Alexander the Great and Bible Symbolism
THE Bible is rich in symbolism, especially in its prophetic parts. Such symbolism quickly conveys information to readers and listeners. Also, vivid pictorial representations can usually be remembered better than a mere listing of facts. Another benefit of symbols is that much information can be set forth in simple terms.
A case in point is the book of Daniel, which abounds in symbolism. There, for example, the Grecian or Greco-Macedonian World Power is depicted as a male goat and as a four-headed winged leopard. A careful consideration of this symbolism reveals how appropriate it is. At the same time one is impressed with the amazing way in which Bible prophecy has been fulfilled.
Cast in the role of a goat, the World Power of Greece is described as follows: “Look! there was a male of the goats coming from the sunset upon the surface of the whole earth, and it was not touching the earth. And as regards the he-goat, there was a conspicuous horn between its eyes. And it kept coming all the way to the ram [representing Medo-Persia, as is evident from Daniel 8:20] possessing the two horns, which I had seen standing before the watercourse; and it came running toward it in its powerful rage. And I saw it coming into close touch with the ram, and it began showing bitterness toward it, and it proceeded to strike down the ram and to break its two horns, and there proved to be no power in the ram to stand before it. So it threw it to the earth and trampled it down, and the ram proved to have no deliverer out of its hand. And the male of the goats, for its part, put on great airs to an extreme; but as soon as it became mighty, the great horn was broken, and there proceeded to come up conspicuously four instead of it, toward the four winds of the heavens.”—Dan. 8:5-8.
In relation to the Medo-Persian Empire, Greece lay to the west. So it was from the west or “sunset” that the Grecian goat pushed eastward. With lightning speed, as if ‘not touching the ground,’ the Greco-Macedonian Empire expanded. It took Alexander the Great only about seven years of fighting to extend his dominion over Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria, the vast Medo-Persian Empire and even parts of India. Little wonder that the Greco-Macedonian Empire is also portrayed in Scripture as a winged leopard. (Dan. 7:6) The mighty Medo-Persian “ram” stood helpless before the assaulting Grecian goat.
The description of the “conspicuous” or “great horn” well fits Alexander the Great. He was the aggressive spearhead of the tremendous territorial conquests. Not long after his death in the thirty-third year of life, four ‘horns’ or rulers gained control of portions of Alexander’s vast dominions.
About twenty-two years after the “great horn” Alexander was “broken” in death, four of his generals were fully established in power. Seleucus Nicator ruled Mesopotamia and Syria. Cassander had control over Macedonia and Greece. Egypt and Palestine made up the domain of Ptolemy Lagus. Lysimachus had dominion over Thrace and Asia Minor. Thus the mighty empire that had been built up by Alexander the Great took on the appearance of a four-headed leopard, as described at Daniel 7:6: “After this I kept on beholding, and, see there! another beast, one like a leopard, but it had four wings of a flying creature on its back. And the beast had four heads, and there was given to it rulership indeed.”
Truly Daniel’s prophecy concerning the Grecian Empire, especially in connection with Alexander the Great, had a remarkable fulfillment. This has long been recognized. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus reports that Alexander was at Jerusalem and had Daniel’s prophecy shown to him. As to the conqueror’s reaction, Josephus writes: “When the book of Daniel was shown to him, in which he had declared that one of the Greeks would destroy the empire of the Persians, he believed himself to be the one indicated.” While many today doubt that this occurred, the fact that Josephus mentions this tradition confirms that Alexander the Great was viewed as having fulfilled prophecy.
The Bible is indeed accurate in depicting developments in the Grecian Empire under the figure of a goat and a winged four-headed leopard. This is but one of numerous examples illustrating the way in which the Scriptures use symbols. A study of such prophetic symbolism can be both rewarding and faith-strengthening. If you would like help in this, Jehovah’s Witnesses in your area would be pleased to assist you in a study of the Bible.