DANIEL CHAPTER 11: A Real Life Game of Thrones

We’re continuing our series on Daniel chapter 11—which is a real life version of the television series “The Game of Thrones.” In our last post, we learned how the Seleucid King Antiochus the Great tried to increase his kingdom. His pride and ego mixed with ambition made him think he could take on the Roman Empire and win. He might have not taken on such a delusional quest if it were not for Hannibal, a living legend in his own time—called “the scourge of Rome.” The king’s meticulous and well thought out plan failed. And he ended up having to pay a hefty price for his failure. And his sons too.

In this post, we are introduced to a “vile” king called Antiochus Epiphanes, the second son of the delusional Antiochus the Great. This is a man that inherited his father’s ambition as well as his pride. He is a man whose ambition, deceit, and political machinations would fit quite nicely in the TV drama “The Game of Thrones.” You’ll see how he politically maneuvered himself into becoming king when he wasn’t in line to inherit it. The throne wasn’t his but he took it anyway! The worst thing about this man is his cruel dealings with the Jewish people. He is the first man in all of history who tried to change the faith and culture of an entire nation of people. He failed, thank God. If you want to learn more, keep reading.

DANIEL CHAPTER 11: A Real Life Game of Thrones

Fifth in a Six-Part Series
By Karen Thompson

In the last post, our story ended with the son of Antiochus the Great, Seleucus IV (187–176 BC), taking his father’s place as king of the Seleucid Empire. His reign as king was burdened by the heavy financial war debt that Rome exacted on his father. To help raise money to pay for the debt, Seleucus IV taxed everyone heavily, including Israel. The high priest of Israel, Onias, felt strongly that it was wrong for their money to be used in that way. His brother, Joshua, wanted his brother’s job as high priest. He hoped to accomplish this by making promises to Seleucus IV for large amounts of money if only Seleucus IV would remove his brother as high priest and give him the position. The king didn’t want to get involved with Jerusalem’s affairs and ignored Joshua’s offer. That gets us up to date with our continuing saga between the kings of the north and the kings of the south.

Verse 21: Antiochus Epiphanes

Dan. 11:21 And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honour of the kingdom: but he shall come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries.

Now we have come to the most important person in chapter 11. Just as the prophecy said, he was a vile person, a hated and hateful person. He was Antiochus Epiphanes. If you remember, Antiochus was being held hostage in Rome to ensure that his father, Antiochus the Great, would pay off his war debt to Rome.

He was the second son of Antiochus the Great. The name he would take for himself, “Epiphanes,” gives us insight into his character. Epiphanes is the Greek word we get our English word “epiphany” from. In English, its first meaning refers to a Christian feast observed on January 6 to celebrate the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles. But in Greek it means “God comes, or the manifestation of God, or the appearance of God.” The fact that Antiochus chose that name for himself speaks volumes about his elevated ego.

The last phrase that says he obtained the kingdom by “flatteries” also reveals something about his personality. Ancient writers do not write about Antiochus Epiphanes with high regard. They say he absorbed the worst characteristics of both Greek and Roman culture, and that he was vain, full of pride, and extravagantly liberal. While living in Rome, he learned how to captivate common people through the appearance of geniality. His outward display of geniality was ingenuous; inwardly, he was a cruel tyrant.

Now let’s talk about how Antiochus Epiphanes went from being a Roman hostage to becoming king of the Seleucid Empire. Antiochus was held hostage in Rome from 189 to 175 BC. After Antiochus the Great died, his son, Seleucus IV, became king. Rome insisted that Seleucus IV surrender his son and heir, Demetrius, to be held hostage in Rome. When they received Demetrius, they released Antiochus Epiphanes as their hostage. Antiochus took his time coming home, stopping off in Athens for a while. It was during this time when Seleucus’ minister, Heliodorus, murdered him and then usurped the throne. When Antiochus heard Heliodorus had taken over the kingdom, he convinced the king of Pergamon to assist him in overthrowing Heliodorus.

In this way the prophecy was fulfilled: the people did not give him “the honor of the throne.” In fact, that honor should have gone to Demetrius, Seleucus’ son. Antiochus gained the throne “peaceably” because of all his supporters, thereby gaining the kingdom by “flatteries,” meaning political intrigue. In 173 BC, Antiochus paid the remaining war debt to Rome.

Verse 22–23: Antiochus Epiphanes and Cultural War Among Jews

 Dan. 11:22 And with the arms of a flood shall they be overflown from before him, and shall be broken; yea, also the prince of the covenant. 23 And after the league made with him he shall work deceitfully: for he shall come up, and shall become strong with a small people.

