Identity of the Little Horn

In Daniel, the description of the “little horn” fits perfectly with the known history of the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV “Epiphanes”

Temple of Apollo - Photo by Constantinos Kollias on Unsplash
In 
Daniel, the image of the “little horn” represents a malevolent king from one of the Hellenic kingdoms that evolved from the conquests of Alexander the Great. The historical allusions in chapter 8 make its identity clear, and by association, the identity of the fourth kingdom from the vision of four “beasts ascending from the sea.” - [Temple of Apollo - Photo by Constantinos Kollias on Unsplash].

The identification of this figure sheds light on the most significant events found in each of the several visions from the second half of Daniel: the “abomination that desolates,” and the cessation of the daily burnt offering – (Daniel 8:13, 9:27, 11:31, 12:11).

In chapter 8, the figures of the “ram” and “goat” represent the kingdoms of the “Medes and the Persians” and Greece, respectively. The identifications are made explicit in the vision’s interpretation - (Daniel 8:21-26).

The empire of the “Medes and Persians” was defeated by a Macedonian force under Alexander the Great, who ruled his new empire for only a few years until his death in 323 B.C. Afterwards, his generals fought for the succession until a settlement was reached. The empire was divided into four main smaller states ruled by Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, Antigonus. By 275 B.C., only three of the original four remained; Ptolemy in Egypt, Seleucus in Syria and Babylon, and Antigonus in Greece and Macedonia.

Ptolemy I founded the Ptolemaic Kingdom in 305 B.C., a dynasty that endured until 30 B.C. Initially, the small Jewish state of Judea was part of his realm, although it was allowed it to govern its internal affairs. The Seleucid dynasty was founded in 312 B.C. and endured until 63 B.C. Intermittent wars occurred between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic regimes over disputed territories, with Judea dead center in the frontier between them. After several Seleucid victories (B.C.,), Judea became part of its empire and remained so for several decades.

The Seleucid rulers were tolerant of the Jewish nation and its religion. However, that changed after the Seleucid throne was seized by Antiochus IV (175 B.C.), also known as Antiochus Epiphanés  or “manifest god.” He was the younger brother of the legitimate king, Seleucus IV, not the direct heir to the throne. Seleucus IV was assassinated by his chancellor in 175 B.C. in an attempt by him to seize the throne (2 Maccabees 3:21-28). The legitimate heirs of Seleucus were his two underage sons.

Antiochus IV removed the chancellor and installed himself as regent, although he was king in all but name. After his youngest nephew died, he ruled openly as the absolute ruler of the empire. His rise to power was unexpected and made possible only by unforeseen circumstances. His seizure of the throne is portrayed in the vision of a fourth beast with ten horns, three of which were removed to make way for the “little horn” - (Daniel 7:1-14).

The ten horns represented “ten kings who will arise.” The “little horn” appeared later and was “diverse” from the ten. It cast down three “horns.” In the Seleucid line, Antiochus IV was the eighth descendant to rule since Seleucus I:
  1. Seleucus I [Nicantor] - (312-281 B.C.)
  2. Antiochus I [Sotér] - (281-261 B.C.)
  3. Antiochus II [Theos] - (261-246 B.C.)
  4. Seleucus II [Kallinikos] - (246-226 B.C.)
  5. Seleucus III [Keraunos] - (226-223 B.C.)
  6. Antiochus III [the Great] - (223-187 B.C.)
  7. Seleucus IV [Philopator] - (187-175 B.C.)
  8. Antiochus IV [Epiphanés] (175-163 B.C.)
To make way for his seizure of the throne, three rivals were removed; the rebel chancellor, then the two sons and legitimate heirs of Seleucus IV. Thus, three horns were “uprooted” so another could rule. Two descriptive labels, “little horn” and “diverse,” distinguish Antiochus from his predecessors.  Unlike them, he was not a direct heir and did not transition to power through legitimate means.

