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The Lead up to Chanukah in the Book of Daniel

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Lawrence M. Wills

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The Lead up to Chanukah in the Book of Daniel

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The Lead up to Chanukah in the Book of Daniel

An ancient pious scribe describes in apocalyptic visions, the history of the conflict between Judea and Antiochus Epiphanes, but fails to dream that the Maccabees, a political group of guerrilla fighters, will win. 

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The Lead up to Chanukah in the Book of Daniel

The Roman ambassador Gaius Popillius Laenas delivered to Antiochus IV the Senate’s demand that the king withdraw from Egypt. When the king requested time for consultation, Popillius “drew a circle around the king”. Louis Jean Francois Lagrenée 1779

Daniel as a Source on the Maccabean Revolt

Chanukah is not a biblical holiday. Most Jews learn about it directly or indirectly from First and Second Maccabees[1] and from isolated reflections in rabbinic texts.[2] Nevertheless, unbeknownst to many readers,[3] the Hebrew Bible does record the backstory leading up to Chanukah, chapters 7-12 of the book of Daniel.[4] This text, as we shall see, was composed before the rededication of the temple altar in 164 BCE, the event that Chanukah celebrates and does not reflect the rededication itself. [5]

The Conflict between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies

The author of the apocalyptic visions of Daniel 7–12 —whose name is unknown to us—was very knowledgeable about political affairs. In 333 BCE, Alexander the Great had conquered Persia and other lands to his east, including Judah, then a province of Persia. When he died, his great empire was divided into several Greek-ruled kingdoms, the most important of which were the Seleucids, centered in Syria and Babylon, and the Ptolemies, centered in Egypt.

By the second century BCE, both successor states were suffering setbacks and difficulties, partly from being locked in a struggle for control of buffer states like Judea, and partly from the rising pressure of the new empire in the Mediterranean area, Rome.

Judea was right on the boundary between these two empires and was forced to carefully observe the activity of the larger empires. Jewish texts from this period reflect an intense interest in political issues, both courts and armies. The back-and-forth movements of the kings and the armies and their attempts at diplomacy and marriages of alliance become increasingly detailed. Peace might be obtained with the right alliance, but at what cost to Jewish identity?

Symbolic Visions and Apocalypses

Like many apocalyptic[6] texts, Daniel 7–12 is set in the ancient past, and the visions are supposedly predictions of future events. The author dramatizes these events in an extensive symbolic vision. Symbolic visions are found within other biblical texts as well,[7] but lengthy, detailed symbolic visions reflected in historical apocalypses such as Daniel 7–12 play out a much more extended drama of major historical events in symbolic terms—animals, stars, cosmic figures, and so on.

Apocalyptic texts are moral dramas, with good guys and bad guys, and very little that is morally gray. Since Daniel himself does not always understand the visions, the archangel Michael appears in the role of interpreter.

Describing the Present and Past as Future

The actual authors—whose names are unknown to us—when describing events that have already occurred as if they are yet to come, make use of coded language to recount the history symbolically. The relation of these descriptions to actual events—as we know them from other sources—is often quite precise. Although some of the references in Daniel may seem too vague, when they are laid together there is only one set of events that will fit them: the on-again/off-again wars between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies.

To be sure, the visions collected in Daniel 7–12 differ significantly from each other. Daniel 7, 8, and 9 are more general in their references to world history, and more powerful symbolically. But it is the more methodical, detailed, and worldly vision of Daniel 10–12, one long vision, that interests us here. In its “predictions” can be discerned the events of the Maccabean revolt leading up to Chanukah.

We know the vision was written before the war concluded and the Temple and its altar rededicated, because, at a certain point, the correspondence between the vision and the known facts of history breaks down and the text no longer gets the historical events right.

The Background Leading up to the Accession of Antiochus Epiphanes

The account in chapter 11, vv. 2-21 contains a number of details describing the period between the fall of the Persian Empire to Alexander and the accession of Antiochus IV Epiphanes to the throne of the Seleucid Empire. The beginning, which describes the rise of the Greek Empires of Egypt and Syria upon the death Alexander, is quite clear and can give the reader a sense of how this works (for a detailed description of this section, see Appendix):

