ENDURING STICKING POINTS part 3 of 4

identityThe question I want to begin with, here, is why did the four Jewish friends have a sticking point about the king’s menu but not about a change at the heart of their identities? That is, they accept radically different personal names (Daniel 1:7). This must have been a most distasteful compromise to these devout Yahwists, whose birth names are in various ways associated with characteristics of the God of Israel. But when they enter the Chaldean Institute their Hebrew names are formally changed to denote various pagan gods. Although some of these names have not been satisfactorily explained, the following indicates the enormity of the changes:

  • “Hananiah” in Hebrew means Yah has favored [me]. His new name, “Shadrach,” means something like Command of Aku (Aku being a Mesopotamian lunar deity).
  • “Mishael” means Who is what God is? His name is changed to “Meshach,” Who is what Aku is?
  • “Azariah,” whose name means The Lord helps, gets saddled with the “Abednego,” Slave of Nego (or Nebo; Isaiah 46:1). (Some scholars believe that “Abednego” has a relation to “Aradnabu,” Servant of Nabu, who was King Nebuchadnezzar’s personal deity.)
  • “Daniel” – God is my judge or God will judge or Judge of God – becomes “Belteschazzar,” a name similar to “Belshazzar,” a king of Babylon (Daniel 5). Both names stem from “Bel,” the chief god of the Babylonians, but it is unclear what “Belteschazzar” meant, possibly Bel is my prince or Protects the prince’s life.

Personally, I think I would have eaten the king’s food but put my foot down about being called Baalzebub or some such thing. But if these guys had any qualms about being identified with pagan gods, the text is silent about that. Although they submitted to radical changes of name, imagine what it would have been like to have been told – you a pious Jew – to walk around with one of those names and respond to it all the time in the royal court.

So someone asks Daniel, “What’s your name, sir?” To which he has to reply, “Bel is my prince.” Just think what that must have cost his soul as a devout Yahwist. Would it not have been a sticking point for many godly Jews of the time, for whom any association with the gods of the nations was a religious bugaboo? Yet Daniel, who is certainly aware of this deeply inbred religious antipathy, makes not a peep of protest. Apparently it is not a mountain that he, or his three friends, are willing to die on.

Although the text is silent as to why this was not a sticking point for them, we may assume that the changed names was not meant to wipe out their religious identity, for the text is clear that they remained free to worship Yahweh and that they did indeed do that. This, in fact, is consistent with a certain amount of religious freedom that the empire of Babylon  was known for. Instead, the radical changes of name went to the heart of their Jewish national allegiance, and as such served a political purpose. As a political official of Babylon, no way would Daniel be permitted to answer his king or a foreign dignitary who asked “What’s your name?” with the Jewish implications of God is my judge.

If these four Jewish men, then, were to be fully integrated into the Babylonian government, if not into society itself, their allegiance to Israelite nationalism would have to go away, at least symbolically. As with Joseph in Egypt, they would need new names that matched their political status as Babylonian officials. Some scholars believe that the change of names was probably part of an official ceremony in which the four swore allegiance to Babylon as naturalized citizens.

In the next post we will look at two more controversial sticking points in the narrative of Daniel the statesman/diplomat.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by John Nicholls (used by permission via Creative Commons)

4 thoughts on “ENDURING STICKING POINTS part 3 of 4

  1. This leaves me with a lot of questions vis-a-vis some fundamentalist issues of Christianity culture: Christian names, monopoly claims over certain practices and the division between good and bad based on religious prejudices. Makes me think…

    I think it needs to spread this into US military forces on the ground in ME countries. Might change common people perception too.

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    • Alexandru, Nice to hear from you in Romania. Your point is well-taken. Insights like this one from Daniel have been making me think too! I think it relates to what Paul was on about in Romans 14. He makes a big deal of it in places like 1 Corinthians 1-2 and Romans 14. Apparently we don’t see it today.

      This links directly to your point about the US military, language, and perceptions in the ME. There are key people, I know one of them, who are very savvy about Islam and about this problem. They run seminars for the US military, including at the Pentagon, to address the problem. These “top down” education initiatives bear fruit, although, mind you, it remains an uphill battle, given the fact some deeply entrenched but dangerously silly views of America still have receptive audiences in the ME. (I’m not talking about legit gripes here.) But what increasingly concerns me is the lack of “bottom up” educational initiatives across America to address the same problem in reverse — the monolithic view of Muslims that has
      receptive audiences in the US.

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  2. Thanks Charles. I was reminded of the following passage from 2 Kings 5 regarding the healing of Naaman the commander of Syria’s army, by Elijah: 15 “He and his entire entourage returned to the prophet. Naaman came and stood before him. He said, “For sure I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel! Now, please accept a gift from your servant.” 16 But Elisha replied, “As certainly as the Lord lives (whom I serve), I will take nothing from you.” Naaman insisted that he take it, but he refused. 17 Naaman said, “If not, then please give your servant a load of dirt, enough for a pair of mules to carry, for your servant will never again offer a burnt offering or sacrifice to a god other than the Lord. 18 May the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to worship, and he leans on my arm and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” 19 Elisha said to him, “Go in peace.”

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    • Nice catch, Daegmund. And you must have been reading my unpublished notes! I came this close to including some thoughts about that incident with Naaman on this post, but the thing was getting too long, so I held back. I think we can learn something very cool about God’s mind and his grace from this incident, especially from Elisha’s valediction: “Go in shalom.” E.g., in a previous post we considered how the paths of wisdom were paths of shalom (https://wagingwisdom.com/2014/02/05/212/).

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