Angels and Princes in Daniel 10

In the prologue to the final vision of the book of Daniel (chapters 10-12) Daniel saw “a man clothed in linen”. The “man” in Daniel’s vision is sometimes assumed to be Gabriel (based on Gabriel’s appearance in chapters 8 and 9) but the man is not actually named here. “If Daniel knew it was the Gabriel he had seen earlier, surely he would have named him here” and “we would expect the description to be in chapter 8 when he first appeared to Daniel”.[1] Some elements of Daniel’s encounter with this “man” are puzzling. The man said “the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia”. Who is this “Prince of Persia”? Later there is a reference to the “prince of Greece” (v. 20) and “Michael, your prince” (v. 21) and “Michael the great prince who has charge of your people” (12:1). The suggestion is often made that these three “princes” are patron-angels. Michael certainly has that role here (“who has charge of your people”) and he is also referred to as one of the seven archangels in 1 Enoch 20:1-8. What we have here in Daniel 10 then may be a conflict between the visionary man and the patron angel of Persia, with the patron angels of Greece and Israel also becoming involved. There are two other texts which may suggest celestial beings may represent or rule nations:

“When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders [Or territories] of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. [Compare Dead Sea Scroll, Septuagint; Masoretic Text Israel]. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.” (Deuteronomy 32:8-9 ESV).

“Over every nation he set a ruler. But Israel is the portion of God.” (Sirach 17:14-15)

Neither of these texts specifically refer to patron-angels but the “sons of God” in the DSS and LXX readings of Deuteronomy 32:8-9 are understood to be angels. The reference in Sirach is to a “ruler” set over each nation, and could only be understood as a reference to angels if the Deuteronomy text is read as a deliberate intertextual link (which is possible considering both texts refer to Israel as the Lord’s/God’s portion).

1 Enoch 10 also has a conflict between angels, with the angel Raphael binding the angel Azazel, the angel Gabriel destroying the children of the Watchers, and the angel Michael  binding the angel Semjaza and his associates. Revelation 12 has a war in heaven with Michael and his angels fighting against Satan. Revelation is almost certainly alluding to 1 Enoch. Do we have a similar celestial conflict here in Daniel 10?

The Hebrew word translated as “prince” throughout Daniel 10 is שַׂר sar a word often translated as “leader” or “commander”. The Hebrew term שַׂר used more than four hundred times in the Old Testament, carries the following meanings: captain, leader (Num.21:18; 1Sam.22:2); vassal, noble, official under a king who functions (a) as a ruler or counsellor (Gen.12:15; 1Kings20:14–17), (b) the sovereign or magistrate of a region (2Chron.32:31), or (c) the ruler of a city (Judg.9:30; Neh.7:2); commander (Gen.21:22,32); head of a group of people, that is, an official  (Neh.4:10; Ps.68:27 [28,Heb.]; Dan.1:7–11,18); one who carries a certain religious responsibility (Ezra 8:24,29; Isa.43:28);or a person in an elevated position (Ps.45:16[17,Heb.]; Isa.23:8). The common denominator in these diverse uses is the concept of “one who commands.”[2]

The Septuagint translates this with a word carrying a similar meaning. “The LXX diverges more markedly from the MT at the references in 10.13, and 20 to ‘the prince of Persia’ … and ‘the prince of Greece’ … [T]he terminology of the LXX translation differs in that these princes of Greece and Persia are seen as … ‘leaders/commanders’ … its referent is almost inevitably to political or military leadership. In Daniel it translates שַׂר in the list of officials in 3.2. It translates שַׂר three other times in the LXX (1 Kgs 29.3-4; 1 Chron. 11.6; 2 Chron. 32.21), and each time the context is secular.”[3] “The choice of vocabulary in the LXX suggests that the Greek translator regarded the Princes of Persia and Greece as human figures, and so interpreted an ambiguous Vorlage in a particular direction.”[4]

It is interesting that “nothing is made of the battle among the princes in the message that follows in chapter 11”.[5] Their appearance in the prologue to the vision is almost incidental. Several scholars, including William Shea, hold that the “prince of Persia” was one of the political authorities in Persia who opposed the reconstruction of the Jewish temple. Shea writes, “If one looks for an earthly human prince of Persia in the 3rd year of Cyrus, there is one specific candidate for that historical position: Cambyses, the son and crown princeof Cyrus… This is the one interpretation which takes cognizance of both (a) the potentiality for interpreting the word ‘prince’ as a human being, and (b) the actual political situation that obtained in the 3rd year of Cyrus. In my opinion, therefore, Calvin was correct in this identification.”[6]

There is a strong case, in my opinion, for Shea’s view that these “princes” are human political or military leaders. The “prince of Persia” would most likely be Cambyses who was a co-regent with Cyrus, making sense of the plural “kings of Persia” (v.13). Daniel 10:1 calls Cyrus the “king of Persia” while Cyrus was apparently known as “King of Babylon” and appears not to have used the title “king of Persia” for himself.[7] The recurrence of the expression in verse 13 in the plural “kings of Persia” is a significant detail and probably refers to the co-regency of Cyrus and Cambyses. While Cambyses is here referred to as “prince of Persia” both Cambyses and Cyrus are designated “kings of Persia”, consistent with the crown prince being a co-regent.

