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"With thee will I break in pieces rulers and captains."—Jer. li. 23.

The Book of Daniel is constructed with consummate skill to teach the mighty lessons which it was designed to bring home to the minds of its readers, not only in the age of its first appearance, but for ever. It is a book which, so far from being regarded as unworthy of its place in the Canon by those who cannot accept it as either genuine or authentic, is valued by many such critics as a very noble work of inspired genius, from which all the difficulties are removed when it is considered in the light of its true date and origin. This second chapter belongs to all time. All that might be looked upon as involving harshnesses, difficulties, and glaring impossibilities, if it were meant for literal history and prediction, vanishes when we contemplate it in its real perspective as a lofty specimen of imaginative fiction, used, like the parables of our Blessed Lord, as the vehicle for the deepest truths. We shall see how the imagery of the chapter produced a deep impress on the imagination of the holiest thinkers—how magnificent a use is made of it fifteen centuries later by the great poet of mediæval Catholicism.265265   Dante, Inferno, xiv. 94-120. It contains the germs of the only philosophy of history which has stood142 the test of time. It symbolises that ultimate conviction of the Psalmist that "God is the Governor among the nations." No other conviction can suffice to give us consolation amid the perplexity which surrounds the passing phases of the destinies of empires.

The first chapter serves as a keynote of soft, simple, and delightful music by way of overture. It calms us for the contemplation of the awful and tumultuous scenes that are now in succession to be brought before us.

The model which the writer has had in view in this Haggadah is the forty-first chapter of the Book of Genesis. In both chapters we have magnificent heathen potentates—Pharaoh of Egypt, and Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon. In both chapters the kings dream dreams by which they are profoundly troubled. In both, their spirits are saddened. In both, they send for all the Chakamîm and all the Chartummîm of their kingdoms to interpret the dreams. In both, these professional magicians prove themselves entirely incompetent to furnish the interpretation. In both, the failure of the heathen oneirologists is emphasised by the immediate success of a Jewish captive. In both, the captives are described as young, gifted, and beautiful. In both, the interpretation of the king's dream is rewarded by the elevation to princely civil honours. In both, the immediate elevation to ruling position is followed by life-long faithfulness and prosperity. When we add that there are even close verbal resemblances between the chapters, it is difficult not to believe that the one has been influenced by the other.

The dream is placed "in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar." The date is surprising; for the first chapter has made Nebuchadrezzar a king of143 Babylon after the siege of Jerusalem "in the third year of Jehoiakim"; and setting aside the historic impossibilities involved in that date, this scene would then fall in the second year of the probation of Daniel and his companions, and at a time when Daniel could only have been a boy of fifteen.266266   The Assyrian and Babylonian kings, however, only dated their reigns from the first new year after their accession. The apologists get over the difficulty with the ease which suffices superficial readers who are already convinced. Thus Rashi says "the second year of Nebuchadnezzar," meaning "the second year after the destruction of the Temple," i.e., his twentieth year! Josephus, no less arbitrarily, makes it mean "the second year after the devastation of Egypt."267267   Antt., X. x. 3. By such devices anything may stand for anything. Hengstenberg and his school, after having made Nebuchadrezzar a king, conjointly with his father—a fact of which history knows nothing, and indeed seems to exclude—say that the second year of his reign does not mean the second year after he became king, but the second year of his independent rule after the death of Nabopolassar. This style of interpretation is very familiar among harmonists, and it makes the interpretation of Scripture perpetually dependent on pure fancy. It is perhaps sufficient to say that Jewish writers, in works meant for spiritual teaching, troubled themselves extremely little with minutiæ of this kind. Like the Greek dramatists, they were unconcerned with details, to which they attached no importance, which they regarded as lying outside the immediate purpose of their narrative. But if any explanation be needful, the simplest way is, with Ewald, Herzfeld, and Lenormant, to make a slight alteration144 in the text, and to read "in the twelfth" instead of "in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar."

There was nothing strange in the notion that God should have vouchsafed a prophetic dream to a heathen potentate. Such instances had already been recorded in the case of Pharaoh (Gen. xli.), as well as of his chief courtiers (Gen. xl.); and in the case of Abimelech (Gen. xx. 5-7). It was also a Jewish tradition that it was in consequence of a dream that Pharaoh Necho had sent a warning to Josiah not to advance against him to the Battle of Megiddo.268268   2 Chron. xxxv. 21. See The Second Book of Kings, p. 404 (Expositor's Bible). Such dreams are recorded in the cuneiform inscriptions as having occurred to Assyrian monarchs. Ishtar, the goddess of battles, had appeared to Assur-bani-pal, and promised him safety in his war against Teumman, King of Elam; and the dream of a seer had admonished him to take severe steps against his rebel brother, the Viceroy of Babylon. Gyges, King of Lydia, had been warned in a dream to make alliance with Assur-bani-pal. In Egypt Amên-meri-hout had been warned by a dream to unite Egypt against the Assyrians.269269   See Professor Fuller, Speaker's Commentary, vi. 265. Similarly in Persian history Afrasiab has an ominous dream, and summons all the astrologers to interpret it; and some of them bid him pay no attention to it.270270   Malcolm, Hist. of Persia, i. 39. Xerxes (Herod., iii. 19) and Astyages (Herod., i. 108) have dreams indicative of future prosperity or adversity. The fundamental conception of the chapter was therefore in accordance with history271271   The belief that dreams come from God is not peculiar to the Jews, or to Egypt, or Assyria, or Greece (Hom., Il., i. 63; Od., iv. 841), or Rome (Cic., De Div., passim), but to every nation of mankind, even the most savage.—though to say, with the Speaker's Commentary, that these parallels "endorse the authenticity of145 the Biblical narratives," is either to use inaccurate terms, or to lay the unhallowed fire of false argument on the sacred altar of truth. It is impossible to think without a sigh of the vast amount which would have to be extracted from so-called "orthodox" commentaries, if such passages were rigidly reprobated as a dishonour to the cause of God.

