Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

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Ruth IMDb>
If you were making a movie of the Book of Ruth, how would you spin it?

Characters in order of appearance

It is the period of the Judges, after the Israelites have settled in the land, but before the time of the kings. Elimelech comes from Bethlehem, which makes it likely he’s from the tribe of Judah. This is confirmed when we learn that his relation, Boaz, is from the tribe of Judah.

Elimelech left the Land of Israel because of famine and went to live in Moab which was geographically roughly where Jordan would be today. The Moabites were often hostile to the Israelites, but they had a distant shared ancestry, being descended from Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The Moabites were polytheists and their chief god was Chemosh. According to 2 Kings 3:27, human sacrifice was not unknown.

Chapter I verse 3-4 of Ruth gives the impression that Elimelech died before his two sons married Moabite women.

He was survived by his wife Naomi, and two sons, Mahlon (מחלון) and Chilion (כליון).

Like his brother, he was born in Bethlehem. His name is associated with a Hebrew verb which means ‘to blot out, or erase. Although saddled with this unfortunate name, he survived ten years after his marriage to Ruth the Moabitess, during which time, they continued to reside in Moab. Another view of the name Mahlon is that it derives from mehilah, forgiveness, but I think this may be a Talmudic rather than a biblical word.

His name is associated with being completed or finished. He also married a Moabite woman, Orpah, and lived ten years in Moab. Like Mahlon, he died without having children. We do not know his age at death, nor the age of his brother. It seems likely that they the brothers were adults when they got married as it is unlikely their father would betroth them from childhood to non-Israelite women.

The two brothers are something like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; there is not much discernible difference between them.

The scriptwriter could do what he or she wishes, in order to differentiate their characters.

Bereaved of husband and sons and learning that the famine in Judah is over, Naomi resolves to leave Moab and return home. She is well-disposed to her daughters-in-law and wishes them a happy furure, but neither expects nor needs them to accompany her. She is bitterly aware that it is too late for her to have more children, but reminds her daughters-in-law that it is not too late for them. She accepts the situation when Ruth insists on going with her.

When she and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem, she is so changed by time and suffering, that the women say ‘Is this Naomi?’ The name Naomi means ‘pleasant’ and she answers the women: ‘Don’t call me Naomi, call me Marah (bitter), because the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.’

She encourages (lah lechi biti) Ruth to go to the field to glean corn, which was a means of livelihood for the indigent. It is only when Ruth comes back talking of Boaz that Naomi realizes the positive implications. She knows that Boaz was a kinsman of her late husband, and that he has responsibilities to herself and Ruth. She advises Ruth to glean only in Boaz’s fields.

Before long, Naomi tells Ruth that, seeking her well-being, she has a cunning plan: Ruth should dress up, then go to Boaz in the night and lie down with him. When she says to Ruth ‘He will tell you what to do,’ she may be thinking that Ruth will prompt Boaz to awareness of his duty, as a kinsman to the women, just as Tamar the ancestress of Boaz, prompted Judah to awareness.

Naomi does not, in so many words, tell Ruth to seduce him. The scriptwriter of this film must decide how to write this piece of dialogue between Naomi and Ruth.

The first thing Naomi asks, when Ruth returns from her night with Boaz, is ‘Who are you, my daughter?’ It is an enigmatic question.

Ruth has complete trust in Naomi, and tells her everything.

We learn that Naomi has inherited some land from Elimelech. Whoever buys the land from Naomi must marry Ruth, for this is the duty to Elimelech and his deceased sons.
Boaz buys the land and marries Ruth. When their son is born, the local women rejoice for Naomi, as if this were her grandchild, which, indeed the child is in a way, although they do not have DNA in common. So strong is the connection between Naomi and her daughter-in-law and so strong the obligation of Boaz to the family of Elimelech, that the women say ‘A son is born to Naomi.’

Like Ruth, Orpah clings to Naomi and resists going home, yet Naomi’s words persuade her to turn back to her own people.

There’s a midrash which makes Ruth and Orpah sisters, princesses, daughters of king Eglon of Moab. Another midrash makes Orpah very promiscuous, and the mother or grandmother of Goliath.

I suggest that the bible offers enough drama for our film, and that, if we turn to midrashim, the volume of possible sources will complicate matters.

What we see from the biblical account is that Orpah was fond enough of Naomi to want to stay with her, and had sufficient ties with her country and people to want to be with them.

If you think we should use midrash to flesh out Orpah’s story, we can show her liaison with a character who appears in my cast list as Rowdy Philistine.

Her significant relationships, as far as we can tell, are with Mahlon, Naomi and Boaz. We do not know if she loved her husband Mahlon, or mourns for him, but we know that she wants to stay with Naomi, until death parts them, living with her, converting to her religion, and being buried near her. During ten years of marriage to Mahlon, she did not convert to Judaism, so why now. If I were writing the film script, I would have a scenario where ruth is in love with Naomi.

In Bethlehem, Ruth wants to glean in the fields for their subsistence. She responds gratefully and modestly when Boaz, the land owner, shows her kindness and generosity. She is frank about being a foreigner.

She goes home, shares the barley she gleaned with Naomi and tells her everything that has happened.

She obeys Naomi without question, going to the threshing-floor where Boaz is asleep.
So honest is Ruth that she explains her presence next to him thus: ‘I am Ruth, your handmaiden. Spread your wing/covering over your handmaiden for you are a redeemer/near kinsman.’ This is a direct reference to a verse in Leviticus:

If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold

Leviticus 25:25

The wing metaphor recalls Boaz’s words about Ruth taking refuge under the wings of the God of Israel. Alternatively, she may be asking him to spread his covering over her, but, although this is more intimate, the word canaf, meaning wing, is the word Boaz used about God’s protection.

Obeying Boaz, Ruth leaves the threshing-floor early in the morning. She is laden with barley which she takes home to Naomi and tells Naomi, as the bible says, ‘everything the man had done to her.’ (Ruth 3:16)

Ruth does not have a speaking part after this but we learn that Boaz marries her and they have a son, Obed,who will be the grandfather of David. The name Obed means servant. By chance, it resembles the word ‘obedient’ in both sound and meaning, but obedient comes from Latin, obedire (connected with audire, to listen).

The book of Ruth may have been written as a justification of marriage between Israelite men and Moabite women. Ezra and Nehemiah were strongly against such unions, but not everyone agreed, and, if King David’s grandmother was a Moabitess, this consideration would tilt the scales in favour of this kind of mixed marriage.

Rowdy Philistine
This extra-biblical character need only appear if you wish to develop Orpah’s story line.

Bethlehemite Women 1 and 2
These are both single line parts.

First woman: Is this Naomi?
Second woman: No way!

They recognize Naomi, but notice the great change which tragedy has wrought.

When casting Boaz, you will need to consider his age and the nature of his interest in Ruth. According to some midrashim, Boaz was elderly (Ruth Rabbah 6:2) and did not even survive his wedding night. So you might want to think twice before casting George Clooney, or an even younger man. I’d quite like to see Sir Ben Kingsley as Boaz.

You could also use dramatic licence to make Naomi rather than Ruth the object of his affection.

The bible describes Boaz as a mighty man of valour or of substance: this could refer to a military past, wealth or personal probity. He certainly owns land and employs reapers, who are in the charge of a servant.

I am picturing Jean Valjean during his period as Monsieur Madeleine, the factory owner.

We see from direct speech Boaz is a devout and kindly man, esteemed by his employees. (Ruth 2:4)

He enquires about Ruth and the servant tells him that she is a foreigner from the land of Moab, specifically a young woman (naarah). So if we think the ten years of marriage have brought Ruth beyond girlhood, this seems not to be the case.

Boaz then tells Ruth to stay in his fields and glean freely, among the other girls, who we assume are Israelite, or Ruth’s foreignness would not have been mentioned by the servant. He tells Ruth he has forbidden the young men, workers or gleaners, to touch her.

Does he single her out because she is foreign (love the stranger), or because he knows of her loyalty to Naomi or because he is attracted to her?

Ruth bows in gratitude and asks Boaz precisely this question, what has she done to deserve his kind attention? His answer is that he knows about her praiseworthy conduct. He says

‘…a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”

At meal time, he asks her to sit near him, where she could reach the best things on the table. Ruth, who is modest and unassuming, sits beside the reapers, who pass the food to her. The reapers are Boaz’s staff, while Ruth is one of the poor people gleaning in the corners of the field. A question for the director and scriptwriter: does Boaz sit with the reapers and is Ruth actually sitting close to Boaz, as invited, or has she maintained some distance between them?
Boaz makes sure that Ruth has access to the best of the corn. One could certainly be excused for thinking he was smitten.

Boaz, a hard-working and hands-on land owner, sleeps on the threshing floor where the grain is threshed. He has eaten and drunk and is feeling good as he falls asleep. The authors of a midrash said that he felt good because he’d been studying Torah, not, in case you thought it, because of drink. I couldn’t possibly comment.

His reaction when he wakes to find Ruth beside him does not sound lustful; on the contrary, her presence reminds him of his halakhic duty to his late kinsman Elimelech. By Ruth’s few words, ‘…for you are a near kinsman,’ he understands her purpose and his duty. He praises her because she has not taken an interest in any of the young men, another indicator that he is well past youth and says he will do all she says – although Ruth seems to have said so little.

He explains that there is a nearer kinsman than himself and he will approach this man to see if he will fulfil the duty of the goel. If not, Boaz will marry Ruth. It is hardly a romantic scenario, and although Boaz asks Ruth to remain until morning. Is this to avoid being seen? It seems more likely that she will be seen if she slips away in daylight. Boaz gives her a present of barley, a large, heavy quantity to take back to Naomi.

The same day, Boaz goes to ‘the gate’ where public and commercial affairs are conducted. He finds the nearer kinsman there and calls to him, addressing him as ‘You,’ or ‘So-and-so’ or possibly ‘Yo, dude.’ The Hebrew term is Ploni Almoni, the biblical and Talmudic equivalent of John Smith, Joe Bloggs or Jon Doe. Alternatively, boaz addresses the man by his name, but the scriptural author does not choose to record it.

Boaz explains the situation, an aspect, which we, the readers, did not know: Naomi is selling land which she inherited from her husband. Ploni Almoni has first refusal. Only when Ploni Almoni has jumped at the chance of land acquisition does boaz make it clear that the land comes with marriage to Ruth. You can’t have one without the other.

The kinsman now withdraws and Boaz declares to the elders and witnesses at the gate that he himself will marry Ruth, the widow of Mahlon, so that the name of the late husband will not be lost.

Boaz and Ruth have a son, Oded and the book of Ruth ends with a genealogy which shows David’s descent from Ruth and Boaz. Mahlon’s name is not mentioned in the list of David’s forbears.

Ploni Almoni
This is called a ‘placeholder’ name – according to Wikipedia, most languages use this device, officially or unofficially to denote someone whose name is irrelevant or unknown.

In the Septuagint, Boaz addresses him as ‘Secret one’: Ὠδε κρυφιε.

Rashi, the 11th century commentator on Tanakh and Talmud, had an interesting view. Ploni Almoni’s name was concealed from posterity because he was at fault in rejecting Ruth. When he worried about ruining his heritage by marriage with a Moabitess, he was misinterpreting Torah, which forbids marriage with an Ammonite or Moabite – masculine nouns – but does not forbid marriages with the women of Ammon and Moab.

Ploni Almoni removes his shoe in the presence of witnesses as a sign of renunciation. This became the procedure of yibbum, according to the Mishnah and the Talmud. Boaz now takes command of the situation and redeems the land, Ruth and Naomi, the total inheritance of Elimelech.

Ploni Almoni may be concerned about what people will think, or perhaps he is already married with children. We do not know his reasons, but we know that Ploni Almoni is not a very respectful epithet.

I picture him as a fussy character, worried about appearances, not unlike Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Our script writers however may have other ideas.

The well-wishers (to Naomi) in Chapter 4
Due to budget restrictions imposed by our studios, we have reduced the several well-wishers at the end of Chapter 4 to just one woman. This woman has quite a long speech and I think the rôle should be given to some well-known actress, as a cameo.

The women bless Boaz and Ruth, saying ‘May God make her like Rachel and Leah’; more unusually they say ‘Let your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah.’

