Saturday, November 3, 2012

Some Thoughts on Daniel, Isaiah

( Originally written and posted on MySpace on August 10, 2008 )

Darius, Daniel, Darwin

Probably more has been written about the Old Testament book of Daniel than about any other book of the Bible save the book of Revelation.   Both books employ imaginative symbolism to offer predictions of future events, not the least of which is the rise and fall of world-ruling empires.   The technicolor imagery of world-wide carnage is especially striking in the book of Revelation.

Everyone knows the story of how Daniel, the faithful Jew, was cast into the lions' den when he was falsely denounced to Darius the king by those who were envious of him.   Miraculously, Daniel is saved by an angel of the Lord.  Darius sees that the god of Daniel has indeed saved him and immediately orders Daniel to be released and to be made his right-hand man.   Darius also passes sentence on Daniel's false accusers:

"And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den." (Daniel 6:24)

At first, one sees in this yet one more evidence of what Karl Wittfogel called "Oriental despotism,"  the regime under which the entire extended family of the guilty is executed along with the guilty.   For some reason,  Bible commentaries never linger over this event,  never raise the question of why Daniel did not intercede to beg clemency on behalf of at least the children of his false accusers.  It was understood, in that day and place, that the men's children would seek vengeance against Daniel if they were allowed to live to adulthood. 

This practice of killing the wives and children of the defeated appears throughout the Old Testament.   Israel spares none of the children of Amalek.   All this might be explained as the practice of an age of barbarism, but that explanation is not complete.   From a Darwinian standpoint, it makes sense that the survivors seek to obliterate from humanity's gene pool all traces of the biological heritage of the defeated.   One thinks of the continuing failure to find any evidence of extensive cross-breeding between the Neanderthals and modern humans.   The Neanderthals just disappeared, for some reason.

( Originally written and posted on on July 26, 2008 )

Intriguing Images in Isaiah

Of all the books of the King James Version of the Bible, I have found some of the most striking images in the book of Isaiah.  These are places in the text where one is brought to a halt before the question of what is being written about.  For example, consider the images in Isaiah 1:8:  "And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city."

Two homely similes are presented in parallel to a besieged city.  William Smith, in his Dictionary of the Bible, sheds some light on this, explaining that the lodge is "a rude temporary shelter erected in the open grounds where vines, cucumbers, gourds, etc. are grown, in which some lonely man or boy is set to watch, either to guard the plants from robbers or to scare away the foxes and jackals from the vines."

Another intriguing image appears in the second chapter as a series of references to caves and grottoes:

    2:10   Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, . . . .

    2:19    And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

    2:20    In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;

    2:21    To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

Verses 19 and 21 seem to refer to earthquakes.  Isaiah 29:6 explicitly refers to "earthquake" as a manifestation of the wrath of the Lord.   (Incidentally, Charles Wesley's famous sermon on earthquakes also saw in them the wrath of the Lord.  Voltaire's reaction to the great Lisbon earthquake was somewhat dissimilar.)

The habitation hewn out of rock reappears in Isaiah 22:16 as a series of questions:  "What hast thou here? and whom hast thou here, that thou has hewed thee out a sepulchre here, as he that heweth him out a sepulchre on high, and that graveth an habitation for himself in a rock?"

If an earthquake is feared, why would one go into the clefts of the rocks, into the holes of the rocks, into the caves of the earth?   Would not that be the most dangerous place to which to retreat?


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