[FT] Fw: On-line Bible Study: What About Government? DANIEL--Part I

Julia jewen at bellsouth.net
Sun Jan 4 17:27:27 PST 2009

About Government? DANIEL--Part I

Here's a note from the New Interpreter's Study Bible (p 1231) re Daniel: "the book of Daniel is the only full-blown apocalypse (a literary work containing visions of the heavenly court and/or the divine culmination of history) in the OT. There are two divisions underlying the book. one literary and one linguistic. According to its literary division the book falls into two halves: a collection of six stories about Daniel and his companions (Dan.1-6), followed by four apocalyptic visions (Dan 7-12). These two parts are distinct from one another on several counts. The most obvious is that of genre. The first half  consists of legends or court ales about Daniel, the righeous courtier, while the latter half contains apocalyptic visions reported by Daniel the apocalyptic visionary.  The tales legitmate Daniel as a worthy recipient of the visions in the second half. The two parts differ furtermore in their portrayal of the foreighn kings. throughout the first half Daniel is on frienly terms with the moarch he serves. The eschatological visions by contrast are suffused with language of war and imperial persecution.
   "In light of these stark contrasts most interpreters think that the two parts were composed by different groups at different times during the Second Temple period (c. 537 BCE-70 CE) The legends are shaped by certainliterary conventions: They evolve around a conflict between the Jewish sage and the foreign courtieres that is resolved at the end of each story with the conversion of the monarch to the God of Israel. Although the stories end with  th eheroes' promotion to an advanced office, it is the heroes' God who is acclaimed in the doxologies of the newly converted king, not th eheroes themselves, as is the case in other court tales, such as Joseph (Gen. 41:39-41). Esther (Esther 10:2-3) and Ahiqar (a Mesopotamian tale about a court official's escape from death). By colelcting and arranging these legends into one literary work, a story is created in which the foreign monarch reverses himself and embraces the Jewish cause at the end of one chapter, only to persecute the Jews at the beginning of the next. It appears likely, therefore, that the tales originally circulated independently as selfl-contained, individual stories attributed to acertain legendary wise and righteous man named Daniel 9see Ezekiel 14:14, 28:3). Although the texts themselves  incoude next to no historically reliable information about the date of composition, most  scholars point to the 3rd century BCE. At a later time they were collected and organized into a structured literary work, as is the case with the Elijah/Elisha legends (1 Kings 17-2 Kings 10) or with Christian legends about saints."

Given these "problems" many orthodox Jewish Bibles position the book of Daniel not among the Prophets, but among the "Writings", which include the books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Esther, Job, and works of poetry: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon. These "writings" while viewed as expressive of their history are not put in the same sort of "sacred" class with the Law (the first five books--the books of Moses) and the Prophets by these Jews. The Christian Bible places Daniel among the Prophets. 

The note continues:" The eschatological visions by contrast provide considerably more clues about their origins. Already by the 3rd century CE the philosopher  and anti-Christian  writer Porphyry proposed that the visions in Daniel 7-12 were composed during the religious persecutions of the Greek ruler of Palestine and Syria, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167-164 BCE) presumably because Antiochus had not yet died while the visions were written. The groups behind Daniel 7-12 are also responsible for the final form of the book.  They collected the tales about Daniel and his three companions and combbined them with their apocalyptic visions. It should be stressed that  although the book as we have it is a composite, we are still justified in speaking of its unity. Each half of the book follows the sequence of Babylonian, Median and Persian rulers. Moreover Daniel 7 repeats the four-kingdom prophecy alrady introduced in Daniel 2. Chapeters 3 and 6 are tales of miraculous deliverance and chapters 4 and 5 criticize the kings.  The book thus shows a close unity. "

However, the book is written partly in Hebrew and partly in Aramaic, and the Hebrew passages and the Aramaic passages are in both halves of Daniel. And they don't coincide with the the chronological order of either half of the book or with how early or how late the composition was.  Daniel was considered by the people to be a prophet in New Testament times. Josephus does, and the Dead Sea Scrolls refer to Daniel as a prophet, and so does Matthew 24:15. The Septuagent (Greek) Bible includes three lengthy "additons": the story of Susanna, the story of Bel and the Dragon and the Prayer of Azariah, and the Song of the Three Jews. 

