Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Was the Prophet Daniel a Member of the Davidic Royal Family?

Michael, this one's for you.

One of the questions Michael (who's still off honeymooning) and I have been exploring in recent months is whether there is any Davidic imagery in the book of Daniel. In particular, we've been intrigued by connections such as the "Son of Man" imagery in the psalms of David (e.g., Psalm 8) and the famous messianic "Son of Man" in Daniel 7. There are many others which we will maybe discuss in future posts.

In the course of the conversations, Michael thought it would be very interesting support for this Davidic imagery if we could show that Daniel was perhaps a member of the royal house of David: i.e, that he may have been an heir to the throne. This was suggested to Michael by the opening verses of Daniel 1, which read:

In the third year of the riegn of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. ANd the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand... Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, the chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, handsome and skilful iin all wisdom, endowned with knowledge, understanding learngin, and competent to serve in the kings palan and to teach the the letters and langaue of the Chaldeans. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. (Dan 1:1-6)

In light of this verse, Michael and I were speculating that perhaps Daniel was not just one of the "people of Israel," but actually a member of the royal family and as such an heir to the Davidic throne. This would be important, because it would potentially heighten the significance of any Davidic imagery in the book of Daniel.

Sure enough, while reading a fascinating first-century A.D. Jewish work known as the Lives of the Prophets, I found the following tradition:

Daniel. This man was of the tribe of Judah, of the family of those prominent in the royal service, but yet while a child he was taken from Judea to the land of the Chaldeans. He was born in Upper Beth-horon, and he was a chaste man, so that the Judeans that that he was a eunuch (Lives of the Prophets 4:1-2)

In the footnote to this text, D.R.A. Hare states that "By combining Dan 1:3, 6 with Isa 39:7, Jewish tradition maintained that Daniel was a member of the royal family" (Charlesworth, OTP, 2:389). In support of this, he refers to both Isaiah and a text from Josephus:

Then Isaiah siad to Hezekiah, "Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: Behold the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothings shall be left says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who are born to you, shall be taken away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon." (Isa 39:5-7)

Even more explicit is Josephus:

Now Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, took some of the most noble of the Jews that were children, and the kinsmen of Zedekiah their king, such as were remarkably for their beauty of their bodies and comeliness of their countenances, and delivered them into the hands of tutors... He also made some of them to be eunuchs... Now among these there were four of the family of Zedekiah, of the most excellent dispositions, the one of whom was called Daniel... (Josephus, Antiquities 18.186-189)

One reason this is so significant (for those of you who may be wondering) is that if Daniel was actually a member of the family of Zedekiah--and thus an heir to the Davidic throne--then all of the "kingdom" imagery in the book of Daniel may not be simply generic "apocalyptic" imagery. It may in fact be (coded) Davidic imagery, and hence, by definition, messianic imagery.

All this plays into the debate over whether the "son of Man" in Daniel 7 is in fact the Messiah. Although the text does not explicitly say he is the "messiah" (although cf. Dan 9:24-27), if the "kingdom and dominion" that he receives is in fact the Davidic kingdom--and if it is an heir to the Davidic throne who is having this vision--then this is clearly a messianic text (which is how all the ancient Jews interpreted it, pace Joseph Fitzmyer). We'll do future posts on this, I'm sure, but let me just throw something out:

In Daniel 7, the "son of Man" comes and slays the beasts, in particular "the lion" (Babylonian empire) and "the bear" (the Medo-Persian empire), and then receives the "kingdom." Can you think of any other person who was famous for slaying "lions and bears" before he was elevated to receive a "kingdom"? I'll give you a hint... He's in the books of Samuel.

What's the poin then of Daniel 7? Eventually, the Davidic "son of Man" will triumph over the "beasts" of the pagan empires, and will reign over the universal "kingdom of God" (cf. Daniel 2) forever.

Of course, if Daniel's writing in the second century B.C., when the Davidic kingdom is long gone, none of this coded apocalyptic language makes any sense. But if he's writing during the reign of Babylon, when the Davidic empire is only freshly decimated and its heirs are captive, then all Davidic language and imagery would have to be secret. Which is exactly what we find in the book.

Just some thoughts. More to come.


Anonymous said...

