The Example of Daniel

Akdamar (Turkey), Northern wall, Daniel the Pr...
Akdamar (Turkey), Northern wall, Daniel the Prophet between two lions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the criticisms often leveled against Messianic Judaism is that we cannot truly keep the whole Torah because the Temple, and with it, the sacrificial service, has been destroyed. However, those arguing from the temporary removal of the Holy Place forget that 70 CE was not the first time the Temple was destroyed and the service taken away.  In 586 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, following his third siege of Jerusalem, leveled the Temple along with the city. For seventy years, almost twice as long as we had wandered in the wilderness, Israel was taken in exile to Babylon.

The prophet Daniel was taken captive after the first siege (about 607 BCE) and Ezekiel in the second. Both of these men (and their friends) continued to keep kosher, even at great risk to themselves (Ezk. 4:14, Dan. 1:8-16). Daniel continued to pray three times a day towards Jerusalem (Dan. 6:10), doubtless at the times of the shakarit (morning), minchah (late afternoon), and ma’ariv (evening) prayer times, which coincide with the Temple services.  Daniel observed these times with a mind of complete unity with the Jewish people (Dan. 9:1-19). He and Ezekiel looked forward to the promised restoration of the Temple. Neither saw its destruction in punishment for Israel’s sins as an annulment of the Torah. On the contrary, they saw it as the vindication of the Torah, which had prophesied all of the punishments that had come upon Israel.

In Daniel’s case, this is particularly noteworthy because we are told that that he was among the sarisim, the eunuchs of the Babylonian court (Dan. 1:3; often mistranslated as “officials”). Having been castrated, he would never be able to enter the Temple again (Deu. 23:1), which doubtless was the reason that he did not return when the captives were released by King Cyrus the Persian. In Daniel 10:1-4, we find out that after the captives were set free, he himself remained behind, and actually mourned and fasted for three weeks that ended just after the completion of Sukkot, a feast in which we are commanded to rejoice (Deu. 16:14). Was he breaking the commandment? No, he was mourning that he would never be able to keep it again in this life by making a proper pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Yet despite being excluded from the Temple service, despite being forced to learn the pagan lore of the Chaldeans, and despite knowing that he would never see sons of his own, Daniel’s heart remained true to his God, to his people, and to his Torah.

In many ways, Daniel is a prophetic prototype for the Jewish followers of Yeshua over the centuries. Both were taken out of the Land of Israel for no sin of their own. Both were forced to assimilate to a great extent into a Gentile culture, yet clung to their Jewish identity. Both had their writings preserved in a Gentile language; Daniel chapters 2-8 are written in Aramaic, while the New Testament is preserved in Greek. Daniel and his friends were repeatedly subject to persecution and the threat of death due to Gentile jealousy, just as we have seen were the Jewish believers in Yeshua over the centuries. The Holy One preserved both.

If Daniel the prophet, forever excluded from the Temple service because of his mutilation at the hands of the Babylonians, could nevertheless remain true to his God, his people, and his Torah while in exile, how much more so should those Jews who have been made truly whole by the Messiah of Israel do the same? After all, unlike Daniel, we have not been left without a Temple or a service. On the contrary, as the book of Hebrews teaches, there has been a transference of the high priesthood to the Messiah which was prophesied in Psalm 110. Though the early Temple was destroyed, the true Temple in heaven, the heavenly throne room seen by Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and John, still remains. Since we have a great Priest interceding for us before God’s throne, the laws of the Temple service are indeed being fulfilled in their truest spiritual sense. This means that every time a Messianic Jew keeps kosher, celebrates the Feastdays, circumcises his sons, hangs a mezuzah,or puts on tzitzit and tefillin,he can do so knowing that the Temple service is likewise being fulfilled, and therefore the Torah remains unbroken.

Shalom

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7 Replies to “The Example of Daniel”

  1. Jon and I really enjoy reading the articles on this site, Keep on spreading the good news of the Hebrew roots of Chrisitianity. It might just be the best news that many Christians need!

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  2. Michael, Jon and I really enjoy reading your articles on this site. Keep spreading the good news of the Hebrew roots of Chrisitianity. There are many Christians who are hungry for this very thing. Thank HaShem that He is raising many up to share and opening ears to hear as well!

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  3. Some very nice and passionate writing, here. Your point about the Temple not being necessary to keep the Torah is one a lot of people seem to ignore.

    You went a bit wrong, though, in your analysis of Daniel. You start by asserting, without providing evidence, that “sarisim” means eunuchs and not officials. I see that the KJV does translate it that way in this particular verse; however, that same source translates it as “official” or “chamberlain” more than half the time. It is not clear why the translators chose one over the other. I see nothing here beyond your own claim to justify this translation.

