To be fair, I must admit that the interpretation of Daniel 8 has been a struggle for years, even decades. Having imagined it was some future event, I have tried over and over again to wedge this prophecy somewhere in the apocalyptic narrative. Then I found a pearl of great price in the writings of Josephus, who identifies our protagonist in chapter 8. Here was the key! Josephus was the consummate Jewish historian at the time of the Roman siege of Jerusalem circa AD 70. Josephus was more than a historian; he was a prophet. He was one of the last voices to the Jewish nation to repent to avoid destruction at the hands of the Romans. He interpreted Daniel 8 for us, and we will rely on his interpretation throughout.
Thanks to him, this chapter is easy, easy, easy! Our joy and gratitude is so great that it kindles within us a strange desire to celebrate Hanukah. Happy Hanukah! Forget Christmas for a chapter and celebrate Hanukah—it won’t kill you—and you’ll understand the reason by the end of the commentary.
Daniel 8:2 I was at Shushan in the palace
Remember, Daniel is in Persia and Belshazzar is king—the last Babylonian king before the Persians conquer the Babylonians. The Book of Esther is also in the same palace. “It was in the palace of Shushan that the beautiful Queen Esther outmaneuvered the wicked minister Haman; and it was thanks to her scheming that the Jews of the Persian Empire were saved. The account in Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther, which reads like a fairy tale of the triumph of good over evil.” (Steven Rosenberg, Jerusalem Post, March 4, 2015, https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/In-the-palace-of-Shushan-392945)
Daniel 8:3 there stood before the river a ram which had two horns
As in chapter 7 of Daniel, the beasts are used to represent earthly kingdoms. The ram is pushing all four directions trying to dominate the world, “he did according to his will, and became great.” The ram represents the Medo-Persian empire, which is about to teach king Belshazzar and the Babylonians a lesson in humility.
Daniel 8:5 an he goat came from the west
The he goat is Alexander the Great. Just like in chapter 7, we are learning about the kingdoms which are going to dominate the world stage in the immediate future. We are not talking about apocalyptic events—these are the events between Daniel’s day and the birth of Jesus Christ.
Daniel 8:7 the goat… smote the ram, and brake his two horns
Though in some decline, the Medo-Persian Empire (modern day Iran) was strong when Alexander the Great decided to conquer it, about 335 BC. The imagery is correct; a ram is larger and stronger than a goat. The smaller goat should not be able to win the battle, but Alexander does.
Rhyton in the shape of a ram's head, gold – western Iran – Median, late 7th–early 6th century BC
“The Medes (/miːdz/, Old Persian Māda-, Ancient Greek: Μῆδοι, Hebrew: מָדַי Madai) were an ancient Iranian people who spoke the Median language and who inhabited an area known as Media between western and northern Iran…
“After Cyrus's victory against Astyages, the Medes were subjected to their close kin, the Persians. In the new empire they retained a prominent position; in honour and war, they stood next to the Persians; their court ceremony was adopted by the new sovereigns, who in the summer months resided in Ecbatana; and many noble Medes were employed as officials, satraps and generals…
“Greek references to ‘Median’ people make no clear distinction between the ‘Persians’ and the ‘Medians’; in fact for a Greek to become ‘too closely associated with Iranian culture’ was ‘to become Medianized, not Persianized’. The Median Kingdom was a short-lived Iranian state and the textual and archaeological sources of that period are rare and little could be known from the Median culture which nevertheless made a ‘profound, and lasting, contribution to the greater world of Iranian culture’.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medes)
Daniel 8:8 the he goat waxed very great
Alexander the Great is the “he goat” of Daniel 8. “Alexander began his war against the Persians in 334 BC. At the time the Macedonian leader was twenty-two years old. At his death eleven years later, Alexander ruled the largest empire of the ancient world. His victory at the battle of Gaugamela on the Persian plains was a decisive conquest that insured the defeat of his Persian rival King Darius III.” (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/alexander.htm)
Daniel 8:8 the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones
As we learned in Daniel 7, after Alexander’s premature death at the age of 33, his expansive Greek kingdom was divided into four different domains.