The tales that form Daniel are "set" in the period of the Exile, prior to  King Cyrus of Persia restoring Israel to Canaan and the rebuilding of the Temple under the aegis of the prophet Nehemiah. It joins Job as a work that helped post-Exile Israel cope with and transcend the national disaster and reconstitute their theocratic community. Job addresses the existential question of how to "be with God" in Covenant, when the "rules" seem to have been "broken" by God. Job is righteous and deserves to be rewarded, not punished, and yet disaster comes upon him. Many Israelites no doubt saw themselves as Job, and took comfort in Job's solution: God is God. The God of History. That is all one needs to know. Daniel however comes to grips with the practical nuts and bolts of survival as a conquered people. The disaster has happened. Foreign kings and a foreign culture control and surround God's people.  The God of History does not strike down these monarchs (as he did Pharaoh's army at the Reed Sea). If, as Jeremiah asserted, he has gone into Exile with His People, where is he? Where is the evidence of His Presence? And meanwhile what is it okay to do in order to survive and prosper, and still remain faithful to God? Daniel 1-6 shows us assimilated and upwardly mobile Israelites in Babylon. The three friends of Daniel, who we remember best now by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshak and Abednego, and Daniel apply for administrative positions in the Palace. These are sought after posts that carry great financial reward and position men to influence the king for the benefit of their own families and friends. Babylonian young men eagerly aspire to these posts. 

However, the Israelite men adhere to at least some of the Jewish distinctives, the dietary laws. They refuse to eat the king's food, at least they refuse the meat protions and the wine, and the implication is that the Babylonians either eat forbidden animals or do not prepare things in koshur manner. Daniel demands for all of them to be fed just on vegetables and skip the wine. They turn out to be healthier and stronger than the Babylonian applicants who aren't keeping koshur, and King Nebucadnezzar takes notice of them, promotes them, and Daniel becomes one of his most trusted advisors, consulted over the heads of the Babylonian magicians and sorcerers, until King Cyrus of the Persians takes the empire away from Babyon.

This is similar in concept, but much less dramatic than the contest between Moses and the magicians of Pharaoh. And with a much more "realPolitk" denouement, which resonnates with Joseph's rise to the Egyptian power, and acting to rescue his family from famine by bringing them to Egypt under his protection. In Daniel, the Israelites have not come voluntarily, but does the resonnance with Joseph suggest that as Joseph commented to his brothers, "what you intended for evil, God intended for good"?
What the Babylonian Empire intended for its own interests in wasting Canaan and deporting the people of Israel, did God Almighty similarly intend for good? If, like Job, we believe in the God of History, then maybe yes, he did. The urgent need of the king for an authentic insight into his dream also reprises Joseph's interpretations of dreams for Potipher, and the cook and butler. Daniel is similarly rewarded. So this is about a people "arriving at a destination" geared for their salvation, as in the Joseph story.  The Exile, then, becomes not a punishment, but the next stage in the salvation drama that God, the Good Shepherd, has prepared for his sheep!

In Daniel the Babylonian king is impressed with God because dreams come from the Divine Realm, sent by gods, and only the God  who sent it could know what had been sent from that realm. Daniel is the only one who knows what the dream was that the king had dreamed. So Daniel's God must be the one who sent the dream, is the king's logical conclusion, and therefore Daniel, a worshiper of that God and a known "sage" in the court, has credibility in interpreting the dream. This also is similar to Joseph's credibility established by his interpretation of dreams for retainers of the household.

Things continue well for Daniel and his friends for a time until the king has a golden statue constructed and orders everyone in the kingdom to worship it. Presumably this is a statue incorporating his own image. In that he is similar to Caesar in New Testament Judea. In Judea the Sanhedrin had worked out a "deal" with Rome. In exchange for exemption of all Jews from worshiping Caesar's image, they agreed to help Rome "keep the lid on" the messiah fever that regularly infected Judeans, especially around the Passover, the celebration of liberation from oppression in Egypt. In Daniel the assimilation is much more complete. There is no Jewish theocratic court: there is only the court of the king, of which Daniel and his friends are an integral part. So, Nebuchadnezzar, in good polytheist fashion, assumes that it will be no problem for loyal supporters of the State to add on one more god. He's not requiring these Jews to give up worshiping Yahweh subsituting the idol, he is just expecting them to be "good citizens" like everybody else. And that would have been the "practical" way to handle it. Be Babylonian at your job, bow down to the king's statue, and then on the Friday Sabbath, observe it in your home and go to the gathering of the minion of male Jews to read the Torrah and pray on Saturday. There was, after all, no Jewish  Temple. No priest to offer sacrifices. What would it hurt? There was so much advantage to being "mainstreamed". They have already a taste of what those rewards are.

