Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Still life, by Tobias Mayer, 2021
But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
— Daniel 1:8
Written around 400 years after the events it describes took place, the book of Daniel is essentially fiction—what today we'd call an historical novel. After centuries of debate around its creation, modern textual and language analysis as well as clear political motivation indicates a creation date of around 164 BC during the period when the Hellenistic king Antiochus Epiphanes IV persecuted the Jews and desecrated the temple, just prior to the Maccabean Revolt.1,2 It is apocalyptic literature, perhaps the first of its kind and certainly a forerunner to Revelation, which echoes many of its predictions. It was a metaphor for its time, speaking of current horrors in historical, encoded language, and likely written to give hope to an oppressed people that their time would come, was in fact imminent.
It was thus important to establish right from the start the purity and nobility of Daniel, the book's protagonist. On arrival in Babylon in the early days of the capture, Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were chosen as well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace,3 to learn the Chaldean language and serve the the royal court. King Nebuchadnezzar appoints for them a daily portion of food from the king's table, supposedly the best, richest food available. Daniel and his friends refuse the food and request a plant-based diet for themselves, staying as true as they can to their kosher traditions, thus maintaining their purity in God's eyes as God's (not the king's) servants. Afraid that they will sicken and fade on such a diet the chief eunuch initially refuses, but is convinced by Daniel to give it a ten-day trial. At the end of the ten days, their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat 4 thus establishing this diet as beneficial and healthy. 5
Throughout the story, which spans the entire 70 years of captivity, Daniel is painted as the prefect prophet: a visionary, inspired, pure in mind and body, non-violent, prayerful, entirely loyal to God, able to interpret dreams and convert the heathen—and apparently not ageing, being portrayed as a young man throughout the story. Daniel is a hero to inspire, to remind the reader of the power of faith to conquer adversity.
1 Apocalypticism Explained: The Book of Daniel, Norman Cohn, PBS Frontline.
2 This late dating of Daniel also explains why (as a prophet) Daniel is not included in the Nevi'im, the Hebrew book of Prophets, compiled around 400 BC.
3 Daniel 1:4
4 Daniel 1:15
5 This may be the first vegan propaganda in literary history.