Once in power, Antiochus waxed great “toward the south, and the east, and the beauty.” The description alludes to his conflicts with Egypt (south), Persia and other eastern territories, and with Judea, the “beautiful land - (1 Maccabees 3:29-37).

Initially, Antiochus IV was not hostile to the Jewish people. Circumstances created by his wars with Egypt, along with internal conflicts among the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, set the stage for his growing aggression against the Jews.

When Antiochus IV assumed the throne, the last legitimate high priest from the line of Zadok held office in Jerusalem, Onias III. But his brother, Jason, a proponent of Hellenism, bribed Antiochus to appoint him high priest instead. In need of money, Antiochus accepted the bribe and made him the new high priest - (1 Kings 2:27-351 Chronicles 29:222 Maccabees 4:7-17).

Jason used his new position to promote Hellenism among the Jews. In 171 B.C., he sent an aid named Menelaus to pay his annual tribute to Antiochus IV who, upon arrival, offered the king an even larger bribe to make him high priest. The king welcomed the bribe and replaced Jason with Menelaus - (2 Maccabees 4:23-30).

Menelaus was an apostate Jew and not a member of any priestly family. His appointment was beyond the pale, causing great resentment among devout Jews. He became an ally of Antiochus, and like Jason, he promoted Hellenism. Later, he robbed the vessels from the Temple treasury to pay his bribe to Antiochus IV.

Later, Onias III was denounced by Menelaus while the king was preoccupied in the eastern region of his empire putting down rebellions. He left one of his ministers in charge, Andronicus, whom Menelaus bribed to execute Onias, an act that outraged pious Jews.

Up to this point, Antiochus IV remained friendly towards the Jewish nation. To avoid further offense against the religious sensibilities of Jews, he had Andronicus executed on the very spot where Onias III had been killed. Regardless, in the minds of many Jews, the execution of Onias marked the start of the Seleucid outrages against the Jewish nation.

In 169 B.C., Antiochus launched a military attack on Egypt, which necessitated new sources of revenue. The temples of the various religions in his domain functioned as depositories for great wealth, so he began to raid them. This included the Temple in Jerusalem, a further sacrilege.

Upon his return from Egypt, the king stopped in Jerusalem, where Menelaus, the apostate high priest, escorted him into the sanctuary, a place reserved only for the priests of Yahweh. This defilement, along with the looting of the Temple, only deepened Jewish resentment.

Antiochus IV launched another expedition against Egypt in 168 B.C. This time things did not go well. Rome intervened and stopped his attack. Rumors of Rome’s rebuff reached Jerusalem, even as Antiochus began his return trip, which caused a revolt in the city. In reaction, he sent soldiers to quell the rebellion, killing a significant number of Jews with many others sold into slavery. Martial law was imposed, and Jerusalem lost its status as a self-governing temple-state - (2 Maccabees 5:24-27).

These events marked a new phase in the repression of the Jewish nationAntiochus realized that the exclusivist faith of the Jews was responsible for their resistance to his policies, so he took steps to eradicate their ancestral faith - The Temple rituals were stopped, including the daily sacrifices. He outlawed the observance of the Sabbath, circumcision, the Levitical dietary restrictions, and other rituals. The sacred writings of the Jewish faith were banned and burned.

Quite possibly, these outrages were behind the references in Daniel to “truth being cast down to the ground,” as well as the attempt by the “little horn” to “change times and the law” - (Daniel 7:258:12).

Temple of Zeus -Photo by Yusuf Dündar on Unsplash
Temple of Zeus by Yusuf Dündar on Unsplash

In December 168 B.C., the worst offense came with the placement of an altar to the pagan deity 
Zeus Olympias on the altar of burnt offerings. On it, ritually unclean animals were sacrificed to the Syrian deity. The book of First Maccabees calls this profanation the “abomination of desolation” - (1 Maccabees 4:5410:1-5).

