Historically, biblical scholars in general and eschatologists in particular have struggled with the identification of the territories of Alexander’s successors. The cause of the struggle is not difficult to understand. While Asia Minor with Thrace appears, at the outset, to be the Northern kingdom, and Egypt the Southern in accordance with Daniel 11:4, the detailed prophecy of a conflict between the kings of the North and South starting in 11:5 appears to have been fulfilled in the wars between the East and the South—that is, between the Seleucids in Syria and the Ptolemies in Egypt. Neither Daniel nor his angelic narrator pause to explain why.
The Inadequacy of the Shifting Frame
That apparent inconsistency has led to some rather creative cartography in the history of Danielic eschatology through the introduction of a Shifting Frame of Reference. In Daniel 11:4, Asia Minor with Thrace appears to be the northern kingdom in what we might call an Alexandrian Frame of Reference, centered as it is on Alexander’s former domains. Then, between Daniel 11:4 and 11:5, the frame of reference suddenly and inexplicably changes, and from that point forward (so the theories go), Syria is the Northern kingdom. We call this the Judæan Frame of Reference, centered as it is on Judæa, with Syria to the North, and Egypt to the South.
Jerome’s Use of the Shifting Frame
Jerome (347 – 420 A.D.) was the first patristic writer to attempt to solve the inconsistency between the prophecy and its fulfillment through the introduction of a Shifting Frame of Reference. After identifying “Asia Minor and Pontus and of the other provinces in that whole area” as “the north” in Daniel 11:4, Jerome reasoned that Daniel must have changed his frame of reference in the next verse “because Judaea lay in a midway position” between Syria and Egypt (Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, 11:4-5). There is hardly a commentary on Daniel 11 that does not in some way invoke that Judæan Frame of Reference to solve the difficulty.
Calvin’s Use of the Shifting Frame
Calvin appealed to that shifting frame of reference in similar fashion. In his commentary on Daniel 8:8, Calvin described the division of the empire in an Alexandrian Frame of Reference. Cassander was to the west in Macedonia, Ptolemy was to the south in Egypt, while “the kingdom of Persia, which was possessed by Seleucus, was towards the east and united with Syria; the kingdom of Asia [Minor] was to the north” (Calvin, Commentary on Daniel 8:8; see Figure 1, below).
But when Calvin commented on Daniel 11, he shifted to a Judæan Frame of Reference. Macedonia was still West and Egypt was still South, but Asia Minor was now East, and Syria had become North, “[f]or Egypt was situated to the south of Judea, and Syria to the north” (Calvin, Commentary on Daniel, 11:4; see Figure 2, below).
The Underlying Invalid Assumption
From Jerome to Calvin, and for many centuries beyond, the Shifting Frame of Reference in chapter 11 has been a staple of Danielic eschatology. We have been told that the frame of reference simply must have changed mid-prophecy, for that is the only way to make sense of wars foreseen to occur between North and South, but apparently fulfilled between East and South.
In truth, however, the difficulty is of our own making. The underlying issue that has made the Shifting Frame of Reference an eschatological necessity is the invalid assumption that the appellation “king of the north” must be dynastic in nature, attached to a family line. If we assume that “king of the north” refers to a family line, then “the north” of necessity must refer only to the Seleucids—making Syria “north” regarding the wars, even though it is “east” regarding the division. However, as we argued in part 1, the appellation should rather be a geographic one, attached not to a family line but to a territory. Under that rubric, the title “king of the north” would only attach to whomever was the rightful king over the northern territory.
The “Northern Period” of the Seleucids
Such a situation as we have described compels us to reevaluate how Daniel 11 is interpreted, for the geographic data invalidate the Shifting Frame that has for almost two thousand years informed our understanding of Daniel 11. To illustrate the significance of such a change, we will walk through the verses that refer to the “king of the north.” In doing so we will refer often to the commentary of Jerome because his geographic errors are of great consequence and have had an inordinate influence on the later commentaries. As we have affirmed and will here demonstrate, “king of the north” applies to the Seleucids only when they reign in Asia Minor, i.e., during periods when they hold the double crown, both East and North.