They bless God who has provided a near kinsman for Naomi, in this context, referring to the child of Ruth and Boaz. This baby will be a restorer of Naomi’s nefesh – life, or soul – for Ruth say[s] the women/woman is better to her than seven sons. Strangely enough, it is these women/this woman who name[s] the child, Obed. Stranger still, they/she say[s] ‘A son is born to Naomi.’ Ruth is viewed as a surrogate for Naomi. Remember that Ruth is a Moabitess. Is she regarded as being more acceptable as a surrogate than as a mother?

We will add some text, saying that Ruth was the grandmother of David. I would like to add that Ruth also makes it into the Christian scriptures, in the genealogical list at the beginning of the Gospel According to Matthew. Apart from Mary, only three women are mentioned in the long, mainly patrilinear genealogy. These are Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute so that Judah would do his duty by her as a near kinsman; Rahab, the prostitute who helped Joshua and the Israelites at Jericho, and Ruth.

In the illustrious company of these women, who have fallen only to rise, one wonders what really went on between Ruth and Boaz on the threshing room floor.

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Ruth is set in the time of  the Judges and, in a non Hebrew bible, is found directly after the book of Judges. A family from Bethlehem goes to live in Moab, because of a famine in their land. The husband and wife are Elimelech and Naomi. Elimelech dies in verse 3 and his two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. In verse 5, the two sons die, not surprisingly, because their names, Mahlon and Killion mean sickness and vanishing, which does not bode well for either of them.

So, as is the case with the American TV series Mad Men, it looks as if the story will be about the men, but it’s really about the women.

The survivors, as is well known, are Naomi and her Moabite daughters-in-law. Learning that the famine has ceased in Judah, Naomi resolves to go home and, speaking affectionately but firmly to Ruth and Orpah, she urges them to return to their families,
where they may, God willing, marry again and have children.

There is a midrashic tradition that Orpah and Ruth were sisters, the daughters of King Eglon of Moab (Ruth Rabbah 2:9) who, in turn (according to the same midrash), was the son of Balak.

The expression ‘the land of Judah’ in verse 7 is not used very often until the division of the kingdom following Solomon’s reign when Judah became the name of a kingdom. Prior to the time of Ruth, this expression occurs only once1and designates the land occupied by the tribe of Judah. It occurs also in David’s narrative, where Judah becomes important, being David’s own tribe and the centre of his eventual kingdom.

Naomi says ‘Turn back’ three times to her daughters-in-law2 corresponding to the discouragement given to prospective converts who present themselves to the Beth Din.3 We can see why Orpah might go, but why does Ruth stay? She is the template for all converts. Why is she so insistent? Is it about Naomi or about the ephemeral Mahlon, or about Torah?

Midrash claims that Orpah becomes the grandmother of Goliath, and depicts her in a negative light, as exceedingly promiscuous. There is no basis for this in the book of Ruth, but midrashic literature often takes a binary approach; if one of a pair is the hero, the other must be the villain. This is especially noticeable in midrashic narratives about Esau and Jacob.

On arrival in Bethlehem, they become the centre of attention for the women. Naomi expresses her bitterness at the way God has treated her, taking her husband and sons, and tells the women to call her Marah – bitter – instead of Naomi, which means pleasant.

The barley harvest is around the time of Pesach. The narrator emphasises Ruth’s foreignness, not only calling her Moaviyah, a Moabite woman, but adding, perhaps tautologically, that she comes from Moab.

The second chapter introduces a new character: Boaz, a relation of Naomi’s late husband. Boaz is a name associated with strength, and, as any freemason will know, is the name of one of the pillars upholding the porch of Solomon’s temple.

Gleaning the harvest from the corners of a landowner’s field was the right of the poor, in accordance with Leviticus:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you.4

It is Ruth who offers to go and glean corn which will be a means of subsistence for herself and Naomi. Naomi’s reply in verse 2 is Go my daughter, lah lechi. This is the feminine of lech lecha, an expression associated with significant events. Naomi calls Ruth biti, my daughter, but we have already seen that she called both Ruth and Orpah her daughters.

How does it happen that Ruth gleans in the field of Boaz, the very person who is related to her father-in-law? The Hebrew is vayyiker mikreyah – ‘it so happened’. Furthermore, Boaz singles out Ruth for attention, but instead of asking ‘Who is this young woman?’ he asks ‘Whose young woman is this?’ To whom does she belong? In Ruth’s particular case, there is no male person to whom she belongs. Husband, father, father-in-law are conspicuously absent. So to whom does Ruth belong?5

The servant’s answer is that she is a girl from Moab. Perhaps the servant’s implicit answer to Boaz’s question is ‘Nobody we know.’

Boaz extends his protection to Ruth, telling her to glean only from his field, and when she asks what she has done to deserve this, Boaz reveals that he knows the story of Ruth and Naomi, and how Ruth left her homeland. His next words are the origin of those traditionally spoken to proselytes:

The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel,under whose wings you have come to take refuge.

Ruth thanks Boaz for treating her kindly, even though she is a foreigner; her exact words being ‘You have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.’

Boaz continues to give her protection and generous opportunities for gleaning. She takes a quantity of barley back to Naomi, who remarks that Boaz is their kinsman and that the situation looks promising.

In the third chapter, Naomi has formulated a plan concerning Ruth and Boaz, who may have obligations to them beyond generosity, namely, the duty of levirate marriage.

The Hebrew for ‘his name should not be blotted out’ is lo yimacheh shemo. The name of Mahlon is interestingly cognate with the verb mem het hé, to blot out.

Naomi’s plan is rather compromising for Ruth. It involves lying down with Boaz in the middle of the night, an action which seems guaranteed to attract his attention.

So what’s the motivation behind Naomi’s cunning plan? Is it Ruth’s happiness, their future security or the fulfillment of the law?  And what is Ruth’s motivation in following Naomi’s instructions to the letter?

Ruth goes to the threshing floor where Boaz, who has been drinking, is asleep, uncovers his feet and lies down. It is not certain whether she lies next to him, or, perpendicularly, at his feet. When Boaz wakes, startled, asking who is there, Ruth identifies herself and then says ufarashta kenafecha al amatecha, literally ‘Spread your wing over your handmaiden.’

Note that Boaz has already spoken of Ruth the proselyte as seeking refuge under the wings of the Shechinah. Now she seeks refuge under Boaz’s wing – kanaf – translated as ‘skirt’ in the KJV.

Ruth tells Boaz the reason why she has a claim on his protection: ki goel atah, ‘for you are a redeemer’ or ‘a near kinsman’ or ‘close relative’. The term goel is used in Leviticus in this specific sense of redeeming the property of a relative, so that it remains in the family:

If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem (goel) what his brother has sold.7

Are we looking at a romantic episode, prompted by love or desire or at a halakhic issue, complicated by the fact that Boaz is not Ruth’s brother-in-law, that the property of Elimelech is involved and that Ruth is a convert?

Boaz praises Ruth – in fact he calls her an eshet hayil – much as Judah praised Tamar when she alerted him to his duty towards her as the widow of his sons:

She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.8

We will see from the genealogy at the end of Ruth that Boaz is himself a descendant of Judah and Tamar, through their son Perez.

At this point in the narrative, we do not know that there is an inheritance involved, and Ruth’s approach to Boaz seems to be connected with the law of yibbum, or levirate marriage.

When brothers live together, and one of them dies childless, the dead man’s wife shall not be allowed to marry an outsider. Her husband’s brother must cohabit with her, making her his wife, and thus performing a brother-in-law’s duty to her. The first-born son whom she bears will then perpetuate the name of the dead brother, so that his name will not be obliterated from Israel.9

The quandary of Henry VIII was in weighing up this verse against Leviticus:

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.10

If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.11

The continuation of the Deuteronomy text shows that there is some disgrace attached to the man who refuses to marry his brother’s childless widow.

And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of  him who had his sandal pulled off.’12

There is a great deal of Talmudic and medieval commentary on yibbum and halitzah, which is the loosening of the shoe.

Now, Boaz tells Ruth that she has a kinsman more closely related than himself. This other kinsman must be given the option of performing his duty and Boaz says he will speak with him in the morning. Meanwhile, he asks Ruth to stay the night. Have they slept together? Will they sleep together? Rashi, in his commentary on Ruth, quotes a midrash thus:

Rabbi Judah said: His evil inclination was contending with him, “You are single, and she is single; be intimate with her” ; and he took an oath to his evil inclination, saying ‘As the Lord lives, I will not touch her.13

For the sake of appearances, she left before daylight, so that nobody else would know she had spent the night there. Before she left, Boaz gave her six seahs of barley, to take back to Naomi. This is a large and heavy quantity, a single seah being currently estimated as 7.33 litres. One thinks of Rebecca performing the demanding task of watering Eliezer’s camels.14

When Ruth returns to Naomi, the first thing Naomi says is ‘Who are you, my daughter?’ Ruth answers by telling Naomi everything that has happened and Naomi wisely tells Ruth to wait patiently, as Boaz will attend to the matter that very day.

In Chapter 4, Boaz goes about the business of sounding out the other possible goel. He sees this man at the gate, which was the public area where men of affairs conducted transactions and exchanged news. Curiously, Boaz does not address this man by name; at least, the narrative withholds his name, as Boaz calls him Ploni Almoni. This is the biblical and Talmudic equivalent of John Doe or Joe Bloggs, the designation for an unnamed person. Translations will vary. ‘Friend’ reflects better on Boaz than the KJV ‘Ho such a one!’

Boaz has Ploni Almoni and the elders seated at the gate and explains the following: Naomi has returned from Moab and is selling a piece of land which she inherited from her husband Elimelech. Ploni Almoni has first refusal, but, if he doesn’t want to buy the land, Boaz will
do so. However, Ploni is willing to buy. Boaz then explains that, if he buys the property, he also acquires Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Elimelech’s son, in order to maintain the name of the dead in connection with his inheritance. Ploni now withdraws from the

What is Ploni’s motivation? The targum suggests that he was already married, which seems a very good reason, but his direct speech is ‘I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance.’ The suggestion is that he considers marriage to a Moabite transgressive, which seems to be the implication of the verse in Deuteronomy which states:

No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD.15

Rashi finds this reasoning faulty, commenting:

He should have interpreted: ‘an Ammonite, but not an Ammonitess; a Moabite, but not a Moabitess.’ Yet he said, ‘lest I mar my heritage.’

In fact Rashi believed this error was the reason why the man’s real name was obliterated from the text.

We saw that, according to Deuteronomy 25, a man who refuses to marry his brother’s widow has his shoe loosed in a ritual called halitzah, the ceremonial release from levirate marriage. Rashi explains that what occurs here, which does not correspond precisely to
halitzah, is an act of acquisition. There are of course other views – Rabbi Louis Jacobs, for example, wrote:

Halitzah appears in the biblical book of Ruth in which Boaz, a close relative of Naomi, agrees to marry Ruth and act as redeemer for Mahlon, her dead husband. He may only do so after a closer relative than Boaz formally relinquishes the right of redemption by removing his sandal and handing it to Boaz.16

Boaz confirms before the witnesses that he has bought the inheritance of Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion from Naomi, including Ruth, whom he will marry to raise the name of the dead on their inheritance.

The witnesses express their blessing, and say ‘May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.’ Not only are is there a similarity between the union of Judah and Tamar and that of Boaz and Ruth, but also, Boaz, as we will see, is a descendant of

Boaz marries Ruth and they have a son. One might expect the people to say this is a son for Mahlon, which would be the form in a levirate marriage. In fact the women say ‘There is a son born to Naomi.’ This does not indicate that Naomi was the biological mother of the child.

The nursing17 of the child by Naomi does not mean that Naomi had breast milk, as omenet can mean foster mother.

Most important is that a redeemer has been found for the entire family of Elimelech, the dead and the living.

The child Obed becomes the father of Jesse who was the father of David. Boaz’s descent from Perez is attested in the final verse of the book. Thus David is a descendant of Judah on one side and, on the other, of Moab. This would be extremely controversial if the book of
Ruth was written in the post-exilic time18 of Ezra and Nehemiah who actively opposed the intermarriage19 of Israelites with Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites and all the neighbouring peoples. There is a case for considering that the book of Ruth is a subversive anti-Ezra document, supporting intermarriage and making polemical use of David’s putative descent from Ruth.

Daniel Chapters 7 – 9

 In the first six chapters of Daniel, we read a series of stories about the integrity and advancement of Daniel and his friends, while captives at a foreign court. For Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was an inspired interpreter of dreams. Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah survived the fiery furnace, a miracle which caused Nebuchadnezzar to revere God, however briefly.

