The Bible in and as History: Daniel

book_of_daniel_chapter_6-7_bible_illustrations_by_sweet_mediaSo, into the Lion’s Den!  The Book of Daniel forms another of the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible, and how different it is from the previous books.

The text itself is considered by scholars to be a collection of stories assembled first from court tales, and than adjusted by Hebrew religious iconography.  We can narrow down pretty specifically when certain sections were penned to the middle of the 2nd Century BCE.

The Book’s first section is a set of stories featuring the character of Daniel.  Israel is ruled by Babylon, and the king, Nebuchadnezzar, has an assortment of Hebrew Noble youth brought to his court to be trained.  Four of these, led by Daniel, refuse the wine and meat set aside for them, least they be contaminated.  Proving themselves and maintaining their devotion to God, Daniel is granted visions and abilities.

He successfully interprets a dream of the King, winning his favour, a mirror somewhat of Joseph and a repeated connected theme; The Hebrew who by virtue and God’s gifts becomes the favourite of a foreign king.

What follows is series of stories; Daniel’s companions refuse to bow to the statue the Babylonian king has made and are thrown to a fire.  Looking in the King see’s not three, but four figures, one seeming godly.  Astonished, he removes the others from the furnace, decreeing that none should blasphemy against the Hebrew’s god.

The King goes mad and is only made sane and restored when he acknowledges heaven’s supremacy.  After dying the New King profanes some holy vessels from the Jewish temple and is beset by a strange vision.  Daniel criticizes him and he repents, only to die and be replaced by another King after rewarding Daniel.

The most famous passages regard the ‘Lions Den’.  Raised up by the Third king of Babylon he has served, Daniel makes the other advisors jealous so they conspire to have a law passed forbidding the worship of any god for 30 days.  Since Daniel cannot stop his worship, he breaks the law and is thrown to the Lions.  God ‘stops up their mouths’ and Daniel escapes unharmed.  Daniel’s accusers, along with their wives and children, are than cast into the fire.

There are then a succession of visions, some prophecies both vague and somewhat more specific.

Like many sections of the bible thus-far, Daniel is a book written in a particular historical context that has been used for purposes far outside that context.  The context is a crisis in 2nd century, as a Greek kings of the Seleucid Empire made traditional sacrifice and worship in the temple of Jerusalem impossible.  The Seleucid was one of the many successor states to the massive empire of Alexander the Great.  The Greek king defiled the temple and engaged in a Hellenization campaign, prohibiting Jewish texts and such.  violent resistance to this was able to re-purify the temple.  Indeed, it is how we can date the book accurately.  The prophecies describe some events up to about 167 B.C. very accurately, but prophecies wars between the Syrians and Egyptians that do not happen.

Daniel had an immense impact on Christianity and ‘Christendom’.  Much of it is essential a book about faith; Daniel is given special powers by God for following Gods rules.  He follows those rules even in the face of oppression, violence and attacks by others, and God brings him and his fellows through it.  It’s pretty obvious why this narrative appeals to Christian theologians.  Also, for the lay person, it’s just far more exciting than many of the previous prophets.  Rather than esoteric verses about four-winged beings or the rebirth of the temple, there are people being thrown in furnaces, Lions!  People being devoured!  A king going Mad!  Really you can imagine much of Daniel being performed as a play for entertainment as much as a holy book.  It has much purchase outside the Christian faith as well, appearing both in iconography and story-telling motifs in a variety of sources.  It’s the first book since I believe Job to have a story in it I was familiar with from my youth.

An important side note here; Daniel has sections of it that appear in the Apocrypha.  That is, there are ‘extra’ sections that were considered Canonical by the Christianity until the Protestant reformation.  All pre-reformation denominations(Roman Catholic, Coptic, Eastern Orthodox, etc.) consider it cannon, but Protestants and Jews do not.  Indeed the reasons Protestants do not is because it is not part of the Hebrew text.  It’s important to remember that arguments about the text and texts are a long-standing part of it’s history.   The notion that the Hebrew text should be considered above the Greek is itself a theological discussion.

Alright, so the major prophets are done and I’m down to the minor prophets; Next up, Hosea!

 

 

 

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