Monday, August 23, 2010

Daniel in Ezekiel 14: Part 1

Last week, we tackled the topic of whether a biblical writer’s reference to a biblical character from another book was historical or literary. Ezekiel 14 happens to be a classic case for such references in the Hebrew Bible, and my focus last time was mostly on the character of Job.

This time I want to open the discussion about the reference to “Daniel” in the same verses, Ezek 14:14 & 20.
Ezekiel 14:14 (ESV)
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 14:20 (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.
Is this a reference to the biblical Daniel known from the book bearing his name? It seems unlikely to me for two reasons. First, the name is spelled differently – Daniel in Hebrew is דָּנִיֵּאל. In Ezek 14, the name is spelled דָּנִאֵל. Now in the unlikely event that you don’t read Hebrew, the difference is that one consonant in the middle – yodh. Since the Masoretes were kind enough to point the name in Ezekiel with the same vowels, we read “Daniel” in the Hebrew text which makes its way into English translations as well. But, the vowels were added to the consonantal text hundreds of years later, so even the vowels are a level of interpretation. The consonants of “Daniel” are DNY’L. The consonants in Ezek 14 are DN’L. (The quote mark indicates the consonant aleph-a guttural often silent in pronunciation.) We can argue about the significance of orthography and provide counter-examples of names with variant spellings, and if there were no other candidate for who Ezekiel might be referencing, they might be compelling.

The second reason requires a little bit of background, but it has to do with the later reference to Daniel in Ezek 28:3 – same name, same spelling – important context – an oracle against the prince of Tyre.
Ezekiel 28:2–3 (ESV)
2 “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God: “Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,’ yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god— 3 you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you;
Why is this context important? Well, what relevance would referencing the biblical Daniel have for the prince of Tyre?

“You are indeed wiser than Daniel.”

“Who’s Daniel?”

“You know, the Jewish sage in Nebuchadnezzar’s court in Babylon.”

“No, didn’t know that. Are you sure you don’t mean Danel from the Tale of Aqhat?”

There’s the bottom line. There is an extra-biblical literary character with the West Semitic name DN’L. He is a key character in the Tale of Aqhat, known from Ugaritic literature. A reference to this character makes sense in Ezekiel 14 in a list of 3 non-Israelite figures.

The issue, of course, is whether this Canaanite literary figure fits the description of Ezekiel for a wise, righteous leader. It is easy to assume that what we know about Dan’ilu (aka Danel or Dnil) from the Tale of Aqhat is the full extent of his legend. From there we can dismiss him as not being specifically “wise” or depicted as particularly righteous (as Dressler 1979, for example) and thus not the referent of Ezekiel.

Consider, however, this excerpt from the Tale of Aqhat that depicts Dan’ilu in the typical role of a wise judge (like Job adjudicating at the city gate; cp. Job 29:7-16).
Dānīʾilu the man of Rapaʾu, the valiant Harnamite man, Arose and sat at the entrance to the (city–)gate, among the leaders (sitting) at the threshing floor. He judged the widow’s case, made decisions regarding the orphan. (Context of Scripture, The ‘Aqhatu Legend, 1.103, 5.3.)
I am still researching this question, but at this point, these two lines of evidence are, in my mind, compelling that Daniel in Ezekiel is the Phoenician character, not the biblical sage.

1. The different spelling of the name in Ezekiel is significant.
2. The Phoenician context of Ezekiel 28 suggests a Canaanite, not Babylonian Jewish, literary reference.

Many scholars have written on this issue with the intent of proving the biblical Daniel is in view here in Ezekiel. What they fail to realize is that all of their arguments calling the connection to Dan’ilu into question do not automatically provide support for a connection to biblical Daniel. Even if the identification of Dan’ilu is incorrect, the connection to Daniel the prophet is not thereby proven. (That reminds me – the Logical Fallacies series is ripe for continuation. The above chain of reasoning bears elements of the burden of proof and false dilemma fallacies. I like to call it the “if-you’re-wrong-then-I’m-right” fallacy. It needs a catchier name though.)

In part 2, I will look further into arguments that Daniel in Ezekiel 14 is a reference to the biblical Daniel. I’m waiting to see Daniel Block’s argument in his commentary which I’m told is persuasive, so I’m keeping an open mind.

