John Evans: The Challenge of Daniel 11:36-45 (2003)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

For the liberal position on the last third of Daniel 11, serious difficulties crop up when one tries to make verses 36-45 fit the career of Antiochus IV.

The Challenge of Daniel 11:36-45

By John Evans

I am far along in the writing of a proposed book on the four kingdoms of Daniel and have decided to take time out from that project to comment about one of the many intriguing matters I have come across related to it. This is the problem of how to interpret the last ten verses of Daniel 11. I suspect that some visitors to this site share my interest in this problem.

Since the four kingdoms of Daniel appear in chapters 2 and 7, the reader may wonder why I have chosen to comment about part of chapter 11. The explanation is that the last ten verses, 36-45, have some relevance to the identification of the “little horn” of Daniel 7:8, who becomes the great oppressor of the “saints” later in that chapter. If biblical liberals can be shown to be wrong in their exegesis of these verses in Daniel 11, this increases the likelihood that they are also wrong about their interpretation of the “little horn,” whom they identify as Antiochus IV “Epiphanes,” the ruler of the Greco-Syrian Seleucid Empire from 175 to 163(or 164) BC.

Anyone who has studied the Old Testament prophets a little knows that biblical liberals view the Book of Daniel as the most consummate example of pious literary fraud that has managed to become included in the canon. Part of the reason for this view is that many of the “prophecies” in Daniel 11 are so minutely crammed with accurate historical information that the liberal mind cannot conceive that they could be authentic. Liberals have difficulty accepting the possibility of genuine prophecy in any event, but the mere thought that anything in Daniel 11 might be considered the real thing by some misguided soul is guaranteed to evoke at least a smirk from a biblically knowledgeable liberal. Their campaign against accepting Daniel’s authenticity has enjoyed great success. Many millions of Christians, myself included, continue to believe that there really was a Daniel the prophet who lived in Babylon in the sixth century BC, but the liberals who dominate many seminaries and the study of theology at our most prestigious universities have long since concluded that the struggle over Daniel’s status has resulted in total victory for those who merit being considered serious “modern” religious scholars; i.e. themselves.

The second half of Daniel (chapters 6-12) consists of four visions that were supposedly received by the prophet of that name. According to the critical-historical scholars who furnish the intellectual firepower for biblical liberalism, Antiochus IV is the great villain in each. Historians agree that it was Antiochus’s attempt to suppress Judaism that provoked the Maccabean Revolt, which began shortly after his troops desecrated the Temple of Jerusalem in December 167. The revolt proved largely successful three years later with the capture and reconsecration of the Temple in December 164 by a guerilla army led by Judas Maccabeus, one of five sons of Mattathias, the priest who initiated the revolt. Critical scholars uniformly agree that the text of the visions half of Daniel as we have it today was a product of those years. Most of them hold that Daniel 7 was written somewhat earlier than the other visions chapters, and they generally agree that the final text of the entire Book of Daniel was completed, or almost so, before December 164.

Most conservative scholars concede that Antiochus IV is the villain of the vision that constitutes Daniel 8, and they also find him in part of Daniel 11. They insist, however, that he is not to be found in the visions of Daniel 7 and Daniel 9, and they also insist that his appearance in Daniel 11 comes to an end well before verse 45. They disagree among themselves as to just where Antiochus “signs off” in Daniel 11. Some would allow him to go as far as verse 39; others would cut him off at verse 35; and a few would rid the world of him as early as verse 32. It all adds up to a very confused picture.

A king who can only be Antiochus IV emerges in 11:21, where he is described as “a contemptible person who has not been given the honor of royalty.” He at first enjoys military successes and plunders the lands that lie within his domain (v.22-24). He engages in a conflict with “the king of the South”; i.e. Egypt, in which he is initially successful (v.25). Now identified as “the king of the North,” he returns from his southern campaign with great wealth, but he acts “against the holy covenant” before returning to his homeland (v.28). He then invades the South again but is turned back by “ships of the western coastlands” (v.29-30a). Following this repulse, he vents his fury “against the holy covenant” while favoring those who forsake it (v.30b). His forces “desecrate the temple fortress,” abolish the daily sacrifice,” and set up “the abomination that causes desolation” (v.31). This description perfectly matches the highlights of the career of Antiochus IV. The “ships of the western coastlands,” incidentally, were from Rome; and it was pressure from the Roman ambassadors to Egypt that forced Antiochus to give up his ambitions to conquer Ptolemaic Egypt. The year that he did so was 168 BC.

