The God Who Reveals Secrets: The Mesopotamian Background to Daniel 2:47

Biblical Revelation in its Ancient Near Eastern Context

In Daniel chapter 2 a radical distinction is made between Daniel’s ability to interpret the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar and the failure of the Babylonian wise men to do so. The implication is made that, while Daniel receives his skill directly from God, the Babylonian mantics owe nothing of their skills to divine revelation – a view endorsed by many commentators and theologians. This article argues that divine revelation was commonplace in Mesopotamian culture and that Daniel, rather than appearing as a Judean wise man or prophet, appears more in the mould of the Mesopotamian mantic sage. Mesopotamian scribes and sages of all disciplines took for granted that all knowledge is a product of divine revelation. The article adduces textual evidence from Akkadian documents of various genres to show the regularity of understanding that all of their civilizing arts and sciences were the product of divine revelation, and that divine revelation was itself a regular event. Daniel, as interpreter of dreams, rather that representing a departure from the Mesopotamian norm, provides us with a fusion of Hebrew and Mesopotamian cultures – the God of Israel providing a service to the king of Babylon, but in a way that was well within the parameters of Nebuchadnezzar’s experience. The articles demonstrates that this Mesopotamian mantic tradition has been subsumed within and subordinated to the Hebrew tradition, and then developed within this framework of monotheism for its own theological purposes.

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