  • Coming of Alexander
יא:ג וְעָמַ֖ד מֶ֣לֶךְ גִּבּ֑וֹר וּמָשַׁל֙ מִמְשָׁ֣ל רַ֔ב וְעָשָׂ֖ה כִּרְצוֹנֽוֹ:
11:3Then a warrior king will appear who will have an extensive dominion and do as he pleases.
  • The Diadochi[8]: splitting of the Greek empire upon Alexander’s death
יא:ד וּכְעָמְדוֹ֙ תִּשָּׁבֵ֣ר מַלְכוּת֔וֹ וְתֵחָ֕ץ לְאַרְבַּ֖ע רוּח֣וֹת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וְלֹ֣א לְאַחֲרִית֗וֹ וְלֹ֤א כְמָשְׁלוֹ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר מָשָׁ֔ל כִּ֤י תִנָּתֵשׁ֙ מַלְכוּת֔וֹ וְלַאֲחֵרִ֖ים מִלְּבַד אֵֽלֶּה:
11:4 But after his appearance, his kingdom will be broken up and scattered to the four winds of heaven, but not for any of his posterity, nor with dominion like that which he had; for his kingdom will be uprooted and belong to others beside these.
  • The Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt is founded by Ptolemy I Soter
יא:ה וְיֶחֱזַ֥ק מֶֽלֶךְ הַנֶּ֖גֶב…
11:5 The king of the south will grow powerful…
  • Seleucus I Nicator, Former Ally of Ptolemy, establishes the largest Greek empire, in Syria
יא:ה…וּמִן שָׂרָ֑יו וְיֶחֱזַ֤ק עָלָיו֙ וּמָשָׁ֔ל מִמְשָׁ֥ל רַ֖ב מֶמְשַׁלְתּֽוֹ:
11:5 …However, one of his officers will overpower him and rule, having an extensive dominion.

Verses 6-21 describe the overall history of the region through the rise of Antiochus IV, with special emphasis on Judea. Marriage alliances between North and South will be attempted (11:6, 17), and wars between the two kingdoms will be fought. Eventually, the king of the north (=Antiochus III the Great) “will install himself within the beautiful land”—Judea—but “his place will be taken by a contemptible man”—Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king whose actions will bring events to a head, and whom the Jews ultimately defeat.

Tensions between Jewish Factions

Not everything in this section refers to the Seleucids and Ptolemies; the ancient Daniel supposedly “foresaw” that some of the Jews would act badly and support the Seleucid regime and its policies. We know that there were many divisions among Jews, and their internal struggles were as great as those between Seleucids and Ptolemies:

יא:יד וּבָעִתִּ֣ים הָהֵ֔ם רַבִּ֥ים יַֽעַמְד֖וּ עַל מֶ֣לֶךְ הַנֶּ֑גֶב וּבְנֵ֣י׀ פָּרִיצֵ֣י עַמְּךָ֗ יִֽנַּשְּׂא֛וּ לְהַעֲמִ֥יד חָז֖וֹן וְנִכְשָֽׁלוּ:
11:14 In those times, many will resist the king of the south, and the lawless sons of your people (=Jews allied with Seleucids) will assert themselves to confirm the vision, but they will fail.

Antiochus Epiphanes’ Persecution Begins: The Events of 168-167 BCE

Verses 21-27 tell about Antiochus Epiphanes’ reign, and in v. 28, after he succeeds in defeating Egypt, in need of funds, he will “set his mind against the holy covenant” (vs 28). Antiochus IV placed in authority a Jewish high priest and others who would support him and “abolish the regular offering and set up the appalling abomination,” the shiqquts meshomem (v. 31).This was the image of Olympic Zeus placed in the temple in 167 BCE; the term meshomem is also a pun on the Semitic name of Olympic Zeus, Baal Shamem. (Again, for a detailed treatment of this prophecy, see Appendix.)

Two Factions: The Political Guerrilla Fighters and the Pious Group

Daniel’s apocalypse offers a perspective of the events leading up to Chanukah that differs markedly from that of First and Second Maccabees. While the latter books take the perspective of the Maccabees, a political group of guerrilla fighters, Daniel reflects the point of view of some of the scribes, the “knowledgeable among the people (maskilim).” First Maccabees 2:42–48, 7:12–15 may be referring to Daniel’s group when it speaks of the hasidaioi (Hebrew chasidim, not related to the modern Hasidim), who allowed themselves to be killed rather than violate Shabbat.[9] This latter group understands the conflict not as a political or military struggle but as a contest between the cosmic forces of evil and good.

