Daniel’s dreams and visions

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The Bible book of Daniel has long been a favourite of apocalyptic sects for its cryptic symbolism and vague numerology, second only to the book of Revelation. Not satisfied with the fact that the book presents stories about events around the time of writing, for the last two centuries Adventist sects of Protestantism have proposed interpretations of Daniel involving ‘our day’. These are based on teachings of John Aquila Brown that were developed further by William Miller—both preachers from the early 19th century. Miller believed that Christ would return to Earth in 1844, which resulted in what became known as the Great Disappointment.

Rather than admit defeat, subsequent Adventist preachers sought to ‘tweak’ Miller’s interpretations.* One of these was Charles Taze Russell, who started his own sect—the Bible Student movement—in the late 19th century. After Russell’s death, control of the Bible Student’s publishing corporation—the Watch Tower Society—controversially came under the control of Joseph Rutherford. In 1931, his followers became known as Jehovah’s witnesses.#
* The largest Adventist organisation is the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with over 18 million baptised members, more than twice the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
# The word “witnesses” was generally uncapitalised in Watch Tower Society literature prior to the 1 April 1976 issue of The Watchtower.

Contents of Daniel

The book of Daniel is composed of three distinct sections, two in Hebrew and one in Aramaic.* The Aramaic portion of Daniel (chapters 2 to 7) has a chiastic structure, with pairs of chapters presenting parallel themes, as indicated by the indented chapter numbers in the table below.

Section Original Language Chapter Description
1 Hebrew 1 Daniel taken to Babylon
2 Aramaic 2 Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of four kingdoms
    3 Daniel’s friends in a furnace
         4 Judgement of Nebuchadnezzar
         5 Judgement of Babylon
    6 Daniel in the lion’s den
7 Daniel’s dream of four kingdoms
3 Hebrew 8 Vision of a ram and a goat
9 Vision of ‘70 weeks’
10–12 Vision of an angel Introduction
Kings of the north and south
Appointed time for restoration

* The Greek Septuagint includes three additions: a prayer added to chapter 2; a prologue in which Daniel uncovers a plot to accuse a woman of adultery; and an epilogue in which Daniel solves a ‘locked room mystery’, slays a dragon, and is rescued from lions. Denominations derived from Protestantism—including Jehovah’s Witnesses—do not consider the additional tales canonical.

Each of the chapters relates to the period of history from the Neo-Babylonian period until the reign of Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, with special emphasis on the Maccabean revolt. The consistent theme of these ‘dreams’ and ‘visions’ is the restoration of Jewish worship in Kislev (November/December) 165 BCE after Antiochus IV attacked Jerusalem and imposed Greek worship in Kislev 168 BCE#—this is the origin of the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah.^
# Sources vary regarding the placement of the three year period from 168 BCE until 165 BCE, or from 167 BCE until 164 BCE. Watch Tower Society publications arbitrarily switch between both ranges, but generally favour 168–165 BCE. For brevity, this article consistently refers to the period as 168–165 BCE.
^ For an overall summary, see Appendix 1—Chart of Daniel’s dreams and visions.

The book of Daniel refers to various historical events during the Neo-Babylonian period, but there is no evidence that the ‘Daniel’ character (or his three friends) actually existed. Rather, the character is used as a narrative device for two reasons:

  • to give the stories an appearance of ‘prophecy’; and
  • to draw a parallel between captivity and subsequent release from Babylon, and the desecration and subsequent rededication of the temple.

Whilst it is possible that some of the tales were based on older folklore, there is broad agreement among biblical scholars that the book of Daniel was actually written in the second century BCE.

Because the stories in Daniel contain exaggerated claims typical of religious texts, Jehovah’s Witnesses (and similar apocalyptic sects) assert that the stories ‘must’ refer to future events. In doing so, they completely ignore the obvious impact that the actions of Antiochus IV had on Jewish culture and literature, including the book of Daniel itself.

Daniel 1—Induction into Babylon

Daniel is written from the perspective of a Jewish captive taken to Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year (605 BCE), when Jerusalem’s king, Jehoiakim, was forced to pay tribute to curtail a siege.* Chapter 1 focuses on the main character, Daniel, along with his three friends, during a three-year period of Babylonian indoctrination. They adhere to a diet of vegetables, for which they are rewarded with wisdom and are appointed to administrative positions in Babylon.
* The Watch Tower Society claims there was no siege on Jerusalem in Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year, even though it is specifically indicated in the Bible (Daniel 1:1; 2 Kings 24:1), and confirmed by the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, chapter 10) and the Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle (BM 21946, front, lines 12–13). For more information on the Watch Tower Society’s claim that Daniel 1:1 does not refer to Nebuchadnezzar’s accession year, see 607 for Beginners.

The three years of Babylonian training may allude to the three years from the introduction of Greek worship in Kislev 168 BCE until the rededication of the temple in 165 BCE. Similarly, Daniel’s three faithful friends ‘refraining from the king’s delicacies’ probably refers to rejection of Greek worship during that period.#
# The word translated as “vegetables” at Daniel 1:12, 16 (זֵרְֽעֹן, zeroa`) is different to the word for “vegetables” (יָרָק, yaraq) elsewhere in the Old Testament. Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon (page 255) associates zeroa` with a “half fast”—a minimal diet associated with mourning; Daniel 10:2–3 also refers to a restricted diet while mourning. This may allude to Antiochus’ restrictions on Jewish worship.

