25 May 2021

Identity of the Little Horn

The “little horn” represents the malevolent ruler of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus IV, who waged war against Judea

Parthenon Ruins - Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash
In the eighth chapter, the “
little horn” is the malevolent king from one of the Hellenic kingdoms that originated from the conquests of Alexander. The historical allusions in the chapter make his identity clear, and by association, the identity of the fourth kingdom from the earlier vision of four “beasts ascending from the sea” - [Parthenon photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash].

The “ram” and the “goat” represent the “Medes and the Persians” and Greece, respectively. They are identified by name in the angel’s interpretation - (Daniel 8:21-26).

The Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., though he ruled his new empire for only a few short years until his death in 323 B.C. Afterward, his generals fought each other for the succession until a settlement was reached and the empire was divided among four generals into four smaller kingdoms ruled by Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, Antigonus. By 275 B.C., only three of the original four remained: Ptolemy in Egypt, Seleucus in Syria and Babylon, and Antigonus in Greece and Macedonia.

The general known as Ptolemy I founded the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt in 305 B.C., a dynasty that endured until 30 B.C. when Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire. Initially, the small Jewish state of Judea was part of this realm.

The Seleucid dynasty was founded by Seleucus I in 312 B.C., and it collapsed in 63 B.C. after a long period of decline. Intermittent wars occurred between these two regimes over disputed territories, including Judea. After several Seleucid victories, Judea became part of its empire.

The Seleucid rulers were tolerant of the Jewish nation and its faith.  However, this changed after the Seleucid throne was seized by Antiochus IV (175 B.C.), also known as Antiochus Epiphanés (“manifest god”).

This 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. (2 Maccabees 3:21-28). The legitimate heirs were his two underage sons.

Subsequently, Antiochus removed Heliodorus and installed himself as regent over the kingdom, although he became king in all but name. After his youngest nephew died, he ruled openly as the king and absolute ruler of the Seleucid 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 the “fourth beast with ten horns,” three of which were removed to make way for the “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 of Seleucus I:
  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 clear his way to the throne, three rivals were removed, the rebel chancellor Heliodorus, and the two sons of Seleucus IV. Thus, three horns were “uprooted” so another could rule. 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, he waxed great “toward the south, and the east, and the beauty,” an allusion to his conflicts with Egypt (south), Persia, and Judea - (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 Judea.

When Antiochus seized power, the last legitimate high priest from the line of Zadok held office in Jerusalem, Onias III. But his brother, Jason, a proponent of Hellenism, bribed Antiochus to appoint him instead. In need of money, Antiochus accepted the bribe and made this usurper the new high priest - (1 Kings 2:27-35, 1 Chronicles 29:22, 2 Maccabees 4:7-17).

Jason used his 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 the 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 among devout Jews. He became an ally of Antiochus and promoted Hellenism among the Jewish population. In 171 B.C., he robbed some of the vessels from the Temple treasury to pay his bribe to Antiochus.

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

Up to this point, Antiochus remained friendly to the Jewish nation. To avoid further offense against the religious sensibilities of Jews, he had Andronicus executed on the very spot where Onias had been killed. Regardless, in the minds of many Jews, this marked the start of the Seleucid outrages against the Jewish nation. In 169 B.C., Antiochus launched an attack on Egypt. To fund this expedition, the temples of many religions were robbed, including the Temple in Jerusalem.

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

The king launched another expedition against Egypt in 168 B.C. This time things did not go well. Rome intervened; the Senate 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. This caused many in the city to revolt. In reaction, the king sent soldiers to quell the rebellion, killing significant numbers 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 Maccabees 5:24-27).

These events marked a new phase in the repression of the Jewish nation. Antiochus realized the Jewish religion was responsible for their resistance to his policies, so he took steps to eradicate their 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 7:25, 8:12).

In December 168 B.C., the worst offense came with the placement of an altar to the pagan deity Zeus Olympias on 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 4:54, 10:1-5).

The Aramaic name for Zeus Olympias was Ba’al Shamen, meaning the “lord of heaven.” In Hebrew, “abomination of desolation” is a wordplay on his 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.

Altars to Zeus Olympias were set up in the towns and villages of Judea. Jews were required to offer sacrifices to the pagan god or suffer the consequences. These actions stirred up armed resistance, what became known as the Maccabean Revolt - (167-160 B.C.).

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 erected. The daily sacrifices were restored, and from that day they continued without interruption until Jerusalem was destroyed by a Roman army in A.D. 70. - (1 Maccabees 4:51-59).

Antiochus died of an unknown disease in 164 B.C., 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 in 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 these “lesser” kingdoms. He gained the throne through the removal of three rivals, and by 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 came from Alexander’s empire, the “leopard” or third “beast.”

Antiochus claimed divine status by assuming the title Epiphanés or “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 from 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, a period of a little over three years.

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 of 165 B.C. The political conflict that devolved into open persecution began in 171 B.C. with the removal of Onias and his subsequent murder, a period of almost seven years.

Daniel defines the time of the “indignation” variously as the “dividing of time,” “two thousand and three hundred evening-mornings” (one-thousand one-hundred and fifty days), and the “middle of the week,” the last half of the final or “seventieth week.” Thus, the predicted events and timeframes of Daniel’s visions fit the actual history of the conflict between Judea and Antiochus IV - (Daniel 7:25, 8:14, 9:27).

In chapter 7, the descriptions of the “little horn” are symbolic and enigmatic, making identification problematic. However, the historical allusions in chapter 8 are clear. The “little horn” is identified as a ruler from one of the four kingdoms that came after the death of Alexander the Great.

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