The second chapter of the book of Daniel describes Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, having a dream that troubles him greatly. In his dream he saw a statue of a man consisting of four metals, a head of gold, a chest and arms of silver, a belly and thighs of bronze, and legs of iron. The bottom part of this statue’s legs was mixed with both iron and clay.
In verse 36 Daniel begins to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. He explains that the different metals in the statue represent different kingdoms that will appear on earth. He explicitly tells us that the head represents Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian kingdom, and while he doesn’t give us the names of the other three kingdoms, they are believed by the vast majority of Christian scholars to be Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, in that order.
Islamic Antichrist theorists, such as Joel Richardson, attempt to make a case that the legs of iron, commonly identified as Rome, is actually the Islamic Empire which existed from 632 AD to 1923. Richardson’s main argument centers on Daniel 2:40 which seems to suggest that the “legs of iron” kingdom somehow conquers all the other kingdoms that came before it (Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece).
“And the fourth kingdom shall be as strong as iron, inasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and shatters everything; and like iron that crushes, that kingdom will break in pieces and crush all the others.” (Daniel 2:40)
Richardson believes that “crushing” all the others is a reference to a kingdom being able to claim that it is holding all the land that the previous empires held in history. He makes the case that Rome cannot be the fourth kingdom because even at its largest point, the geographical borders of the Roman Empire didn’t encompass all of the territory that other empires on the list held. For example, Babylon and Medo-Persia held some territories which were much further east than Rome ever reached, and therefore Rome cannot be said to have “crushed the others,” but that the Islamic Empire which followed the Roman Empire could make that claim.
There are several good theological, historical, and grammatical reasons why the fourth kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream cannot be a reference to the Islamic Empire and must be a reference to Rome. I will begin with a discussion on the grammar of Daniel 2:40 which is so central to the Islamic Antichrist thesis.
It should be noted that not all English Bibles translate this verse the way it is above. In fact, if a translation does include the words “all the others,” it often supplies a footnote to let the reader know that the words have been added and are not in the original Hebrew. Some translations like the King James Version translate this passage in a way that suggests the fourth kingdom is not crushing all the other kingdoms but rather, seem to suggest that Daniel is making a point about how iron, which is stronger than gold and silver, is able to destroy all the other metals.
“And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these [as in the other metals], shall it break in pieces and bruise.” (Daniel 2:40 KJV)
Notice that “all the others” is not added at the end of this verse.
I emailed a Hebrew scholar to ask him why there was a difference in the way certain English Bibles translated this passage. He said the following:
“Let me place these words in the order in which they occur in the Hebrew:”
“And as iron which breaks all these it will crush and break.”
Since there are no commas in the original text, translators struggle with whether to include “all these” with the preceding clause [as in] “and as iron which breaks in pieces all these, it will crush and break,” or whether to put it with the final clause [as in] “and as iron which breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these.”
In other words it’s difficult to tell if the “all these” in this verse is talking about the metals, in which case this is simply a way to express the strength of the final kingdom. In this case it would be saying that the fourth kingdom is stronger than the other kingdoms in the same way that the metal this portion of the statue is made of (iron) is stronger than all the other metals in the statue. If this is the case there is no reason to think the fourth kingdom will need to conquer the other empires at all. On the other hand, if the “all these” is to be applied to the final clause, then it would refer to the other nations and not the metals, in which case we would need to discover some way for the fourth empire to “crush” the other empires, despite the other empires having been dead for hundreds of years.
It should be noted that some translations such as the International Standard Version translate the passage in such a way that suggests the fourth empire will crush “everything” and not specifically the other nations in the statue:
“Then there will be a fourth kingdom, as strong as iron. Just as all things are broken to pieces and shattered by iron, so it will shatter and crush everything.” (Daniel 2:40 ISV)
In this case Richardson’s point would again be moot since the fourth kingdom’s crushing “everything” could be a reference to its general destructive power, as typified by iron but not necessarily a reference to crushing all the historic kingdoms of the earth.
Getting to the bottom of this is further complicated by the fact that the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate do not contain certain portions of this verse, which makes it difficult to determine from context how to understand the grammar of this verse.