For Belshazzar – according to the book of Daniel, the son and successor of Nebuchadnezzar – Daniel interprets the writing on the wall which heralds Belshazzar’s demise and the fall of the Babylonian empire. Although a favourite of the next king, Darius the Mede, Daniel becomes the victim of an envious plot, which gets him cast into the lions’ den. Darius is pleased when Daniel survives this ordeal, and has Daniel’s persecutors and their families thrown to the lions.

The language of the book is Hebrew until 2:4, and thereafter in Aramaic until Chapter 8, when the book reverts to Hebrew.

Chapter 7 onward deals with Daniel’s visions, experienced during the reigns of Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus. These are related by Daniel in the first person, suitable for prophecy, whereas we have had until now a third person narrative.

The first vision, in Chapter 7, resembles the dreams recounted by Nebuchadnezzar insofar as the images are prophetic of future empires, and they are interpreted for Daniel by one of the heavenly beings in the vision. The vision is explicitly a dream,[1] חלמא in Aramaic, which Daniel dreams while in bed at night, and afterwards records in writing.

Four winds from heaven or from the sky break forth on the sea, and four beasts emerge from the sea.

The first animal is a winged lion, usually understood to representBabylon. An archaeologist called Henry Layard, working in Nimrud in Iraq in the 1840s, excavated the palaces of Ashurnasirpal II, Shalmaneser III, and Tiglath-Pileser III and discovered several colossal statues (lamassu) of lions and bulls, two of which are displayed in The British Museum. Winged lions and bulls were part of Assyrian and Babylonian iconography. They were known as lamassu and shedu, protectors of ordinary households and, in more extravagant form, of royal palaces.

Jeremiah uses the metaphor of a lion to refer to Babylon:

A lion has gone up from his thicket, a destroyer of nations has set out; he has gone out from his place to make your land a waste; your cities will be ruins without inhabitant.[2]

Next up is a bear-like animal, with three ribs in its mouth. The bear is said to represent the empire of the Medes and the Persians, but there is no real consensus on the three ribs. One commentator suggests:

They may represent the unsuccessful alliance of the Urartians, Manneans and Scythians who tried to stop the Persians, but they are much more likely to represent Lydia, Babylon and Egypt which were the three major conquests of the Persian empire.[3]

 Ibn Ezra suggests that דב be translated not as ‘bear’, the usual translation of dov, but wolf, which in Hebrew is זאב but the zayin may become a dalet in Aramaic.

According to traditions in Talmud and Midrash, the second animal represents the Persian Empire because the Persians ‘…eat and drink like a bear, are fleshy like a bear, overgrown with hair like a bear, and are restless like a bear.’[4]

 Jewish commentators suggests that the three ribs refer to three Persian kings: Cyrus, Ahasuerus and Darius. The only consensus is that the beasts symbolize kingdoms. The third animal, the winged leopard, is also regarded asPersia, with the preceding bear like animal representing Medea.

The fourth, most fearsome beast with teeth of iron is understood to be the Greek Empire, which fits the supposed dating of the book of Daniel. Several texts of Daniel were found at Qumnran, the earliest, dating from around 125 BCE represents the terminus ad quem. In other words, the Qumrantexts could be later copies taken from an earlier work, or it could be contemporary with the earliest known manuscript. As we saw, Josephus refers to Alexander the Great receiving a copy of the book of Daniel, so it existed in 330 BCE, if Josephus is accurate.

Alexander’s sudden and untimely death in 323 complicated the succession of his enormous empire and the ten horns of the fourth beast are believed to be the various successors among whom the Macedonian empire was divided. The first successors were called the diadochi,  friends, relations and rivals of Alexander, all with some claim to kingship. A state was created in 312 BCE by Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander’s generals, inSyria, southern Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Iran. The rulers were called Seleucids, after Seleucus Nicator. The Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled inEgypt, was founded in 305 BCE by Ptolemy I, the builder of the library atAlexandria.

The Pontine dynasty ruled in north-east Asia Minor until it was absorbed into theRoman Empire.

The Seleucid dynasty eventually produced the tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes who ruled from 175 to 163, the period of the Maccabean revolt. The ‘little horn’ of verse 8 is understood to refer to Antiochus IV who tried to suppress the Jewish religion, and to enforce the hellenization of the Jews.

In the vision which begins in verse 9, the scene is being set as if for judgment.  Thrones are placed, plural and  עתיק יומין, one that was ancient of days sits down, all in white with white hair. His throne is fiery and has wheels. There is a heavenly court, with thousands of thousands ministering.

The judgment is set, and the books were opened.

דינא יתב וספרין פתיחו

William Blake’s painting follows the KJV in using the definite article: ‘The Ancient of Days’. The Aramaic does not call for a definite article, so some of our translations vary from the KJV.

HL Ginsberg in the Jewish Encyclopeda points out that the image is a metaphor for God, just as the beasts are metaphors for human kings and emperors:

One cannot ask therefore ‘Why is God called the Ancient of Days’ in Daniel7?’ because He is not, but only ‘Why is God represented in the vision of Daniel 7 by the figure of an ancient of days?’[5]

 The meaning of Daniel’s name, ‘God is my judge,’ is of interest in this vision of judgment, dina in Aramaic.

The fourth beast (presumed to be Greece orRome) is slain and the other beasts cease to rule, but their lives a spared, for a time.

The next vision is one like a son of man, who comes from the clouds of heaven. You may recall that the expression ‘…coming from the clouds of heaven’ occurs in the NT gospel of Matthew and Mark, in connection with The Son of Man.[6] The Aramaic is כבר אנוש, c’var enosh, ‘like a son of man’.

Traditional Jewish interpretations regard this figure as Israe l(as is the case with Isaiah’s Suffering Servant) or as the messiah (as is the case with the Targum to Isaiah 53). Note that the one like a son of man comes from shemaya, from the sky or from heaven, while the beasts came from the sea.

In verse 15, Daniel approaches one of the ministering figures, perhaps an angel, like Zechariah’s guide[7]and asks for an explanation of the vision.

 The angel interprets: the beasts are kingdoms, but the holy ones of the Most High will receive and possess these kingdoms, for ever. ‘For ever’ is most emphatic: ad alma v’ad olam almaya. A similar idiom appears in the kaddish. The king represented by the ‘little horn’ would make war against the holy ones and prevail against them, until the Ancient of Days would come and judge. The fourth kingdom would spread across the earth; it would be succeeded by ten further kingdoms, then another which would speak against the Most High. The holy ones would be in his power ‘until a time and times and half a time’. Much depends on the interpretation of idan, ‘time’. It may mean year and refer to two and a half years of persecution under Antiochus.

After this period, the kingdom would be given to the kadishei Elyonin, whose kingdom is everlasting.

Daniel concludes that he was much frightened by his vision, but kept his thoughts to himself.

In chapter 8, the language reverts to Hebrew. Daniel experiences another vision in the third year of the reign of Belshazzar, two years after the previous one. In the vision of chapter 8, the location is Shushan the castle, well-known to us from Megillat Esther. Only in Esther and Daniel do we find this reference to Shushan Ha-birah.

In the vision, Daniel sees a ram with two horns, one, the later horn, larger than the first. Given our experience so far of visions in the book of Daniel, we might suppose these horns to represent kingdoms, and Media andPersiafit the bill, coming from the east, to push west, north and south, as reported in verse 4.

The he-goat from the west must then represent Greece, conquering Persia and the known world and the goat’s horns are Alexander and his successors, followed by Antiochus Epiphanes, encroaching on ‘the beauteous land’ of Israel. We find this use of צבי  , which can also mean gazelle, in the writings of another exile, Ezekiel.[8]

 The little horn, Antiochus, is self-aggrandising, and pollutes the sanctuary.

Daniel hears one ‘holy one’ speaking to another,  just as Isaiah heard a dialogue between celestial beings, which segued into Isaiah’s prophecy, ‘O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion…’[9]Daniel is told that the period of oppression will last for ‘two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings; then shall the sanctuary be victorious’.[10]

 This period works out to about seven years, assuming that 2,300 days are intended, but this verse has been interpreted variously, to signify other periods of time.

 When Daniel sought an interpretation of the vision, there stood before him ‘the appearance of a man,’ which suggests a celestial being in the form of a man. The word for man is ‘gever’. Although this is a common word for a man in Aramaic, our text is now in Hebrew, where gever suggests a strong man or warrior; we then learn that the man’s name is Gabriel, a contraction of gever El, mighty man of God. The heavenly dialogue continues when the voice of a man calls to Gabriel, bidding him to interpret for Daniel.

Gabriel explains that the vision belongs to the time of the end, לעת־קץ. He addresses Daniel as ‘son of man’, as Ezekiel also is addressed in his visions. Daniel is the only book in Tanakh where an angel is named, so it is only in Daniel that one finds mention of Gabriel and Michael. Gabriel appears in the NT and the Qur’an as well as in Enoch and in the rabbinic literature.

In the interpretation which follows, Gabriel specifies מדי ופרס, the ram, and the שעיר (an animal usually associated with Esau, Edomand Rome) is  מלך יון. The great horn is the first Greek king, implying Alexander and after four successors there will come a new king, cunning, powerful and destructive, who will eventually be destroyed – ‘broken without hand’.[11]

 Gabriel assures Daniel that these events belong to the distant future. Daniel faints and is ill, then resumes his work at the king’s court, greatly disturbed by the vision but still not understanding it.

 In Chapter 9, there is a new king and a new kingdom: Darius the Mede, who is the son of an Ahasuerus who is also a Mede – not the Ahasuerus of Esther and not identifiable as any known Median king. Xerxes and Astyages have been suggested; the LXX has Ασσουηρος.

Daniel looks at the prophecy of Jeremiah that Jerusalemwill be desolate for seventy years:

This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.[12]

 Daniel then makes a confession of sin, on behalf of all Judah, who have been unfaithful to God and the commandments. Daniel also refers to the transgression of ‘all Israel’;[13] it may be that the nameIsrael more accurately expresses the people in exile, whereasJudah expresses the region of and aroundJerusalem. These verses are incorporated into the prayers on Selichot and Yom Kippur. Why is Daniel fasting and repenting?  He mentions in verse 2 that he has read Jeremiah’s prophecy thatJerusalem will be desolate for seventy years, so the repentance seems to be associated with the condition of exile and the loss of theTemple. Note that  the spelling of the name of God in these penitential verses is several times written in full, rather than as the tetragrammaton.

While Daniel was praying and making confession, ‘the man Gabriel’ appeared. Note that he is not called an angel but   האיש גבריאל. You will recall that when the text was Aramaic, Gabriel appeared as one having the appearance of a gever, a man.[14]However,it seems that unlike an ordinary man, Gabriel flies. The verb which is mostly translated as flying, or being caused to fly, seems to be not עןף, to fly, but יעף, to be weary (as in hanoten layaef koah).[15] The form of the verb appears to be hophal, passive causative.

 The American theologian Albert Barnes  (1798-1870)  commented thus:

  If derived from this word, the meaning in Hophal, the form used here, would be, “wearied with swift running,” and the sense is, that Gabriel had borne the message swiftly to him, and appeared before him as one does who is wearied with a rapid course. If this be the idea, there is no direct allusion to his “flying,” but the reference is to the rapidity with which he had come on the long journey, as if exhausted by his journey. The Latin Vulgate renders it cito volans and [the Greek versions as] πετομενος … The common representation of the angels in the Old Testament is not with wings, though the cherubim and Seraphim (Isaiah 6:2, following.) are represented with wings; and in Revelation 14:6, we have a representation of an angel flying. Probably the more exact idea here is that of a rapid course, so as to produce weariness, or such as would naturally produce fatigue.[16]

‘I am now come forth to make thee skilful of understanding.’ gabriel appears as a kind of tutor, interpreting visions and revealing the future. Remember that  Gabriel appears in other faiths, to announce the miraculous pregnancies of Elizabeth[17]and Mary[18] and to reveal the Qur’an to Muhammed.[19]

 In the pseudepigraphical book of Enoch,  Gabriel, along with Michael, Raphael, Uriel and Suriel witnesses the blood being shed on earth, in the time before the flood, and appeals to the Almighty.[20]

 The seventy weeks

This period has been interpreted as ‘seventy weeks of years’ – in other words, 490 years. Rabbinic commentary on the meaning of this prophecy cites the Seder Olam Rabbah, attributed to a Tannaitic author, R Jose bar Halafta who died around 160 C.E. His Seder Olam, later called Seder Olam Rabbah to distinguish it from a shorter work, is cited several times in the Talmud as an earlier authority. According to R Jose, the first seven weeks are related to the exile and return and the next sixty-two weeks are in the time of the SecondTemple.