Cambyses’ opposition to national cultic temples is well documented by Shea, and it is significant that the Jerusalem Temple was not rebuilt during his reign. Daniel’s “mourning” occurred during the same twenty one days time-frame that the visionary man “struggled” with the prince of Persia, and may very well have been due to Daniel’s knowledge of some local political event (perhaps a delegation from opponents to the temple rebuilding in Jerusalem). It is possible then that the matter which concerned Daniel was the same matter that occupied the angel.

If this interpretation is correct then Daniel 10 has nothing to do with celestial battles between the patron angels of nations, and has no relevance for understanding the wars in heaven in 1 Enoch 10 and Revelation 12.

[1] Gowan, D.E., Daniel, (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 2001, 143

[2] Stevens, D. E., “Daniel 10 and the Notion of Territorial Spirits,” Bibliotheca Sacra 157: 628 (2000): 410-431, 413, citing Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Leiden: Brill) 1995, 1350-53

[3] Meadowcroft, T. J., Aramaic Daniel and Greek Daniel: A Literary Comparison, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press) 1995, 253

[4] Meadowcroft, 254

[5] Gowan, 2001, 144

[6] Shea, W. H., “Wrestling with the Prince of Persia: A Study on Daniel 10,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 21 (1983), 249. The reference to Calvin is to John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Daniel (reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 2:252

[7] Collins, J.J., Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press) 1993, 372

7 comments on “Angels and Princes in Daniel 10

  1. Dustin Smith says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Do you follow JJ Collins’ interpretation that Daniel was a 2nd century document?

    On another note, is it possible that 4 Ezra and Rev 12 have developed Daniel 10 beyond its original intended meaning?

    Just thinking out loud.


    • Stephen Cook says:

      Dustin, yes I agree with a second century BCE dating for Daniel, almost certainly 165 BCE.

      Revelation and 4 Ezra definitely draw heavily on themes in Daniel, and move beyond the original meaning. I’m not sure that they do that with Daniel 10 though. Do you have some ideas about that?

  2. Dustin Smith says:

    It is interesting to see how Rev uses Daniel 10. For example, Jesus is described in Rev 1 with similar language of the “one man” in Dan 10:5-6. This “one man” (cf. the Hebrew) is the one who was sent to comfort Daniel in 10:11 and who was strengthened by Michael. Michael is called a “chief prince” in Dan 10:13. He is certainly identified as an angel in Rev 12.

    4 Ezra also, I think, speaks in terms of angels. It is noteworthy that both Rev and 4 Ezra are produced after the destruction of the temple.

    JJ Collins has argues persuasively in his Apocalyptic Imagination that the saints/holy ones in Dan 7 are angels who represent Israel. This might shed light on the meaning of the princes in Dan 10.

    The more and more I look at Rev (which I am going to do my dissertation on) the more I see that Rev goes beyond what the meaning was for the original authors which he cites.

    Also FYI, I mostly see angels as ‘messengers’, and would prefer to translate it that way.

    Interesting stuff. Keep up the good work. Have you seen my JRAD article on the function of Daniel’s prophecies?


    • Stephen Cook says:

      Thanks for the comment Dustin. I’ve read Collins Apocalyptic Imagination and find his conclusions very persuasive. I am interested in where you are going with Revelation. I did read your article on Daniel’s prophetic timetables but I think it might be time to re-read it and take a closer look. Have you read Gabriele Boccaccini’s Roots of Rabbinic Judaism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2002)? He has some interesting ideas about the place of Daniel as a kind of bridge between Enochic and Zadokite Judaism. By the way, I agree with your comment about translating מַלְאָךְ as “messenger”, especially in the Hebrew Bible where the Greek “angel” is out of place.

  3. Dustin Smith says:

    I have not read Boccaccini. I’ll add it to the Amazon wish list/

    It is interesting that Daniel was so highly revered at Qumran, almost as if the Essenes thought they were the wise respondents to Daniel by not participating in the Maccabean Revolt and the political aftermath. Parts of 1 Enoch were also read at Qumran, so there may be links there as well.

    My dissertation will be on how Rev uses the ‘overcoming’ motif as an ethical paradigm and mandate for his readers, both original and modern. Trying to get away from all the subjective predictions and ask how this document was intended to shape the seven communities it was originally written to.

    • Stephen Cook says:

      Dustin, I’m hoping to post some more stuff here soon about the the contribution of the “non-canonical” apocalypses for our understanding of the “canonical” apocalypses. I’m hoping you will add some of your thoughts when I do. I might even reference your JRAD article!
      By the way, if you have access to a good theological library (I’m sure you do) you might find Boccaccini there. Roots of Rabbinic Judaism won’t take long to read.

  4. […] on from some discussion with Dustin Smith on an earlier post about angels and princes in Daniel 10, I thought I’d post some ideas by Gabriele Boccaccini which are consistent with my […]

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