Studies on the Old Testament

By Frédéric Louis Godet









The interpretation we have given of the vision of the four beasts of Daniel, has led us to look at the fourth as representing the Roman monarchy; which would pre-suppose in the author a knowledge truly prophetic. This application is rejected in modem times not only by authors of the rationalistic school, but also by such men as Delitzsch and Zöckler. The reason alleged by these latter is, that since the "little horn" in the seventh chapter, which appeared upon the fourth beast, must be the same as that in chap, viii., this latter having reference to the Grecian monarchy1, it follows that the fourth monarchy in chap. vii. must be either the empire of Alexander, or the kingdoms which grew out of it.

Let us first enquire whether the passage in Daniel can be explained, if confined to the limits which such an interpretation would impose; and, next, whether the alleged identity between the two little horns of chaps. vii. and viii. is real

The lion is identical with the head of gold in the vision of the image (chap, ii.), as is shewn by a comparison of the two visions with each other. And it follows from ii. 37, 38, that these two emblems refer to Nebuchadnezzar, and to the Chaldean monarchy personified in him: " Thou, 0 king, art this head of gold."

The bear which "raised itself up on one side, and had three ribs in the mouth of it," corresponds to the breast and arms of silver in the statue. It is natural, then, to apply this emblem to the Persian monarchy, which superseded the Babylonian empire. But this application would make it difficult to avoid interpreting the fourth beast of the Roman empire; and an attempt has been made to get over this in two ways. Hitzig proposed to refer the emblem of the bear specially to Belshazzar, the last great Babylonish sovereign. But it is quite clear that this empire is already fully represented in the first beast, the lion. In the interpretation of the breast and arms of silver given in ii. 39, we find it said to Nebuchadnezzar,—not only: "Thou shalt have a successor inferior to thee," but " after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee." Here, then, the subject spoken of is a second monarchy, not a continuation of the first. Delitzsch and others feel this, and accordingly they apply the emblem of the bear to the Median empire, but making it distinct from the Persian. This distinction is rested upon vi. 28: " In the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian." But this distinction between the Median and Persian monarchies is a pure fiction. The former would have lasted only two years, since Darius the Mede, who, according to this, founded it, died two years after the taking of Babylon, and Cyrus the Persian succeeded him! The fact is, that it never for an instant had an independent existence, since from the very first it was Cyrus the Persian who governed in the name of Darius the Mede (or Cyaxarus). This latter reigned only in name. And that is precisely the meaning of the words in vi. 28, which describe one and the same empire, with two sovereigns reigning simultaneously. And, besides, what would be the meaning of the expression, "devour much flesh," as addressed to this supposed Median empire, which would only have lasted two years ? Delitzsch replies: " It is the expression of a simple conatus, of a desire for conquest which was never realised." As if an unfulfilled desire could have been admitted into a prophetic picture in which history is sketched on so large a scale! Lastly, the impossibility of this interpretation is clear from v. 28, and vi. 12, which prove incontestably the identity of the two powers, of which it is desired to make distinct States: " Thy kingdom is given to the Medes and Persians;" and " the law of the Medes and Persians which altereth not." The bear then represents unquestionably the Medo-Persian monarchy. He supports himself on one side to signify that of the two nations which together constitute this empire, there is but one—the Persian—on which reposes the aggressive and conquering power of the monarchy. The three pieces of flesh, (or three ribs, E.V.) which the bear holds in his mouth, represent the chief conquests of this second great empire. Some have thought of Lydia, Babylonia, and Egypt; others substitute Phenicia for Egypt. Judging from viii. 3, 4, where the same kingdom is represented under the figure of a ram which had two horns, of which one (the Persian) was higher than the other (the Median), and which pushed with these horns in three directions, westward, northward, and southward, I incline rather to the belief that these conquered countries are Bactriana (in the north), Babylonia and Lydia (in the west), and Egypt (in the south).

