The Little Horn

The image of the “Little Horn” is a key component of Daniel’s visions. It represents a king from one of the four Hellenic kingdoms that evolved from Alexander the Great’s short-lived empire. Passages in the Book of Daniel concerning this figure also provide Paul with the model for his “Man of Lawlessness” described in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

The historical allusions in Chapter 8 of Daniel make its identity clear, and by association, the identity of the fourth kingdom from the vision of “Four Beasts” that Daniel saw “ascending” from the Sea in Chapter 7 – (Daniel 7:1-8).

Alexander - Photo by Tucker Monticelli on Unsplash
[Alexander - Photo by Tucker Monticelli on Unsplash]

Its identification sheds light on the most significant events of the visions of the second half of
Daniel, including the “Abomination that Desolates” and the cessation of the daily burnt offerings – (Daniel 8:13, 9:27, 11:31, 12:11).

The figures of the “Ram” and the “Goat” described in Chapter 8 represent the kingdoms of the “Medes and the Persians” and of Greece. The identifications are explicit in the vision’s interpretation. The kingdom of the “Medes and Persians” was defeated by Alexander the Great who then ruled his new empire for only a few years until he died in 323 B.C. Afterward, his generals fought for the throne until a settlement was reached. - (Daniel 8:21-26).

This Macedonian empire was divided into four smaller states ruled by Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, Antigonus. By 275 B.C., only three of the original four remained: Ptolemy in Egypt, Seleucus in Syria and Mesopotamia, and Antigonus in Greece and Macedonia. Ptolemy I founded the Ptolemaic Kingdom in 305 B.C., and the Seleucid dynasty was founded in 312 B.C. by Seleucus I. Intermittent wars occurred between these two kingdoms over disputed territories, with Judea located in the frontier between them. After several Seleucid victories, Judea became part of its empire.

The Seleucid rulers were tolerant of the Jewish nation and its religion, but that changed after the throne was seized by Antiochus IV in 175 B.C., a man also known as Antiochus Epiphanés or “manifest god.”

He was the younger brother of the legitimate king, Seleucus IV, and not the direct heir to the throne. Seleucus IV was assassinated by his chancellor in 175 B.C. in an attempt to seize the throne (2 Maccabees 3:21-28). His two sons were his legitimate heirs.

Antiochus IV removed the chancellor and installed himself as regent, although he was king in all but name. After his youngest nephew died, he ruled openly as the absolute ruler of the empire. His rise to power was unexpected and made possible by unforeseen circumstances.

The seizure of the throne by Antiochus is portrayed in the vision of a fourth beast with ten horns when three horns were removed to make way for the “Little Horn with a mouth speaking great things” - (Daniel 7:1-14).

The ten horns represented “ten kings who will arise.” The “Little Horn” appeared later and was “diverse” from the ten. He was not the legitimate heir, and three of the “ten horns” were “cast down” so he could seize the throne. In the Seleucid line, Antiochus IV was the eighth descendant to reign since Seleucus I:

  • Seleucus I [Nicantor] - (312-281 B.C.)
  • Antiochus I [Sotér] - (281-261 B.C.)
  • Antiochus II [Theos] - (261-246 B.C.)
  • Seleucus II [Kallinikos] - (246-226 B.C.)
  • Seleucus III [Keraunos] - (226-223 B.C.)
  • Antiochus III [the Great] - (223-187 B.C.)
  • Seleucus IV [Philopator] - (187-175 B.C.)
  • Antiochus IV [Epiphanés] (175-163 B.C.)

To make way for his reign, three rivals were removed - the rebel chancellor and the two sons of Seleucus IV. Three “horns” were “uprooted.”

Two descriptive labels, “Little Horn” and “diverse,” distinguish Antiochus from his predecessors, and unlike them, he did not transition to power through legitimate means.

