In the year 553 B.C.E., the first year of Belshazzar, King of Babylon, the prophet Daniel experienced frightening dreams and visions. When these ended, he was left shaken and greatly alarmed, for the message that they seemed to convey was that a vast period of severe persecution was coming to his people.
In Daniel’s dream, recorded in Dan 7, strange beasts appeared out of the sea—a lion with eagle wings, a bear raised up on one side with three ribs in its mouth, a leopard with four wings on its back, and a terrifying fourth beast with iron teeth and ten horns.
The most curious of these images was a little horn, which came up from the ten-horned beast and plucked up three of the other horns. This little horn “possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke arrogantly” (v. 8).
History confirms that the terrifying beasts of Dan 7 represent four kingdoms, each passing in succession—Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome—until a little horn emerges out of the fourth beast. This little horn would make war with those kept the commandments of God.
The Little Horn Prophecy
The core of the little horn prophecy is found in Dan 7:21 and 25. Daniel says: “I looked on as that horn made war with the holy ones and overcame them. . . . He will speak words against the Most High and will harass the holy ones of the Most High. He will think of changing times and law; and they will be delivered into his power for a time, times, and half a time.” 1
The power which best fits the profile of the little horn is the mainstream Christian church, vested with civil power over the territories of the former pagan Roman empire. The three horns plucked up by the little horn represent the Arian Heruli, Vandals, and Ostrogoths, tribes which had been converted to a nonorthodox branch of Christianity. The Roman branch of the church considered these Arian Christians to be heretics and pressed for their elimination. By 538 C.E., the Heruli, Vandals, and Ostrogoths had lost their power, thereby marking the starting point for the little horn prophecy.
According to Daniel’s prophecy, the assaults of the little horn were against the Most High and the holy ones, the qadishin. There is a connection between the Most High, who elsewhere is called the Holy One of Israel, and His people, the qaddishin. Leviticus 11:44, 45 and 19:2 admonish the children of Israel to be holy as the Lord is holy. Leviticus 19:5, 6 declares that by obeying the Lord and keeping His covenant the people would be considered a holy nation (cf. Deut 7:6). The holy ones obey and keep the covenant of the Most High.
The little horn, however, opposes both the Holy One and the holy ones who obey the covenant and Law of God. The church, represented by the little horn, progressively moved away from its Jewish roots so that it forgot the seventh-day Sabbath, gradually replacing it with Sunday. Jews and Jewish Christians presented a problem to the status quo because they chose to cling to the fourth commandment, believing that the Law of God is unchangeable. In rejecting the Law, it was natural for the church to reject Israel as well.
Thus the Law of God was replaced with ecclesiastical law, which included an alternate day and method of worship. Jews and those who chose to obey the commandments of the Most High were replaced with Christians who followed the little horn.
The Beginning of the “Time, Times, and Half a Time”
According to Daniel’s prophecy, the 1,260-year prophetic time period2 began in 538 B.C. when the three horns were plucked from the ten-horned beast (i.e., Rome) by the little horn. What, then, happened to the qaddishin with whom the little horn made war, if indeed this was the beginning of the “time, times and half a time”?
Justinian, who believed an emperor had not only political but religious responsibility, pursued a strong policy of repression against nonbelievers, Jews, and heretics.3 This trend would continue throughout the medieval period. “The Justinian code sought to regulate worship, as well as limit the civil rights of Jews. Jews were forbidden to use prayers that appeared to be against the Trinity in their services and were not allowed to read the Tanakh in Hebrew. They were also not allowed to celebrate Passover at the same time as Easter.”4
Jewish persecution was not a new development. Jews were persecuted and discriminated against before, but prior to this time pagan persecution had had no particular ideology behind it. Now there was an official ideology, with a wider scope of influence.5 The church’s anti-Judaic view of Scripture influenced how society and government treated the Jews. Indeed, the little horn sought to “harass the holy ones of the Most High.”
Persecution in the Medieval Period: From Harassment to War
During the medieval period, the Jewish way of life was altered as more repressive measures were enforced. Not only were Jews officially ostracized, but the masses were taught that they were satanic Christ-killers. Whenever a scapegoat for the ills of society was needed, the Jews would have some outlandish accusation leveled against them. They were accused of using the blood of Christian babies for Passover wine, of stealing the communion wafer to desecrate and retorture the “body of Christ,” and were accused of poisoning wells during the plague.
