The Bible and Archaeology: The Intertestamental Period—Daniel's Prophecies Come to Pass

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The Bible and Archaeology

The Intertestamental Period—Daniel's Prophecies Come to Pass

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This series has traced the history of the Old Testament from Genesis through the captivity of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, describing archaeological finds and historical accounts that have confirmed and illuminated the biblical account. In this issue we show more evidence that confirms the accuracy of the Bible accounts by picking up the story with the Intertestamental period: the time between the testaments, when the events described in the books of the Old Testament were completed but before the events that introduced the four Gospels.

During this 420 years several crucial prophecies were fulfilled, dramatizing the authenticity of God's Word and setting the stage for another prophesied event: the appearance of the Messiah.

The Old Testament comes to a close shortly after the events in the books of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther. However, Daniel's prophecies continue to forecast events within the Intertestamental period.

Alexander the Great in Prophecy

In a vision, God revealed to Daniel that the kingdom to rise after the Persians would be the Greeks under Alexander the Great. Gabriel, the angelic messenger from God, explained to Daniel: “The ram which you saw, having the two horns-they are the kings of Media and Persia. And the male goat is the kingdom of Greece. The large horn that is between its eyes is the first king. As for the broken horn and the four that stood up in its place, four kingdoms shall arise out of that nation, but not with its power” (Daniel 8:20-21 Daniel 8:20-21 20 The ram which you saw having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia. 21 And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.
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).

The Persian kingdom rapidly came to an end in 333 B.C. when Alexander the Great defeated the armies of Darius III at Issus. Yet, 10 years later, true to the prophecy in Daniel 8, Alexander unexpectedly died and the Greek Empire divided into four parts, each headed by one of his four generals.

God's people were miraculously saved and liberated when, according to Josephus, Cyrus saw his name and feats prophesied in the Bible. The writings of Josephus also include an account of Alexander the Great sparing Jerusalem from destruction after he saw his exploits prophesied in Scripture.

When Alexander descended on the Middle East, it was natural that almost everyone resisted him. Those who did were mercilessly trampled before him. Neighboring Phoenicia felt Alexander's wrath when he utterly destroyed Tyre. It seemed the same fate awaited rebellious Jerusalem, which had backed the hapless Persians crushed by Alexander at Issus.

Surprising Showdown at Jerusalem

Josephus recounts how Alexander's troops surrounded the city and readied themselves to attack. Suddenly the city gates swung open, and out came the high priest with his entourage.

Josephus writes: “… For Alexander, when he saw the multitude at a distance, in white garments, while the priests stood clothed with fine linen, and the high priest in purple and scarlet clothing, with his mitre on his head, having the golden plate whereon the name of God was engraved, he approached by himself, and adored that name, and first saluted the high priest … whereupon the kings of Syria and the rest were surprised at what Alexander had done, and supposed him disordered in his mind. However, Parmenio alone went up to him, and asked him how it came to pass that, when all others adored him, he should adore the high priest of the Jews?

“To whom he replied, 'I did not adore him, but that God who hath honoured him with his high priesthood; for I saw this very person in a dream, in this very habit [clothing], when I was at Dios in Macedonia, who … exhorted me to make no delay, but boldly to pass over the sea thither, for that he would conduct my army, and would give me the dominion over the Persians; whence … now seeing this person in it, and remembering that vision … I believe that I bring this army under the divine conduct …'

“… And when the book of Daniel was shewed him, wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended; and as he was then glad, he … bade them ask what favours they pleased of him; whereupon the high priest desired that they … might pay no tribute on the seventh year. He granted all they desired …” (Antiquities of the Jews, XI, viii, 5).

Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Abomination of Desolation

Thus began the Greek reign over Judea, which would last 150 years. In chapter 11, Daniel prophesied the changes in fortune the Jews would know under the Greeks. After Alexander died Judea became part of the realm of General Ptolemy, who governed from Egypt. By and large the period was peaceful for the Jews.

However, the intermittent wars between the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria for complete control of the Greek Empire came to a head in 198 B.C. In that year the Ptolemies saw defeat. Judea then came under the dominion of the Seleucids.

Shortly after the Seleucid line of the Greek Empire began governing Judea, a king arose who was to fulfill several dire prophecies recorded in Daniel. According to historians, Antiochus IV Epiphanes was the ruler who set up the first “abomination of desolation” mentioned in Daniel 8 and 11.