A fragile alliance formed between these two groups, but much distrust as well:

יא:לג וּמַשְׂכִּ֣ילֵי עָ֔ם יָבִ֖ינוּ לָֽרַבִּ֑ים וְנִכְשְׁל֞וּ בְּחֶ֧רֶב וּבְלֶהָבָ֛ה בִּשְׁבִ֥י וּבְבִזָּ֖ה יָמִֽים: יא:לדוּבְהִכָּ֣שְׁלָ֔ם יֵעָזְר֖וּ עֵ֣זֶר מְעָ֑ט וְנִלְו֧וּ עֲלֵיהֶ֛ם רַבִּ֖ים בַּחֲלַקְלַקּֽוֹת:יא:לה וּמִן הַמַּשְׂכִּילִ֣ים יִכָּֽשְׁל֗וּ לִצְר֥וֹף בָּהֶ֛ם וּלְבָרֵ֥ר וְלַלְבֵּ֖ן עַד עֵ֣ת קֵ֑ץ כִּי ע֖וֹד לַמּוֹעֵֽד:
11:33 The knowledgeable among the people will make the many understand; and for a while they shall fall by sword and flame, suffer captivity and spoliation. 11:34 In defeat, they will receive a little help, and many will join them insincerely. 11:35 Some of the knowledgeable will fall, that they may be refined and purged and whitened until the time of the end, for an interval still remains until the appointed time.

By utilizing the apocalyptic genre, Daniel casts the events of this period as part of a cosmic struggle between good and evil with religious implications that reach far beyond its apparent political and historical significance.

A Story Cut Short

In the middle of the depiction of the Maccabean revolt (v. 40ff), the accuracy of Daniel’s symbolic “predictions” suddenly gives way to inaccuracy. He predicts another war between North and South, and that the king of the North (Antiochus Epiphanes) “will pitch his royal pavilion between the sea and the beautiful holy mountain”—that is, between the Mediterranean and Mount Zion—“and he will meet his doom with no one to help him” (11:45). None of this corresponds to what is known about the conclusion of the Maccabean revolt.

Antiochus did come to an ignoble end in 164 BCE, but far off in a campaign in Persia, not between the Mediterranean and Mount Zion. Thus we can date the vision as a whole precisely to the period when the “predictions” become inaccurate, in 164 BCE.

Chanukah: An Unpredictable Holiday

What actually happened may have been unimaginable to Daniel’s more passive group: the Judeans won. After a protracted campaign, Antiochus’ beleaguered successor, Lysias, entered into negotiations with the Maccabees, which led to the independent state ruled by the Maccabees and their successors. It was at this time that the rededication of the Jerusalem temple, the event that Chanukah celebrates, occurred. The unknown authors of the apocalyptic visions never wrote the end of the story, or if they did, it was not preserved.

Appendix

Decoding Daniel 11

Daniel 11 recounts the background of the conflict. Let us decode the general history leading up to the war with Antiochus IV Epiphanes (English is NJPS):

The end of Persian rule

יא:ב הִנֵּה עוֹד֩ שְׁלֹשָׁ֨ה מְלָכִ֜ים עֹמְדִ֣ים לְפָרַ֗ס וְהָֽרְבִיעִי֙ יַעֲשִׁ֤יר עֹֽשֶׁר גָּדוֹל֙ מִכֹּ֔ל וּכְחֶזְקָת֣וֹ בְעָשְׁר֔וֹ יָעִ֣יר הַכֹּ֔ל אֵ֖ת מַלְכ֥וּת יָוָֽן:
11:2 And now I will tell you the truth: Persia will have three more kings, and the fourth will be wealthier than them all; by the power he obtains through his wealth, he will stir everyone up against the kingdom of Greece.

Coming of Alexander

יא:ג וְעָמַ֖ד מֶ֣לֶךְ גִּבּ֑וֹר וּמָשַׁל֙ מִמְשָׁ֣ל רַ֔ב וְעָשָׂ֖ה כִּרְצוֹנֽוֹ:
11:3 Then a warrior king will appear who will have an extensive dominion and do as he pleases.

The Diadochi[10]: splitting of the Greek empire upon Alexander’s death

יא:ד וּכְעָמְדוֹ֙ תִּשָּׁבֵ֣ר מַלְכוּת֔וֹ וְתֵחָ֕ץ לְאַרְבַּ֖ע רוּח֣וֹת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וְלֹ֣א לְאַחֲרִית֗וֹ וְלֹ֤א כְמָשְׁלוֹ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר מָשָׁ֔ל כִּ֤י תִנָּתֵשׁ֙ מַלְכוּת֔וֹ וְלַאֲחֵרִ֖ים מִלְּבַד אֵֽלֶּה:
11:4 But after his appearance, his kingdom will be broken up and scattered to the four winds of heaven, but not for any of his posterity, nor with dominion like that which he had; for his kingdom will be uprooted and belong to others beside these.

The Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt is founded by Ptolemy I Soter

יא:ה וְיֶחֱזַ֥ק מֶֽלֶךְ הַנֶּ֖גֶב…
11:5 The king of the south will grow powerful…

Seleucus I Nicator, Former Ally of Ptolemy, establishes the largest Greek empire, in Syria

יא:ה … וּמִן שָׂרָ֑יו וְיֶחֱזַ֤ק עָלָיו֙ וּמָשָׁ֔ל מִמְשָׁ֥ל רַ֖ב מֶמְשַׁלְתּֽוֹ:
11:5 … However, one of his officers will overpower him and rule, having an extensive dominion.

Antiochus II Theos, grandson of Seleucus I, marries Berenice, daughter of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (ca. 250 BCE)

יא:ו וּלְקֵ֤ץ שָׁנִים֙ יִתְחַבָּ֔רוּ וּבַ֣ת מֶֽלֶךְ הַנֶּ֗גֶב תָּבוֹא֙ אֶל מֶ֣לֶךְ הַצָּפ֔וֹן לַעֲשׂ֖וֹת מֵישָׁרִ֑ים וְלֹֽא תַעְצֹ֞ר כּ֣וֹחַ הַזְּר֗וֹעַ וְלֹ֤א יַעֲמֹד֙ וּזְרֹע֔וֹ וְתִנָּתֵ֨ן הִ֤יא וּמְבִיאֶ֙יהָ֙ וְהַיֹּ֣לְדָ֔הּ וּמַחֲזִקָ֖הּ בָּעִתִּֽים:
11:6 After some years, an alliance will be made, and the daughter of the king of the south will come to the king of the north to effect the agreement, but she will not maintain her strength, nor will his strength endure. She will be surrendered together with those who escorted her and the one who begot her and helped her during those times.

Berenice’s brother, Ptolemy III Euergetes, takes the thrown of Egypt and attacks the Seleucids

*Note the slip (“Egypt” instead of “the south”)

יא:ז וְעָמַ֛ד מִנֵּ֥צֶר שָׁרָשֶׁ֖יהָ כַּנּ֑וֹ וְיָבֹ֣א אֶל הַחַ֗יִל וְיָבֹא֙ בְּמָעוֹז֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ הַצָּפ֔וֹן וְעָשָׂ֥ה בָהֶ֖ם וְהֶחֱזִֽיק: יא:ח וְגַ֣ם אֱֽלֹהֵיהֶ֡ם עִם נְסִֽכֵיהֶם֩ עִם כְּלֵ֨י חֶמְדָּתָ֜ם כֶּ֧סֶף וְזָהָ֛ב בַּשְּׁבִ֖י יָבִ֣א מִצְרָ֑יִם
11:7 A shoot from her stock will appear in his place, will come against the army and enter the fortress of the king of the north; he will fight and overpower them. 11:8 He will also take their gods with their molten images and their precious vessels of silver and gold back to Egypt as booty….

Seleucus II Callinicus recaptures the territory lost to Ptolemy III Euergetes

יא:ח … וְהוּא֙ שָׁנִ֣ים יַעֲמֹ֔ד מִמֶּ֖לֶךְ הַצָּפֽוֹן: יא:ט וּבָ֗א בְּמַלְכוּת֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ הַנֶּ֔גֶב וְשָׁ֖ב אֶל אַדְמָתֽוֹ:
11:8 … For some years he will leave the king of the north alone, 11:9 who will [later] invade the realm of the king of the south, but will go back to his land.

The sons of Seleucus II Callinicus, namely, Seleucus III Ceraunus and Antiochus III the Great, attack Egypt to retake more lost territory

יא:י (ובנו) [וּבָנָ֣יו] יִתְגָּר֗וּ וְאָסְפוּ֙ הֲמוֹן֙ חֲיָלִ֣ים רַבִּ֔ים וּבָ֥א ב֖וֹא וְשָׁטַ֣ף וְעָבָ֑ר וְיָשֹׁ֥ב (ויתגרו) [וְיִתְגָּרֶ֖ה] עַד (מעזה) [מָעֻזּֽוֹ]:
11:10 His sons will wage war, collecting a multitude of great armies; he will advance and sweep through as a flood, and will again wage war as far as his stronghold.