Nebuchadrezzar then—in the second or twelfth year of his reign—dreamed a dream, by which (as in the case of Pharaoh) his spirit was troubled and his sleep interrupted.272272   Dan. ii. 1: "His dreaming brake from him." Comp. vi. 18; Esther vi. 1: Jerome says, "Umbra quædam, et, ut ita dicam, aura somnii atque vestigium remansit in corde regis, ut, referentibus aliis posset reminisci eorum quæ viderat." His state of mind on waking is a psychological condition with which we are all familiar. We awake in a tremor. We have seen something which disquieted us, but we cannot recall what it was; we have had a frightful dream, but we can only remember the terrifying impression which it has left upon our minds.

Pharaoh, in the story of Joseph, remembered his dreams, and only asked the professors of necromancy to furnish him with its interpretation. But Nebuchadrezzar is here represented as a rasher and fiercer despot, not without a side-glance at the raging folly and tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes. He has at his command an army of priestly prognosticators, whose main function it is to interpret the various omens of the future. Of what use were they, if they could not be relied upon in so serious an exigency? Were they to be maintained in opulence and dignity all their lives, only to146 fail him at a crisis? It was true that he had forgotten the dream, but it was obviously one of supreme importance; it was obviously an intimation from the gods: was it not clearly their duty to say what it meant?

So Nebuchadrezzar summoned together the whole class of Babylonian augurs in all their varieties—the Chartummîm, "magicians," or book-learned;273273   Gen. xli. 8; Schrader, K. A. T., p. 26; Records of the Past, i. 136. the Ashshaphîm, "enchanters";274274   The word is peculiar to Daniel, both here in the Hebrew and in the Aramaic. Pusey calls it "a common Syriac term, representing some form of divination with which Daniel had become familiar in Babylonia" (p. 40). the Mekashaphîm, "sorcerers";275275   Exod. vii. 11; Deut. xviii. 10; Isa. xlvii. 9, 12. Assyrian Kashshapu. and the Kasdîm, to which the writer gives the long later sense of "dream-interpreters," which had become prevalent in his own day.276276   As in the rule "Chaldæos ne consulito." See supra, p. 48. In later verses he adds two further sections of the students—the Khakhamîm, "wise men," and the Gazerîm, or "soothsayers." Attempts have often been made, and most recently by Lenormant, to distinguish accurately between these classes of magi, but the attempts evaporate for the most part into shadowy etymologies.277277   The equivalents in the LXX., Vulgate, A.V., and other versions are mostly based on uncertain guess-work. See E. Meyer, Gesch. d. Alterth., i. 185; Hommel, Gesch. Bab. u. Assyr., v. 386; Behrmann, p. 2. It seems to have been a literary habit with the author to amass a number of names and titles together.278278   E.g., iii. 2, 3, officers of state; iii. 4, 5, etc., instruments of music; iii. 21, clothes. It is a part of the stateliness and leisureliness of style which he adopts, and he gives no indication of any sense of difference between the classes which he enumerates,147 either here or when he describes various ranks of Babylonian officials.

When they were assembled before him, the king informed them that he had dreamed an important dream, but that it produced such agitation of spirit as had caused him to forget its import.279279   ii. 5: "The dream is gone from me," as in ver. 8 (Theodotion, ἀπέστη). But the meaning may be the decree (or word) is "sure": for, according to Nöldeke, azda is a Persian word for "certain." Comp. Esther vii. 7; Isa. xlv. 23. He plainly expected them to supply the failure of his memory, for "a dream not interpreted," say the Rabbis, "is like a letter not read."280280   Berachôth, f. 10, 2. This book supplies a charm to be spoken by one who has forgotten his dream (f. 55, 2).

Then spake the Chaldeans to the king, and their answer follows in Aramaic (Aramîth), a language which continues to be used till the end of chap. vii. The Western Aramaic, however, here employed could not have been the language in which they spoke, but their native Babylonian, a Semitic dialect more akin to Eastern Aramaic. The word Aramîth here, as in Ezra iv. 7, is probably a gloss or marginal note, to point out the sudden change in the language of the Book.

