The Identity of the “Little Horn”

SYNOPSIS The “Little Horn” described in Daniel 7:7-8 fits perfectly with the known history of the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV.

Parthenon Ruins - Photo by Cristina Gottardi on
In the eighth chapter of Daniel, the “little horn” represents a malevolent king that rises from one of the four kingdoms that succeeded the first great ruler of Greece, Alexander the Great. The historical references make it possible to identify this king and, by the process of elimination, the identity of the fourth kingdom (Daniel 7:7-8, 8:98:21-2611:1-4).
The figures of the “ram” and the “goat” in the vision of Chapter 8 represent the kingdoms of Medo-Persia and Greece; the identifications are explicit (Daniel 8:21-26).
The empire of the “Medes and Persians” founded by Cyrus was defeated by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C. The Macedonian conqueror ruled his new domain for only a few years until his death in 323 B.C. After his death, his generals contended for the succession until a settlement was reached following years of intermittent conflict. The empire was divided among four generals into smaller states (Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, Antigonus). By 275 B.C., only three of the original four remained; Ptolemy in Egypt, Seleucus in Syria, and Antigonus in Greece and Macedonia.
King Ptolemy I founded the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt in 305 B.C., a dynasty that endured until 30 B.C. The small Jewish state of Judea was part of the Ptolemaic empire, though it was allowed it to govern its own internal affairs.
The Seleucid dynasty was founded by Seleucus I in 312 B.C. and endured until 63 B.C. Intermittent wars occurred between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic regimes over territories between the two realms. Judea was located dead center in the frontier between the two competing powers. After several Seleucid victories, Judea became part of its empire in 198 B.C. and remained under Seleucid rule for several decades.
The Seleucid rulers employed a policy of tolerance toward the Jewish nation; it was free to govern its internal affairs and no attempt was made to repress the Jewish religion. This changed after the accession to the Seleucid throne by Antiochus IV in 175 B.C., also known as or Antiochus Epiphanés. He was not the direct heir to the throne. Antiochus was the younger brother of the legitimate king, Seleucus IV who was assassinated by his chancellor in an attempt to seize the throne in 175 B.C. (2 Maccabees 3:21-28). The legitimate heirs were the two underage sons of Seleucus IV.
Antiochus was in Athens at the time of his brother’s death.  As brother to the assassinated king and uncle to his underage sons, he became the lawful regent. Antiochus removed the rebellious chancellor and installed himself as regent over the kingdom. He held real power and intended to remain absolute ruler. After his youngest nephew was killed some years later, he ruled as king openly until his death.
The rise to power by Antiochus Epiphanés was unexpected and made possible only by historical circumstances. His accession to the Seleucid throne is symbolized by the ten horns of the fourth beast, three of which were removed to make way for “another, a little horn” (Daniel 7:7-8).

The ten horns represented “ten kings who will arise,” with the “little horn” rising later and “diverse” from the ten. This “horn” cast down three kings. In the Seleucid line, Antiochus IV is the eighth descendant to ruler since Seleucus I, as follows:
1.    Seleucus I [Nicantor] (312-281 B.C.)
2.   Antiochus I [Sotér] (281-261 B.C.)
3.   Antiochus II [Theos] (261-246 B.C.)
4.   Seleucus II [Kallinikos] (246-226 B.C.)
5.   Seleucus III [Keraunos] (226-223 B.C.)
6.   Antiochus III [the Great] (223-187 B.C.)
7.    Seleucus IV [Philopator] (187-175 B.C.)
8.   Antiochus IV [Epiphanés] (175-163 B.C.)
To make way for Antiochus, three rivals were removed:  the rebel chancellor and the two legitimate heirs; thus, three of the ten horns were “uprooted” so another could rule. The descriptions “little horn” and “diverse” distinguish Antiochus IV from his predecessors.  Unlike them, he was not a direct heir and did not transition to power through legitimate means.
Once in power, Antiochus waxed exceeding great “toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the beauty.” This description alludes to his conflicts with Egypt (south), Persia and other eastern territories (1 Maccabees 3:29-37), and against Judea, the “beauty” (Daniel 8:8-13).
