God is Judge

Chapter 6

A Commentary on the book of Daniel

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The Insanity of the King


Daniel 4 can be summed up by Psalm 66:7; “He rules by His power forever; His eyes observe the nations; do not let the rebellious exalt themselves”. The themes of Psalm 66:7 encapsulate Daniel 4 - God’s rule (Dan. 4:3, 25), observing the nations (cf. ‘watcher’, Dan. 4:23) and pride (Dan. 4:37) are all key elements of Daniel chapter 4. The LXX version of Psalm 66 is entitled “A Song of Resurrection” with the context being the Passover deliverance of Hezekiah and the nation.[1] After his deliverance, Hezekiah prided himself in the wealth and glory of his kingdom and paraded it before the Babylonian envoys, but the prophet Isaiah warned Hezekiah that his “sons” and his wealth would be carried off to Babylon (Isa. 39:1-8). In Daniel 4 we find these “sons of Hezekiah” in exile and the wealth and glory of Judah used to beautify and glorify Babylon – specifically the “royal dwelling” (Dan. 4:30 cf. ‘house’, v.4), essentially this was achieved by robbing and burning God’s house.[2] Although Nebuchadnezzar is not blamed for his actions in this respect (he was acting as God’s instrument of punishment) he “exalted himself” as such his hubris mirrors that of Hezekiah and his “resurrection” from a state of bestiality echoes Hezekiah’s resurrection from mortal illness. Daniel 4 is shot through with echoes from the Psalter and even commences with Nebuchadnezzar reciting Psalm 145:13[3] in Dan 4:3; “His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation”. The rabbi’s state “Had not an angel come and struck him [Nebuchadnezzar] upon his mouth he would have    Continued  ˃


[1] The rebellious in Psalm 66 is a reference to Sennacherib and his envoy Rabshakeh – in Isaiah 14 Sennacherib is styled the “king of Babylon”(v.4), “Lucifer”(v.12) and “the Assyrian” (v.25) and he is condemned and judged for his hubris.

[2] Once again the LXX places this chapter in the 18th year of Nebuchadnezzar – when God’s ‘house’ was destroyed.

[3] Was he familiar with the Psalms because of Daniel?

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eclipsed all the songs and praises uttered by David in the Book of Psalms”.[4] The use of Psalm 145 is not limited to the opening hymn of praise[5] but is alluded to throughout the narrative;


psalm 145


Nebuchadnezzar’s boast that he had built Babylon “by mighty power” (v.30) is reminiscent of the “mighty power” of Psalm 106:8, and the    Continued  ˃


[4] b.Sanhedrin 92b

[5] The prefatory hymn of praise (vv.1-3) is a doublet of the hymn in vv.34-35. The LXX moved it to the end of chapter 4 and placed it alongside vv.34-35. Theod-Daniel reinstated it to its position in the Aramaic text. The English versions reflect the positioning of the MT (Aramaic text) at the beginning and end of the narrative where the hymn functions as an inclusio.

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honour and glory of which the king boasted (v.30) is transformed into an “ox that eats grass”(v.33) also echoing Psalm 106 (v.20); “Thus they (Israel) changed their glory into the image of an ox that eats grass” – a reference to the golden-calf (ox) apostasy of Exodus 32.  The parallel between the apostasy of the golden calf and the illness of Nebuchadnezzar is not immediately obvious. The nation of Israel exchanged their glory (God) for an image of an ox-calf that eats grass and Nebuchadnezzar (who boasted of his glory) was transformed into an ox that eats grass.


The sin of Israel was apostasy and the sin of Nebuchadnezzar was pride.  That the apostasy of Israel is in mind cannot be doubted as Nebuchadnezzar is exhorted to “break off” (qrp) from his sins (Dan. 4:27) and the Hebrew equivalent of the Aramaic “break off” is also used in Exodus 32:24 for the gold jewellery fashioned by Aaron into the image of an ox-calf.[6]  When Nebuchadnezzar recovers, most of the English versions (following the MT, wyz) express this as regaining his brightness or splendour, but the Greek Theo-Dan (4:36) describes his recovery as regaining “his form” (morfh,), which is virtually synonymous with ‘likeness’ and with ‘image’.[7]


The correlation between Nebuchadnezzar and the image of the golden ox-calf incident is the substitution of God with a false image – in the case of Israel God was replaced with a literal calf image. Nebuchadnezzar substituted God by deifying human power. Thus the deification of human power and the creation of a false image are both viewed as idolatry. Humanity (Adam) was originally created in the image of God and lost that image when grasping for divine power.