    But even if we accept that translation here, the very next verse identifies the children among whom Daniel was found as “without blemish.” The word used there, moom is found numerous times in the Pentateuch to refer to a disqualifying wound, which would definitely including castration – and yet these children are clearly described as not being defective! So it is not reasonable to conclude that Daniel was a eunuch.

    But even if we accept that he somehow was, it does not follow that he would be barred from the Temple. The phrase “shall not enter the congregation of the Lord” that you found in Deut. 23:1 has nothing to do with entering the Temple. It refers to joining the People. You’ll find it used repeatedly to refer to the Israelites in the wilderness, and the people in general. There is a clause that would prohibit a priest who was castrated from ministering in the Temple, but there is no indication that Daniel was a priest.

    But even if we accept that he would somehow be barred from the Temple, it wasn’t even built for quite some time (not until the second year of Darius of Persia , see Ezra 4:24), so there was no need not to go back to the Land. So if he didn’t return (and I confess I don’t see what you’re seeing in Daniel 10:1-4), the reasons are likely much more prosaic. Very few Jews returned from Babylonian exile at that time – the Jewish community there was massive, and in fact a majority of the Jewish people have not lived in the Land since the beginning of the Babylonian exile. That could change in the next few decades, possibly, but it would have been unusual for anybody well-established in exile to return at that time.

    So you tell a nice story, but it doesn’t seem to correspond to anything in the text or history.

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    1. Shalom, Fuzzy. Thanks for taking the time to write.

      It is true that in the earlier books, principally the Torah, the word saris can simply mean “official,” as in the case of Potiphar. It’s also true that in the latter books of the Tanakh, particularly from Israel’s encounters with Babylon on, it’s more often translated “eunuch.” For example, Isa. 56:3-5 reads, in the ESV,

      Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch (saris) say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs (sarisim) who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

      Obviously in the above case, rendering the passage “officials” would make no sense whatsoever.

      So which rendering makes sense in the case of Daniel? According to Josephus, Daniel was definitely made a eunuch:

      “But now Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, took some of the most noble of the Jews that were children, and the kinsmen of Zedekiah their king, such as were remarkable for the beauty of their bodies, and the comeliness of their countenances, and delivered them into the hands of tutors, and to the improvement to be made by them. He also made some of them to be EUNUCHS . . . Now among these there were four of the family of Zedekiah, of most excellent dispositions, one of whom was called Daniel, another was called Ananias, another Misael, and the fourth Azarias; and the King of Babylon changed their names, and commanded that they should make use of other names.

      Daniel he (the King) called Baltasar; Ananias, Shadrach; Misael, Meshach; and Azarias, Abednego. These the King had in esteem, and continued to love, because of the very excellent temper they were of, and because of their application to learning, and the progress they had made in wisdom.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 10, Chapter 10, first paragraph)

      In addition, being made a eunuch explains why Daniel is never recorded returning to Jerusalem and why he fasted on Sukkot, contrary to the Torah’s command.

      In regards to Daniel being found “without blemish,” the context makes it clear that a) he was found to be without blemish as a prerequisite to becoming a saris, and b) that the lack of blemish referred to his his physical appearance in the eyes of the Babylonians, and has nothing to do with Jewish ritual fitness.

      Now in regards to Deu. 23:1, let’s grant for the moment that the phrase is not used only of the congregation of Israel in relation to the Holy Place. However, that doesn’t really undercut my argument.

      In Dan. 12:5, Daniel describes the man in his vision standing over the ha’y’or, “the” River. When appearing with the definite article, the word always refers to the Nile River, not the Euphrates–in fact, it elsewhere appears only in the Torah. This strongly suggests that Daniel was on a mission to Egypt when he had his final vision in about 539 BCE. This was two years after the return to the Land, by which time the construction of the Temple had at least begun (Ezr. 3:8). It seems very strange that so noted a personage as Daniel (cf. Ezk. 14:14 & 20, 28:3) would not have been recorded as making an official visit, especially since one of the major points of Ezra-Nehemiah is to show how Hashem gave them repeated grace in the eyes of their Persian overlords.

      When all of the above is taken together with the fact that Daniel fasted on the Feast, it seems that something constrained him from joining “the congregation of the Lord” in Jersualem for even a short visit. If not that he was a eunuch, what would be his reason?

      Thank you for the challenge and for giving me the opportunity to address the issue in more detail.

      Shalom.