The prophecy which Gabriel shares with Daniel has been the subject of so much commentary that we can hardly begin to adumbrate it here. Within an uncertain period of time, weeks or years, or years multiplied by seven, Daniel’s people, the Israelites, are to finish transgression – פּשע, end their sins – חטאות, and to atone for iniquity – לכפר עון, the language of our liturgy on Yom Kippur.Jerusalemwill be restored in the time of a mashiach nagid, a messiah prince. Judah Slotki’s commentary in the Soncino edition suggests that this refers to Cyrus. After sixty-two weeks, an anointed one will be cut off and people will destroy the city and the sanctuary. This is often understood as referring to the Romans, but it could refer to Antiochus, assuming that Antiochus flourished during the lifetime of the author, which is not demonstrable. The description of the desecration of the sanctuary in verse 27 does seem to suggest the period of Antiochus and the Maccabean revolt.

The talk of weeks and half weeks lends itself to all kinds of interpretation and speculation, and the arithmetic can be adapted to fit doctrinal  requirements. In the Greek of the Septuagint, mashiach nagid is Χριστου ηγουμενου, that is Christou Hegoumenou. It is not surprising that in a Christian bible, the book of Daniel is found in the prophets, between the major and the minor prophets, that is, between Ezekiel and Hosea. In Tanakh, Daniel is not accorded prophetic authority and is therefore in the ketuvim.

This genre of religious writing which reveals the future and especially suggests events leading to the eschaton, the last times, is called apocalyptic (the book of Revelations in the NT is also called by the Greek name Apocalypse).

Josephus offers a view of Daniel’s vision, writing in an age of Roman domination:

…There should arise a certain king that should overcome our nation and their laws, and should take away their political government, and should spoil the temple, and forbid the sacrifices to be offered for three years…and  indeed it so came to pass that our nation suffered these things under Antiochus Epiphanes, according to Daniel’s vision, and what he wrote many years before they came to pass. In the very same manner, Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them.[21]

More than a millennium later, Maimonides wrote his rational, non-supernatural understanding of the messianic era;

The Messianic age is when the Jews will regain their independence and all return to the landof Israel. … Do not think that the ways of the world or the laws of nature will change, this is not true. The world will continue as it is. The prophet Isaiah predicted “The wolf shall live with the sheep, the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” This, however, is merely allegory, meaning that the Jews will live safely, even with the formerly wicked nations. All nations will return to the true religion and will no longer steal or oppress. Note that all prophecies regarding the Messiah are allegorical. Only in the Messianic age will we know the meaning of each allegory and what it comes to teach us. Our sages and prophets did not long for the Messianic age in order that they might rule the world and dominate the gentiles, the only thing they wanted was to be free for Jews to involve themselves with the Torah and its wisdom.[22]


Lastly in this chapter, Daniel refers to an abomination in theTemple. This could be the desecrations of Antiochus, or it could be the Roman eagles.

[1] Daniel 7:1

[2] Jeremiah 4:7

[3] George Pytlik, internet article on Daniel 7

[4] Kiddushin 72a et al

[5] Encyclopedia Judaica vol 2 p941

[6] Matthew 24:30, 26:64; Mark 14:62

[7] Zechariah 1:9, 2:2

[8] Ezekiel 20:6, 25:9, 26:20

[9] Isaiah 40:3 – 9


Daniel 8:14

[11] Daniel 8:25

[12] Jeremiah 25:11

[13] Daniel 9:11

[14] Daniel 8:15

[15] Gesenius, Mandelkern, BDB, New Englishman’s concordance.

[16] commentary of Albert Barnes on Daniel 9:21

[17] Luke 1:19


Luke 1:26


Qur’an  2: 97, 98; 66: 4

[20] Enoch 9:1–2,

[21] Josephus, Antiquities 10:11:7

[22] Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Sanhedrin 10:1

angel and daniel

Chapter 10 situates Daniel in the third year of Cyrus’s reign. He has been mourning three weeks,with fasting and abstinence, but we do not know the cause of the mourning. An indication of the time of year comes in verse 4, where the day named is 24 Nisan, shortly after the end of Passover. If Daniel fasted for the three weeks immediately prior to this date, he would have fasted through Passover, resembling Esther, who fasted on 14th, 15th, and 16th Nisan.

The angel by the Tigris
On 24 Nisan, Daniel is by the Tigris when he sees a man (not in this case called a dream or a vision), איש־אחד, with a supernatural appearance. He is clothed in linen and pure gold, and his face and body have the radiance of jewels, lightning and fire. The voice, being ‘like the voice of a multitude’, is at variance with the singularity expressed in ish echad.

The men with Daniel are filled with awe, although they do not see the man. They run away, leaving Daniel alone, and he too is so awed that his strength leaves him and he falls face down on the ground.

The man calls Daniel ‘beloved’, איש־חמדות, repeating the term hamudot which Gabriel uses of Daniel in 9:23 and says ‘Now am I sent to you’. He speaks reassuringly and tells Daniel that he has come because of Daniel’s words. We are not told that this angel is Gabriel.

Verse 13
According to Dr Slotki in the Soncino translation, the prince of the kingdom of Persia is the guardian angel allocated to Persia. The dramatist Tony Kushner employs this concept of angels representing geographical territories in his play ‘Angels in America’ where the angels symbolize the inner life of the characters in the play.

The angel tells Daniel that he has been delayed by the prince of the kingdom of Persia, for a period of twenty-one days. ‘I was left over there’ is unclear. Does this mean the angel was held up in Persia, or in conflict with the guardian angel of Persia?

He was assisted by Michael, echad ha-sarim ha-rishonim. Michael, whose name means ‘Who is like God?’ is one of the foremost of the angels, according to mainly ex-biblical tradition. Daniel is the only canonical book in which Michael is mentioned by name. Rashi commented that the captain of the host who appeared to Joshua is the archangel Michael.

In Daniel 12:1, Michael is named as ‘the great prince who stands for the children of your [Daniel’s] people’, and in the book of Enoch, which develops an elaborate Jewish angelology, Michael is ‘the prince of Israel’.

According to midrashic tradition, Michael is sometimes called upon, as the advocate of Israel, to fight with the princes of the other nations.

This idea of angels representing territories and peoples is prefigured in the Septuagint version of Deuteronomy (Ha’azinu), although not so in the Masoretic Text. The English Standard Version compromises with:

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God.

This ESV translation takes into account the LXX and Qumran documents which reads
‘…according to the number of the angels of God’.

…κατα αριθμον αγγελως Θεου

The Masoretic text varies, saying למספר בני ישראל.

The angel tells Daniel that he has come to give Daniel a vision of the ‘end of days’ – באחרית הימים, εσχατων των ημερων. Daniel becomes faint and dumbstruck, but a being like the sons of men – is it the same angel as before – touches his lips, giving him strength and speech. The being then tells Daniel hazak ve hazak. He is returning to fight the prince or angel of Persia and says that when he goes, the prince of Greece will come – a reference to the Hellenistic empire which came after the Persians. The angel will then tell Daniel what is written in the book of truth, and only Michael will support him against the others – presumably, against the other angels, who support other peoples. Michael, according to the speaker, is שרכם, ‘your prince’, that is to say, Daniel’s prince – Israel’s prince.

Chapter 11
The legacy of Alexander

Dr Slotki identifies the speaker as Gabriel, who declares that he was a supporter of Darius the Mede; however the speaker seems to be the one designated as an ‘appearance like a man’ mentioned in 10:18.

The Achaemenid dynasty of Persians kings is as follows:

559-530 Cyrus the Great
529-522 Cambyses
522 Smerdis (Bardia)
521-486 Darius I the Great
485-465 Xerxes I
464-424 Artaxerxes I
424 Xerxes II
424 Sogdianus
423-405 Darius II
404-359 Artaxerxes II
358-338 Artaxerxes III
337-336 Arses
335-330 Darius III

The events described in chapter 11 are those which took place after Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Empire.

The second verse refers to a military engagement with the Greeks while the third and fourth verses describe the rise of Alexander and the division of territory which followed his death. The king of the south in verse 5 is Ptolemy of Egypt, who made peace with the northern Seleucid empire by marrying his daughter Berenice to Antiochus II.

Berenice, (died c. 246 bc) replaced Laodice, the first wife of Antiochus II and disinherited Laodice’s children when her own were born. When Ptolemey died, Antiochus remarried his first wife but, in a twist worthy of Eastenders, she poisoned him, while her son disposed of Berenice and her son, taking the throne himself. All the young men in this story are called either Seleucus or Antiochus. War ensued between the brother of Berenice – another Ptolemey – and the son of Laodice, Seleucus II. The next verses describe the continuation of these wars between the next generation of Ptolomeys, Seleucuses and Antiochuses.

Verse 16: “The invader will do as he pleases. No one will be able to stand against him. He will establish himself in the Beautiful Land and will have the power to destroy it.” ‘The beautiful land’ always refers to Israel/Judea. Antiochus III attacked Egypt in 200 B.C. but was crushed by the king of the South, Ptolemy V Epiphanes. Antiochus conquered Sidon and by 197 B.C., had taken control of Judea.

The daughter given in marriage in verse 17 is Cleopatra I, daughter of Antiochus III. She was married to Ptolomey around 194 BCE. (The Cleopatra we know from her relations with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony is Cleopatra VII.)

By the time of Antiochus III, Rome was a significant force in the Mediterranean.. They fought the first Illyrian was with the Greeks in 221. They claimed a victory over Carthage after Hannibal’s invasion of Italy in 217. In 191, the Romans, under the leadership of Scipio Africanus, overcame the forces of Antiochus III in the battle of Magnesia, and in the ensuing peace, Antiochus paid reparations to Rome while his son, Antiochus IV (who later was to provoke the Maccabean Revolt), was held hostage in Rome.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Verse 20 refers to the fairly brief reign of Seleucus IV, older brother of Antiochus IV, designated in verse 21 ‘a contemptible person’, נבזה from the verb בזה, to despise. Antiochus IV engaged in wars with both Egypt and Rome. The second part of verse 30 refers to his plundering of the Temple in Jerusalem and promoting of Hellenized Jews. His profanation of the Sanctuary is described in verses 31 and 32 while verse 33 describes the persecution of the devout. Verse 34 may be an allusion to the Maccabean Revolt. Antiochus’s tyranny and grandiosity are described and further aggressive wars against Egypt, Libya and Ethiopia. Regarding the Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites, they seem to have formed an alliance with Syria, as, according to I Maccabees:

Then Judas fought against the children of Esau in Idumea at Arabattine, because they besieged Israel: and he gave them a great overthrow, and abated their courage, and took their spoils.

While the revolt continued in Judea, Antiochus led the main Seleucid army against King Mithridates of the Parthians who attacked from the east in 167. Parthia had developed from a satrap under the Achaemenid kings to become the dominating force in Persia. After the death of Antiochus in 164, the Seleucid Empire dwindled away under the pressure of civil wars, Jewish rebellion and Parthian ascendancy. Eventually, the Romans took possession of the region, in 63 BCE, when Pompey made Syria a Roman province.

The author of Daniel 11 has knowledge of events up to 164 BCE as the terminus post quem.

Chapter 12

The last times

There is a question as to whether בעת ההיא refers to an unspecified future time, a specific time, or to the eschaton. Dr Slotki regards it as referring to the time following the death of Antiochus IV.

Verse 1 ‘Written in the book’: this expression sometimes refers to the book of the law – the Torah, and is sometimes used in connection with lost books, as in ‘Is this not written in the book of Yashar/Acts of Solomon/ Chronicles of the Kings of Israel (or Judah). However, Daniel’s meaning appears much closer to that of Malachi, who said:

Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.

Verses 2 – 3
This is the most unambiguous mention in Tanakh of the resurrection of the dead to everlasting life. Although Elijah and Elisha both revived children who died, those children were restored to live out their natural lifespan, as with Lazarus in the NT. It may be a reflection of a Phaisaic belief in the world to come, already germinating in the Maccabean period.

Verse 4
It appears to be the angel who tells Daniel to seal the book, that is, the book of Daniel, which draws to a close.

Verses 5 -7
Daniel then saw two other angels, one on each bank of the Tigris, and one of them questions the ‘man clothed in linen’, that is, the angel who has been addressing Daniel up to this point. As we saw for example in Isaiah 40, angels are sometimes portrayed as multivocal, questioning and answering eachother.