Antiochus was not hostile to the Jewish people, at least, not initially. Circumstances created by his war with Egypt and internal conflicts among certain Jewish leaders in Jerusalem set the stage for the aggressions of the Seleucid king against the Jewish nation.
When Antiochus assumed the throne, the high priest in Jerusalem was Onias III, the last legitimate high priest from the line of Zadok. His brother, Jason, a proponent of Hellenism, went to Antioch, the capital city of the Seleucid Empire to bribe the king to appoint him high priest instead of his brother. In need of money, the king accepted the bribe and appointed him high priest (1 Kings 2:27-351 Chronicles 29:222 Maccabees 4:7-17).
Jason was of the priestly line, but his appointment was irregular. He used his new position to promote Hellenism among the Jewish population of Jerusalem.  In 171 B.C., he sent an aid named Menelaus to pay his annual tribute to Antiochus; however, upon arrival in the capital, Menelaus offered the king an even larger bribe to make him high priest instead of Jason (2 Maccabees 4:23). Antiochus welcomed the bribe and replaced Jason with Menelaus.
Menelaus was an apostate Jew and not even a member of a priestly family (2 Maccabees 4:26). While the rise of Jason to become High Priest was irregular, he was from a legitimate priestly line. But the appointment of Menelaus was beyond the pale and stirred up great resentment among devout Jews. Menelaus became an ally of Antiochus in Jerusalem; like Jason he promoted Hellenism. In 171 B.C., Menelaus robbed some of the vessels from the Temple treasury to pay his bribe to Antiochus.
The rightful high priest, Onias III, was still alive in the city of Antioch in 171 B.C. where he publicly denounced Menelaus. That same year, the king departed to deal with disorder in Cilicia and left his minister Andronicus in charge in the capital. Menelaus took advantage of the situation and bribed Andronicus to execute Onias III, an act that outraged pious Jews.
Up to this point, Antiochus IV was not hostile to the Jewish nation. The last thing he needed was unrest closer to home. To avoid further offense against the religious sensibilities of Jews, upon his return to Antioch, the king had Andronicus executed on the very spot where Onias III had been killed. Regardless, in the minds of devout Jews the execution of Onias III marked the start of the Seleucid king’s outrages against Judea.
In the summer of 169 B.C., Antiochus launched a military attack against Egypt. The campaign necessitated new sources of revenue. The temples of the various religions throughout his domain were often depositories of great wealth, so the king began to raid them, including the Jerusalem Temple. Upon his return from Egypt in 169 B.C., Antiochus stopped in Jerusalem where the apostate high priest, Menelaus, escorted him into the sanctuary, a place normally available only to priests. This defilement, along with the looting of the Temple treasury, deepened the resentment of many Jews.
Antiochus launched another expedition against Egypt in the spring of 168 B.C. This time things did not go well. Rome intervened to stop his subjugation of Egypt. The Roman Senate demanded that Antiochus cease and desist from aggression against Egypt, otherwise, he risked war with Rome. Antiochus had no choice; he complied.
Rumors of Rome’s rebuff reached Jerusalem even as Antiochus began his return trip from Egypt. This caused unrest and an attempted revolt. The king sent a force of soldiers to quell it and exact punishment. This unit took the city by force, killed significant numbers of Jews, and sold many others into slavery. Thereafter, Antiochus martial law was imposed, and Jerusalem lost its status as a temple-state. The military governor of Samaria and Judea, Apollonius, was dispatched to ensure Jerusalem would cause no more trouble and to turn it into a Greek city-state. He demolished the city’s walls and erected a new fortress alongside the Temple (2 Maccabees 5:24-27).
The latter half of 168 B.C. marked a new phase in the repression of the Jewish nation. It was now apparent to the king that the exclusivist religious faith of the Jewish people was partly responsible for the resistance of many Jews. Steps were necessary to eradicate Israel’s ancestral faith. The Temple rituals were stopped. The Jewish practices of Sabbath observance (and other holy days), circumcision, dietary restrictions and the like, were outlawed. Jewish sacred writings were banned, and copies burned. This latter crime may well be intended in the references in Daniel (Daniel 8:12It cast down truth to the ground”; Daniel 7:25, “He hoped to change times and the law”).
