Porphyrius: Comments on the book of Daniel

These extracts come from a long polemic, "Against the Christians", which Porphyrius wrote in the late third century A.D. Not surprisingly, the whole work was banned when the Roman Empire became officially Christian, and all remaining copies were publicly burnt in 448 A.D.

Some passages about the historical basis of the book of Daniel have survived, because they were quoted in St.Jerome's commentary on Daniel. They are translated from Jacoby's text in FGrH_260.

The references in green are to St.Jerome's commentary. A complete translation of Jerome's commentary on Daniel, made by Gleason L. Archer, can be found on the Tertullian website. The Latin text is available on the website.

[35] [prologue] In his twelfth book Porphyrius wrote about the prophet Daniel. He said that the book of Daniel was written not by the man whom it is named after, but by someone who lived in Judaea at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes; and so instead of Daniel predicting the future, this writer describes what has already happened. So whatever he mentions up to the time of Antiochus is true history, but whatever he touches on after that time, because the writer could not foretell the future, is fiction. Expert replies to this argument have been composed by Eusebius, Apollinarius, and previously in part by Methodius.

[36] [prologue] To understand the last part of the book of Daniel, is it necessary to consult many Greek histories: namely the histories of Suctorius Callinicus, Diodorus, Hieronymus, Polybius, Poseidonius, Claudius Theon and Andronicus Alipius, whose accounts Porphyrius says that he is following. Josephus and the authors whom Josephus quotes [especially our Livius, Pompeius Trogus, and Justinus, all tell the history of the period which is referred to in the final vision, and] also describe the wars between Syria and Egypt, that is between Seleucus and Antiochus and the Ptolemaei, from Alexander up until the reign of Caesar Augustus,.

[37] [7'7] Porphyrius assigns both of the last two beasts (the Macedonians and the Romans) to the Macedonian empire ... the "leopard" he interprets as Alexander himself, and the beast which is different from the rest as the four successors of Alexander. And then he lists ten cruel kings up until Antiochus Epiphanes, and he does not choose the kings of one kingdom, for instance of Macedonia, Egypt, or Syria, but he creates a single line of kings out of the different kingdoms. He clearly believes that the words "a mouth speaking boastfully" refer not to the Antichrist but to Antiochus.

[38] [7'8] Porphyrius wrongly suspects that the little horn, which came up after the ten horns, is Antiochus Epiphanes, and that the three horns which were uprooted out of the ten horns are Ptolemy VI Philometor, Ptolemy VII Euergetes, and Artaxias the king of Armenia. Of these, the first two died long before Antiochus was born; we know that Antiochus fought against Artaxias, but Artaxias remained in possession of his kingdom as before.

[39] [9'1] This is the Darius who along with Cyrus conquered the Chaldaeans and Babylonians; unless we think that he is the Darius in whose second year the temple was built - which is what Porphyrius supposes, in order to stretch out the years of Daniel - or the Darius who was conquered by Alexander, the king of the Macedonians.

[40] [11'2] He says that four kings will arise in Persia after Cyrus: Cambyses the son of Cyrus, Smerdes the Magus, who married Pantaptes the daughter of Cambyses, and after Smerdes was killed (?) by the seven magi and Darius came to power in his place, the same Pantaptes married Darius and bore him a son Xerxes. Xerxes was a very powerful and wealthy king, and invaded Greece with an enormous army, as is related in the histories of Greece. He burnt down Athens when Callias was archon, and at that time there was a battle at Thermopylae and a sea battle at Salamis. Around the same time, Sophocles and Euripides were in their prime and Themistocles fled to the Persians, where he died after drinking bull's blood. Therefore [Porphyrius] is wrong to write that Darius, who was defeated by Alexander, was the fourth king; this Darius was not the fourth, but the fourteenth king of the Persians after Cyrus, and in the seventh year of his reign he was defeated and killed by Alexander.

[41] [11'3-4] [Alexander] was the son of Philippus. He defeated the Illyrians and Thracians, conquered Greece and destroyed Thebes. Then he crossed over to Asia, defeated the generals of Darius and captured the city of Sardis. Afterwards he conquered India and founded the city of Alexandria, and when he was 32 years old and had reigned for 12 years, he died at Babylon. After Alexander, his empire was divided amongst "the four winds of heaven"; in Egypt the first king was Ptolemy the son of Lagus . . . in Macedonia, Philippus Aridaeus the brother of Alexander . . . in Syria and Babylonia and the eastern provinces, Seleucus Nicanor . . . in Asia and Pontus and the other provinces of that region, Antigonus . . . who succeeded [his?] brother Philippus as king of the Macedonians, because [Philippus] did not have any children . . . and as well as these four kingdoms, the Macedonian empire was chopped up further amongst minor and insignificant kings; by which he means Perdiccas and Craterus and Lysimachus. Cappadocia and Armenia, Bithynia and Heracleia, Bosphorus and some other provinces threw off Macedonian control, and appointed their own separate kings.

