious Jews who were able to persuade Hellenized Jews to return to what they knew to be right would also be regarded as having been wise.
But Dani-El, you seal up the sayings, and seal the scroll, until the time of completion. Many will wander about, and knowledge will increase."
This is a tip from the author that he is writing in the guise of Dani-El. The written message has little to do with the time of Dani-El but is intended for the time of Antiochus IV -- the author's lifetime. From Dani-El's perspective, the prophecies are for a much later time, and so the sayings are "sealed up." This can be contrasted with the sayings in Revelation, which were not to be sealed up because the portrayed time of writing and the time of fulfillment were the same.
Then I, Dani-El, saw, and look, two others were standing there: one on this bank of the river, and the other on the opposite riverbank. And one said to the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, "How long will it be to the end of these wonders?"
Two "others" (messengers) ask on the author's behalf -- how long until these things are completed?
And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, when he raised his right and left hands to the sky and swore by the one who lives forever that it will last a year, two years, and half a year. And when they have finished breaking the power of the holy people into pieces, all these things will be finished.
The author gives the same prediction as the previous prediction: it will be roughly three and one half years from the desecration of the temple until its rededication and end of the revolt.
And I heard but did not understand. So I said, "My lord, what will be the result of these things?" And he said, "Go your way, Dani-El, for the sayings have been shut up and sealed until their time of completion. Many will cleanse themselves and make themselves white, and they will be refined. But the lawless will behave lawlessly, and none of the lawless will understand. Only those who are wise will understand.
In the narrative, the original Dani-El was not meant to understand what was said because those things were for the people of the second century BCE. However, the author recognizes around him both wise and lawless people -- those who still keep the faith and those who allow themselves to be Hellenized. Without a temple, there is no formal cleansing, but the "wise" are cleansed anyway -- their trust in God cleanses them.
And from the time that the continual burnt-offering is removed and the detestable thing that causes desolation is set up, there will be one thousand, two hundred, and ninety days.
This author sees the previous author's statement about 1,150 days as applying only to part of the time of fulfillment, adding about one half year (180 + 5 days). From that half year, he subtracts a time of 45 days to obtain 1,290 days. This is 30 days more than half of one "360 day" year (for that was the typical reckoning). Thus, he regards the time between the abolition of offerings to the setting up of the statue of Zeus as being about one month and the time from Zeus until the end of the revolt as being three and one half years. The rededication of the temple occurred prior to the end of the revolt, accounting for the additional time here.
Blessed is the one who waits, and who completes the one thousand, three hundred, and thirty-five days. But, you go your way till the completion happens. For you will rest and will stand in your alloted place at the end of the days.
The exact reason for the additional 45 days here is not known and probably relates to something that the author was personally aware of but which is now lost. He allows for one month between the two events caused by Antiochus, then allows for the 1,150 days (approximately 3.5 years) for the temple to be rededicated. But the author further appears to fill up the rest of the 3.5 years with the end of the revolt and establishment of some degree of stability. Historically, this took longer than "3.5 years," but of course the times are representative and not precise estimates. The 45 day difference between this verse and the previous was probably known to "the wise" of the second century BCE but is not known to us today. The longer period may include the restoration of the priesthood, for a new priest was not chosen until somewhat later. These events do not correspond to "1,335 days," but the reader must remember that the period is approximate. The true restoration of the priesthood did not happen until 143 BCE, but again the author may only have intended the time to represent those few years until the establishment of a new priest.
The second century BCE author also portrays Dani-El as receiving a reward when the prophecy comes true -- an affirmation on his own part that Antiochus would soon be deposed.
Writing in someone else's name was not a forbidden practice in early times. The "Enoch books" were written alleging to be from Henoch, "the seventh from Adam," but the readers were expected to know that the author was using Henoch as a representative symbol. Similarly, the "Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs" are written as though they relate to the Jewish tribal leaders, but they were actually intended to convey a message to the people of, roughly, the I or II century BCE. It is further known that the additions to Dani-El in Greek were not original to the document. Again, the authors of those three sections were not intending to defraud or trick anyone, but in each case the readers were aware that the authors were presenting information to their own people in the style of someone else. The later prophets, predicting the end of Antiochus' reign, recognized the similarity between their situation and the earlier exile, and so they wrote as Dani-El. In no way does this affect the fact that Antiochus was indeed defeated and that the Jewish people did gain a degree of freedom that the authors had promised them. These later writers were as much "interpreters of visions" as the original Dani-El had been, but they wrote during a later period of similar distress.
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