Daniel 8:9 out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great
The little horn is the king of one of the four domains left by Alexander the Great. The largest of the four domains is shown in orange in the map above. The area became known as the Seleucid Empire, its first king being Seleuca, a close aid and friend of Alexander who died in 323 BC. A century and a half later, a king arose in the Seleucid Empire. Josephus identifies him as Antiochus Epiphanes (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XII, 7:6); he was an evil man with great ambitions. He aspired to expand his kingdom into Egypt and ventured two campaigns there in 170 and 168 BC, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel that he waxed great toward the south and the east. He also attacked Jerusalem, which Daniel called “the pleasant land.”
Daniel 8:10 it waxed great even to the host of heaven
Other than being careful and wary of Rome, Antiochus was awfully ambitious—his personal quest to conquer knew no bounds. He would have extended his kingdom into heaven if he could; he had no qualms taking advantage of other earthly kings, represented as “the stars” in Daniel’s vision. Joseph Fielding McConkie wrote, “Stars also denoted rulers of earth (see Daniel 8:10; Revelation 6:13).” (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987-1992], 3: 410) Antiochus Epiphanes is unknown to us, but he was great in his time—a time lost to Biblical scholars because of the gap between Malachi and Matthew. A man of ambition and an enemy of the Jews, he would desecrate the temple in a manner not seen since the Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s Temple.
Daniel 8:11 by him the daily sacrifice was taken away
Daniel’s vision focuses on the daily sacrifice in the Jerusalem temple. Every morning and every evening, the priests would offer sacrifice, announcing the event with a blow of the trumpet from the temple wall. Daniel hadn’t seen this for years, but remembered his days in Jerusalem when the ordinance was performed in Solomon’s Temple. At the time of this vision, the temple had been destroyed and the Second Temple had not yet been built, but it would be built in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Daniel’s vision assumes the reader understands that an interruption of the daily sacrifice is blasphemy, sacrilege of the highest order, a desecration of the holy temple. The Temple of Zerubbabel, or the second temple, which was later renovated by king Herod and subsequently called by his name, was rebuilt a few decades after Daniel’s death. The vision is concerned with the interruption of the daily sacrifice in this temple.
The origin of the conflict started in the Temple, circa 168 BC. The job of high priest in the temple was akin to being president of the Jewish nation—a coveted position, but the nation itself came under the dominion of Antiochus. At this time, two men, Menelaus and Jason (“Jesus” in the Greek) began competing for the office of high priest as if the sacred temple office was up for grabs for the most popular or the most well-connected. Menelaus in his wicked aspirations, appealed to Antioch, promising that he wanted the Jews to be more Greek in their customs, requesting a stadium for Olympic Games near the temple, promising Jewish participation. He was so willing to forego his Jewish heritage that when fellow Jews participated in the games, which were traditionally performed in the nude, they would make themselves appear uncircumcised, “that even when they were naked they might appear to be Greeks.” (Josephus, Antiquities, XII, 5:1)
Not surprisingly, the majority of the Jews backed Jason, a leader who was more traditional and was not willing to appease the Greeks with sacrilegious alterations in temple worship. Eventually Jason prevailed, taking the high office from Menelaus. Menelaus went crying to Antiochus, who came to Jerusalem with a great show of force to reinstate Menelaus. Entering peacefully into the city, he turned his troops to attack mode, taking possession of Jerusalem from within, pillaging everywhere he went. Coveting the gold of the temple, he removed the precious vessels and gold of the temple, including the table of showbread, the altar of incense, and the veil by the holy of holies. Josephus recorded, he “cast the Jews into great lamentation, for he forbade them to offer those daily sacrifices which they used to offer to God, according to the law… He also commanded them not to circumcise their sons.” (Antiquities, XII, 5:4) He desecrated the temple by placing an idolatrous altar in the temple and then offering swine upon it. He commanded the people to worship idols instead of the one true God and enforced his decrees by violence. By Antiochus IV, the daily sacrifice was taken away.
