Sunday, October 10, 2010

Daniel in Ezekiel 14: Part 2

Back in August I presented the options for identifying the “Daniel” named in Ezekiel 14. Was it the biblical Daniel or another Canaanite legendary literary figure known as Danel or Dan’ilu? My money at the time was on the literary reference to the Canaanite Dan’ilu because of the different spelling in Ezekiel and the Canaanite setting in Ezek 28. The issue, however, was more complicated than that and the evidence doesn’t allow for an easy answer.

I’ve spent more time researching the arguments and evidence for and against the possibility that Ezekiel’s Daniel is Dan’ilu. While not without its own problems, I recommend Dan Wallace’s article that summarizes and critiques an article against the identification with Dan’ilu (Dressler) and an article for the connection to Dan’ilu (Day). To examine this issue, I read Dressler, Day, Wallace, and the relevant section from Daniel Block’s commentary. I also have commentaries by Zimmerli, Greenberg, and Allen on Ezekiel. For the most part, those commentaries only give a bare sketch of the evidence for why Dan’ilu is likely the referent and move on. Dressler gives his arguments for why Ezekiel is not referring to Dan’ilu, and Day explains why he thinks the opposite. No one argues in favor of an identification with biblical Daniel. They refute the arguments for Dan’ilu and assume the case is, therefore, intact for the only other option – biblical Daniel. At the end of the last post, I placed the burden of proof on those who would have us accept that Ezekiel had biblical Daniel in mind.
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.
After further review of the evidence, I will concede that some of the objections to an identification of Dan’ilu with Ezekiel’s Daniel are valid. First, even Day, who argues in favor of Dan’ilu, concedes that spelling does not decide the issue. That was one of my two strands of evidence in part 1. Curiously, they do not directly address my second piece of evidence – the Canaanite context of Ezekiel 28. Dressler has some largely irrelevant nonsense about Dan’ilu not being a king per se, but he sidesteps the argument about Tyre and Ezek 28:3 (1979, 157).

The strongest argument against an identification of Dan’ilu as Ezekiel’s Daniel is that an appeal to a non-Israelite, non-Yahweh worshipper seems odd on Ezekiel’s lips in light of his emphasis on Israel’s great sin as idolatry. Would Ezekiel have promoted the righteousness of an idol worshipper when he goes out of his way to stress Israel’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh is the root cause of their exile? Block notes that even though Noah and Job were non-Israelite, they still worshipped Yahweh and Ezekiel’s audience would have been expected to know that (1997, 448). Day’s attempt to salvage this point by asserting Dan’ilu is an El worshipper, not a Baal worshipper, and the OT equates El with Yahweh is a stretch because he still has to admit that “Baal and other deities also figure in the Aqhat text” (1980, 177-8).

The strongest argument against equating Ezekiel’s Daniel with biblical Daniel is the chronological one. Assuming the historicity of the character and the events of the biblical book of Daniel (for sake of argument), the earliest stories of Daniel’s exile and experiences in Nebuchadnezzar’s court date to approximately 605 BCE. The typical terminus ad quem for the composition of Ezekiel’s oracles is around 570 BCE. Is it conceivable that Daniel’s reputation grew that quickly to be a relevant reference for Ezekiel’s audience? Rather than address the point, Block exclaims that it would be “inconceivable that Ezekiel’s audience would not have been familiar with him” (1997, 449). Dressler simply asserts that thirty-six years would have been “enough time to establish the fame of the Daniel of the Babylonian gôlāh” (1979, 158).

Neither option – Canaanite Dan’ilu or biblical Daniel – fits well: choosing one or the other leaves questions unanswered. Why would Ezekiel appeal to a polytheistic worshipper of Canaanite deities as an ideal righteous figure? Would a reference to a contemporary Jewish sage in Nebuchadnezzar’s court have made sense to Ezekiel’s audience? The problem is determining which side bears the burden of proof. Dressler argues throughout as if the burden rests with those who would reject biblical Daniel as the referent stating, “So far, no compelling arguments have been found which necessitate the rejection of the Biblical Daniel” (1979, 158). He frames his argument around four reasons that “have been advanced for denying that the Daniel of Ezekiel xiv and xxviii is to be identified with the Biblical Daniel” (155).

Wallace also places the burden on those who argue in favor of Dan’ilu. After refuting their arguments, he concludes that “Ezekiel’s Daniel is Daniel’s Daniel and that on this strand of evidence at least the sixth century date of Daniel still remains intact.” Wallace’s interest in the issue comes from supporting the date of the Book of Daniel. Apart from the biblical book of Daniel (setting aside the references in Ezekiel), the Jewish sage Daniel does not appear in Jewish literature until the mid 2nd century BCE. Some use that as circumstantial evidence that the book of Daniel is a product of the 2nd century BCE. Wallace believes he is supporting a 6th century BCE date for the book of Daniel by finding reference in Ezekiel to biblical Daniel.

