Who is the Infamous Little Horn?

“and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things … Then I desired to know the truth about the … horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things, and that seemed greater than its companions. As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.”
(Daniel 7:8, 19-22)

There are a few diverse interpretations of this prophecy sloshing around the Internet, and I’d like to hear yours. The background is Daniel’s wider vision of 4 beasts representing four empires, which the early Church Fathers (and the Jews?) identified as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Out of Rome would emerge 10 kingdoms, and out of them would emerge this ‘little horn.’

*]The best known idea is that the little horn Daniel sees is ‘Antichrist,’ a world leader who rises to power from a ‘revived Roman Empire’ shortly before Jesus returns.

*]Another view (you’ll be charmed by this) is that he represents the papal dynasty of the Roman Catholic Church, arising out of the remnants of the old Roman Empire during the dark ages.

*]A lesser known view is that he represented an Islamic Caliphate that will be revived in the future, and will somehow incorporate elements of the 4 beasts of history.

Do you agree with any of these? Are there any other interpretations? I would be especially interested to know how commentaries predating the Reformation treated this question.

This vision continues the motif of the four kingdoms from chap. 2; see note on 2:36–45. To the four succeeding world kingdoms, Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Greek, is opposed the heavenly kingdom of God and the kingdom of God’s people on earth. The beast imagery of this chapter has been used extensively in the Book of Revelation, where it is applied to the Roman empire, the persecutor of the Church.

  • [7:2] The great sea: the primordial ocean beneath the earth, according to ancient Near Eastern cosmology (Gn 7:11; 49:25). It was thought to contain various monsters (Is 27:1; Jb 7:12), and in particular mythological monsters symbolizing the chaos which God had vanquished in primordial times (Jb 9:13; 26:12; Is 51:9–10; etc.).

  • [7:4] In ancient times the Babylonian empire was commonly represented as a winged lion, in the rampant position (raised up on one side). The two wings that were plucked may represent Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. On two feet like a human being…a human mind: contrasts with what is said in 4:13, 30.

  • [7:5] A bear: represents the Median empire, its three tusks symbolizing its destructive nature; hence, the command: “Arise, devour much flesh.”

  • [7:6] A leopard: used to symbolize the swiftness with which Cyrus the Persian established his kingdom. Four heads: corresponding to the four Persian kings of 11:2.

  • [7:7–8] Alexander’s empire was different from all the others in that it was Western rather than Eastern in inspiration, and far exceeded the others in power. The ten horns represent the kings of the Seleucid dynasty, the only part of the Hellenistic empire that concerned the author. The little horn is Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164 B.C.), who usurped the throne and persecuted the Jews.

Apocalyptic literature such as this must always be read within the context of what the original viewing audience would have seen in it. Despite what you’ve heard elsewhere, ancient texts do not provide “prophecy” for our time. IMHO, the “little horn” has long since ceased to become an issue. He/she/it is as dead as Nero, the infamous 666. Move on.

Antiochus IV.

Read 1 Maccabees 1.

Without necessarily dismissing some future fulfillment, the literary, critical, and historical context of Daniel point to the “little horn” as Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid Empire, then persecuting the Jews and desecrating their Temple during his campaign of Hellenization.

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