For the sake of argument I will proceed as if the “all these” in this verse is referring to the legs of iron somehow needing to “crush” all the other empires that came before it, since it could very well be the way this verse is intended to be understood. I only mention the grammatical problems in Daniel 2:40 to suggest that since there is a debate among Bible scholars and Bible translators about how to interpret this verse, we should tread lightly when trying to build doctrine on this passage.
Setting aside for the moment the problem of determining how Rome, or any other empire, could be said to have crushed kingdoms that they had no contact with, I want to discuss some of the other problems with viewing the legs of iron as the Islamic Empire as opposed to the Roman Empire.
The other three empires that make up the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream all have certain things in common with one another. They are all huge empires that controlled much of the known world, including Israel; they all followed in direct succession to one another; and they were all conquered by the empire that is listed after it. For example, Babylon, the head of gold, was conquered by the next empire in the statue, Medo-Persia; and Medo-Persia was conquered by the next empire in the statue, the Grecian Empire. Since the Grecian Empire was directly followed by and conquered by the Roman Empire, and because it too was a vast empire that was the next to control Israel, it would seem to be a natural fit to the pattern established by the first three empires of the statue. If the Islamic Empire was listed after Greece, it would break this pattern significantly since the Islamic Empire didn’t arise until much later. It would mean that this prophecy skipped the Roman Empire altogether despite Rome fitting precisely into the pattern set by the previous Empires.
In response to this criticism Joel Richardson, in his book Mideast Beast, essentially says it is okay to ignore the chronology and skip over Rome because even if you assumed that the fourth kingdom was Rome, the list of kingdoms in Daniel 2 would still be overlooking other empires such as the Parthian Empire which existed over 100 years before Rome. So in effect he is saying if chronology matters so much, why exclude the Parthian Empire?
There are a few problems with this argument. The first is that the Parthian Empire, which existed between 247 BC and 224 AD, overlapped the tail end of the Greek Empire and the beginning of the Roman Empire, it was an enemy of both the Greeks and Romans, but never could it be said that it was a world empire like the others or that it conquered either Greece or Rome. It should more properly be seen as one of the many smaller kingdoms that served as an on-again-off-again enemy of the vastly bigger and more powerful world empires of Greece and Rome.
The Parthians were a relatively small kingdom compared to the Greek and Roman Empires, occupying the land of ancient Persia, which was primarily in modern-day Iran. More importantly, the Parthian Empire did not control Israel at any point in its existence, which may very well be the most important thing that links all the empires in Daniel 2.
It should also be noted that the Parthians considered themselves to be a continuation of the Medo-Persian Empire which was conquered by the Greeks. Many of their kings even claimed to be direct descendants of Medo-Persian kings, which might even be true, based on the fact that they seem to have the same genetic diseases as the Medo-Persian kings.
The point is that the exclusion of the Parthian Empire in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream does not suggest that chronology doesn’t matter; it only suggests that the Parthian Empire doesn’t qualify to be on such a list.
It is interesting that later in his book Mideast Beast, where Richardson is discussing Revelation 17:10, he includes Rome in the proper place in this chronology. I will quote Revelation 17:10 here so you can get the context of his point.
