Daniel 11 is the eleventh chapter in the book of Daniel in the Bible. That may seem obvious, but I've run into trouble before for not making this sort of thing clear from the outset.
Whenever I read the prophecies in Daniel 11, I invariably become glaze-eyed after a few verses, due to what seems to be willful obliqueness: whoever wrote this passage obviously saw the events quite clearly, but felt that identifying names were wholly unnecessary.
This becomes greatly confusing beginning with verse 5, when the narrative appears to concern itself with two kings, the king of the south and the king of the north. The thing is, these are titles which refer to a bunch of kings of the Hellenistic Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties between 315 and 167 B.C.
So, I decided to match the verses of the prophecy to the actual historical record, in order to follow more clearly the procession of events.
I haven’t wanted to bog this writeup down with (often fascinating) detail, preferring to translate only those events with which the prophet was concerned. For more detail, I highly recommend ephealy’s comprehensive series, Old Testament History (relevant sections of which I have pipelinked to throughout).
I don’t really like the King James text – too antiquated – and I wanted to use the New Living Translation, which is easy on the mind, but its copyright allowances don’t extend to the amount of text I’m using here. So I’ve elected to use the World English Bible, which is in the Public Domain.
I'm focusing here on Daniel 11:2-35.
The prophecy recorded in Daniel 11:2-35 is part of a larger prophecy contained in Daniel 10:1-12:13. Daniel 10:1 sets the date of the vision by which Daniel was given the prophecy: In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia; that is, 536 (Cyrus ruled from 539 to 530).
Verse 2: 536-481 B.C.
...there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all:
- Cambyses: 530-522
- Gaumata: 522
- Darius I: 522-486
- Xerxes the Great: 486-465
Cyrus was succeeded by his son, Cambyses, in 530. While Cambyses was campaigning in Egypt, Gaumata usurped the Persian throne, claiming to be Bardiya, another of Cyrus’ sons. Cambyses died on his return journey to Persia, but Gaumata was overthrown two months later, the throne claimed by Darius I. He was succeeded by his son (and Cyrus’ grandson), Xerxes the Great, in 486.
and when he has grown strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the realm of Greece.
In 481, Xerxes led Persia to war against Greece.
The remaining kings of the Persian Empire are skipped over by the prophecy. But here they are, to provide a historical link between Xerxes in 481 and Alexander in 334:
Verses 3-4: 334-323 B.C.
A mighty king shall stand up, who shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will.
The Persian Empire was superseded by the Greek Empire under Alexander the Great. Alexander left Macedonia in 334 and began moving eastward, conquering as he proceeded. Beginning with Syria, Palestine and Egypt, he finally overcame the Persians and reached India, four years after leaving Macedonia.
When he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of the sky, but not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion with which he ruled; for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others besides these.
In 323, Alexander took ill and died within ten days. After his death, the Greek Empire was divided among his generals. By 315, the division had settled thus:
The remainder of the prophecy is concerned with the Ptolemies (the kings of the south) and the Seleucids (the kings of the north):
Verse 5: 323-275 B.C.
The king of the south shall be strong, and one of his princes; and he shall be strong above him, and have dominion; his dominion shall be a great dominion.
Ptolemy Soter took control of Egypt and Syria, establishing the Ptolemaic dynasty, and ruling from Alexandria. He was supported by another of Alexander’s generals, Seleucus Nicator. Seleucus secured the Syrian and Mesopotamian areas for Ptolemy, but then seized control of those parts of the kingdom for himself, establishing the Seleucid dynasty in 311, and ruling from Antioch in Syria.
Verses 6-8: 275-246 B.C.
At the end of years they shall join themselves together; and the daughter of the king of the south shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement: but she shall not retain the strength of her arm; neither shall he stand, nor his arm; but she shall be given up, and those who brought her, and he who became the father of her, and he who strengthened her in those times.
In 252, Ptolemy Philadelphus gave his daughter, Berenice, in marriage to Antiochus Theos, as part of diplomatic measures between the two kingdoms. However, Berenice was murdered in Antioch by Laodice, another of Antiochus’ wives (and also his half-sister).