“And in the end of years they shall join themselves together; for the king’s daughter of the south shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement …”
It is 252 B.C.. The “king of the north” is Antiochus II, the third generation of Seleucid kings to claim the northern territory. The “king’s daughter of the south” is Berenice, daughter of Ptolemy II, king of Egypt. Here Jerome committed one of his several geographic mistakes by assuming that Antiochus II must have been ruling in Syria at the time of the fulfillment (Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, 11:6). As we noted last week, Antiochus II was actually reigning in Ephesus with his wife, Laodice, when Ptolemy II approached him to offer his daughter in marriage. Antiochus II only relocated to Antioch after the agreement with Ptolemy, in order to set up a second household with Berenice. Antiochus was truly “king of the north,” that is, Asia Minor and Thrace, when Berenice was offered to him, and as we noted last week, he maintained a household in Ephesus, and eventually abandoned Berenice in Antioch and returned to his first love in Asia Minor.
“But out of a branch of her roots shall one stand up in his estate, which shall come with an army, and shall enter into the fortress of the king of the north, and shall deal against them, and shall prevail:”
It is 246 B.C.. The “branch of her roots” refers to Berenice’s brother, Ptolemy III. Their father, Ptolemy II, had since died, and Berenice and her child by Antiochus II had been murdered at the instigation of Laodice (Appian, History of Rome, The Syrian Wars, 65). Antiochus II, now dead, left his son, Seleucus II, reigning in Ephesus with his mother, Laodice. It is here again that Jerome, following Porphyry, makes significant geographic mistake, assuming under a Judæan Frame of Reference that Seleucus II must have been reigning in Antioch at the time:
“He [Ptolemy III] came up with a great army and advanced into the province of the king of the North, that is Seleucus [II] Callinicus, who together with his mother Laodice was ruling in Syria” (Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, 11:7-9)
The truth is, the ascension of Seleucus II occurred not in Syria, but rather in Asia Minor where Antiochus II died, and where Seleucus II had been under the care of his mother, Laodice, since Antiochus’ marriage to Berenice (Eusebius, Chronicle [p. 249-51]).
After the murder of his sister, Ptolemy III could not stand idly by, so he launched an all out offensive against the Seleucids. The commentaries typically focus only on Ptolemy III’s eastern offensive, in which he “secured for himself the whole country from Taurus to India, without a single engagement” (Polyænus, Strategems, Book 8, Chapter 50.1). That campaign is typically taken to be the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy that the king of the south “shall enter into the fortress of the king of the north, and shall deal against them, and shall prevail,” but such an interpretation assumes a Judæan Frame of Reference in which Syria is north. In an Alexandrian Frame of Reference in which Asia Minor is north, Ptolemy would have invaded Asia Minor and Thrace where the Seleucids currently lived. The historical record shows that he did exactly that.
In this war, Ptolemy III launched an invasion not only in the east, but also in the north, subduing major parts of Thrace and Asia Minor. Ptolemy III’s offensive is thus described in the historical record as a “campaign against the two lands of Asia” (Canopus Decree, 6), both Major and Minor, East and North. In this campaign against the house of Seleucus, Ptolemy III had “become master of … Pamphylia and Ionia [in Asia Minor] and the Hellespont and Thrace…” (The Adoulis Inscription, Orientis graeci inscriptiones selectae (OGIS) 54). Truly, the king of the south had “enter[ed] into the fortress of the king of the north,” capturing both Sardis and Ephesus in his northern campaign (Eusebius, Chronicle [p. 249-51]).
“And shall also carry captives into Egypt their gods, with their princes, and with their precious vessels of silver and of gold; and he shall continue more years than the king of the north. So the king of the south shall come into his kingdom, and shall return into his own land.”
It is about 241 B.C., and Ptolemy III the victor returns to Egypt with his accumulated treasures. The commentaries typically refer here to Ptolemy’s conquest of the east and the return of eastern treasures to Egypt. We simply highlight here, from the Adoulis Inscription referenced above, that Ptolemy had conquered not only the whole east, but also major portions of the north, returning to Egypt with the treasures from both kingdoms:
“Having become master of all the land this side of the Euphrates and of Cilicia and Pamphylia and Ionia and the Hellespont and Thrace and of all the forces and Indian elephants in these lands, and having made subject all the princes in the (various) regions, he crossed the Euphrates river and after subjecting to himself Mesopotamia and Babylonia and Sousiana and Persis and Media and all the rest of the land up to Bactria and having sought out all the temple belongings that had been carried out of Egypt by the Persians and having brought them back with the rest of the treasure from the (various) regions he sent his forces to Egypt through the canals that had been dug.” (The Adoulis Inscription, OGIS 54).
It is only after invading both the East and the North that the southern king brought back the accumulated treasures to Egypt, and those treasures included the spoils of Asia Minor and Thrace, the northern kingdom.
