Patristic Commentaries on the Book of Daniel: Observations from the Text of Hippolytus

Hippolytus referred to his intention not only to comment on Daniel, but also to give an account of the Israelites while they were in Babylon. The reference to Daniel’s boyhood in Babylon more than likely includes the Susanna narrative.1 One might take by inference that Hippolytus did not intend to place Susanna on a par with Daniel, but his comments on Susanna indicate otherwise. In his preamble to Susanna, Hippolytus compares the chronological inversion of placing Susanna after the rest of Daniel to the prophet’s practice, and that this practice was of the Spirit so as to confuse the devil.2 From this later passage the implication could be that the Spirit was active in the placement of Susanna as well, but this is uncertain. For Hippolytus, there is no question concerning the historicity of the Susanna narrative. Daniel is considered her vindicator.3 Two things must be answered regarding the order of Daniel and Susanna: (1) did Hippolytus think that their order was also influenced by the Spirit, and (2) what did he believe was the relationship of the Spirit to the chapter on Susanna – mere placement or inspiration? It would seem odd to us to assume that he implies anything other than the equal authority of Susanna with Daniel and the other prophets. In Hippolytus’ time, without such a view of inspiration which would find it necessary to make fine distinctions about inspiration in order to answer the critics, might it be considered improbable to see this sort of advanced distinction? Nevertheless, the New Testament writers often make some fine distinctions regarding this doctrine.

The editors take note that Hippolytus confuses Jehoiachin with Jehoiakim.4 This is most likely a textual issue. Another textual corruption is evidenced where it has Jehoiakim (act. Jehoiachin) as ruling three years before Nebuchadnezzar comes up against him. The text of II Chronicles 36:9 has him reigning 3 months and 10 days. The ANF text makes note of this with the alternate Greek word: trimenion5 versus tria in Bardy and Lefevre.6 Hippolytus may have conflated the accounts of Kings and Chronicles, and he appears to be using the Septuagint. Notably he does not mention the discrepancy between 1 Kings 24:8 and 2 Chronicles 36:9. It might be inferred from this evidence that he either did not read the text closely or he was not interested in reading it critically. He seems to be inserting extra biblical tradition at the point where he speaks of Zedikiah grinding at the mill, dying and being thrown behind the wall of Nineveh, and thus completing Jeremiah’s prophecy of Jeremiah 22:24 ff. He finds two fulfillment cycles: the one concerning the curse in Jeremiah 22:24 ff. and the desolate sanctuary for seventy years of Jeremiah 25:11.7

Fragment II in ANF begins at Daniel 7 wherein Hippolytus feminizes the lion (“lioness,” see Jerome on this).8 Gleason points out that Jerome does this too, and gives the reason.9 Hippolytus identifies the lion with eagle’s wings as Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, the Bear is the Persians, the three ribs are the Persians, Medes, and Babylonians. He references his comments on the gold and silver portions of the great image. The leopard is identified as the Greek empire and in particular Alexander. Its four wings and four heads are supposed to symbolize the four generals of Alexander upon whom he conferred his kingdom at the time of his death. The fourth beast is the Roman empire.

Hippolytus then begins to draw parallels between the two dreams, that of image and of the beasts. Hippolytus treats the toes of mixed iron and clay from the image. For him, ten toes equal ten kings which are pictured also by the ten horns. The three horns are plucked up, and he identifies them as Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia: all nations defeated by the Romans. Of course, then there is the stone which he identifies with Christ and his kingdom.10

Hippolytus perpetuates the interesting connection that is originally by Irenaeus, Hippolytus’ mentor according to tradition. That being that the period of time from creation to the birth of Christ is 5500 years, and that 6000 years need to pass in order for the earth to have her “Sabbath”. This, of course, parallels the creation account:

The Sabbath is the type and emblem of the future kingdom of the saints, when they “shall reign with Christ,” when He comes from heaven as John says in his Apocalypse: for “a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.” Since, then, in six days God made all things, it follows that 6,000 years must be fulfilled.11

The view expressed above was the view that Photius condemned, but with which Irenaeus agreed, and this parallels with the Epistle of Barnabas. This was also in substantial agreement with the Jewish commentators.12 Hippolytus, however, has an interesting way of proving that the Christ was born in 5500 (years since creation). After educating the reader as to the symbols and types expressed in the Bible, he moves to the dimensions of the Ark of the Covenant. It was two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. This measures when “summed up together” five cubits and a half. This allegorically represents the 5500 years. No other proof is given. The ark is the type chosen because as the ark was wood overlaid with gold: “The Virgin, who was the ‘ark overlaid with pure gold,’ with the Word within and the Holy Spirit without; so that the truth is demonstrated, and the ‘ark’ made manifest.”13 Later, he states, “And the Saviour appeared in the world, bearing the imperishable ark, His own body, at a time which was the fifth and half, John declares: ‘Now it was the sixth hour,’ he says intimating by that one-half of the day.” So, 5000 adding that half day (500) equals 5500. Hence, there are only 500 years from the birth of Christ to the date he returns.14 Why is this delay necessary? Hippolytus provides a very evangelical response. The reason why the Lord delays his coming is so that the gospel be proclaimed to the world.15

