Question is straightforward: Which four kingdoms are represented in the statue of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel Chapter 2?
Daniyy'el describes the image as follows (Dan. 2:32-33),
32 The head of that image is of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of brass,* 33 its legs of iron, and its feet, part of iron and part of clay.
הוּא צַלְמָא רֵאשֵׁהּ דִּי־דְהַב טָב חֲדֹוהִי וּדְרָעֹוהִי דִּי כְסַף מְעֹוהִי וְיַרְכָתֵהּ דִּי נְחָשׁ שָׁקֹוהִי דִּי פַרְזֶל רַגְלֹוהִי מנהון דִּי פַרְזֶל ומנהון דִּי חֲסַף
- or "copper"
Daniyy'el then tells Nevukhadnetzar (נְבֻכַדְנֶצַּר), to whom he was speaking (cp. Dan. 2:1), אנתה־הוּא רֵאשָׁה דִּי דַהֲבָא׃, that is, "You are that head of gold."
Nevukhadnetzar was the king of the Babylonian kingdom.
After the Babylonian empire came the Mede/ Persian empire (cp. Dan. 5:31). The Mede/ Persian empire is "its breast and its arms of silver."
After the Mede/ Persian empire came the Greek empire (cp. 1 Mac. 1:1). The Greek empire is "its belly and its thighs of brass."
After the Greek empire came the Roman empire (the NT was written during the reign of the Roman empire). The Roman empire is "its legs of iron."
As for the mixed feet, part iron and part clay, this is a bit more mysterious.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the "clay" mixed in with the iron refers to the Arab/ Islamic empire that began after the birth of Islam and Muhammad.
Admittedly, I'm not absolutely certain about this interpretation, but I'm quite certain about the interpretation of the kingdom of Babylon, Mede/ Persia, Greece, and Rome.
If you look in Dan. 2:41 and 2:43, you'll find the word "mixed" in English. If you look at the actual Aramaic word, it's derived from the verb עֲרַב (arav). It's based on the root ע-ר-ב. While this root signifies the meaning of "to mix," it is also the same root used in the Hebrew word עֲרָבִי (aravi), meaning "Arab." This is a cognate of the Arabic word عربي (ʿarabiyy), also meaning "Arab."
I'm going to say that it's a play-on-words. Daniyy'el was prophesying long into the future when the Arab empire would feud with the Roman empire. The "clay" (Arabs) would mix with the "iron" (Romans), but they would not cleave to one another (cp. Dan. 2:43). As you know, both the Roman empire and the Arab empire still exist today, albeit not in their original form.
Final note: Again, this is a theory, not something I'm absolutely certain of. Prophecy is notoriously difficult to understand, but one thing I am certain on is the identity of the Babylonian, Mede/ Persian, Greek, and Roman empires in Daniyy'el's image. The clay is the unknown variable.
As you know, there are many commentaries on Daniyy'el's prophecies, but allow me to suggest one for examination. It's a tafsīr (commentary) from the Karaite scholar יפת בן עלי הלוי (Yafet ben Ali ha-Levi). See p. 12-14.
Text critical perspective:
The Four Kingdoms Sequence
The concept of dividing the world into a sequence of four eras, and even associating those eras with four metals, did not originate with the book of Daniel.
In the post-exilic period we find at least one Israelite text specifically using the same four metals in the same order for poetic or symbolic value:
Instead of bronze I will bring gold,
instead of iron I will bring silver;
instead of wood, bronze,
instead of stones, iron.
(Isaiah 60.17, NRSV)
The premise here is that, on each line, the former material is replaced by another material of greater value (e.g. bronze replaced by gold, wood replaced by bronze).
The most well-known parallel in any ancient literature is from the Greek writer Hesiod (c.750-650 BC), who categorized five eras of history, each worse off than the previous one. Hesiod symbolizes four of the five eras with the same metals as Daniel 2, in the same order:1
Golden was the first race of articulate folk Created by the immortals who live on Olympos
. . .