Daniel 2—‘Statue’ dream

The ‘dream’ in Daniel chapter 2 provides an overview of various empires from Nebuchadnezzar’s time until the Maccabean revolt. The identities of the empires represented by the statue are indicated in the table below.*
* The only viable interpretations are provided in the table. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other Adventists provide a different interpretation. Charles Taze Russell borrowed William Miller’s interpretation that the four kingdoms represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, including modern European countries formerly part of the Roman Empire (The Divine Plan of the Ages, page 253). This view has been essentially unchanged by Jehovah’s Witnesses, with the addition of the “Anglo American world power” represented by the feet, and other independent nations represented by the toes (“Your Will Be Done on Earth”, page 124; Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy, pages 55–60). Their erroneous conclusion is also extended to their interpretations of the other ‘beasts’ in the book of Daniel.

Daniel chapter 2
Kingdom Verses Description Notes
Babylon 32a, 37–38 Gold head Nebuchadnezzar
Media or Babylon# 32b, 39a Silver chest & arms An “inferior kingdom”
Persia 32c, 39b Copper abdomen & thighs Originally a province of Media, it became dominant under Cyrus
Greece 33a, 40 Iron legs Kingdom of Alexander the Great
Divided kingdom 33b, 41–43 Iron & clay feet Alexander’s kingdom divided into separate kingdoms of Macedonia, Syria (iron), Egypt (clay) and Asia Minor
Maccabean victory 44–45 Statue destroyed Jewish worship restored

# Because verse 38 identifies Nebuchadnezzar as the gold head of the statue rather than Babylon, it is possible that the ‘inferior kingdom’ represented by the ‘silver chest and arms’ refers to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar’s successors rather than Media; in that case, the ‘copper abdomen and thighs’ would represent Medo-Persia.

Daniel 3–6—Lessons in faith and humility

In Daniel chapter 3, Daniel’s three friends are thrown into a furnace for their refusal to worship a statue. In chapter 6—the corresponding part of the chiastic structure—three officials conspire to have Daniel thrown into a pit of lions for disobeying a ban restricting worship. In both stories, the characters are saved by an angel. The tales convey the theme of trusting that God will save his faithful followers from adversity.*
* There is no evidence that the stories in chapters 3 and 6 refer to actual events.

The middle two chapters of the Aramaic chiasm, chapters 4 and 5, are often regarded as separate stories. However, both are about a Babylonian ruler’s pride immediately before a judgement by God. In chapter 4, Nebuchadnezzar dreams about a tree that is cut down and banded for seven ‘times’; Nebuchadnezzar is subsequently punished with a period of madness for boasting about his kingdom. In chapter 5, Belshazzar holds a feast using utensils from Jerusalem’s temple and sees a cryptic message about the judgement of his kingdom on the night Babylon is conquered. The lesson from chapter 4 regarding Nebuchadnezzar’s pride is reiterated at Daniel 5:18–21 and then explicitly applied to Belshazzar in verses 22–24.#
# There is no evidence for the supernatural claims in chapter 5, and no evidence for any part of the story in chapter 4. For more information about Daniel chapter 4, see The Watch Tower Society’s 2014 attempt to defend 1914 and Seven Times.

In the broader context of the book of Daniel, the presence of three faithful Jews in chapter 3 refusing to worship the statue probably refers to rejection of Greek worship for the three years from Kislev 168 BCE until the rededication of the temple in Kislev 165 BCE. Similarly, the three ‘high officials’ in chapter 6 who try to force Daniel to abandon Jewish worship represent pressure to submit to Greek customs during the same period. Conversely, the tales in chapters 4 and 5 about the humbling of foreign powers probably represent the restoration of Jewish worship and the death of Antiochus IV.

Daniel 7—‘4 Beasts’ dream

As with chapter 2, the ‘dream’ in Daniel chapter 7 provides an overview of the empires leading up to the Maccabean revolt, but focuses on one of the four kingdoms previously part of Alexander’s empire—Syria. In Daniel chapter 2, this kingdom is represented by the iron that is mixed with clay in the feet of the statue. In chapter 7, Syria is represented by a beast with ten horns, each horn representing either a king or an heir to the throne. Antiochus IV is then introduced as an additional ‘small horn’ that rose to power by interfering in the reigns of three of the other ‘horns’.*
* For more information about the ten horns and how Antiochus IV ‘humiliated’ three of them, see the second table in the section, Daniel 11—‘Kings of the North and South’ story.

Daniel chapter 7
Kingdom Verses Description Notes
Babylon 4 Winged lion Neo-Babylonian empire
Medo-Persia 5 Bear Raised up on one side, indicating Persia’s dominance
Greece 6 4-winged leopard Kingdom of Alexander the Great, divided into four kingdoms after his death
Syria 7, 19, 23–24a 10-horned beast Kingdom of Syria; ten kings or heirs prior to Antiochus IV
Antiochus IV 8, 20, 24b Small horn The eleventh horn ‘humiliates’ three other horns:

  • Heliodorus
  • Demetrius I
  • Antiochus (son of Seleucus IV)
21, 25 Antiochus IV attacks Jerusalem and imposes Greek worship during “a time, times, and half a time”#
Maccabean victory 11, 22, 26 Beast killed Jewish worship restored, Antiochus IV dies the following year
12–14, 18, 27 Exaggerated statements about tolerance of Jewish worship by other rulers

# The “time, times, and half a time” also appears in Daniel chapter 12; for more information about this period, see the section, Daniel 12—Temple restoration.

