In this series of posts on Daniel we are looking not at “Daniel the prophet” but at Daniel as a devout Jew and statesman-diplomat in the empire of Babylonia. Here, I want to finish talking about the kind of wisdom education he received, which we began in the previous post. We know from the text that Daniel received three years of formal tutoring in the city of Babylon, and that it was overseen by Ashpenaz, who ran an elite school of Chaldean instructors for the king. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
But first a question: How was the new pupil, Daniel, able to meet the requirements? Most likely, their education in wisdom did not start in Babylon but in Jerusalem before their capture and exile to Babylon. Daniel 1:4 states that King Nebuchadnezzar ordered Ashpenaz “to bring [to Babylon from Jerusalem] some Israelites of royal descent and nobility [who were] proficient in all wisdom, knowledgeable and intelligent, and capable of serving in the royal palace – and teach them the writing and the language of the Chaldeans” (Jewish Study Bible). Four such Israelites are then named in verse six: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
A number of things are being indicated here. One is that they were “proficient” in wisdom before going to Babylon. They had to be, in order to get into the Chaldean school. Proficiency implies a thorough competence that has been learned by training and practice, such as when we think of someone who is proficient in a foreign language. Ashpenaz must have had some kind of test for that, and the four passed it. Where did these young Israelites become proficient in wisdom? We find a clue, I believe, in the phrase “of royal descent and nobility.”
According to modern scholarship, the royal courts of the old-world Middle East (in Egypt, Israel, Babylonia, and elsewhere) ran both temple schools and wisdom schools, the latter probably usually connected with the former. Not to draw too strict a line in this, but a temple school, as its name implies, educated students in a nation’s religious ritual and ceremonial life, while wisdom schools covered what today we might call the liberal arts, where one would become “knowledgeable and intelligent” in many areas. (There is some indication that a wisdom school would ensure that its pupils had some instruction in a nation’s religious beliefs and system, although they were not being trained for its priesthood.).
Further, enrollment in a wisdom school was typically limited to those with royal and noble blood. It seems likely that Daniel and his three Jewish friends were young wisdom scholars at “Jerusalem College,” where they did their undergraduate work. My guess is that in Jerusalem Asphenaz learned of them, tested them, and found them at the top of the class. He then took them back to Babylon with him for three years (1:6) of graduate studies in wisdom, which included the “writing [literature] and the language of the Chaldeans.”
Having accredited Daniel and his three friends as standout scholars from “Jerusalem College,” Ashpenaz admits them to a specialized course of studies in the Chaldean Institute at “King’s University” in Babylon. There, they would receive the specialized tutoring requisite for holding positions of responsibility and power in the state. It would be a move from being proficient in wisdom to being highly skilled in wisdom.
Next time we will finish our brief exploration of Daniel’s wisdom education in Jerusalem and Babylon by looking at what it most likely consisted of.
©2014 by Charles Strohmer