Later, the Olympians made a second generation, Silver this time, not nearly so fine as the first, Not at all like the gold in either body or mind.
. . .
Father Zeus created a third generation Of articulate folk, Bronze this time, not like The silver at all
. . .
Then the fifth generation: Broad-browed Zeus Made still another race of articulate folk To people the plentiful Earth.] I wish I had nothing to do with this fifth generation, Wish I had died before or been born after, Because this is the Iron Age.
But despite this recognition of a Greek source, it has been shown the four kingdoms / metals imagery may actually have originated in Persia.2 In any case, the point is that such a sequence of eras / kingdoms / metals was not unusual in literature throughout the first millennium BC, so the author of Daniel was drawing upon a common motif.
Possible Early Form of Daniel 2
Because of the nature of the book of Daniel (its mix of Hebrew and Aramaic, its anachronisms, and its apocalyptic flavor), most scholars date it to the Hellenistic era of Israel; usually about 170-164 BC because of the many clear references to Antiochus IV Epiphanes in chapters 8, 9, and 11.
But despite this late date for the overall form of Daniel, it is still thought its 'court tales' about Daniel go back earlier, when such stories were passed on orally and had variants.3 In this case, it is speculated the Daniel 2 story may have originally been about four kings of Babylon (the four metals), with the fourth king's reign being weakened (iron mixed with clay), eventually leading to Babylon's downfall:
- Gold = Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 BC, stated explicitly)
- Silver = Amel-Marduk (562-560 BC)
- Bronze = Neriglissar (560-556 BC)
- Iron = Nabonidus (556-539 BC)
- mixed with clay = Nabonidus' coregency with Belshazzar, weakening the kingdom
Here, the statue originally represented all of Babylon, with its destruction by the stone representing the kingdom's collapse:4
The stone that became a great mountain could then be understood as a messianic Jewish kingdom or conceivably, in a non-Jewish context, the Persian empire.
Whichever the case may be, this would imply the court tale originated shortly after (or perhaps just before) Persia conquered Babylon, in 538 BC.
Final Form of Daniel 2
Unity of the Book of Daniel
The author of Daniel lived during the period of the Maccabean Revolt, and has incorporated the dream-vision of Nebuchadnezzar into his story. Regardless of whether the story existed before this time, or if this author wrote the story as inspired by loose pieces of earlier 'four kingdom' material, it now serves the purpose of the narrative it has been embedded into.
Namely, the overall premise of the final form of the book of Daniel is that God is sovereign over the kingdoms of the world, in which case the Jewish people suffering under the conflict instigated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes need to remain faithful to their covenant with God. This is most explicit in the apocalyptic portion of the book, Daniel 7-12.
These chapters can be divided into four units: chapter 7, chapter 8, chapter 9, and chapters 10-12. While these units each may, in turn, have been influenced by earlier material,5 their final forms are likewise tied together with the book's overall purpose and content. Specifically, the dream-vision from chapter 7 is directly based on the pattern of the dream-vision from chapter 2.
Hence, for the author, the dream-vision of Daniel 2 is about the same thing as the dream-vision of Daniel 7: the four metals of the statue equate to the four beasts of the sea, so that the statue's destruction is analogous to the judgment that comes on the four beasts, especially the 'little horn' of the fourth beast.
Each of the four apocalyptic units of Daniel 7-12 climaxes with the persecution by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He is the 'little horn' of Daniel 7 and 8, the 'desolator' of Daniel 9, and the wicked 'king of the north' who comprises the bulk of Daniel 11.21-45.
The Kingdoms Involved
In this final form of the book of Daniel, the four kingdoms' identities are all but stated directly for the reader: they are, from the perspective of the author, four kingdoms that held power over Israel, beginning with the Babylonian exile.
The details attached by the author to the beasts in Daniel 7, the animals in Daniel 8, and the extremely specific series of kings in Daniel 11 help us narrow down which kingdoms and kings the author considered relevant to the book's message:
- Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom
- Alexander's unified Greece
- Alexander's successors, the Diadochi
- Antiochus IV Epiphanes
There is some debate over exactly how the author made his four divisions; you'll frequently find scholars separating Media and Persia (as the second and third kingdoms, respectively), while combining Alexander, the Diadochi, and Antiochus (as the fourth).
