Patristic Commentaries on the Book of Daniel: Jerome and His Commentary

Biography

Scholarship on Jerome bears little doubt as to his identity. His slightly later date places him within the more mature age of the church and also during a time of when Christianity was no longer an illicit religion. Jerome was born in Dalmatia c. 340-342 and died in Bethlehem on September 30, 420. He was baptized in Rome and studied at Trier and Aquileia. He then went to Antioch where he was ordained. He traveled to Constantinople and became friends with Gregory of Nazianzus. Jerome moved to Rome and his career was nearly ruined because of a falling out that he had with Pope Damasus. The bulk of his career, that part for which he is best known, took place Bethlehem in 386 where he led an ascetic life.1

Of course, church historians can hardly forget the correspondence carried on between Jerome and Augustine where two of the greatest minds of the early church differed and agreed on various matters of theological and ecclesiastical importance. Jerome played the archetypical melancholy recluse while Augustine fit the mold of the busy but studious Bishop who always had some opinion to share with the rest of the church.

Commentary Background

The text of Jerome’s commentary on Daniel is accessible to the contemporary reader through two venues. It is accessible in English by means of the translation by Gleason Archer.2 It is also available via J. -P. Migne in Latin.3 Of this commentary, it may be noted that some of it may have written prior to his translation of the Old Testament from a predecessor to the Masoretic Text.4This is evidenced by the number of times in which clear Septuagintal influence is seen. There are other times when he references the Hebrew text.

There is somewhat of an interlocutor within Jerome’s text, the pagan Neo-platonist who was antagonistic to Christianity, Porphyry. Porphyry doubted the prophetic nature of Daniel and claimed it to be written by someone after the historical events prophesied had occurred. Jerome’s commentary is the single greatest witness to this work by Porphyry, Against the Christians, which was completely destroyed in 448. Jerome brings up Porphyry’s criticisms on a number of occasions (over twenty) and attempts to answer him.

Observations From the Text

He makes the same error as Hippolytus in referring to the lion in Daniel 7:4 as female. Gleason notes that this is an error in the Septuagint or missing the pointing in the Hebrew.5 Jerome identifies the kingdoms of the four beasts as the Chaldeans, Medo-Persia, the Greek or Macedonian, and Rome. His discussion, compared to Hippolytus, of the dream involves more detail as to the historical facts, especially names. He also makes comparisons back to the statue vision.6

The three ribs in the bear’s mouth could be“three princes who were in charge of the one hundred and twenty satraps.” Jerome avers however that other commentators believe these to be “three kings of the Persians who reigned subsequent to Cyrus,” namely Cambyses, the magi (the translator notes a number discrepancy since there was only one: Smerdis), and Darius. Jerome goes on to mention a whole list of Persian kings, listing fourteen in all. But Jerome does not agree with either of these views. He believes the ribs to be the kingdoms of the Babylonians, the Medes, and the Persians.7

Of the Greek empire, he, like Hippolytus, identifies the four wings and four heads as referring to the four generals (Ptolemy, Seleucus, Philip, and Antigonus) among whom Alexander’s empire was divided upon his death.8 There is an interesting historical note regarding Alexander:

There was never, after all, any victory won more quickly than Alexander’s, for he traversed all the way from Illyricum in the Adriatic Sea to the Indian Ocean and the Ganges River, not merely fighting battles but winning decisive victories; and in six years he subjugated to his rule a portion of Europe and all of Asia.9

Evidently, Jerome was impressed by historically pivotal events and compares them to others, taking in his scope an entire description of Alexander’s prowess. Commenting on “And power was given to it,” (Daniel 7:6) Jerome comments that as stunning as Alexander’s victory was; it was not by means of his own bravery but by God’s will.10

Jerome refers to the ten horns of Daniel 7:7-8. Rejecting Porphyry, he adheres to the traditional interpretation of the church, one that goes back to Hippolytus. “We should therefore concur with the traditional interpretation of all the commentators of the Christian Church, that at the end of the world, when the Roman Empire is destroyed, there shall be ten kings who will partition the Roman world amongst themselves.”11 He identifies the little horn as a man, notthe Devil or a demon.12 In a rare appeal to Revelation, Jerome remarks that the words of Daniel 7:9 ff. are similar to Rev. 4:2 ff.13 He also relates the rock of Nebuchadnezzar’s image vision as being Christ.14