With the courtly phrase, "O king, live for ever," they promised to tell the king the interpretation, if he would tell them the dream.

"That I cannot do," said the king, "for it is gone from me. Nevertheless, if you do not tell me both the dream and its interpretation, you shall be hacked limb by limb, and your houses shall be made a dunghill."281281   Dan. ii. 5, iii. 29. Theodot., εἰς ἀπωλείαν ἔσεσθε. Lit. "ye shall be made into limbs." The LXX. render it by διαμελίζομαι, membratim concidor, in frusta fio. Comp. Matt. xxiv. 51; Smith's Assur-bani-pal, p. 137. The word haddam, "a limb," seems to be of Persian origin—in modern Persian andam. Hence the verb hadîm in the Targum of 1 Kings xviii. 33. Comp. 2 Macc. i. 16, μέλη ποιεῖν.

The language was that of brutal despotism such as had been customary for centuries among the ferocious148 tyrants of Assyria. The punishment of dismemberment, dichotomy, or death by mutilation was common among them, and had constantly been depicted on their monuments. It was doubtless known to the Babylonians also, being familiar to the apathetic cruelty of the East. Similarly the turning of the houses of criminals into draught-houses was a vengeance practised among other nations.282282   Comp. Ezra vi. 11; 2 Kings x. 27; Records of the Past, i. 27, 43. On the other hand, if the "Chaldeans" arose to the occasion, the king would give them rewards and great honours. It is curious to observe that the Septuagint translators, with Antiochus in their mind, render the verse in a form which would more directly remind their readers of Seleucid methods. "If you fail," they make the king say, "you shall be made an example, and your goods shall be forfeited to the crown."283283   In iii. 96, καὶ ἡ οἰκία αὐτοῦ δημευθήσεται. Comp. 2 Macc. iii. 13: "But Heliodorus, because of the king's commandment, said, That in anywise it must be brought into the king's treasury."

With "nervous servility" the magi answer to the king's extravagantly unreasonable demand, that he must tell them the dream before they can tell him the interpretation. Ewald is probably not far wrong in thinking that a subtle element of irony and humour underlies this scene. It was partly intended as a satirical reflection on the mad vagaries of Epiphanes.

For the king at once breaks out into fury, and tells them that they only want to gain (lit. "buy")149 time;284284   LXX. Theodot., καιρὸν ἐξαγοράζετε (not in a good sense, as in Eph. v. 16; Col. iv. 5). but that this should not avail them. The dream had evidently been of crucial significance and extreme urgency; something important, and perhaps even dreadful, must be in the air. The very raison d'être of these thaumaturgists and stargazers was to read the omens of the future. If the stars told of any human events, they could not fail to indicate something about the vast trouble which overshadowed the monarch's dream, even though he had forgotten its details. The king gave them to understand that he looked on them as a herd of impostors; that their plea for delay was due to mere tergiversation;285285   Theodot., συνέθεσθε. Cf. John ix. 22. and that, in spite of the lying and corrupt words which they had prepared in order to gain respite "till the time be changed"286286   Theodot., ἔως οὗ ὁ καιρὸς παρέλθῃ.—that is, until they were saved by some "lucky day" or change of fortune287287   Esther iii. 7.—there was but one sentence for them, which could only be averted by their vindicating their own immense pretensions, and telling him his dream.

The "Chaldeans" naturally answered that the king's request was impossible. The adoption of the Aramaic at this point may be partly due to the desire for local colouring.288288   The word Aramîth may be (as Lenormant thinks) a gloss, as in Ezra iv. 7. No king or ruler in the world had ever imposed such a test on any Kartum or Ashshaph in the world.289289   A curious parallel is adduced by Behrmann (Daniel, p. 7). Rabia-ibn-nazr, King of Yemen, has a dream which he cannot recall, and acts precisely as Nebuchadrezzar does (Wüstenfeld, p. 9). No living man could possibly achieve anything150 so difficult. There were some gods whose dwelling is with flesh; they tenant the souls of their servants. But it is not in the power of these genii to reveal what the king demands; they are limited by the weakness of the souls which they inhabit.290290   See Lenormant, La Magie, pp. 181-183. It can only be done by those highest divinities whose dwelling is not with flesh, but who


The lucid interspace of world and world,"

and are too far above mankind to mingle with their thoughts.291291   LXX., ii. 11: εἰ μή τις ἄγγελος.

Thereupon the unreasonable king was angry and very furious, and the decree went forth that the magi were to be slain en masse.