I will provide a final listing below, but first...
Of course, if Daniel was an easy book to understand, we wouldn't have this question in the first place. It's unsurprising that later readers would interpret it according to their own contexts, due to the hefty and somewhat ambiguous symbolism of the apocalypse.
Although Josephus provides only a surface-level interpretation of a few select passages, and understood at least some of Daniel as describing the Maccabean era, he does explicitly state:6
Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them.
The key word here being 'desolate', implying an identification of Rome's 70 AD conquest of Jerusalem as being the 'desolation' so mentioned in the later chapters of Daniel. Accordingly, Josephus' count of the four kingdoms may have been as follows:
- Gold = Babylon
- Silver = Media-Persia
- Bronze = Greece (Alexander and the Diadochi)
- Iron = Rome
One apocalypse written contemporaneously to Josephus' Jewish Antiquities and John's Revelation (discussed below) was that of 4 Ezra. One passage in 4 Ezra foresees the arrival of the messiah and his kingdom during the rule of the twelfth Roman emperor (4 Ezra 11-12), while the next passage clearly combines elements from Daniel 2 and 7 to again prophesy about the messiah's arrival (4 Ezra 13). Together, these suggest the author held to the same Roman sequence found in Josephus.
Jesus' usage of Daniel also implies the Roman sequence — especially his Olivet prophecy, which grabs both the 'abomination of desolation' (Matthew 24.15) and the 'son of man coming on the clouds of heaven' (24.30). Like Josephus, Jesus applied them to the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem by Rome.
And, of course, the author of the Revelation incorporated images from Daniel all throughout his book, where Rome is cast in the role of a 'beast of the sea' based directly on all four beasts from Daniel 7.
Later Christians writers frequently identified Jesus with the 'stone' that struck down the statue in Daniel 2 (e.g. Ignatius,7 Tertullian,8 Irenaeus,9 Hippolytus10), easily enabling readers to infer their agreement with the Roman sequence.
John H. Walton gives a somewhat deeper look at Jewish, Christian, and miscellaneous interpretations, up through the present.11
Setting aside the possibility of pre-existing source material, and later interpretations of the final, unified text...
For the author of the book of Daniel, writing during the Maccabean Revolt, the original intent was likely for the four kingdoms to be identified as the following, according to the common critical view:
- Gold = Babylon
- Silver = Media
- Bronze = Persia
- Iron = Greece (Alexander through Antiochus IV Epiphanes)
- mixed with clay = the Antiochene persecution and subsequent revolt in Judea
1 Hesiod, Works and Days (Stanley Lombardo translation), lines 129-204. Hesiod doesn't equate the fourth era with metal, or any material substance, only calling that generation a 'divine race of Heroes' and 'Demigods'.
2 John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination (1998), p.92-94.
3 It was long speculated the court tales concerning Nebuchadnezzar may originally have had to do with a later Babylonian king, Nabonidus. Eventually, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered; one of the scrolls, 4Q242, bears uncanny resemblance to the story of Daniel 4, but with Nabonidus in place of Nebuchadnezzar; cf. James H. Charlesworth, The Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Scripture and the Scrolls (2006), p.104ff.
4 Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, p.95.
5 E.g. the vision of a monster and a cloud-rider in Daniel 7 seems to have loosely borrowed common cultural elements seen in the Anzu myth, the Baal and Yamm combat myth, and the Enuma Elish (cf. The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception, Volume 1 (2001), p.69ff), combined with a throne-judgment scene that possibly existed independently (The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception, Volume 2 (2001), p.390ff).
6 Josephus, Jewish Antiquities (Whiston translation) 10.11.7.
7 Ignatius, Magnesians 6 (long recension).
8 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.21.7; 5.26.1-2.
