DANIEL’S DIPLOMATIC SKILL: WHAT IT IS part 1 of 2

the thinerDaniel knows why he is being hauled off to Babylon from Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, he has been examined by Ashpenaz and passed the entrance exam to get into the elite Chaldean Institute of King’s College. Once in Babylon, at the end of the long arduous journey, his life will restart not only as an outsider in a different culture. He will be taking three years of postgraduate studies and then enter into the Babylonian king’s service (Daniel 1:6).

Think about it. Daniel, an Israelite and a devout Jew, knows that in the Chaldean institute of higher learning, and afterward as a royal court official, he will be thrust inescapably, like Joseph centuries earlier in Egypt, into long-term working relationships with all sorts of members of the royal court. Most of them will follow a religion that is quite different than his. And he will have to function amid networks of colleagues who have competing interests and agenda rivalries. There will be political enemies and power grabs.

I imagine a Daniel trudging along the road to Babylon pondering how in the heck he is going to safely negotiate the religious / political intersection of Babylonian diversity. He would have known something about that intersection and its challenges from his undergraduate studies in Jerusalem College, where he was also gaining diplomatic skills. He would gain more diplomatic skills at the Chaldean Institute, and he would need them in the royal court.

Interestingly, we get an insider-look at Daniel’s diplomatic skills early on, during a risky piece of negotiating he entered with Ashpenaz, his tutor. Not long after his tutoring begins, Daniel faces a tense situation that arose, of all things, his diet. There would have been more to the story, of course, than the abbreviated version in Daniel 1:5-16. Nevertheless, we are provided with some clues to Daniel’s wisdom-based diplomatic style.

From the word religious word “defile” (1:8), for instance, we have a big clue. I think we may safely assume that Daniel’s conversations with his don about getting off the royal food and wine of his diet would have included some heartfelt sharing on Daniel’s part about his religious beliefs and convictions, in hopes of convincing Ashpenaz to agree to the change of diet. Although the text at this point states that “God caused” Asphanez “to show favor and sympathy to Daniel” (1:9), the human element remains in play. If Daniel resorts to abusive speech or mocks the Babylonian religious system in hopes of getting his diet changed, no way that happens.

By this time, Daniel and Ashpenaz would have had months, at least, to get to know each other. It is likely that Daniel simply talked to Ashpenaz to explain that the royal diet violated the Jewish food laws as found in Deuteronomy chapter 14 and Leviticus chapter 11. I believe Daniel and Ashpenaz had some good dialogue about this, and I doubt if the topic surprised Ashpenaz. For we know from William McKane and other scholars that royal court officials such as Ashpenaz would have been required to have some working knowledge of foreign religious literature and beliefs.

Daniel’s goodwill and prudent speech toward this Babylonian official is also evident in another scene. And here is where things get tense. But we must pick that up next time.

(I have been advised by many “people in the know” to keep the posts short. If you prefer posts that are  longer, send an email or a comment to say why. Maybe the occasional longer posts is okay. I naturally think in long, compound-complex ideas, which is probably why I write books and struggle to condense how I think into short posts. Bit of an ironic way to stretch one’s thinking.)

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

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