Daniel 6:6-27 is written in Aramaic not Hebrew as most of the Old Testament is written. Scholars wonder why.

December 2, 2012

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Commentary on Daniel 6:6-27

Daniel 6:6-27 is written in Aramaic not Hebrew as most of the Old Testament is written. Scholars wonder why.

Some suggest that this is to confuse the Persian oppressors. But Aramaic was the language of the empire so that theory falls flat. Some argue that the whole book was written in Aramaic and only later translated to Hebrew, but then one would have to explain why parts were left untranslated. Probably the most compelling argument comes from André Lacocque, a French immigrant to the United States. He observes that there is something about bilingualism. It focuses the power relationships through the use of language. Bilingualism demonstrates the way language reflects its own sort of power.

Transitory Empires Incompetent Kings

The story begins in the period of the Persian Empire. The Persian Empire replaced the Babylonian empire as the power in the biblical world beginning in 539 BCE. The Babylonian Empire was ruled through a process of incompetent bureaucracy and inept leadership. Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BCE) displaced the Assyrian Empire at the battle of Carchemish (605 BCE) and annexed ancient Judah in 597; he took Jehoiachin captive in Babylonia and destroyed Jerusalem in 587 BCE after Nebuchadnezzar’s puppet Zedekiah made a treaty with Egypt and rebelled against his Babylonian patron.

The leadership after Nebuchadnezzar was not as able. Amel-Marduk (who is called the evil Merodach in Jeremiah 39:31) released the captive Jehoiachin from a 37-year imprisonment. Nereglissar (560-556 BCE) killed his brother-in-law Amel Marduk in order to claim the throne of Babylon. However, this usurper was ousted by Nabonidus (556-539 BCE) who was the son of Adad-guppi, priestess of the god Sin in Haran and seized the throne as an older man.

Empires come and go. Every empire eventually runs out of gas. Empires change but they always need trained experts. The Book of Genesis gives us the description of Joseph, the Hebrew in the Egyptian. Daniel like his predecessor Joseph is wise courtier among the Gentiles.

This story seems to describe the reign of Darius I (522-486 BCE) a prominent Persian king. But when the empire changed the story got a second lease on life in the Hellenistic empire (333-63 BCE). When the empire is about to shift, Joseph and Daniel continue to serve as models.

The Contest

Like the Book of Esther this passage depicts jealous Gentile bureaucrats (Haman = presidents and satrapies attempting to diminish the power of Jewish bureaucrats). We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God. (Daniel 6:5)
The strategy is to force the hand of Daniel and the Jews by making syncretism and blasphemy as imperial law; the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict: “that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions” (6:7 NRS).

This decree and the plot would be parallel to Daniel 3. Both have a naïve monarch who forces the observant Jews to resort to civil disobedience. In Daniel 3, the bad Babylonian monarch Nebuchadnezzar is depicted as angry with the Jewish bureaucrats Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednegdo. However, in chapter six we have a Persian ruler Darius who is guilty of little other than the being manipulated by the Gentile leaders, presidents, and satraps. It seems the editor wants us know that the Babylonian Empire was worse than the Persian Empire.

Now the enemies of Daniel knew their procedure. In fact, they used that knowledge to subvert the king’s affection for Daniel. They knew once they secured a court ruling “according to the laws of the Medes and the Persians which cannot be revoked”(Daniel 6:8b). Even at the end of the day the good oppressor cannot overcome the press of the empire on his favorite slaves.

The story goes out of its way to make clear that there are those who will use our faith in justice and Jesus against us. When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him (6:14). At the end of the day, Pharaoh cannot help you when you choose Jesus and justice. The king was ineffectual but the living God was not. When Daniel heard the new law that ended his religious freedom, he did not go into hiding with his faith. Daniel was still public with his faith

They placed Daniel in the lion’s den, behind a great stone. The king sealed the tomb with his signet ring. Daniel had been in the heart of the empire but now he was going from the frying pan into the fire so to speak. The lion is a tool of the empire. The territorial lion — the victims of the empire — were thrust into the lion’s space.

Once again we see the ineffectual king and the competent believer, Daniel. But the good king went back to his house and could not eat or sleep. “Then, at the break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of the lions… [the king] cried out anxiously to Daniel, ‘O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?'” (6:19-20). The language I find interesting here: “Was God able?”

This prompted Daniel to testify, “My God sent an angel and shut the mouth of the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me” (6:22). Daniel’s testimony continues: God found me blameless. In the sight of the world, Daniel broke the law but in sight of God, he was blameless.

In Daniel 6, like the book of Esther and Daniel 3, the Gentile enemies of the Jews paid the price. Haman was hung on the gallows he had built for the Jews. Those who accused the three boys were thrown into the fiery furnace and here the accusers and their entire family were thrown into the lions’ den but because they were not blameless, they were destroyed.

God of deliverance,
You rescued Daniel from the mouths of the lions when he was punished for worshiping you. Liberate all who are endangered for the sake of their faith, and rescue us from anything that separates us from worshiping only you, for the sake of the one who made your name known to all people, across land and seas, Jesus Christ, our redeemer. Amen.

Creator of the stars of night   ELW 245, H82 60, UMH 692, NCH 111
The glory of these forty days   ELW 320, Verses 3, 4, H82 143
Blessed be the God of Israel   ELW 250, UMH 209

We are waiting, William Paxson