9 Tertullian, Against Marcion 3.7.
10 Hippolytus, Commentary on Daniel 2.13.1-3.
11 John H. Walton, 'The Four Kingdoms of Daniel', JETS 29/1 (1986), p. 25-36.
The Kingdoms as Often Understood
The majority consensus would say:
The first is identified in the text, Nebuchadnezzar is called the head of gold in Daniel 2:38.
Following this, the second and third Kingdom, would be the kingdom of the Medes and Persians, followed by the Greecian Empire, with Alexander the Great as its first ruler.
The Issue With Rome -- Past or Future or Neither?
The only caveat, (*) is that Rome is often interpreted as either completely historical (in the Preterist view), or that it continued in some form (some make the claim the Roman Catholic Church is still 'Rome' today, such as certain historicists), or in some way to signify a future, rebuilt Rome as the fulfillment.
The future fulfillment folk would be most of the modern interpretations that are generally mainstream these days, which would be pointing towards a future fulfillment of much of Daniel and most of Revelation. Some would say that there will be a 'Revived Roman Empire', that it will come back in some way, while some say that the original Rome was only a foreshadowing of the real fourth-empire that is yet to come, but that historical Rome itself was not it. Some also attempt to differentiate between iron section and the iron/clay section, and make five Kingdoms.
A minority group of opinions consider the second Kingdom as the Medes, the third as the Persians, and the fourth to be the Greeks, putting the whole thing back even further. Others posit a Islamic Caliphate as the fourth kingdom, completely bypassing Rome.
Support for Rome
Substantial support for the Rome-ending sequence can be found throughout the sequence of the book, however.
In Daniel 8:20, the kings of Media and Persia are grouped together, and they are together seen fighting what is identified as the King of Greece. Further, since many consider Daniel 2 & 7 to be parallel, Daniel 7:17, reading, "These great beasts, which are four...", clearly identifies the number of beasts to be four, not five (some do not agree to this parallelism).
References Within Daniel
Still further evidence within the book of Daniel that points to a historic Rome solution for the fourth Kingdom is found in Daniel 11.
As Daniel 8 established the conflict between the Ram (Media-Persia) and the Shaggy Goat (Greece), Daniel 11 begins with the kings of Persia (Daniel 11:2), and goes on to describe the king of Greece (Daniel 11:3), which, historically is seen to be Alexander the Great. When he died in his early thirties, he left his kingdom to his four generals, "parceled out toward the four points of the compass". These four kings then, are the King of the North, South, East and West. For the passage following, these all refer to the Greecian Kingdom, in its four parts.
Following the throne(s) of the Greecian Kingdom (not the kings, but the king-ship), the history of the Greek Kingdom is fore-told. The progression lays out the lineage of kings of Greece.
In Daniel 11:21, it gets interesting, as the character Antiochus Epiphanes is discussed.
Daniel 11:21-35 then detail the reign of Antiochus and his desecration of the Jewish Temple with the Abomination of Desolation in Daniel 11:31.
A fulfilled Daniel 11?
A great number of scholars hold that the historical fulfillment of Daniel 11 stops here. There claims to be no great concensus within those that would interpret Daniel beyond this point. Some claim that Antiochus only fulfilled a "type" of Daniel 11:21-35, but that the real fulfillment will be a future anti-christ. While not necessarily a popular viewpoint, the case for a more-fulfilled Daniel 11 can be made.
In Daniel 11:36, the "willful king" is considered by some to be one of the four, or to be a third entity. When we consider the rest of v36, we read this, in Daniel 11:36b,
and he will prosper until the indignation is finished, for that which is decreed will be done.
This would indicate, if Rome is the last kingdom, that this kingdom will be the last kingdom of the four.
Octavius as the Willful King
Looking at beginning of the end of the Greecian Empire and the beginning of the Roman Empire, then, we see that Octavius, one of the Second Triumvirate, went to war with Marc Antony (also one of the three) and Cleopatra.
Reading Octavius as the willful king, Marc Antony as the king of the North (in the region of Syria), and Cleopatra as the King of the South (in Egypt), we see that most of the reading of Daniel 11 comes forth straightforward.