A Brief Interlude
In Ptolemy III’s incursion into Asia Minor and Thrace, the Seleucids had been pushed as far north as Smyrna, where we find Seleucus II in 242 B.C. making his preparations to cross into Syria to recover his Eastern kingdom from Ptolemy III (Bagnall, Roger S., Derow, Peter, The Hellenistic Period: Historical Sources in Translation, Smyrnaean Inscription (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, ©2004) 56-62). The war in Syria does not go well and Seleucus II “despatched a letter to his brother Antiochus” in Asia Minor requesting help. Instead, Antiochus simply usurps the throne from Seleucus II and claims Asia Minor as his own. Seleucus II was forced to secure a hasty truce from Ptolemy III and returned to Asia Minor to deal with his rebellious younger brother (Justinus’ Epitome of the Philippic History, Book XXVII.2). The rivalry ended in catastrophe for the Seleucid line. When all the dust had settled, the Seleucids had been overthrown from the north, and King Attalus of Pergamon “had appropriated all [the Seleucid] dominions on this side of the Taurus” in Asia Minor (Polybius, The Histories, Book 4.48.7). Both Seleucus II, and his younger brother died outside of Asia Minor as exiles (Justinus’ Epitome of the Philippic History, Book XXVII.4).
Quite notably, and very much to our point, the angel completely skips over this brief period of Seleucid exile from Asia Minor, making no mention of these events in chapter 11. When the angel takes up the narrative with the sons of Seleucus II, they are in exile as their father had been, and making plans to take back the northern kingdom from Attalus. As we shall see, the angel withholds from them the title “king of the north” until after Asia Minor is back in the hands of the House of Seleucus.
“But his sons shall be stirred up, and shall assemble a multitude of great forces: and one shall certainly come, and overflow, and pass through: then shall he return, and be stirred up, even to his fortress.”
It is now 226 B.C.. Fifteen years have elapsed since verse 9. Seleucus II has died, and his sons are still in exile. Upon taking the crown, the elder son Seleucus III “crossed the Taurus at the head of a great army” to recover his father’s former dominions, but soon perished. His kinsman, Achæus, sent immediately for Antiochus III to come to Asia Minor from the East and take his fallen brother’s crown and throne.
While he waited for Antiochus III to arrive in Asia Minor, Achæus continued the mission and “recovered the whole of the country on this side of Taurus.” In an act of deference, Achæus initially refused to take the crown, “holding the throne for the younger brother Antiochus [III]” (Polybius, The Histories, Book 4.48.6-10). Upon his ascension, Antiochus III “began to reign, entrusting the government of Asia on this side of Taurus to Achaeus and that of the upper provinces to Molon and his brother Alexander, Molon being satrap of Media and Alexander of Persia” (Polybius, The Histories, Book 5.40.6). With his kingdom so arranged Antiochus III turns his attention to Ptolemy III and the task of taking Coele-Syria.
It is now 220 B.C., and Ptolemy III has died, succeeded by Ptolemy IV. Antiochus III has assembled his army and is “ready and eager to invade Coele-Syria” (Polybius, The Histories, Book 5.42.9). But there is a significant matter requiring the king’s attention: Ptolemy IV still occupies “Seleucia which was the capital seat and, one might almost say, the sacred hearth of their empire.” The Syrian city “had been garrisoned by the kings of Egypt ever since … the murder of Berenice” (Polybius, The Histories, Book 5.58.1-9). Convinced by his generals of the importance of the city, Antiochus III sets aside his designs on Coele-Syria, and instead takes back Seleucia in 219 B.C. (Polybius, The Histories, Book 5.60-61).
Thus were Seleucus II’s sons both “stirred up” to assemble a multitude of forces, but only one actually returned, and was “stirred up, even to his fortress.”
“And the king of the south shall be moved with choler, and shall come forth and fight with him, even with the king of the north: and he shall set forth a great multitude; but the multitude shall be given into his hand”
The year is 217 B.C.. After some initial victories in Coele-Syria (Polybius, The Histories, Book 5.70-71), Antiochus III presses on to Raphia where Ptolemy IV destroys his forces in a decisive battle:
“His losses in killed alone had amounted to nearly ten thousand footmen and more than three hundred horsemen, while more than four thousand had been taken prisoners.” (Polybius, The Histories, Book 5.86.5)
Antiochus III sues for peace, and turns his attention back to Asia Minor where Achæus has rebelled, but with only moderate success because the army refused to support him against “their original and natural king” (Polybius, The Histories, Book 5.57.6). Antiochus III pursues Achæus to Sardis, captures him, and executes him for his crime (Polybius, The Histories, Book 8.21). The year is 213 B.C..