Antiochus was not hostile to the Jewish nation in his early reign. Circumstances created by his wars with Egypt along with internal conflicts among the Jewish leaders set the stage for his later aggression against the Jews.

When Antiochus seized the throne, the last legitimate high priest from the line of Zadok held office in Jerusalem, Onias III. His brother, Jason, was a proponent of Hellenism, and he bribed Antiochus to appoint him as high priest in his place. In need of money, the king accepted the bribe and made Jason the new high priest - (1 Kings 2:27-35, 1 Chronicles 29:22, 2 Maccabees 4:7-17).

Jason promoted Hellenism in Judea. In 171 B.C., he sent an aid named Menelaus to pay his annual tribute to Antiochus, but upon his arrival, Menelaus offered the king an even larger bribe to make him the high priest instead of Jason. The king welcomed the bribe and replaced Jason with Menelaus - (2 Maccabees 4:23-30).+


Menelaus was an apostate Jew and not a member of any priestly family. His appointment was beyond the pale for many Jews. He became an ally of Antiochus, and he also promoted Hellenism in the Jewish nation. Later, he robbed the vessels from the Temple treasury to pay his bribe to the king.

Onias III was denounced by Menelaus while the king was occupied in the eastern regions of his empire. He had left one of his ministers in charge, Andronicus, whom Menelaus bribed to execute Onias, an act that outraged pious Jews.

Up to this point, Antiochus was friendly to the Jewish nation. To avoid further offense against the religious sensibilities of the Jews, he had Andronicus executed. But in the minds of many Jews, the execution of the legitimate high priest marked the start of the Seleucid outrages against the Jewish nation.

In 169 B.C., Antiochus launched a military attack on Egypt, and this necessitated more tax revenue. The temples of the various religions in his domain functioned as depositories for great wealth, so he began to pillage them, including the Temple in Jerusalem - a further sacrilege.

Upon his return from Egypt, the king stopped in Jerusalem where Menelaus, the apostate high priest, escorted him into the sanctuary, a place reserved only for the priests of Yahweh. This defilement, along with the looting of the Temple, only deepened Jewish resentment against Seleucid rule.

Antiochus launched another expedition against Egypt in 168 B.C., but Rome intervened and stopped his attack. Rumors of Rome’s rebuff reached Jerusalem even as the king began his return trip, causing a revolt in the city. In reaction, Antiochus sent soldiers to quell the rebellion, killing a significant number of Jews. Martial law was imposed, and Jerusalem lost its status as a self-governing temple-state - (2 Maccabees 5:24-27).

These events marked a new phase in the repression of the Jewish nation. Antiochus IV realized that the exclusivist faith of the Jews was responsible for their resistance to his policies, so he took steps to eradicate their religion.

The Temple rituals were stopped, including the daily sacrifices. He outlawed the observance of the Sabbath, circumcision, the Levitical dietary restrictions, and other rituals. The sacred writings of the Jewish faith were banned and burned.

Acropolis sunrise - Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash
[Acropolis Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash]


These outrages are behind the references in Daniel to “truth being cast down to the ground” and the attempt by the “Little Horn” to “change times and the law” - (Daniel 7:25, 8:12).

In December 168 B.C., the worst offense came with the placement of an altar to the pagan deity Zeus Olympias on the altar of burnt offerings. On it, ritually unclean animals were sacrificed to the Syrian deity. The book of First Maccabees calls this profanation the “Abomination of Desolation” - (1 Maccabees 4:54, 10:1-5).

The Aramaic name for Zeus Olympias was Ba’al Shamen, meaning, the “lord of heaven.” In Hebrew, “abomination of desolation” is a wordplay on this name. Among the devout Jews, the pagan name Ba’al was an “abomination” or shíqqûç, and the Hebrew word for “desolation,” shômem, sounded almost the same as the Aramaic shamen.

Thus, shíqqûç shômem or “abomination of desolation,” became the sarcastic retort to the sacrileges of Antiochus IV, the “Little Horn” with the “mouth speaking great things.”