Brant and Michael,

Interesting. If this is Davidic material, that would be VERY interesting. While the final form of the book may be second century (it would make more sense considering the place the book has in the TaNaK), the material could be very early. Something to consider about the date. Ben Sira does not seem to hold out much hope for a Davidic Messianic hope...he seems to be placing a "messianic" hope on the priesthood and the Covenant with Phineas. This makes perfect sense considering the timing...it would also influence the dating of any Davidic material within Daniel.


Charles Sommer

Michael Barber said...


Brant, this is so exciting. We might also point out that the "stone" imagery in Daniel 2 is likely related to Zion imagery--something that I believe may ultimately feed into what you're saying here. Obviously, there's so much more we could say about this (as we have on the phone)... but I suppose we can leak our findings slowly.

But the fact that Daniel was seen in the first century as a Davidide is HUGE. As with other things we've discovered lately, we have to scratch our heads here and ask: Why hasn't anyone told us this before? Why don't New Testament scholars take this into consideration when they examine the Danielic "son of man" sayings in the New Testament?

Awesome post!

Unknown said...

Daniel's ability in the court of Babylon to "interpret dreams" also reveals that he is superior than Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel has a mediating role (priestly) in revealing God's will. Daniel also has the gift of wisdom (a kingly role) because he can interpret signs.

The later Danielic imagery (the deuterocanonical parts) highlight Daniel as a "detective" and thus further stress his wisdom. This is a royal attribute.

Think about how Daniel uses wisdom to outwit the accusers of Susanna. This passage is Solomonic (and thus Davidic), because Daniel is able to see through deceit and make right judgments. (cf. Solomon's judgment concerning the two mothers and the dead and living baby for a parallel).

The wisdom of Daniel is perhaps one of the strongest kingly or royal clues of Daniel's Davidic identity.

Unknown said...

I made some more comments on Daniel and David specifically the imagery of exile over at my blog:


Anonymous said...

This is slighlty off topic but I just was stimulated by the first comments posts about Ben Sira do offer a few thoughts on the distinction between king and high priest, Melchizedek and Aaron.

The king acts in the temple of the macrocosm, on the stage of history, in the sphere of space and time; the high priest acts in the temple of the microcosm, on the stage of the sanctuary, in the sphere of the cultus.

The Melchizedek priest makes a cosmic-historical atonement, the Aaronic priest makes a cultic atonement (which is but the making present, and the applying, of the cosmic-historical atonement wrought by the Melchizedek priest).

All the prior covenants are cut by the Melchizedek priest that is the Son by means of servants with a small s: Noah, Abraham, Moses, David. Yet the ultimate covenant is cut by the Melchizedek priest not by meeans of a servant, but as the Servant with a capital S, incarnate as the Servant, the human nature hypostatically united to the divine in a way that all the previous, not even David, could ever be. But the old Aaronic priesthood had grown cold, and lived only off the covenants of old, and did not see the time of their visitation by the Melchizedek priest come not by menas of a servant, or by an angel, or by means of a messenger, but He Himself coming to save in the flesh as the Servant, and thus spurned Him, though in the process unwittingly assisting his making the ulitmate atonement, and in turn comissioning a new Aaronic priesthood to serve in a new sanctuary, making presentand applying the atonement wrought by their king, the Melchizedek lord of the new Jerusalem.

Banshee said...

Would Daniel then be the prototype of a "eunuch for the kingdom"? Someone taken out of the people and away from his normal status and family (royal in this case), but still helping the people?

F G L said...

Thanks, Michael !
I am professor of theology in Bucharest. I have found your blog by chance, when I was searching for some specific information about Daniel in Josephus. I was surprised to find in your article a connection between Daniel's Davidian origin and his apocalyptic messianic message, since this ia also my opinion. I have written some lines in my Master's dissertation, but not so definite as you did it on your blog. I would like to add that even the name Daniel must be a davidian identity mark, since in thos times, some specific names repeated in the same genealogy. The ONLY Daniel mentioned in genealogies before the prophet Daniel, is a son of David, born by Abigail (1Ch 3:1).
I appreciate especially the connection that you have made between the theme of beasts fighting in Daniel's(6-7)and David's experience. My adress is florin.laiu@gmail.com
Best regards !

twwlsn said...

All of the Sons of Zedekiah were killed in front of him before he was blinded and to sit at the end of the Kings table for the rest of his life.