[42] [11'5] Ptolemy the son of Lagus . . . was the first to rule in Egypt. He was very prudent, brave and rich, and became so powerful that he restored Pyrrhus the king of Epirus to his kingdom after he had been expelled. He gained control of Cyprus and Phoenicia, and after defeating Demetrius the son of Antigonus, he gave back to Seleucus the part of his kingdom which had been seized by Antigonus. He also gained control of Caria and many other islands, cities, and regions, which we do not need to list here . . . Ptolemy Philadelphus, the son of the first Ptolemy, was the second king of Egypt. In his reign the seventy translators [translated the Jewish scriptures into Greek] . . . Demetrius of Phalerum, the Greek orator and philosopher, was in charge of his library. This Ptolemy was even more powerful than his father; the histories state that he had 200,000 foot-soldiers, 20,000 cavalrymen, 2,000 chariots, and 400 elephants. He was the first to bring elephants out of Ethiopia. He had 1,500 war ships [of the type now called "Liburnian"] and another 1,000 ships to carry supplies for the soldiers. He also possessed a huge amount of gold and silver; each year he received from Egypt 14,800 talents of silver and 1,500,000 artabae of corn [- an artaba is a measure equivalent to two and a third modii].

[43] [11'6-9] The first king of Syria was Seleucus Nicanor; the second was Antiochus Soter; the third was Antiochus Theos ["the God"] . . . who fought many wars against Ptolemy Philadelphus, using all the forces of Babylon and the East. So after many years Ptolemy Philadelphus, in order to put an end to this troublesome war, gave his daughter Berenice as a wife to Antiochus, although Antiochus had two sons, Seleucus Callinicus and another Antiochus, by his previous wife Laodice. Ptolemy led Berenice out to Pelusium, and sent with her an immense amount of gold and silver, so that she was given the name Phernophoros ["dowry-bringer"]. At that time, Antiochus said that he regarded Berenice as his queen and Laodice as his concubine, but much later, won over by his love for her, he restored Laodice and her children to their royal status. Laodice, fearing that Seleucus might change his mind again and give preference to Berenice, murdered her husband by persuading his servants to poison him. She handed over Berenice and her son by Antiochus to be killed by Icadion and Gennaeus, the leaders of Antioch, and she set up her elder son, Seleucus Callinicus, as king in his father's place . . . After the murder of Berenice and the death of her father Ptolemy Philadelphus in Egypt, Berenice's brother Ptolemy Euergetes became the third king [of Egypt] . . . and he arrived with a large army and invaded the province . . . of Seleucus Callinicus, who was reigning in Syria with his mother Laodice. Ptolemy worsted them and was so successful that he conquered Syria and Cilicia and the Eastern regions on the other side of the Euphrates, and almost the whole of Asia. When he heard that a rebellion had started in Egypt, he ransacked the kingdom of Seleucus and carried off 40,000 talents of silver and 2,500 precious vessels and statues of gods, including those which Cambyses had carried off after conquering Egypt. Later the [idolatrous] Egyptians gave their king the name Euergetes ["benefactor"] because he had brought back their gods after so many years. Ptolemy kept Syria for himself, but gave away Cilicia to be governed by his friend Antiochus, and he gave the provinces on the other side of the Euphrates to another leader, called Xanthippus.

[44] [11'10-14] After the rout and death of Seleucus Callinicus, his sons Seleucus Ceraunus and Antiochus, called the Great, who were spurred on by the hope of victory and revenge for their father, collected an army and made war on Ptolemy Philopator. Seleucus, the elder brother, was plotted against and killed by Nicanor and Apaturius in the third year of his reign. The army in Syria summoned his brother Antiochus the Great from Babylon to take over as king . . . Antiochus the Great came from Babylon to Syria, which at that time was held by Ptolemy Philopator the son of Euergetes, who was the fourth king of Egypt. When he attacked the generals of Ptolemy, he did indeed gain control of Syria, through the treachery of Theodotus . . . He was made so bold by his contempt for Philopator, who was sunk in luxury and was said to be devoted to the magic arts, that he launched an outright attack on the Egyptians . . . Ptolemy Philopator, after losing Syria through the treachery of Theodotus, assembled a vast army and advanced against Antiochus the Great . . . In a battle near the town of Raphia, which is on the borders of Egypt, Antiochus lost his entire army and was almost captured while escaping through the desert. He retreated from Syria, and eventually the war was concluded with a treaty on certain conditions.