Daniel 8—‘Ram and Goat’ vision

Daniel chapter 8 omits reference to Babylon, and instead provides additional details about the development of the Macedonian Empire under Alexander the Great, its division into ‘four kingdoms’ after his death, and the cessation and restoration of Jewish worship during the reign of Antiochus IV.

It also includes a reference to a period of “2,300 days”, which apocalyptic sects have tried to associate with various events in the modern era. However, there is no evidence that it refers to anything beyond the restoration of Jewish worship in 165 BCE.*
* The period of 2,300 days is intentionally cryptic. Comparison with historical events suggests a plausible meaning, without any need for supernatural claims, but other valid interpretations may exist. A vast array of invalid interpretations also exist. For example, Charles Taze Russell accepted the Adventist belief that “2,300 days” referred to a period of 2,300 years ending in 1846 (Thy Kingdom Come, page 108). The Watch Tower Society’s subsequent interpretations have been even more ridiculous. In 1958, it claimed that the period referred to literal days from a Bible Students convention in 1926 until another convention in 1932 (“Your Will Be Done on Earth”, page 215). Jehovah’s Witnesses’ current interpretation is that it refers to a period from an issue of The Watchtower in 1938 until a convention in 1944 (Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy, pages 177–178).

Daniel chapter 8
Kingdom Verses Description Notes
Medo-Persia 3–4, 20 2-horned ram One horn longer than the other, indicating Persia’s dominance
Greece 5–7, 21 1-horned goat Kingdom of Alexander the Great
Four kingdoms 8, 22 4-horned goat Alexander’s kingdom divided into kingdoms of Macedonia, Syria, Egypt and Asia Minor
Antiochus IV 9–12, 23–25 Small horn from one of the 4 horns Antiochus IV becomes king of Syria, one of the four kingdoms; bans Jewish worship in 165 BCE
Maccabean victory 13–14 ‘Holy place’ restored after 2,300 days 2,300 days (78 lunar months; 6½ years) most likely refers to the literal period from Antiochus’ appointment of the Hellenised priest Menelaus in 171 BCE until the rededication of the temple in December 165 BCE

Daniel 9—‘Prophecy’ of ‘70 Weeks’

The setting of the story in chapter 9 is during the ‘first year of Darius the Mede’* after Babylon was conquered by Medo-Persia (539 BCE), when Daniel discerns from the book of Jeremiah that the Jews would be released from exile after Babylon’s seventy years had ended.# The latter part of the story presents a vision in which an angel tells Daniel about a period of ‘70 weeks’ involving characters identified only as ‘Messiah’ and ‘Leader’. The original Hebrew grammar allows for ‘Messiah’ and ‘Leader’ to refer to the same individual or to different individuals. Identification of ‘Leader’ is aided by the use of the same word in verse 26, where it refers to the individual responsible for the destruction of the ‘holy place’, strongly suggesting a different individual to that identified as ‘Messiah’.
* There is no historical record of ‘Darius the Mede’. The most reasonable candidate is the general (Ugbaru in the Nabonidus Chronicle) who conquered Babylon and ruled as governor there until the arrival of Persian king Cyrus a few weeks later. It is possible that the second-century BCE author of Daniel confused the name with that of other Persian rulers.
# For more information about Babylon’s seventy years, see 607 for Beginners.

In the context of Daniel as a captive in Babylon, the ‘Messiah’ of Daniel chapter 9 refers to Cyrus—the ‘anointed one’ of Isaiah 45:1—allowing the return of Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem in 538 BCE, 49 years (‘7 weeks’; 7 x 7) after its destruction by the ‘Leader’, Nebuchadnezzar, in 587 BCE.

In the application involving the Maccabean period, the ‘Leader’ is Antiochus IV. The ‘Messiah’ in this instance is the high priest Jason. In 171 BCE, Jason was ‘cut off’,^ when Antiochus IV appointed Menelaus in his place; this occurred 434 years (‘62 weeks’; 62 x 7) after 605 BCE. Three years later, in Kislev 168 BCE, ‘at the half of the week’, Antiochus IV ‘caused sacrifice and offering to cease’, banning Jewish religion. The temple was rededicated in Kislev 165 BCE at the ‘end of the week’ with the institution of Hanukkah; Antiochus IV died the following year. The image below summarises the ‘prophecy’ of the ’70 weeks’.
^ Watch Tower Society literature (for example, Insight, volume 2, page 901) claims the Messiah was cut off at the half of the week. However, Daniel only states that the Messiah would be cut off after 62 weeks (verse 26) and that gift offering would cease at the half of the week (verse 27).
† Not only is 605 BCE notable as the accession year of Nebuchadnezzar—the first king of the first kingdom indicated in the interpretations of the dreams in chapters 2 and 7 of Daniel (the first and last chapters of the Aramaic chiasm)—but the same year is also indicated in the first verse of the book of Daniel.

