DIPLOMATIC ESPRIT DE CORPS

wisdom of pulling togetherIf we think about their political or religious ideologies as individuals, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavaro live in three different worlds. It is hard to image them ever being friends who just hang out together. But when they are functioning in their roles as diplomats negotiating with one another, an esprit de corps exists among them as members of an elite international community. This too could seem rather surprising, actually, given that they are representatives of nations whose foreign policies often clash.

But this is part of diplomatic life on the international stage. We can see it in action in Daniel’s life as a statesman-diplomat. Although a devout Jew, his esprit de corps with his Chaldean colleagues in government is apparent. In previous posts we have seen a Daniel who, in the wisdom schools of both Jerusalem and Babylon, was tutored in a style and tone of communication and behavior to function as diplomatic official and negotiator. This, we saw, contrasted to the style and tone of someone functioning in the prophetic tradition.

Spokespersons in the prophetic style, at least in the Bible, were often sharply confrontative when speaking the truth to power. Unlike negotiators, the prophets do not seem to be interested in reaching midpoints conducive to common ground agreements across boundaries. One cannot imagine Elijah the prophet sitting across the table trying to find common ground with the prophets of Baal. “A sword against the Babylonians!” the prophet Jeremiah shouts (50:35), with an eye to its officials (śārîm) and wise men (hakāmīm), whose policies are arrogant and oppressive. That is hardly the cry of a diplomat. Examples such as these are easy to come by in the prophetic literature.

There is no negotiating with a prophet who is making absolute demands. But we never see Daniel doing that, and there is no indication in the book of Daniel that he ever would have done so in any of his roles as a government official in Babylon. Bellicosity just does not seem to have been part of Daniel’s DNA. It is not that Daniel does not hold strong religious convictions, or that he is a Caspar Milkquetoast, or that he is blind to the core differences between his worldview and that of the his Chaldean colleagues.

What’s the deal then? Look at it this way. “War of words” is not an image synonymous with the peaceableness of the wisdom tradition. Further, Daniel is in Babylon and he has been told by Jeremiah to seek the shalom of the city.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace [shalom] and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Jeremiah 29:4-7

It would seem unlikely that Daniel had not read, or had not been apprised of, the contents of, that letter from Jeremiah to the Jewish exiles in Babylon to seek the peace (shalom) of the city. Having been trained in wisdom, both in Jerusalem and in Babylon, Daniel would know exactly what Jeremiah was on about. And through his training in the wisdom schools he would know how to lead and model shalom in what for the Jews was nightmare situation (see the book of Lamentations).

Next time we will look at how Daniel’s esprit de corp with his Chaldean colleagues played a role in taking Jeremiah’s words to heart amid a life-threatening situation.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

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