[45] [11'13-14] Antiochus regarded with contempt the worthlessness of Ptolemy Philopator, because Ptolemy was enslaved to the harp-player Agathocleia and also kept her brother Agathocles as a catamite, whom he later appointed to be leader of Egypt. Antiochus collected an enormous army from the regions east of Babylon, and after the death of Ptolemy Philopator he broke the treaty and led his army against Ptolemy's son, who was then four years old and was called Ptolemy Epiphanes. Agathocles was such an arrogant and dissolute leader that the provinces which had previously been subject to Egypt rose in rebellion, and Egypt itself was troubled by revolts. Also, Philippus the king of the Macedonians and Antiochus the Great made a pact, and fought against Agathocles and Ptolemy Epiphanes on these terms, that each would add to his kingdom the neighbouring cities in the empire of Ptolemy . . . And when Antiochus had gained control of Judaea, Scopas the Aetolian was sent to be general of Ptolemy's forces. He fought bravely against Antiochus, recaptured Judaea, and returned to Egypt along with the foremost supporters of Ptolemy.

[46] [11'15-16] Antiochus, wishing to recover Judaea and numerous cities of Syria, defeated Scopas the general of Ptolemy in a battle near the source of the river Jordan, where Paneas is now situated, and penned him up along with 10,000 soldiers in Sidon, where he besieged him. Ptolemy sent the illustrious generals Aeropus, Menocles, and Damoxenus to rescue him, but they could break the siege, until Scopas was starved into surrender and was allowed to leave with his forces after giving up his weapons. When Daniel says "he will build up siege ramps" he means that for a long time Antiochus attacked the garrison of Scopas in the citadel of Jerusalem with the help of the Jews, and he captured other cities which had belonged to Ptolemy, in Syria and Cilicia and Lycia. At that time he captured Aphrodisias, Soli, Zephyrium, Mallus, Anemurium, Selenum, Coracesium, Corycus, Andriace, Limyra, Patara, Xanthus, and last of all Ephesus. All of this is related in the histories of Greece and Rome.

[47] [11'17-19] Antiochus wanted not only to possess Syria, Cilicia, Lycia, and the other provinces which had belonged to Ptolemy, but also to extend his realm into Egypt. So through the influence of Eucles of Rhodes he betrothed his daughter Cleopatra to Ptolemy, in the seventh year of the boy's reign. In the thirteenth year, he handed over Cleopatra to be Ptolemy's wife, and gave Coele Syria and Judaea as her dowry . . . but he did not succeed in gaining control of Egypt, because Ptolemy Epiphanes and his ministers were wary of being tricked, and also Cleopatra supported her husband rather than her father. Therefore Antiochus turned his attention to Asia; he fought a naval battle against numerous islands, and captured Rhodes, Samos, Colophon, Phocaea, and many other islands. But he was confronted by L.Scipio Nasica, along with his brother P.Scipio Africanus, who had defeated Hannibal. Because the consul Nasica, the brother of Africanus, was slow-witted and the senate did not want to entrust him with a war against a very powerful king, Africanus had taken up a voluntary post as his officer, to avoid any insult to his brother. And so Antiochus was defeated, and was ordered by the Romans to restrict his kingdom to the other side of the Taurus mountains. From there, he withdrew to Apameia and Susa and reached the furthest cities of his kingdom. He was killed with all his army while fighting against the Elymaeans.

[48] [11'20] "There will arise in his place a vile man": He means Seleucus Philopator, the son of Antiochus the Great, who achieved nothing worthy of his father's Syrian empire, and died ingloriously without any fighting. But Porphyrius says that this is not Seleucus, but Ptolemy Epiphanes, who plotted against Seleucus and prepared an army to fight against him, and because of this was poisoned by his own generals. When someone asked this Ptolemy what money he possessed to pay for such a venture, he replied that his friends were his money-bags. When this saying became publicly known, the generals became afraid that he would strip them of their wealth, and therefore they treacherously killed him. But how could Ptolemy "arise in the place" of Antiochus the Great, when he never achieved this; especially since the Septuagint translated this phrase as "a shoot will rise up from his root"? The Jews prefer this to mean Tryphon, a contemptible man and not worthy of the honour of royalty, who seized the kingdom from the boy while acting as his guardian.