How it was that Daniel and his companions were not summoned to help the king, although they had been already declared to be "ten times wiser" than all the rest of the astrologers and magicians put together, is a feature in the story with which the writer does not trouble himself, because it in no way concerned his main purpose. Now, however, since they were prominent members of the magian guild, they are doomed to death among their fellows. Thereupon Daniel sought an interview with Arioch, "the chief of the bodyguard,"292292   Lit. "chief of the slaughter-men" or "executioners." LXX., ἀρχιμάγειρος. The title is perhaps taken from the story, which in this chapter is so prominently in the writer's mind, where the same title is given to Potiphar (Gen. xxxvii. 36). Comp. 2 Kings xxv. 8; Jer. xxxix. 9. The name Arioch has been derived from Erî-aku, "servant of the moon-god" (supra, p. 49), but is found in Gen. xiv. 1 as the name of "the King of Ellasar." It is also found in Judith i. 6, "Arioch, King of the Elymæans." An Erim-akû, King of Larsa, is found in cuneiform. and asked with gentle prudence why151 the decree was so harshly urgent. By Arioch's intervention he gained an interview with Nebuchadrezzar, and promised to tell him the dream and its interpretation, if only the king would grant him a little time—perhaps but a single night.293293   If Daniel went (as the text says) in person, he must have been already a very high official. (Comp. Esther v. 1; Herod., i. 99.) If so, it would have been strange that he should not have been consulted among the magians. All these details are regarded as insignificant, being extraneous to the general purport of the story (Ewald, Hist., iii. 194).

The delay was conceded, and Daniel went to his three companions, and urged then to join in prayer that God would make known the secret to them and spare their lives. Christ tells us that "if two shall agree on earth as touching anything that they ask, it shall be done for them."294294   Matt. xviii. 19. The LXX. interpolate a ritual gloss: καὶ παρήγγειλε νηστείαν καὶ δέησιν καὶ τιμωρίαν ζητῆσαι παρὰ τοῦ Κυρίου. The secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night, and he blessed "the God of heaven."295295   The title is found in Gen. xxiv. 7, but only became common after the Exile (Ezra i. 2, vi. 9, 10; Neh. i. 5, ii. 4). Wisdom and might are His. Not dependent on "lucky" or "unlucky" days, He changeth the times and seasons;296296   Comp. Dan. vii. 12; Jer. xxvii. 7; Acts i. 7,χρόνοι ἢ καιροί; 1 Thess. v. 1; Acts xvii. 26, ὁρίσας προτεταγμένους καιρούς. He setteth down one king and putteth up another. By His revelation of deep and sacred things—for the light dwelleth with Him—He had, in answer to their common prayer, made known the secret.297297   With the phraseology of this prayer comp. Psalm xxxvi. 9, xli., cxxxix. 12; Neh. ix. 5; 1 Sam. ii. 8; Jer. xxxii. 19; Job xii. 22.

Accordingly Daniel bids Arioch not to execute the magians, but to go and tell the king that he will reveal to him the interpretation of his dream.


Then, by an obvious verbal inconsistency in the story, Arioch is represented as going with haste to the king, with Daniel, and saying that he had found a captive Jew who would answer the king's demands. Arioch could never have claimed any such merit, seeing that Daniel had already given his promise to Nebuchadrezzar in person, and did not need to be described. The king formally puts to Daniel the question whether he could fulfil his pledge; and Daniel answers that, though none of the Khakhamîm, Ashshaphîm, Chartummîm, or Gazerîm298298   Here the new title Gazerîm, "prognosticators," is added to the others, and is equally vague. It may be derived from Gazar, "to cut"—that is, "to determine." could tell the king his dream, yet there is a God in heaven—higher, it is implied, than either the genii or those whose dwelling is not with mortals—who reveals secrets, and has made known to the king what shall be in the latter days.299299   Comp. Gen. xx. 3, xli. 25; Numb. xxii. 35.

The king, before he fell asleep, had been deeply pondering the issues of the future; and God, "the revealer of secrets,"300300   Comp. Gen. xli. 45. had revealed those issues to him, not because of any supreme wisdom possessed by Daniel, but simply that the interpretation might be made known.301301   Dan. ii. 30: "For their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king" (A.V.). But the phrase seems merely to be one of the vague forms for the impersonal which are common in the Mishnah. The R.V. and Ewald rightly render it as in the text.

The king had seen302302   Here we have (ver. 31) aloo! "behold!" as in iv. 7, 10, vii. 8; but in vii. 2, 5, 6, 7, 13, we have aroo! a huge gleaming, terrible colossus of many colours and of different metals, but otherwise not unlike the huge colossi which guarded153 the portals of his own palace. Its head was of fine gold; its torso of silver; its belly and thighs of brass; its legs of iron; its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.303303   In the four metals there is perhaps the same underlying thought as in the Hesiodic and ancient conceptions of the four ages of the world (Ewald, Hist., i. 368). Comp. the vision of Zoroaster quoted from Delitzsch by Pusey, p. 97: "Zoroaster saw a tree from whose roots sprang four trees of gold, silver, steel, and brass; and Ormuzd said to him, 'This is the world; and the four trees are the four "times" which are coming.' After the fourth comes, according to Persian doctrine, Sosiosh, the Saviour." Behrmann refers also to Bahman Yesht (Spiegel, Eran. Alterth., ii. 152); the Laws of Manu (Schröder, Ind. Litt., 448); and Roth (Mythos von den Weltaltern, 1860). But while he gazed upon it as it reared into the sunlight, as though in mute defiance and insolent security, its grim metallic glare, a mysterious and unforeseen fate fell upon it.304304   Much of the imagery seems to have been suggested by Jer. li. The fragment of a rock broke itself loose, not with hands, smote the image upon its feet of iron and clay, and broke them to pieces. It had now nothing left to stand upon, and instantly the hollow multiform monster collapsed into promiscuous ruins.305305   Comp. Rev. xx. 11: καὶ τόπος οὐχ εὑρέθη αὐτοῖς. Its shattered fragments became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floor, and the wind swept them away;306306   Psalm i. 4, ii. 9; Isa. xli. 15; Jer. li. 33, etc. but the rock, unhewn by any earthly hands, grew over the fragments into a mountain that filled the earth.

