Chapter 2 Four Friends in Babylon (Dan 1)

In: Aramaic Daniel
Benjamin D. Suchard
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Our investigation begins with Chapter 1 of Daniel. This chapter has reached us in Hebrew, not Aramaic. It sets the scene for the following court tales, narrating the exile and training of Daniel and his three friends.

1 Comparative Reconstruction

OG v. 2’s καὶ ἀπήνεγκεν αὐτὰ εἰς Βαβυλῶνα καὶ ἀπηρείσατο αὐτὰ ἐν τῷ εἰδωλίῳ αὐτοῦ ‘and taking them to Babylonia, he deposited them in his idol temple’ lacks the repetition found in MT’s ויביאם ארץ שנער בית אלהיו ואת הכלים הביא בית אוצר אלהיו ‘and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and the vessels he brought to the treasury of his god’. Hartman and Di Lella attribute MT’s reading to dittography.1 This does not explain the considerable difference in wording in MT’s doublet. More probably, the redundant repetition was smoothed out in OG.2

1QDana I:9 reads זרעים for ‘legumes’ where MT v. 16 reads זרענים with nun, contrasting with זרעים without nun in v. 12. MT’s זרענים is to be preferred, as 1QDana may have harmonized both instances of the word.

4QDana 2:6 reads an absolute state ח[כמ]ה ‘wisdom’ against MT v. 20’s construct state חכמת ‘wisdom of’. It is hard to see how the former would have changed into the latter through scribal error, although the use of the construct is unexpected here. OG reads ἐν παντὶ λόγῳ καὶ συνέσει καὶ παιδείᾳ ‘in every topic and understanding and education’, taking כל דבר חכמת בינה (or כל דבר חכמה בינה) as a list with three equivalent terms. This is closer to the absolute state attested in 4QDana but could also reflect the translator’s interpretation. I retain MT’s construct state in the textual reconstruction below but we will return to the matter in the section on internal reconstruction.

4QDana 2:8 reads מלכותו ‘his kingdom’ in an unclear context corresponding to OG v. 20 καὶ ἑδόξασεν αὐτοὺς ὁ βασιλεὺς καὶ ἀπέδειξεν ἐν πράγμασιν ἐν πάσῃ τῇ ἑαυτοῦ βασιλείᾳ ‘and the king glorified them and appointed them in affairs in his whole kingdom’, a phrase that is missing from MT. In MT, v. 20 ends with the first mention of מלכותו, suggesting that the phrase was left out through homoioteleuton. Cross, cited by Collins,3 suggests ויכבדם המלך ויראם בכל דבר במלכותו. I would slightly emend this suggestion to ויכבדם המלך וימנם על כל דבר במלכותו to better match the meaning of the Greek verb as reconstructed by Munnich. This leaves us with the following reconstructed archetype.

2 Internal Reconstruction

The reconstructed text contains a number of tensions and inconsistencies:

  • a) ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ is spelled נבוכדנאצר in v. 1 vs. נבכדנצר in v. 18.

  • b) God is referred to as אדני in v. 2 but as האלהים in vv. 9, 17.

  • c) The description of where the Temple vessels were brought in v. 2 is awkwardly repetitive and slightly contradicts itself.

  • d) The officer in charge of the youths’ education is called a רב סריסים in v. 3 but a שר סריסים in vv. 8–11, 18.

  • e) V. 5aα interrupts the instructions given to Ashpenaz.

  • f) The food provided by the king is spelled as two words, פת בג, in v. 5, but as one word, פתבג, in vv. 8, 13, 15–16.

  • g) In v. 9, God grants Daniel favour before the chief of the officers, yet his request is denied in the following verse.

  • h) In v. 12, Daniel asks to be given זרעים; in v. 16, he and his friends continue to receive זרענים, spelled differently.