[6] “And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off’ (פרק).  So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

[7] In the NT Philippians 2:7 uses the word ‘form’ (μορφή) and ‘likeness” (ὁμοίωμα ) in the same verse and Rom. 1:23 uses ‘likeness’ (ὁμοίωμα) and ‘image’(εἰκών) in the same verse.

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Nebuchadnezzar regained his “form” (image) and his glory was returned when he acknowledged the sovereignty of God (God rules).


God Rules


Both the Jewish nation and the foreign king had to learn the lesson of divine sovereignty, in fact, with the re-naming of Jacob to Israel (God rules)[8] the posterity of Jacob were impressed with a permanent reminder of divine sovereignty.  Now it was the turn of the gentiles to learn the limits of human power - “That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.”(Dan. 4:17)


The title ‘Most High’ is appropriate in the mouth of a gentile king and implies that he regarded the God of Israel as preeminent within a pantheon of gods – without necessarily engaging monotheism. More unusually Nebuchadnezzar refers to God as ‘King of Heaven’ (v.37) and Daniel’s reference to God’s rule in v.26 as ‘Heaven rules’. Porteous remarks, “It should be noted that here for the first time, and for the only time in the Old Testament, the word ‘heaven’ is substituted for God, a usage which is found frequently in later literature, inter-testamental and Rabbinic, and the New Testament”.[9]


Goldingay has noted that no other chapter of the OT uses heaven as often and also notes that it is used in antithesis with earth.[10]


[8] See P. Wyns, Jacob’s New Name (The Christadelphian eJournal of Biblical Interpretation, eds., A. Perry and P. Wyns, Willow Publications, 2008),95-100 and Allen P Ross, Studies in the Life of Jacob, Part 2: Jacob at the Jabbok, Israel at Peniel (Bibliotheca Sacra 137, 1980), 223-40


[9] Norman Porteous, Daniel, (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1965),79

[10] John E. Goldingay, Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary [Vol.30], (Eds., D. Hubbard, G. Barker, J. Watts R .Martin, Nelson Reference& Electronic, 1989), 85

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Heaven occurs twelve times and earth ten times in Daniel 4.[11] Nor does any other chapter of the OT use as often the related title Most High.[12]  However, 1 Kings 8 also uses Heaven twelve times[13] once in the phrase “Heaven of Heavens” (v.27) and eight times in the phrase “hear in Heaven”[14] it is also juxtaposed five times with the “earth”.[15]  The text in Kings is concerned with the dedication of Solomon’s temple and an appeal to hear prayer. What is unusual is the recognition of the limitations of the temple, for although the prayer is directed at the temple it is heard in heaven which is God’s dwelling place. The significance of the linkage with Daniel 4 is not immediately obvious but it is suggested that the subtext is the burning of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar – the LXX dates Daniel 4 (like Daniel 3) to the burning of the temple in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. If this is correct (and not a gloss) then it chimes well with the elevation of the kings ‘house’ at the expense of God’s house. Particularly interesting is the anticipation of captivity (1 Kings 8:46-50) and the appeal that if the people repented God would still hear them in his dwelling place (heaven), and the request in v.43a;


Hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You.....(1 Kings 8:43)




[11] Heaven 4:13,15,21,23(2x),25,26,31,33,34,35,37, Earth 4:1, 10, 11, 15(2x), 20, 22,23, 35(2x)

[12] Most High 4:2,17,24,25,32,34

[13] 1 Kings 8:22,23,27,30,32,34,36,39,43,45,49,54

[14] 1 Kings 8:30,32,34,36,39,43,45,49

[15] 1Kings 8:23,27,43,53,60

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And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. (Dan 4:34)


Driven from men

Nebuchadnezzar was “driven from men” (Dan. 4:33) which mirrors the fate of Cain, “You have driven me out this day” (Gen. 4:14) and the “seven times” of insanity echoes the sevenfold punishment of Gen 4:15.  Cain is driven away from the divine presence in Eden and this fulfils the typology of the Scapegoat (the nation bearing its sin) released in the wilderness (Lev. 16:10).[16]  Here we find that the fate of Israel merges with that of Nebuchadnezzar;


O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day -- to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of the unfaithfulness which they have committed against You. (Dan. 9:7)


The subtext of Daniel 4 is the punishment of Israel. The ox-faced cherubim (cf. Ezek. 1:10; 1 Kgs.7:25, 44) on the Ark of the Covenant represented Israel. The grass eating ox was a domesticated animal, a    Continued  ˃


[16] The OG is even more explicit in linking the punishment of Nebuchadnezzar with the sending away of the Scapegoat on the Day of Atonement; “They will lead you away to prison and dispatch you to a desolate place”. (Dan 4:22 OG)  The reference to “imprisonment” is probably based on the punishment of Azazel in 1 Enoch 10:4.

