Reading Daniel 1 in the Classroom of National Education

In: Contextual Biblical Hermeneutics as Multicentric Dialogue

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In this chapter I read the story of Daniel 1 in between western biblical scholars, Confucius and Malay Muslim minorities in Singapore. The main argument is that western biblical scholarship and Confucian perspectives based on Lin Yutang’s (1938) translation of Sima Qian’s historical account of Confucius tend to use what Maria Lugones (1994) argues to be the logic of purity. This assumes that the ‘right’ is the antithesis of the ‘wrong’ and it is possible to delineate what each is. For biblical scholars, they are divided about reading Daniel and his three friends’ refusal to partake of the royal rations. On the one hand, their actions are thought of as pietistic Jews defending the purity of their religion. On the other hand, they are seen as political revolutionaries refusing to participate in economical exploitation of empire. Confucian perspectives, however, dissent from such a clear division of what is considered ‘religion’ and what is ‘politics’ but subscribe instead to an idea of personal integrity. Thus I argue that a Confucian understanding of the text would see resistance as a ‘gentlemanly’ act that has both political and religious dimensions. At the same time, it would be apprehensive of the potential compromises involved in taking on Babylonian names and accepting favours from a corrupt empire. Using Malay perspectives derived from Malay Sketches (2012), an anthology of stories about Malay Muslim living in Singapore by local author and playwright, Alfian Sa’at (2012), I show that subaltern experiences could engage the ambivalence of the actions of Daniel and his three friends better than the other two. What is brought to light is how Daniel and his three friends made effort to keep their actions hidden from the eyes of the empire. The Malays empathise with the need of the Jews to survive in an environment hostile to their ethnicity particularly being part of the education system and later on civil service. Yet at the same time, they hold in tension the courage to uphold their Jewishness with the apparent successes in the royal court since success of this kind in the Singaporean context often entails deep compromise.