‡ The meaning of the ‘70 weeks’ is intentionally cryptic. Comparison with historical events suggests a plausible meaning, without any need for supernatural claims, but other valid interpretations may exist. There is no evidence for the various Christian interpretations that the period refers to Jesus—broadly, these involve counting the ‘weeks’ from a supposed ‘decree’ by Persian king Artaxerxes I to ‘rebuild Jerusalem’ until some event relating to Jesus. However, Nehemiah was only granted permission to repair Jerusalem’s walls rather than a decree to rebuild Jerusalem. Additionally, early versions of the Greek Septuagint rendering of Daniel 9:25 do not even mention a decree to rebuild Jerusalem. Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interpretation, with their unfounded ten-year distortion of the reign of Artaxerxes I, is particularly problematic.

Both scenarios present a repeated theme involving a leader who brings about a calamity, a heroic messiah, and a restoration, providing a parallel between the order to rebuild the temple after the Babylonian captivity and the rededication of the temple after Jewish religion was banned by Antiochus IV.§
§ For more information about Daniel chapter 9 as it relates to the context of Babylonian exile, see Jehovah’s Witnesses and 1914.

Daniel chapter 9
Application Verses Description Notes
Parallel to end of Babylonian captivity 24–25 ‘Weeks of years’ with Cyrus as ‘Messiah’ and Nebuchadnezzar as ‘Leader’ ‘7 weeks’ likely refers to 49 years from the destruction of the temple (587 BCE) by Nebuchadnezzar until the Jews’ return (538 BCE) following Cyrus’ decree as ‘Messiah’ (Isaiah 45:1).
Arrival of Jews in Jerusalem following  the ‘order to rebuild Jerusalem’ marks the end of the ‘7 weeks’.
Maccabean victory 24–27 ‘Weeks of years’ with high priest Jason as ‘Messiah’ and Antiochus IV as ‘Leader’ ‘62 weeks’ most likely represents the 434 years from Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (605 BCE) until Menelaus’ appointment as priest (171 BCE) by Antiochus IV, replacing Jason (‘Messiah’).
Jason caused a revolt and was ‘cut off’ (killed). Subsequently, Antiochus IV attacked Jerusalem in 168 BCE, killed many Jews, banned Jewish religion and imposed Greek worship ‘at the half of the week’ of Menelaus’ tenure as priest.
Jewish worship was restored and the temple rededicated in 165 BCE, followed by the death of Antiochus IV at the end of the ‘week’.
In this context, the ‘order to rebuild Jerusalem’ represents the rejection of Greek worship and rededicating the temple.
Later application 25 ‘Weeks’ of years with Aristobulus I as ‘Messiah’ and ‘Leader’ Aristobulus I may have taken advantage of the cryptic ‘62 weeks’ in 104 BCE to support his claim as king of the Jews, 434 years after the ‘order to rebuild Jerusalem’ (538 BCE). He was subsequently ‘cut off’ by the priest, Alexander Jannaeus.

Daniel 10–12—‘Angel’ vision

Chapters 10 to 12 present a single story of Daniel’s vision of an angel.

Daniel 10–12
Chapter Description
10 An angel visits Daniel
11 Kings of the north and south
12 Temple restoration

Daniel 10—Introduction

In the story, Daniel is on the bank of the Tigris River on the 24th day of the third year of Persian king Cyrus. Daniel sees an angel and the other people with him get scared and run away. The angel tells Daniel he was delayed for 21 days.

The references to three years, three weeks, and three days* most likely refer to the three-year delay for the restoration of Jewish worship in Jerusalem, from the ban in Kislev 168 BCE until the rededication of the temple in Kislev 165 BCE. The reference to Daniel mourning is also an allusion to this period.
* The angel tells Daniel he had tried to come since the first day that Daniel prayed (verse 12) but was delayed for 21 days. Verse 4 refers to the 24th day of the month, indicating an additional delay of 3 days before Daniel started to pray.

The references in verse 20 to the ‘princes’ of Persia and Greece may allude to the transition of dominance from Persia to Greece. However, in the context of the delay of the restoration of Jewish worship, it is more likely that the ‘prince of Persia’ refers to Antiochus IV; in turn, this suggests the coming of the ‘prince of Greece’ to refer to some actual or hypothetical action by Rome;# it could refer to the order from Rome for Antiochus IV to cease his attack on Egypt, or to the treaty Judas Maccabeus made with Rome in 161 BCE.
# Macedonia came under Roman control in 168 BCE when its final king, Perseus of Macedon, was imprisoned; Macedonia officially became a Roman province in 148 BCE.

Daniel 11—‘Kings of the North and South’ story

Daniel chapter 11 presents the story of the ‘king of the north’ and ‘king of the south’ as told by the angel seen in the vision presented in the broader context of chapters 10 to 12.