V. 5aα, which introduces the elements of the Israelite trainees’ food and drink, is intrusive (e). This has led some scholars to identify the entire story about Daniel and his friends’ diet as a separate source that was secondarily inserted into Dan 1, which otherwise formed a straightforward introduction to the court tales of Dan 2–6.4 This leaves the inconsistent spelling of פת בג and פתבג (f) unexplained, however. This loanword derives from Old Persian *patibāga-.5 The spelling as two words reflects a folk etymology:6 the first syllable was reanalyzed as containing the Hebrew (and Aramaic) word פַּת ‘piece of bread’. This folk-etymological spelling is also attested in Dan 11:26, commonly accepted to be later than Dan 1. The same folk etymology is reflected in the Tiberian reading tradition, where the word is pronounced as paṯ(-)baḡ instead of the expected reflex of *patibāga-, **piṯḇāḡ; cf. *patigāma- > piṯḡām ‘decree’.7 That Dan 1:5 contains the less original form of this word suggests that it was added to this text at a later time than the body of the food and drink story in vv. 8–16. We may analyze it as a harmonizing addition: in v. 10, it is said that the king has appointed the youths’ food and drink, but originally this was missing from the king’s instructions on what was to be done with the youths. The addition of v. 5aα in its current position remedies this.

If we leave v. 5aα out, there are no further tensions or contradictions indicating that the food and drink story was added secondarily. Of course, it could originally have circulated as an independent tale, as it forms a coherent narrative. In its current form, however, it depends on the surrounding text: Daniel and his friends are assumed to be known to the reader and the situation they find themselves is not explained any further. Moreover, the story functions well within the context of Dan 1. It provides an explanation for why Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, out of all of the Israelite youths, were granted special wisdom (v. 17). The emphasis on the youths’ physical appearance matches the king’s demand that they be flawless and good-looking (v. 4). Previous scholarship has noted Dan 1’s anticipation of themes and elements from the rest of the court tales which shows that it was composed as an introduction to the later stories.8 Here, too, the food and drink narrative has a role to play. The chief officer and the guard’s hesitance to grant Daniel’s request establishes Nebuchadnezzar as someone to be feared. The youths’ willingness to risk the king’s displeasure anyway in order to stay pure anticipates their later religious steadfastness in Dan 3 and 6. Additionally, the rejection of the king’s wine and delicacies in favour of vegetables and water may anticipate both Belshazzar’s feast in Dan 5 and Nebuchadnezzar’s stint as a herbivore in Dan 4. Hence, it seems likely that vv. 8–16 belong to the oldest textual layer of Dan 1.

Many different spellings of ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ (or ‘Nebuchadrezzar’, originally Akkadian nabû-kudurrī-uṣur ‘Nabu, protect my heir’) occur in various biblical texts. נבוכדנאצר in v. 1 is the only time this name is spelled with its etymological aleph in Daniel. The contrast in spelling between נבוכדנאצר in v. 1 and נבכדנצר in v. 18 (a) and the phraseological contrast between ויתן אדני ‘and the Lord gave’ in v. 2 vs. ויתן האלהים ‘and God gave’ in v. 9 as well as נתן להם האלהים ‘God gave them’ in v. 17 (b) suggests that the opening verses of Dan 1 did not originally form part of the main text. The awkward repetition in v. 2 (c) then shows the break between the two compositional elements. Collins suggests instead that the repetition in v. 2 preserves two separate traditions about what happened to the Temple vessels,9 but since the difference is only minor and does not play a role in the later narrative, it is unclear why both traditions would have been preserved.

The spelling of ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ with waw, nun, and aleph is shared with 2 Chr 36, among other texts. Dan 1:1’s dating to Jehoiakim’s third year is probably taken from 2 Kgs 24:1,10 but otherwise, the contents of Dan 1:1–2a correspond to 2 Chr 36:5–7, if we assume that the author of these verses in Daniel interpreted 2 Chr 36:7’s היכלו as ‘his temple’ instead of the probable intended meaning, ‘his palace’. The rest of 2 Chr 36 describes the fate of the last two kings of Judah and the definitive onset of the Babylonian Exile, followed by the initial return to Zion in the first year of Cyrus of Persia after a seventy-year period of desolation. 2 Chr 36:22–23, the closing verses of Chronicles, are virtually identical to Ezra 1:1–3aα, which opens the description of the postexilic reconstitution in Ezra–Nehemiah in that year. Cyrus’ first year is also established as the end of the period covered by Daniel by the closing verse of Dan 1 (despite the dating to the third year of Cyrus in Dan 10:1). It thus seems likely that Dan 1:1–2a and v. 21 were added by the same person, recasting the book of Daniel as it existed at that time as the missing link between Chronicles and Ezra–Nehemiah, providing semi-historical details on the period of the Exile.11 In these verses, the use of אדני as a divine name, the phrase בית האלהים for the Temple, and the word מקצת ‘some of’ are all more typical of Ezra–Nehemiah than of Chronicles.12 Hence, this reframing of Daniel 1 should probably be attributed to someone involved in the redaction of Ezra–Nehemiah.

