Note: This is the second in a two-part series reflecting on women in the biblical book of Daniel. For part 1, see here.
The second female character I noticed while taking a deep dive into the book of Daniel appears even more briefly. Daniel 11:6-7 includes her story: “The daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of the North to make an alliance, but she will not retain her power, and he and his power will not last. In those days she will be betrayed, together with her royal escort and her father and the one who supported her. One from her family line will arise to take her place” (NIV). It is a brief story—and not a happy one, in the end. But I think it’s worth reflecting on.
In this chapter of Daniel, an unnamed supernatural messenger gives Daniel a detailed account of a long series of violent power struggles between various kings. Empires accumulate and then are broken up (vv. 3-4). One king is strong, but his commander proves stronger and overtakes him (v. 5). Attacks are victorious, and valuables are seized and carried off (vv. 7-8). Retreats are made (v. 9). Great armies are assembled (v. 10). Kings “march out in a rage” toward battle (v. 11). Armies are carried off, and thousands are slaughtered (v. 12). You get the idea. Everything is violent. Everything is bloody. Everything is one brutal war after another, one brutal kingdom after another, one brutal ruler after another. It all starts to blur together.
Right in the middle of all this, one female player briefly takes the stage. And she does so in an effort to make peace. The kings of the North and South are fighting one another, exchanging violent advances back and forth to no end. But the daughter of the king of the South has a different idea. She goes to the king of the North to try to make an alliance (v. 6). Maybe this is just the kind of alliance where two parties join forces in order to enact further violence against others. But maybe it’s an effort to bring peace to the whole region. Maybe the king’s daughter sees the ways war has devastated her people and says, No more. There is another way. We can learn to work together rather than fight one another. We don’t have to keep pointlessly killing off our young men. Maybe we can talk; maybe we can try to see eye to eye.
It sounds like the king’s daughter achieves some success and reigns for a time. “She will not retain her power,” the text says, implying that she was in power at one point. Her rule ends when she and her companions are brutally betrayed (v. 6). In the grand scheme of the rise and fall of empires, the peace she sought to make did not last long. It might seem insignificant to those of us looking back on history from millenia later. But I think we miss something if we underestimate the significance of even short periods of peace time to those who live through them.
Maybe a few hundred men’s lives were spared, those who would have died in the battles that would have been fought during this time if the king’s daughter had not made peace. This is meaningful; their lives were meaningful. Maybe the world was different for generations to come because of this pause in warfare: whole families not torn apart by losing a son, a husband, a father, too young. Maybe the ordinary people of the North and the ordinary people of the South learned, for a time, to see one another as friends, trading partners, co-participants in the broader human community—rather than rivals, threats, enemies to be destroyed. Peace, even for a short time, is powerful.
If I’m tempted to think that the king’s daughter’s reign was too short to be significant, I think of the difference contemporary women have made even when their time in power is too short, or when they weren’t in official positions of power at all. Stacey Abrams, for example, has not (yet) become governor of Georgia, but her campaigns brought attention to the voting rights issues she has worked on for years with great impact. Elizabeth Warren, in running for president in 2020, sadly wasn’t still a contender by the time I got to vote in a primary election, but her policy ideas challenged her opponents, raised the bar, and changed the broader conversation for the better. Female leaders like these have made a real difference—even if their “rule” was nonexistent or short-lived. I wonder if it was at all like this for the king’s daughter who wanted to make peace.
I want to see her, to find meaning in her reign. Even though the man who ruled after her—the “one from her family line” who “[arose] to take her place” (v. 7)—once again wanted war. Even when imperial violence continued through the years and generations. The book of Daniel makes it clear that one day, after violent empire has been succeeded by violent empire, violent king by violent king, there will be an end to all the bloodshed. There will be an everlasting kingdom (7:14), a kingdom of peace and flourishing. There will be an end to war.
The book of Daniel invites people of faith to look forward to such a day—and, in the meanwhile, to choose to live faithful, nonviolent lives. To choose peace. To build among ourselves the kind of strength it takes to make peace—a different kind of strength, and a greater kind of strength, than it takes to make war. To resist the fickle power of empires, just as Daniel and his three friends did in the stories of chapters 1, 3, and 6. Perhaps it is the king’s daughter, just as much as Daniel, who points the way.
 The biblical text doesn’t tell us how long, but if this time period corresponds historically to Ptolemy’s daughter’s marriage to Antiochus II, we’re looking at about seven years. By the way, I write here in the past tense, as if speaking of history, rather than in the future tense as the scriptures have it, because I follow most biblical scholars in understanding these texts as part of the “apocalyptic” genre that uses coded language to interpret past and present events more than it intends to prophecy specifically about the future.
2 thoughts on “The Daughter, the Alliance-Maker (Women in the Book of Daniel, part 2) by Liz Cooledge Jenkins”
This story really caught me. “The daughter of the king . . . will go to the king of the North to make an alliance, but she will not retain her power, and he and his power will not last. [S]he will be betrayed, together with her royal escort . . . and the one[s] who supported her, One from her family line will arise to take her place” sounds very like the story of Jezebel some 400 years earlier. She moved from the house of her father the king of Tyre to marry Ahab, King of Israel, thus bringing about a period of peace and stability and trade and cosmopolitanism. She was betrayed, first by Elijah (who killed her retainers) and then by her own household servants. Jezebel the Queen, the daughter of a king, the wife of a king, the mother of two kings died royally, as the Priestess she was. She was succeeded by Jehu, who some say was a family member.
Thanks Judith for adding that, interesting connection!