The question is ‘How long shall it be to the end of the wonders?’

עד־מתי קץ הפלאות

The linen-clad angel raises both his hands to heaven and swears ‘by Him that lives forever’ – contrasting the eternity of God with the relative and temporal nature of the happenings on earth – ‘for a time, times and a half’. Daniel 7:25 has the Aramaic equivalent of this expression. The fact that this period of time mentioned in Revelations is also referred to as 1260 days is an indication that this could be an idiom meaning ‘a year, two years and half a year’.

Verse 8 – 9
Daniel asks to know what will be the outcome of these things but the angel tells him that the words are now closed and sealed up until the time of the end.

Verse 10
A distinction is made between the wicked and the wise, the רשעים and the משכילים. Maskilim suggests ‘the enlightened’, as in Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in which Moses Mendelssohn was a prominent influence.

Verse 11-12
168 BCE was the beginning of the defilement of the Sanctuary by Antiochus IV, who died approximately four years later in 164. The number of days mentioned in these two verses, 1290 and 1335, like the 1260 previously mentioned, fit approximately the period of persecution by Antiochus.

Verse 13
This verse can be interpreted as speaking of resurrection, meaning that Daniel will rest after death until the time when he is raised up לקץ הימין, ‘at the end of days’. You will recognize this expression from the hymn called the Yigdal, based on Maimonides’ principles of faith, where ‘the end of days’ refers to a messianic time:

ישלח לקץ ימים משיחנו
לפדות מחכי קץ ישועתו
מתים יחיה אל ברוב חסדו
ברוך עדי עד שם תהלתו

And at the end of days
an anointed one will come
redeeming those
who wait for God to save.
Life beyond death,
God gives with greatest love
We bless for evermore
God’s glorious name.

Job 38 – 42

God speaks to Job from a whirlwind. He spoke to Moses through a burning bush, and to Elijah He spoke in a still small voice which followed wind, earthquake and fire.

Theophanies often occur in the bible through natural phenomena, especially extreme weather. Other cultures often held the god of thunder to be preeminent among their gods.

Does God’s answer to Job, which expresses God’s might, transcendence and power of creation, seem any more helpful than the responses of Job’s friends?

God’s first words are a question; ‘Who is this that darkens counsel in words without knowledge?’ Are they a rebuke to Job, who expressed a wish for the darkness of oblivion?

Robert Alter points out that God speaks first of the creation of the earth (38:4-21), then of meteorology (38:22-38), then of zoology (38:39:39:40). The cosmogony includes the control of the sea, also prominent in Mediterranean cultures.

The meteorological verses invoke snow, hail, wind, storm, rain, ice, cloud and lightning, and reference the constellations mentioned by Job in 9:9: the Pleiades, Orion and the Bear. Some translations have ‘rooster’ for sechvi – שכוי in 38:36; BDB suggests celestial phenomenon, meteor or rooster. The word seems to be a hapax. Its meaning in the Yerushalmi is rooster. Lions are distinguished as young or old, lavi and kefir. The bestiary of Job includes the raven, the goat, the gazelle, the donkey, the ox, a large bird which may be a peacock or an ostrich, and the stork, and tells us at least that the author had good zoological knowledge. The verses about the horse have been made familiar to modern theatre-goers by Peter Schaffer, who quoted them in his play Equus. The hawk and the eagle are mentioned. Implicit is God’s providence in the life cycle of all these creatures.

God then calls on Job to answer:

Shall he that contends with the Almighty instruct him? He that reproves God, let him answer it.

Job replies that he is unworthy and has no answer. God speaks again from the whirlwind. He draws Job’s attention to the animal Behemoth, literally ‘beast’ a herbivorous counterpart to leviathan in its mythical proportions. Alter comments that behemoth is derived from the Egyptian hippopotamus, just as leviathan is a mythical version of the Egyptian crocodile. The habitat of behemoth is the river, an indication that this is a hippopotamus rather than a bovine. Rabbinic tradition holds that behemoth and leviathan will be served at the banquet for the righteous in the world to come.

The description of leviathan which follows, sea monster or whale, may be derived from Lotan, the sea monster of Canaanite mythology. Without vocalization, the Hebrew word leviathan -לויתן- resembles the name Lotan.

How can we use this CV of God’s omnipotence?

When Job at last replies he says:

I knew (past tense: ידעת) that You can do everything.

This significant use of the past tense, not ‘I know now’ but ‘I know already’ is all the more striking as the word is spelled defectively, without a yod at the end. A footnote to the text tells us that the qere is yada’ati. Job’s question in 42:3 ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ is a reference to God’s question to Job: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel, with words without knowledge?’

God asks ‘Mi zeh makhshikh etzah vemilin beli da’at?’

Job retorts ‘Mi zeh ma’lim etzah beli da’at?’

But he is speaking of himself because he goes on to say: ‘I told but did not understand’. Something in Job’s relationship with God has changed – ‘I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, and now, v’atah, my eye has seen You’.

Although God has rebuked Job, when he turns to Eliphaz to rebuke him, He refers to Job as His servant. Eliphaz and his two companions did not speak correctly, nekhonah, of God, unlike Job. The fourth friend, Elihu, is not mentioned; Elihu occupies only chapters 32 – 37.

God tells Eliphaz that he, Bildad and Zophar should offer seven bulls and seven rams, while Job prays on their behalf.

And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

God says of Job ‘I will lift up his face’; thus Job’s prayer is acceptable when the prayers
of his companions are not. There may be an implication here that the the sacrifice of rams and bulls is less potent than the prayer of the broken and contrite heart.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Why does God lift up Job’s face when He has just rebuked him? How is it that God and Job are reconciled?

The Talmud says the following:

Job speaketh without knowledge, and his words are without wisdom. Raba said: This teaches that a man is not held responsible for what he says when in distress.

Job is reputed in popular culture to epitomise patience, but we have seen that he is not always patient. He can complain just as well as the next person.

Maimonides regards Job’s impatient questioning of God as due to a lack of knowledge which is expressed by Job himself when he says ‘I did not understand’.

However, God’s favouring Job above his friends seems to vindicate Job’s argument that suffering is not an indication of retributive justice and a divine rejection of the view of, for example Eliphaz, ‘Whoever perished, being innocent?’ This may be satisfying dramatically, but it leaves the problem of theodicy unanswered.

Rabbi Theodore Friedman in Encyclopedia Judaica writes:

The enigmatic character and dubious relevance of God’s reply to Job have suggested an interpretation that…denies that the book was written as an attempt to solve the mystery of the suffering of the innocent. Neither the colloquy nor the theophany penetrate to the reason for Job’s suffering. That reason, however, emerges quite clearly from the prologue and epilogue. Job’s suffering is merely a divine test of his piety. In addition to controverting the conventional view that suffering is punishment for sin, the book proposes not an answer but an experience. The message of Job is neither theological nor philosophical. It is profoundly religious.

Job’s agony, suggests Friedman, is that Job feels isolated from God; even that God has become his enemy.

God’s reply from the whirlwind is tantamount to the assurance that suffering need not spell isolation from God.

In his patient role, seen at the beginning of the narrative and in his final answer to God, Job becomes a model of proper conduct in the face of suffering.

A saying from Pirkei Avot is:  It is beyond our power to understand why the wicked are at ease, or why the righteous suffer.

In this final chapter, poetry gives way to narrative.In 42:7-8, God refers to Job three times as his servant, avdi Iyyov. It evokes the opening narrative of the book, where, in conversation with Satan, God designates Job His servant. Here God uses the term when talking to Eliphaz.

The friends make the sacrifices as God commands and God restores Job’s fortunes, recomensing hime twice over, we are told; the expression is Hashem shav et shevit Iyyov. There is some similarity to the verse from Isaiah that Israel has received double  for all her sins, in that instance, a double portion of retribution.

This is what happens to Job:

His brothers, sisters and friends all come round, eat with him, comfort him, and bring him gifts of money and gold. We know they had stayed away from Job during his afflictions, because he complained that his friends abandoned him. The only people who visited at that time were Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu.

The quantity of his flocks, camels and cattle does indeed double – precisely twice the numbers mentioned in chapter one.

Whereas he had seven sons at the beginning,he now has fourteen, but the number of daughters is the same: three. Rabbinic comment is that they were twice as beautiful as the daughters he lost.

And he called the name of the first Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-Happuch – Jemimah, because she was like the day [yom]; Keziah, because the emitted a fragrance like cassia [keziah]; Keren-Happuch because – so it was explained in the academy of R. Shila – she had a complexion like the horn of a keresh (antelope).

The pseudepigraphical ‘Testament of Job’ develops the theme of the inheritance Job gave his daughters. The daughters protested that Job had distributed his goods only among his sons, but Job reassured them that he had not forgotten them. He had three golden boxes brought to his daughters and in each box was a beautiful, multicoloured cord – possibly a phylactery. These cords enabled the daughters to speak charismatically, in the dialect of angels, as well as having curative powers, from which Job had benefited during his illness.

There is a masonic order of women called The Order of Job’s Daughters, founded in Omaha, Nebraska in 1920.

There are six extant manuscripts of the Testament of Job, dating from no earlier than the eleventh century, four in Greek, one Slavonic and one Coptic. No Hebrew or Aramaic version is known.

The Septuagint version of Job has an additional paragraph not found in the Masoretic Text:

And it is written that he will rise up again with those whom the Lord raises up.

This man is described in the Syriac book as dwelling in the land of Ausis, on the borders of Idumea and Arabia; and his name before was Jobab; and having taken an Arabian wife, he begat a son whose name was Ennon. He himself was the son of his father Zara, a son of the sons of Esau, and of his mother Bosorrha, so that he was the fifth (*1) from Abraham. And these were the kings who reigned in Edom, which country he also ruled over. First Balak the son of Beor, (*2) and the name of his city was Dennaba. After Balak, Jobab, who is called Job: and after him, Asom, who was governor out of the country of Thaeman; and after him Adad, the son of Barad, that destroyed Madiam in the plain of Moab; and the name of his city was Gethaim. And the friends that came to him were Eliphaz of the sons of Esau, king of the Thaemanites, Baldad sovereign of the Sauchaens, Sophar, king of the Minaeans.

JOB Chapters 3-37 Haftarah Circle 26 January 2011

This long central portion of Job is made up of three cycles of speeches, in which Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar speak, each receiving a response from Job; they then each speak again, with Job answering them and the third cycle is believed to be incomplete, with Zophar’s speech missing (unless one follows Alter in attributing chapter 27:8ff and 28 to Zophar), and Bildad’s speech cut short.

Chapter 3
Job curses the day he was born and the night of his conception, and laments that he survived infancy. The repetition of day and daylight should be remembered when Job names a daughter Jemima (days) when his fortunes are restored at the end off the book.

Chapters 4-5

Eliphaz the Temanite argues the case for the doctrine of retribution saying:

Remember now, who was innocent that perished, and when were the upright destroyed?

The implication is that Job must have deserved his misfortune. The name Eliphaz the Temanite indicates the house of Esau, who had a son called Eliphaz and a grandson called Teman. We saw that the book of Job seems to be set in the patriarchal period – Job performs his own sacrifices – and in an non-Israelite environment, and the names of Job’s friends are further indicators of this.

There is a touch of schadenfreude in Eliphaz’s suggestion that Job has got above himself: ‘You have chastised many and you have strengthened weak hands. Your words would pick up the stumbler, and you would strengthen buckling knees. Now when it comes to you, you weary; it touches you and you are afraid.’

Eliphaz says ‘Man is born to trouble while the sparks fly upward.’ Translations vary but reshef, translated sometimes as sparks, is also the name of a Canaanite deity or demon, who presides over fire and destruction.

Gerald Abrahams, in the Encyclopaedia Judaica reads reshef רשף as refesh: רפש as in Isaiah 57:20:

‘The wicked are like the troubled sea which cannot rest, whose waters toss up mire and mud.’

So the word reshef could be down to a scribal error, in which two consonants were reversed. Refesh is found in three other instances, both with the meaning of muddy waters.

The parallelism of ‘For He brings pain and binds it; He wounds and His hands heal’ is reminiscent of Hannah’s poem: The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. There is also a similarity to Psalm 91, when Eliphaz says ‘You shall be hidden from the scourging tongue and you shall not fear plunder when it comes.’ Compare ‘For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence’. Eliphaz speaks psalmodically and Job replies threnodically.

