Braving the Furnace of the Lion’s Den in the Lion City

In: Contextual Biblical Hermeneutics as Multicentric Dialogue

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Daniel chapters 3 and 6 are two stories that present Daniel, Shadrach, Mishael and Abednego in direct confrontation with the empire where the option of hiding their religious affiliation is relatively less available to them. In this chapter, I read their actions of political resistance in dialogue with western biblical scholarship, Mahatma Gandhi and political prisoners in Singapore or what it is also popularly called, the Lion City. The logic of purity seen in the previous chapter is again demonstrated in the reading of western biblical scholars in these two stories of the fiery furnace and the lions’ den. Most biblical scholars would prefer to see the refusal to bow to the golden statue and abide by the edict that bans petitioning any god other than the king as purely religious in nature and that political effects are at best incidental. However, a significant minority think of their actions as intentionally opposing the empire, thus constituting political resistance. Based on a reading of Gandhi’s interpretation of Daniel 6 together with his concept of passive resistance in his iconic book, Hind Swaraj (translated as Home Rule; 1997), I argue that Gandhi would not think of the political as separate from the religious but how religion empowers one to do political action. Bringing in the experiences of political prisoners in Singapore, I find that the efficacy of the political and religious have been overdetermined in the interpretations of western biblical scholarship and even Gandhi himself. Rather by reading the stories through the experiences of political prisoners found in four Singaporean texts I have chosen, I argue the key reason why the religious cannot be divorced from the political is because one is facing an overwhelming force of empire. Yet at the same time, I also highlight how Gandhi’s perspectives would bring to light the issues of excessive violence in the text and; how the experiences of political prisoners would highlight how the triumphalist overtones of the stories can be potentially problematic in contemporary political struggles.