But Daniel's three friends refuse to do it. They are thrown into a pit of fire (furnace) so hot that the guards who throw them in are killed by the heat blast coming up from the pit. Yet they are seen walking unsinged in the pit, and a fourth figure joins them there. It is the Angel of the Lord, the form that God takes when he wants to be present face to face in a manner that will not cause mortals to die at the sight of him. Unlike Job, who must demand that God "come into court and testify" for Job, in Daniel, God comes voluntarily to be present, and it is His Presence that protects the three men from being burned, just as his Presence in the Burning Bush prevented the bush from being consumed. When Moses sees that vision, he is a former Egyptian official on the lam from a murder charge. He goes from that place with a new sense of who he is and who God's People are. This scene in Daniel is also a turning point in which there is a "floor" put under the assimilation process, below which you cannot go and remain God's People. (Or perhaps from the "mainstream culture" view, a "ceiling" above which you will not be allowed to rise, because you will not "give up your distinctives"). Babylon, like our own American culture, included many peoples of many origins, and to an extent honored everybody's diversity. They did so by "adding on" your gods or identifying their own god with yours. Does our culture do this also by equating all religions as being "equally valid" ways to God? If so, what do the heroes of Daniel say to us about that idea?  Are there limits to "diversity" in a culture if God's People are to retain their identity as God's People? Are there limits to "mainstreaming" the People God into such "diversity" where "diversity" is the cultural norm?

While this episode does produce a profound effect on the king, so much so that he orders the utter destruction of anyone who blsphemes against this God, the resonnance with Exodus suggests that as with Pharaoh the miracle is designed to impress and bring to self-awareness and God-awareness God's own People. 
But in Daniel we still do not have a denouement in the form of a great literal movement of Israelites out of Babylon. We are on the cusp of a new definition of what Jewishness means, of what Chosen-ness means. It is not any longer  necessarily attached to a geographic locus (Canaan) or to a religious center (Jerusalem) or to a ritual focal point (the Temple). Faithfulness of heart and righteousness of action define (and separate out) God's People. God does "drive" his people out from "darkness" of assimilation into the Light of Relationship with Him, but it is not a mass event. It is in the symbolism of heroic action by individuals. This theme of individual heroism is evident also in Esther, which is similarly positioned in the "writings". Perhaps it is when events are NOT "on the move" in the grand scheme of things that heroic individuals come to the fore. But "salvation" is still understood as a community experience. Just as Esther is not heroic only in terms of herself, but saves her people, so the individual heroism of the young men results in religious freedom for every Jew in Babylon.

Now how does all this apply to us as Friends?


Subject: Fw: On-line Bible Study: What About Government? 

In our Exodus text, when God tells Moses how he will go about liberating His People, the writer says that God will put his hand heavily upon Pharaoh and that Pharaoh will DRIVE the people out of Egypt! What an odd notion that can seem to us! Why would an oppressed, enslaved people have to be "driven" out from the land of their oppression, and BY their OPPRESSOR!  

Then we look at Ezekiel 34, and , aha! the "real king" is a "shepherd" to the people, which means that the people are his...SHEEP. What is done by a shepherd to sheep (cattle, goats, herd animals in general...)? They are driven, as a flock or herd, toward the pasture or water or fold which has been planned for them by the shepherd. In Psalm 23 and in John 10, God/Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the owner of the sheep, prepares these things, and although the shepherd may use "hirelings" he, the owner of the sheep, is ultimately responsible for their welfare. Pharaoh is being used like a "hireling" (who cares not for the sheep) to drive them to where God, the shepherd, wants them to go. God, the God of History, is accomplishing the movement of His flock in good order. This is not an overthrow of Pharaoh, not a "slave rebellion" or revolution. 
Once Pharaoh has served his purpose, his "power" is destroyed by God in the Reed Sea, leaving the people "free". Not to follow their own notions, but to serve God and go where God says to go. This Judaic understanding of "freedom" is also Paul's understanding of "freedom". Freedom to be fully submitted to God (in the hoopatassme sense of voluntary --loving--cooperation). 

In the book of Jeremiah (and of Amos and of Hosea) God is shown moving the various pagan nations of the earth, driving them as one would drive sheep, or moving them as if they were pieces in a gigantic game. They descend on Israel and on Judah like the ravenous wolves of Ezekiel 34, but it is God who moves them. Instead of being driven out of oppression to "freedom", as in Exodus, the people are being driven before these monarchical powers from the "freedom" of their independent countries into the "oppression" of captivity in foreign kingdoms--but the movement of the sheep and the hand behind the movement is really the same. It is a movement from "darkness" of "not knowing God" and "not keeping his laws" to the Light--to knowing and depending upon God and looking to God's law to order the community...God goes with them from Jerusalem to Babylon just as he went with them from Egypt to Canaan. 