“And when he hath taken away the multitude, his heart shall be lifted up; and he shall cast down many ten thousands: but he shall not be strengthened by it.”
The outcome of Ptolemy IV’s decisive victory against Antiochus III yields the opposite of what he expected back home in Egypt. His army, emboldened by its victory, turned on Ptolemy IV and seceded, taking Upper Egypt with them (Polybius, The Histories, Book 5.107.1-3). What is more, his victory at Raphia did not secure his possession of Coele-Syria, for Antiochus III would eventually return and take it from him.
“For the king of the north shall return, and shall set forth a multitude greater than the former, and shall certainly come after certain years with a great army and with much riches.”
In the years since his defeat at Raphia, Antiochus III has not been idle. He is still governing as king of Asia Minor, as evidenced by his letters to the people at Sardis in 213 B.C. (Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum: 39.1283-12856). In 205 B.C. he is resettling “two thousand families of Jews” from Mesopotamia and Babylon to Phrygia and Lydia, in the interior of Asia Minor, being “persuaded that they will be well-disposed guardians of our possessions” there (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 12, chapter 147). In 204 B.C., he receives the adulation of the city of Teos on the western coast of Asia Minor “concerning the foundation of the cult in honor of King Antiochos III” and his wife, the queen (“Divine Honors for Antiochos and Laodike at Teos and Iasos,” Franciszek Sokolowski, Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies, 13, 171-6 (1972)). It is during this period also that Antiochus III receives the epithet, “Magnus” during his successful expeditions in the east (Appian, Syrian Wars, 1.1).
In his newfound strength and wealth, Antiochus III returns to fight the king of Egypt, still holding both crowns, East and North. This time he utterly destroys the army of the child king Ptolemy V, under the command of Scopas at Panium, and at last takes possession of Coele-Syria (Polybius, The Histories, Book 16.18-19). The year is 200 B.C..
“And in those times there shall many stand up against the king of the south: also the robbers of thy people shall exalt themselves to establish the vision; but they shall fall.”
The angelic narrator pauses to describe the general state of affairs for the king of the south and the Jews during “those times.” As noted under verse 12, Ptolemy IV’s victory at Raphia, rather than solidifying his army’s loyalty, instead emboldened them to seek independence from him. As Günther Hölbl, historian of the Ptolemaic Empire, describes, the period after Raphia was defined by instability, rebellion, insurrection and civil war in Egypt:
“In the years following 217, some men of the new military class led a revolt against the Ptolemaic regime in the northern part of the country. … A papyrus dating to the end of the third century, probably sill during [Ptolemy IV’s] reign, describes how Egyptian bandits attacked a military post and a temple precinct; … From the Rosetta Stone we also know that, at the end of [Ptolemy IV’s] reign, civil war raged in the Delta.” (Hölbl, Günthner, A History of the Ptolemaic Empire (London and New York: Routledge (2001) 154)
Under the reign of his son, Ptolemy V, who was just a child when he took the throne, Antiochus III and Phillip of Macedon immediately set upon his dominions, “tearing to shreds the boy’s kingdom” (Polybius, The Histories, Book 15.20.6). Thus did “many stand up against the king of the south” … “in those times.”
During the same period, the tax-farming, phil-hellenic Jewish Tobiads arose to prominence in Judæa under Ptolemy IV and Ptolemy V, gladly switching sides to Antiochus III after his victory at Panium (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 12, 154-185). The rise of these phil-hellenic Jews set the stage for a watershed conflict that would unfold between the Tobiads and the Maccabees later under Antiochus IV.
“So the king of the north shall come, and cast up a mount, and take the most fenced cities: and the arms of the south shall not withstand, neither his chosen people, neither shall there be any strength to withstand.”
Antiochus III is still king in Asia Minor within the Taurus mountains. After his victory at Panium, he quarters for winter and then proceeds to reduce Ptolemy V’s fortified citadels along the southern coast of Asia Minor.
The commentaries typically relate that Antiochus III “besieged [Scopas] in Sidon together with ten thousand of his soldiers” (Jerome, Commentary on Daniel 11:15-16). However, no evidence of this siege has ever been found, except the mentions made of it in Jerome’s and Porphyry’s commentaries on Daniel. No Greek or Roman historian ever made note of it.
