Liars for Jesus: Does Daniel Predict the Future?

This is post #1000!

This blog has had over 2.5 million views and a quarter of a million comments, and it recently had its sixth anniversary. Thanks for your readership!

 

daniel

 

The book of Daniel is the story of a Judean nobleman taken into captivity in Babylon in the sixth century BCE. If it was actually written in the sixth century, as it claims, it does a remarkable job of predicting the future.

Nebuchadnezzar’s frightening dream

Daniel is an advisor to Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar and is called in to interpret a disturbing dream. The king is admirably skeptical: he demands that his wise men tell him the meaning of the dream without telling them what the dream was. If they have the wisdom to interpret the dream, they must surely have the wisdom to know what it was.

Good for you, O king—we could do with more of that skepticism today.

Of the king’s advisors, only Daniel is up to the challenge. In chapter 2, we learn that the king had dreamed of an enormous statue with gold head, silver chest, bronze loins, iron legs, and feet of iron plus clay. The statue is then destroyed by a huge rock.

Daniel tells him that the statue shows the future succession of kingdoms. Gold represents Babylon, and the subsequent kingdoms become baser (gold to silver to bronze to iron) and more powerful. Finally, they will be swept away by the rock of God’s kingdom.

The four beasts

Daniel then has his own vision, a dream of four beasts (chapter 7). We see the beasts in succession, and, like the succession of metals, they represent the future kingdoms. The first is a lion with eagle wings (though we might call it a griffin, that also describes a cherub), then a bear, then a leopard. The final beast has iron teeth and is the most terrifying and destructive. It initially had ten horns, which represent ten kings, but then three were replaced by a new little horn that spoke boastfully. Again, all is swept away in the end.

It’s not too hard to map these symbols onto the history of the Middle East. (My primary skeptical source for this analysis was “The Failure of Daniel’s Prophecies” by Chris Sandoval—thorough and highly recommended.)

In Babylon—remember, that’s the context of the story—the cardinal directions are represented by animals. The lion is the south (Babylon), the bear north (Media), and the leopard east (Persia). That leaves the west for the dragon (Greece).

Mapping this onto Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Babylon is gold, silver Media comes next, bronze Persia is next, and the iron Greek Empire under Alexander the Great is last. The feet of iron and clay represent the four weaker successor states to Alexander’s empire. The most important of these to Daniel’s story are the Seleucid Empire in Syria and the Ptolemaic Empire in Egypt.

The ten horns appear to be ten kings of the Seleucid Empire, starting with Alexander (356–323 BCE) and ending with Antiochus IV Epiphanies (215–164 BCE). Antiochus is the boastful little horn that replaced three other horns, which are three relatives killed to allow Antiochus to take the Seleucid throne.

And now it gets interesting …

Daniel has a final vision (chapter 11), describing the various wars between the kings of the north and south—that is, the Seleucid (Syrian) and Ptolemaic (Egyptian) kings, respectively. The account becomes more detailed as Antiochus Epiphanes—a “contemptible person” (Dan. 11:21)—takes power in 175 BCE. The ebb and flow of the power struggle is accurately described, including a battle where a Roman fleet prevented his victory over Egypt.

Judah was part of the Seleucid Empire at this time, and a Jewish force took advantage of the king’s absence in Egypt to capture Jerusalem. Antiochus retaliated by killing 40,000 Jews, enslaving an equal number, outlawing Jewish worship, and establishing an altar to Zeus in the Jewish temple on which pigs were sacrificed. This “abomination of desolation” (Dan. 11:31) happened in 167 BCE.

Prophecy looking forward or history looking back?

Could this accurate history have been written from the vantage point of the sixth century BCE? If so, Daniel lost his mojo at this point, because the “prophecy” then falls apart. Daniel says that Antiochus would once more attack Egypt, winning this time, and return to camp in central Palestine. And then, like the stone that destroyed the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Michael the Archangel would open a bigly can of whoop-ass on the world that would make Noah’s Flood look like rain on a picnic. The good and wicked from all of history would go to their appropriate afterlives, and the world would end.