Ptolemy IV Philopater attacks the Seleucids, resulting in the Battle of Raphia (217 BCE), which Egypt wins.

יא:יא וְיִתְמַרְמַר֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ הַנֶּ֔גֶב וְיָצָ֕א וְנִלְחַ֥ם עִמּ֖וֹ עִם מֶ֣לֶךְ הַצָּפ֑וֹן וְהֶעֱמִיד֙ הָמ֣וֹן רָ֔ב וְנִתַּ֥ן הֶהָמ֖וֹן בְּיָדֽוֹ:
11:11 Then the king of the south, in a rage, will go out to do battle with him, with the king of the north. He will muster a great multitude, but the multitude will be delivered into his [foe’s] power.

Despite his success, problems plague Ptolemy IV Philopater’s rule

יא:יב וְנִשָּׂ֥א הֶהָמ֖וֹן [ירום] וְרָ֣ם לְבָב֑וֹ וְהִפִּ֛יל רִבֹּא֖וֹת וְלֹ֥א יָעֽוֹז:
11:12 But when the multitude is carried off, he will grow arrogant; he will cause myriads to perish, but will not prevail.

The Conquests of Antiochus III the Great

יא:יג וְשָׁב֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ הַצָּפ֔וֹן וְהֶעֱמִ֣יד הָמ֔וֹן רַ֖ב מִן הָרִאשׁ֑וֹן וּלְקֵ֨ץ הָֽעִתִּ֤ים שָׁנִים֙ יָ֣בוֹא ב֔וֹא בְּחַ֥יִל גָּד֖וֹל וּבִרְכ֥וּשׁ רָֽב:
11:13 Then the king of the north will again muster a multitude even greater than the first. After a time, a matter of years, he will advance with a great army and much baggage.

Some Judeans join the Seleucids against Ptolemaic Egypt

יא:יד וּבָעִתִּ֣ים הָהֵ֔ם רַבִּ֥ים יַֽעַמְד֖וּ עַל מֶ֣לֶךְ הַנֶּ֑גֶב וּבְנֵ֣י׀ פָּרִיצֵ֣י עַמְּךָ֗ יִֽנַּשְּׂא֛וּ לְהַעֲמִ֥יד חָז֖וֹן וְנִכְשָֽׁלוּ:
11:14 In those times, many will resist the king of the south, and the lawless sons of your people will assert themselves to confirm the vision, but they will fail.

Antiochus the Great’s siege of Sidon

יא:טו וְיָבֹא֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ הַצָּפ֔וֹן וְיִשְׁפֹּךְ֙ סֽוֹלֲלָ֔ה וְלָכַ֖ד עִ֣יר מִבְצָר֑וֹת וּזְרֹע֤וֹת הַנֶּ֙גֶב֙ לֹ֣א יַעֲמֹ֔דוּ וְעַם֙ מִבְחָרָ֔יו וְאֵ֥ין כֹּ֖חַ לַעֲמֹֽד:
11:15 The king of the north will advance and throw up siege ramps and capture a fortress city, and the forces of the south will not hold out; even the elite of his army will be powerless to resist.

Antiochus the Great takes Judea

יא:טז וְיַ֨עַשׂ הַבָּ֤א אֵלָיו֙ כִּרְצוֹנ֔וֹ וְאֵ֥ין עוֹמֵ֖ד לְפָנָ֑יו וְיַעֲמֹ֥ד בְּאֶֽרֶץ הַצְּבִ֖י וְכָלָ֥ה בְיָדֽוֹ:
11:16 His opponent will do as he pleases, for none will hold out against him; he will install himself in the beautiful land with destruction within his reach.

North and South try an alliance; Antiochus the Great gives his daughter Cleopatra to Ptolemy V Epiphanes as his wife.

יא:יז וְיָשֵׂ֣ם׀ פָּ֠נָיו לָב֞וֹא בְּתֹ֧קֶף כָּל מַלְכוּת֛וֹ וִישָׁרִ֥ים עִמּ֖וֹ וְעָשָׂ֑ה וּבַ֤ת הַנָּשִׁים֙ יִתֶּן ל֣וֹ לְהַשְׁחִיתָ֔הּ וְלֹ֥א תַעֲמֹ֖ד וְלֹא ל֥וֹ תִהְיֶֽה:
11:17 He will set his mind upon invading the strongholds throughout his [foe’s] kingdom, but in order to destroy it he will effect an agreement with him and give him a daughter in marriage; he will not succeed at it and it will not come about.