[49a] [11'21] "He will be succeeded by a contemptible person": Up to this point, Porphyrius follows the order of history, and there is no disagreement between him and our writers. But what follows from here to the end of the book is interpreted by Porphyrius as referring to Antiochus Epiphanes, the brother of Seleucus and son of Antiochus the Great, who reigned for 11 years in Syria after Seleucus and captured Jerusalem. The persecution of the law of God and the wars of the Maccabees are said to have taken place during his reign. However our writers think that all these prophecies refer to the Antichrist. Therefore we will follow the order of the narrative, and in each comment we will briefly note the opinions of our adversaries and of our own writers. In Seleucus' place, they say, will stand his brother Antiochus Epiphanes. He was not at first "given the honour of royalty" by Ptolemy' supporters in Syria, but later he obtained the kingdom of Syria by pretending clemency . . . and Daniel says that not only did Antiochus conquer Ptolemy by deceit, but also he overcame Judas Maccabaeus by trickery . . . this does not refer to Ptolemy Epiphanes, the fifth king of Egypt, but to Ptolemy Philometor, the son of Cleopatra the sister of Antiochus; so Antiochus was his uncle. After the death of Cleopatra, Eulaeus the eunuch, the guardian of Ptolemy, controlled Egypt together with Lenaeus. They attempted to regain Syria, which Antiochus had dishonestly seized, and war broke out between the young Ptolemy and his uncle. In a battle in between Pelusium and Mount Casius, the generals of Ptolemy were defeated and Antiochus, after sparing the boy and pretending to be his friend, went up to Memphis where he was proclaimed king of Egypt in the traditional fashion. He said that he was protecting the boy's interests, and with a moderately sized army he subjugated the whole of Egypt. He entered into flourishing and wealthy cities, and "achieved what neither his fathers nor his forefathers did"; none of them had plundered Egypt in this way, and he was so clever that by his deceit he undermined the prudent plans of the boy's ministers. Porphyrius, who is following the account of Suctorius, describes these events in great detail, which we have briefly summarised. However our writers give a better and more accurate interpretation . . .

[49b] [11'25-28] Porphyrius interprets this as referring to Antiochus, who marched with a large army against Ptolemy, his sister's son . . . The generals of Ptolemy confronted him with a strong force and brave spirits, but they could not prevail against the deceitful plots of Antiochus, who pretended to make peace with his sister's son and ate bread with him and afterwards occupied Egypt . . . No-one can doubt that Antiochus made peace with Ptolemy and dined with him and then plotted against him, "but to no avail", because he was unable to conquer his kingdom, and was expelled by the soldiers of Ptolemy.

[50] [11'29-30] The histories of Greece and Rome relate that when Antiochus returned after being expelled by the Egyptians, he came to Judaea . . . and plundered the temple and took away a vast amount of gold. After placing a garrison of Macedonians in the citadel, he returned to his own country. [Two years later] he again gathered an army against Ptolemy, and invaded the South. While the two Ptolemy brothers, the sons of Cleopatra and nephews of Antiochus, were being besieged in Alexandria, some Roman envoys arrived. One of the envoys, Marcus Popilius Laenas, met Antiochus by the shore and handed him the senatus consultum, in which Antiochus was ordered to withdraw from the territory of the friends of the Roman people and to be content with his own kingdom. When Antiochus tried to defer a reply until he had consulted with his friends, Popilius is said to have drawn a circle round him with the stick which he was carrying and to have said, "The Roman people tell you to make a decision and reply within this space". Alarmed by this statement, the king said, "If this is what the Roman senate and people wish, I must withdraw"; and so he immediately led away his army. He is described as "struck down", not because he died, but because he lost all his extreme arrogance.

[51] [11'31] They suggest that this refers to the men who were sent by Antiochus two years after he plundered the temple, to exact tribute from the Jews and to prohibit the worship of God. They placed in the temple at Jerusalem an image of Olympian Zeus and statues of Antiochus, which he calls here "the abomination of the desolation", at the time when the burnt offering and the continual sacrifice were removed.

[52] [11'34-35] Porphyrius thinks that "a little help" refers to Mattathias, from the village of Modin, who rebelled against the generals of Antiochus . . . Mattathias is called "a little help" because he died in battle, and afterwards his son Judas Maccabaeus died fighting, and Judas' other brothers were confounded by the deceit of their enemies.

