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Abstract

In this chapter, I look at the remaining stories of Daniel 2, 4 and 5 which focus mainly on the dreams and visions of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and his successor, Belshazzar. The dialogical partners to this reading other than the mainstay of western biblical scholarship are the dreams of Buddhist Emperor Aśoka as recorded in The Legend of King Aśoka: A Study and Translation of the Aśokāvadāna (1983) translated by John Strong and the character of Ma in the film called Singapore Dreaming (2006) directed and written by two Singaporeans, Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen. Western biblical scholarship seems largely in agreement that the stories depict the transient nature of human empires and the final consummation in God’s kingdom. The main disagreement would be to read the stories as subscribing to a quietist mode of witness which is passive and reliant on the careful direction of God as opposed to holding that he is actively resisting the empire by openly condemning the corrupt power of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. In the light of Buddhist dream traditions and their understanding of the stories of Aśoka, it would seem that the stories in Daniel are more centred on kings and how the law of karma works itself out in their lives. There is always hope that human kings are able to actualise divine rule while holding in tension the excessive violence that goes with empire building. Through the eyes of the character Ma in the Singaporean film, I argue that these dreams are unlikely to be the dreams of the disenfranchised as argued by Daniel Smith-Christopher (1996) since she would desire above all change that does not disregard the importance of peace. Her sympathies are with the queen of Belshazzar who only gets brief mention despite her remarkable contribution to alleviating her husband’s anxieties. Thus I argue that the perception of empire varies with each interlocutor. Western biblical scholars read the text in a manner that sees empire as either a necessary evil to be tolerated or an evil force to be subverted and resisted politically. Whereas for Buddhist dream interpreters, these dreams of empire positively evaluate the potential of kings of becoming good rulers if they are willing to repent and make amends. Finally for Ma, it is a deep recognition of one’s entanglement with empire that is foregrounded. It is not only oneself that is dependent on empire, but also one’s loved ones. Thus the dreams of kings in Daniel would seem far from being this disenfranchised person’s dream.