It has been noted that the author of this speech is acquainted with five different words for lion: aryeh, shachal, kefir, layish and lavi. He has a sophisticated vocabulary, and a knowledge of lions

Chapter 6
Job speaks of his anguish but says that he has not earned his afflictions: ‘My cause is righteous.’ In verse 21 the qere is לו where the ketiv is לא. Robert Alter translates this as ‘Now you are His,’ explaining ‘The idea then would be that Job’s friends have gone over to God’s side.’

Job invokes the Canaanite deities Yam and Tannin when he asks ‘Am I the sea or a sea monster that You place a watch over me?’ Robert Alter translates this ‘Am I Yamm or am I the Sea Beast, that you should put a watch upon me?’

And he asks what is perhaps the defining question of the book of Job: If I have sinned, what have I done to you, you who watch over us all? Why have you made me your target?

Chapter 8

The second friend, Bildad the Shuhite, now begins to rebuke Job for accusing God of injustice. He is more severe than Eliphaz, asserting that Job’s children died because they were sinful. ‘Shuhite’ suggests that Bildad is a descendant of Abraham and Keturah. The name Bildad is regarded as Canaanite or Sumerian, Dad being a theophoric syllable with reference to a Mesopotamian god. WF Albright, writing in 1927, with knowledge of Assyrian, refers to a view about the interchangeableness of l and r, lamed and resh, which would make Bildad’s name something like Bir-Hadad. Albright however rejects this conclusion, and connects the name Bildad with that of Balaam. As it happens, Balaam gets connected with Job and his friends by the Vilna Gaon, who said that there were seven heathen prophets: Balaam and his father Beor plus Job himself, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar amd Elihu.In the Testament of Job, the three friends are three kings: Eliphas, Baldad and Sophar.

Bildad rebukes Job for attributing injustice to God (something which Abraham did also however). He concludes with the possibly comforting words: ‘God will not reject the innocent, nor will He uphold evildoers.’

Chapter 9-10
Job speaks his mind without answering Bildad’s specific comments. He takes the view that the transcendent God who creates heaven and earth, nature and miracles ‘will not answer one of a thousand’. אם־יחפץ לריב עמו לא יעננו אחת מני־אלף

Job asks ‘If it is a trial of strength,behold He is mighty; and if one of judgment, who will summon me?’ He says that God destroys both the innocent and the wicked. It is as if he believes it is beneath God topay attention to his individual distress. To the Master of the Universe, Job cannot amount to a hill of beans. He longs for his suffering to end, but does not believe that God listens to his prayers.

Note the reference to the constellations in verse 9. the identification of ash, kesil and kimah as the Bear, Orion and the Pleiades has been disputed. The LXX specifies the Pleiades, Hesperus and Arcturus:

Ο ποιων Πλειαδα και Εσπερον και Αρκτουρον
Hesperus is Venus, the evening star and Arcturus is in a direct line with the tail of Ursa Major.

Amos also refers to God as ‘He who made the Pleiades and Orion’, עשה כימה וכסיל

Chapter 11
The third friend, Zophar the Naamathite, speaks up. He is at least as severe than the other two, and his view is that if Job removed wrongdoing from his hand and his tents, then all his wretchedness would disappear.

Zophar’s words are reminiscent of God’s to Cain: If you do well, will you not be accepted?[]And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door.

Job’s plight is indeed inexplicable like Cain’s, except that the narrative has assured us of Job’s virtue, whille nothing is known about Cain, prior to the fratricide, except that he was a tiller of the soil whose offering of vegetable produce was unacceptable.

Chapters 12 – 14
Robert Alter says that Job is being sarcastic to his three friends who consider themselves wiser and more righteous than he. ‘I too have intelligence like you; I am not inferior to you,’ he says.

He compares himself to one who calls on god and God answers punitively, to make the righteous mock and despise him. This is a reductio ad absurdum of the theology that only the wicked suffer – to say that the righteous enjoy the suffering of others, because they consider it to be inflicted by God, with justice.

Job goes on to refute this, pointing out that the tents of robbers are secure and the wicked prosper, yet all of Creation is in God’s hands. He overturns the authority of counselors, judges and kings and takes away wisdom from sages. This is a view propounded in Ecclesiastes, that wealth, power and even wisdom are transitory and futile, הבל הבלים.

It is in the course of this monologue that Job says to God:

Why do You hide Your face and regard me as Your enemy? (אויב) Will you frighten a driven leaf?

אדם ילוד אשה קצר ימים ושבע־רגז Man born of woman, short of days and full of fear.

As Woody Allen says: ‘The food here is terrible…and such small portions.’

Job wonders how God can be bothered to judge such an ephemeral creature as man. He compares life to hard labour:

…he serves out his days like a hired man (כשכיר).

Chapter 15
The second cycle of speeches commences, with Eliphaz urging Job to repent of his angry words. He accuses Job of speaking hot air.

Let your own mouth condemn you and not I, and let your own lips testify against you.

The friends are very inflexible in their arguments and are not moved in the least by any of Job’s speeches. No wonder William Blake depicts them pointing accusatory fingers at Job.

Chapter 16 – 17
Job in turn accuses Eliphaz of uttering words of hot air, דברי־רוח. He says that God has delivered him to wrongdoers although he has perpetrated no violence. He cries out:

Oh earth! Do not cover my blood and let there be no place for my cry.

Robert Alter comments that this verse is reminiscent of God’s words to Cain.

Chapter 18
Bildad the Shuhite also urges Job to repent, affirming the terrors in store for evildoers.

Chapter 19
Job replies, complaining of his isolation – everyone has turned against him:

All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me.

He wants to be vindicated, by a judgment in his favour., Alter understands verse 25, ‘I know that my redeemer lives’ to refer to an ally who will testify on his behalf. However the continuation of the verse and the term גאלי make it reasonable to interpret this as referring to God.

Chapter 20
Zophar also wants Job to repent of his outburst. He uses a notable simile for the transience of wordly success of evildoers:

Though his height ascends to the heavens and his head reaches the clouds, like his dung, he shall perish forever; those who see him will say ‘Where is he?’

The Hebrew word is גלל which has other meanings, particularly the verb to roll, from which such words as circle, wheel, ( gilgal גלגל), skull (gulgolet גלגלת) and scroll (megillah מגלּה) are derived. There is a usage in 1 Kings, saying that the house of Jeroboam will be swept away, like dung.

Chapter 21
Job is so unconvinced by all his friends’ arguments that he continues to ask:

Why do the wicked live, grow rich and gather wealth? Their seed is firm-founded before them, their offspring before their eyes, their homes are safe from fear, and God’s rod is not against them.

Whereas his friends find a kind of simpklistic moral order in the world, Job finds the world a lawless place, where suffering is allotted randomly to undeserving victims.

Chapter 22
Now in the third cycle of speeches, Eliphaz remains convinced that Job must deserve his suffering:

Why, your evil is great and there is no end to your crimes.

Chapters 23-24
Job wants an opportunity to defend himself to God. He speaks of his inability to find God in terms of the four points of the compass, or of four directions. Robert Alter has:

Look, to the east I go, and He is not there,
to the west and I do not discern Him,
To the north where He acts, and behold Him not,
He veils the south and I do not see him.

The ESV translates the same verse in terms of directions:

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.

Job’s response seems to go beyond the injustice of his personal predicament as he regards the suffering of the innocent and the flourishing of the wicked as being the way of the whole world, with God unreachable and His justice indiscernable.

Chapters 25-26
Job (in Alter’s translation, Bildad is the speaker here) alludes to a variety of creatures from Canaanite mythology. Zaphon is the mountain of the Canaanite god Baal; Yam and Rahab are sea monsters. Rahab is associated with primordial darkness and sometimes with leviathan, being a sea monster slain by Baal in Canaanite poetry. However, zaphon can be translated as ‘north’ and yam as ‘the sea’.

Chapters 27-28
Chapter 28 is known as the Hymn to Wisdom.

The opening verses of Chapter 28 show that the author has some technical knowledge of mining and mineralology, but, by contrast with precious metals, wisdom is priceless and can not be found by human diligence.

There are four different words for gold in verses 15-19: segor, zahav, paz and ketem.

Job (Alter attributes some of this speech to Zophar) asks where wisdom is to be found. It is not in the sea; it can not be bought; it is more precious than valuable gems. It is invisible. When God created the world, measuring wind and water, clouds and thunder, He said to man:

Behold, the fear of the Lord is wisdom and shunning evil is understanding.

There is an obvious similarity to Psalm 111 and Proverbs:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.

Note the full spelling of Adonai in Job 28:28, whereas Psalm 111 and Proverbs have the tetragrammaton.

Chapters 29-31
In his final defence, Job yearns for the time when he felt God watching over him, shining a lamp over his head. He dreams of yesterday.Now he is despised by people who were beneath him. He contrasts himself with Adam who hid from God:

Did I hide like Adam my wrongdoings, to bury within me my crime?

Some versions translate Adam as ‘man’. The targum, however uses the term ומדק םדא which does suggest Adam the first man.

Job comes to the end of his testimony, saying:

May Shaddai bear witness for me and may my opponent write a book.

It seems he still desires to be heard and answered, although not with the facile responses of his friends.

Chapter 32-37
The friends are indeed silenced, but now a new character appears: Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite from the clan of Ram. Robert Alter suggests that this is a satirical name as the literal meaning is ‘He-is-my-God, the son of God-has blessed the scornful one from the high clan.

Rashi however explains that Ram refers to Abraham, which makes Elihu a descendant of Abraham. Ramban said that Ram was an abbreviation of Avram. The Jerusalem Talmud identifies Elihu with Isaac. Ibn Ezra supposes him to be a descendant of Buz, the son of Abraham’s brother Nahor and from Ram, the father of Aminadab, whose son Nachshon was, according to midrash, the first into the Red Sea.

Elihu is considered, by Carol A Newsom for example, to be a late addition to the book of Job. Elihu is not mentioned outside chapters 32-37 and the removal of his speeches would not compromise the narrative integrity of the book. He does not enter into dialogue with Job and his speech consists of a long monologue. He is absent from the conclusion of the story in chapter 42, where Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar are included.

Alter says of Elihu: ‘The plausible consensus is that he is an interrpolation, the work of another poet.’

Elihu is young and for this reason held back his speech so that his elders would precede him. It soon appears that he considers himself wiser than the older men.He believes Job is unreceptive to the teaching which could come to him through his trials. He rebukes Job for expecting an answer from God, and points out that God answers in many ways, for example, through dreams and visions. He is very self-assured, telling Job that he will teach him wisdom. He refers to the wonders of Creation and the transcendence of God, using the names Shaddai and Eloah. His speech is a long reproach to Job, who, Elihu says, should be ‘tried to eternity’. He argues that Job compounds his evil by complaining about his punishment.

Elihu’s is the last of the human speeches in the book of Job. As we shall see, God answers from the whirlwind.

The Book of Job is about the problem of theodicy, why does God permit bad things to happen to good people. Although the book of Job shows that the righteous do suffer, it does not tell us why, and the various speakers in the book do not reach a consensus about the problem. Job has the experience of feeling abandoned by God, but, as we shall see, he also experiences a theophany which reveals that God has not abandoned him. Perhaps this depicts the two poles of experience, in the way the innocent but suffering person can relate to God.

Daniel 4 – 6


We read the first three chapters of Daniel and saw that that these opening chapters tell a court narrative where a Hebrew or Jewish outsider comes, for one reason or another, to the court of an autocratic king and wins the confidence of the king by having special knowledge or skill. In the cases of Joseph and Daniel, they have clairvoyant insight by which they interpret the kng’s dreams. In the case of Mordecai, he possesses secret intelligence and thereby foils a plot to assassinate King Ahasuerus. David too was brought to the royal court where he won Saul’s favour by his skill in playing music, or by his heroism in vanquishing Goliath. Either of these brings him close to the king.

It is quite interesting that Moses at the court of Pharaoh does not seem to fit this genre (the infancy of Moses fits a different genre, to which Paris, Romulus and Remus, Jesus and Superman belong);  the filmic representations of Ten Commandments and Moses Prince of Egypt develop a narrative portraying Moses’ success and good reputation at the Pharaonic court.

In Daniel’s generation, the king is Nebuchadnezzar who brought captives from Jerusalem to Babylon, beginning with the most distinguished and educated members of society. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. All are given Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. They refuse the unkosher haute cuisine made available to them, and thrive on lentils and water.