The story briefly indicates the transition from the Persian Empire to the rise of Alexander the Great, and the subsequent division of his realm into the separate kingdoms of Macedonia, Egypt, Syria and Asia.* The story then focuses on the Seleucid Dynasty of Syria (the ‘king of the north’) and the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt (the ‘king of the south’), from 306 BCE until the death of Antiochus IV in 164 BCE. More than half of the chapter is devoted to the actions of Antiochus IV. The restoration of Jewish worship in 165 BCE is addressed in Daniel chapter 12.
* The division of Alexander’s empire into ‘four kingdoms’ is an over-simplification. Actually, several individuals vied for control of parts of the empire upon Alexander’s death in 323 BCE. By 301 BCE, Seleucus I, Ptolemy I and Lysimachus had definitive control of Babylonia, Egypt and (western) Asia Minor, respectively, but Cassander still only controlled part of Macedonia. In 281 BCE, Asia Minor came under Syria’s control. Macedonia finally came under the control of a single king in 277 BCE.

The rulers in Daniel chapter 11, including the identities of the ‘king of the north’ and ‘king of the south’ are shown in the following table.

Daniel chapter 11
Verses Ruler
2 Possibly Xerxes I
3 Alexander the Great
4 Four kingdoms
King of the North King of the South
5 Seleucus I Ptolemy I
6 Antiochus II Ptolemy II
7-9 Seleucus II Ptolemy III
10-12 Antiochus III Ptolemy IV
13-19 Ptolemy V
20 Seleucus IV Ptolemy VI
21-45 Antiochus IV

Further details about the ‘kings of the north and south’ are provided below. The ‘horns’ of Daniel chapter 7 are also indicated.#
# The identities given for the ‘king of the north’ and ‘king of the south’ in the table are certain, with no ambiguity. For a consideration of the development of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ contrived interpretation, see Appendix 2—Adventist interpretation of Daniel 11. For additional information about the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties, see the timeline of the Kings of the North & South (PDF).

Horn Verses King of the North Years (BCE)
Notes King of the South Years (BCE)
1 5 Seleucus I Nicator 306–281 Seleucus I conquers Asia Minor, ruling with ‘extensive dominion’, greater than Egypt. Relevant conflicts during this period include the Seleucid-Mauryan War and the Battle of Ipsus. Ptolemy I 305–283
2 Antiochus I Soter 281–261 Not indicated in the story. Relevant conflicts during this period include the Battle of Corupedium and the First Syrian War. Ptolemy II 285–246
3 6 Antiochus II 261–246 Antiochus II divorces Laodice to marry Berenice, daughter of Ptolemy II, as part of a treaty ending the Second Syrian War (252 BCE). He later divorces her and remarries Laodice, prompting the Third Syrian War. Berenice and her sons murdered (246 BCE). Antiochus II poisoned by Laodice.
4 7–9 Seleucus II Callinicus 246–225 Ptolemy III, brother of Berenice, takes control of various Syrian territories during the Third Syrian War, recovers temple treasures previously taken from Egypt (245–241 BCE) Ptolemy III 246–222
5 Seleucus III Ceraunus 225–223 Not indicated in the story. This period includes the Battle of Ancyra.
6 10 Antiochus III the Great 222–187 Antiochus III, taking advantage of political instability in Egypt, recovers various cities under Egyptian control (219 BCE), starting the Fourth Syrian War. Ptolemy IV 221–204
11–12 Ptolemy IV retaliates with a large army, taking Syrian captives (217 BCE) before hostilities cease at the end of the Fourth Syrian War.
13–16 Antiochus III re-takes various Syrian cities, including Sidon (202 BCE), during the Fifth Syrian War.
Civil unrest in Judea, comes under control of Syria (198 BCE).
Ptolemy V 204–181
17 Ptolemy V marries Cleopatra I, daughter of Antiochus III as part of treaty (195 BCE), ending the Fifth Syrian War.
18 Antiochus III attacks Greek coast (192 BCE), igniting the Roman-Syrian War. A treaty is made after defeat by Rome (188 BCE).
Antiochus IV is initially held hostage in Rome (188 BCE), but is released in exchange for Demetrius, son of Seleucus IV (186 BCE).
19 Antiochus III dies while pillaging a temple (187 BCE).
7 20 Seleucus IV Philopator 187–175 Attempted to raise funds to pay tribute to Rome, Philopator sends Heliodorus as an ‘exactor’ to Jerusalem to confiscate the temple’s treasures (176 BCE).
Seleucus IV was murdered by Heliodorus, ‘not in anger or in warfare’, but for his throne.
Ptolemy VI 181–145
8 20 Heliodorus 175 Murdered Seleucus IV and claimed the throne.
He was murdered by Antiochus IV—one of the ‘3 horns’ of Daniel 7:8.
9 Demetrius I Soter Absent^ Legitimate heir of Seleucus IV, but imprisoned in Rome in exchange for release of Antiochus IV—one of the ‘3 horns’ of Daniel 7:8.
10 Antiochus (infant son of Seleucus IV) 175–? Legitimate heir in the absence of Demetrius I. Antiochus IV claimed to be ‘co-regent’ but later murdered him—one of the ‘3 horns’ of Daniel 7:8.
Small horn 21 Antiochus IV Epiphanes 175–164 Younger brother of Seleucus IV, Antiochus IV took throne with support from king of Pergamum, claiming to be co-regent with young son of Seleucus IV (175 BCE).
22–24 Antiochus IV attacked Jerusalem, installs Hellenised high priest Menelaus, replacing Jason, the ‘leader of the covenant’ (171 BCE)
25–26 Egypt declares war on Syria, starting the Sixth Syrian War.
Ptolemy VIII, brother of Ptolemy VI, takes control of Alexandria
27 Antiochus IV allows Ptolemy VI to continue ruling as a vassal (170 BCE)
28–30a, 36–43 Ptolemy VI reconciles with Ptolemy VIII; considered a rebellion by Antiochus IV. Antiochus IV continues attacks on Egypt and its supporters; Rome intervenes, ending the Sixth Syrian War (168 BCE).
Verses 40–43 are set during the “time of the end” and include reference to the ‘land of the decoration’ (Jerusalem), indicating the attacks on Egypt in those verses to refer to events during the Sixth Syrian War rather than later events.
30b–35 Maccabean revolt; Antiochus IV bans Jewish religion (168 BCE), “the time of the end”.
44–45a ‘Disturbed’ by ‘reports out of the east and north’ Antiochus IV attacks Parthians, and sends other troops to deal with the Maccabees (167 BCE).
45b Antiochus IV dies of a disease, with ‘no helper for him’ (164 BCE).