The next beast, the leopard, with four wings of a bird, and four heads, answers to the "belly and thighs of brass" in the image; it can only represent Alexander the Great and the Macedonian kingdom, which took the place of the Medo-Persian empire. From this point of view the emblems indicated are easily explained. The four wings represent the extraordinary rapidity of this young king’s conquests; and the four heads, the four contemporaneous kingdoms in which the Grecian monarchy makes its appearance on the stage of history. We know that these four states were, Macedonia, Thrace, Syria, and Egypt. The Grecian monarchy never existed in any other than this four-fold form after the premature death of its founder. Moreover, we find the literal explanation of these figures in chap, viii., where it is said of the he-goat coming from the west, which overthrew the ram with two horns (the Medo-Persian empire, v. 20): "the he-goat is the king of Greeia, and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king; now that being broken... four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation." Notwithstanding these evidences, all those who are determined not to recognise in the fourth beast the Roman monarchy, apply the figure of the leopard to Cyrus and the Persian monarchy. But, in the first place, this interpretation involves the application of the figure of the bear either to Belshazzar, or to a Median kingdom distinct from the Persian, two suppositions which we have found to be inadmissible; besides, how are we then to explain the four wings and four heads? what have these emblems to do with the Persian monarchy? Rapidity of conquest, which is signified by the four wings, was not the distinctive feature of the Medo-Persian empire, whilst it is the salient characteristic of Alexander’s power. As to the four heads, they represent, it is pretended, the four first kings of Persia. This interpretation would be forced even if Persia had had but four kings; for the four heads must represent four contemporaneous and not four successive powers. They belong to the form of the beast from his first appearance. But, further, Persia had many more than four sovereigns. What are we to make of the two Artaxerxeses, Longimanus and Mnemon, and of the two last Dariuses, Oclius and Codoman? If the author writes as a prophet, how is it, we would ask Delitzsch, that he sees so dimly into the future? If he writes as a historian, that is to say as a prophet who composes after the event, how, we would ask the rationalists, can he be so completely ignorant of the history which he is telling? And how, from this point of view, are we to get out of the difficulty of viii. 21: " the he-goat (with four horns) is the king of Grecia?"

Lastly, appears the fourth beast, the beast without a name; this corresponds to the "legs of iron, and the feet, part of iron and part of clay," of the image. This parallelism cannot be questioned. This fourth beast devours and breaks in pieces just as the iron feet of the image break everything in pieces; the ten horns of the beast answer to the ten toes of the image; this fourth beast immediately precedes the Messianic kingdom, just as the image is smitten and overthrown by the little stone, emblem of the Messiah.—What is this last empire?

According to Delitzsch, Hitzig, and many others, it is that of Alexander, or the Grecian monarchy, which—to follow the first of these authors—is confounded in the prophetic vision with the Romans, and with all the succeeding powers until the judgment. But we have seen that Alexander and the Grecian empire have been already prefigured by the winged leopard with four heads. And from this point of view, what would be the meaning of the ten horns? We are told that these are the ten kings of Syria who succeeded one another, from the time of Alexander to that of Antiochus Epiphanes, in which the author himself lived. But we know that Syria had only seven kings before Antiochus Epi phanes; Seleucus Nicator, Antiochus Soter, Antiochus Theos, Seleucus Callinicus, Seleucus Ceraunus, Antiochus the Great, and Seleucus Philopator. That is true, it will be answered, but there are three men who might have reigned, and whom Antiochus Epiphanes kept from the throne; Heliodorus, the prisoner of Epiphanes’ predecessor, who did actually reign for a moment; Demetrius, the legitimate successor, who was kept at Rome as a hostage; and Ptolemy Philometor, king of Egypt, who had claims upon the throne of Syria. But could sovereigns only by right, or by desire, be counted among real kings, and numbered among the active horns of the fourth beast? Besides, why should the Grecian monarchy be thus confined to the family of the Seleucidse? Did it not also comprehend the dynasties of Macedonia, Thrace, and Egypt? To avoid these difficulties, it occurred to Zöckler to distinguish between Alexander himself, who, according to this, would be represented by the third beast, and the sum total of the states which succeeded him and which, taken together, are represented by the fourth. The ten horns only signifying the indefinite multitude of sovereigns of the four contemporaneous Grecian States. But these four Grecian kingdoms had been before evidently prefigured in the four heads of the leopard; how should they come suddenly to be reckoned as a separate beast? Besides, is it according to the analogy of the prophetic intuition to combine four distinct kingdoms into one beast? Lastly, what are we to think of the number ten, which is to represent the indefinite mass of Macedonian and Thracian sovereigns, the Ptolemies and Seleucidae? This last attempt is evidently the resource of despair. After that, it becomes so much the more evident that the fourth beast, the beast without a name, represents a monarchy later than that of the Grecian power; an empire which shall comprehend the whole known world; which shall be divided into a number of states bound together by a link of solidarity (the ten horns); and which shall only give place to the kingdom of the Messiah. I leave it to the reader to decide whether these characteristics apply to the Roman monarchy or not.

