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Archive for April, 2012

The biblical book of Daniel delights in narrating the temporary collapse of the Babylonian king who held the Judaean exiles in captivity. Simultaneously, its author asks the reader to learn from the royal demise. If this kind of thing can happen to a pagan king, we are urged to consider, it can happen to anyone.

While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you! You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.’ Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws. (Daniel 4.31–33 NRSV)

The king goes animal before us. (more…)

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The best way to become wiser is to be wise in the first place.

Wisdom is a progressive ordering of one’s life. It is cumulative. The more one learns, the more one can learn. In the context of that blending of wisdom and apocalyptic traditions that occurs in the book of Daniel, a key criterion for Daniel’s reception of divine revelation when failure would have meant death was to have become wise prior to the crisis. (more…)

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It is not as though Daniel and his friends in the biblical book that bears his name lack credentials. The book’s introductory narrative places them among the cream of the Israelite exiles.

Then (the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar) commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace … (Daniel 1.3–4 ESV)

These men come from good stock and have made the most of the opportunities that good circumstance affords. They are scholar-athletes who have not apologized for the exertions required to discover wisdom and cultivate knowledge. Our populist ideology might fault them for having ‘pursued learning’. The text, by contrast, considers this to be evidence of their honorable nature. They are socially poised. Put these guys in any situation and they’ll know how to handle themselves.

Their shoes are shined. (more…)

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Daniel stands out in a superficial reading of the book that bears his name as a Golden Boy, a larger-than-life Man of Principle who was destined before time to stare down the powers and prove the superiority of Israel’s God in a pagan environment.

No reading undercuts the true nature of the text more easily than this facile understanding of heroism as a thing that simply had to be.

Real human beings never experience heroism as predetermined, an indelible script written into their days. After the glorious deed, the heroic figure is often more surprised than anyone that he turned out to be … well … a hero. (more…)

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The land is solid and unimaginative.

Meetings of farmers—men and women who work the land seldom sentimentalize it—are not hotbeds of speculation. Men and women of the soil are sensible folk with down-to-earth concerns and an eye on the bottom line.

You don’t debate the land. The land is what it isgiven.

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. (Proverbs 12:11 ESV)

Biblical wisdom, too, represents an existential terra firma. It is not given to flights of fancy, ruminations about the unseen, esoterica wrapped up in shiny paper. The wisdom tradition finds it hard to respect speculators. They are, at best, a distraction. At worst, they are fools. (more…)

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