The evidence we do have for the fulfillment of the prophecy is from Livius, who describes Antiochus III’s naval campaign as it is in progress against Ptolemy V’s fortified citadels that dotted the southern coast of Asia Minor, south of the Taurus mountains:
“His object was … to attempt the reduction of the cities along the whole coastline of Cilicia, Lycia and Caria which owed allegiance to Ptolemy… He had so far secured Zephyrium, Soli, Aphrodisias and Corycus, and after rounding Anemurium—another Cilician headland—had captured Selinus. All these towns and other fortified places on this coast had submitted to him either voluntarily or under the stress of fear, but Coracesium unexpectedly shut its gates against him.” (Livius, History of Rome, Book 33.19-20)
Facing resistance, Antiochus III had no option but to surround and besiege Coracesium, one of Ptolemy V’s most prized strongholds. Unable to defend his own fortresses, the Romans attempted to intervene and demanded that Antiochus III “restore to Ptolemy [V] all the towns that he had taken from him after the death of Ptolemy [IV]” (Polybius, The Histories, Book 18.1.14)
Loss of the Northern Crown
This concludes the section of Daniel 11 that deals with the Northern Period of the House of Seleucus. As we noted in part 1, the next verses of Daniel 11 address the defeat of Antiochus III at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 B.C., and the eviction of the Seleucid line from Asia Minor and Thrace under the terms of the Treaty of Apamea in 188 B.C.. From that point onward, the northern territory of Asia Minor and Thrace was forbidden to the Seleucids, and they were confined to the east as Kings of Syria. After Antiochus III dies, his sons rule after him in Syria, the younger of whom will “obtain the kingdom by flatteries” (Daniel 11:21) and become a significant figure through Daniel 11:39. Notably, the angel keeps talking about the Seleucids, but simply stops calling them “king of the north.” That leads us to a conclusion about Daniel 11 that completely eliminates the need for the Shifting Frame introduced by Jerome at 11:5. The frame of reference appears to have remained static since verse 5.
The Shifting Frame was Unnecessary
As the historical record bears out, the Seleucids actually ruled in Asia Minor and Thrace in the early years depicted in Daniel 11, and whenever the angelic narrator foresees them as “king of the north,” the prophecy is fulfilled by Seleucids who are in possession of the north. Then the Seleucids are evicted, ruling thenceforth only the east, and the angel simply stops calling them “king of the north.” In other words, what was “north” in Daniel 8:8 and 11:4 remained “north” for the whole prophecy, and there was never a need to impose a Judæan Frame of Reference at all. The single Alexandrian Frame of Reference in which the chapter was apparently written was sufficient all along.
The Eschatological Implications
The implications of approaching Daniel 11 in a single frame of reference are far reaching, but we will address only one of them here. The “king of the north” is mentioned again in Daniel 11:40, and though Porphyry tried in vain to show that Antiochus IV made one last foray into Egypt, the historical record shows otherwise. The reality is that nothing about Daniel 11:40-45 even remotely resembles the career of any Seleucid kings, but the angel just kept on narrating as if foreseeing a continuous history of the Greek empire—start to finish.
Unable to find a clear fulfillment in the Seleucids at the end of the chapter, eschatologists typically resort again to a shifting frame. Some initiate a new frame of reference as early as verse 21, others as late as verse 40. The governing assumption of the new frame is that there must be yet another unannounced discontinuity in the prophecy, causing the latter part of the chapter to be centered on the location of a distant future antagonist. Jerome, for example, suggested that the prophecies after verse 24 “are spoken prophetically of the Antichrist who is to arise in the end time” (Jerome, Commentary on Daniel 11:24).
We suggest, however, that if the Shifting Frame of Reference was unnecessary earlier in the chapter, then yet another frame is also unnecessary at the end. There is a simpler solution than to keep changing the frame of reference to make the prophecy fit historical events. In any case the text (we hasten to add) only mentions one reference frame in the first place.
The solution we offer is a very simple one: if chapter 11 is a continuous narrative written in a single frame of reference (as it appears to be), and the title “king of the north” is geographic rather than dynastic (as the evidence shows), then the answer to the mystery of Daniel 11:40-45 is not to be found in Syria or in the Seleucids or even in a distant future antagonist by importing yet another frame of reference. The answer is rather to be found in Asia Minor and Thrace, to the north. We should simply look there to find out who was “king of the north.” It certainly was not the Syrian Seleucids, banned forever from the northern territory by the Romans.
But somebody eventually became “king of the north”—king over Asia Minor and Thrace—years after the eviction of the Seleucids, and that somebody did exactly what he was prophesied to do, fulfilling the entirety of Daniel 11:40-45 before Rome even had her first emperor. The fulfillment has been overlooked, at least in part, because our eyes have been drawn ever eastward—thanks to Jerome and his Shifting Frame of Reference—when we should have been looking north.
We will address the remaining verses of Daniel 11 in a later series.