But out of a shoot from her roots shall one stand up in his place, who shall come to the army, and shall enter into the fortress of the king of the north, and shall deal against them, and shall prevail. Also their gods, with their molten images, and with their goodly vessels of silver and of gold, shall he carry captive into Egypt; and he shall refrain some years from the king of the north.
Ptolemy Philadelphus was succeeded by his son (and Berenice’s brother), Ptolemy Euergetes, in 245, who subsequently waged a successful war on Seleucus Callinicus, who had succeeded to the throne in 246, following the death of Antiochus Theos.
Verses 9-12: 246-204 B.C.
He shall come into the realm of the king of the south, but he shall return into his own land.
Following his defeat by Ptolemy Euergetes, Seleucus Callinicus attempted an invasion of Egypt, but returned to Syria unsuccessful.
His sons shall war, and shall assemble a multitude of great forces, which shall come on, and overflow, and pass through; and they shall return and war, even to his fortress.
Seleucus Callinicus was succeeded by his son Seleucus Ceranus in 226, who was in turn succeeded by his brother Antiochus the Great in 223. They continued to wage war on the kingdom of Egypt. In 221, Antiochus the Great conquered part of Palestine.
The king of the south shall be moved with anger, and shall come forth and fight with him, even with the king of the north; and he shall set forth a great multitude, and the multitude shall be given into his hand. The multitude shall be lifted up, and his heart shall be exalted; and he shall cast down tens of thousands, but he shall not prevail.
In 217, Ptolemy Philopator, defending his kingdom against the armies of Syria, defeated Antiochus the Great at Raphia, retaking portions of Palestine he had conquered in 221.
Verses 13-15: 203-198 B.C.
The king of the north shall return, and shall set forth a multitude greater than the former; and he shall come on at the end of the times, even of years, with a great army and with much substance. In those times there shall many stand up against the king of the south: also the children of the violent among your people shall lift themselves up to establish the vision; but they shall fall. So the king of the north shall come, and cast up a mound, and take a well-fortified city: and the forces of the south shall not stand, neither his chosen people, neither shall there be any strength to stand.
In 201, Antiochus the Great led a confederation against Ptolemy Epiphanes, and taking advantage of civil unrest within Palestine, in 198 defeated the Egyptians near Paneas, also taking Sidon.
Verses 16-19: 198-187 B.C.
But he who comes against him shall do according to his own will, and none shall stand before him; and he shall stand in the glorious land, and in his hand shall be destruction.
Having gained control of Palestine, Antiochus the Great visited Jerusalem, where he was well-received.
He shall set his face to come with the strength of his whole kingdom, and with him equitable conditions; and he shall perform them: and he shall give him the daughter of women, to corrupt her; but she shall not stand, neither be for him.
Antiochus the Great gave his daughter Cleopatra in marriage to Ptolemy Epiphanes, hoping to thereby undermine the strength of Egypt. However, this strategy failed, as Cleopatra remained faithful to Ptolemy.
After this shall he turn his face to the islands, and shall take many: but a prince shall cause the reproach offered by him to cease; yes, moreover, he shall cause his reproach to turn on him. Then he shall turn his face toward the fortresses of his own land; but he shall stumble and fall, and shall not be found.
After the failure of his plan to infiltrate the Egyptian kingdom, Antiochus the Great led his armies into Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece. But he was defeated in 190 at Magnesia by the Romans. Demoralised, Antiochus returned to Syria, where he was killed in the process of plundering a temple, perhaps in an attempt to raise funds to pay to the Romans as tribute.
Verse 20: 187-176 B.C.
Then shall stand up in his place one who shall cause a tax collector to pass through the kingdom to maintain its glory; but within few days he shall be destroyed, neither in anger, nor in battle.
Antiochus the Great was succeeded in 187 by his son, Seleucus Philopater, who enjoyed a relatively brief reign, which ended in 176. During his reign, Seleucus sent Heliodorus to Jerusalem to levy a tax from the Temple treasury.
