Monday, August 27, 2012

How did Antiochus die?

Unbelievers date Daniel to the Maccabean era for two major reasons. One is their general belief that our world is a closed system. God, if there is a God, doesn’t reveal the future to man.

The other is their specific belief that Daniel 11:40-45 is historically inaccurate. They think the depiction of Antiochus is accurate in the verses leading up to v40, but loses accuracy thereafter. They chalk this up to their claim that the author is recounting history under the guise of prophecy prior to v40, but shifts to actual prediction in 40-45. He’s accurate when he’s writing about his own times. About the immediate past. But when he must speculate about the future, he gets it wrong. He didn’t know how Antiochus actually died. And they think Daniel is inaccurate at this juncture because his version of events is contradicted by extrabiblical sources.

I’ve discussed this allegation before. Now I’d like to approach it from a different angle. Let’s compare it to the following statements:

The theme de mortibus persecutorum (Lactantius), the deaths of persecutors and other bad characters, is a very common one…2 Macc. 9:5-12 (Antiochus Epiphanes…

C. K. Barrett, Acts I-XIV (T. & T. Clark, 1994), 591.

All the different forms of the story of Judas’s death are folkloric elaborations recounting his death in a stereotypical literary form, otherwise know as the horrible death of a notorious persecutor. It can be compared with the story of the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (2 Macc 9:7-12).

So Luke describes the demise of Herod Agrippa I, using a genre well known in Greek literature. Compare 2 Macc 9:5-28 (death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes)…

J. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (Doubleday 1998), 220, 491.

Here the skepticism is directed at the historicity of Luke rather than Daniel. However, this is a case of competing skepticisms. For if the death of Antiochus in extrabiblical sources follows a stock fictitious genre regarding the demise of a notorious infidel or infamous enemy of the faith, then you can’t turn around and use that as a benchmark to measure the historicity of Dan 11:40-45. Rather, that would be like the cinematic convention of the Western genre, where the man in the black hat dies in a hail of bullets at the end of the film. A stereotypical ending that doesn’t pretend to match reality.


  1. Steve, I've always wondered whether Matt. 27:5 is a figure of speech that doesn't really specify the way in which Judas committed suicide. That it might be a figure of speech that alludes to Ahitophel's betrayal of David (as Judas betrayed Jesus) and his later committing suicide by (literal) hanging because the outcome he'd hoped for didn't come to pass. Similarly, Judas may have been hoping his betrayal might force Jesus' hand to finally do something to throw off Roman oppression. But then was disappointed when Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested, and so out of remorse went and killed himself by some untold means.

    If the description of Judas' hanging is a figure of speech as I'm suggesting, then wouldn't that resolve the seeming and apparent contradiction with Acts 1:18-20. What do you think of this possibility?

    1. When Ahitophel realized his plan didn't work, he left Absalom's camp, went to his native place (Giloh) and then hanged himself after he had arranged his worldly affairs. Maybe Judas' purpose for purchasing the field was to have a place to be buried after he'd committed suicide. Similar to how Ahitophel went home to commit suicide.

    2. Though, that second point about Judas purchasing the field might be wrong because Matthew 27:6-8 says that the chief priests bought the field. Acts says Judas bought it, but it may be referring to a vicarious purchase. As the old version of the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties says "Peter relates the following: "He therefore acquired a plot of land [ chorion ] from the reward of wrongdoing." (This could mean either that Judas had already contracted with the owner of the field that he originally had wanted to buy with the betrayal money; or--as is far more likely in this context--Peter was speaking ironically, stating that Judas acquired a piece of real estate all right, but it was only a burial plot [ chorion could cover either concept], namely, the one on which his lifeless body fell."

      Regardless of how the field was purchased, I still think that Ahitophel is a type of Judas. Some even think that Psalm 41:9, which Jesus applied to Judas, was originally a reference to Ahitophel.