The Aramaic name for Zeus Olympias was Ba’al Shamen, meaning, the “lord of heaven.” In Hebrew, “abomination of desolation” is a wordplay on this name. Among the devout Jews, the pagan name Ba’al was an “abomination” or shíqqûç, and the Hebrew word for “desolation,” shômem, sounded almost the same as the Aramaic shamen. Thus, shíqqûç shômem, “abomination of desolation,” became the sarcastic retort to the sacrileges of Antiochus IV, the “little horn” with the “mouth speaking great things.”

Altars to Zeus Olympias were erected in the towns and villages of Judea. Jews were required to offer sacrifices to the pagan god or suffer the consequences. This repression stirred up armed resistance, what became known as the Maccabean Revolt - (167-160 B.C.).  After several initial victories, the armies of the Seleucid kingdom were driven from Palestine by the rebel forces.

Jerusalem was recaptured by the Jewish rebels in 165 B.C. The Temple was “cleansed” and rededicated. This occurred a little over three years after the “abomination of desolation” was first erected. The daily sacrifices were restored, and from that day forward, the daily sacrifices continued in the Temple without interruption, until Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in A.D. 70 - (1 Maccabees 4:51-59).

Antiochus IV died of an unknown disease in 164 B.C., only a few months after the Temple was restored. At the time, he was campaigning in the eastern regions of his kingdom.  Thus, he was “broken in pieces without hand” - (Daniel 8:25).

The first three of the four “beasts from the sea” are identified in Daniel as Babylon, the “kingdom of the Medes and Persians,” and the Greco-Macedonian Empire established by Alexander the Great. In turn, his realm was divided into four lesser domains after his death - (Daniel 7:1-8, 8:15-26, 11:1-4).

The details provided about the “little horn” are too close to actual events to be coincidental. Antiochus IV ruled over one of the “lesser” Greek kingdoms. He gained the throne by the removal of three rivals. Adding the seven preceding kings of the Seleucid dynasty to the three rivals removed by Antiochus, results in a total of ten “kings,” just as in the vision. Thus, the “fourth beast” was the Seleucid kingdom that succeeded the Macedonian kingdom of Alexander, the “leopard” or third “beast.”
Antiochus IV claimed divine status by assuming the title Epiphanés, or “manifest god.” On his coinage, he portrayed himself as Zeus Olympias manifested in the flesh. Thus, he was the boastful king “speaking great words.”

His persecution of the Jews matches the details given in the vision in chapter 8. He removed the daily sacrifice, desecrated the sanctuary, and oppressed the people of the saints. The “time of indignation” continued until Jerusalem was freed from Seleucid control and the Temple cleansed, a period of over three years.

In Daniel 7:25, “times and law” were given into the hand of the “little horn” for “a time, times and the dividing of time.” The persecution of the Jewish faith was initiated in the summer of 168 B.C. and continued until December 165 B.C. The political conflict that devolved into open persecution began in 171 B.C. with the removal of Onias III and his subsequent murder, a period of seven years.

The book of Daniel defines the time of the “indignation,” variously, as the “dividing of time,” “two thousand and three hundred evening-mornings,” that is, one thousand one hundred and fifty days (1,150), and the “middle of the week,” the last half of the final or “seventieth week.” Thus, the predicted events and timeframes of Daniel’s visions fit the history of the conflicts between Judea and Antiochus IV.

In chapter 7, the descriptions of the “little horn” are symbolic and enigmatic, making identification difficult. However, the historical allusions in chapter 8 are clear; the “little horn” is identified as the ruler from one of the four kingdoms that developed from the conquests of Alexander the Great.

The historical references to the Medo-Persian Empire, its overthrow by Greece, and the four lesser kingdoms that followed are, likewise, crystal clear. The “little horn” can only be Antiochus IV or Epiphanés, the illegitimate king of the Seleucid Empire who waged war against the Jewish nation.

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