In his comments on Daniel 7:14, we begin to see Jerome’s antagonism toward Porphyry. One of the contentions that Jerome seems to constantly battle is Porphyry’s opinion that the little horn or Antichrist is Antiochus Epiphanes. Jerome himself seems to favor a typological fulfillment in Antiochus, but recognizes that there are prophecies that relate to the Antichrist which were never fulfilled in Antiochus.15

An interesting anti-millennarian comment proceeds from Jerome on Daniel 7:17-18. He says:

The four kingdoms of which we have spoken above were earthly in character. ‘For everything which is of the earth shall return to earth’ (Eccl. 3:20). But the saints shall never possess an earthly kingdom, but only a heavenly. Away, then, with the fable about a millennium!16

Jerome identifies the ram of Daniel 8 as Darius, but in Daniel 8:4 he expands the referent beyond Darius to the kingdom of Darius and particularly to Darius II. This is the ram pushing westward, northward, and southward.17

Jerome mentions the comments of others who hold that Antiochus was only a type of Antichrist. This is a statement with which he seems to concur.18 Jerome relates the narrative inDaniel 9:2 to that of Jeremiah. The desolation of the temple had already been predicted by an earlier prophet.

In trying to determine the significance of the seventy weeks of Daniel, Jerome provides lengthy quotations from several sources: Africanus, Eusebius Pamphilii (of Caesarea) who has two views, Hippolytus (whom he correctly interprets to believe in a gap between the 69th and 70th week, the 70th being reserved for the end of the world), Apollinarius of Laodicea, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, and then the views of the rabbis. This is a rather extensive treatment, but he does not seem to offer a firm opinion.19

On the comment about Daniel 10:4 where Daniel is by the Tigris river, Jerome notes that Ezekiel had a vision by the river, Chebar (Ezekiel 1) and that John the Baptist had one of Jesus at the Jordan (Matthew 3). He has this to say: “therefore those critics should leave off their foolish objections who raise questions about the presence of shadows and symbols in a matter of historical truth and attempt to destroy the truth itself by imagining that they should employ allegorical methods to destroy the historicity of rivers and trees and of Paradise.”20 Apparently, Jerome did not take kindly to those who have doubts about typological references that employ actual place names found in history. He denies that signs and allegories destroy historicity.

Interesting study in textual corruption and vorlage as Jerome explains that Tarsus is not the city of Cilicia, but relates the Hebrew word found in Daniel 10:6 that sounds and looks similar but speaks of it being a stone. He opts for the Septuagint translation defining it as the sea. So, Jonah fled not to Tarsus the city after all, but to the sea.21

Jerome identifies the prophecy of Daniel 11 to Ptolemy.22 Comments on Daniel 11:42-45 constitute a fierce diatribe against Porphyry because, as Jerome alleges, these events did not happen to Antiochus.23


1. Perhaps the best secondary and recent source on the life of Jerome is (J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writing, and Controversies [London: Duckworth, 1975])

2. Most English translation references in this paper will refer to this translation. (Archer, Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel)

3. The edition used for this paper was the online subscription version offered through ProQuest Information and Learning Company. (J. -P Migne, ed., Patrologia Latina, vol. 217 vols. [Paris, 1844–64])

4. Kelly remarks parenthetically that the text Jerome used was the accepted text of the Jerome’s time and “substantially the same as our ‘Masoretic’ text.” (Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writing, and Controversies, 159)

5. Archer, Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel, 72.

6. Ibid., 73.

7. Ibid., 74.

8. Ibid., 75.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid., 77.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid., 80.

15. Ibid., 80–81.

16. Ibid., 81.

17. Ibid., 84.

18. Ibid., 87.

19. Ibid., 95–110.

20. Ibid., 112.

21. Ibid., 113.

22. Ibid., 120 ff.

23. Ibid., 140–44.

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