But what are we to think of the connection between the little horn of chap, vii., which comes forth from this fourth beast, and the little horn of chap, viii., which belongs to the ram, the emblem of the Grecian empire? I see no reason why they should be identified. A little horn signifies in Daniel the concentration and explosion of the evil forces inherent in an organism. The third monarchy, according to chap, viii., was to produce an excrescence of this kind; and everything proves that this figure applies to Antiochus Epiphanies, the furious enemy of the Jews, of their religion, and of their God. The fourth and last monarchy, according to chap, vii., is to terminate also in the appearance of an analogous and still more destructive power. That which distinguishes it clearly from the other is the fact that it issues from the midst of the ten horns of the nameless beast2, while the former comes forth from the four horns of the he-goat, which typifies the king of Grecia3. We should say, then, to use the language of the New Testament, that the little horn of chap. vii. is Antichrist the man of sin (St. Paul), the beast of the Apocalypse (St. John), that power inimical to God and the Church, which will arise from the confederation of the European States, springing from the fourth monarchy; while that of chap. viii. represents Antiochus Epiphanes springing from the Grecian monarchy, who waged a corresponding war against the kingdom of God under the form of the Jewish theocracy.

There are then two declared adversaries of the kingdom of God indicated in the book of Daniel; one issuing from the third monarchy, attacking the people of the ancient covenant; the other from the fourth, making war against that of the new. If any one will read from this point of view chaps, vii. and viii. of the book of Daniel, he will find that the difficulties will vanish which have led learned men into the forced interpretations we have just refuted.


The interpretations of the vision of the seventy weeks4, which are opposed to our own, agree in this point, that they make the proper object of the prophetic picture, not Jesus Christ, His Sacrifice, the foundation of the Church, and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, but certain special events which took place in Israel rather less than two centuries before the Christian era. There was then a high-priest called Onias, who was assassinated about B.C. 170. He, according to most of the modern interpreters, is "the anointed, who shall be cut off," spoken of in ver. 26. This murder was accompanied by that of 40,000 Jews, and the pillage of the temple by Antiochus Epiplianes. Three years afterwards, (here would be the half-week of ver. 27,) the temple was profaned by the institution of the worship of Jupiter Olympius, and the abolition of the daily sacrifice for three years and a half. Hollowing upon these events described in his prophecy, the author would have expected the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. According to this, the prophet’s horizon would not have comprehended more than the age of the Maccabees, whether we suppose that he lived at that time and prophesied ab eventu, as the rationalists pretend, or that a more distant future was not clearly revealed to him, as Delitzsch and others think.

The question is complicated by the uncertainty as to the right interpretation of many expressions in the original text. We cannot now enter into details, but must confine ourselves to the essential points, which are, as it seems to us, the following:—

1. The expressions of Daniel: " the decree of desolation, the destruction of the city and of the sanctuary by the people of the prince that shall come," cannot apply to the time of the Maccabees, since the temple was not then destroyed, but only profaned.

2. The chronology offers, under this interpretation, insuperable difficulties. Seventy weeks make 490 years; now the return from the Captivity having taken place in 536, and the murder of Onias in 170 B.C., there are between these two events 366, not 490, years. The historic period would then be too short, if compared with the number indicated.