Verses 32b-35 center upon a group of people called “the wise.” Conservative exegetes have generally simply lumped them with the Maccabees and their followers and moved on to later verses without much comment. Liberals generally assign them much greater significance. According to John J. Collins, the foremost critical-historical authority on Daniel, “the wise” were pacifist opponents of Antiochus IV from whose ranks came the final author or authors of the Book of Daniel. They believed, Collins informs us, that Antiochus IV would be eliminated through divine intervention, not military force, and that the end of his reign would be followed almost immediately by the last judgment and the establishment on earth of the eternal kingdom of heaven. In Collins’s reading, the language in verse 34 suggesting that some of “the wise” would receive a “little help” when they fell refers in a somewhat put down fashion to the violent resistance to Antiochus led by the Maccabees.

When the text of Daniel 11 arrives at verse 36, there is an abrupt shift of emphasis from concern about “the wise” to the career of a king whom liberals again identify as Antiochus IV, and it must be conceded that there is no explicit suggestion in that verse that its king is not the same person as the king of verses 21-32. Verse 36 begins by stating simply that “The king will do as he pleases,” not “Then a king will arise who, etc.” Given the lack of such a preliminary grammatical introduction, and given that critical authorities find that verses 36-39, at least, can be linked historically to the reign of Antiochus IV, the idea that this king might not be Antiochus simply “does not compute” within the limits imposed by the liberal mindset.

Unfortunately for the liberal position on the last third of Daniel 11, serious difficulties crop up when one tries to make verses 36-45 fit the career of Antiochus IV. Some of verses 36-39 can be fitted into his career if one is determined to ignore contravening evidence—and most liberals easily pass that test—but verses 40-45 are so at variance with the historical record that trying to force them to fit it would be like attempting to put a size thirteen foot into a baby shoe. Accordingly, what liberals do with those verses is to say that they were written in 164 BC before the reconsecration of the Temple and are attempts at genuine prophecy on the part of the author/s of Daniel. The fact that they are wildly different from the last few months of Antiochus’s actual career can then be used as “evidence” to support liberals’ contention that all of the apparently realized prophecies in Daniel must be ex eventu.

The year 164 was a triumphant one for Judas Maccabeus and his followers, and it is clear that by the time verses 40-45 were supposedly written, the guerillas had demonstrated sufficient military prowess to convince many in Judea that they had excellent prospects for winning their struggle against Antiochus’s forces and their Hellenized Jewish allies. Moreover, Antiochus was having problems on his eastern frontier that necessitated his absence from Syria and Judea. Collins and other critics assure us, however, that the author/s of Daniel believed that victory would come through the direct intervention of God with only a “little help” from the Maccabees. They also would have us believe that the Book of Daniel’s quick acceptance among the faithful reflected the success of its “the end is near” message and that the same body of believers quickly got over their disappointment when the promised heavenly kingdom failed to arrive on schedule and soon looked forward to the next occupation by a foreign power as the likely time for its establishment.

That a pacifist movement gained in strength at a time when the nation in which it existed was gaining ground militarily is a phenomenon that I somehow seem to have missed in my study of history. But it is when I look at the “prophecies” that the author/s of Daniel wrote into 11:40-45 that any lingering doubts I might have about the implausibility of liberals’ exegesis of the last third of Daniel 11 completely evaporate. These “prophecies,” mind you, were supposedly written in 164, a year when Antiochus was losing ground in Judea and was preoccupied with problems along the eastern frontier of his empire. This was four years after he had been told to get out of Egypt and stay out by the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean, Rome. Yet liberals would have us believe that the author/s predicted that Ptolemaic Egypt would go to war with the king of the North (Antiochus), that Antiochus would invade many countries and sweep through them like a flood, invade the Beautiful Land (Judea), defeat Egypt and acquire all its riches, and then force the Libyans and Nubians into submission (v.40-43). At that point, however, presumably after several years had passed without a peep from the Roman eagle, “reports from the east and the north [would] alarm him,” and he would “set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many” (v.44). He would then “pitch his royal tents between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain” and come to his end with no one to help him (v.45). God would accomplish what men could not.