That was the haunting and portentous dream; and this was its interpretation:—

The head of gold was Nebuchadrezzar himself, the king of what Isaiah had called "the golden city"307307   Isa. xiv. 4.—a King of kings, ruler over the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and the children of men.308308   King of kings. Comp. Ezek. xxvi. 7; Ezra vii. 12; Isa. xxxvi. 4. It is the Babylonian Shar-sharrâni, or Sharru-rabbu (Behrmann). The Rabbis tried (impossibly) to construe this title, which they thought only suitable to God, with the following clause. But Nebuchadrezzar was so addressed (Ezek. xxvi. 7), as the Assyrian kings had been before him (Isa. x. 8), and the Persian kings were after him (Ezra vii. 12). The expression seems strange, but comp. Jer. xxvii. 6, xxviii. 14. The LXX. and Theodotion mistakenly interpolate ἰχθύες τῆς θαλάσσης.


After him should come a second and an inferior kingdom, symbolised by the arms and heart of silver.

Then a third kingdom of brass.

Finally a fourth kingdom, strong and destructive as iron. But in this fourth kingdom was an element of weakness, symbolised by the fact that the feet are partly of iron and partly of weak clay. An attempt should be made, by intermarriages, to give greater coherency to these elements; but it should fail, because they could not intermix. In the days of these kings, indicated by the ten toes of the image, swift destruction should come upon the kingdoms from on high; for the King of heaven should set up a kingdom indestructible and eternal, which should utterly supersede all former kingdoms. "The intense nothingness and transitoriness of man's might in its highest estate, and the might of God's kingdom, are the chief subjects of this vision."309309   Pusey, p. 63.

Volumes have been written about the four empires indicated by the constituents of the colossus in this dream; but it is entirely needless to enter into them at length. The vast majority of the interpretations have been simply due to a-priori prepossessions, which are arbitrary and baseless. The object has been to make the interpretations fit in with preconceived theories of prophecy, and with the traditional errors about the155 date and object of the Book of Daniel. If we first see the irresistible evidence that the Book appeared in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, and then observe that all its earthly "predictions" culminate in a minute description of his epoch, the general explanation of the four empires, apart from an occasional and a subordinate detail, becomes perfectly clear. In the same way the progress of criticism has elucidated in its general outlines the interpretation of the Book which has been so largely influenced by the Book of Daniel—the Revelation of St. John. The all-but-unanimous consensus of the vast majority of the sanest and most competent exegetes now agrees in the view that the Apocalypse was written in the age of Nero, and that its tone and visions were predominantly influenced by his persecution of the early Christians, as the Book of Daniel was by the ferocities of Antiochus against the faithful Jews. Ages of persecution, in which plain-speaking was impossible to the oppressed, were naturally prolific of apocalyptic cryptographs. What has been called the "futurist" interpretation of these books—which, for instance, regards the fourth empire of Daniel as some kingdom of Antichrist as yet unmanifested—is now universally abandoned. It belongs to impossible forms of exegesis, which have long been discredited by the boundless variations of absurd conjectures, and by the repeated refutation of the predictions which many have ventured to base upon these erroneous methods. Even so elaborate a work as Elliott's Horæ Apocalypticæ would now be regarded as a curious anachronism.

That the first empire, represented by the head of gold, is the Babylonian, concentrated in Nebuchadrezzar himself, is undisputed, because it is expressly stated by the writer (ii. 37, 38).


Nor can there be any serious doubt, if the Book be one coherent whole, written by one author, that by the fourth empire is meant, as in later chapters, that of Alexander and his successors—"the Diadochi," as they are often called.