Many scholars have previously suggested that Dan 1 was originally written in Aramaic and that MT’s Hebrew text reflects a translation.13 Besides the fact that the rest of the court tales from Dan 2:4b onwards are preserved in Aramaic, this is clear from a number of Aramaisms in Dan 1, most strikingly אשר למה ‘which why’, a calque (literal translation of an expression) or mistranslation of Aramaic די למה ‘lest’; Charles lists a number of other examples.14 Attempting to reconstruct the Aramaic original of Dan 1 solves this and a number of other textual problems, as well as resolving the remaining literary tensions and inconsistencies.15 The variation between שר and רב ‘chief’ (d) and between זרענים and זרעים ‘legumes’ (h) reflect translation vs. borrowing of the Aramaic terms. The strange order of events in vv. 9–10 (g) can be understood from the incorrect translation of an Aramaic perfect with pluperfect meaning as a Hebrew consecutive imperfect.16

The following is a tentative reconstruction of the Aramaic Vorlage of Dan 1.17 I have tried to follow the Hebrew as closely as possible in order to keep the reconstruction firmly grounded in the data. This has unquestionably resulted in an unidiomatic Aramaic text which differs in many ways from the historical Vorlage, which ultimately remains inaccessible to us.

Reconstructed Aramaic Text of Dan 1:2b–20

As was mentioned above, Hebrew אשר למה (v. 10) reflects a calque or mistranslation of Aramaic די למה ‘lest’ (normal Hebrew would be פן). The use of a masculine suffix in Hebrew מקצתם ‘at the end of them’ to refer back to feminine שנים שלוש (v. 5) results from a mistranslation of Aramaic מן קצתהון, where the third person plural suffix can be either masculine or feminine (cf. Dan 2:41 מנהון ‘some of them’ referring back to feminine רגליא ‘the feet’). The very use of מקצת ‘at the end of’ is an Aramaism that is not attested outside this chapter. The variation between the Hebrew titles רב סריסים (v. 3) and שר סריסים (vv. 8–11,18) may be due to inconsistent translation of Aramaic רב סריסין. Aramaic זרעונין can mean either ‘seeds’ or ‘legumes’; in v. 12, this was translated as Hebrew זרעים ‘seeds’ (not recognized as such by the reading tradition, which reads the hapax zērōʕīm), while the Aramaic word was imported as a nonce borrowing in v. 16, yielding זרענים.

The reconstruction of ויתן האלהים את דניאל לחסד ולרחמים לפני שר הסריסים (v. 9) as ושם אלהא דניאל לחסד ולרחמין קדם רב סריסיא resolves the Hebrew text’s non-sequitur. As the Aramaic Perfect can express anteriority, a function that is rare or non-existent for the Hebrew Consecutive Imperfect,18 the original meaning could be ‘now, God had granted Daniel favour and mercy before the chief of the officers’. In that case, this sentence provides background information that at once recalls the story of Joseph in prison (Gen 39:21) and heightens the impact of the chief officer’s refusal of Daniel’s request: even though he likes Daniel, the risk of offending Nebuchadnezzar is too great. The textual issue of MT’s כל דבר חכמת בינה ‘every matter of wisdom of understanding’ (v. 20) is also more easily resolved in a reconstructed Aramaic Vorlage, where חכמת in כל מלת חכמת בינה could have developed from כל מלת חכמה בינה ‘every matter of wisdom, understanding’ (with the absence of ‘and’ also attested elsewhere in this chapter) through attraction to the feminine construct ending in the preceding word מלת.

Finally, the repetition in v. 2 may also be due to the translation process. Without the secondary verses 1–2a, the story lacks a clear beginning. Vv. 1–2a thus probably overwrite the story’s original opening lines. It seems possible that the editor replaced the opening with his own Hebrew lines, ending with a phrase that was close to where the original story continued, ומקצת כלי בית האלהים ויביאם ארץ שנער בית אלהיו ≈ ולמאניא היבל לבית גנזי אלהה (a kind of resumptive repetition or Wiederaufnahme without intervening material). When vv. 2b–20 were then translated into Hebrew—perhaps by the same writer, in order to have Dan 1 form a more natural bridge between 2 Chr 36 and Ezra 1 covering the preceding and following time periods—the translator did not notice the resulting redundancy of the two slightly different Hebrew accounts of where the vessels were brought.