Hippolytus seems most definitely post-tribulational in his relating the church to the tribulation. He will come when the ten horns spring up. These are the ten kings, and the Antichrist arises from among them. These, with the Antichrist, will make war against the saints, “then may we expect the manifestation of the Lord from heaven.”16 This may be one of the first church fathers to set the date far in the future, thus ruining the any-moment watchfulness of the early church. The date is set out in the future by several hundred years, and signs or prophecies precede Christ’s return. Others have noted this.17

Hippolytus identifies the ram of Daniel 8, who in verse four is pushing westward, northward, and southward as Darius the Persian. He identifies the he-goat from the west as Alexander the Macedonian who has victory over Darius. In this Hippolytus writes some on the history of Alexander’s empire and what happened upon his death. He identifies the four horns as the four generals of Alexander among whom the empire was divided. Of course much of this is identified in the text of Daniel, but the four generals are not. The horn that waxed great in Daniel 8:9, Hippolytus identifies as the Antiochus Epiphanes. Further, he gives the history of his pillaging of Jerusalem and the temple treasure.18

Hippolytus cross-references Daniel 9:24ff with Jeremiah 25:11. He equates the 70 weeks of Daniel with the 70 years of captivity of which Jeremiah prophesied:

Having mentioned therefore seventy weeks, and having divided them into two parts in order that what was spoken by him to the prophet might be better understood, he proceeds thus, “Unto Christ the Prince shall be seven weeks, “ which make forty-nine years. It was in the twenty-first year that Daniel saw these things in Babylon. Hence, the forty-nine years added to the twenty-one, make up the seventy years of which the blessed Jeremiah spake: “The sanctuary shall be desolate seventy years from the captivity that befell them under Nebuchadnezzar and after these things the people will return , and sacrifice and offering will be presented, when Christ is their Prince.”19

 

After digressing into the captivity and the relationship to the restoration under Ezra and Zerubbabel, he speaks of the sacrifice made by Christ and the blotting out of sins. Here he makes an interesting statement that is indicative of the kind of statements that the church fathers make, posing great problems for a Protestant understanding of justification: “But who are they who have reconciliation made for their sins, but they who believe on His name, and propitiate His countenance by good works?”20

 

Some have noted, based upon his rendering of the prophecy of the lamb breaking the seal, that Hippolytus bears a familiar resemblance to Augustinian and Reformed exegetes in relating the Old and New Testaments. On Revelations 3:7 ff., he speaks of the Lamb breaking the seal of the scroll. This unsealing, for Hippolytus, underscores the kind of ministry that Christ performed who loosed the things of God for the church, ending their being sealed up. It is reminiscent of the statement that what is in the Old concealed is in the New revealed.21

The man whom Daniel sees in Daniel 10:5 clothed in linen is identified by Hippolytus as a Christ, “not yet indeed as perfect man, but with the appearance and form of man.”22 What interests us here is the phrase translated “appearance and form,” because it sounds so very docetic. The words, however, in the Bardy and Lefevre text are schemati and phainomenon.23

An example of Hippolytus’ extreme allegory may be found in his description of the man in Daniel 10:5 and his clothing:

 

Now the word “Ophaz,” which is a word transferred from Hebrew to Greek, denotes pure gold. With a pure girdle, therefore he was girded round the loins. For the Word was to bear us all, binding us like a girdle round His body, in His own love. The complete body was His, but we are members in His body, united together and sustained by the Word Himself.24

He even allegorizes a misleading transliteration (Tharseis as “Ethiopia.”25 This is rendered as beryl in the KJV in Daniel 10:6. The Hebrew (with prefix) is ctharisish and it is probably best defined as possibly yellow jasper.26

The king of the south’s daughter of Daniel 11:6 is identified as Ptolemaïs, queen of Egypt, who made an agreement with Antiochus. This treaty subsequently failed.27 The king of Daniel 11:36 is called “Shameless” by Hippolytus and is identified as the Antichrist. He is involved in “the abomination that maketh desolate” (KJV) in verse 31. Interestingly, Hippolytus distinguishes between two types of abominations. One is destruction and the other is desolation. Antiochus performed the destruction, but the desolation will be done by Antichrist.28 Hippolytus identifies the two men by the bank of the river in Daniel 12:5ff as the law and the prophets, and he parallels the last few verses of Daniel 12 which speak of the taking away of the sacrifice and the period of waiting to Matthew 24:12-13.29


1. Hippolytus, On Daniel, 177.

2. Ibid., 191.

3. Ibid., 178.

4Hippolytus, On Daniel, 177 See the top of Bardy and Lefevre page 74 wherein the Greek is clearly Jehoiakim when Jehoiachin is in view. Bardy and Lefevre also points to some manuscripts that omit the name altogether. Hippolyte, Bardy, and LeFevre, Hippolyte Commentaire sur Daniel, 74.

