On October 17–19, The Village Seventh-day Adventist Church in Berrien Springs, Michigan hosted the 2019 Daniel 11 Prophecy Conference. This recently established, now annual event seeks to promote healthy dialogue, utilize the “many heads are better than one” principle within the context of humbly pleading for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and inch ever closer to a consensus understanding of some of the elements of Daniel 11 that have proven to be measurably cryptic, especially in comparison to the counterpart chapters, 2, 7, and 8.
Though I am about to quickly insert some of the broad components of the entire weekend, this column will primarily focus on Friday’s panel discussions. In general, there are three major positions regarding the symbolism of Daniel 11 and the historical and prophetic applications thereof. They are as follows:
- Turkey and Egypt—For the most part, this position resembles Uriah Smith’s stance in his commentary, Daniel and the Revelation. The King of the North and the King of the South in verses 40–45 represent Turkey and Egypt, respectively. Everything through verse 44 has already come to fruition, and only verse 45 is pending.
Turkey could either lean toward the past—as the Ottoman Empire in conflict with France in the late 1700s—or toward the future—as an Islamic entity that will reestablish power, specifically in Jerusalem. Supporters exercise a more literal hermeneutic throughout the chapter. There is disagreement regarding the extent to which Ellen White gave a thumb up to Smith’s perspective.
- Papacy and Atheism—These powers are the King of the North and the King of South, respectively. Adherents, who likely constitute the majority in Adventism at this juncture with respect to the different interpretations of Daniel 11, identify a need to shift to a more symbolic, spiritual hermeneutic after verse 22. In surveying verse 36 and beyond, there are linguistic links to the little horn of Daniel 7 and 8.
Additionally, against the backdrop of history, it is reasonable to see parallels between the Daniel 11 conflict and the allusion of Revelation 11 to the slobber-knocker between Roman Catholicism and Enlightenment France, in which the latter scored the TKO in 1798 (there may be a few boxing fans among my readers). Looking back to the 1940s, Brother Louis Were is considered the authorial catalyst of this position.
- Papacy and Islam—Along this recently developed line of thought, proponents view Daniel 11 as the third (8:17–26 and 9:24–27 being the first two), basically literal interpretation of the symbolic vision of 8:1–14. Verses 2–22 delineate a historical continuum ranging from after Daniel to Christ’s crucifixion. Verses 23–30 reflect Rome as a religiopolitical power engaged specifically in the Crusades and other campaigns against Islam. Verses 31–39 more definitively align with Daniel 7 and 8 and unpack the full papal manifestation. Roman Catholicism’s final defeat of Islam occurs around the turn of the nineteenth century, which seems to connect with the fifth and sixth trumpets of Revelation 9.
Conrad Vine, President of Adventist Frontier Missions and a skilled theologian in his own right, though limited in Hebrew, as he himself has confessed, coordinated the entire weekend and piloted the panel. The other contributors to Friday’s confab were:
- Martin Probstle—Old Testament Professor, Bogenhofen Theological Seminary in Austria
- Michael Younker—Historical Research Specialist, General Conference—Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research
- Jerome Skinner—Assistant Professor of Old Testament Exegesis and Theology, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University
- Tarsee Li—Professor of Hebrew Bible and Biblical Languages, Oakwood University
- Samuel Nunez—Professor of Old Testament Exegesis and Theology, Retired
- Amanda McGuire-Moushon—Adjunct Professor of Hebrew and Exegesis, SDATS-AU
- Roy Gane—Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Languages, SDATS-AU
The outline for the flow of conversation was a bilateral compartmentalization of the verses in Daniel 11. The anchor texts listed below, which more or less occupied the morning segment, foster substantial agreement:
- 2—Persian kings, the fourth being Xerxes
- 3—Alexander the Great
- 4—Alexander’s kingdom split into four divisions
- 5–13—Ptolemaic Egypt (South) vs. Seleucid Syria (North)
- 22—Imperial Rome and Jesus’ death on the cross
- 31–35—Papal Rome, executing spiritual and physical persecution (“regular” and “abomination” are key words here)
- 12:1–3 (big picture, chapters 10–12 are considered a literary unit)—Close of probation, time of trouble, Christ’s second advent, resurrection
The meat of the afternoon was the divergent texts, which, as the term would suggest, trigger a wider variety of interpretations and conclusions. You will notice that there are a couple occasions of overlap between the two categories:
- 2—The fourth Persian king was Artaxerxes (Xerxes’ son)
- 14—Regarding the phrase “the violent one of your people,” would a more fitting translation be “among your people” (Jews) or “against your people” (republican Rome)? Is Rome the King of the North? Is Ptolemy V the King of the South?