Antiochus the Great takes some Greek isles but the Romans push him back

יא:יח (וישב) [וְיָשֵׂ֧ם]׀ פָּנָ֛יו לְאִיִּ֖ים וְלָכַ֣ד רַבִּ֑ים וְהִשְׁבִּ֨ית קָצִ֤ין חֶרְפָּתוֹ֙ ל֔וֹ בִּלְתִּ֥י חֶרְפָּת֖וֹ יָשִׁ֥יב לֽוֹ:
11:18 He will turn to the coastlands and capture many; but a consul will put an end to his insults, nay pay him back for his insults.

Antiochus the Great dies at Elymais, while sacking the temple of Bel (187 BCE)

יא:יט וְיָשֵׁ֣ב פָּנָ֔יו לְמָעוּזֵּ֖י אַרְצ֑וֹ וְנִכְשַׁ֥ל וְנָפַ֖ל וְלֹ֥א יִמָּצֵֽא:
11:19 He will head back to the strongholds of his own land, but will stumble, and fall, and vanish.

Seleucus IV Philopater pays tribute to Rome and is killed in a plot by Heliodorus (175 BCE)

יא:כ וְעָמַ֧ד עַל כַּנּ֛וֹ מַעֲבִ֥יר נוֹגֵ֖שׂ הֶ֣דֶר מַלְכ֑וּת וּבְיָמִ֤ים אֲחָדִים֙ יִשָּׁבֵ֔ר וְלֹ֥א בְאַפַּ֖יִם וְלֹ֥א בְמִלְחָמָֽה:
11:20 His place will be taken by one who will dispatch an officer to exact tribute for royal glory, but he will be broken in a few days, not by wrath or by war.

The accession of Antiochus IV Ephiphanes, the villain of the Chanukah story.

יא:כא וְעָמַ֤ד עַל כַּנּוֹ֙ נִבְזֶ֔ה וְלֹא נָתְנ֥וּ עָלָ֖יו ה֣וֹד מַלְכ֑וּת וּבָ֣א בְשַׁלְוָ֔ה וְהֶחֱזִ֥יק מַלְכ֖וּת בַּחֲלַקְלַקּֽוֹת:
11:21 His place will be taken by a contemptible man, on whom royal majesty was not conferred; he will come in unawares and seize the kingdom through trickery.

The killing of the high Priest Onias III (cf 2 Macc 4:34)

יא:כב וּזְרֹע֥וֹת הַשֶּׁ֛טֶף יִשָּׁטְפ֥וּ מִלְּפָנָ֖יו וְיִשָּׁבֵ֑רוּ וְגַ֖ם נְגִ֥יד בְּרִֽית:
11:22 The forces of the flood will be overwhelmed by him and will be broken, and so too the covenant leader.

Antiochus Epiphanes’ alliance with Pergamum

יא:כג וּמִן הִֽתְחַבְּר֥וּת אֵלָ֖יו יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה מִרְמָ֑ה וְעָלָ֥ה וְעָצַ֖ם בִּמְעַט גּֽוֹי:
11:23 And, from the time an alliance is made with him, he will practice deceit; and he will rise to power with a small band.

He took much plunder and lavished gifts on the gods

יא:כד בְּשַׁלְוָ֞ה וּבְמִשְׁמַנֵּ֣י מְדִינָה֘ יָבוֹא֒ וְעָשָׂ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר לֹא עָשׂ֤וּ אֲבֹתָיו֙ וַאֲב֣וֹת אֲבֹתָ֔יו בִּזָּ֧ה וְשָׁלָ֛ל וּרְכ֖וּשׁ לָהֶ֣ם יִבְז֑וֹר וְעַ֧ל מִבְצָרִ֛ים יְחַשֵּׁ֥ב מַחְשְׁבֹתָ֖יו וְעַד עֵֽת:
11:24 He will invade the richest of provinces unawares, and will do what his father and forefathers never did, lavishing on them spoil, booty, and wealth; he will have designs upon strongholds, but only for a time.