Verses 21-24: 176-170 B.C.
In his place shall stand up a contemptible person, to whom they had not given the honor of the kingdom:
After the death of Seleucus Philopater, his brother Antiochus Epiphanes acquired the throne treacherously, with the support of Rome.
but he shall come in time of security, and shall obtain the kingdom by flatteries. The overwhelming forces shall be overwhelmed from before him, and shall be broken; yes, also the prince of the covenant.
In 170, the high priest in Jerusalem, Onias III, was assassinated by Menelaus, who was supported by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Onias was one of the many who resisted Antiochus and was summarily removed from his position as a result, to be replaced by his assassin.
After the league made with him he shall work deceitfully; for he shall come up, and shall become strong, with a small people. In time of security shall he come even on the fattest places of the province; and he shall do that which his fathers have not done, nor his fathers’ fathers; he shall scatter among them prey, and spoil, and substance: yes, he shall devise his devices against the strongholds, even for a time.
He proceeded to win support of those people who could be bought with promises, flattery or money.
Verses 25-28: 170-168 B.C.
He shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the south with a great army; and the king of the south shall war in battle with an exceeding great and mighty army; but he shall not stand; for they shall devise devices against him. Yes, they who eat of his dainties shall destroy him, and his army shall overflow; and many shall fall down slain.
After consolidating his position in Palestine, Antiochus Epiphanes turned his attention to defeating Ptolemy Philometor. Ptolemy was equally matched in strength of arms, but his plans were betrayed to Antiochus by his own counselors.
As for both these kings, their hearts shall be to do mischief, and they shall speak lies at one table: but it shall not prosper; for yet the end shall be at the time appointed.
The two kings subsequently held truce discussions, but each used these conferences as opportunities to further undermine the power of the other.
Then shall he return into his land with great substance; and his heart shall be against the holy covenant; and he shall do his pleasure, and return to his own land.
Antiochus Epiphanes then returned to Syria. On the way, he entered Jerusalem, killed many Jews and looted the Temple.
Verses 29-32: 168-167 B.C.
At the time appointed he shall return, and come into the south; but it shall not be in the latter time as it was in the former. For ships of Kittim shall come against him; therefore he shall be grieved, and shall return,
Ptolemy Philometor conspired to form a confederacy to overcome Antiochus Epiphanes. When Antiochus learned of this, he set out to Egypt in 168 to force their hand. However, the Romans defended Egypt and Antiochus was forced to withdraw to Syria.
and have indignation against the holy covenant, and shall do his pleasure: he shall even return, and have regard to those who forsake the holy covenant. Forces shall stand on his part, and they shall profane the sanctuary, even the fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering, and they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. Such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he pervert by flatteries;
In 167, en route to Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes, furious at his plans being foiled, attacked Jerusalem as a means of venting his anger. Supported by the Jews that he had already won over, including Menelaus, the high priest, Antiochus plundered the city and the Temple, stopped the people from observing the religious rituals of their law, desecrated the altar of the Temple by offering a sow there to Zeus, and set up an image of Zeus in the holy place of the Temple. He insisted that Jews replace their Mosaic traditions with pagan ceremonies.
but the people who know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.
One priest, Mattathias, refused to make the requisite offerings to Zeus, and when challenged, killed the officers of the king who raised his ire. With his sons, he then escaped to the mountains and began a rebellion, known as the Maccabean Revolt (named after Judas Maccabeus, one of Mattathias’ sons).
Verses 33-35: 167 B.C.>>>
Those who are wise among the people shall instruct many; yet they shall fall by the sword and by flame, by captivity and by spoil, many days. Now when they shall fall, they shall be helped with a little help; but many shall join themselves to them with flatteries. Some of those who are wise shall fall, to refine them, and to purify, and to make them white, even to the time of the end; because it is yet for the time appointed.
Many Jews joined Matthias and his sons, some wholeheartedly, some with less emphasis on God and more on adventure. Others offered what help they could.