Harassment progressed to war with the initiation of the First Crusade in 1096. The purpose of the crusade was to meet the threat of the quickly spreading Muslim invasion and to “retake” the Holy Land for the church. However, on the way to what was perceived to be a noble quest, many European Jews were suddenly and viciously attacked. The culmination of countless sermons which focused on the crucifixion of Jesus, the attack was justified by blaming Jews for the suffering and death of the Messiah. A Hebrew narrative written about the events of the First Crusade portrays an anguishing scene:
The enemy arose against them, killing little children and women, youth and old men, viciously—all on one day—a nation of fierce countenance that does not respect the old nor show favor to the young. The enemy showed no mercy for babes and sucklings, no pity for women about to give birth. They left no survivor or remnant but a dried date, and two or three pits. . . . And when the enemy was upon them, they all cried out in a great voice, with one heart and one tongue: “Hear, O Israel.”6
A violent trend erupted in the wake of the crusade. Sacred books were burned, property and possessions confiscated. The Inquisition, officially established in 1231 C.E., used torture as a method for dealing with heretics. During the Bubonic Plague, particularly from 1348-1350, entire Jewish communities were exterminated for supposedly poisoning Christian wells.
Not satisfied with these deeds, there were also a series of Jewish expulsions from various areas of Europe. Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, from Bavaria in 1450, and from cities in Spain in1492. Countless other horrifying deeds were also committed.
During this same period of time, the theology of Sunday worship was being refined. By the twelfth century, it was fully substituted for the seventh day. Sunday worship received further authorization by the scholastic theologians of the thirteenth century by making the Sabbath a Jewish ceremony and the fourth commandment a ceremonial law.7
Persecution During the Protestant Reformation
With the beginning of the Reformation, there was some improvement, at least temporarily, in the treatment of Jews. In those countries controlled by the Roman church power, however, conditions worsened with the addition of the ghetto and increased attacks upon persons and property. Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585) expanded the Inquisition against the Jews, banned the possession of the Talmud, and commanded compulsory sermons for Jews in Rome and throughout the church.8
Initially, Martin Luther appeared to be a friend to the Jews, but when they failed to meet apocalyptic expectations he also turned against them. Luther advocated the burning of synagogues, the destruction of homes, seizure of valuables, and the confiscation of the Holy Scriptures. The Reformation were still very much influenced by medieval theology.
The “End of the Time” Period
The persecution of the little horn began in the year 538 C.E., but in Daniel’s vision there would be an end to this persecution in 1,260 years (“time, times, and half a time”). The year 1798 brought the French revolution, Napoleon, and Enlightenment. General Berthier, leading the French army in a quest to end ecclesiastical authority, abducted and deported the Pope, thereby bringing to an end 1,260 years of Holy Roman Empire rule.
The end of the Holy Roman Empire brought a significant decline in anti-Judaic attacks, with Jews being granted civil rights throughout Europe, beginning in France. Napoleon, in particular, did much to emancipate the Jews throughout the empire. Thus Napoleon effectually brought to an end the 1,260 years of persecution begun by the Emperor Justinian in 538 B.C. To the Jews, Napoleon became a type of messiah. Not until the devastation of the Holocaust would Jews again experience persecution in the ways exhibited during the 1,260 years predicted in Daniel’s vision.
An examination of the historical evidence leaves little wonder as to why Daniel was terrified as he pondered the meaning of the vision. His vision presents a horrifying picture of severe persecution on the holy ones, the qaddishin. The qaddishin are those Jews and Jewish Christians who, at the risk of their lives, kept the law of the Most High. As a result of their faithfulness to God alone, the qaddishin were persecuted for 1,260 years. This period, which began precisely in 538 B.C. with the uprooting of the three horns of the fourth beast—the Arian Heruli, Vandals, and Ostrogoths—by the little horn, ended exactly 1,260 years later in 1798 with the deposing and deportation of the pope by the Emperor Napoleon.
2A “time” equals 360 days, making “time” (360) + “times” (720) + “half a time” (180) = 1,260 days. Since this is prophetic time, the day-for-a-year principle is used (cf. Ezek 4:6; Num 14:34), making this time period equal to 1,260 years.
3The New Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1989), 8:96.
4The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia, new rev. ed., ed. Geoffrey Wigoder (New York: Facts on File, 1992).
5Hans Küng, Judaism: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (New York: Crossland, 1992).
6Shlomo Eidelburg, ed., The Jews and the Crusaders: The Hebrew Chronicles of the First and Second Crusades (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977).
7Kenneth A. Strand, ed., The Sabbath in Scripture and History (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1987), 205.
Image: Jews identified by w:Yellow badge are being burned at stake. Public Domain