Daniel - Part IV

Before the King: 

Daniel begins his interpretation of this dream in v 36. There is no need to speculate regarding the golden head, as Daniel informs the king that it is he. Josephus has it, 

“the head of gold represents you and the Babylonian kings who were before you” Ant. 10.10.4.

The four parts of the statue are similar to the four beasts of chapter seven and are four empires, although Goldingay does not think chapter two and seven correspond to the same motif. Other commentators such as Keil and Delitzsch view chapters seven, eight and nine to be further descriptive of that represented as a “whole” in chapter two (Keil and Delitzsch, 9:557). Regardless, both are linked together through some commonalities: in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream they are all part of one unified image and in Daniel’s vision of chapter seven, they are all beasts. Also, a shared component is the external phenomenon – not from among them – that ultimately triumphs by annihilation, i.e. stone cut without human hands (chapter two) and the intervention of the “son of man” and “ancient of days” (chapter seven). 

But within chapter two, what conclusion should be drawn of these kingdoms as to their identities? It probably comes as no surprise to know that through the years the interpretations regarding the “who’s who” of these “empires” has varied, depending on the period of time and who was doing the interpreting.

Even before the Greek conquest, the idea of three empires succeeding one another – Assyria, Media and Persia – is documented. Both Herodotus (I, 95, 130), writing in the fifth century B.C., and Ctesias, writing in the fourth century B.C., affirm this. Flusser notes,

“Thus, the idea of three empires: Assyria, Media and Persia is probably a Median historical conception before the conquest of the East by Alexander” JOC, 323. 

Even Assyria to Media is mentioned in Tobit (14).

Flusser adds that when the idea of four empires is compared with the Zoroastrian conception of four periods within human history, it became an eschatological and political ideology with anti-Greek tendencies, as Rome would be in a later period and interpretation. It’s not too hard to imagine how a contemporary rule would react to literature that speaks of its utter overthrow and destruction. Such speech is anti-imperial and thus rarely explicit in its detail, as well as interpretation.

The fourth book of the Sibylline Oracles contains the four-empires. It is related as Assyria, Medes, Persians, Macedonians (Greece). In the document, an apparent secondary change (Flusser, JOC, 319) took place where Rome was introduced following Greece. “World domination” is applied (in the SibOr text) to the Assyrians (v. 50), Persians (v. 65) and the Romans (v. 103). Rome did not belong in this source, as it is outside of the ten generation history on which it is based, meaning that it was a later redaction of the text.

It is generally accepted today by scholars, that the four empires of Daniel were intended as Babylonia, Media, Persia and Greece (Flusser, Judaism and the Origins of Christianity, 324). Isaiah and Jeremiah have texts that seem to point in this direction as well:

“The LORD has aroused the spirit of the kings of the Medes, Because His purpose is against Babylon to destroy it; For it is the vengeance of the LORD, vengeance for His temple” Jer. 51:11, cf. 28 NAU


“Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them, Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold. . . . Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans' pride, Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” Isa 13:17, 19 NAU.

In addition to these texts, there are those that speak of Persia, with Cyrus at the Babylonian helm (2 Chron. 36:22-23; the entire book of Ezra; Isa. 43, 44, 45). There are also texts which mention a “Darius” as king during Jerusalem’s post-exile restoration (Hag 1:1, 15; 2:10; Zech 1:1, 7; 7:1).

Historian W. Durant, with a detailed historical recounting of the ANE empires, says this of Cyrus:

“When Cyrus and his disciplined Persians stood at the gates, the anti-clericals of Babylon connived to open the city to him, and welcomed his enlightened domination. For two centuries Persia ruled Babylonia as part of the greatest empire that history had yet known” Our Oriental Heritage, 263.

Durant also summarizes the downfall of the Medes:

“When Cyrus, the brilliant young ruler of the Median dependency of Anshan, in Persia, rebelled against the effeminate despot of Ecbatana, the Medes themselves welcomed Cyrus' victory, and accepted him, almost without protest, as their king. By one engagement Media ceased to be the master of Persia, Persia became the master of Media, and prepared to become master of the whole Near Eastern world” Ibid, 352.  

While I am not entirely convinced one way or another (mostly due to not having adequately considered the parallels in chapter seven), important questions to consider are, “why would content have been included or excluded in a book such as this, what purpose would it serve? What would the readership have taken it to mean, and why?

Flusser offers an explanation of how and why the interpretive shift from Greece to Rome as the fourth kingdom took place:

“The book of Daniel reached its present form between 168 and 165 B.C.E. at the beginning of the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes. The scheme of four empires with Greece at the end was not obsolete from the political point of view of the Jews in Palestine persecuted by the Greek King [Flusser here notes Dan. 11:30 containing a hint of Rome’s intervention against Antiochus’ plans to conquer Egypt]; but it would no longer fit the political reality in Asia Minor after 191 B.C. E. because there it was already clear that the Romans succeed Macedonia. . . . As to the book of Daniel itself, there is a common opinion that its author used older material from various periods” JOC, 324.

It is the historical events of Babylonia, Media and Persia and their relation to certain parts of Daniel where I have some difficulties. For instance, Daniel five states that Belshazzar saw writing on the wall, which communicated that his kingdom was being turned over to the “Medes and Persians” (5:28). That night, says the text, Darius the Mede received the kingdom (30-31). However, Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, not Nebuchadnezzar. And it was Nabonidus, not his son, who was the last king of Babylon, regardless of being a coregent or not. Carol Newsom points out that there are 

“five ancient sources that refer to the events of the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C.E.: (1) The Babylonian Chronicle . . . (2) the Cyrus Cylinder . . . (3-4) the accounts of the Greek historians Herodotus (1.190-91) and Xenophon . . .(5) the account of Berossus, a Hellenistic-era Babylonian historian ” Newsom, Daniel, 163.  

According to the Nabonidus Chronicle in the Ancient Near Eastern Texts (ANET, 306-307; 315-316), Cyrus was the one who invaded Babylon (as Chronicles, Ezra and Isaiah indicate), and did so without opposition.  John Collins notes that the inclusion of a “Mede” is a redaction for “Cyrus the Persian” for the sake of the four-kingdom motif (Collins, Daniel, 242).

The problem I have with interpreting Media as the silver, second kingdom in the dream of the image is that she was coexistent with Babylon, although indisputably inferior. Under the leadership of Nabopolassar, the Babylonians – united with the Medes under Cyaxares along with the Scythians from the Caucasus – succeeded in destroying Assyria in 612 B.C. Durant puts it, 

“at one blow Assyria disappeared from history” Oriental Heritage, 283f.

So then, how does Media fit this description, “In your place another regime will arise inferior to yours”?

Babylon did not fall to Media, but to Persia, who also had taken over Media. I see no reason from the historical evidence to combine Media and Persia as though they were one kingdom, as they most definitely were not. Combining the two kingdoms does not solve the issue regardless. While the metal does decline in value, it is not ultimately what the dream is about. Focusing on the metal seemingly misses the point. 

Collins, while interpreting the four the way most scholars do today, does mention, 

“The inclusion of Media in the succession of world empires appears odd because Media never ruled over the Jews. It was, however, included in a reckoning that became traditional in Greek and Roman historiography” Collins, Daniel, 166.

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