[53] [11'36] "The king will do as he pleases": The Jews think that this passage refers to the Antichrist . . . But Porphyrius and the other writers who follow him think that it refers to Antiochus Epiphanes, because [he arose as an opponent of the worship of God and] he became so haughty that he ordered his own image to be set up in the temple at Jerusalem . . . Polybius and Diodorus, who wrote "libraries of history", relate that he not only acted against the Jewish god, but also was inflamed by greed to attack the extremely wealthy temple of Diana in Elymais. The guards of the temple and the surrounding nations overcame him, and he was driven mad by visions and terrors, until eventually he died. They assert that this happened to him because he had tried to violate the temple of Diana.

[54] [11'37] [Antiochus] indulged in excessive luxury, and brought such dishonour on the royal title by his fornication and depravity, that he publicly consorted with mimes and prostitutes and satisfied his lusts in the presence of his subjects. Porphyrius gives a ridiculous explanation of the god Maozim; he says that in the village of Modin, which was the home of Mattathias and his sons, the generals set up a statue of Zeus and forced the Jews to offer sacrifices to him, that is to the god Modin.

[55] [11'40-41] Porphyrius says that this too refers to Antiochus, because in the 11th year of his reign he again fought against his sister's son, Ptolemy Philometor. When Ptolemy heard that Antiochus was coming, he assembled an army many thousands strong. But Antiochus "stormed out" against many countries "with chariots and cavalry and a great fleet of ships" and devastated them all as he swept through them. He "invaded the glorious country", that is Judaea . . . and he fortified the citadel with the ruins of the city wall, and then he set off for Egypt . . . They say that Antiochus, while hastening against Ptolemy . . . did not harm the Idumaeans, Moabites, or Ammonites who lived on the border of Judaea, lest by becoming involved in a different war he should give Ptolemy the chance to build up his strength.

[56] [11'44-45] In this passage Porphyrius imagines some reference to Antiochus as follows. While fighting against the Egyptians, and crossing the land of the Libyans and Ethiopians, he will hear that war is being carried out against him in the North and the East. So he will return, he will capture Aradus despite its resistance, and he will devastate all the coast of the province of Phoenicia. And he will immediately proceed against Artaxias, the king of Armenia, who will arise from the East, and after killing many of Artaxias' army he will place his tent in the place called Apednus, which is situated between the two broad rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. But when he reaches this point, [Porphyrius] is unable to say on which "renowned and holy mountain" he will stand . . . because he is following the translation of Theodotion, which says "between the sea on top of the holy mountain of Saba". He thinks that Saba is the name of a mountain in either Armenia or Mesopotamia, but is unable to say why it is holy . . . he says "and he will come to the summit of this mountain" in the province of Elymais, which is the most easterly region of Persia. There he tried to plunder the temple of Diana, which contained innumerable offerings, but he was routed by the barbarians, who regarded the temple with remarkable veneration. He was consumed with remorse, and died at Tabae, a town in Persia.

[57] [12'1] Thus far Porphyrius has produced some sort of argument, and has convinced the less experienced of our writers as well as the clever but misguided writers who follow him. But what will he say about this chapter, in which is described the resurrection of the dead? . . . This also, he says, refers to Antiochus, who when he went to Persia left Lysias, the governor of Antioch and Phoenicia, as commander of the army, with orders to attack the Jews and capture the city of Jerusalem. Josephus, the Jewish historian, relates all this, how there was "distress such as has not happened" but the people of Israel won the victory and "were delivered"; the generals of Antiochus were killed and Antiochus himself died in Persia . . . He also recounts the history of the Maccabees, in which he says that many of the Jews fled into the wilderness, with Mattathias and Judas Maccabaeus as their leaders. They hid in caves and in the hollows of rocks, and emerged again after the Jewish victory. This is predicted by the metaphor of the resurrection of the dead.

[58a] [12'7] Porphyrius interprets "a time, times and half a time" as three and a half years, which we do not deny is consistent with the meaning of the holy scripture . . . Porphyrius says that this refers to Antiochus and the three and a half years in which the temple was abandoned.

[58b] [12'11] Porphyrius says that the 1,290 days were fulfilled in the time of Antiochus through the desolation of the temple, which as we said lasted for only three years, according to Josephus and the book of Maccabees.

[58c] [12'12] Porphyrius interpreted this passage as follows. The 45 days which are in addition to the 1,290 days refer to the length of time of the victory over the generals of Antiochus, when Judas Maccabaeus fought bravely against them, cleansed the temple, cast down the idol, and offered sacrifices in the temple of God. This interpretation would have been plausible, if the book of Maccabees said that the temple was defiled for three and a half years, rather than three years.

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