War with Egypt under Ptolemy VI Philometor; Antiochus Epiphanes is victorious

יא:כה וְיָעֵר֩ כֹּח֨וֹ וּלְבָב֜וֹ עַל מֶ֣לֶךְ הַנֶּגֶב֘ בְּחַ֣יִל גָּדוֹל֒ וּמֶ֣לֶךְ הַנֶּ֗גֶב יִתְגָּרֶה֙ לַמִּלְחָמָ֔ה בְּחַֽיִל גָּד֥וֹל וְעָצ֖וּם עַד מְאֹ֑ד וְלֹ֣א יַעֲמֹ֔ד כִּֽי יַחְשְׁב֥וּ עָלָ֖יו מַחֲשָׁבֽוֹת: יא:כווְאֹכְלֵ֧י פַת בָּג֛וֹ יִשְׁבְּר֖וּהוּ וְחֵיל֣וֹ יִשְׁט֑וֹף וְנָפְל֖וּ חֲלָלִ֥ים רַבִּֽים:
11:25 He will muster his strength and courage against the king of the south with a great army. The king of the south will wage war with a very great and powerful army but will not stand fast, for they will devise plans against him. 11:26 Those who eat of his food will ruin him. His army will be overwhelmed, and many will fall slain.

Antiochus Epiphanes meets with Ptolemy Philometer and, deceiving him, subjugates Egypt

יא:כז וּשְׁנֵיהֶ֤ם הַמְּלָכִים֙ לְבָבָ֣ם לְמֵרָ֔ע וְעַל שֻׁלְחָ֥ן אֶחָ֖ד כָּזָ֣ב יְדַבֵּ֑רוּ וְלֹ֣א תִצְלָ֔ח כִּי ע֥וֹד קֵ֖ץ לַמּוֹעֵֽד:
11:27 The minds of both kings will be bent on evil; while sitting at the table together, they will lie to each other, but to no avail, for there is yet an appointed term.

Antiochus despoils the Temple on his way back to Coelo-Syria

יא:כח וְיָשֹׁ֤ב אַרְצוֹ֙ בִּרְכ֣וּשׁ גָּד֔וֹל וּלְבָב֖וֹ עַל בְּרִ֣ית קֹ֑דֶשׁ וְעָשָׂ֖ה וְשָׁ֥ב לְאַרְצֽוֹ:
11:28 He will return to his land with great wealth, his mind set against the holy covenant. Having done his pleasure, he will return to his land.

Antiochus Epiphanes’ second invasion of Egpyt

יא:כט לַמּוֹעֵ֥ד יָשׁ֖וּב וּבָ֣א בַנֶּ֑גֶב וְלֹֽא תִהְיֶ֥ה כָרִאשֹׁנָ֖ה וְכָאַחֲרֹנָֽה:
11:29 At the appointed time, he will again invade the south, but the second time will not be like the first.

The Romans demand that Antiochus Epiphanes withdraw from Egypt. He attacks Judea again, and confers with “renegade” Jews

יא:ל וּבָ֨אוּ ב֜וֹ צִיִּ֤ים כִּתִּים֙ וְנִכְאָ֔ה וְשָׁ֛ב וְזָעַ֥ם עַל בְּרִֽית ק֖וֹדֶשׁ וְעָשָׂ֑ה וְשָׁ֣ב וְיָבֵ֔ן עַל עֹזְבֵ֖י בְּרִ֥ית קֹֽדֶשׁ:
11:30 Ships from Kittim will come against him. He will be checked, and will turn back, raging against the holy covenant. Having done his pleasure, he will then attend to those who forsake the holy covenant.

Antiochus Epiphanes profanes the Temple, cancels the daily sacrifice, and sets up an idol

יא:לא וּזְרֹעִ֖ים מִמֶּ֣נּוּ יַעֲמֹ֑דוּ וְחִלְּל֞וּ הַמִּקְדָּ֤שׁ הַמָּעוֹז֙ וְהֵסִ֣ירוּ הַתָּמִ֔יד וְנָתְנ֖וּ הַשִּׁקּ֥וּץ מְשׁוֹמֵֽם:
11:31 Forces will be levied by him; they will desecrate the temple, the fortress; they will abolish the regular offering and set up the appalling abomination.

He makes a pact with the violators of the covenant, while those loyal to God stand up against him

יא:לב וּמַרְשִׁיעֵ֣י בְרִ֔ית יַחֲנִ֖יף בַּחֲלַקּ֑וֹת וְעַ֛ם יֹדְעֵ֥י אֱלֹהָ֖יו יַחֲזִ֥קוּ וְעָשֽׂוּ:
11:32 He will flatter with smooth words those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people devoted to their God will stand firm.