Daniel 8:8-13 Daniel 8:8-13 8 Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven. 9 And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land. 10 And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped on them. 11 Yes, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of the sanctuary was cast down. 12 And an host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practiced, and prospered. 13 Then I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said to that certain saint which spoke, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?
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describes this time: “Therefore the male goat [the Greek Empire] grew very great; but when he became strong, the large horn was broken [Alexander the Great suddenly died at the apex of his power], and in place of it four notable ones came up toward the four winds of heaven [Alexander's kingdom was divided among his four top generals]” (verse 8).

“And out of one of them came a little horn [Antiochus IV Epiphanes] which grew exceedingly great toward the south [Egypt], toward the east [Mesopotamia], and toward the Glorious Land [Judea] … He even exalted himself as high as the Prince of the host; and by him the daily sacrifices were taken away, and the place of His sanctuary [the temple at Jerusalem] was cast down … Then I heard a holy one speaking … 'How long will the vision be, concerning the daily sacrifices and the transgression of desolation …?'” (verses 9-13).

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says of Antiochus Epiphanes: “His career with respect to Palestine is recorded in 1 and 2 Maccabees, and remarkably predicted in [Daniel] 11:21-35” (Vol. I, p. 145, “Antiochus IV Epiphanes”). The books of 1 and 2 Maccabees are not included in the traditional Hebrew canon of Scripture but are valuable as historical accounts. Both books were written before the birth of Christ.

Antiochus's Cruel Reign

A brief history of the three years of the “abomination of desolation” under Antiochus Epiphanes is to be found in The Bible Knowledge Commentary:

“This part of the vision anticipated the rise of a ruler in the Greek Empire who subjugated the people and land of Israel, desecrated her temple, interrupted her worship, and demanded for himself the authority and worship that belongs to God. He desecrated the temple and abolished the daily sacrifice.

“Antiochus sent his general Apollonius with 22,000 soldiers into Jerusalem on what was purported to be a peace mission. But they attacked Jerusalem on the Sabbath, killed many people, took many women and children as slaves, and plundered and burned the city. In seeking to exterminate Judaism and to Hellenize the Jews, he forbade the Jews to follow their religious practices (including their festivals and circumcision), and commanded that copies of the Law be burned. Then he set up the abomination that causes desolation.

“In this culminating act he erected on December 16, 167 BC an altar to Zeus on the altar of burnt offering outside the temple, and had a pig offered on the altar. The Jews were compelled to offer a pig on the 25th of each month to celebrate Antiochus Epiphanes' birthday. Antiochus promised apostate Jews great reward if they would set aside the God of Israel and worship Zeus, the god of Greece. Many in Israel were persuaded by his promises and worshiped the false god. However, a small remnant remained faithful to God, refusing to engage in those abominable practices. Antiochus IV died insane in Persia in 163 BC” (Logos Library System, 1997).

The precision of Daniel's description of events of this period (given more than 300 years earlier) have led many Bible critics to redate the book of Daniel to after these events took place. They would not admit that the events had been prophesied. However, thanks to the discovery in 1948 of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which include parts of every Old Testament book except Esther, the traditional date of Daniel has gained additional support.

Explains Gleason Archer, professor of Old Testament and Semitic studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: “In order to avoid the impact of the decisive evidence of supernatural inspiration with which Daniel so notably abounds, it was necessary for rationalistic scholarship to find some later period in Jewish history when all the 'predictions' had already been fulfilled, such as the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 BC) … With the wealth of new data from the manuscripts of the Dead Sea caves, it is possible to settle this question once and for all” (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 1982, p. 282).

Thanks to this new linguistic evidence, Dr. Archer proceeds to show the accuracy of the traditional dating of Daniel (around 530 B.C.).

Jews lose their independence to Rome

In 164 B.C., with the heroic leadership of the Maccabean family, the Jews overthrew their Syrian oppressors. For a century they enjoyed their Jewish independence under the rule of the Maccabean descendants. However, in 63 B.C. the Roman general Pompey conquered Judea, making it Roman territory.

Several decades later the Jews would suffer greatly when the Romans chose Herod the Great as king of Judea. He reigned from 37 to 4 B.C. His last years bring the Intertestamental period to a close and usher in the New Testament era.

Continue reading The Good News for other articles in this series examining how archaeological evidence confirms the authenticity of God's Word.

If you would like to learn more about Bible prophecy, including the many prophecies of Daniel that remain to be fulfilled, be sure to request your free copies of the booklets Is the Bible True? and You Can Understand Bible Prophecy . GN