For it must be regarded as certain that the four elements of the colossus, which indicate the four empires as they are presented to the imagination of the heathen despot, are closely analogous to the same four empires which in the seventh chapter present themselves as wild beasts out of the sea to the imagination of the Hebrew seer. Since the fourth empire is there, beyond all question, that of Alexander and his successors, the symmetry and purpose of the Book prove conclusively that the fourth empire here is also the Græco-Macedonian, strongly and irresistibly founded by Alexander, but gradually sinking to utter weakness by its own divisions, in the persons of the kings who split his dominion into four parts. If this needed any confirmation, we find it in the eighth chapter, which is mainly concerned with Alexander the Great and Antiochus Epiphanes; and in the eleventh chapter, which enters with startling minuteness into the wars, diplomacy, and intermarriages of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties. In viii. 21 we are expressly told that the strong he-goat is "the King of Grecia," who puts an end to the kingdoms of Media and Persia. The arguments of Hengstenberg, Pusey, etc., that the Greek Empire was a civilising and an ameliorating power, apply at least as strongly to the Roman Empire. But when Alexander thundered his way across the dreamy East, he was looked upon as a sort of shattering levin-bolt. The interconnexion of these visions is clearly marked even here, for the juxtaposition of157 iron and miry clay is explained by the clause "they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men:310310   Comp. Jer. xxxi. 27. but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay." This refers to the same attempts to consolidate the rival powers of the Kings of Egypt and Syria which are referred to in xi. 6, 7, and 17. It is a definite allusion which becomes meaningless in the hands of those interpreters who attempt to explain the iron empire to be that of the Romans. "That the Greek Empire is to be the last of the Gentile empires appears from viii. 17, where the vision is said to refer to 'the time of the end.' Moreover, in the last vision of all (x.-xii.), the rise and progress of the Greek Empire are related with many details, but nothing whatever is said of any subsequent empire. Thus to introduce the Roman Empire into the Book of Daniel is to set at naught the plainest rules of exegesis."311311   Bevan, p. 66.

The reason of the attempt is to make the termination of the prophecy coincide with the coming of Christ, which is then—quite unhistorically—regarded as followed by the destruction of the fourth and last empire. But the interpretation can only be thus arrived at by a falsification of facts. For the victory of Christianity over Paganism, so decisive and so Divine, was in no sense a destruction of the Roman Empire. In the first place that victory was not achieved till three centuries after Christ's advent, and in the second place it was rather a continuation and defence of the Roman Empire than its destruction. The Roman Empire, in spite of Alaric and Genseric and Attila, and because of its alliance with Christianity, may be said to have practically continued down to modern times. So far from158 being regarded as the shatterers of the Roman Empire, the Christian popes and bishops were, and were often called, the Defensores Civitatis. That many of the Fathers, following many of the Rabbis, regarded Rome as the iron empire, and the fourth wild beast, was due to the fact that until modern days the science of criticism was unknown, and exegesis was based on the shifting sand.312312   The interpretation is first found, amid a chaos of false exegesis, in the Epistle of Barnabas, iv. 4, § 6. If we are to accept their authority on this question, we must accept it on many others, respecting views and methods which have now been unanimously abandoned by the deeper insight and advancing knowledge of mankind. The influence of Jewish exegesis over the Fathers—erroneous as were its principles and fluctuating as were its conclusions—was enormous. It was not unnatural for the later Jews, living under the hatred and oppression of Rome, and still yearning for the fulfilment of Messianic promises, to identify Rome with the fourth empire. And this seems to have been the opinion of Josephus, whatever that may be worth. But it is doubtful whether it corresponds to another and earlier Jewish tradition. For among the Fathers even Ephræm Syrus identifies the Macedonian Empire with the fourth empire, and he may have borrowed this from Jewish tradition. But of how little value were early conjectures may be seen in the fact that, for reasons analogous to those which had made earlier Rabbis regard Rome as the fourth empire, two mediæval exegetes so famous as Saadia the Gaon and Abn Ezra had come to the conclusion that the fourth empire was—the Mohammedan!313313   See Bevan, p. 65.

Every detail of the vision as regards the fourth159 kingdom is minutely in accord with the kingdom of Alexander. It can only be applied to Rome by deplorable shifts and sophistries, the untenability of which we are now more able to estimate than was possible in earlier centuries. So far indeed as the iron is concerned, that might by itself stand equally well for Rome or for Macedon, if Dan. vii. 7, 8, viii. 3, 4, and xi. 3 did not definitely describe the conquests of Alexander. But all which follows is meaningless as applied to Rome, nor is there anything in Roman history to explain any division of the kingdom (ii. 41), or attempt to strengthen it by intermarriage with other kingdoms (ver. 43). In the divided Græco-Macedonian Empires of the Diadochi, the dismemberment of one mighty kingdom into the four much weaker ones of Cassander, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, and Seleucus began immediately after the death of Alexander (b.c. 323). It was completed as the result of twenty-two years of war after the Battle of Ipsus (b.c. 301). The marriage of Antiochus Theos to Berenice, daughter of Ptolemy Philadelphus (b.c. 249, Dan. xi. 6), was as ineffectual as the later marriage of Ptolemy V. (Epiphanes) to Cleopatra, the daughter of Antiochus the Great (b.c. 193), to introduce strength or unity into the distracted kingdoms (xi. 17, 18).

The two legs and feet are possibly meant to indicate the two most important kingdoms—that of the Seleucidæ in Asia, and that of the Ptolemies in Egypt. If we are to press the symbolism still more closely, the ten toes may shadow forth the ten kings who are indicated by the ten horns in vii. 7.

Since, then, we are told that the first empire represents Nebuchadrezzar by the head of gold, and since we have incontestably verified the fourth empire160 to be the Greek Empire of Alexander and his successors, it only remains to identify the intermediate empires of silver and brass. And it becomes obvious that they can only be the Median and the Persian. That the writer of Daniel regarded these empires as distinct is clear from v. 31 and vi.

