Secrecy in The Book of Daniel and a Polemic with Mesopotamian Scholarship

Document Type

Conference Presentation


Religious Studies

Conference Title

Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting


Society of Biblical Literature


Washington, D.C.

Conference Dates

November 18-21, 2006

Date of Presentation

Fall 11-18-2006


It is an under-appreciated fact that the term raz, "secret," occurs almost exclusively in chapter two of the Book of Daniel (eight of nine attestations, with 4:6 being the one exception). I believe this distribution of raz is significant because two "firsts" occur in the chapter: chapter two is the first time Daniel receives revelation from the Hebrew deity, and it is also the first time we see the Jewish hero best his Babylonian scholarly colleagues, the ummanu, who are known from Akkadian sources to be the custodians of the secrets of the gods. In this paper I argue that the idea of secrecy in Dan 2 constructs a positive characterization of both the Israelite deity—he is a god who actively reveals divine knowledge—and the Israelite hero—Daniel is capable and worthy of receiving revelation. But secrecy also creates a point of conflict between Daniel and his Babylonian colleagues, the supposed experts in secret matters, and vividly shows the Israelite mediator their superior. By bringing these two uses of secrecy together, I believe Dan 2 intends to show that the Babylonian court scholars had failed to discover the secret they were asked to divine because they did not have the relationship Daniel had with the Hebrew god, the god who reveals secrets. Dan 2, therefore, shows some familiarity with and presents a polemic against the Mesopotamian scribal idea of court scholars as the possessors and guardians of the secret of the gods. In the opinion of the Jewish author, the ancient Babylonian scribal lore—the secret of the gods—proves ineffective in the face of the active, responsive, and direct revelation of the Hebrew deity to his chosen and trusted recipient.

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