I keep thinking the next post will (finally) get us into Daniel 7. But then I think of something else that I should talk about first. Today’s “something else” is a big picture view of chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10–12. I could just have said “chapters 7–12,” but that would deprive you of seeing that the rest of the book may have six chapters, but it’s better grouped into four visions or revelations.
All four visions/revelation concern a particular time in Jewish history, and each further develops the one before it by narrowing its focus. (The visions also transcend this particular time in history and have continuing significance, but it’s bad interpretation to go there before dealing with the historical concerns.)
What is this time in history? It’s a period of time that, sadly, most Protestants know deplorably little about because it falls in the infamous “Intertestamental Period,” sometimes called the “400 Silent Years.” I’m talking about the time between the last quill stroke in Malachi and the first in Matthew—roughly 400 years of history we ignore because they’re not, technically, in our Bible. But they were 400 years of insane Jewish history, and I can think of at least two good reasons we should know this history better (okay, at all): (1) it shaped the world Jesus was born into and (2) it makes the second half of Daniel less confusing.
So, hang on to your hat: here’s your crash course in the part of that history most relevant to Daniel 7–12. It concerns the rule of a beastly man named Antiochus Epiphanes* IV, a second-century BC king over an area that included today’s Syria.
Antiochus ruled from 175–164 BC, and he was incredibly hostile toward the Jews, their temple, and their way of life. At least three factors contributed to his hostility and persecution.
- He needed money to pay an inherited debt, and the wealth of the Jews (the temple coffers, taxes, and bribes from prominent Jews) could help his bottom line.
- The land of Judea was a tinderbox just waiting for Antiochus’s match. Some Jews wanted to adopt Greek culture, while others wanted to maintain Jewish distinctives. Antiochus encouraged the spread of Greek culture, and Jews interested in such reform listened to his smooth talk and then curried his favor with bribery. Meanwhile, conservative Jews opposed anything that threatened Jewish identity.
- Antiochus’s ego had suffered grievous humiliation in a military campaign against Egypt in 168 BC. The battered king flexed his bruised muscles against something he could annihilate: Judaism.
Even before the Egyptian humiliation, Antiochus had slaughtered Jews and plundered the temple. But he went even further in 167 BC and made Judaism a crime, turning the temple into a pagan shrine, killing Jerusalemites, and burning much of the city. Gentile priests killed pigs and other unclean animals in the temple area to offer as sacrifices to Zeus; circumcision was outlawed; religious festivals and Sabbath were forbidden; sacred scrolls were burned. Jews were commanded to worship Zeus or die.
This horrific history gave rise to a family named Maccabees, who ultimately reclaimed the temple in 164 (the event behind the celebration of Hanukkah) and led a successful revolt that resulted in an independent Jewish state under the Maccabees/Hasmoneans. This kingdom lasted for 103 years before it was snuffed out by the big bad wolf of Rome in 37 BC.
Much of this history is told in the books of 1–2 Maccabees, but my favorite resource for it is a really readable book by Anthony J. Tomasino: Judaism Before Jesus.
Next time we’ll get into Daniel 7. Maybe.
*I pronounce his name “ann-TIE-uh-cuss eh-PIFF-uh-nees,” though you might hear a few variations on “Antiochus” if you listen to enough other people.