As Josephus recorded, those who resisted, “were whipped with rods, and their bodies were torn to pieces, and [others] were crucified… they also strangled those women and their sons whom they had circumcised… hanging their sons about their necks as they were upon the crosses. And if there were any sacred book of the law found, it was destroyed.” (Antiquities, XII, 5:4)
Daniel 8:13-14 How long shall be the vision… unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed
Bible scholars will tell you there are some difficulties with the Book of Daniel. Some question the authenticity of his prophecies because the book is said to have been written later, after these events took place—a fabrication of scribes from a century and a half before Christ. We don’t need to be that skeptical but there are some problems with chronologies and certain passages.
For instance, Josephus tells us the time period is different than what we have in the King James Version. Knowing the many changes that have been made to the Bible, we will in this instance, favor Josephus’ record, which was written long before our Old Testament. Instead of 2300 days, Josephus says the period was 1095 days, or a perfect three years. The number is not meant to give us the number of years until the prophecy is fulfilled. Rather, it is meant to tell us the number of days in which the temple will remain in its desecrated state without the normal temple ceremonies. Since the daily sacrifice resumed exactly three years, or 1095 days, after it was interrupted, Josephus sees the prophetic fulfillment of Daniel in the resumption of temple worship, “these things were done on the very same day on which their divine worship had fallen off, and was reduced to a profane and common use, after three years time; for so it was, that the temple was made desolate by Antiochus, and so continued for three years… And this desolation came to pass according to the prophecy of Daniel, which was given four hundred and eight years before; for he declared that the Macedonians should dissolve that worship [for some] time.” (Antiquities, XII, 7:6) One thousand four score and fifteen days, according to Josephus, was the length of the vision—a desecration—an abomination—a desolation—even an abomination of desolation, a type for events attending the Second Coming.
Daniel 8:16 Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision
Gabriel is an archangel, like Michael and Raphael, a distinction we don’t completely understand. Joseph Smith identified the Angel Gabriel as Noah and declared he was third in the priesthood after Christ and Adam. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 157) He was the angel that announced the birth of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and was the name of the angel who reportedly instructed Muhammad.
Daniel 8:17 Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision
Here is the problem. Verse seventeen implies this prophecy is for the end of the world. Look at the language used, “Understand, O son of man; for at the time of the end shall be the vision.” That sure sounds like the end of the world! Now, let’s look at verse 19, “I will make thee know what shall be in the end of the indignation; for at the time appointed the end shall be.” Notice that in verse 19 Daniel is speaking of “the end” in a different context. He says “in the end of the indignation.” Certainly, this could mean “in the end of the siege wherein the temple was desecrated.”
Years, even decades I struggled to fit this prophecy into the apocalyptic narrative. It says right in verse 17 that the vision will be an end times prophecy! But Daniel is using the phrase in a different way. After seeing the fulfillment of the prophecy in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes and Judas Maccabeus, we have to conclude that we have a problem with interpreting this chapter as apocalyptic. If we took the liberty to alter the translation, perhaps, in the distant future, before the coming of the Son of God, or in many days, would be more accurate. Josephus tells us there was 408 years between Daniel’s prophecy and its fulfillment, so it was a long time from Daniel’s perspective. Parenthetically, the Joseph Smith Translation doesn’t help. Acknowledging that all things must be understood by the spirit of prophecy and revelation, we will take some liberties with the translation which will clarify the meaning of the text. The key to understanding this entire chapter depends on realizing that the events described are not apocalyptic, understanding the phrase, “at the time of the end shall be the vision,” means “at the time of the end of the desecration of the temple shall be the vision,” instead of the assumed reading, “at the time of the end of the world shall be the vision.”
Daniel 8:20 the ram which whom sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia.
These kings ruled at the time of Alexander the Great. It is easier to identify the king of the Persians than the king of the Medes. The king of the Persians was Darius III.