^ Three years after the death of Antiochus IV, Demetrius I murdered Antiochus V and claimed the throne. He reigned 161–150 BCE.

Daniel 12—Temple restoration

In the remainder of the ‘vision’ contained in the final three chapters of the book of Daniel, chapter 12 alludes to events associated with the “time of the end”—the period identified in chapter 11 as that from Antiochus’ invasion of Jerusalem (mid-168 BCE) and the subsequent ban of Jewish worship (Kislev 168 BCE) until the rededication of the temple (Kislev 165 BCE).

The chapter refers to three intentionally obscure periods: “a time, times and half a time” (verse 7, generally accepted as ‘3½ years’), “1,290 days” (verse 12), and “1,335 days” (verse 13). These ambiguous periods are especially popular among apocalyptic sects. The following image depicts a plausible interpretation of the periods indicated in Daniel chapters 8 and 12.*

Daniel chapter 12
Period Verses Description
3½ ‘times’ 7 ‘3½ times’ refers to the 3½ years from the initial attack on Jerusalem by Antiochus IV in mid-168 BCE until the rededication of the temple in Kislev 165 BCE. This is the same as the period indicated at Daniel 7:25.
1,290 days 11 ‘1,290 days’ (3 years, 7 months) begins with the ban of Jewish worship in Kislev 168 BCE. The end of the period (mid-164 BCE) may refer to Antiochus’ death.
1,335 days 12 ‘1,335 days’ (3 years, 8½ months) probably refers to the period from the end of the ‘1,290 days’ (mid-164 BCE) until late 161 BCE (or early 160 BCE, before Nisan), when Judas Maccabeus signed a treaty with Rome. Alternatively, it may refer to an event 45 days after the end of the ‘1,290 days’.

* The periods are intentionally cryptic. There is some degree of certainty regarding the meaning of the “time, times, and half a time”. There is little available evidence to confirm the specific months for some of the periods; however, comparison with historical events suggests plausible interpretations, without any need for supernatural claims. Other valid interpretations may exist. Many invalid interpretations have also been offered, especially by Adventists. For example, Charles Taze Russell believed the periods of 3½ ‘times’, 1,290 and 1,335 ‘days’ referred to periods of years ending in 1799, 1829 and 1874, respectively (Thy Kingdom Come, page 84); Joseph Rutherford maintained this interpretation (The Harp of God, page 230). In 1958, the Watch Tower Society claimed the 3½ ‘times’ began in November 1914 (with no specific event) and ended with the arrest of Watch Tower Society directors in May 1918 (“Your Will Be Done on Earth”, page 331). It also stated that the ‘1,290 days’ referred to a period of literal days between the formation of the League of Nations in ‘January 1919’ (actually founded in 1920) until a Bible Students convention in 1922, and that the ‘1,335 days’ counted from that 1922 convention until another Bible Students convention in 1926 (“Your Will Be Done on Earth”, pages 334–337); their current interpretation for the 1,290 and 1,335 ‘days’ has not since changed, although their placement of the 3½ ‘times’ was shifted forward a month so that the end of the period coincided with sentencing of the Watch Tower Society directors rather than their arrest (Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy, pages 296, 300, 303–304).

Appendix 1—Chart of Daniel’s dreams and visions

The following chart summarises Daniel’s various dreams and visions.

Chart summarising Daniel's dreams and visions

Click image for larger view.

Appendix 2—Adventist interpretation of Daniel 11

This appendix indicates the development of Jehovah’s Witnesses interpretations of the ‘kings of the north and south’ from the Adventist interpretation proposed by William Miller.

Charles Taze Russell’s interpretation

Russell’s interpretation of Daniel chapter 11 correctly identified the ‘king of the north’ and ‘king of the south’ only until verse 16 before deviating. After the identification of the ‘king of the north’ as Antiochus III, Russell’s interpretation—based on that of William Miller—claimed that various leaders of the Roman Empire were represented by the ‘king of the north’, in order to make claims about Jesus.