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beast of burden (Israel under the law), but, “Jeshurun (the upright one) grew fat and kicked”. (Deut. 33:15)


The deification of human power is at the root of empire building and also at the root of Adam’s fall and Israel’s debasement. Although Daniel 4 is concerned with the humbling and restoration of a gentile king the subtext is the humbling and restoration of Israel. The blessing of the Most High by Nebuchadnezzar is similar to the blessing of the Most High by Melchizedek, “And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your (Abram’s) hand” (Gen. 14:20) and Nebuchadnezzar’s observation “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing”(v.35), once again reflects Isaiah’s prophecies, “All nations before Him are as nothing, And they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless”(Isa. 40:17), and also the divine reassurance given to Judea; “Those who war against you  shall be as nothing, as a nonexistent thing”(Isa. 41:12).


The humbling of Nebuchadnezzar, who boasted of his “mighty power”, lasted “seven times” and parallels the warning to punish Israel “seven times” for disobedience (Lev. 26:18). God threatened to break the pride of their power (Israel’s power) by making their heavens like iron and their earth like bronze (Lev. 26:19 cf., the stump bound with bronze and iron – Dan. 4:15)[17] and by sending wild beasts among them (Lev. 26:22 cf., Nebuchadnezzar changing into a wild beast Dan. 4:33). However, those who walk in pride He is able to put down (Dan. 4:37);


And that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt -- then I     Continued  ˃


[17] Does the binding refer to the tree or the man?  Does the switch in metaphor from tree to man reflect the stitching together of two separate stories? This verse has caused difficulties for many interpreters (See the Appendix at end of chapter six).  We note that Zedekiah (Jer.52:11) was bound with bronze chains and deported to Babylon, and the nation of Israel is depicted as a stump (Isa. 6:13 cf. Job 14:8-9). It is suggested here that the symbols are a midrash on the fate of Israel.

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will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land. (Lev. 26:41-42)


The warning


Daniel warned Nebuchadnezzar to repent in order to avert disaster;


Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity. (Dan 4:27 NKJ)


The LXE/LXX translates this as -“atone for thy sins by alms” and the JPS translates with, “break off thy sins by almsgiving”. Many Christian commentators have difficulty with the advice to practice meritorious works in order to avoid disaster but (apart from the fact that there is nothing wrong with good works) it is only in later centuries that “righteousness” became virtually synonymous with “alms-giving”. So the NKJ translation (righteous) is the more natural reading for the time period and this is directed at the poor. This is relevant because although the prominent (including royalty) had been taken into captivity, the poor had been left in the land;


But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left in the land of Judah the poor people, who had nothing, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.(Jer. 39:10)


But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left some of the poor of the land as vinedressers and farmers. (Jer.52:16)


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The warning is however, not directed solely at Nebuchadnezzar who boasted of his royal residence, but also at the kings of Judah;


“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness And his chambers by injustice, Who uses his neighbor’s service without wages And gives him nothing for his work, Who says, ‘I will build myself a wide house with spacious chambers, And cut out windows for it, paneling it with cedar And painting it with vermilion’. “Shall you reign because you enclose yourself in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Was not this knowing Me?” says the LORD. “Yet your eyes and your heart are for nothing but your covetousness, for shedding innocent blood, and practicing oppression and violence”. (Jer.22:13-17)


In other words, Nebuchadnezzar is told to practice what the rulers of Judah had neglected – righteousness and mercy to the poor.


The Historicity of Daniel 4

There can be no doubt that Daniel 4 contains midrashic elements[18] interwoven in the narrative and that Nebuchadnezzar’s fall from grace    Continued  ˃


[18] Besides the Psalms see the book of Job- “For God may speak in one way, or in another, yet man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while slumbering on their beds, Then He opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction. In order to turn man from his deed, and conceal pride from man, He keeps back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword” (Job 33:14-18).


