perspectivesI was recently with a group of friends and we were talking about how our perspectives limit our understanding of what we see going on around us everyday and in the news. Everyone in this room can experience the same event, one lady said, but we will all see it somewhat differently because of where we’re coming from. I will see something that “Tim” doesn’t see and he will see something that “Rick” doesn’t see. And I probably need to see what they see and listen to it, because I don’t see it all.

This of course is a fact of life that we are all aware of – just think of a traffic cop taking an accident report! But just as commonly we may not be aware of how much our individual perspective limits what we can imagine to be true. So someone says, You won’t believe what happened to me! And we may not believe it. Even if it’s true.

At the risk of oversimplifying this, let me say that our individual perspectives affect the way we relate to others and how we make decisions about things across the spectrum of life. How we vote. Where our children are schooled. What we think about the economy and our political leaders. The kind of entertainment we permit ourselves to enjoy. Who we turn to for counseling in crisis. Our views on spending and saving. What we think about climate change our nation’s foreign policy. The kind of church we attend, or why we don’t attend. What we drive, where we live, who our friends are. You get the picture. It’s your perspective on life and you are working it out all the time daily in the decisions you make.

The same principle holds true for how we experience the Bible and tell others about it. Just as I would tell that cop how I, myself, witnessed the car wreck, my perspective will also determine how I answer if someone asks What is the meaning of that Bible story? Of course, many people don’t experience the Bible at all. But even so, that is still a perspective. (A friend once told me that he had been talking to a guy who had never heard of Adam and Eve.)

For the past several weeks, we have been exploring the first half of the book of Daniel (chapters 1-6) through the perspective of the wisdom tradition. And here’s an important thing about that. That kind of engagement with the text has helped us to see a Daniel we may not have noticed before. Seeing Daniel through the lens of wisdom made possible insights into Daniel as a statesman/diplomat. Such insights do not emerge, in my experience, when one’s perspective is that of “Daniel the prophet.” You have to turn your head from looking at Daniel the prophet to see Daniel the diplomat.

As one recent commentator aptly said about the Daniel posts: They have “given me a great opportunity to look at him from a perspective that I have not considered. Our society and leaders could find a lot of value in the wise approach of Daniel.” To this I would just add that I hope it will also be of value to us lesser mortals every day, as we make decisions across the spectrum of life.

There is much more that can be said about Daniel the diplomat. But I want to move on now, to look further at what I often call “the diplomacy of wisdom,” as it is seen in other, perhaps surprising, places in Scripture. So let’s now turn our heads from “Ezra the priest” to see “Ezra the shuttle diplomat.”

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Aphrodite (permission via Creative Commons)


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)