The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Book of Daniel

The book of Daniel has long been a source of inspiration for its readers/hearers. There is no consensus on when the book was written, but most biblical scholars suggest that Daniel is a heroic character whose stories are historical fiction, along the same lines as Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, or Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Daniel was a popular Hebrew name and character used in tales about lions, dragons, and kings. I have come to believe that the book of Daniel can be linked to one of the harshest times in history of Israel, when the Greek Empire ruled most of the known world. The Greeks were oppressive. They outlawed Hebrew language, culture, and religion. They outlawed circumcision and other rituals. They imposed their own system of religion, forcing Greek beliefs and deities on Hebrew monotheism. They stripped Hebrews of basic human rights, what we might call First Ammendment Rights. Thus, Hebrews were not allowed to speak out against the Empire. So, when you can't speak about the people in power explicitly- a clever writer would do so implicitly, in this case, using the genre of historical fiction.The author(s) of the book of Daniel sat down to write a pointed critique of the Greek establishment- but had to subvert the message. And Daniel's stories were created. He's a Hebrew who is unwilling to eat the food of his foreign rulers. He is unwilling to stop praying to his God. Lions cannot hurt him (by the way, there are no lions native to the middle east. Lions were, however, imported to Greece and Rome for their gladiatorial spectacles). Daniel refuses to worship the "golden calf." This false idol is a tried and true stand-in for any incorrect religion. What Daniel does do is he interprets dreams of kings, a high position. Basically, Daniel is an unkillable superhero who tells people about the one true God.  
     I have come to support the dating of the Book of Daniel in the Greek period based on the following three discoveries: 
1) The chronology of Daniel is poorly constructed, and anyone who knew about the history of kings would see that, and assume that this was purposeful. Imagine opening a book where the hero works one minute for Winston Churchill and the next chapter he works for Jimmy Carter. Not only is he not in the same time period, but the author also switches nations. In chapter 1, Daniel works for Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and by the end of Chapter five, Nebuchadnezzar has been killed and replaced by 'Darius the Mede'. Who? This is not a historical person. It might as well have been Micky Mouse. It is true that Darius is king of Persia 50 years later ( although he is not a Mede), but he does not succeed Nebuchadnezzar.  Cyrus the Great does, who, is sometimes known as Cyrus the Mede, having conquered Media and taking a Median wife. So, the question is this, is the use Darius' name a typo or is it intentional? We may never know. But the story as it is recorded misses entire decades, suggesting that historicity is not the main goal of the story. The point of the story is Daniel the superhero, the man with the Vegetarian diet who cannot be killed, refuses to cease worshiping God, and points out King's inadequacies. The narrative of Daniel is one of defiance in the face of foreign power. It's about worshiping God in the face of adversity.      
2) Daniel chapter two switches languages in the middle of verse four: from Hebrew to Aramaic. This suggests that the King spoke Aramaic, which is true. But after the King stops speaking, the text should go back to Hebrew, right? But it doesn't.The book of Daniel continues in Aramaic until chapter 8, where it switches to Hebrew. So, 7 chapters later, the author switches languages at random. Again, we do not know why this is. Maybe part of the scroll was torn and had to be replaced, but by someone who did not know Hebrew. That's one possibility. I imagine that this was another intentionality. The switching of languages to not return to the Hebrew for several chapters seems to be another jab at the Greek oppressors who banned writing in Hebrew. It shows the story of the Hebrews as one that has been interrupted by rulers of another language. Again, one could not speak out against the Greek government. But you can tell stories.
3) It's really funny. Daniel denies doing just about everything that the Greeks have demanded Hebrews do. He outmaneuvers them at every turn. They try to send him through 3 years of training, but two years later the king is begging him to interpret dreams. His friends are all given non-Hebrew names and demanded to worship a foreign god, they refuse, and no harm comes to them. Daniel is told to stop praying or else he'll get thrown in with the lions, he won't: and the lions can't touch him. No matter what comes in the book of Daniel, Hebrews survive while Kings, foreigners, and entire empires all perish. And why? Because Daniel is more faithful, he eats healthier (coincidentally, he's vegetarian), he prays more, and he seems to able to understand dreams and other mysteries. 
I am named after a different Daniel, my father, Danny. Alas, I am not Hebrew. But there is a reason that I chose Daniel for my son's middle name- and he isn't named after me or his grandfather. He's named after Daniel the Hebrew- be he a real person or a larger than life superman. I cannot guarantee that my son will inherit a better world than I have had, but I can promise that he'll have the same God. He will face his own lions in his day. And when he does, I hope he'll remember where his name comes from.   

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