From the abomination until the end of the world in mid-164 BCE would be three and a half years.

But it didn’t work out that way. Antiochus didn’t fight Egypt again but took part of his army to address troubles in the east, leaving another force in Palestine to stamp out the Maccabean Revolt. Incredibly, this Jewish uprising against the mighty Seleucid empire was eventually successful, and the Hasmonean dynasty ruled a semi-autonomous and then fully independent Judea for about a century. Antiochus died of a sudden illness in 164.

Conclusions

Daniel “predicted” Alexander the Great, the four successor states, and the pitiless response by Antiochus in 167 BCE, but then he imagined a nonexistent victory over Egypt, missed Judah’s successful revolt, and raised a false alarm about the end of the world.

What seems likelier—that the book was written in the sixth century BCE and correctly predicted the major events in that part of the world up to just after 167 BCE but then lost its touch when it predicted the end of the world a few years later? Or that it was falsely attributed to a respected sixth-century BCE patriarch and was instead written shortly after 167 to give encouragement to a beleaguered Jewish population? In fact, this kind of after-the-fact prophecy was common enough during that time to have a scholarly name: prophecy post eventum.

To be continued with more on Daniel.

Other posts on prophecy:

The scientific theory is the modern equivalence of the prophecy.
— comment by MNb

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 3/19/14.)

Photo credit: Wikipedia

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Bob Jase

    Prophecies should come with expiration dates – they all end up going sour.

  • Dannorth

    “To be continued with more on Daniel.”

    A series of blogs about little ole me? (Blushes)

    • Greg G.

      Remember that Bob is not saying you actually did all the things he will be accusing you of, he is merely blaming you for them. There’s a difference.

      • RichardSRussell

        Sign on the wall at my dance studio: “I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.”

      • Dannorth

        Oh well!

        Speak well of me, speak ill of me but speak of me.

        I know it sounds just a little narcissistic but that’s because you don’t know the half of it.

  • RichardSRussell

    Every cake is a miraculous fulfillment of a prophecy called a recipe.

    • Joe

      Mine are more like burnt offerings.

      • Greg G.

        I wanted a big birthday cake so I doubled the recipe. I know I did the math right but somehow 50 minutes at 700 F is wrong.

        • MR

          That’s because ovens don’t go that high. You need a new oven.

        • Greg G.

          I used a pizza oven because it was twice the size of the oven in my kitchen. I was extremely meticulous.

        • epeeist

          There is a local pizza place where time to order to delivery to your table is on the order of 5m. Their oven runs at 500C.

        • Michael Neville

          That’s 773K or 1391°R. You’re talking about some serious heat.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          A friend of mine put a cake in the oven, and then the oven decided (on its own) to go into “Clean” mode. It locked the door and began to heat it up to 900 degrees (or whatever the clean temperature is). It wouldn’t respond to any controls, and she had to turn it off at the circuit breaker. It was like one of Satan’s little wizards was inhabiting the oven.

          (Which I suppose might have made sense if she were cooking an angel food cake …)

        • MR

          Whoa, that’s awesome. She should have left it and YouTube’d it. I left a cake out in the rain once….

        • Maltnothops

          I don’t think that I can take it
          It took so long to bake it

        • Greg G.

          Or the devil didn’t want to share the Devil’s Food Cake.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          After 900 degrees for 3 hours, the burned husk that remained would probably be something even Satan himself wouldn’t touch.

        • TheNuszAbides

          a classic punishment for one form of naughtiness or another is for all food eaten to taste of ashes. anybody supervising such punishment might as well keep stuff like that handy so as not to waste actual food.