- 15–16—Antiochus III or republican Rome (Pompey)?
- 17—Antiochus III—Cleopatra I (North—Seleucid) or Cleopatra VII (South—Ptolemaic, with Rome)?
- 18—Antiochus III and Lucius Cornelius Scipio (Roman general) or Julius Caesar against another enemy, such as Pharnaces, king of the Cimmerian Bosphorus?
- 19—Antiochus III or Rome?
- 20—Republican Rome or Pompey or Augustus Caesar?
- 21—Julius Caesar or Tiberius Caesar?
- 23–24—Rise of papal Rome or earlier Maccabean alliance with Rome? Are powers symbolic/spiritual after Christ’s death?
- 25–30—Crusades and aftermath with papacy (North) and allies against Islam (South) or imperial Rome and persecution of the saints of God? Church-state union between the papacy and France in verse 30? To what powers to the pronouns refer from here forward?
- 31–35—Apostate Catholicism only or church-state union (with France)?
- 36–39—Papal pomposity or French Revolution?
- 40—Do the prepositions point to 1798 or afterward? Is Catholicism’s mortal wound highlighted here? Who is the King of the North? South?
- 41–43—Is the war physical or spiritual/ideological?
- 44—Is the “news from the east and north” military related or the three angels’ messages? Does the verse indicate only a military campaign or religious persecution?
- 45—Is the persecution physical, spiritual, or both?
Each panelist made several fascinating, thought-provoking, sometimes spirited, yet always tactful contributions to the day’s discussion. The following list represents a synopsis of many of the marquee talking points:\
- Throughout the day, Roy navigated Accordance, a sophisticated Bible software that offers, among other features, the ability to dig into the original languages. This was projected onto a large monitor for the audience to see. Linguistics was a stout pillar of this study. It was technical, sometimes over the head of most laypeople, myself included, but rather helpful.
- One outlier (who was not identified by name) notwithstanding, Roy explained some of the historical reasons for why there is ample agreement on verse 2. Xerxes, who married Esther, launched an attack on Greece.
- Though Martin believes the little horn in Daniel 8 is the papacy (and actually only the papacy, rather than all phases of Rome), he is unconvinced by the common (among Adventists) grammatical association between the little horn and one of the four winds, as opposed to one of the four horns (divided Greece). He referenced 1 Chronicles 21:10 and 2 Samuel 24:12.
- Going past Martin’s grammatical concerns (conceptually, he still considers the little horn in Daniel 8 coming from one of the winds valid), Tarsee is more explicitly convinced that it came from one of the four horns instead. He then highlighted the levels of blurring between Greece and Rome, which Conrad corroborated with a specific statement about Rome conquering Greece militarily, but Greece conquering Rome intellectually and culturally.
- In an open forum format, many questions came from the audience. One of them pertained to Daniel 11:22 and whether or not it truly reflects Christ’s death. The attendee doubted the connection between the word “broken” and death and considered it more of a reflection of the Dark Ages, hundreds of years after Calvary. Roy revealed the verbal depth of “broken” and confirmed that death, destruction, and similar ideas can link to it. Jerome and Martin expressed agreement, citing other grammatical and syntactical relationships and examples, and Michael did too, specifically “turning the pages” back to Isaiah 55:3–4.
- Jerome stressed the importance of seeing everything through Daniel’s eyes as the prerequisite for extrapolating the details, then pointed out that it is the King of the North that systematically harasses God’s people. This reinforces a perspective that Samuel stated earlier—that Daniel’s overarching concern was for God, Israel/Jerusalem, and the Jews/covenant people.
- Tarsee asserted that Daniel 11:5 is a continuation of what has transpired thus far, and not the introduction of a new power, for certain patterns in Hebrew sentence structure are what indicate something new, and that is lacking in verse 5.
- Considering Daniel 11:31 as a representation of the papacy is seemingly legitimate because of its pivot with 8:11 and the taking away of the “daily.”
- In the course of defining the nuances of Daniel 11:31–35, Amanda stepped back to verse 30 and recognized the depiction of a persecuting entity against God’s people, then astutely coupled this with the similar undercurrents in Revelation 12:17.
- Martin, admitting to being more of an exegete than a historian, understandably affirmed his stance that the text should drive our journey of interpretation more than history does, though he concedes the proper accommodation of interplay between the two. In a generally agreeable response, Ron Kelly, Pastor of the hosting church, posited that history is a justifiable element of sound hermeneutics that provides a safety net for textual analysis without forcing itself into it.
