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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Daniel 1



Verse 1

Introductory Daniel Prepared for His Work.

1. De Wette, Kuenen, etc., have called the date given in this verse “obviously false,” “a striking and characteristic misstatement,” because it makes the first year of Nebuchadnezzar coincide with the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim (608-597 B.C.), while Jeremiah (Jeremiah 35:1; Jeremiah 46:2; compare 2 Chronicles 36) makes it coincide with Jehoiakim’s fourth year. But Jeremiah almost certainly calls Nebuchadnezzar, who was only crown prince at the time of the Palestinian campaign (605 B.C.), “king” proleptically, which is a very permissible usage (Behrmann). Moreover, Jeremiah may be conceived as reckoning the accession year of this king as his first year, according to Jewish custom, while the author of Daniel, according to ordinary Babylonian usage, may have counted his first year as not beginning until the following New Year’s Day. (See our Introduction, III, 5; Society Biblical Archaeology, January, 1900.) On this supposition all contradictions vanish, the third year of Jehoiakim being the accession year of Nebuchadnezzar and his fourth year synchronizing with Nebuchadnezzar’s official “first year.” For Nebuchadnezzar see our Introduction, III, 3, (1); for Babylon see Introduction, III, 4. The cuneiform meaning of this name is “Gate of God,” but the discoveries at Kom Ombo, 1894, show Babylon spelt “Balbal,” with an evident play on the Semitic בלבל, “confound.” (Compare Genesis 11:9.)

Verse 2

2. Compare 2 Kings 23:35; 2 Kings 24:4; 2 Chronicles 36:5-8; Jeremiah 27:19-20.

Shinar — Probably the Hebrew form of the archaic name for Babylon (Konig).

Treasure house — Nebuchadnezzar and other Babylonian kings in many inscriptions speak of storing up in the temple silver, gold, precious stones, and rare treasures, as well as captives. (See Introduction, III, 4.)

Verse 3

3. Ashpenaz — Compare Genesis 10:3. This name as it stands is not Babylonian, but resembles Persian. It is found in several inscriptions of the Persian period. However, one recension and various early quotations, made probably from the original LXX., give a very different name here, Abiesdri, or Abriesdri, which Lenormant partially unites to the Hebrew, making the name Assa-ibn-zir, “the goddess has molded the germ.”

Master of his eunuchs — That is, courtiers. This title even Hugo Winckler, as late as 1890, supposed to be a mere Hebrew fiction, being, as he thought, absolutely unknown at the Assyrian or Babylonian court; but Mr. Pinches, in 1889, found on a brick in the British Museum this very name as a title of one of the highest Babylonian officials, the Hebrew Rab-sarisim (or Sar-sarisim, Daniel 1:7; Daniel 1:10), corresponding almost exactly with the Babylonian Rabu-saresu, “chief of the chiefs.” Noldeke has also found this as an hereditary title on a recently discovered Phoenician inscription (Revue des Etudes Juives, 1895, p. 119).

Of the king’s seed, and of the princes — This may refer to the children of the Babylonian king and his nobles. The word for “princes” is generally regarded as Persian.

Verse 4

4. These youths, who were selected to be schooled in “the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” in the royal palace, were perfect physically, and with a pleasing presence — a quality which was especially appreciated at the Babylonian court — having good intellectual faculties, being quick to learn with able powers of discrimination, possessed of easy manners and the polite accomplishments essential to courtiers. Jephet Ibu Ali, the Kararite, in his comments, says that they had ability, that is, “force of patience, to stand before the king and abstain from expectorating!” The ordinary “tongue” of the Chaldeans was, of course, the Babylonian, which comes to us in the cuneiform inscriptions, although several languages, including Aramaic and Assyrian, must have been studied in the schools of this period, as is shown by the contract tables and magic formulas. The Babylonian literature was very extensive, as also the trade and political relations of the court with far distant nations. (See Introduction, III, 2.) Assurbanipal’s library, which he says was “for the instruction of my subjects,” was that of the palace school, and the students were instructed in mathematics, botany, zoology, astronomy, astrology, and the literary use of their own and various other languages, being especially drilled in the study of the ancient religious texts, which were written in a dead language (Sum-Akk.). It may be that the Sumerian, or ancient Babylonian, is meant as the particular tongue of the Chaldeans or “wise men.” These “Chaldeans” were the dominant race who in the sixth century B.C. and for centuries afterward monopolized the highest priestly and learned offices. It is not strange that the words “Chaldean” and “sorcerer” became almost synonymous terms, “for the magic art formed so large a part of the Babylonian religion that it can almost be considered its characteristic feature” (Zimmern). In later times the Chaldeans practiced necromancy of the grossest kind, and most abominable to pious Jews. The word may be used here, however, in the earlier sense, “learned men.” (See Introduction, II, 8.)