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is parabolic of Israel’s fall, however, this does not negate the fundamental historicity of the text.


The versions of Daniel 4 in the MT and the OG are so different that scholars have struggled to explain the inter relationship -- to this problem we might add the “Prayer of Nabonidus” from Qumran that bears many similarities with the Daniel 4 narrative.  However, the different versions do not show signs of literary dependency or chronological development. This is the difficulty for anyone claiming the “prayer” as a direct source - it exists as an independent document from roughly the same period as Dan 4. [19] Then there is the Greek writer Megasthenes (c. 300BC) which places Nebuchadnezzar on his palace roof where he announces under inspiration the coming fall of Babylon, or there is a cuneiform fragment that possibly refers to a mental disorder[20], or the “Babylonian Job”, a Babylonian poem that treats of a mysterious affliction which overtook a righteous man of Babylon, and has been compared with the book of Job as it has many of the same motif’s as Daniel 4.


Matthias Henze comes to the conclusion that the relationship between the “Prayer of Nabonidus”, the versions and Daniel 4 is not one of mutual dependency but is indirect and collateral and suggests a synoptic model rather than a linear development; “The synoptic model has the advantage of overcoming the disabling premise that the versions ought to be mutually dependent, still predominant assumption    Continued  ˃


[19] When discussing D.N. Freedman’s theory (BASOR 145, pp.31ff.) that the underlying story was originally about Nabonidus (the last Babylonian king), which was substituted with ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ during the transmission of the story to Palestine and subsequently the original ‘forgotten’ - Porteous (Daniel, 70) remarks; “…is a little difficult to understand, since in the same article Freedman tells of a document containing a prayer of Nabonidus which has been discovered in Qumran!”

[20] Grayson, Texts, 87-92; cf. Hasel, AUSS 19[1981] 41-42

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in the field. It also avoids judgment about textual priority, while acknowledging textual affinities”[21] 


Despite midrashic elements the text is also aware of Babylonian mythology and reverses the Mesopotamian primordial tradition in which primitive man attains culture and civilization.  Henze remarks; “The derogation of the wilderness is retained in Dan. 4, and the esteem for the city propelled to an extreme in Nebuchadnezzar’s self-laudation immediately prior to his animalization, “Is not this great Babylon which I have built as a royal house by the might of my power for the glory of my majesty”(Dan. 4:27)?” The metamorphosis of the protagonist, however, is reversed in the biblical account. It is no longer Enkidu, the man in a state of nature, who gradually turns into the fully civilized counterpart of King Gilgamesh; now it is King Nebuchadnezzar himself who is transformed into an animal. The blatant sarcasm in the biblical narrative of using a central piece of Babylonian mythology to ridicule the most awe-inspiring of all heathen monarchs, King Nebuchadnezzar, by having him turn into an animal could hardly be put in stronger terms”[22]


The Babylonian provenance of Daniel 1-6 is generally recognised in scholarship, particularly after the case made by Montgomery, who noted that almost all the Akkadian and Persian words appear in these chapters and that “their sumptuous barbaric scenery is obviously not that of Palestine”(Daniel, 90). For example, while the tree imagery is reminiscent of Ezek. 31:3-14 and Ezek. 17:1-10, its counterpart is found in a building inscription of Nebuchadnezzar from Wadi Brisa, which says of Babylon, “Under its everlasting shadow I have gathered all the peoples in peace” [23] and of his famous palace Nebuchadnezzar    Continued  ˃


[21] Matthias Henze, The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar; The Ancient Near Eastern Origins and Early History of Interpretation of Daniel 4,(Brill,1999),203

[22] Ibid, 205-6

[23] Stephen Langdon, Building Inscriptions of the Neo-Babylonian Empire Part 1; Nabopolasar and Nebuchadnezzar B. Col. VIII, (Paris:Leroux,1905),171-72

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records in an inscription; “….a palace as the seat of my royal authority, a building for the admiration of my people, a place of union for the land”. [24]


Daniel 4:17 describes God as giving kingdoms, “to whomsoever He will, and setteth up over it the basest of men”. An inscription made by Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar, describes himself as “in my littleness, the son of a nobody,”…[…]...“me, the insignificant, who among men was not visible,”… “I, the weak, the feeble ”…. etc.[25] Boutflower observes, “This is the [very] kind of knowledge --the lowly origin of Babylon’s greatest king--which succeeding generations soon must have forgotten, and therefore it constitutes strong evidence for the historical accuracy of Daniel.”[26]




The Babylonian background of this chapter (both literary and historical) is undeniable but so is the midrashic element. The story informs us not only of the punishment of a heathen king by mental illness but also of the punishment of the Jewish nation who had collectively gone insane – both the foreigner and the Jew needed to learn that God/Most High rules in the kingdom of men. The nation would undergo seventy times seven desolations before recovering.