Verse 22 says, “with the arms of a flood shall they be overflown from before him, and shall be broken.” The arms of a flood is symbolism for an army invasion. This is speaking about the skills of Antiochus as a war commander, his many victories. When Antiochus invades with his army, nations were swept away before him and became “broken.” Then it says, “yea, also the prince of the covenant.” The words “prince of the covenant” refers to Jerusalem’s high priest; Antiochus “broke” him as well.

Antiochus Epiphanes is known in history for being the first ruler who tried to wipe out the culture and religion of a people. There had been many rulers before Antiochus who tried to wipe out whole groups of people, but never before had any ruler tried to force a group of people to change their entire identity and faith. Antiochus is notorious for doing just that to the Jews. And, thank God, he failed.

But the fact that Antiochus tried to obliterate the religion and culture of the Jews is not the most tragic part of this story. The most tragic part of this story is that his interference in the affairs of the Jews was by invitation! It began as a culture war among the Jews themselves. The conflict started as a struggle between two prominent families, which ended up polarizing the citizens of Jerusalem. They were divided into two groups: the secular non-believing Jews and the religious believing Jews.

The family that led the secular group was the Tobiad clan. They were an aristocratic lay family that no longer wanted to be identified with their Jewish heritage, faith, and culture. They no longer wanted to live by the laws of Talmud; they wanted to live as Greeks. And they wanted all of Judah to adopt the Greek culture as well. There were three brothers who supported the Tobiad clan: Lysimachus, Menelaus, and Simon. Together they headed up the pro-Seleucid group in Jerusalem.

The family that led the religious believing group was the Oniads, who were a high priestly family. This group was comprised of pious Jews who wanted to keep serving and worshiping God and wanted nothing to do with Greek culture. The high priest at that time was Onias III from the Zadokite lineage. The Zadokite lineage began with the high priest named Zadok during King David’s time in the 10th century BC. Since that time, the office of high priest had always been handed down from father to son in the Zadokite lineage.

Onias III fervently resisted the Tobiads. Sadly, Onias’ brother, Joshua, was politically aligned with the Tobiads. Joshua also wanted to Hellenize Judah. He even changed his name to Jason, a more Greek-sounding name. (From this point on, Joshua will be referred to as Jason.) Lysimachus, Menelaus, and Simon plotted to depose Onias as high priest and replace him with his brother, Jason. Jason gladly went along with the plan.

The three brothers, Lysimachus, Menelaus, and Simon, went to Antiochus Epiphanes and offered him a bribe of gold if he would remove Onias as high priest and replace him with his brother, Jason. Antiochus took the bribe and promptly removed Onias III as high priest and replaced him with his Hellenized brother, Jason. Jason immediately began making many Hellenistic reforms in the process of shedding their Jewish culture and replacing it with Greek culture. They built a Greek gymnasium and coerced the young boys to participate in the games in the “Greek way,” which meant playing naked. They even practiced the Greek tradition of starting the games by making sacrifices to heathen gods. Many of the Hellenized Jews even went so far as to go through a painful procedure for the purpose of disguising their circumcision.

Jason ruled as high priest for only three years (173–171 BC), because Menelaus grew impatient with Jason, saying he wasn’t being aggressive enough in Hellenizing Jerusalem. Jason still tolerated religious separatism. Menelaus wanted the process to be more aggressive. So Menelaus went to Antiochus and offered the king an even greater bribe if he would depose Jason and make him high priest. Antiochus agreed to do so. So Jason was deposed as high priest and Menelaus took his place. The religious Jews were driven to outrage. They were shocked that the office of high priest could be bought and paid for by the highest bidder. Not only that, Menelaus wasn’t even from the priestly lineage. Because of this outrage, the religious Jews renamed Antiochus Epiphanes as Antiochus Epimanes or “madman.”

The pious Jews that remained faithful to their faith and customs came to be known as the Hasidim, or the pious ones. They opposed Greek culture vehemently. They would develop into a sect called the Pharisees. The Jews that wanted Jerusalem to become Hellenized came from Jerusalem’s upper class families. They began to speak Greek instead of Hebrew. They adopted Greek names, went to gymnasiums to watch athletes compete in games. They no longer wanted to be associated with Jewish laws and viewed those who still followed them as fanatics. This group of Jews would come to be known as the Sadducees.