Octavius, also Caesar Augustus (the first ruler of the Roman Empire), regarded no other gods, but on legions of their army, they honored "forces", signs of the Zodiac. He attacked the fortress a Phillip with many legions of Roman soldiers and conquered it, and actually displaced whole towns to honor his retiring soldiers after the war.
v40-43 depict the Battle of Actium in 2 September 31 BC, between Marc Antony and Cleopatra, both in scope and in composition of military forces. The battle was comprised much at sea, and the large infantries were not engaged. He also left out Edom, Moab, and Ammon, as in v41. And, after conquering Cleopatra in Egypt, he then took hold of the wealth of Egypt.
The last two verses, then, while not directly seeming applicable to Octavius, could then look forward again, to the same throne, but a different individual king reigning on it.
If the above holds true, then the introduction of Daniel 12 falls in the beginning of the Roman Empire, and the time of great trouble prophesied in Daniel 12:1, with Michael the great Prince, would most likely be looking towards the First Century (i.e., the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD), the same time that most Preterists readings of Matthew 24:14 would put the "Great Tribulation". Which, of course, doesn't work at all for a futurist reading of the text.
If one took a similar logic for the "willful king" of v36 and applied it to a yet-to-come individual, however, you could reach the same result as regards the four kingdoms. By understanding that the Kings of the North/South are referring to the Greecian Kingdom (by v4), the "willful king" who must "prosper until the indignation is finished", this is interpreted, still, as the fourth, but yet-to-come, Kingdom. Regardless, they typify it as Rome, either as "like Rome", or a "revived Rome".
Others make contentions such as that Rome did not control the ancient city of Babylon, and therefore could not fulfill the prophecy. However, this does not hold strictly true, as Wikipedia points out,
There was a brief interlude of Roman conquest (Roman Assyria, Roman Mesopotamia; AD 116 to 118) under Trajan, after which the Parthians reasserted control.
Wikipedia Article on 'Babylonia', accessed 11/21/2014
Certainly other views are around, and this is not exhaustive or complete in disproving alternate views. This view is obviously coming from a largely fulfilled interpretation, but is at least an attempt to represent the noted variations.
It should be enough for any Christian that our Lord, the infallible Son of God, mentioned Daniel by name in His prophetic discourse delivered on Olivet (Matthew 24:15). When He uttered the words “Daniel the prophet,” He at once put His unimpeachable seal on both Daniel and his book.(taken from here)
Arno C. Gaebelein, in his introduction to H.A. Ironside's Commentary on the Book of Daniel, decisively narrows the controversy over how to interpret the Book of Daniel. He further states,
There can be no question that at least twice more He referred to the book of Daniel: When He spoke of Himself and His coming again in the clouds of heaven as the Son of man, He confirmed Daniel’s vision in 7:13. And when He spoke of the falling stone in Matthew 21:44, He confirmed Daniel 2:44-45. How does the critic meet this argument? He tells us that our Lord knowingly or unknowingly accommodated Himself to the Jewish views current in His day. In other words, he denies the infallibility of our Lord.
Therefore we must concur with Gaebelein, that Daniel in fact was the author of the Book of Daniel, and that any "70AD" fulfillment of Christ's physical reign on earth does not correspond to the simultaneous "stone without hands" smashing the feet of the Statue of Nebuchadnezzar, therefore we must look at these events through a Futurist lens, and not a "preterist/text-critical" one that imagines Jesus's Physical Return to Earth as happened.
To summarize John Walvoord's exposition on Dan. 2, he states the following:
Head of Gold=Babylon
This is clearly stated by vs 38, any other meaning is to deny the plain meaning of the text.
Daniel mentions only in the briefest way the second and the third kingdoms represented by the upper and lower parts of the body. Brief as is the reference, critics have lost no time in taking exception to the normal interpretation that Daniel has in view here of Medo-Persia and Greece, empires which he later identifies by name (5:28; 8:20-21; 11:2). The statement that the second kingdom is “inferior” means inferior in quality but not necessarily in every respect(taken from here)
The 2nd kingdom therefore is the Medes/Persians, and the 3rd is Greece.