Appendix chapter 6


Eight major commentaries on Daniel describe the metal binding of the stump as follows:


[24] Stephen Langdon, Die neubabylonische Königsinschriften, (Leipzig: Hinrichs,1912), 136(no.15,col.7.36-37)

[25] Josh McDowell, Daniel in the Critics’ Den, (Campus Crusade, 1973),12-13

[26] Charles Boutflower, In and Around the Book of Daniel, (1923),91

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Buchanan: “Koch saw the importance of the art drawn in Khorsabad of a sacred tree made with golden leaves and metal bands around the drunk.  At the tree’s top is a sun disk with wings and an art form of Assurbanipal II within the disk.  The disk was a sign of the deity surrounding the king.  Mendenhall has shown that the winged sun disk indicated the manifestation, glory, power, and dignity of gods like Horus, Re, Zeus, Ahura Mazda, and Baal Shamem.  It often provided a frame for the king himself, as has been done here, to show that the king functioned with the authority of the deity.” [27]  


Charles: “With a band of iron and brass.  The meaning is somewhat obscure.  A hope of restoration remained since the stump was left in the ground, but the band of iron and brass seems to be ‘a figure of speech for the stern and crushing sentence under which the king is to live’ (Bevan), so long as his punishment was to last.  The words refer to the king only, as the next verse shows.”[28]


Collins: (Hermeneia, 1993:226-227) “in a fetter of iron and bronze: This line is extremely problematic.  The basic problem arises from the switch from tree imagery to beast imagery.  How the fetter of iron and bronze relates to either imagery is unclear.  One line of interpretation assumes that the iron and bronze is applied to the stump of the tree (so NSRV).  Attempts to provide an explanation for this procedure, however, have been unsatisfactory.  The older suggestion of van Lengerke that the reference is to ‘the bands of iron put round a tree to prevent it from cracking’ has been rejected because there is no evidence of such a custom in the ancient world.  There is some evidence of a Mesopotamian custom of putting metal bands on trees.  Remnants of a tree with bronze rings or bands were unearthed at Khorsabad, at the entrance to the temple of Shamash.  Bands of metal are shown around the trunk of a tree on cylinder seals and slabs from     Continued  ˃


[27] G. W. Buchanan, The Book of Daniel (Mellen Biblical Commentary, OT Series,25: Lewiston, N.Y.,1999),117

[28] R.H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929),92

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the palace of Ahurnasirpal at Nimrud.  The god Asshur hovers over the tree, which has been taken to represent the tree of life.  An inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II also refers to coating cedars with bronze, but here the reference is to beams rather than trees.  The relevance of this evidence to Daniel, however, is very questionable, especially since Daniel speaks of a root (`qr) rather than a stump.  In short, the application of a bond or fetter to the root of a tree that has been cut down is unintelligible.  Another line of interpretation assumes that here ‘the image passes to the reality: the king is to be bound with metal fetters’ [Hartman and DiLella, 176].  This view can claim support from the OG v. 14a: “It was imprisoned and was bound by them with bronze fetters and manacles”.  The imagery of the Greek text is also confused: a tree eats grass with the beasts and is then imprisoned...The Greek does not mention a fetter in the initial description of the dream in v. 12, but the introduction of fetters in v. 14 suggests that there was such a reference in the Vorlage...The passage remains obscure, however, and it is likely that something has been lost from the original text”.


Goldingay: (Word, 1989:89)“Their message describes someone being reduced to animal-like existence; restraint by a metal ring is more likely part of that description -- Jerome compares it with the chaining of madmen -- than an aspect of tree culture, whether designed to keep the tree from disintegrating altogether or to keep it from branching anew”.