Now let's look at Paul and Romans 13. Paul was an orthodox Jew, a scholar of Torah law, and used it to throw Christians into prison before his encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus Road. Paul was steeped in this classic Judaic view of God being the One in Charge of History. Whoever has authority over God's people has it only because God has put that authority into motion or is directly exercising that authority himself. So THAT is why Paul is saying submit to the government's authority.

Yet, Rome was not a Torah-based power. Its laws were not modeled on the Law of Love. And Christ was, to Paul and the early Church, the Messiah. He who was the legitimate King. So many Christians, especially those who lived in the Empire's capital Rome, had a serious ethical conflict. How can we obey the Roman government? Ought we to obey the Roman government? It isn't the government of Christ. It is the oppressor of the faithful! Paul taps into the Judaic tradition of the liberation from Egypt and the Exile to Babylon. God is the God of History. Obedience to God's authority is the point of the Torah. It is the purpose for which the Messiah has come. Our part is to look into the Torah, and obey God's law of Love. (Romans 13:3-7) If you are doing good (acting in accordance with Love/Torah anyway,) you have nothing to fear from the authority (God) . The "governing authorities", as pagan and unrighteous as was Pharaoh, may have their own purposes, as did Pharaoh. But God's authority dominates even these "superpowers". 

Given this world view, that God is the God of History, then political revolution and armed insurrection become pointless. Obedience to God and God's law of Love is what produces freedom. Nothing in Paul's writing of Romans 13 is meant to suggest that active cooperation with Rome's violence or unjust treatment is being advocated or even tolerated. The issue is being settled not on the basis of the rightness or wrongness of the behavior of Rome (or Romans) but on the basis of Authority--God's. If, for example, Romans demanded that Christians and Jews worship Caesar's image, nothing in chapter 13 suggests that Christians or Jews should cooperate with that. It would be "wrongdoing" in the meaning of Chapter 13. If you "did wrong"--worshipping the image and  thereby trying to collaborate with the oppressor, to be spared persecution--then the very oppressor whose favor you were trying to curry would be used by God to bring you back to right worship and right action. Just as God put his hand heavily on Pharaoh to "drive" his people out of Egypt.

Let's look at John 19: 10-12. Jesus (God's Son and therefore his proxy in Authority) is standing bound before Pilate.  Pilate says "Don't you know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him," You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." Pilate of course would think that Jesus was referring to the authority that Caesar (a false god-on-earth like Pharaoh)  handed down to Pilate to act for him. But Jesus is tapping into Exodus 6's view of God as the God of History. God's heavy hand is  on Pilate to move along the events that will "drive out" sinners from their condition of sin, like the Hebrews were driven out of Egypt by Pharaoh. Pilate (Rome) has a key role to play in the salvation drama, and it is the hand of God that moves him (it).

 Jesus submits not to Pilate, nor to Caesar, whose proxy Pilate is, but to God, whose heavy hand is upon Pilate. Indeed, since before his birth, Jesus has been "submitted" to this moment..."for this I came into the world... that they might have life and have it abundantly..." The sin to which Jesus refers in this passage is the sin of not obeying Torah, which the Sanhedrin (represented by Caiphas the High Priest) has committed. (No, It's not Judas! Judas is an instrument not an instigator.) They have been unable to  convict him of blasphemy under any aspect of the Law, and they have sent him to Pilate to get Pilate to "pull the lever" on the execution machine. They think they have been clever. They have collaborated with Rome by handing over a putative triator, but it is they that  have committed the "treason". They have broken God's law. It is treason against the Real Sovreign. And Jesus is the man, who doing good, "has no fear of authority". He IS the authority.

By extension, the Church, whose head is Jesus, has no fear of the authority of Rome. They act according to the Word Made Flesh, the teachings of Jesus--who IS the authority. To whatever extent Rome "drives" the church, it is because the same heavy hand that compelled pharaoh is compelling Rome. But that makes no difference to people who are already obeying God's law. They, like Jesus, would not be in Rome's power, unless the God of History was at work...!

See also Matthew 22: 15-22 (Paying Taxes to Caesar) and Matthew 17:24-27 (The Temple Tax). The God of History makes sense out of both of these passages. Matthew 17 gives a particularly enlightening view of the authority of Jesus and the Church (the faithful, those who hear and do Jesus's teachings). We can discuss these more at length if Friends wish to...

