old village lifeWe may perhaps first learn something about Daniel’s diplomatic skill by way of contrast to something we may be more familiar with. His attitude and manner of speech is quite unlike the way the biblical prophets typically communicated to rulers and policymakers. The prophetic literature of the Bible shows us prophets who are frequently confrontative and who often go for the jugular. The prophets aggressively publicly declare unjust policies, and it is not unusual for them to use scornful or inflammatory rhetoric to indict the leaders and decision makers who implemented the policies, as well as the populations who accept them.

Examples abound. Here is just one. Having first ridiculed the gods of Babylonia (chapter 46), Isaiah then turns his sights on the nation itself and its policies. This is about two centuries before  the time of Daniel. Toward one of the regions great powers, who apparently prided herself an empress, Isaiah’s language drips with sarcasm. To summarize Isaiah 47:1-10:

Come down off your throne; sit on the ground without a throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans. Take millstones and grind flour. Sit in silence and go into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans. No more will you be called queen of kingdoms, even though you said I will be a queen forever. Yet you are a wanton creature, lounging in your security. But widowhood and loss of children will overtake you on a single day. You have trusted in your wickedness; your wisdom and knowledge have misled you.

That is a pretty invidious comparison. It is difficult for us moderns to imagine how humiliatingly disgraceful the image would have been to Babylonian rulers. To feel its sting, imagine something like the Archbishop of Canterbury prophesying that England is to end in ruins and her queen will not only be sent from the palace but forced to live the rest of her life as the poorest of commoners, reduced to the condition of a slave grinding flour.

In short, the prophets do not seem to care about what diplomats care about, negotiations. Abusive speech, sarcasm, scorn, aggressively confrontational public rhetoric, and suchlike are not the diplomatic way. Diplomacy is the art of negotiations and wisdom is an agency of judicious speech (Proverbs 16:23). This befits diplomats and it is a skill we see in Daniel early on, during a risky piece of negotiations. We’ll explore this next time.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer


wisdom traditionThis is the third of four posts that consider Daniel’s wisdom-based education in Jerusalem and Babylon. The approach I am taking is not that of “Daniel the prophet” but of “Daniel the statesman-diplomat.” In this post we will consider some little known, but highly significant, aspects of his wisdom-based training.

When people, especially Christians, think about how Daniel was educated they typically think “Babylon,” where his education would most likely have included gaining knowledge of what today we call occult, or esoteric, or irrational, beliefs and practices. In the old-world Middle East, professionals in astrology, divination, magical customs, and dream interpretation were integral to the royal court and its politics. Their opinions were turned in to the king as commonly and normally as any cabinet secretary today would send in his or her reports to a president or a prime minister.

This is not the place to enter into that discussion, except to acknowledge that an array of scholarship makes that conclusion credible. Apparently, then, Daniel and the three other budding Jewish scholars from Jerusalem were put through a course of studies in the Babylonian royal court that no card-carrying Evangelical today would entertain!

(The sarcastic polemic against the entire government of Babylon in Isaiah chapter 47 implicates the esotericists whom the king of Babylon relied on to shape the policies that Isaiah denounced. This indicates how systemic the irrational sciences were in the policies of that government.)

There is another view, which I have only heard from Christians. As devout Jews, Daniel and his three friends would never have allowed themselves to be taught “occult” subjects – given the stern warnings in the torah against such practices. But that conclusion is not supported by the Daniel chapter 1 text nor indicated by modern scholarship. This, I think, has to do with their sticking points, a topics to be explore in a future post.

The Jewish and Christian way to understanding this situation can be found in the fact that the book of Daniel never shows any of the four, at any time, practicing what their Scripture condemns. That is, it is one thing to know something about “the occult,” as many respected Christian apologists do; it is quite another thing to put what you know into practice as a believer in it. In short, as the book makes clear, Daniel’s guidance comes not from divination or the stars but from God. In other words, Daniel and his three Jewish friends did not have faith in the esoteric practices, as their Chaldean colleagues would have had.

What is not usually known, however, but what is in fact highly significant, is that their studies in wisdom, in both Jerusalem and Babylon, would have included foreign languages and literature and what today we call public affairs, political science, military history, international relations, and much more. Of course we cannot know infallibly what they were taught, but modern scholarship has reached consensus on a number of areas. We will explore these important areas of their wisdom education in the next post. Their relevance to today is pretty amazing.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer


diplomacyIn 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


wisdom traditionDaniel, a devout Jew, held a highly distinguished political career in the nation of Babylonia. He served at the highest levels of that government throughout successive administrations and was numbered among an elite class of advisers to the king. These advisers were known as maskilim, which is the Chaldean-Babylonian equivalent of hakamim, a Hebrew word to designate “the wise.”

What I have seen in the book of Daniel is a Daniel with an advanced degree of skill in wisdom that enabled him to function consistently diplomatically with a peaceably relational approach to people and situations. This was true even when he faced political enemies and death threats. Here is a statesman / diplomat whose response to adversarial relations, injustice, and conflict was quite unlike what is typically heard in the polemics of a biblical prophet. It is certainly different than the polarizing rants, if not the demonizing of the other, that can be heard coming out of some quarters in America and the Middle East today. Daniel’s was a peaceable, albeit a personally challenging, wisdom. It gained him the respect and favor of the kings he served. And it was instrumental in effecting deep changes of mind in the kings and in some of their policies.

But Daniel did not become an elite adviser because someone waved a magic wand over him. He paid his dues. And what dues they were! They began with the privileged, wisdom-based education he received in the Babylonian royal court. Here are some facts about that, often glossed over or ignored because their implications are rather astounding.

In the opening scene of the book, Daniel and three other promising young Israelite scholars (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) are captives being taken into exile from Jerusalem to the city of Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. Immediately we learn that

The king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief officer, to bring some Israelites of royal descent and nobility – youths without blemish, handsome, 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…. They were to be educated for three years, at the end of which they were to enter into the king’s service. (Daniel 1:4-5, Jewish Study Bible)

Here is my understanding of that text, starting with a word about “the Chaldeans.” Unlike the Jewish Study Bible, most contemporary English translations have “the Babylonians” in Daniel 1:4. This is unfortunate. Babylonia (the empire not the city) comprised a very heterogenous population, and the Chaldeans, like the Israelites and many others, had been absorbed by Babylonia when it was a regional superpower.

Daniel 1:4 is not about the Babylonian population in general, with its mixed and conquered peoples, although that is the context in places such as Daniel 5:30 and 9:1, where “Babylonian” is the correct word. In Daniel 1:4, however, the context is an elite group of Chaldean officials in the royal court. Thus “Chaldean” is necessarily used for this more restrictive sense to qualify the phrase “the writing [literature] and the language” (of the Chaldeans). What is being referenced is a class of priests and learned (wise) men, or magi, in the Babylonian royal court.

In our text, Ashpenaz is tasked with examining the four young Hebrew men to see if they qualify for what we could call the “Chaldean Institute of King’s College.” If admitted, they would enter an elite tutoring program leading to prestigious positions as the king’s councilors. The four budding scholars met the admission requirements for that higher education.

Question: How were they able to meet the requirements? Apparently their education in wisdom did not start in Babylon. We will consider why in the next post in this series, where we look more closely at Daniel 1:4.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer


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