Gowan: “The dream of a great tree that reached to the heavens, providing shelter and food for all living things, is based on the myth of the cosmic tree, one of the most common of all religious symbols ... A rather full description of the world tree appears in Ezek 31, where it is put to a new use by the prophet ... Ezekiel seems to acknowledge the real power and wealth of the pharaoh, but then he has the cosmic tree cut down, something that has no parallel in Near Eastern mythology ... The band around the stump is not explained.  It has been suggested that it really refers to the binding of the king in his madness, but that is unlikely, since nothing is said of binding him in the fulfilment, when he roams the fields with the animals (vv. 23, 32-33).  The many depictions of sacred trees in Assyrian art are highly schematic, so it is hard to tell how they are decorated, but the excavation of the Shamash temple at Khorsabad found a tree trunk with two skilfully embossed bronze    Continued  ˃

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bands around it (Loud 1936, 104).  This verse may thus be a passing reference to such sacred trees.” [29]


Hartman and DiLella: “For the stump of the tree left in the ground (4:12), compare the ‘stump’ of David’s dynastic tree in Isa 11:1, and the ‘oak whose stump remains when its leaves have fallen’ in Isa 4:13.  There is no reason to think that the ancients actually clamped a metal band around the stump of a chopped-down tree, as if to keep it from splitting; here the image passes to the reality: the king is to be bound with metal fetters.” [30]


Lacocque: “Nebuchadnezzar’s tree is cut down but not eliminated.  It serves as a witness to God’s universal domination.  It remains a stump (v. 12), ‘bound with iron and bronze.’  A. Bentzen emphasizes that it is not so much a question of guaranteeing the perpetuity of the tottering tree as to promise the prolongation of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingship...We mentioned above the importance, in this respect, of the circle of iron or of the bronze chains around the amputated trunk.  Nebuchadnezzar’s throne is maintained.  For Bevan (p. 91), it is ‘a figure of speech for the stern and crushing sentence under which the king is to lie’.  Similarly for Jerome it is a sort of strait jacket, while for Rashi it is what assures the stability of the throne.” [31]


Montgomery: “The significance of this metal clamp has given rise to many interpretations, the most common one of which since Jer. is that all madmen are bound, and so, e.g., Heng., Klief., Knab., VLeng., proposed the rationalistic idea that the bond was to keep the tree from splitting, which would be satisfactory if there were evidence that such a practice was followed in ancient arboriculture.  Pr. thinks that it figures


[29] Donald E. Gowan, Daniel,(Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, 2nd ed.2001),75-76,78

[30] A. A. DiLella, and L. F. Hartman, The Book of Daniel, (AB 23; New York: Doubleday, 1978),176

[31] André Lacocque, The book of Daniel, (trans. David Pellauer, Atlanta: John Knox Press,1979),78,80

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in general Neb.’s confinement.  Others find in it an allegorical meaning, e.g., Rosen., Hitz., Keil, Bev.  It is best to follow Ra., with Mar., Cha., Torrey, to the effect of the symbolism that Neb. should not be removed, with which cf. v. 23.  The text further reads that he should be left in a bond of iron and brass in the grass of the field, which might then mean, exposed to the elements, in parallelism with the following clause, let him be wet with the dew of heaven.[32]


Henze: (1999: 83-85, 90) “Finally, a third detail in the description of the tree is noteworthy.  In both versions of Dan 4, the MT and the Old Greek, we find mention of some sort of fetters wrapped around the root (`qr) of the tree.  Unfortunately, the text is problematic at this point, adding to the obscurity of the image.  The fetters are part of Nebuchadnezzar’s initial dream report only, and they are not mentioned again in Daniel’s subsequent interpretation of the dream or in its actual fulfilment at the end of the chapter.  In the MT, the fetters are part of the watcher’s command to cut down the tree and to scatter the animals who seek shelter beneath it...The text is problematic in part because of the abrupt change of metaphors from tree to Nebuchadnezzar.  Whereas v. 11 ends with the tree imagery, ‘Let the beasts flee from beneath it, the birds from its branches,’ v. 13 begins with a direct report of Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment, ‘Let his heart be changed’.  The shift from one metaphor to the other must therefore occur either in, or right after, v. 12....As the story unfolds, however, we learn of Nebuchadnezzar’s actual punishment, ‘His body was drenched with the dew of heaven’ (v. 30).  In light of this later reference, it seems plausible to assume that the prediction in v. 12b, ‘let him be drenched with the dew of heaven,’ marks the first reference to Nebuchadnezzar himself.  The shift in metaphors would then occur in the middle of v. 12, and the command to wrap fetters of iron and bronze around the stump would be the last reference to the tree.  In the Old Greek, the fetters are not only mentioned in the initial dream report in v. 12, but occur only a little later in the story, i.e. as part of Nebuchadnezzar’s nocturnal vision, just before he awakens, in v. 14.  Here, the imagery is    Continued  ˃


[32] James A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1927), 233

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even more obscure in that the distinction between the symbol and that which is symbolized is given up entirely...