The worst offense came in December 168 B.C. with the placement of an altar to the pagan deity Zeus Olympian on top of the Jewish altar of burnt offerings. On it, ritually unclean animals were sacrificed to the Syrian deity. The book of First Maccabees identifies this egregious profanation as the “abomination of desolation” (1 Maccabees 4:5410:1-5).
The Aramaic name for Zeus Olympian was Ba’al Shamen, meaning “lord of heaven.” In Hebrew, “abomination of desolation” is a wordplay on Ba’al Shamen. Among the devout Jews, the pagan name Ba’al was an “abomination” or shíqqûç, and the Hebrew word for “desolation” or shômem sounded only slightly different from the Aramaic shamen. Thus, shíqqûç shômem or “abomination of desolation” was a sarcastic retort to the sacrileges of Antiochus IV.
Altars to Zeus Olympian were set up throughout the towns and villages of Judea. Jews were required to offer sacrifices to this pagan god, or they would suffer severe punishments. This repression stirred up armed resistance, what became the Maccabean Revolt (167-160 B.C.).  After several victories by Maccabean forces, the armies of the Seleucid kingdom were driven from Palestine.
Jerusalem and the Temple were recaptured by Jewish forces in 165 B.C. Subsequently, the Temple was “cleansed” and rededicated (1 Maccabees 4:51-59), a little over three years after the “abomination of desolation” was first installed. The daily sacrifices were restored and from that day forward sacrifices in the Temple continued without interruption until it was destroyed by a Roman army in 70 A.D.
Antiochus died of an unknown disease in 164 B.C., only a few months after the Temple was cleansed. At the time, he was campaigning in the eastern region of his kingdom.  Thus, he was “broken in pieces without hand” (Daniel 8:25).
The first three of Daniel’s four beasts are identified as Babylon, Medo-Persia, and the Greco-Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great (Daniel 7:1-8). The latter was divided into four lesser domains after the death of Alexander.
The details provided about the “little horn” and related events are too close to the actual events to be coincidental. Antiochus IV ruled over one of the four kingdoms derived from Alexander.  He gained the throne through the removal of three rivals for it and political subterfuge.
Adding the seven royal predecessors of Antiochus to his three royal rivals results in a total of ten in fulfillment of the image of a “little horn” arising from among ten horns, three of which were removed. This means that the fourth beast of Daniel is the Seleucid kingdom ruled over by Antiochus IV. He claimed divine status by assuming the name Epiphanés or “god manifest.” On his coinage, he portrayed himself as Zeus Olympian manifested in the flesh (“speaking great words”).
The persecution of the Jews by Antiochus, and his attempt to wipe out their religion, coincide with the vision of Chapter 8 and its interpretation, the “ram” and the “goat.” Antiochus removed the daily sacrifice, desecrated the sanctuary, and oppressed the people of the saints. This time of indignation continued until Jerusalem was free of Seleucid control and the Temple cleansed  (Daniel 8:9-13).
In Daniel 7:25, “times and law” were given into the hand of the little horn for “a time, times and the dividing of time.” The persecution of the Jewish faith initiated in the summer of 168 B.C. continued until December 165 B.C., a period of almost three-and-one half years. 
If the period of “a time, times and the dividing of time” is intended to represent three years, plus part of another year, it fits neatly with the actual events. The desecration of the Temple and the cessation of the daily sacrifice was to continue for “two thousand and three hundred evening-mornings,” after which the “the Sanctuary shall be vindicated.”
If this figure represents one thousand one hundred and fifty days (1,150), this also fits the period of desecration from the day the altar to Zeus Olympian was erected until the Temple was cleansed, a little over three years (Daniel 8:13-14).
The descriptions of the “little horn” are symbolic and enigmatic in the seventh chapter of Daniel, making its identification uncertain. Some identify the fourth beast as the Roman Empire and the “little horn” as one of its emperors; however, no known succession of Roman emperors fits the scenario of ten kings with three removed to make way for an eleventh. In contrast, the Seleucid succession fits it perfectly.
Be that as it may, the historical references to Medo-Persia, to its overthrow by Greece, and to the subsequent four lesser kingdoms are clear. In the eighth chapter of Daniel, the “little horn” can only be Antiochus IV.