So who bears the burden of proof? Can we assume an identification with biblical Daniel unless another viable candidate is found? There is no positive evidence that biblical Daniel is in view here. The Jewish sage Daniel would fit Ezekiel’s ideal of righteousness, but the chronological argument is difficult to dismiss. What we know of Dan’ilu from the Aqhat text makes him an odd choice for a paragon of virtue in the biblical sense, but the reference in Ezekiel 28 makes more sense with a Canaanite character and the other two in the list (Noah and Job) from Ezekiel 14 are ancient “heroes.” (Some have argued Ezek 28 is a reference to Dan’ilu while Ezekiel 14 is biblical Daniel.)

Either Daniel in Ezekiel is an otherwise unknown figure, or we know too little of Dan’ilu to understand the connection, or biblical Daniel’s reputation for righteousness was widely known in his day. I have to say I’m better informed about the issue than I was back in August, but I don’t have the answer.

Allen, Leslie C. Ezekiel 1-19. Word Biblical Commentary 28, 1994; Block, Daniel. The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 1-24. Eerdmans, 1997; Day, John. “The Daniel of Ugarit and Ezekiel and the Hero of the Book of Daniel.” Vetus Testamentum 30:2 (1980), 174-184; Dressler, Harold H. P. “The Identification of the Ugaritic Dnil with the Daniel of Ezekiel” Vetus Testamentum 29:2 (1979), 152-16; Greenberg, Moshe. Ezekiel 1-20. Anchor Yale Bible 22, 1983; Wallace, Daniel B. “Who is Ezekiel’s Daniel” (accessed 10-10-10); Zimmerli, Walther. Ezekiel 1. Fortess Press, 1979.


  1. Whoever makes a claim bears the burden of proof for that claim. Advocates of each view bear the burden of proof for supporting each view. Positioning one’s own view as the “default value” is an argumentative trick, not an argument.

    For what it’s worth, and without actually living up to the burden of proof in a short comment (!), my own money is still on Dan’ilu—certainly in the triptych “Noah, Danel, and Job”—but not necessarily the Dan’ilu of the Aqhat text. I don’t think we have good evidence that Ezekiel (or the author of the book of Ezekiel) necessarily knew the Aqhat text—nor that Zeke knew the books of Genesis and Job. We need not suppose more than that he knew “folk heroes” named Noah, Danel, and Job as ancient righteous men. Failure to make this distinction plagues New Testament studies, too; we need not suppose that every New Testament mention of an Old Testament character is, by virtue of that reference, an interpretation of an Old Testament text. Ditto with Ezekiel.

  2. "Assuming the historicity of the character and the events of the biblical book of Daniel (for sake of argument)…"

    Is there any reason at all to think Daniel was a real person? The story's details seem far-fetched and its historical details (royal successions and so on) are all wrong, and given its late date of authorship, it seems more likely to me that it was written as a sort of parable (like Jonah perhaps).

  3. Chris, thanks for the comment. Ironically, I got on this subject trying to point out that a reference to a character was not necessarily a reference to the text we know. Somewhere along the way I got caught up in the arguments that assumed otherwise.

    Paul, the historicity of Daniel and the events of his book were beside the point I was making; hence, the "assume for the sake of argument." In other words, even giving them the benefit of the doubt and admitting Daniel could be a historical person from the 6th century BCE, it is still problematic to find that character in Ezekiel's reference.

    The historicity of Daniel is a complex issue in its own right. It lacks the narrative cohesion of a parable or fable like Jonah. It's a collection of folk tales on the front with apocalyptic visions smashed on the back. I definitely think it's final form reflects early 2nd century BCE political maneuvering in chs. 10-12, but I'm not so quick to reject the possibility of a historical core underlying the legends of chs. 1-6, for example. The issue is worthy of a full discussion, however, so maybe I'll put that one on my "to-write" list.

  4. I would very much look forward to reading that, Douglas.

    Your description reminds me a lot of Robin Hood — a semi-mythical (but quite possibly real) person who became a powerful emblem on which to hang folk stories and ballads of heroism and defiance against oppression in later centuries.

  5. Thanks, Paul. I find that distinction is very helpful to apply to many biblical figures. They're quite possibly real but their function in the text is linked much more to their status as a symbol and the story they represent than in their real historical existence. Robin Hood is a good example. King Arthur is my favorite though-likely some historical kernel of reality but nothing like the legend and symbol.

  6. I agree with you that it may not be possible to prove that this refers to the biblical Daniel. Similarly, we cannot prove that it was not a different Job that Ezekiel was referring to. The context just makes sense and we can rationally believe it without 100% certainty.

    With regard to the difficulty you bring up in accepting the identification as the biblical Daniel, this is a soft argument. We are really making an assumption about how well-known a certain person is in the 6th century B.C. Not the sort of thing I would put confidence in. We should not expect to be able to prove Daniel's reputation.

    Still, in this case I think we can. Daniel 3:48 records that Daniel was placed in a high position over all of Babylon. Now you may deny the whole book if you wish but in the case of its authenticity we DO have a well known figure in Daniel.

    Thank you for your research and my arguments imply no disrespect to you. Keep up the good work.