It is obvious that the silver is meant for the Median Empire, because, closely as it was allied with the Persian in the view of the writer (vi. 9, 13, 16, viii. 7), he yet spoke of the two as separate. The rule of "Darius the Mede," not of "Cyrus the Persian," is, in his point of view, the "other smaller kingdom" which arose after that of Nebuchadrezzar (v. 31). Indeed, this is also indicated in the vision of the ram (viii. 3); for it has two horns, of which the higher and stronger (the Persian Empire) rose up after the other (the Median Empire); just as in this vision the Persian Empire represented by the thighs of brass is clearly stronger than the Median Empire, which, being wealthier, is represented as being of silver, but is smaller than the other.314314   On the distinction in the writer's mind between the Median and Persian Empires see v. 28, 31, vi. 8, 12, 15, ix. 1, xi. 1, compared with vi. 28, x. 1. In point of fact, the Persians and Medians were long spoken of as distinct, though they were closely allied; and to the Medes had been specially attributed the forthcoming overthrow of Babylon: Jer. li. 28, "Prepare against her the nations with the kings of the Medes." Comp. Jer. li. 11, and Isa. xiii. 17, xxi. 2, "Besiege, O Media." Further, the second empire is represented later on by the second beast (vii. 5), and the three ribs in its mouth may be meant for the three satrapies of vi. 2.

It may then be regarded as a certain result of exegesis that the four empires are—(1) the Babylonian; (2) the Median; (3) the Persian; (4) the Græco-Macedonian.


But what is the stone cut without hands which smote the image upon his feet? It brake them in pieces, and made the collapsing débris of the colossus like chaff scattered by the wind from the summer threshing-floor. It grew till it became a great mountain which filled the earth.

The meaning of the image being first smitten upon its feet is that the overthrow falls on the iron empire.

All alike are agreed that by the mysterious rock-fragment the writer meant the Messianic Kingdom. The "mountain" out of which (as is here first mentioned) the stone is cut is "the Mount Zion."315315   See Isa. ii. 2, xxviii. 16; Matt. xxi. 42-44. "Le mot de Messie n'est pas dans Daniel. Le mot de Meshiach, ix. 26, désigne l'autorité (probablement sacerdotale) de la Judée" (Renan, Hist., iv. 358). It commences "in the days of these kings." Its origin is not earthly, for it is "cut without hands." It represents "a kingdom" which "shall be set up by the God of heaven," and shall destroy and supersede all the kingdoms, and shall stand for ever.

Whether a personal Messiah was definitely prominent in the mind of the writer is a question which will come before us when we consider the seventh chapter. Here there is only a Divine Kingdom; and that this is the dominion of Israel seems to be marked by the expression, "the kingdom shall not be left to another people."

The prophecy probably indicates the glowing hopes which the writer conceived of the future of his nation, even in the days of its direst adversity, in accordance with the predictions of the mighty prophets his predecessors, whose writings he had recently studied. Very few of those predictions have as yet been literally fulfilled; not one of them was fulfilled with such162 immediateness as the prophets conceived, when they were "rapt into future times." To the prophetic vision was revealed the glory that should be hereafter, but not the times and seasons, which God hath kept in His own power, and which Jesus told His disciples were not even known to the Son of Man Himself in His human capacity.

Antiochus died, and his attempts to force Hellenism upon the Jews were so absolute a failure, that, in point of fact, his persecution only served to stereotype the ceremonial institutions which—not entirely proprio motu, but misled by men like the false high priests Jason and Menelaus—he had attempted to obliterate. But the magnificent expectations of a golden age to follow were indefinitely delayed. Though Antiochus died and failed, the Jews became by no means unanimous in their religious policy. Even under the Hasmonæan princes fierce elements of discord were at work in the midst of them. Foreign usurpers adroitly used these dissensions for their own objects, and in b.c. 37 Judaism acquiesced in the national acceptance of a depraved Edomite usurper in the person of Herod, and a section of the Jews attempted to represent him as the promised Messiah!316316   See Kuenen, The Prophets, iii.

Not only was the Messianic prediction unfulfilled in its literal aspect "in the days of these kings,"317317   No kings have been mentioned, but the ten toes symbolise ten kings. Comp. vii. 24. but even yet it has by no means received its complete accomplishment. The "stone cut without hands" indicated the kingdom, not—as most of the prophets seem to have imagined when they uttered words which meant more than they themselves conceived—of the163 literal Israel, but of that ideal Israel which is composed, not of Jews, but of Gentiles. The divinest side of Messianic prophecy is the expression of that unquenchable hope and of that indomitable faith which are the most glorious outcome of all that is most Divine in the spirit of man. That faith and hope have never found even an ideal or approximate fulfilment save in Christ and in His kingdom, which is now, and shall be without end.