As in the case of the Pharaohs of both Joseph and Moses, the king is surrounded by his own magicians, the hartummin and ashafim, whose achievements are demonstrably inferior to those of Daniel (as they were to Joseph and Moses). When Nebuchadnezzar wants a dream interpreted, he witholds the content of the dream froml his wise men and threatens them with execution when they fail to discern it and make an interpretation of it.

The court magicians speak to the king in Aramaic and from this point forward (chapter 2, verse 4) the language of the narrative and dialogue is Aramaic.

Daniel receives a vision from God regarding Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and, when he comes before the king, he describes the dream of a statue whose head was made of gold, upper body of silver, lower body of brass, legs of iron and feet of iron and clay. When a stone struck the feet of clay, the statue toppled and the stone filled the earth. The various metals represent kingdoms and Nebuchadnezzar is the head of gold, to be followed by lesser empires. The stone represents God who strikes at the empires and fills the earth with His own kingdom, which does not pass away.

Of course there is the question of identifying the kingdoms, very much connected with the dating of the book of Daniel. There is a strong consensus for it being a work from about the time of the Hasmonean revolt, due to the detailed descriptions later in the book of the life and battles of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The connection with Antiochus was not lost on Josephus who plainly identifies him as one of the subjects of Daniel’s vision.

The kingdoms of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream could be Babylon, Media, Persia, Greece and a combination of the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires which followed Alexander the Great, as the feet of iron and clay.

If the date is late enough, the last kingdom could refer to the Romans, who engaged with Antiochus in battle, well before Pompey was called in to Judea by Hyrcanus II in 63 BCE.

However, the events described at the beginning of Daniel belong to the period of the Babylonian exile, beginning 597 BCE.

Nebuchadnezzar is so impressed by Daniel’s oneiromancy that he bows down to him and wants to sacrifice to him. Later to suffer a mental breakdown, Nebuchadnezzar already shows signs of being highly strung.

In the third chapter, he has forgotten that he had affirmed that Daniel’s God was God , and has a new golden image, the worship of which is mandatory. Envious Chaldeans tip off the king that Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego are not complying and they are summoned to the royal presence. They refuse to worship the idol so the king has them thrown into the fiery furnace. The king then sees that, far from perishing, they are walking unharmed in the fire and a fourth man is with them, lebar-elohin, like a son of God, or like a son of the gods or like an angel. Nebuchadnezzar calls the three out of the furnace, blesses God and promotes Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.

Midrash provides a similar furnace miracle story about Abraham where the persecutory king is Nimrod, another king of Babylon.

The fiery furnace story is extended in both the Septuagint and the Apocrypha as ‘The Song of the Three Children’, taking the form of Azariah’s prayer, followed by a brief description of the young men’s delivery from the furnace, and a psalm spoken by Azariah, Mishael and Hananiah.

In Chapter 4, which we are looking at this evening, the narration, which has been third person so far, is now voiced by Nebuchadnezzar. We have seen first person prophecy in the bible, but it is unexpected to find first person narration by a Babylonian despot.

He relates that he has been frightened by another dream, and sends for Daniel to interpret it when again his magicians fail him. The dream concerns a great tree in the centre of the earth, so tall it reaches to heaven and to the ends of the earth. Daniel’s role is to decode the dream on the presumption that the dream has been sent to Nebuchadnezzar from an external source, where some kind of supernatural knowledge resides.

Freud said:

The pre-scientific conception of the dream which obtained among the ancients was, of course, in perfect keeping with their general conception of the universe, which was accustomed to project as an external reality that which possessed reality only in the life of the psyche.

The bible commentator Walter Brueggemann writes:

[Nebuchadnezzar] had come to think of himself as autonomous and did not acknowledge that sovereignty belongs to whomever God may give it (Dan. 4:25). The dream asserts that Nebuchadnezzar had misunderstood his status in the world by disregarding the ultimacy of the holy God.

Daniel, the gifted Jewish dream interpreter – gifted, surely, because of his rootage in faith – counsels Nebuchadnezzar to practice mercy and justice (4:27). The dream is given because of Nebuchadnezzar’s “insanity.” The narrative goes beyond the dream to tell of a return to sanity: Nebuchadnezzar offers a doxology to the most high God and accepts his own penultimacy in the world of power (4:34-37).

The tree in the dream clearly represents Nebuchadnezzar himself. It shelters and nourishes those who live within its compass. It is to be cut down but not destroyed. What then is the remaining stump? A madman? A penitent? The Unconscious?

In the dream the commandment to cut down the tree comes from ‘a watcher and a holy one’ who comes down from heaven: עיר וקדיש מן־שמיא. Angels are called malachim, anushim, bnei elim, but ir – a wakeful one – is Enoch’s preferred term, in the pseudepigrapha attributed to him. In the Tanakh, ir, as a term for an angel, belongs only to Daniel. It is attested in Midrash Tehillim to Psalm 118:8, with the meaning guardian angel.

As עיר is commonly used to mean town or city, it may be connected with ir as ‘watch-tower’.

Daniel interprets the stump of the tree as the kingdom which will be returned to Nebuchadnezzar after seven years, when he will recover from his madness. Twelve months pass, and the king’s hubris has been restored for he says ‘Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?’

Then he is struck as described in the dream and he is driven out by his courtiers to live out of doors and eat grass.When Nebuchadnezzar is given ‘a beast’s heart’, does this resemble the situation of Pharaoh whose heart is hardened, a determinism by which even human decision making is ruled by God?

Blake’s water colour of Nebuchadnezzar dominates the imagination, the terrified eyes seeming to show that the king has insight into his condition. Alan Bennett, in The Madness of George III has comparable moments, when King George asks his wife ‘Do you think that I am mad?’ and when he quotes King Lear: ‘To deal plainly, I fear I am not in my perfect mind’.

Nebuchadnezzar’s madness runs its course and he resumes his first person narrative:

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation.

For the third time, he seems almost on the verge of becoming a proselyte, at least he utters a psalm of praise to the God of Israel. He responded similarly to Daniel’s interpretation of his dream about the statue, and to the miracle of the fiery furnace, but this is motif rather than characterization. You will see that Darius does exactly the same when Daniel survives the lions’ den.

Chapter 5
There is a question about the historicity of Belshazzar, and doubt whether he was the son of Nebuchadnezzar, as the only record of this king is the Cylinder of Inscription of King Nabonidus , where Belshazzar was the son and co-regent of Nabonidus.

As depicted in the book of Daniel, Belshazzar has learned nothing from the experiences of /Nebuchadnezzar, his putative father. He makes a lavish feast for a thousand people, using the vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had looted from the holy temple in Jerusalem. There was much drinking and praising of idols, made of gold, silver, brass, iron, wood and stone – perhapsa narrative allusion to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue. Note the Aramaic words in verse 4 for the various metals and materials.

Belshazzar was terrified when a disembodied hand wrote on the wall. He promised purple clothes, a gold chain and the governorship of a third of the kingdom to the person who could interpret the writing. The queen appeared in the banqueting hall and, prefacing her words with the customary ‘May the king live for ever,’ she tells her husband that there is wise and gifted interpreter in the kingdom, Daniel, who had been favoured for his superior knowledge by Nebuchadnezzar – and the queen says twice, ‘your father’, אבוך.

Daniel is brought to the king, who says ‘Art thou Daniel, who is of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Judah?’

In his reply, Daniel gives a resumé of Nebuchadnezzar’s biography, his greatness, his power, his madness, his life as an ox. He uses the terms ‘thy father’ and ‘thou his son,’ so the paternity of Belshazzar is repeatedly emphasised. He then refers to Belshazzar’s grandiosity, the feast, the drunkenness, the idol worship, and finally Daniel interprets the words on the wall: Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. Verse 26 really needs to be read in the original Aramaic, to catch the way the explanations include the unfamiliar words of the inscription. There is also a pun in the word upharsin, as a slight vowel change to peres, which means ‘divided’, gives the word Persia, which is shortly to bring about the destruction of Belshazzar’s kingdom.

Daniel is instantly promoted, with purple, gold chainsd and proclamations and that very night, Belshazzar is killed.

Chapter 6

Darius the Mede now possesses the kingdom and sets up a hundred and twenty satraps to govern it, with Daniel prominent among them. As with Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, Daniel distinguishes himself above his peers, who become envious. They try to find something incriminating in his life, but he is above reproach – except that he worships a God other than Darius the king. Note verse 7, ‘they came tumultuously to the king.’ The adverb is הרגשו, hargishu, from ר כ ש. They proceed to set a trap for Daniel, persuading the king to sign a statute which prohibits prayer to anyone other than the king, for a period of thirty days. Like Ahasuerus with Haman , the king appears easily manipulated and the statute is unalterable, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians. The penalty for breaking this law is to be thrown into the lions’ den.

Daniel continues to pray three times a day as usual, quite openly with the windows open, and facing Jerusalem. His enemies come upon him tumultuously and then report to the king that Daniel has been praying to his God.

The king, when told that Daniel has breached the unalterable new statute, tries to save Daniel, we are not told exactly how. The Aramaic verb שיזב, shayzayv, means to save or to release and – although it does not look like it – is a version of Hebrew עזב, to forsake, or in certain variations, to cause to be released. Whereas the causative prefix in Hebrew verbs is hi in the past tense, ma in the present, Aramaic includes a shin prefix in some causative verbs (active shaphel, passive hishtaphal), which we are looking at in לשיזבותהּ, ‘to cause him to be released’.

The tumultuous men return and remind the king that he is not empowered to change the unalterable law he has signed. Darius therefore gives the order to cast Daniel into the lions’ den, but says these words to Daniel: ‘May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you’. By refering to Daniel serving God continually, the king implies that God will find Daniel worthy to be saved. The verb is again the shaphel of עזב, ישיזבנּך, ‘He will deliver you.’

You may remember that, in the narrqtive of the fiery furnace, the miracle is observed from the point of view of King Nebuchadnezzar, rather than that of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Similarly here we are privy to the point of view of King Darius, his fasting, his abstinence from entertainment and his sleeplessness. He rises early and goes to the lions’ den where he calls out to Daniel. The reply he receives is:

O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.

Daniel explains that the lions did not harm him because he was innocent; the following verse tells us it was because he trusted in God.

Retribution comes to Daniel’s accusers as the king has them and their families thrown into the lions’ den, where they perish.

Darius then sent out letters to all the nations of the earth, extolling the God of Daniel, in psalmodic language resembling that of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 3, verses 31 – 33, chapter 4, verses 31 – 34.

Daniel’s long and successful career continues from his time at the court of Nebuchadnezzar, through to that of Belshazzar; he survives the fall of the Babylonians and the succession of the Medes and Persians to serve at the courts of Darius and Cyrus.

Daniel, Chapters 1 – 3

fiery furnace
Daniel is written partly in Hebrew and partly in Aramaic. It begins with narratives about Daniel and his friends, in a genre called ‘court tales’ (chapters one to six). Esther also belongs  to this genre; as does Bel and the Dragon from the Apocrypha.

The Book of Daniel is in the Ketuvim, but in a non-Jewish bible it will be found in the Prophets, after Ezekiel and before Hosea. Daniel, a Judean exile at the court of Nebuchadnezzar II (605 to 562 BC), the ruler of Babylon, becomes a prominent official in the government. As the author appears to have knowledge of Alexander the Great and the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires which followed him, there has been a consensus in bible criticism to date the book to the Maccabean period, about 165 BCE, shortly before the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

In particular, the vision in Chapter 11, which focuses on a series of wars between the “King of the North” and the “King of the South”, is generally interpreted as a record of Levantine history from the time of Alexander the Great down to the era of Antiochus IV, with the “Kings of the North” being the Seleucid kings of Syria and the “Kings of the South” being the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt.

However, Daniel prophesies about Alexander and subsequent events:

And as for me, in the first year of Darius the Mede, I stood up to confirm and strengthen him. 2 “And now I will show you the truth. Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia, and a fourth shall be far richer than all of them. And when he has become strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece. 3 Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do as he wills. 4 And as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the authority with which he ruled, for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others besides these.

In Josephus’s account of Alexander’s visit to Jerusalem, Alexander was presented with a copy of the book of Daniel, which would make the work extant around 330 BCE.