“In 334, Alexander embarked on his Asiatic expedition, arriving in Troy that spring. Alexander then faced Persian King Darius III's army near the Grancius River; Darius' forces were swiftly defeated. By fall, Alexander and his army had made it across the southern coast of Asia Minor to Gordium, where they took the winter to rest. In the summer of 333, the troops of Alexander and Darius once again went head to head in battle at Issus. Although Alexander's army was outnumbered, he used his flair for military strategy to create formations that defeated the Persians again and caused Darius to flee. In November of 333, Alexander declared himself the king of Persia after capturing Darius and making him a fugitive.” (https://www.biography.com/political-figure/alexander-the-great)
Daniel 8:21 the rough goat is the king of Grecia
In Oxford’s museum of Art and Archeology, coins with Alexander’s image include him wearing a goat’s skin, with horns as mentioned in verse 21 of Daniel 8.
“Macedonian king and general Alexander the Great, who forged and ruled an empire that spanned Greece, Asia and northern Africa, was born on this day (July 20) in 356 BC. Alexander was undefeated in battle, and is considered one of history’s most successful military commanders.
“Struck around 300 BC in Ptolemaic Egypt, this silver coin posthumously depicts Alexander as a youthful conqueror wearing an elephant skin – a reference to his victory over King Porus in 326 BC. To express his superhuman powers, Alexander is also shown wearing an aegis (a goat skin worn by gods) and the horn of Zeus Ammon.” (https://ashmoleanmuseum.tumblr.com/post/176084497575/alexander-the-great)
Daniel 8:22 four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power
Alexander conquered the known world, then mysteriously and prematurely died of an illness at the age of 33. His kingdom was divided into four parts, but not by him, thus fulfilling the prophecy. From the book of 1 Maccabees, “So Alexander reigned twelves years, and then died. And his servants bare rule every one in his place. And after his death they all put crowns upon themselves; so did their sons after them many years: and evils were multiplied in the earth. (1 Maccabees 1:7-9)
Daniel 8:23-24 a king of fierce countenance… shall stand up. And his power shall be mighty
This king is Antiochus Epiphanes (216-164 BC).
“This Antiochus is styled in rabbinical sources, "the wicked." Abundant information is extant concerning the character of this monarch, who exercised great influence upon Jewish history and the development of the Jewish religion. Since Jewish and heathen sources agree in their characterization of him, their portrayal is evidently correct. Antiochus combined in himself the worst faults of the Greeks and the Romans, and but very few of their good qualities. He was vainglorious and fond of display to the verge of eccentricity, liberal to extravagance; his sojourn in Rome had taught him how to captivate the common people with an appearance of geniality, but in his heart he had all a cruel tyrant's contempt for his fellow men…
“Having thus made Jerusalem a Greek colony, the king's attention was next turned to the destruction of the national religion. A royal decree proclaimed the abolition of the Jewish mode of worship; Sabbaths and festivals were not to be observed; circumcision was not to be performed; the sacred books were to be surrendered and the Jews were compelled to offer sacrifices to the idols that had been erected. The officers charged with carrying out these commands did so with great rigor; a veritable inquisition was established with monthly sessions for investigation. The possession of a sacred book or the performance of the rite of circumcision was punished with death. On Kislew (Nov.-Dec.) 25, 168, the "abomination of desolation" (Dan. xi. 31, xii. 11) was set up on the altar of burnt offering in the Temple, and the Jews required to make obeisance to it. This was probably the Olympian Zeus, or Baal Shamem” (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1589-antiochus-iv-epiphanes)
Daniel 8:24 he shall destroy the mighty and the holy people
Antiochus would seek to destroy all things pertaining to the Jews and their religion. Once opposed by the Maccabean revolt, his goal was the complete obliteration of the Jews. What he didn’t understand was that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was watching these events closely. Having promised prophets and saints that a remnant would be preserved, God was not about to let Antiochus wipe the Jews off the map. Let’s look at some of these prophecies.
The Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number... When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shall be obedient unto his voice… he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them. (Deut. 4:27-31)
Esias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved. (Rom. 9:27)
… so shall the Lord of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. As birds flying, so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem (Isa. 31:4-5)
Daniel 8:25 he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand
Antiochus defiance against the Lord of Hosts would be checked by the Lord. The term “broken without hand” hearkens to the stone cut out of the mountain “without hands” (Dan. 2:45) and means that it is the Lord’s doing, not by the strength of mortal hands. In the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus, it is easy to see the hand of the Lord preserving the Jews against a more powerful foe. The power of the Lord is evident preserving this tiny remnant—that the promises to the fathers may be kept according to the covenant which the Lord made with the patriarchs.
Hanukkah celebrates the success of the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus’ policy of desecration. As the men of Antiochus enforced idolatry throughout Judea, they came upon a righteous rebel, Mattathias. When commanded to worship idols contrary to the law, Mattathias slew the idolatrous priest and fled with his family into the wilderness. When the forces of the king came to root out the rebels, Mattathias gave battle and slew the king’s men. Upon his deathbed, he established his son Judas, called the Maccabean, to lead his growing band of Jewish rebels.
Apollonius was the general tasked with putting down the Maccabean revolt, but Judas slew his men and Apollonius himself. The next army sent to destroy Judas was overwhelming; led by a general named Seron, the mere size of it struck fear into Judas men. Judas responded:
…with the God of heaven it is all one, to deliver with a great multitude, or a small company:
For the victory of battle standeth not in the multitude of an host; but strength cometh from heaven.
They come against us in much pride and iniquity to destroy us, and our wives and children, and to spoil us:
But we fight for our lives and our laws.
Wherefore the Lord himself will overthrow them before our face: and as for you, be ye not afraid of them. (1 Maccabees 3:18-22)
Judas and his forces beat Seron and killed 800 of his men before sending the army fleeing for their lives. “When king Antiochus heard of these things, he was very angry at what had happened; so he got together all his own army, with many mercenaries, whom he had hired from the islands, and took them with him, and prepared to break into Judea.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XII, 7:1) But Antiochus had financial troubles that pressed hard on him so that he had to send his general Lysias to subdue the Jews instead of doing it himself. Lysias came against Judas in two succeeding years, first with an army of 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry; the next year with an army of 60,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Both times, Judas, with an army no larger than 10,000 men, was able to defeat the enemy.
Lysias… went up to the hill country of Bethsur, a village of Judea, and pitched his camp there, where Judas met him with ten thousand men; and when he saw the great number of his enemies, he prayed to God that he would assist him, and joined battle with the first of the enemy that appeared, and beat them, and slew about five thousand of them, and thereby became terrible to the rest of them. Nay, indeed, Lysias on observing the great spirit of the Jews, how they were prepared to die rather than lose their liberty, and being afraid of their desperate way of fighting, as if it were real strength, he took the rest of the army back with him, and returned to Antioch. (Antiquities, XII, 7:5)
After this battle, Judas had strength enough to return to the temple and restore it to its purified, holy condition. He sought out priests who were worthy, destroyed the idolatrous altars that had been set up in the temple, and prepared the temple for the return of holy sacrifices.
When therefore he had carefully purged it, and had brought in new vessels, the candlestick, the table [of shew-bread], and the altar [of incense], which were made of gold, he hung up the veils at the gates, and added doors to them. He also took down the altar [of burnt-offering], and built a new one of stones that he gathered together, and not of such as were hewn with iron tools. So on the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu, which the Macedonians call Apeliens, they lighted the lamps that were on the candlestick, and offered incense upon the altar [of incense], and laid the loaves upon the table [of shew-bread], and offered burnt-offerings upon the new altar [of burnt-offering]. Now it so fell out, that these things were done on the very same day on which their Divine worship had fallen off, and was reduced to a profane and common use, after three years' time; for so it was, that the temple was made desolate by Antiochus, and so continued for three years. This desolation happened to the temple in the hundred forty and fifth year, on the twenty-fifth day of the month… And this desolation came to pass according to the prophecy of Daniel, which was given four hundred and eight years before; for he declared that the Macedonians would dissolve that worship [for some time]. (Antiquities, XII, 7:6)