In the Adventist interpretation, the “exactor” of Daniel 11:20 refers to the census at Luke 2:2. However, the census by Quirinius was conducted in 6 CE, several years after the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE (and there is no evidence that such a census would require people to return to the place they were born). Apologists make various excuses for this contradiction; the one accepted by Jehovah’s Witnesses is that Quirinius ‘must have’ also conducted an earlier census in 2 BCE, and that Herod ‘must have’ died in 2 BCE or the following year. Despite evidence against these claims,* this view is dogmatically held by Adventists because it ‘supports’ their view that the “leader of the covenant” of verse 22 refers to Jesus.
* Josephus indicates that Herod’s son, Philip, ruled for 37 years and died in the 20th year of Tiberius. As Tiberius began his reign in 14 CE (with which the Watch Tower Society agrees), Philip therefore began to rule in place of Herod the Great in 4 BCE.

From verse 27, Russell associated the ‘king of the north’ with Rome during the development of the Catholic Church and then as the Catholic papacy, bringing the ‘king’ into the period of the Napoleonic Wars, where Russell then identified it as England. The king in verses 36–39 was said to refer to Napoleon, as a third ‘king’ at war with both the ‘king of the north’ and the ‘king of the south’. Throughout these changes, the ‘king of the south’ remains associated with Egypt. According to Russell’s interpretation, the ‘time of the end’ began “on October 1, 1799”.

Thy Kingdom Come (Studies in the Scriptures, volume 3; 1891)

Verses Ruler
2 Xerxes I
3 Alexander the Great
4 Four Generals
King of the North King of the South
5 Seleucus I Ptolemy I
6 Antiochus II Ptolemy II
7–9 Seleucus II Ptolemy III
10–12 Antiochus III Ptolemy IV
13–16 Ptolemy V
17–19 Mark Antony Cleopatra VII
20 Augustus
21–24 Tiberius
25–26,28 Aurelian Queen Zenobia
27 Imperial vs. Clerical Rome
29–30 Roman Empire Egypt
31–35 Papacy
36–39 Both at war with Napoleon
40–45 Britain

Russell’s interpretation is very similar to that given in the Seventh-day Adventist’s Daniel and the Revelation (1897) by Uriah Smith. Though some details vary, it names all of the individuals in Russell’s interpretation except for Aurelian and Zenobia. It contends that the ‘time of the end’ began at the end of 1798.

Changes by Joseph Rutherford

Joseph Rutherford initially retained Russell’s interpretations of Daniel chapter 11. His 1921 book, The Harp of God (pages 233–234) restated Russell’s view that Napoleon completed his campaign against the ‘king of the south’ “on October 1, 1799”, claiming that “the fulfilment of this prophecy fixes the beginning of the ‘time of the end’, because the prophecy definitely so states.” In 1928, Rutherford rereleased The Harp of God, with no change to his interpretation of the “time of the end”.

However, the following year, The Watch Tower (1 December 1929, pages 1, 3) stated that “the proof [of that view] is not by any means conclusive” and that “the definitely fixed ‘time of the end’ was and is 1914 A.D.”, adding that, “Nothing came to pass in 1799 that corresponds so well with these prophecies as did in 1914.” Despite the change to the “time of the end”, no changes were made to the identities of the ‘kings of the north and south’ at that time.

Further changes

In 1954, The Watchtower (1 December 1954, page 6) associated Daniel 11:40 with World War I, “likening the democratic powers to the ‘king of the south’ and the autocratic powers to the ‘king of the north,’” but did not specify any other changes. However, a number of changes were introduced in 1958 when the Watch Tower Society released the book, “Your Will Be Done on Earth”.

Verses Old New
King of the North King of the South King of the North King of the South
17–19 Mark Antony Cleopatra VII Antiochus III Ptolemy V
27–30a Roman Empire Egypt German Empire (World War I) Anglo-America
30b–31 Papacy Adolf Hitler
32–35 Communist Russia
36–39 (Napoleon, a third ‘king’)
40–45 Britain Egypt

With these changes, the Watch Tower Society correctly identified the ‘king of the north’ and ‘king of the south’ up until verse 19, having abandoned Russell’s claims about Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII. Association with the Roman Empire was retained for verses 20–26, as it is central to the core Adventist teaching that the book of Daniel contains ‘Messianic prophecies’ about Jesus. However, the claims about the Catholic papacy were abandoned, and the ‘king of the north’ was reinterpreted to refer to Germany during the two World Wars, followed by Communist Russia. With the leap to the modern era, the Watch Tower Society also changed the identity of the ‘king of the south’ to Britain at the start of World War I, and then as Britain allied with the United States to form the “Anglo-American World Power”.

Also abandoned was the claim that verses 36–39 referred to a third king at war with the kings of the north and south. Notably, the 1958 publication only makes passing mention of Napoleon, including a claim that he “brought the Holy Roman Empire to its end in 1806”, probably in an attempt to obscure any previous allegiance to views about 1799, which is itself only mentioned once, hidden away in a table that spans seven pages at the back of the book. Verses 44–45 were said to represent “further aggressions by the Communist ‘king of the north’ before his end in Armageddon”.

