DANIEL: PROPHET OR DIPLOMAT?

diplomacyThe book of Daniel is popularly known for its bizarre visions, puzzling symbolism, supernatural creatures, and strange events. As such, the book is often considered “apocalyptic,” with Daniel, the main character, being identified as an apocalyptist. (The Greek apokalypsis means: to uncover, to disclose, to bring revelation; an apocalyptist is someone who received such revelations and claimed insight into them from God. Other apocalyptic literature in the Bible includes chapters of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and the book of Revelation.)

More commonly, however, at least to Christians, is Daniel’s identity as a prophet. For Christians, this is understandable, given the book’s well-known placement in a section of the Christian Bible called “the Prophets.” And both identities typically focus on the second half of the book (chapters 7-12). Interestingly, the Jewish Bible gives Daniel a different status. The Jewish Bible has three main sections, the Law, the Prophets, and eleven books called the Writings, and Daniel has been placed in the latter. Jewish scholarship has placed only those biblical characters in the Prophets who are called nābî̓ (prophet); the only person called a prophet in Daniel (9:2) is Jeremiah.

Although the New Testament does, once, call Daniel a prophet (Matthew 24:15), and although the Old Testament notes that prophets receive visions and dreams from God (Numbers 12:6), as Daniel did, I nevertheless prefer the book’s placement in the Jewish Bible. For “the Writings” include books of the wisdom literature, such as Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, and books such as Ruth, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles that carry political and other narratives in which wisdom is either implied or stated as an agency in the analyses and decision making of high-level officials who were facing tough political, economic, or social predicaments.

The book’s placement in the Writings calls attention to the wisdom tradition and to Daniel’s vital role as a statesman and diplomat par excellence. That prominent role has been ignored, if not completely unseen, by the Christian teaching tradition, due to what I believe has been an inordinate interest in “Daniel the prophet.” But it is precisely Daniel’s role as a statesman and diplomat that affords a wealth of insight for today’s world of diplomacy, negotiations, and mediation.

All of this is by way of introduction to say that for the next several posts we will be looking at Daniel’s skillful wisdom as a statesman-diplomat. Over many years, what has interested me about the book has not been what has interested those who see Daniel as a prophet. I have tried to puzzle out different questions, those important to Daniel’s diplomatic skill. Insights in the following posts will be gleaned from these areas:

  • how a wisdom-based education in both Jerusalem and Babylon equipped Daniel with political and diplomatic skills;
  • Daniel’s meteoric rise to renown in the Babylonian royal court as a devout Jew serving with distinction at the highest levels of government;
  • his esprit de corps with colleagues who worshiped Babylonian gods;
  • how his wisdom-based way of reasoning bore fruit in political-religious controversies within the royal court;
  • Daniel’s irenic attitude and style of communication;
  • his non-retaliatory actions toward his political enemies;
  • his respect not only for the king but for those advisers called astrologers;
  • his relationship with his three Israelite colleagues, who were schooled in wisdom alongside Daniel;
  • the diverse, possibly contradictory, sticking points between each of these four devout Jews in Babylon.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

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