A Note on the Kingdoms in Daniel 2

An Excerpt from ‘The Words of the Covenant’

Until now we have not ventured any specific identifications of the kingdoms in the dream.  We have tried to view Daniel’s interpretation with the eyes of the king.  But we, of course, have the advantage of looking back along the line of history to Nebuchadnezzar’s day.  What does this backward look tell us?

The first thing to be noted is that not everyone looks back in the same way.  The main issue is that many interpreters refuse to grant the traditional 6th Century date for the writing of the book of Daniel.  Instead, they have convinced themselves that the book is an example of post-exilic and inter-testamental apocalypse.  We may divide the two camps and their respective supporters so:

Sixth Century

Keil, Young, Leupold, Wood, Walvoord, Culver, Gurney, Unger, Hasel, Archer, Waltke, Walton, Miller.

Second Century

Zockler, Driver, Rowley, Montgomery, Lacocque, Eissfeldt, Porteous, Russell, Childs, Towner, Collins, Goldingay.

This set of listings reveals that the cleavage within the two groups is theological[1] and presuppositional.  The less conservative authors go for the Maccabean date, (and they will also for this reason favor “apocalyptic” understandings of the text as a word-picture rather than a prophetic statement), while those generally with a stronger belief in inspiration are to be found holding to the traditional date.  Usually those holding a sixth century dating for the book identify the four kingdoms represented in the dream-image as Neo-Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and, Rome.  This has been the consensus throughout the major part of Church history.[2]

The preponderating view, at least until recently, among the more liberal contingent, has been that the four kingdoms are Babylon, Media, Persia, Greece.[3]  It is supposed that as the writer was living in the Maccabean period he had an incorrect view of the history of the Middle East[4], or at least that he would have viewed Media and Persia as separate powers.

Other attempts to rob the chapter of the predictive element include making the metals represent four kings of the Neo-Babylonian Empire: Nebuchadnezzar, Amel-Marduk, Neriglissar, and, Nabonidus.  This omits the brief reign of Labashi-Marduk and treats Belshazzar as the weak (clay) half of the co-regency with Nabonidus.  Inconsistencies and flat out mistakes are of no concern to men like Philip R. Davies, a scholar whose neo-Kantian approach would like to see all talk of the supernatural removed from the academy.[5]  Goldingay thinks perhaps the significance of the statue is in the four named kings within the book, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede, and Cyrus.  In this interpretation the image is more a literary device than an attempt to trace history accurately.  Another commentator of the evangelical left, Ernest Lucas, seems to opt for the Babylon, Media, Persia, Macedonia (Greece) scheme.  Nearly all these men believe that the book is prophecy written after the fact.

What all these non-conservative views have in common is the disallowance of Rome as the fourth kingdom.  What do the facts of history show?  They reveal that the traditional order is the best one.  Of the older commentaries, Archer has written persuasively on this matter.[6]  We have seen that the Medes enjoyed their greatest period before the death of Nebuchadnezzar.  It certainly did not “arise” after him (v.39).  And the dream symbolism begins with him.  Besides, the eight-year continuance of the Median kingdom hardly does justice to what is said in Daniel 7:5.  If we take the Medes out as a lone kingdom and include them along with the Persians, which reflects what occurred in history, we are left with Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

“Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” – Dan. 2:45

It ought to be firmly kept in mind that the stone’s impact is depicted as destroying the image instantaneously, not at all gradually.[7]  This fact calls into question the amillennial and postmillennial interpretations of the passage, which see the stone as representing the spiritual kingdom inaugurated by Christ at His first coming.  It will not do to say that the mountain grows gradually out of the stone, for the basic fact is that the stone has done away with all resistance to the growth of God’s kingdom.  Nothing of the kind is analogous with what one finds in history up to the present day.


[1] Evangelicals like Goldingay state that their conclusions are theological as much as anything.  See John Goldingay, Daniel, 45.  But it is ‘evangelical’ theology after it has been stripped bare by liberal presuppositions.

[2] Robert Gurney, nevertheless, believes that the order is Neo-Babylonian, Median, Medo-Persian, Grecian.  See “The Four Kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7,” Themelios 2 (1977), 39-45.  Gurney points out that the Median Empire, which was contemporary with that of Babylon, became the more redoubtable of the two after Nebucadnezzar’s death in 562 during the reign of Astyages (585-550).  But it should be noted that Media reached its zenith during the forty-year reign of Astyages’ father, Cyaxares (625-585).  See Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible, 53-54.  Also, Astyages was overthrown by Cyrus of Persia (Ibid, 56), which would compel a view where Astyages himself was the silver-kingdom.  As a comparison with the dates above show, this would make the “Median” silver-kingdom last a meager eight years.

Relying on Gurney’s research, John H. Walton, “The Four Kingdoms of Daniel,” JETS 29 (1986): 36, produces Assyria, Media, Medo-Persia, and Greece as worthy of consideration.  In this scheme “Nebuchadnezzar would be seen as a continuation and culmination of the Assyrian empire.”  Though both schemes are honest attempts to re-examine the question, neither has gathered to itself much support.

[3] E.g. John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 95f.

[4] Robert D. Culver, Daniel and the Latter Days, 112.

[5] Craig Bartholomew, ‘Warranted Biblical Interpretation,’ in Craig Bartholomew, C. Stephen Evans, Mary Healy, Murray Rae, editors, Behind The Text: History and Biblical Interpretation, 59-63

[6] Gleason L. Archer, “Daniel”, EBC, 24-26

[7] See especially Archer, Ibid, 49.  Note on v. 44

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