What is noted with Greece is "
another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth.(vs39)
It is further witnessed by the 3rd Beast of Daniel (7:6),
After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.
In both instances, the word "שְׁלֵט"(shelet-to bear rule), from which "וְשָׁלְטָ֖ן"(ve·sha·le·tan-dominion) is taken, and in both incidents, special emphasis is made to denote rulership to an otherwise inferior metal, or lesser entity than we thought otherwise. Keil and Delitzsch refer to this point made by saying,
The universality belonging to a world-kingdom does not, however, require that it should rule over all the nations of the earth to its very end, nor that its territory should have a defined extent, but only that such a kingdom should unite in itself the οἰκουμένη, i.e., the civilized world, the whole of the historical nations of its time.(taken from here)
It is very important that we take note of this understanding, all future understandings of the kingdoms is derived from it. The passing away and rising of another kingdom does not diminish the influence of the previous one, and indeed, the Greek kingdom was the template by which the following kingdom, Rome, was based. Walvoord makes the following case for Rome,
The first aspect of interpretation of the fourth kingdom stresses the strength of the iron legs and their power to break in pieces and subdue all that opposes. This, of course, was precisely what characterized ancient Rome. As Leupold states it, “The Roman legions were noted for their ability to crush all resistance with an iron heel. There is apparently little that is constructive in the program of this empire in spite of Roman law and Roman roads and civilization because the destructive work outweighed all else, for we have the double verb ‘crush and demolish [“break in pieces and bruise"],
It is significant to note that this kingdom is divided, and that the "Feet of Iron and Clay" come from this kingdom, of which the "stone without hands" which was earlier referred to as Christ, smashes, and the entire statue comes down.
As to the mixture of the Iron and Clay kingdoms, numerous commentators have described as the Holy Roman Empire, in which the Eastern Roman Empire(Byzantine), sought unity with the 'revived'(holy) Roman Empire of the west. In Keil and Delitzsch's Dan. 2 commentary,
The mixing of iron with clay represents the attempt to bind the two distinct and separate materials into one combined whole as fruitless, and altogether in vain. The mixing of themselves with the seed of men (Daniel 2:43), most interpreters refer to the marriage politics of the princes. They who understand by the four kingdoms the monarchy of Alexander and his followers, think it refers to the marriages between the Seleucidae and the Ptolemies, of which indeed there is mention made in Daniel 11:6 and Daniel 11:17, but not here; while Hofm. thinks it relates to marriages, such as those of the German Kaiser Otto II and the Russian Grand-Duke Wladimir with the daughters of the Kaiser of Eastern Rome.(Taken from here)
Another idea, worthy of consideration is that the 'clay' represents democracy,
Another common interpretation of the meaning of the mixture of clay and iron is that it refers to diverse forms of government, such as democracy as opposed to dictatorship. H. A. Ironside, for instance, defines it as “speaking of an attempted union between imperialism and democracy.”(from Walvoord) A. C. Gaebelein has a similar interpretation, “But what does the clay represent? Clay is of the earth. It stands for that which does not belong to the great statue at all, a foreign ingredient brought in. The metals represent monarchies, but the clay stands for democratic rule, the rule by the people.
These kingdoms, given in a dream to Nebuchadnezzar, and revealed by Daniel constitute the kingdoms making up the "composite" man. At this present time, the "toe kingdoms" are currently in place; awaiting the smashing by the "Rock" who is Christ,(1 Cor. 10:4)
And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.
who will come down from Heaven in the manner in which He ascended(Acts 1:11), and usher in the Millenial Reign.
Commentary on Daniel by H.A. Ironside-http://servantsplace.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Commentary-on-Daniel-by-H-A-Ironside.pdf
John F. Walvoord Commentary on Daniel (Chapter 2)http://www.walvoord.com/book/export/html/243
the former Neo-Assyrian Empire, which splintered shortly before Daniel's time, and among whose