Altars to Zeus Olympias were erected in the towns and villages of Judea. Jews were required to offer sacrifices to the pagan god or suffer the consequences. This repression stirred up armed resistance, especially the Maccabean Revolt (167-160 B.C.).  After several victories, the armies of the Seleucid kingdom were driven from Judea by rebel forces.

Jerusalem was recaptured by the Jewish rebels in 165 B.C. The Temple was “cleansed” and rededicated. This occurred a little over three years after the “Abomination of Desolation” had been erected. The daily sacrifices were restored, and from that day forward they continued without interruption until Jerusalem was destroyed by a Roman army in A.D. 70. - (1 Maccabees 4:51-59).

Antiochus died of an unknown disease in 164 B.C., only a few months after the Temple was restored. At the time, he was campaigning in the eastern regions of his kingdom.  Thus, he was “broken in pieces without hand” - (Daniel 8:25).

The first three of the four “Beasts from the Sea” are identified in Daniel as Babylon, the “Medes and Persians,” and the Greco-Macedonian Empire established by Alexander. His realm was divided into four lesser domains after his death - (Daniel 7:1-8, 8:15-26, 11:1-4).


The details provided about the “Little Horn” in Daniel are too close to actual events to be coincidental. Antiochus IV ruled over one of the “lesser” four Greek kingdoms. He gained the throne by the removal of three rivals. Adding the seven preceding kings of the Seleucid dynasty to the three rivals removed by him gives us a total of ten “Kings.”

The “Fourth Beast” was the Seleucid kingdom that developed out of the Macedonian kingdom of Alexander, the “Leopard” or third “beast” of Chapter 7 of Daniel. Antiochus claimed divine status by assuming the title Epiphanés or “manifest god.” On his coinage, he portrayed himself as Zeus Olympias manifested in the flesh. He was the boastful king “speaking great words.”

His persecution of the Jews matches the details given in the vision of Chapter 8. He removed the daily sacrifice, desecrated the sanctuary, and oppressed the people of the saints. The “time of indignation” continued until Jerusalem was freed from Seleucid control and the Temple cleansed, a period of just over three years.

In Daniel 7:25, “times and law” are given into the hand of the “Little Horn” for “a time, times and the dividing of time.” The persecution of the Jewish faith was initiated in the summer of 168 B.C. and continued until December 165 B.C. The political conflict that devolved into open persecution began in 171 B.C. with the removal of Onias III from the priesthood, a period of seven years.

The Book of Daniel defines the time of the “indignation” as the “dividing of time,” “two thousand and three hundred evening-mornings,” that is, one thousand one hundred and fifty days (1,150), and the “middle of the week,” the last half of the final or “seventieth week.” The predicted events and timeframes of Daniel’s visions fit the history of the conflicts between the Jews and Antiochus IV.

In Chapter 7, the description of the “Little Horn” is symbolic and enigmatic, making identification difficult. However, the historical allusions in Chapter 8 are clear. The “Little Horn” is identified as the ruler from one of the four kingdoms that developed from the conquests of Alexander the Great.

The historical references to the Medo-Persian Empire, its overthrow by Greece, and the four lesser kingdoms that followed are, likewise, crystal clear. The “Little Horn” can only be Antiochus IV or Epiphanés, the illegitimate king who waged war against Israel, desecrated the Temple, and erected the “Abomination that Desolates,” and this figure is also the forerunner of and the prototype for Paul’s “Man of Lawlessness” described in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

  • First Three Beasts - (Daniel saw four creatures with animalistic features ascending from a wind-tossed sea, representing four successive kingdoms)
  • The Fourth Beast - (The fourth beast is the focus of the vision, especially its little horn with a mouth speaking great things)
  • The Son of Destruction - (Many saints will apostatize when the Lawless One, the Son of Destruction, seats himself in the sanctuary of God)


Destruction of Babylon