5. Hippolytus, On Daniel, 177.

6. Hippolyte, Bardy, and LeFevre, Hippolyte Commentaire sur Daniel, 74.

7. Hippolytus, On Daniel, 178.

8. Ibid., 2.1 (ANF5:178).

9. Gleason L. Archer, Jr., trans., Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1958), 72.

10. Hippolytus, On Daniel, 178.

11. Ibid., 179.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. John G. Gammie, “A Journey Through Danielic Spaces: The Book of Daniel in the Theology and Piety of the Christian Community,” Interpretation 39 (1985): 148.

18. Hippolytus, On Daniel, 2.8–10 (ANF 5:179–80).

19. Ibid., 2.13 (ANF 5:180).

20. Ibid., 2. 16 (ANF 5:181).

21. Ibid., 2.21 (ANF 5:181–82).

22. Ibid., 2. 24 (ANF 5.182).

23. Hippolyte, Bardy, and LeFevre, Hippolyte Commentaire sur Daniel, 4.25.5 (336).

24. Ibid., 2.25 (ANF 5:182).

25. Hippolytus, On Daniel, 2.25 (ANF 5:182).

26. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, “A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament,” in A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), 1076.

27. Hippolytus, On Daniel, 2.33 (ANF 183).

28. Ibid., 2.38–40 (ANF 5.184).

29. Ibid., 2.43–44 (ANF 5:185).

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5 thoughts on “Patristic Commentaries on the Book of Daniel: Observations from the Text of Hippolytus

  1. Hey, VC, thanks for the postings on Hippolytus’ Comm. Dan. I am interested in all things Hippolytan and found your blog. Currently doing a Ph.D. dissertation at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth on Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Song of Songs. There are some interesting parallels in the Christology expressed. I found your assessment of Hippolytus’ eschatology interesting. One of the reasons he put the coming of Christ off into the future may have been a desire to make room for warmer relations with the empire (under Alexander Severus, 222-235). In the Antichr. (as well as in Comm. Dan. he indicates that the empire is restraining the coming of the Antichrist and that eventually, when democracy (i.e. aristocracy and a bit of anarchy) the Antichrist will arise. BTW, I also read Cerrato’s book with a great bit of interest. I think his case against Hippolytus occidentalis is very weak, though clearly argued and well written. While Brent’s case is stronger, though poorly argued and written. Oh, well! Interestingly enough, a recent study by Marcus Vinzent has shown that the “statue of Hippolytus” was originally an Amazon Queen (named Hippolyta with son named Hippolytus!) who was a well known symbol of the city of Rome. The statue in a house-church/school would have been much like placing a flag in a church building today, especially given the resurgence of Roman civic pride after the downfall of Elagabalus and the rise of Alexander Severus and his mother the Empress Mammea.

    Blessings in Christ!
    Yancy

  2. Yancy,

    Thank you for your comments. My first course in PhD studies was a rather general seminar in Patristics taught by Paul Hartog (Polycarp and the New Testament: The Occasion, Rhetoric, Theme, and Unity of the Epistle to the Philippians and Its Allusions to New Testament Literature (Wissunt Zum Neun Testament Ser. II, 134)). Seeing my desire for an emphasis in Medieval Historical Theology shut down, I thought Patristics would be equally as satisfying, easier for finding willing advisers, and certainly not as convoluted a research field. The next course I took was an OT Core Seminar – this was the paper for that seminar. I would have liked to pursue other paths, but I was linked to tracing the changes in hermeneutics between the two authors. So, I find your comments about Hippolytus’ possible motivations to be quite interesting.

    Thanks for stopping by,
    Van

  3. Do you have an English translation of Hippol. comments specifically on Susanna?

    I am trying to find out if he is using Theod. exclusively, or if he knows of the Old Greek (OG) version.

    Looking for evidence of the word “??????” in the text, either of Hippol. copy or in his own commentary.

    Also, everyone offers an Eng. transl. of Susanna (Theod.), but I can’t find a good transl. of Susanna (OG), or any critical commentary on it.

    Any info, even an article would be greatly appreciated!

    mr.scrivener

  4. Here is an English translation of Hipolytus on Susanna. I cannot vouch for its accuracy: http://www.tfc.edu/library/reserves/Shelton/THE%20453%20History%20of%20Theology/Hippolytus.pdf

    For an OG version see:
    Septuaginta. Vetus Testamentum Graecum Auctoritate Academiae Scientiarum Gottingensis editum, Göttingen, 1931- , 20 vol.:

    It should include: Susanna, Daniel, Bel and the Dragon [Susanna-Daniel-Bel et Draco] (1954, J. Ziegler, 19992, O. Munnich).

    But, I guess that doesn’t help you with an English translation. You may wish to check with this site: http://otstory.wordpress.com/2008/04/06/two-versions-of-the-story-of-susanna-old-greek-and-theodotion/

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