Now let's look at Ephesians 5:21-32.  This gives context to Paul's use of "submit" as voluntary cooperation. It is not servileness. It is the attitude he recommends for the Church toward Christ and for individual Christians toward each other. It's not a justification for subordinating women any more than it is for men to be subordinated to women. All are subordinated to Christ, who is himself subordinated to God--voluntarily and in Love. In a real sense Judaic theology assumes the "femaleness" of the Community of the Faithful in relation to God. Israel is depicted as God's spouse or virgin daughter in the OT. So is the Church in the NT. So, if you want to get really literal, EVERYBODY is a woman and so all are equal, and nobody has( patriarchal) authority over anybody--since in patriarchy women don't have power even over each other! Hence the metaphor for God as father. In patriarchy the father has authority. Not the wives or daughters. And since everybody is a "wife" or "daughter" to God....
Maleness does not confer automatic authority nor does femaleness confer or infer automatic submission--unless it so infers it for EVERYBODY, whether biologically male or female...!!

It is the same sort of idea as Paul saying there is no slave or free because masters have been "bought" by Christ's blood, and they are now enslaved to Christ. And slaves have been "bought" by Christ's blood, which means that their "masters" under "civil law" no longer have control of them. They are "owned" by Christ.  But in the Gospel of John, Jesus says "you are no longer my servants. I have called you friends..." All of us were bought and paid for, and all of us have now received our freedom as a gift from Christ. And yet, are we really free? Aren't we under an obligation to somebody who has made that big a sacrifice, spent that big a price, on our behalf? So we voluntarily and from love and gratitude place ourselves in His service!

This is Paul's idea of "freedom". This is also the OT's idea of "freedom". It is freedom to choose to belong to God/Christ. 
This is the choice that Mary makes in the Magnificat in Luke, when she tells Gabriel (God's proxy/messenger) "Let it be to me according to your will." It is the formula used when a free person voluntarily chooses to become a slave. 

In Paul's time, in Moses's time, in Judea, the idea of individual autonomy and noninterference from government had not yet been "invented". The idea that one was solely in charge of one's destiny was foreign to the thinking of those who wrote these scriptures. There was no "secular" government. One had to choose which theocracy's authority was genuine. And one "submitted" oneself to it. One "submitted" oneself to the others in one's community. One "submitted" oneself to God's Law of Love. It is that (small) element of choice--to whom, to what--not whether--one would be submitted--that held one's destiny and one's 'freedom". One was going to subject to something/somebody, but being subject (enslaved to) Christ was "freedom" by comparison to being subject to/enslaved by doing wrong (the antithesis of Torah--the Law of Love). That is where one had a choice--over one's own actions, over choosing to act justly or unjustly. Who ran the government or what government "ran you" was in the hands of  God.

The God of History has, in a sense, driven us farther along the "timeline" and some ideas (notions?) about government and the governed have changed. The Age of Enlightenment posited a "Deist" God who had constructed a clock called the universe and then gone off somewhere and no longer intervened directly. The Bible was regarded as a sort of owner's manual. We could repair the machine, tweak it, overhaul it, etc...using the manual. This is where "things were" when our Constitution was written. Since then, other ideas (notions?) have posited humanism/secularism as positive /good and religion as negative/evil, and the separation of church and state, designed originally to protect the free, full and public exercise of religion by everybody, is being viewed as the means of "protecting" government and an increasingly "unchurched" public from "religion".  In such an environment government institutions, including schools have become not just neutral but actively hostile toward religion and the public expression of it. 

It is in this world that Friends now are challenged to witness to Love--God's Law. Does this God of History still "drive" the governments of this humanist secular century? 
How do the testimonies/vocabulary of early Friends, who understood this God of History and the necessity for obedience to Love, apply to our interaction with government today? In being faithful to the truth that we see in scripture and early Friends, do we lobby government? Do we run for elective office? Or do we retreat behind the hedge of the Law of Love and witness by how we function as a faith community with each other?

Next week we are going to look into Daniel, where we will be getting two views: one of a prophet/people of faith at odds with an oppressive government and another of a prophet/aith community being a respected advisor to that government...

How much can we have to do with government and be faithful? How much at odds with God do we put ourselves if we disregard, disrespect or attempt to forcibly overthrow government? Is violence ever a necessary factor? Is it an incidental factor? 

What is God saying today to Friends about government?

Thoughts, Friends?


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