The period of Antiochus IV Epiphanes is 175 – 164 BCE, when the Hellenization of Judah was advanced, with the complicity of a high priest called Jason. The religious opposition to Hellenization took the name Hasidim. Antiochus attacked the Egyptian army of Ptolemy VI in 168, but was forced back by Roman intervention, under the direction of a consul called Popilius. Meanwhile Antiochus began to suppress Jewish resistance to his policies in Jerusalem, which led to the Maccabean revolt.

The identification of Antiochus in the prophetic passages in Daniel is  reinforced by Josephus  in the Antiquities:

Indeed it so came to pass that our nation suffered these things under Antiochus Epiphanes, according to Dasniel’s vision, and what he wrote many years before they came to pass.

While there seems to be a consensus among scholars that the legendary stories of chapters 1-6 are older than the visions in chapters 7-12, there is considerable support for the view that Chapter 7 and following were written as a message of encouragement to the hasidim suffering for their faith under the oppression of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

The name Daniel is attributed to a son of David and Abigail , to a priest who returned with Ezra to Jerusalem and, without the letter yod, to a legendary hero whom Ezekiel compares with Job and Noah. The name Daniel occurs also in Nehemiah, as a signatory to a written pledge, against intermarriage and concerning shemitta, sacrifice and tithing.

The Talmudic view of Daniel is that it was written by ‘the men of the great assembly’ – ie the leaders during the restoration of the Temple. Rashi said that the reason Daniel did not write the book himself is the prohibition against prophecy outside Eretz Israel. This tradition which dates the book to the fifth or fourth century BCE accounts for the fact that much of the book is written in Aramaic, the language of the Persian empire.

Daniel was present at Belshazzar’s feast, and interpreted the writing on the wall. He surrvived the Babylonian Empire, which fell that night, and achieved prominence in the Persian Empire, under Darius. This enables Daniel to be present, according to some midrashim, at the court of King Ahasuerus. Daniel resembles Joseph, a wise and esteemed foreigner, called to the royal court when the kings’ advisers fail to come up with the goods.

The three chapters we are looking at on 30/03/2011 are in Hebrew up to Chapter 2 verse 4a, and in Aramaic from 2:4b.

Chapter 1 recapitulates the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the abduction of king Jehoiakim to Babylon, called here Shinar, along with the créme de la créme of Jerusalem society, especially good looking and intelligent young men.

The young men are prepared to be presentable to the king, for a period of three years. One trusts they did not pay tuition fees. In the case of Ahasuerus, the maidens were prepared for the king in the course of just one year.

Verse 6 introduces Daniel and his companions, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. They are all given Babylonian names, respectively: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.

Daniel did not want to eat the unkosher food and wine which the king provided and ‘God granted Daniel mercy and compassion in the sight of the chief and the officers,’ who provided him and his companions with pulses and water, on which they thrived. The word translated as pulses or vegetables is זרעים , literally seeds.

When they were brought before King Nebuchadnezzar, the surpassed in appearance and learning all the magicians and enchanters of the kingdom.

The Hebrew expression החרטמים האשפים (ha-hartummim ha-ashafim) is particular to the Book of Daniel. Hartummin without ashafim occurs with the meaning of Egyptian magicians in the Egyptian narratives of Joseph and Moses. BDB makes a connection between hartummim and heret, to engrave, suggesting the knowledge of occult writing, perhaps comparable to the runes of Europe. Ashaf is considered a loan word from Assyrian asipu.

Chapter 2
This is reminiscent of Joseph called before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. Besides the hartummin and ashafim, the king sends for mekashevim. – this term for a sorcerer is not unusual in Tanakh or in the Talmud – and Casdim, that is to say Chaldeans the generic name for Babylonians ruled by Nebuchadnezzar. The connotation here is that sorcery is a significant element of Chaldean scholarship.

It is explained that the Chaldeans speak Aramaic and, from this point, not only the direct speech but the narrative continues in Aramaic. Notice the formula ‘O king, live forever’ – מלכּא לעלמין חיי. We are reminded of Bathsheba’s words to David: ‘May my lord King David live forever.’ ‘O king, live forever’ is used also by Nehemiah to King Artaxerxes and on several subsequent occasions in the book of Daniel. It seems to be a Persian formula for addressing the king.

The sorcerers of King Nebuchadzezzar work under pressure, as the king tells them he will have them cut up if they do not interpret the dream. furthermore, he suspects they will collude to save themselves, by coming up with an agreed answer. To their credit, the sorcerers reply ‘Pass’, for which they receive the due death sentence.

Daniel and his companions may be under this death sentence themselves, being among the wise men of the court. Daniel sought an audience with the king, but before the appointed time, he prayed with Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah that God would be merciful and save their lives. That night, the meaning of the king’s dream was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Daniel utters a hymn of praise, in Aramaic.

Arioch, the captain of the king’s guard, brings Daniel before the king with the words ‘I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation’. You will remember that Joseph was described to Pharaoh by his cup beare who had done time with Joseph: ‘There with us a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams.’

When Daniel speaks to the king, he makes it clear that his interpretation of the dream comes from God and not from his own wisdom. He then describes the image in the king’s dream, of a statue whose head was gold, its chest and arms of silver, middle and thighs of brass, legs of iron and feet of iron and clay. A stone then struck at the feet of clay and the whole statue broke into pieces,which were carried away by the wind while the stone became a mountain that filled the earth.

In Daniel’s interpretation, the gold represents the king and the silver represents the kingdom that will come after him. This would be the kingdom of the Medes and the Persians, or possibly the Medes with the Persians represented by brass. Alternatively, brass refers to the empire of Alexander the Great. The fourth kingdom has been interpreted as the Seleucids and the Ptolomeys, or as the Romans and the Nabatean Arabs. The kingdom of brass will rule the earth – which supports the identification with Alexander. The kingdom of iron will have great oppressive strength. ‘…They shall mingle themselves by the seed of men, but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron does not mingle with clay.’

When all these kingdoms had run their course, God would set up His own Kingdom, די לעלמין לא תתחבל which would never be destroyed.

On hearing this, Nebuchadnezzar bows down before Daniel and commanded that an offering be made to him, as if he were a god. This evokes an episode described by Josephus, where Alexander the Great, arriving in Jerusalem, bows before the High Priest.

Alexander then gave the high priest his right hand, and went into the Temple and “offered sacrifice to God according to the high priest’s direction,” treating the whole priesthood magnificently. “And when the Book of Daniel was shown him [see Dan. vii. 6, viii. 5-8, 20-22, xi. 3-4], wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks [] should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that he was the person intended, and rejoiced thereat.

Nebuchadnezzar now affirms that God is God, saying to Daniel ‘Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.’

Like Joseph and like Mordecai, Daniel becomes the king’s highest minister, and he gets top jobs also for Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.

Chapter 3
Nebuchadnezzar reneges almost immediately, erecting a golden image and callig on all the officers of the kingdom to worship it. The term achashdarpnim is essentially the Persian word for a satrap, mentioned also in Esther and Ezra.

The signal to worship the statue is sounded by musical instruments: note סומפּניה, sumponiah. The instruments are translated into Greek as σαλπιγγος, συρινγγος, κιθαρας, σαμβυκης, ψαλτηριου, and παντος γενους μουσικων – ‘all kinds of music’.

The penalty for disobeying the signal to worship was to be cast into the fiery furnace.

We should remember that midrash offers a legend about Abraham and a fiery furnace. Nimrod persecuted Abraham whom he had thrown into a furnace, which Abraham miraculously survived unscathed.

Certain Chaldean men now brought accusations against Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, for not complying with the idol worship, and they were summoned by an irate Nebuchadnezzar. Note that they are referred to by their Babylonian names, not their Hebrew names, perhaps in keeping with the Aramaic narrative, which offers a non Hebrew perspective on the story. The king gave them a chance to worship the idol, on the prompting of the musical instruments; if they refuse, they will be thrown into the furnace, ‘and who is the god that shall deliver you out of my hands?’

The three companions are by no means certain that God will rescue them, but state plainly that they will not worship Nebuchadnezzar’s gods or the golden image he has set up.

Nebuchadnezzar now orders that the furnace be heated to an intensity seven times greater than usual: this conveys his extreme anger and the extremity of the punishment; it enhances the courage of the heroes and provides the circumstance which caused the king’s men at arms to die from exposure to the heat.

They are thrown fully clothed, including hats (כּרבלות) according to some translations, and bound, into the furnace.

The Quaker George Fox reports the following in his Journal of 1656:

When we were brought into the court, we stood a while with our hats on, and all was quiet. …”Why do you not put off your hats?” said the Judge to us. We said nothing. “Put off your hats,” said the Judge again. Still we said nothing. Then said the Judge, “The Court commands you to put off your hats.” … I replied, “Thou mayest read in the third of Daniel, that the three children were cast into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar’s command, with their coats, their hose, and their hats on.”

The LXX adds that they sang praise and blessings to God as they walked unharmed in the furnace: υμνουντες τον θεον και ευλογουντες τον θεον.

The Apocrypha includes a book called ‘The Song of the Three Children,’ which is the song of praise attributed to Azariah, not called Abed-nego in the Greek of the Apocrypha but Αζαριας. This takes the form of Azariah’s prayer, followed by a brief description of the young men’s delivery from the furnace, and a psalm spoken by Azariah, Mishael and Hananiah, ending with a quotation from Psalm 118: ‘Give thanks to the Lord for his mercy endures forever’.

The Benedicite, used in the Roman Catholic liturgy, is a Latin translation of verses 35ff of The Song of the Three Children and the hymn is used also in Lutheran and Anglican worship.

These verses are not included in the canonical Daniel. There, the young men fall into the furnace and the narrative suddenly focuses on Nebuchadnezzar in film it would be called a POV shot – his perception, his alarmed reaction, and his words: ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?’
when the ministers reply ‘True O king,’ Nebuchadnezzar announces in his own words the dramatic development:

He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

The ESV pluralises אלהין but the KJV has:
He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.

Elohin having the plural suffix, like the Hebrew equivalent Elohim, the translations seem equally viable, though ‘the son of God’ naturally reflects the theology of a Christian translator. As the words are spoken by Nebuchadnezzar, it is reasonable to think the intention of the words is polytheistic. The fourth person is also referred to, in some translations, as an angel, a translation of Elohim attested in Psalm 8:6.

In his next utterance, Nebuchadnezzar refers to God with a monotheistic usage,אלהא עליא, the equivalent of ‘El Elyon’, because he has witnessed the miracle in the fiery furnace. He calls the men out of the fire, addressing the three by name, and they emerge, unhurt, with no traces of smoke on their clothes.

Nebuchadnezzar then blesses the God of Shadrach, Mesach and Abed-nego, referring to the fourth person as an angel (מלאך) sent by God, and affirming the events which led to the miracle. He declares that no one is to talk against God; the punishment for those who do is to be cut to pieces, and have their houses destroyed. The reason he gives for this decree is that other gods are not able to deliver comparable miracles.

As with Daniel, Mordecai and Joseph, the three are promoted by the king.

Nebuchadnezzar makes a declaration, praising God. The reference to God’s signs and wonders is allusive to the miracles of the Exodus, and Nebuchadnezzar is cast in the role of Pharaoh – the Pharaoh who knew Joseph (Hebrew courtier) and the Pharaoh who knew Moses (signs and wonders). The language makes a connection between exile in Egyptian and exile in Babylon.

In the last verse, the word שלטן, dominion, from ש ל ט, ‘to rule’ is interesting as one can suppose that the word sultan is cognate; shiltun appears in the Yom Kippur liturgy (uvecheyn teyn pachdecha ), and it is more common to Talmudic usage than biblical.

The Apocrypha contains three books which are additions to the biblical Daniel; the first of these, which we noted, is The Song of the Three Children, concerning Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; in the second, the History of Susanna, a youth called Daniel intervenes in a case of false testimony, and in Bel and the Dragon, set at the court of King Cyrus of Persia, Daniel shows that an idol called Bel is not, as supposed by Cyrus, a living god. Bel appears to eat and drink copious quantities, but this is really a scam by the priests of Bel, to get provisions for themselves and their families. There was also a dragon which the king believed to be a god, but which expired when Daniel poisoned it. This made Daniel so unpopular that the king, under pressure, had Daniel thrown in a lions’ den. However, God sent the prophet Habakkuk with packed lunches for Daniel, and when the king looked in the lions’ den after seven days, Daniel and the lions were all in good health.

This of course resembles chapter six of the canonical Daniel, where envious courtiers tell Darius the king that Daniel persists in worshipping God, illicitly.Daniel is then thrown in the lions’ den; but we shall read of this in our next session.

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