Daniel 1 – “Four Judean Boys Arrive in Babylon”

legumesHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
King Nebuchadnezzar captures Judea, and he takes a group of first-rate boys back with him to Babylon. Although Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah choose to abstain from the king’s food and wine, God grants them strength, health, and wisdom. They quickly distinguish themselves from the rest of the group and find favor with the king.

II. Photo
While Nebuchadnezzar’s guards want to force-feed the boys, Daniel responds: “Please test your servants for ten days, giving us legumes to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the youths who eat of the king’s food, and do with your servants as you see fit.” (vv. 12-13) The plan worked – the four boys looked healthier than their counterparts.

III. Important Verses
vv. 3-6: Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief officer, to bring some Israelites of royal descent and of the nobility — youths without blemish, handsome, proficient in all wisdom, knowledgeable and intelligent, and capable of serving in the royal palace — and teach them the writings and the language of the Chaldeans. The king allotted daily rations to them from the king’s food and from the wine he drank. They were to be educated for three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s service.  Among them were the Judahites Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
v. 8: Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the king’s food or the wine he drank, so he sought permission of the chief officer not to defile himself,
v. 17: God made all four of these young men intelligent and proficient in all writings and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding of visions and dreams of all kinds.
vv. 19-20: The king spoke with them, and of them all none was equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so these entered the king’s service. Whenever the king put a question to them requiring wisdom and understanding, he found them to be ten times better than all the magicians and exorcists throughout his realm.

IV. Outline
1-2. Nebuchadnezzar conquers Judah
3-5. A group of noble Judeans are chosen to serve serve Nebuchadnezzar
6-7. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are introduced as being amongst the group
8-16. The four choose to eat legumes and drink water in place of the king’s food and wine, and they are in better shape than their peers
17. God grants the four wisdom
18-21. The four impress the king and outperform the other necromancers

V. Comment
Chapter 1 begins by relating how Daniel and his friends arrive in Babylon, and how they act once they arrived. Collins, who gives a succinct and discerning introduction to the book, writes the following: “The book of Daniel is exceptional in many respects. It is probably the latest composition in the Hebrew Bible. Like the book of Ezra, it is written partly in Hebrew and partly in Aramaic… Daniel is placed among the Writings [in the Hebrew Bible]. It may be that the canon of prophetic writings was already closed when Daniel was written. It may also be that the rabbis saw the book as having more in common with the Writings than with the Prophets.” (553)

He outlines the book as follows: “As found in the Hebrew Bible, the book falls into two sections. The first six chapters are stories about Daniel and his friends, who were allegedly among the exiles deported from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, at the Babylonian and Persian courts. The second half of the book, chapters 7-12, consists of a series of revelations to Daniel, which are explained to him by an angel… One of the oddities of the book is that the division by language does not fully coincide with the division by genre. Chapters 2-7 (strictly, 2:4b-7:28) are in Aramaic. Chapter 1 and chapters 8-12 are in Hebrew.” (ibid.)

In order to understand why the book takes the particular shape that it does, scholars speculate about the process of its composition. Collins writes, “It seems that the book was written in stages. The Aramaic stories in chapters 2-6 originally circulated independently. Chapter 1 was written as an introduction to these stories, presumably in Aramaic. The first of the visions, in chapter 7, was composed in Aramaic for continuity with the tales. The remaining chapters were added in Hebrew, presumably because of patriotic fervor at the time of the Maccabean revolt. The opening chapter was then translated into Hebrew, so that the beginning and end of the book would be in Hebrew, forming an inclusio. This explanation is, of course, hypothetical, but it gives a plausible account of the way the book took shape.” (553-554)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Minneaolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
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