    • epeeist
      • Giauz Ragnarock

        I am still feeling a bit queezy, but you have got me wanting to try to eat something :-)>)

  • Neo

    I am still digesting this extremely intelligent and enlightening post – to be honest, this is my first exposure to the prophecies of Daniel – I notice your comment – “Daniel lost his mojo at this point, because the “prophecy” then falls apart” – Is it possible it wasn’t Daniel’s fault at all? – After all, remember in the story of Jonah, he was sent to prophecy to the City of Nineveh that they would be destroyed – Jonah’s prophecy failed as well because of circumstances outside his control – the people of Nineveh repented.

    • Michael Neville

      Are you suggesting that the Egyptians repented so Antiochus didn’t conquer them and the Archangel Michael didn’t bring about Armageddon because he needed an emergency root canal or something like that?

    • Greg G.

      Jonah’s prophecy failed as well because of circumstances outside his control

      Sure. Antiochus, who was to fulfill Daniel’s prophecy, died. That was out of Daniel’s control. How was he supposed to foresee that happening?

      Scholars date Daniel by assuming his correct prophecies were retrodictions and his incorrect predictions were made before Antiochus died.

    • TheNuszAbides

      smart-ass ‘prophets’ could inevitably count on giving Nineveh a “tsk, tsk” – it was settled on a fault line.

    • Lark62

      Is it possible the prophecies of Daniel were written by liars?

      • Greg G.

        I suspect Daniel was written by a special kind of liar – a propagandist.

  • MR

    Daniel was another area that unraveled my Christianity. Probably I knew at some point that it alluded to Alexander, but I had forgotten or more likely it meant nothing to me. Later, when I was in “salvage my Christianity” mode, I decided to do a cover to cover reading of the Bible. I knew my history a little better, and when I got to Daniel I was all excited because, clearly he was speaking about Alexander. The books came out, Wikipedia was consulted, and for some reason I couldn’t. quite. make. the. pieces. fit. That’s when I read about how the first part was supposed to be historical: Alexander, and the latter part was supposed to be prophecy. “Bu-bullshit…,” I coughed to myself.

  • MR

    This is post #1000!
    This blog has had over 2.5 million views and a quarter of a million comments, and it recently had its sixth anniversary. Thanks for your readership!

    That is awesome, Bob!

    And you are welcome for my readership and my couple dozen or so comments. I must say, when I was first tempted over here by Kodie’s comments your blog, I never imagined that I would still be hanging around a couple years later. Thank you for your insights, your research, your wisdom, and for providing a forum for Christians to illustrate the weaknesses of their faith and for us ex-Christians and atheists a forum to challenge them.

    Keep up the good work, and may the gods continue to smile upon you!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks for the feedback! And thanks for your insightful comments. I’ve learned a lot from you and the other thoughtful commenters. And every now and then, even from playing Whac-a-Mole with some members of the mindless Christian zombie army.

    • Ignorant Amos

      Thank you for your insights, your research, your wisdom, and for providing a forum for Christians to illustrate the weaknesses of their faith and for us ex-Christians and atheists a forum to challenge them.

      And Bob’s books…don’t forget his books,,,,

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Yay! They make the perfect un-birthday or anytime present. They’ve even good for celebrating (or mocking) the birthday of Our Lord.

        Maybe someday Patheos will get my book information back up. Ah, well–progress.

        https://www.amazon.com/Robert-B.-Seidensticker/e/B001JS11MI/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1505157014&sr=1-2-ent

        • Ignorant Amos

          They are practically giving away your two atheism grounded novels on Amazon…though “The Well-Tempered Digital Design” is a bit pricey at $198….fortunately for us gypsies, it can be picked up elsewhere for less than a tenner. Though it sells for nearly £300 from one outlet. I guess that’s what a specialist book goes for in some places. That’s some mark up.

          https://www.abebooks.co.uk/9780201067477/Well-Tempered-Digital-Design-Robert-Seidensticker-0201067471/plp

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “The Well-Tempered Digital Design” is a bit pricey at $198

          Ah, a pleasant reminder of a previous life. I just wish a little of that cash would migrate back to yours truly.

  • Otto

    Congrats Bob!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      :-)