We are told in answer, that we are not to take as the starting-point of this period the return from the Captivity and the restoration of Jerusalem, but the year in which Jeremiah uttered the oracle which foretold these events, i.e. the year 605—the date of that remarkable prophecy, Jer. xxv. From 605 to 170, there are in fact 434 years, which make up the sixty-two weeks of which Daniel speaks, ix. 26. But in the first place, when mention is made in Dan. ix. 25 of "the commandment given to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem," is it natural to understand by that the oracle of Jeremiah with regard to this restoration? Do not these expressions refer more naturally to the famous edict of Cyrus5 which gives permission to the Jews to return to their own country and to rebuild their city, or, better still, to the Divine command which Cyrus executed? The edict took effect in the very same year in which it was issued; it is then between the restoration in 536 and the second destruction announced ver. 26, that we must place the interval indicated. In this way the prophecy will include, as it very naturally would, the whole duration of the state of things which was established at the restoration, the whole time of the existence of the second Jerusalem and the second temple. Then next, the number in Daniel amounts not only to sixty-two, but to sixty-nine weeks, if not even to seventy. Where are we to find the seven weeks which are left over, even according to this interpretation already devised on purpose to make room for this theory? For, lastly, between the oracle of Jeremiah (605) and the murder of Onias (170) there are only 434 years (62 weeks), and not 483 years (69 weeks). Here begin the tours de forces: (a.) Hitzig and others include the awkward period of the seven weeks in that of the sixty-two, placing it at the beginning of the latter. This would then be the half-century which elapsed between the ruin of Jerusalem in 588 (or 586) and the appearance of Cyrus (in 536). But how is this? When it is said: "From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem, unto Messiah the Prince, shall be seven weeks and threescore and two weeks... and after threescore and two weeks the Anointed shall be cut off," it is allowable to suppose that the author intended to include the seven weeks within the sixty-two! And if this sleight of hand (pardon the expression) should be allowed, still how are we, even adopting that method of interpretation, to find the total number of seventy weeks mentioned in ver. 24: " Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city." The seven weeks cannot find room in the sixty-two. For it is evident that the number seventy comprehends: 1. the group of the seven; 2. that of the sixty-two; 3. the final week. Consequently these groups are successive, not contemporaneous, (b.) Delitzsch and Hofmann, coming into direct collision with the order indicated by Daniel, place the seven weeks at the end of the sixty-two!—they are to represent the interval between Antiochus Epiphanes and Jesus Christ. But who will agree to such an overturning of the text? Besides, between Antiochus and Jesus Christ there was an interval of 164 years—not 49! (c.) Ewald has devised another expedient. The number 69 or 70 being evidently too large in all the interpretations which apply the prophecy to the time of the Maccabees, this author has proposed to deduct from the entire number all the Sabbatical years, i. e., one in seven, giving as his reason that this whole period is a time of oppression, while the idea of the sabbath always carries with it a feeling of joy. Thus we should have, 1. the seven weeks between the destruction of Jerusalem and the edict of Cyrus (587—538, according to Ewald’s chronology); 2. the seventy weeks between the return from the Captivity and the year 175, when an "anointed one" was cut off (this anointed one being, according to Ewald, not Onias, but Seleucus Philopator, who died in 174, at the time when he was invading Judaea). These sixty-two weeks added to the seven (forty-nine years) would bring us to the year B.C. 105, instead of 175. But to help out this calculation comes in the deduction of the seventy sabbatical years, which brings the ship prosperously to the desired haven,—175. What are we to say of such monstrosities of exegesis! We will not urge all the other improbabilities to which this interpretation of the learned writer is exposed.

And these are the explanations over which one hears, even in the Revue des deux mondes, exclamations of triumph, as if the Messianic application of this wonderful prophecy had been completely and deservedly refuted by modern science! These attempts, so evidently vain, constitute the most complete demonstration possible of the absolute impossibility, according to any impartial exegesis, of applying this prophetic cycle of the seventy weeks to any other period than that which elapsed between the restoration of Jerusalem and the advent of the Christ,—of Him who, as Daniel says, " is to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy." (ix. 24.)



1) viii. 21, and following.

2) vii. 8, 24.

3) viii. 9, 21.

4) chap. ix.

5) Esdras i, 2, 4.