“They are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.” (Revelation 17:10)
Here Richardson interprets this as referring to seven successive kingdoms, including Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. If you take out the first two (Egypt and Assyria)--since Daniel was writing after Egypt and Assyria had fallen--you have the same list as the traditional view of the four kingdoms of Daniel 2. The reason Richardson must include Rome after Greece in the Revelation 17 list is because John says of the sixth kingdom, “one is,” as in the one that existed in John’s day, which is unambiguously Rome and, therefore, impossible to interpret as the Islamic Empire. If his interpretation of the list of kingdoms in Revelation 17:10 is correct, it gives credit to the idea that Scripture is intending Rome to be seen as the fourth kingdom of Daniel 2 because in Revelation 17:10, Rome is clearly placed after Greece, not the Islamic Empire. Richardson tries to deal with this seeming contradiction by saying the following:
“Some will ask why, if the Roman Empire was not included in Daniel 2 or 7, it is included in the list of empires in Revelation 17. The answer is simply because, while Revelation 17 presents us with a comprehensive list, detailing the full pan-biblical view of all of history’s satanic, pagan beast empires, Daniel 2 and 7 do not list every one of Satan’s empires. Neither chapter includes the Egyptian, Assyrian, or Roman empires. As we have seen, these passages simply speak of the empires that would rise after Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, and the Roman Empire was not included among these. It is not until we come to Revelation 12, 13, and 17 that the full, pan-historical list of Satanic empires is given.”1
He argues here that in Revelation 17 there are more empires listed because it is a more complete list of Satanic kingdoms than is found in Daniel 2, which is why he says it’s OK for Rome to be listed after Greece in that case, but not in Daniel 2. It should be obvious, however, that the reason the list in Daniel 2 does not include Egypt and Assyria is because at the time Daniel was writing, those empires had already come and gone. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 was about the empires that would come after his own, not the ones that had come before; therefore, mentioning Egypt and Assyria in his dream would have been pointless since the vision was about the future, not the past. The problem still exists for Richardson. The Bible seems to give us a way to check our facts here, and it seems to be telling us in Revelation 17:10 that placing Rome after Greece is the correct way to interpret Daniel 2.
To sum up this point, there is, in fact, a chronological pattern with the kingdoms in Daniel 2. Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome were all world empires that controlled Israel and that conquered the world empire that came directly before it. Daniel 2 gives us a perfect and unbroken chain of empires that matches up with what we know of in Scripture and in history. To say that it is okay to abandon this chronological and typological pattern because the Parthian Empire existed at the same time as the Greeks and Romans is to give the Parthian Empire much more significance than it deserves. It would be like saying that Daniel 2 should have also included the Carthiginian Empire, which also existed during and fought against the Greek and Roman Empires, despite the fact that it was relatively small, it didn’t conquer either the Greeks or Romans, and it didn’t control Israel at any time in its existence.
I think that the greatest problem with the idea that the fourth kingdom in Daniel 2 is the Islamic Empire is the theological problem that it creates. This is because Daniel 2 may very well be a prophecy predicting the first coming of the Messiah, in addition to its many other predictions, and this chapter may also be the very reason that messianic expectations were so high in Jesus’ day. That is because Daniel 2 was telling people to expect the Messiah in the days of the empire that would follow the Greek Empire, i.e. during the Roman Empire.
I say this because of the rock that strikes the statue and destroys it in Daniel 2:34 and 44-45. We are told explicitly that this rock is a “kingdom,” not a king, and more specifically we are told that this rock is a “kingdom set up by God,” i.e. the Kingdom of God. Many people take this rock striking the statue as an end-times event. I sympathize with that view because it is true that Jesus’ second coming in the last days should be considered an integral part of the establishment of the Kingdom of God. However, as anyone who has done an extensive study on the biblical idea of the “Kingdom of God” will tell you, it is a multifaceted concept, and at least in some sense the Kingdom of God was said to be established during Jesus’s first coming during the Roman Empire.
“But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:28, emphasis added)
“Now at one point the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, so he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There!” For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst.’” (Luke 17:20–21, emphasis added)
“And saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” (Mark 1:15, emphasis added)
“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” (Matthew 3:1-2)
The reason the Kingdom of God can be said to have started during the Roman Empire, yet not be fully realized until the second coming, is explained by a couple of parables given by Jesus on the subject of the Kingdom of God.
“Another parable He put forth to them, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.’ Another parable He spoke to them: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.’.(Matthew 13:31–33)
These two parables describe the Kingdom of God as starting small and then growing large over time. This may refer to Christianity which started with only twelve disciples in Jesus’ day but will ultimately culminate in in the largest and greatest kingdom that ever existed.
This is interesting because it is exactly the same idea we see described in Daniel 2:35.
“And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” (Daniel 2:35b)
Here we see that much like the parable about the Kingdom of God concerning the mustard seed, or the leaven, the last empire (Rome) was struck by a small stone (Jesus’ establishment of the Kingdom of God during His first coming) that only later grew to be a “mountain” and encompass the entire earth.
