Identity of the Little Horn

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

Goat -Photo by Dominique Scripter on Unsplash
In the eighth chapter of 
Daniel the image of the “little horn” represents a malevolent king from one of the Hellenic kingdoms that evolved from the original conquests of Alexander the Great. The historical allusions in the chapter make the identity of this ruler clear, and by association, the identity of the fourth kingdom from the previous vision of four “beasts ascending from the sea” - (Daniel 7:7-8, 8:9-2611:1-4). - [Photo by Dominique Scripter on Unsplash].

Additionally, the identification of this figure sheds light on an event of great significance to the several visions of Daniel, namely, the “abomination that desolates” and the cessation of the daily burnt offering in the “sanctuary”:
  • (Daniel 8:13) – “Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to that certain one who spoke, How long shall be the vision concerning the continual burnt-offering, and the transgression that desolates, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?
  • (Daniel 9:27) – “And he shall make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week, he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one that desolates.”
  • (Daniel 11:31) – “And 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 desolates.
  • (Daniel 12:11) – “And from the time that the continual burnt-offering shall be taken away, and the abomination that desolates is set up, there shall be a thousand and two hundred and ninety days.
In chapter 8, the figures of a “ram” and “goat” represent the kingdoms of the “Medes and the Persians” and of Greece, respectively. The identifications are made explicit in the interpretation provided by the angel Gabriel - (Daniel 8:21-26).

The realm of the “Medes and Persians” was defeated by a Macedonian force in 331 B.C. under Alexander the Great, who ruled his new empire for only a few years until he died at a young age in 323 B.C. Afterwards, his generals fought for the succession until a settlement was reached. The empire was divided among four generals into four main smaller states ruled by Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, Antigonus. By 275 B.C., only three of the original four remained - the kingdoms of Ptolemy in Egypt, Seleucus in Syria and Babylon, and Antigonus in Greece and Macedonia.

Ptolemy I founded the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt in 305 B.C., a dynasty that endured until 30 B.C. 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 located dead center in the frontier between them. After several Seleucid victories, in 198 B.C., Judea became part of its empire and so for several decades.

The Seleucid rulers were tolerant of the Jewish nation and its faith. No attempt was made to repress its religion. However, this changed after the Seleucid throne was seized by Antiochus IV (175 B.C.), also known as Antiochus Epiphanés (“manifest god”).

Antiochus was not the direct heir to the throne. He was the younger brother of the legitimate king, Seleucus IV, who was assassinated by his chancellor (Heliodorus) in 175 B.C. in his attempt to seize the throne (2 Maccabees 3:21-28). The legitimate heirs were the two underage sons of Seleucus IV.

Antiochus removed the Heliodorus and installed himself as regent over the kingdom, although he was king in all but name. After his youngest nephew died, he ruled openly as the king and absolute ruler of the empire.

The rise of Antiochus 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 “another, a 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” or kings. In the Seleucid line, Antiochus IV was the eighth descendant to rule since Seleucus I. The royal line until his reign was as follows:
  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 ascent to the throne, three rivals were removed - The rebel chancellor Heliodorus and the two sons and legitimate heirs of Seleucus IV. Thus, three horns were “uprooted” so another could rule in their place. 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.” This 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 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 later aggression against the Jews.

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

Jason was of the priestly line, but his appointment was irregular. He used his new position to promote Hellenism in Jerusalem.  In 171 B.C., he sent an aid named Menelaus to pay his annual tribute to Antiochus who, upon arrival, offered the king an even larger bribe to make him high priest. Antiochus 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 and caused great resentment. He became an ally of Antiochus, and like Jason, promoted Hellenism among the Jewish population. In 171 B.C., Menelaus robbed some of the vessels from the Temple treasury to pay his bribe to Antiochus.

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

Up to this point, Antiochus remained friendly to the Jewish nation. The last thing he needed was unrest so close to home. 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 devout Jews, the execution of Onias III 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 outrage.

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

Antiochus launched another expedition against Egypt in 168 B.C. This time things did not go well. Rome intervened to stop his attack. The Roman Senate had demanded that he cease his aggression, otherwise he risked war with Rome. He had no choice but to comply.

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 and punish the city, 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. The military governor of Samaria and Judea, Apollonius, was dispatched to ensure Jerusalem would cause no more trouble, and to turn it into a Greek city-state. He demolished the city’s walls and erected a new fortress alongside the Temple - (2 Maccabees5:24-27).

These events marked a new phase in the repression of the Jewish nation. Antiochus realized the exclusivist religious faith of the Jews was responsible for their resistance to his policies, so he took necessary 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 -Photo by Yusuf Dündar on Unsplash

In December of 168 B.C., the worst offense came with the placement of an altar to the pagan deity 
Zeus Olympias on top of 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 only slightly different than the Aramaic shamen. Thus, shíqqûç shômem - “abomination of desolation” - became a sarcastic retort to the sacrileges of Antiochus IV.

Altars to Zeus Olympias were set up in the towns and villages of Judea. Jews were required to offer sacrifices to this 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 a Jewish force 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, they continued daily in the Temple without interruption until Jerusalem was destroyed by a Roman army 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 by the book of 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 through the removal of three rivals and other acts of political subterfuge.

Adding the seven previous kings of the Seleucid Empire to the three rivals removed by Antiochus results in a total of ten “kings,” just as in Daniel’s vision, three of which were “removed” to make way for the “little horn.” Thus, the “fourth beast” was the Seleucid kingdom that succeeded the Macedonian kingdom of Alexander, the “leopard” or third “beast.”

Antiochus claimed divine status by assuming the title Epiphanés - “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. Antiochus removed the daily sacrifice, desecrated the sanctuary, and oppressed the people of the saints. This “time of indignation” continued until Jerusalem was freed from Seleucid control and the Temple cleansed, a little 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 in 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 almost 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,” that is, the last half of the final or “seventieth week” - (Daniel 7:258:149:27).
Thus, the predicted events and timeframes of Daniel’s visions fit the actual history of the conflicts between Judea and Antiochus IV, and ‘to a T’.
In chapter 7, the descriptions of the “little horn” are symbolic and enigmatic, making identification problematic. However, the historical allusions in chapter 8 are quite clear - the “little horn” is identified explicitly as the ruler from one of the four kingdoms that developed after the death of Alexander the Great. Note well – the “little horn” is central to the visions of chapters 7 and 8 from the book of Daniel.

The historical references to the Medo-Persian Empire, its overthrow by Greece, and the four lesser kingdoms that followed are clear. The “little horn” can only be Antiochus IV Epiphanés, the king of the Seleucid Empire.


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