- When does Rome hit the scene in Daniel 11? Some say as early as verse 5, while more lean toward 14 or 16, and some wait until 19. Roy rejects 16 and goes with 19 because he is certain that 17 represents Antiochus III giving Cleopatra I (not VII) to Ptolemy V in marriage, which would have occurred within the Grecian epoch.
- An attendee brought to the attention of the panel a linguistic connection between Daniel 11:14 and Ezekiel 7, which seems to be referencing Rome. There was no window of reply to the import of Ezekiel 7 as he, perhaps to quickly, then jumped to issues of masculine/feminine word usages.
- Roy shared a potential reason why most Adventists tend to “jump the gun” on Rome’s appearance and phase out of the era of Antiochus III: his son, Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) is viewed by preterists (preterism being a flawed, “only in the past” hermeneutic that stemmed from the Jesuit order) as the little horn of Daniel 8.
- Lending possible support to Roy’s position, Jerome highlighted the structural continuity of Daniel 11:17–19, which would preclude any transition in power.
- Michael unpacked the reality that, similar to Rome having two phases, Greece also had two phases (Alexander and then the quadrilateral division), then drew a parallel between the four occurrences of “shall stand” (specifically at the beginning of a given verse) and these four total power phases.
- After Conrad stated that Daniel 11:20 very likely points to Augustus Caesar taxing the Roman empire, Michael unpacked the dynamics of there being two major world powers—Antiochus III and the Seleucid empire and the emerging Roman republic, then postulated that Pompey fits verse 20 better than Augustus does.
- Tarsee raised the possibility of Antiochus Epiphanes being prominent in verse 20, then Rome walking onto the stage in 21. Samuel shared some historical data that would lend support to this consideration. Conrad countered with the grammatical structure indicating a shift of power instead of a continuation thereof, then Tarsee replied by denoting that Epiphanes was a usurper, not along the standard line of dynastic succession.
- Michael conveyed his belief that the two phases of Rome in Daniel were republic and imperial, rather than pagan and papal. Continuing this idea, Conrad mentioned that when Augustus took over and began the imperial phase, he maintained the legal fiction that he was the guardian of the republic (previously upheld by Tiberius, Julius, and the like) on behalf of the citizens.
- Verse 23 is a notable source of divergence. Besides simply the details and what they symbolize, some see it as a progression through the time continuum, while others see a jump back to the past, specifically the first century AD. Most of the panelists (furthermore, most Adventist scholars) concluded that a backward jump is unsubstantiated, especially since there is no precedent in Daniel 2, 7, and most importantly, 8. Nevertheless, Samuel considered a backward jump the better option. Some of this is contingent on the potential allusion of 11:23 to Rome’s beginnings, which was BC, though the time stamp of verse 22 is almost undeniably AD 31.
- Tarsee highlighted a significant phenomenon regarding grammatical structure. Contrary to the customary noun-verb order in English, it is typically verb-noun in Hebrew. However, when that does get flipped, the writer is deliberately trying to drive home a particular emphasis.
- Roy drew attention to a verbal association between Daniel 11:6 and 2 Chronicles 20:35 with respect to international alliances.
- Conrad deduced that the front half of Daniel 11 parallels the horsemen of Revelation’s first four seals, which would, due to chronological flow, exclude Islam.
- Conrad asked the panel if the “time” in verse 24 portrayed a definitive time prophecy, akin to 7:25 and 12:7. Outside of but in verification of the linguistic evidence that Samuel shared, the overall silence spoke to a unanimous thumbs down.
It is possible that some may ask why an entire weekend conference would be dedicated to this particular biblical chapter. Don’t Daniel 2, 7, 8, 9, and Revelation 12–14 mean much more to our eschatological identity and function? Don’t we understand those passages adequately enough?
Though he did not touch on this explicitly on Friday, but has at other times, Conrad vigorously believes in the immense benefits that we can derive from capturing the spirit of our pioneers and actively tackling difficult portions of Scripture as a corporate body. They mostly used homes and barns back then, but the fervent interest of hundreds of scholars and laypeople necessitates expanded amenities and increased organization.
Perhaps some of us have said, “We are living in the toes of time,” referencing Daniel 2. As much of a cornerstone as this chapter is, its details are limited. It would behoove us to look through the microscope of Daniel 11, synchronize our lenses as best we can, collectively examine where we have been, where we are, and where we are going, and most importantly, refresh our hope and trust in the Lord who knows the past, present, and future, and lovingly bestows to us the insights we need to prepare for eternity.
To that end, this conference exists. Please visit http://www.daniel11prophecy.com/ and implement the wealth of resources available to aid and enhance your study and research. As helpful as the recordings are, they obviously do not facilitate interaction and camaraderie, so consider attending a future conference.