Verse 5

5. Meat — Rather, dainties.

Verse 6-7

6, 7. It was quite the common thing for Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian kings to take new names themselves on special occasions, or give new names to members of the royal family. (Compare Genesis 41:45; 2 Kings 23:34; 2 Kings 24:17.) So Tiglath-pileser was also known as Pulu (compare 2 Kings 15:19); Shalmaneser, as Ulula’a; and Assurbanipal, when he placed the Egyptian prince Psammetichus at the head of a province, changed his name to Nebo-sezibani. Daniel (Hebrews, “God is my judge”) receives the name of Belteshazzar, probably a contraction of Bel-balatsu-usur, “Bel, protect his life” (Fr. Delitzsch). Most Assyriologists consider as hypercritical the remark of Professor Sayce that there is one letter wrong in the spelling of the Babylonian word corresponding to Belteshazzar, and that therefore we have here “a compound which has no sense and would be impossible in the Babylonian language.” It is now known that the Babylonian scribes even spelled the names of their own kings differently at different times, just as the Hebrew scribes spelled David one way in Kings and another in Chronicles. (See also note Daniel 4:8.) The companions of Daniel — who bear names meaning, respectively, “The Lord Jehovah is gracious,” “Who is like God” (or, “Who is what God is”), and “Jehovah is helper” — receive as new names Shadrach, Shudur-Aku (“Command of Aku” — Aku being the Babylonian moon-god); Meshach, a probable Babylonian original for which cannot be suggested; and Abednego, or rather Abed-Nebo (“Servant of Nebo”), a name which Sayce has himself found in an inscription of the fifth or sixth century B.C. The objection of Jewish copyists to writing the names of heathen deities may account for the change of consonants here. There are numbers of instances of Jews settled at Babylon taking Babylonian names. (See, for example, Records of the Past, 4:107; Zeits. fur Assy., 13:329, etc.)

Verse 8

8. Wesley suggests as reasons for Daniel’s action that many meats were forbidden by Jewish law: the meats of the royal table had been probably consecrated to idols; at any rate they would too greatly gratify the flesh and were unsuitable to the afflicted state of God’s people. The Talmud declares that after the destruction of the second temple many Israelites would not eat meat, since it could no longer be offered on the altar according to the law; but in Daniel 9:3, and Daniel 10:3, the “fasting” is a preparation for expected revelations (as Exodus 34:28). Jephet Ibu (eleventh century) represents the spirit of the second century B.C., and perhaps earlier, when he explains, “They would not defile themselves with food prepared by Gentiles.” Behrmann points out, however, that there is no indication that the vegetable food they did eat was prepared by their own hands.

Verses 9-16

9-16. The Rab-saris objected to the proposed change of diet — to pulse (vegetables) and water — out of “favor and compassion” for Daniel (Daniel 1:9, R.V.), and for fear of his own life if the boys should attract attention by their inferior appearance and it should thus be discovered that the royal orders concerning food had been disobeyed; but finally his assistant (Daniel 1:11) consented to a ten days’ experiment, which was so successful that all objections were removed. Melzar (Hebrews, the Melzar) is probably not a proper name but an official title: “steward” (R.V.) or “chief butler” (Haugh) or “pedagogue’’ (Hitzig). Lenormant thinks it corresponds to the Amil-ussur, or “treasurer,” an official prominent at the Assyrian court; but later Assyriologists have derived it from mazzar, “overseer” or “guardian.”

Verse 17

17. God gave these four Hebrew youths “knowledge and skill in every kind of books” (Hebrews) The Hebrews wrote their books generally upon parchment, the Egyptians upon papyrus, the Babylonians upon clay tablets. These tablets were stored by hundreds of thousands in the palace library, and so arranged as to be easily accessible to visitors and students. The princes who were to be fitted for state offices would no doubt have a special post-graduate course differing from that provided for those who were to be priests or “magicians,’’ but the preliminary training might be the same in both cases. It seems strange to many that these boys who were so scrupulous about touching heathen food (Daniel 1:8) would so eagerly grasp the heathen learning; but they might not have seen that this was necessarily connected with idolatry. They certainly are not represented as accepting the religion of Babylon with its other wisdom.

Visions and dreams — Both the Babylonians and the Hebrews believed that the divine will was often revealed to man through this agency. (See Daniel 2:1; Genesis 41:15; Numbers 12:6.) No doubt the study of omens and dreams was a prominent part of the curriculum of the Babylonian schools, and there is no reason to suppose that a Hebrew youth at this era would doubt its value, although in later ages heathen learning of every kind became abominable in their eyes.

Verses 18-20

18-20. At the end of a three years’ course of study (Daniel 1:5) the examination not only showed the fitness of these youths to stand before the king (Daniel 1:19), that is, as royal attendants (Bevan); but when questions were propounded on dark subjects their answers showed more insight than those of the king’s most aged and learned counselors. This statement probably has reference to the events related in chap. 2. This verse is so changed in various translations that Thomson would drop it out altogether as a later interpolation. Wyclif’s translation, though not of critical value, is curious enough to quote: “And eche word of Wysdam and vndirstondyng, that the Kyng axide of him, he fonde in him the tenthe folde ouer alle dyvynours and witch is that everen in alle the rewme of hym.”

Verse 21

21. For Cyrus see Introduction, III, 3, (6). If continued (Hebrews, was) means in this connection “remained alive,” as many suppose, and as seems a very natural sense, then this verse contradicts Daniel 10:1. Several explanations are offered: certain words may have dropped out of the text (for example, “in the king’s court”); or “first” is a copyist’s blunder for “third;” or, as it was some time after the capture of Babylon before Cyrus took the title “King of Babylon” [Introduction, III, 3, (5); 4], this first year as king of Babylon might coincide with his third year as “king of Persia” (see Introduction, II, 8). While no explanation relieves the matter of difficulty, it is so incredible that a writer would have permitted a plain contradiction to remain uncorrected in his original treatise that it seems likely either that the author had a satisfactory explanation of the discrepancy or else that this verse, as Prince maintains, is a marginal note which has slipped by accident into the text.


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Daniel 1:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

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