Antiochus needed a lot of money to carry out his various campaigns against his neighbors, so Menelaus did not object when Antiochus confiscated monies from the temple. Even Menelaus took money from the temple in order to pay his bribe to Antiochus.

In this way, prophecy was fulfilled when “the prince of the covenant” [Onias III] was “swept away” from his high priestly office of those that were at peace with him. Verse 23, “Alliances will be made with him,” meaning the Tobiads and Jason would make alliances with Antiochus, “but he will undermine them by deceit,” meaning Antiochus would undermine his deal with Jason by deposing him and putting Menelaus in his place as high priest. “Then, although he will have but a small following, he will emerge and become strong,” (CJB) meaning, he will become great with just a small group of people.

Verses 24–27: Antiochus Epiphanes Succeeds in Penetrating Egypt

Dan. 11:24 He shall enter peaceably even upon the fattest places of the province; and he shall do that which his fathers have not done, nor his fathers’ fathers; he shall scatter among them the prey, and spoil, and riches: yea, and he shall forecast his devices against the strong holds, even for a time. 25 And he shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the south with a great army; and the king of the south shall be stirred up to battle with a very great and mighty army; but he shall not stand: for they shall forecast devices against him. 26 Yea, they that feed of the portion of his meat shall destroy him, and his army shall overflow: and many shall fall down slain. 27 And both of these kings’ hearts shall be to do mischief, and they shall speak lies at one table; but it shall not prosper: for yet the end shall be at the time appointed.

Now let’s turn our attention to the Ptolemaic Empire. Ptolemy V ruled Egypt for 24 years and died in 181 BC. His successor and heir to the throne was his son, Ptolemy VI (186–145BC) (also known as Ptolemy Philometor). Like his father before him, he was only five years old when his father died. His mother, the Seleucid princess Cleopatra I (sister to Antiochus), ruled as regent until her son grew older. When she died in 176 BC, her son, Ptolemy VI, fell into the hands of two ambitious courtiers who made themselves regents and began making plans on taking back Coele-Syria in 170 BC. The two ambitious courtiers, Eulaeus and Lenaeus, made boastful speeches in Alexandria and then led an army to move against Coele-Syria. Antiochus found out about their plans and felt justified in striking first. Antiochus met their army before it crossed the desert. Antiochus was victorious against the Ptolemaic army. He captured the city of Pelusium and entered Egypt and was on his way to take the city of Alexandria. Antiochus Epiphanes was the first Seleucid king that ever succeeded in finally penetrating Egypt!

Upon hearing the news that Antiochus penetrated Egypt, Ptolemy VI fled Alexandria leaving his sister, Cleopatra II (who was also his wife), and his younger brother behind (they were all just in their teens). But he was caught by Seleucid forces and brought as a prisoner to his uncle, Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus treated him with his famous insincere hospitality.

After Ptolemy VI was captured, those back in Alexandria devised plans against him and set up his younger brother, Ptolemy Eurgetes, as king. During that time, Antiochus and his captive nephew, Ptolemy VI, began to negotiate with each other. Antiochus wanted his nephew’s support to gain ascendancy over Egypt. Antiochus pretended to support his nephew Ptolemy Philometer against his other nephew, Ptolemy Euergetes. Antiochus was not sincere in his support and was simply trying to advance his own interests. Both Antiochus and Ptolemy VI only pretended to go along with each other’s plans. When Antiochus felt he had Ptolemy VI fooled, he left Egypt and went back home. But both uncle and nephew were telling each other lies. As soon as Antiochus left, Ptolemy VI contacted Rome to help him get his throne back. Rome intervened and got the brothers to come to an agreement to rule Egypt together.

So the scripture was fulfilled in that Antiochus “stirred up his power and his courage against the king of the South [Ptolemy VI] with a great army. And the king of the South shall be stirred up to battle with a very great and mighty army; but he shall not stand…” He was captured by Antiochus and held prisoner. “For they shall devise plans against him. Yes, those who eat of the portion of his delicacies shall destroy him…” The people in his kingdom [Ptolemy VI], who ate the delicacies from his table, devised plans to replace him with his brother. “His army shall be swept away, and many shall fall down slain. Both these kings’ hearts [Antiochus and Ptolemy VI] shall be bent on evil, and they shall speak lies at the same table…” While together, eating their meals at the same table, they made plans as allies but both of them were telling lies to each other. “But it shall not prosper, for the end will still be at the appointed time.” As soon as Antiochus left, their “plan” fell apart when the brothers agreed to rule together.

In the next post, the series on Daniel chapter 11 will continue with verses 28–35.

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