Dressler, Harold H. P. “The Identification of the Ugaritic Dnil with the Daniel of Ezekiel” Vetus Testamentum 29:2 (1979), 152-161; Hallo, W. W. and K. L. Younger. Context of Scripture vol. 1. Leiden: Brill, 1997; Matthews, Victor H. and Don C. Benjamin. “The Tale of Aqhat” in Old Testament Parallels, 70-79. Paulist Press, 2006; Margalit, Baruch. “Interpreting the Story of Aqht: A Reply to H. H. P. Dressler, VT 29 (1979), pp. 152-61” Vetus Testamentum 30:3 (1980), 361-365.


  1. Two things:
    1) I won't be able to get the commentary pages to you tonight as promised (as I was called away for an emergency hospital visit that has consumed the better part of my day...sorry). And now I will be tied up until next week, but I will get that to you. BTW, I will just have to type up the pages in Block (unless you would like a photocopied image...since I won't have access to a pdf photocopier for another several weeks...that's what I get when I live in an EXTREMELY rural area).

    2) Concerning the Tyrian message in Ezekiel that offers the second occurrence of the name...who would be expected to actually be receiving this prophetic message? I would actually say that the message is more for Israel than for Tyre (and the king of Tyre). After all, Ezekiel was providing his messages for the exilic community and not for those in Jerusalem or Tyre, Egypt, Edom, etc. (even though a number of prophecies are addressed as such to each). While it is possible (even likely?) that the individual messages were also sent to each kingdom, it is also likely (more so in my mind) that each was simply a part of the larger message for the community in exile.

    The Block commentary addresses the orthographical issue.

  2. Good points, Rick. That's why I'm keeping an open mind. About Block, don't spend the time typing it up. I was trying to avoid a trip to the library just for that book, but I'll do that before making you spend the time typing it. I was thinking a quick photocopy and scan would be easier for me, but I don't want to put you out.

  3. The intended audience of the prophecies against the nations in Ezekiel and Isaiah and elsewhere is an interesting issue, too, but I don't find it totally persuasive in this case.

  4. I'm not sure you can simply blame the Massoretes – the LXX is Δανιηλ which suggests this may be an older tradition. FWIW the New Jerusalem Bible may agree with you – it's the only translation I know which says Danel in these verses.

  5. Doug, I think both MT and LXX vocalizations are a case of "we don't recognize this so it must be a misspelling of this other name we know."

  6. Also important is the fact that Dan(i)el is associated with Noah and Job: both revered figures who (from an exilic perspective) lived in the remote past, rather than in the (exilic) present.

    Even though the Daniel of the book of Daniel is an exilic figure, that is still--from a second century BCE perspective--the remote past.

    So, I'm inclined to see Daniel as a figure who is *perennially* a revered figure from the remote past, whether from an exilic perspective (Ezekiel) or a second-century perspective (book of Daniel).

  7. Is this the 3rd option, Anumma? Daniel in Ezekiel is a conflation of both? Greenberg hints at something like that in his commentary.

  8. I'd also suggest that both Job and Noah in Ezekiel are non-Israelite. This line of reasoning is similar to anumma's, in that just like both Job and Noah are figures from the distant past--at that time--so also are they non-Israelites. I think this also lends support to the idea that "Daniel" in Ez. is Danel from the Tale of Aqhat.

  9. I meant to mention the non-Israelite connection. But I don't find it that persuasive. Nor is the appeal that these are ancient characters that strong because there is still a huge time spread between Noah and Job, for example. Other arguments besides spelling come from the order of names - if Daniel was the contemporary, why in the middle? - and chronology - how would there be enough time for biblical Daniel's rep to have made that kind of impact before Ezek was written. My next post on the subject will look at more of the options. I'm not really happy with anyone's answer because most of what I've been reading on the subject simply assumes one side is right after "disproving" the other side. I'll go into more of these other parts of the argument next time.

  10. I just happened upon this while looking for some of the discussion on that question. Thanks, this is helpful for those of us who do not have the time or resources to research it, but are curious. Thanks for the post and I look forward to part two.

  11. If you subscribed to comments on this post, you might be interested to know that I finally got around to finishing part two.