That Rome was the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean is recognized earlier in Daniel 11, both in verse 18, which records the defeat of Antiochus III by Rome, and in verse 30, which explicitly credits “ships of the western coastlands” with expelling Antiochus IV from Egypt. To assume that the author/s of Daniel 11 would ignore what he/they had written some verses earlier and predict that Antiochus IV would ride roughshod over his opponents in the south without facing Roman opposition is simply unbelievable. It becomes even more so when one takes into account the fact that Antiochus IV spent most of his formative years living in Rome as a royal hostage and that the author/s of Daniel 11 could hardly have been unaware of this. Moreover, it was surely common knowledge in Jerusalem that Antiochus IV had his hands full dealing with problems on his eastern frontier.

But what about verses 36-39? Here the liberal “ship” takes a sharply different tack by treating them, like the prior verses, as after-the-fact prophecy. When one examines these four verses, we see a willful king who magnifies himself above all gods, shows no regard for the gods revered by his fathers, honors a “god of fortresses,” attacks “the mightiest fortresses with the help of a foreign god,” and generously pays off his followers. This man is surely Antiochus IV, liberals say. They especially like to emphasize the fact that Antiochus circulated coins during his reign that contained a Greek inscription that translates as “Antiochus God Manifest.” Antiochus was the first (but not the last) Seleucid ruler to mint such coins. Liberals trot them out as “Exhibit A” in support of their argument that verses 36-39 describe Antiochus. “Exhibit B” is their claim that to the extent that he promoted the worship of the traditional Greek deities (Notice the contradiction.), Antiochus promoted the worship of Zeus over that of Apollo, the god traditionally favored by his predecessors.

In historical fact, it is by no means evident that Antiochus IV promoted a cult of emperor worship. Neither does his career warrant claiming that he showed “no regard for the gods of his fathers” (v.37). When you to attempt to match verses 36-39 with the historical record phrase by phrase, you get a poor correlation. Interestingly, John Collins acknowledges this and attempts to wiggle out of the problem by arguing that the author/s of Daniel resorted to “deliberate polemical distortion” in order to arouse the populace in Judea against Antiochus. In other words, the author/s lied. An underlying assumption here is that the faithful Jews of Maccabean times were ill-informed about Antiochus’s religious practices. This seems unlikely. There were many Hellenized Jews living in Judea, as well as non-Jews whose religious practices were in the Greek tradition. Does it not stand to reason, therefore, that religiously faithful Jews would have had considerable knowledge of what Antiochus’s policy toward religion actually was? It does not appear to be factually true that Antiochus sought to radically alter the religious practices of his non-Jewish subjects. As for the claim that he sought to replace Apollo with Zeus, was not Zeus universally recognized among Greeks as the greatest god in the pantheon? Why, then, should we infer that when Antiochus chose to erect an altar to Zeus in the Temple of Jerusalem that he was showing “no regard for the gods of his fathers”?

After stating that the king “will show no regard for the gods of his fathers,” verse 37 adds “or the one desired by women.” Critical scholars take this latter passage to refer to the cult of a pagan god named Tammuz, who was often associated with Adonis. There is some Scriptural basis for this since Ezekiel 8:14 makes a derogatory reference about women sitting at the north gate of the Temple “mourning for Tammuz.” What the critics assume is that either Antiochus treated this cult with disrespect or the author/s of Daniel accused him of doing so.

Some conservative scholars have recognized that “the one desired by women” could reflect the Jews’ messianic expectations. For example, the noted dispensationalist John Walvoord stated that “Although Daniel is not specific, a plausible explanation of this passage, in the light of Daniel’s Jewish background, is that this expression, the desire of women, is the natural desire of Jewish women to become the mother of the promised Messiah.” Stephen Miller, the author of a relatively recent commentary on Daniel, quotes with approval the idea floated many years ago by Philip Mauro that this passage “alluded to Christ because Jewish women desired to be the mother of the Messiah.”

Philip Mauro, incidentally, was a proto-preterist, and I regard his insights into Daniel 11:36-45 in his remarkable book The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation as the guide to their proper interpretation. I write “proto-preterist” because he accepted the idea that Revelation points to a future Antichrist and interpreted the Olivet Discourse to prophesy both the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD and a much later Second Advent. On the other hand, he saw very clearly that Daniel 11:36-45 cannot be made compatible with what either critics or futurists offer in way of exegesis. The events foreseen in the last vision of Daniel, he assured us, were fulfilled by 70 AD.