But apart from the Divine predictions of the eternal sunlight visible on the horizon over vast foreshortened ages of time which to God are but as one day, let us notice how profound is the symbolism of the vision—how well it expresses the surface glare, the inward hollowness, the inherent weakness, the varying successions, the predestined transience of overgrown empires. The great poet of Catholicism makes magnificent use of Daniel's image, and sees its deep significance. He too describes the ideal of all earthly empire as a colossus of gold, silver, brass, and iron, which yet mainly rests on its right foot of baked and brittle clay. But he tells us that every part of this image, except the gold, is crannied through and through by a fissure, down which there flows a constant stream of tears.318318   Dante, Inferno, xiv. 94-120. These effects of misery trickle downwards, working their way through the cavern in Mount Ida in which the image stands, till, descending from rock to rock, they form those four rivers of hell,—

"Abhorrèd Styx, the flood of deadly hate;

Sad Acheron of sorrow, black and deep;

Cocytus, named of lamentation loud

Heard on the rueful stream; fierce Phlegethon

Whose waves of torrent fire inflame with rage."319319   Milton, Paradise Lost, ii. 575.


There is a terrible grandeur in the emblem. Splendid and venerable looks the idol of human empire in all its pomp and pricelessness. But underneath its cracked and fissured weakness drop and trickle and stream the salt and bitter runnels of misery and anguish, till the rivers of agony are swollen into overflow by their coagulated scum.

It was natural that Nebuchadrezzar should have felt deeply impressed when the vanished outlines of his dream were thus recalled to him and its awful interpretation revealed. The manner in which he expresses his amazed reverence may be historically improbable, but it is psychologically true. We are told that "he fell upon his face and worshipped Daniel," and the word "worshipped" implies genuine adoration. That so magnificent a potentate should have lain on his face before a captive Jewish youth and adored him is amazing.320320   It may be paralleled by the legendary prostrations of Alexander the Great before the high priest Jaddua (Jos., Antt., XI. viii. 5), and of Edwin of Deira before Paulinus of York (Bæda, Hist., ii. 14-16). It is still more so that Daniel, without protest, should have accepted, not only his idolatrous homage, but also the offering of "an oblation and sweet incense."321321   Isa. xlvi. 6. The same verbs, "they fall down, yea they worship," are there used of idols. That a Nebuchadrezzar should have been thus prostrate in the dust before their young countryman would no doubt be a delightful picture to the Jews, and if, as we believe, the story is an unconnected Haggada, it may well have been founded on such passages as Isa. xlix. 23, "Kings shall bow down to thee with their faces toward the earth, and165 lick up the dust of thy feet";322322   Comp. Isa. lx. 14: "The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee; and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet." together with Isa. lii. 15, "Kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they perceive."

But it is much more amazing that Daniel, who, as a boy, had been so scrupulous about the Levitic ordinance of unclean meats, in the scruple against which the gravamen lay in the possibility of their having been offered to idols,323323   Comp. Rom. xiv. 23; Acts xv. 29; Heb. xiii. 9; 1 Cor. viii. 1; Rev. ii. 14, 20. should, as a man, have allowed himself to be treated exactly as the king treated his idols! To say that he accepted this worship because the king was not adoring him, but the God whose power had been manifested in him,324324   So Jerome: "Non tam Danielem quam in Daniele adorat Deum, qui mysteria revelavit." Comp. Jos., Antt., XI. viii. 5, where Alexander answers the taunt of Parmenio about his προσκύνησις of the high priest: οὐ τοῦτον προσεκύνησα, τὸν δὲ Θεόν. is an idle subterfuge, for that excuse is offered by all idolaters in all ages. Very different was the conduct of Paul and Barnabas when the rude population of Lystra wished to worship them as incarnations of Hermes and Zeus. The moment they heard of it they rent their clothes in horror, and leapt at once among the people, crying out, "Sirs, why do ye such things? We also are men of like passions with you, and are preaching unto you that ye should turn from these vain ones unto the Living God."325325   Acts xiv. 14, 15.

That the King of Babylon should be represented as at once acknowledging the God of Daniel as "a God166 of gods," though he was a fanatical votary of Bel-merodach, belongs to the general plan of the Book. Daniel received in reward many great gifts, and is made "ruler of all the wise men of Babylon, and chief of the governors [signîn] over all the wise men of Babylon." About his acceptance of the civil office there is no difficulty; but there is a quite insuperable historic difficulty in his becoming a chief magian. All the wise men of Babylon, whom the king had just threatened with dismemberment as a pack of impostors, were, at any rate, a highly sacerdotal and essentially idolatrous caste. That Daniel should have objected to particular kinds of food from peril of defilement, and yet that he should have consented to be chief hierarch of a heathen cult, would indeed have been to strain at gnats and to swallow camels!

And so great was the distinction which he earned by his interpretation of the dream, that, at his further request, satrapies were conferred on his three companions; but he himself, like Mordecai, afterwards "sat in the gate of the king."326326   Esther iii. 2. Comp. 1 Chron. xxvi. 30. This corresponds to what Xenophon calls αἱ ἐπὶ τὰς θύρας φοιτήσεις, and to our "right of entrée."

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