Current interpretation

In 1999, the Watch Tower Society released the book, Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy. It provides almost exactly the same interpretation as that in “Your Will Be Done on Earth”, with only one change, due to the failed prediction about “further aggressions by the Communist ‘king of the north’ before his end in Armageddon”. Instead, it claims the ‘king of the north’ was Russia until 1991 and that its identity has been unclear since the end of the Cold War. Despite the Watch Tower Society’s terrible history of arbitrarily changing its ‘definite’ interpretations of scripture and its ludicrous claims about the rest of the book of Daniel, Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy claims that “we are wise not to speculate” (page 281) about the ‘current’ identity of the ‘king of the north’; it then claims that a new ‘king of the north’ is “yet to rise” (page 284).

Daniel’s Prophecy (1999)

Verses Ruler
2 Xerxes I
3 Alexander the Great
4 Four Generals
King of the North King of the South
5 Seleucus I Ptolemy I
6 Antiochus II Ptolemy II
7-9 Seleucus II Ptolemy III
10-12 Antiochus III Ptolemy IV
13-19 Ptolemy V
20 Augustus
21-24 Tiberius
25-26 Aurelian Queen Zenobia
27-30a German Empire (World War I) Britain, Anglo-American World Power
30b-31 Adolf Hitler (World War II) Anglo-American World Power
32-43 Communist bloc (Cold War)
44-45 Unknown

The Society has not since made any new claims about the identity of the ‘king of the north’; instead, it has barely mentioned them. A Questions From Readers article in the 15 May 2015 issue of The Watchtower—Study Edition claims that Gog of Magog is an unspecified “coalition of nations” that ‘may’ “be led by the figurative “king of the north””, adding that “we wait with eager anticipation to see who in the near future will assume the role of “the king of the north.””* The following tables indicate the number of references to the ‘kings of the north and south’ in Watch Tower Society literature.
* It is reasonable to assume that the Watch Tower Society privately views ISIS-controlled Syria as “the king of the north”, leading a “coalition” of ‘Islamic extremists’. It is unsurprising this has not appeared in print, probably in fear of reprisals by extremists. The 2009 revision of Reasoning from the Scriptures removed the ‘Conversation Stopper’ section about “When Someone Says, ‘I’m A Muslim”, suggesting an aversion to discrediting the religion or openly evangelising to its members.

The Watchtower   Awake!
Decade North South   Decade North South
2010–2015 5 0 2010–2015 0 0
2000–2009 6 3 2000–2009 0 0
1990–1999 74 36 1990–1999 3 2*
1980–1989 127 76 1980–1989 11* 8
1970–1979 53 38 1970–1979 13 8
1960–1969 237 95 * Not including appearance as crossword answer or unrelated context
1950–1959 86 59
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ books since 1970
Title Year North South
2008 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses 2008 1 0
Isaiah’s Prophecy—Light for All Mankind I 2000 2 1
Pay Attention to Daniel’s Prophecy! 1999 172 101
1993 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses 1993 1 0
“All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial” 1990 7 6
Insight on the Scriptures* 1988 27 10
Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand! 1988 2 1
1984 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses 1984 3 2
Our Incoming World Government—God’s Kingdom 1977 3 3
1974 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses 1974 2 1
Paradise Restored to Mankind—By Theocracy! 1972 4 0
* Insight never claims any modern identity for either ‘king’. The online version of Insight contains an additional two references to the ‘king of the north’.


Contents of Daniel
Daniel 1—Induction into Babylon
Daniel 2—‘Statue’ dream
Daniel 3–6—Lessons in faith and humility
Daniel 7—‘4 Beasts’ dream
Daniel 8—‘Ram and Goat’ vision
Daniel 9—‘Prophecy’ of ‘70 Weeks’
Daniel 10–12—‘Angel’ vision
Daniel 10—Introduction
Daniel 11—‘Kings of the North and South’ story
Daniel 12—Temple restoration
Appendix 1—Chart of Daniel’s dreams and visions
Appendix 2—Adventist interpretation of Daniel 11

Copyright ©2015 Jeffro. All Rights Reserved.

2 thoughts on “Daniel’s dreams and visions

    • I was reluctant to approve a comment that only contains a URL, but have decided to do so in order to point out a number of problems. Though there is no evidence that Daniel actually existed at all, the site contains a number of errors within the context of the story:

      • The claim that Daniel survived (or underwent) castration is not found in the Bible.
      • ‘Prophesized’ is not a word. The correct word is prophesied.
      • Not only have parts of Babylon been rebuilt, but Hillah is a city of over 400,000 people, and the city centre is only about 10 kilometers from the heritage-listed ruins.
      • The “entire duration of the Babylonian Empire” was actually 87 years (from 626 BCE until 539 BCE), or 70 years if counting from the final destruction of Assyria in 609 BCE.
      • Daniel was taken to Babylon after Nabopolassar’s death, not during his reign.
      • Daniel would have been in Babylon for 66 years—not 72 years—under the Neo-Babylonian empire (early 604 BCE until October 539 BCE), and then another few years under the Persian empire.
      • Nebuchadnezzar reigned for 43 years, not 45 years.
      • The Bible does not specify when Daniel died.
      • In the story about Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the dream was not about mental illness, it was about a tree that was chopped down and banded for seven ‘times’.
      • The Bible story about Nebuchdnezzar’s madness mentions seven ‘times’ of unspecified duration, not “42 months”.
      • According to the story, Nebuchadnezzar regains his sanity and then praises God, not the other way around.

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