3 Conclusion

The text of MT Dan 1 seems to be quite close to the archetype of all attested versions. This archetype, however, contains a number of tensions and contradictions, many of which are resolved by assuming a more original Aramaic version. The disruptive phrase in v. 5a should be seen as an interpolation, which also explains the different spelling of פת בג in this verse compared to פתבג in the base layer of the story. With this interpolation deleted, there is no need to see the subplot of the vegan diet as secondary.


Hartman and Di Lella, Daniel, 127nb.


Cf. Newsom, Daniel, 36ne.


Collins, Daniel, 129.


E.g. Hartman and Di Lella, Daniel, 133; Kratz, Translatio imperii, 36; Segal, Dreams, Riddles, and Visions, 13–26.


Benjamin J. Noonan, Non-Semitic Loanwords in the Hebrew Bible: A Lexicon of Language Contact, LSAWS (University Park: Eisenbrauns, 2019), s.v.


Folk etymology is a process where an untransparent word is changed so that it appears to contain another word or morpheme that occurs in the language. This process often affects loanwords. For example, Spanish cucaracha underwent folk etymology in English, becoming cockroach (seemingly cock as in ‘rooster’ + roach, a kind of fish). See e.g. Hans Henrich Hock, Principles of Historical Linguistics, 3rd ed., Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs 34 (Boston: De Gruyter, 2021), §


Noonan, Non-Semitic Loanwords, 185–87.


E.g. Hartman and Di Lella, Daniel, 131–33; Kratz, Translatio imperii, 37, 43; Davies, Daniel, 43; Segal, Dreams, Riddles, and Visions, 14.


Collins, Daniel, 134.


For an alternative suggestion, see Segal, Dreams, Riddles, and Visions, 26–31.


Cf. Kratz, Translatio imperii, 38; R. Glenn Wooden, “The Book of Daniel and Manticism: A Critical Assessment of the View That the Book of Daniel Derives from a Mantic Tradition” (PhD thesis, University of St. Andrews, 2000), 106; Segal, Dreams, Riddles, and Visions, 13n2.


On shared terminology between Dan 1:1–2 and Chronicles–Ezra–Nehemiah as a whole, see Wooden, “Daniel and Manticism,” 107–8.


E.g. Charles, Daniel; Zimmermann, Biblical Books Translated from the Aramaic, 7–38; Hartman and Di Lella, Daniel, 14–15. Ginsberg, Studies in Daniel, 41–61, is convinced by a number of Zimmermann’s arguments for translation and considers the hypothesis of an Aramaic original for all chapters proven, although the evidence he cites all comes from Dan 8,10–11.


Charles, Daniel, 3. The most convincing examples concern loanwords, or in this context rather Aramaic words that were not translated: רב ‘chief’, the verb מני ‘to command’, חיב ‘to owe’, and גיל ‘age’. On p. 13, Charles notes that ספר ולשון כשדים ‘Chaldaean writing and language’, a construct chain with two nomina regentia, is “an un-Hebraic idiom for ספר כשדים ולשונם” and cites the other occurrences of this construction in Ezek 31:16 and Prov 16:11. I am not aware of many attestations in Aramaic, but an Imperial Aramaic example has now been published: מרא וחיל תימא ‘Tayma’s lord and army’ in an inscription from Tayma, TA 964; Peter Stein, “Die reichsaramäischen Inschriften der Kampagnen 2005–2009 aus Taymāʾ,” in Taymāʾ II. Catalogue of the Inscriptions Discovered in the Saudi-German Excavations at Taymāʾ 2004–2015, ed. Michael C. A. Macdonald, Taymāʾ 2 (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2021), 41.


Due to the lack of obvious Aramaisms I assume that vv. 1–2a were added in Hebrew, pace Anthony Meyer, Naming God in Early Judaism, SCCB 2 (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming), who suggests that these verses reflect the avoidance of the tetragrammaton in Aramaic.


The meaning I suspect for the underlying Aramaic of v. 9 would be more correctly rendered in Hebrew by a sentence like והאלהים נתן את דניאל ‘now God had granted Daniel’ etc.


For an alternative reconstruction, see Preiswerk, “Sprachenwechsel,” 109–13.


Paul Joüon and Takamitsu Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, 3rd reprint of 2nd ed. with corrections, SubBi 27 (Rome: Pontificio istituto biblico, 2006), § 118d.

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