Daniel - Part III

The setting:

In chapter one of Daniel, the story of Jerusalem falling under the power of the Babylonian superpower and her ferocious king Nebuchadnezzar is told. A lot could be said here culturally, how kings in the Ancient Near East (ANE) handled conquered territories etc. For instance, Daniel and his friends mentioned are not just random peasant children, but in all probability sons of nobility, or to use an anachronism, part of the aristocracy. We know this not only from ANE practice of conquering and creating vassal relationships, but Josephus (Ant. 10.10) informs us of this as well.

In Daniel two, a new scene begins where the king had a troubling dream. I won’t recount the story, but basically, the king refused to tell his dream for the sake of not wanting to be deceived regarding its interpretation. The diviners and specialists of these matters protested the impossibility of his request, although David Flusser notes from Herodotus, Croesus King of Lydia testing the Greek Oracle, makes the request of Nebuchadnezzar “reasonable” or “not so illogical as the book of Daniel pretends” (Flusser, JSTP, ii:2; JOC, 325).

The Hebrew hero Daniel asked for time and the king (obviously) consented and through the pleading of Daniel to the God of Israel (Yahweh), the secret was made-known in a vision.

The Interpretation:

The interpretation of this dream has been one of constant debate. It is important in a text like this to pay attention to the structure. The reason being, the context is partially reliant upon another portion of the text of Daniel (anachronistically titled “another chapter”). Far too extensive to cover in this post is the chiastic structure with chapters two and seven serving as bookends (see Goldingay, WBC, Daniel, 158; IVP Dictionary of the OT Prophets, 110). Beginning in 2:4, the language changes from Hebrew to Aramaic and reverts back to Hebrew after the conclusion of chapter seven.  

Within this dream – in chapter two – the king saw an image, a large (great) statue. Its parts were divided into head (gold), breast and arms (silver), belly and thigh (bronze) and finally legs (iron) and feet (mixed iron and clay). Goldingay comments that gold and silver are representative of “majestic and precious” in political and religious contexts while bronze and iron are “strong and hard.” He also states that “the four metals together sum up the variety of valuable natural resources” and “there is no implication of deterioration as we move from head to trunk to hips to legs; nor are these four metals 'the metals of idolatry.'”

Since the discovery (1948) and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, fragmentary details have aided the study of not only Daniel but have contributed invaluably to furthering many other biblical studies as well. Such is the case with a fragment known as the Prayer of Nabonidus (4QPrNab, 4Q242). Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon and the father of Belshazzar. It is thought by some scholars that this fragment is part of an earlier form of the Daniel story, where it retains Nabonidus, who later became identified as Nebuchadnezzar for various reasons. One proposition is due to it being Nebuchadnezzar who conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the temple.

With the other Daniel-related traditions belonging to Jewish literature (Prayer of Azariah, Song of the Three Jews, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon) it is not difficult to understand how these stories circulated, even independent of each other. PrNab is illuminating to Daniel in several ways, but pertaining to this chapter (two) it contains the materials found in the image of the dream:

“Words of the pr[ay]er which Nabonidus, king of [the] la[nd of Baby]lon, the [great] king, prayed [when he was afflicted] by a malignant inflammation, by decree of the G[od Most Hi]gh, in Teiman. [I, Nabonidus,] was afflicted [by a malignant inflammation] for seven years, and was banished far [from men, until I prayed to the God Most High] and an exorcist forgave my sin. He was a Je[w] fr[om the exiles, who said to me:] Make a proclamation in writing, so that glory, exal[tation and hono]ur be given to the name of [the] G[od Most High ». And I wrote as follows: « When] I was afflicted by a ma[lignant] inflammation […] in Teiman, [by decree of the God Most High,] [I] prayed for seven years [to all] the gods of silver and gold, [of bronze and iron,] of wood, of stone and of clay, because [I thoug]ht that t[hey were] gods.” F.G. Martı́nez, The Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition, 1:487.

Is it possible that this story took on more than one form through the years? Is it possible that as time went on, the shifting sands of external political forces and internal religious factions that dramatically affected Israel had an emphasis on the way the story was told and redacted in specific periods of time?

Like I stated at the outset of this series, my point is not to draw radically different and dogmatic conclusions merely for the sake of doing so, but rather to consider alternative points of view, comparing historical events well-known to scholars, but often obscured from the average Christian. My hope is that this inquiry is not seen as an affront on supernaturalism, prophecy or the preservation of words God intended for his people. My objective is to better comprehend how this collection of texts was intended to be understood and thus (hopefully) come to a fuller grasp on what God wanted his people to know concerning the troublesome times they (we) continue to face.  

Be sure to check out DustinMartyr on Daniel 2, 7 and 8.

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