Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ezekiel's Daniel

The book of Ezekiel mentions the name Daniel three times. I was recently asked if I could clarify the chronology to explain how those to whom Ezekiel was prophesying would know about Daniel since Daniel is younger than Ezekiel. I commend the brother for paying such close attention to his biblical timelines! In this article, I will attempt to briefly examine the major issues around Ezekiel’s reference and explain why I think this is a reference to the prophet Daniel.

The question has long been debated by critical scholars. The traditional view is that Ezekiel’s Daniel is the same person as the prophet Daniel who was his younger contemporary. Critical scholars, however, often raise several arguments against the traditional view.[1] First, they doubt the younger Daniel could have gained a sufficient reputation to be named by the older prophet, especially along with Job and Noah.

They also point out that the spelling of the name in Ezekiel דנאל (dn'l or Danel) is different from the spelling used elsewhere to refer to the prophet Daniel דניאל (dny'l or Daniel). Historically, those who rejected the traditional view often argued that the reference was to a mythic figure of the same name.[2] In the 1930’s, however, scholars began translating ancient Canaanite texts and the argument that Danel was a mythic figure became strengthened because one of the ancient tales from Ugarit, known as the Tale of Aqhat features a wise man named Danel. This discovery of an ancient Canaanite “hero” using the same name led to a general consensus among critical scholars that this was the probable background for Ezekiel’s reference.

First, let us take a look at the actual references. The first two occur in the 14th chapter of Ezekiel, both within the context of the coming judgment of God:

“…even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 14:14 ESV)

“…even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, they would deliver neither son nor daughter. They would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness.” (Ezekiel 14:20 ESV)

In both of these cases, Daniel is pointed out for his righteousness alongside Noah and Job. The point is that even the intercession of these righteous men would not be enough to restrain God’s judgment. In this context Daniel is an example of the highest standard of righteousness.
The next reference to Daniel comes in chapter 28 within the context of God’s oracle of coming judgment against the King of Tyre:

“…you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you;” (Ezekiel 28:3 ESV)

The reference here is God mockingly judging the king for his pride and arrogance with Daniel as an example of a very wise man.

The first question we will address is the spelling difference. Spelling variations are common in the Old Testament and are not by themselves significant. In this case, the un-pointed Hebrew names are exactly the same and even most critical scholars accept that the names may have both been pronounced Daniel. The spelling variation is therefore interesting, but inconclusive. What makes this argument interesting is the reference to the Canaanite figure of the same name, to which we will return shortly.

Second, we must answer is how likely is it that Ezekiel and his audience would have known about Daniel as an example of righteousness and wisdom? This is further complicated by the third reference because in order for those who received Ezekiel’s prophesy to understand the reference, the fame of Daniel had to have spread beyond the Jewish community. Would Daniel be famous enough to be mentioned in the same category as Job and Noah, and to be considered an example of wisdom at such a young age to both Jews and non-Jews? While admittedly remarkable, it is not impossible.

Daniel would have likely been no older than his early 30’s when Ezekiel was called but was already in Babylon for over a decade. Daniel was taken captive in the 3rd year of Jehoiakim’s reign (Dan. 1:1-6). Jehoiakim reigned for 11 years, then his son, Jehoiachin replaced him and reigned for 3 months before being exiled (2 Kings 24:8[3]). Ezekiel begins his prophetic ministry in the 5th year of Jehoiachin’s exile. Therefore, Daniel would have been in Babylon for 12 or 13 years when Ezekiel was called. It is possible that another 10 to 20 years may have passed before this specific prophesy was given.

Therefore, although Daniel is younger than Ezekiel it is reasonable that his reputation may have spread by the time Ezekiel is active. The first two chapters of the book of Daniel indicate that Daniel became an important advisor in the court of Nebuchadnezzar very soon after arriving in Babylon and may very well have been famous after only being there a couple of years. The early events of his life, if well known, would have made him famous for precisely the attributes mentioned by Ezekiel, namely his piety and his wisdom, specifically the wisdom to see secret or hidden things (Dan. 2:27-28).

Those arguing for a non-biblical Daniel sometimes point out that neither Noah nor Job are Jewish and argue the inclusion of a famously wise Canaanite would better fit with the other examples. They also submit that a Canaanite reference makes more sense in an oracle to Tyre than does a Jewish prophet. These arguments, however, are not very strong. Although Daniel is Jewish, he is an example of faithfulness lived out in a pagan context and thus complements the others because all three are examples of righteous men who did not live in the Promised Land. It is also not clear that Ezekiel intends any particular significance to the selection of his examples beyond their usefulness as examples of righteousness.

The most persuasive argument to my mind, however, is the overall context of the Ezekiel references. While the Tale of Aqhat depicts the Canaanite Danel as wise, he is not presented as an outstanding example of righteousness. Noah and Job are not Jewish but both worship Yahweh. The Canaanite hero Danel is a polytheist and an idol worshiper. H. H. P. Dressler makes the point clear that it simply makes no sense for Ezekiel to appeal to an idolater who worships false Gods as an example to encourage his people to forsake idolatry. Rather, Daniel is a perfect example of godly wisdom in contrast to the idolatry and false wisdom of Ezekiel’s audience.

Ezekiel’s references to Daniel are not without some difficulty but they involve no logical inconsistency. The most natural reading and the best interpretation, in my opinion, is that by the time Ezekiel is writing the prophet Daniel is already well known for his righteousness and wisdom. When we consider the things the Lord did through him, it is not all that surprising that his reputation would have spread quickly. I suspect the strongest underlying motive of many critical scholars in rejecting the prophet Daniel as the reference is because if Ezekiel’s is talking about Daniel he helps establish the early date of the book of Daniel. That would involve recognizing the supernatural element in Daniel’s prophecies, something that most critical scholars are not eager to accept.

[1] The actual critical arguments (and the responses to them) are rather sophisticated. My goal here is to give the general idea. For those who are interested in a more thorough review of the issue I recommend the Bible.org article by Dan Wallace as a good place to start: https://bible.org/article/who-ezekiels-daniel

[2] Part of the reason why many were reluctant to accept this as a reference to biblical Daniel is because they insisted the book of Daniel was actually written much later.

[3] 2 Kings recounts that Jehoiachin is 18 years old at the time he becomes king but 2 Chronicles records him as being 8 but both confirm that he reigned around 3 months. The discrepancy is possibly a copyist error, the 18 year figure seems more likely given the events in the text although some have argued that both are correct based on possible regency years, etc.