The wise Jews teach their fellows to accept the suffering, and wait for the end of days

יא:לג וּמַשְׂכִּ֣ילֵי עָ֔ם יָבִ֖ינוּ לָֽרַבִּ֑ים וְנִכְשְׁל֞וּ בְּחֶ֧רֶב וּבְלֶהָבָ֛ה בִּשְׁבִ֥י וּבְבִזָּ֖ה יָמִֽים: יא:לדוּבְהִכָּ֣שְׁלָ֔ם יֵעָזְר֖וּ עֵ֣זֶר מְעָ֑ט וְנִלְו֧וּ עֲלֵיהֶ֛ם רַבִּ֖ים בַּחֲלַקְלַקּֽוֹת: יא:לה וּמִן הַמַּשְׂכִּילִ֣ים יִכָּֽשְׁל֗וּ לִצְר֥וֹף בָּהֶ֛ם וּלְבָרֵ֥ר וְלַלְבֵּ֖ן עַד עֵ֣ת קֵ֑ץ כִּי ע֖וֹד לַמּוֹעֵֽד:
11:33 The knowledgeable among the people will make the many understand; and for a while they shall fall by sword and flame, suffer captivity and spoliation. 11:34 In defeat, they will receive a little help, and many will join them insincerely. 11:35 Some of the knowledgeable will fall, that they may be refined and purged and whitened until the time of the end, for an interval still remains until the appointed time.

Antiochus Epiphanes becomes arrogant and rejects his own gods (probably a reference to his marked preference for Zeus over all others)

יא:לו וְעָשָׂ֨ה כִרְצוֹנ֜וֹ הַמֶּ֗לֶךְ וְיִתְרוֹמֵ֤ם וְיִתְגַּדֵּל֙ עַל כָּל אֵ֔ל וְעַל֙ אֵ֣ל אֵלִ֔ים יְדַבֵּ֖ר נִפְלָא֑וֹת וְהִצְלִ֙יחַ֙ עַד כָּ֣לָה זַ֔עַם כִּ֥י נֶחֱרָצָ֖ה נֶעֱשָֽׂתָה: יא:לז וְעַל אֱלֹהֵ֤י אֲבֹתָיו֙ לֹ֣א יָבִ֔ין וְעַל חֶמְדַּ֥ת נָשִׁ֛ים וְעַֽל כָּל אֱל֖וֹהַּ לֹ֣א יָבִ֑ין כִּ֥י עַל כֹּ֖ל יִתְגַּדָּֽל:יא:לח וְלֶאֱלֹ֙הַּ֙ מָֽעֻזִּ֔ים עַל כַּנּ֖וֹ יְכַבֵּ֑ד וְלֶאֱל֜וֹהַּ אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹא יְדָעֻ֣הוּ אֲבֹתָ֗יו יְכַבֵּ֛ד בְּזָהָ֥ב וּבְכֶ֛סֶף וּבְאֶ֥בֶן יְקָרָ֖ה וּבַחֲמֻדֽוֹת:
11:36 The king will do as he pleases; he will exalt and magnify himself above every god, and he will speak awful things against the God of gods. He will prosper until wrath is spent, and what has been decreed is accomplished. 11:37 He will not have regard for the god of his ancestors or for the one dear to women; he will not have regard for any god, but will magnify himself above all. 11:38 He will honor the god of fortresses on his stand; he will honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly things, a god that his ancestors never knew.

Antiochus Epiphanes builds the Acra in Jerusalem and gives the Syrian garrison power over Jerusalem

יא:לט וְעָשָׂ֞ה לְמִבְצְרֵ֤י מָֽעֻזִּים֙ עִם אֱל֣וֹהַּ נֵכָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר (הכיר) [יַכִּ֖יר] יַרְבֶּ֣ה כָב֑וֹד וְהִמְשִׁילָם֙ בָּֽרַבִּ֔ים וַאֲדָמָ֖ה יְחַלֵּ֥ק בִּמְחִֽיר:
11:39 He will deal with fortified strongholds with the help of an alien god. He will heap honor on those who acknowledge him, and will make them master over many; he will distribute land for a price.

At this point (verse 40 onwards), the history ends and the predictions become predictions, and thus, unconnected to historical reality.

Published

December 6, 2015

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Last Updated

September 23, 2019

Footnotes

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Professor Lawrence M. Wills is the Ethelbert Talbot Professor of Biblical Studies at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. He received an M.T.S. and Th.D. from Harvard Divinity School, and is the author of The Jewish Novel in the Ancient World (Cornell University Press, 1995).