I will conclude by saying that even if only a portion of this chapter was intended to be a prophecy of the first coming of Jesus, then it would be theologically disastrous to say that that the fourth empire was the Islamic Empire as that would require us to say that Daniel didn’t predict the Messiah coming until at least 632AD!
As I said before, though I think there are grammatical issues that call into question whether or not Daniel 2:40 is, in fact, telling us that the fourth empire must “crush all the others” that preceded it, I will however assume this is true for the sake of argument and offer some possibilities for understanding this phrase.
The obvious problem is that no matter whether you think the fourth empire is the Roman Empire, the Islamic Empire, or any other empire, there is no way for any more modern empire to conquer an empire that has long ceased to be. For example, neither the Romans nor the Islamic Empire could go back in a time machine and fight Nebuchadnezzar and the Neo-Babylonians, or Cyrus the Great and the Medo-Persians. We must recognize from the outset that we are dealing with something other than a straightforward understanding of how one empire “crushes” another.
As I mentioned, Richardson suggests the way to understand this “crushing all the others” is that the fourth empire must occupy the exact same territory as all the previous empires. While Rome, at one time or another, did occupy most of the areas that the Babylonian Empire held, the Greek and Medo-Persian Empires extended much further east than Rome ever did. Richardson calculates in his book that Rome only held one-fifth of the total area of the Medo-Persian Empire. It should be mentioned that all of the first three empires in the statue placed particular importance in the city of Babylon2 and Rome did, in fact, conquer Babylon under Trajan. Considering that Babylon was such an important part of this prophecy, this could be significant, though I admit it is only speculation.
Another way to look at this is from an Israel-centric perspective. The only empires that controlled Jerusalem from the time they were carried off to Babylon until the first coming of Christ were Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, the very nations that are typically identified as the nations in Daniel 2. If you consider the control of Israel as kind of heavyweight championship belt, the prize for defeating the previous champion, it could be argued from this Israel-centric paradigm that Rome was the reigning champion of the other empires. Again I admit this is speculation.
Of the scholars who believe Daniel 2:40 is saying that Rome somehow “crushed” the previous kingdoms, many of them, such as Stephen Miller, believe this is referring to how each of the empires listed in Daniel 2 physically conquered the empire listed before them (Medo-Persia conquered Babylon etc.), meaning that Rome, the last one listed, crushed all the others in that sense. At the same time others make the case that Rome, despite its not covering every bit of the land occupied by Medo-Persia, could be said to have controlled much of the important areas (such as Babylon and Israel). So even if Richardson’s understanding of “crushed” is correct, it doesn’t mean that Rome would not qualify.
I believe that Richardson has proposed a kind of false dilemma by stating that “crushing all the others” means the fourth kingdom has to hold all the land all the other kingdoms held, even though that nation wouldn’t have actually “crushed” the other kingdoms in any real sense. He then proclaims that the only nation that solves his false dilemma is the Islamic Empire, despite all the problems created by forcing the Islamic Empire into this statue imagery. It seems much more likely that either “crushing the others” is referring to the metals and not the nations, as the King James Version has it, or if the crushing is in fact a reference to the fourth kingdom crushing the other kingdoms, then Stephen Miller’s view that this refers to each nation having conquered the one that preceded it is correct. In any case I would beg the Islamic Antichrist theorist to recognize that this particular claim relies solely on one phrase in Daniel 2:40 (“all the others”), a phrase that doesn’t even appear in the original Hebrew. The difficulty that translators have with this verse is evident by the many different ways Bible versions translate the passage. It is never wise to build new doctrines on this kind of ground, but it is especially unwise when the new doctrines cause several historical and theological problems to arise as a result.
In this chapter I have listed a few of the problems that come from seeing the fourth empire of Daniel 2 as the Islamic Empire. I have noted the problems with the grammar in the key passage that makes the Islamic Empire view of Daniel 2 even possible. This view also forces us to abandon the pattern set by the first three empires by skipping Rome completely, even though it is clearly included in the later list of kingdoms in Revelation 17:10. It causes theological problems if Daniel 2 is in fact partially a prophecy of the first coming of the Messiah.