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      1. Not sure why you take Josephus as an authority on Daniel; they were hardly contemporaries. I agree that in the Isaiah 56 context, “official” makes little sense (“barren” works well there). On the other hand, it’s a bit of a stretch in II Kings 9. Given that castration is forbidden by the Torah, why would there be a group of eunuchs hanging around outside the palace?

        I don’t see the basis for your claim about context in Daniel, though. Where do you see (besides the disputed translation) any indication that the men were eunuchs?

        And as noted, the vast majority of exiles never returned to Jerusalem – you don’t need to go hunting for a reason. As for fasting, that’s not what the text actually says. I assume you are looking at Dan. 10:1-4 here? It is looks to me as though he has taken a nazirite vow, not a fast. And that is certainly permitted at any time. Also, this isn’t over Sukkot, not sure why you think it is. It speaks of “the first month” – that’s the month in which Passover falls, not Sukkot.

        Also, the river is specifically identified by the name Hiddekel and called “the great river,” not simply “the river” (for which I could see an argument in favor of the Nile). But then, this is introductory to a vision, so he’s most likely speaking of the river in Eden rather than a physical river.

        And no, you cannot infer from the lack of a mention of Daniel in Ezra that he clearly wasn’t there, or that there was something unusual about him not going to Jerusalem if he didn’t. You’re trying to read in things that simply aren’t there.

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      2. *> Not sure why you take Josephus as an authority on Daniel; they were hardly contemporaries.

        * Perhaps because Josephus was a Pharisee, and therefore both a native Hebrew speaker and trained in interpretation and tradition. He’s useful in establishing how 1st Century Jews understood Daniel’s story and may have had access to other records and traditions lost to us. I wouldn’t use him as a primary source, but he’s reasonably solid as a secondary line of evidence.

        *> Also, the river is specifically identified by the name Hiddekel and called “the great river,” not simply “the river” (for which I could see an argument in favor of the Nile).*

        Okay, you’ve got me there. I think you’re stretching more than you accuse me of doing so to read Eden into the vision, but be that as it may.

        However, his fasting was still unusual. Even in exile, Jews have never fasted in Sukkot unless forced to by privation. Moreover, we know that there were men at least as old as him who went back to Judah (Ezr. 3:12). We also know that Daniel was alive for some time into the reigns of Darius and Cyrus (and was in good enough health not to break a hip when tossed into a lions den), and had the favor of Darius. Finally, we know that Daniel was deeply committed to his people and the faith of his fathers and prayed for the restoration to the Land. So why did he not go back at least for a visit?

        So far, you’ve tried to knock down my lines of reasoning, and you’ve admittedly successfully taken down one that I was guilty of coming up with on the fly and then not checking it out first. However, you’ve not yet provided any good reasons to believe that *saris *does not mean “eunuch” in this instance–the one you did come up with (the description of Daniel and his friends being “without blemish”) was quickly refuted. That being the case, can you explain what line of evidence leads you oppose the thesis that Daniel and his friends were made eunuchs?

        Shalom

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      3. > * Perhaps because Josephus was a Pharisee, and therefore both a native
        > Hebrew speaker and trained in interpretation and tradition. He’s useful in
        > establishing how 1st Century Jews understood Daniel’s story and may have
        > had access to other records and traditions lost to us.

        Possibly might have been a Pharisee. He was also a traitor who betrayed his command, and later defected to the Romans. I’d tend to go with the traditions passed down by those who remained faithful.

        > I think you’re stretching more than you accuse me of doing so to read Eden
        > into the vision, but be that as it may.

        Possibly. The usual understanding is that it is the Tigris.

        > However, his fasting was still unusual. Even in exile, Jews have never fasted
        > in Sukkot unless forced to by privation.

        Where do you see the word, “fast” in the passage? And what’s your basis for saying that his mourning took place over Sukkot?

        > So why did he not go back at least for a visit?

        How do you know he didn’t? Or if he didn’t, possibly he didn’t go back because it was a very long journey and he had a secure position where he was. As I noted, it was only a minority who went back.

        > However, you’ve not yet provided any good reasons to believe that *saris
        > *does not mean “eunuch” in this instance–the one you did come up with (the
        > description of Daniel and his friends being “without blemish”) was quickly
        > refuted.

        I disagree. You gave no good reason to believe that the word does mean “eunuch” and you simply claimed that in this case, the word translated as “blemish” doesn’t mean what it means everywhere else. That’s not really a “refutation.”

        I maintain that there is nothing in the text that points either to “saris” meaning eunuch or to Daniel being a eunuch. But as I noted, even if you accept those, the rest of your thesis doesn’t follow – eunuchs were never barred from visiting the Temple.

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