Although Miller recognizes the value of Mauro’s insight into the passage about “the one desired by women,” he fails to give serious consideration to Mauro’s overall exegesis of 11:36-45. Miller is a careful scholar, and I recommend that any serious student of Daniel acquire a copy of his commentary. He is also a futurist, whereas Mauro provided a preterist interpretation of these verses in which Herod the Great, the Roman vassal who ruled Judea from 37 to 4 BC, is the king in them.

Mauro’s exegesis makes far more sense than anything I have read by either liberals or futurists. That it has not made greater headway among biblical scholars I attribute to two factors. First, since liberals, including many practicing Christians who claim to believe in the divinity of Christ, have written off the Book of Daniel as being pseudepigraphal, they have paid little or no attention to attempts by conservatives to support its claims to authenticity. Secondly, the vast majority of conservative scholars who have defended the integrity of the Book of Daniel in the past have pursued the will-of-the wisp of futurist or even historicist exegesis. That the prophecies of Daniel could be both genuine and fulfilled is not in idea that most of them have considered.

Another passage that has given analysts fits is the one in verse 38 that reads “Instead of them [the gods of his fathers, etc.], he will honor a god of fortresses.” Collins acknowledges that this passage “mystified the ancient translators.” For Collins, however, armed as he is with the concept of “polemical distortion,” the mystery dissolves. His reading is that “a god of fortresses” is a derisive term “based on its association with the hated Akra,” a fortress garrisoned by Syrians soldiers that Antiochus IV built near the Temple after they plundered it. The Akra comes into play again, he writes, at the start of verse 39, which proclaims that the king will “attack the mightiest fortresses with the help of a foreign god.” The intention here is supposedly to convey the idea of the Akra being manned by soldiers associated with hated cult of Zeus Olympius.

Collins’s interpretation of verse 39 fits poorly with the New International Version translation that I employ, however, since the Akra was built by Syrian forces rather than being attacked by them. What the NIV gives as “He will attack the mightiest fortresses with the help of a foreign god,” Collins renders as “He will act for those who fortify strongholds, the people of a strange god.” It is not at all unusual, incidentally, for Collins to give a translation of a particular passage in Daniel that varies considerably from the NIV. Lacking expertise in biblical languages, I do not have the credentials to dispute his translation, but I can and do point out instances where his translation differs materially from what the NIV presents. This is one of the most serious of such instances.

In this article I have concerned myself primarily with criticizing the critics, particularly the most important of them, John J. Collins of Yale (and before that at Notre Dame and the University of Chicago). Before closing, I want to assure readers that I regard futurists’ interpretations of Daniel 11:36-45 as equally suspect. For one thing, while I agree with the futurists that the king of verse 36 (or verse 40) is not the same person as the king of verse 21, I cannot accept the idea that there is a prophetic gap of more than 2,500 years between verses 35 and 36 or between verses 39 and 40. In fact, I doubt that there a prophetic gap at all and believe that Mauro was correct in believing that verses 32-35 form a connecting link to verse 36.

Here is a sample of other problems I find with the futurist exegesis. First, it is difficult for me to fit such language as verse 38’s “a god unknown to his fathers he will honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts” into anything that makes sense in the modern world. Second, when futurists suggest such things as the idea that honoring a god of fortresses means that the Antichrist will be a militant atheist, I automatically tune out. Third, when I read in verse 40 that “the king of the North will storm out against him [the king of the South] with chariots and cavalry and a great fleet of ships,” I have trouble reconciling that picture with tanks, bombers, and cruise missiles, let along nuclear weapons.

If the feedback on this piece warrants doing so, I intend to follow it up with more on Daniel 11:36-45. In particular, I want to focus on Mauro’s analysis. If any readers of this article have criticisms of Mauro to offer, I would love to receive them. To date, I have yet to find a critical analysis of Mauro that amounts to much that is substantive. I suspect that critical articles exist and would appreciate help in locating them.


John J. Collins, A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Augsburg Press, 1993), 66, 385-86, 390.

Ibid., 387-88.

John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971),

Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary, vol. 18 (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 307.

Philip Mauro, The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation: A Study of the Last Two Visions of Daniel, and of the Olivet Discourse of the Lord Jesus Christ (Sterling, Va.: Grace Abounding Ministries, 1988, revised edition). This book was originally published in the 1920s.

Miller, Daniel, 305n82. “P. Mauro considered Herod the Great to be in view,” Miller writes, adding that this could not be correct because the king of Daniel 11:36-45 must “rule at the end of the age.”

Collins, A Commentary, 387-88.

Ibid., 388.

Mauro, The Seventy Weeks, 132-34.