“The obscurity of the image has invited numerous interpretations.  Ancient interpreters display a tendency to interpret this line metaphorically.  Jerome, for example, remarks laconically with respect to the band of iron and bronze that ‘all madmen are bound with chains’.  His reading appears to be influenced by the earlier comments found in Theodoret of Cyrrhus’ Commentary on Daniel...According to another explanation, the bands in the biblical vision stand for shackles put on an animal to restrain its movement while it is being led to the pasture.  This reading finds support from the Old Greek, which pairs the image of the fetters with the imprisonment motif.  It does not work as well with the MT, however, since there the chains are applied to the tree, not an animal.  Alternatively, some scholars find in the iron bands a means to protect the root from cracking and to ensure the tree’s survival.  This explication is more convincing in that it acknowledges that the fetters are wrapped around the tree and not around the animal (i.e., the transformed monarch).  There is no evidence, however, that such a practice was ever in use in ancient arboriculture.


“We are on more solid ground when we turn our attention to ancient Mesopotamian art in search for an explanation for the bound tree in Dan 4.  The alabaster mural relief from the palace of Assurnasirpal II at Nimrud we have examined above is composed around the ‘tree of life.’  The trees seen on the relief are bound with heavy (metal?) bands.  The tree in the centre of the scene on the wall right behind the enthroned monarch has two of these bands, while another tree on the walls of the throne-room has four bands at symmetric intervals up the shaft.  Similarly, an impressive row of palm trees, adorned with four rings each, appears on the colour-glazed brick facade of Nebuchadnezzar’s throne-room in his palace at Babylon.  The frontal facade of the room shows a frieze of lions pacing along on a band decorated with rosettes.  Above the lions appears a long row of stylized, slender palm trees, each crowned by three pairs of volute capitals and a sun-like flower.  The trees are decorated with four green and yellow rings, in each case wrapped around the tree-trunks.  While there can be little doubt that the trees are symbols of life and royal might, the symbolism of the rings is less obvious.  Koch has observed    Continued  ˃

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that the tree in Dan 4 is stripped of its foliage and branches before it is banded with fetters.  Unlike the standardized ‘tree of life’ which is in full bloom and provides the land with both shelter and nourishment, the tree in Dan 4 is badly pruned and entirely bare, if not ruined before the chains are applied.  Koch continues to suggest an intriguing explanation: the only archaeological evidence for such a tree without foliage and branches, and yet adorned with rings, are the staves borne by Nabonidus.  The two stele from Harran (H2.A and H2.B) as well as a third stele, also from Teima and dating to the time of Nabonidus (#90837), show the monarch holding an unusually long sceptre.  The staff is not entirely straight but slightly crooked, like a naturally grown tree.  On one stele (#90837) Koch even finds signs of branches that were cut off.  What makes these staffs so interesting is the fact that they are adorned with rings, as Gadd explains: “...These rings were no doubt of metal, and so was the ferule which tipped the staff at the bottom...”  The parallel between the tree in Dan 4 and the staves carried by Nabonidus is striking indeed.  In support of Koch’s argument, additional evidence can be drawn from the ornaments which appear on the stelae together with the monarchs.” [33]


Henze discusses further examples from Assyria - Sidney Smith gave a description of the Assyrian New Year’s festival along these lines: “At the New Year festival in Assyria a ceremony took place in the gardens of Nabu’s temple, which was probably concerned with a bare tree-trunk.  Old fillets of green leaves placed on the trunk were removed, for fresh ones to be placed there, metal bands called ‘yokes’ were cut off, also perhaps for fresh ones to be put on, and on top of the trunk was set, at least in one case, a golden dish” (Sidney Smith, “Notes on ‘The Assyrian Tree,’” Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, IV (1926-1928), pp. 69-76.  And then there were the metal bands discovered at Dur-Sharrukin, the fortress of Sargon II at Khorsabad, of which Loud wrote: “Unlike the ‘tree’ at the Sin temple, which was entirely encased in    Continued  ˃


[33] The bibliographic reference for Koch’s German article where images of the relief’s by Assurnasirpal II and Nabonidus can be found: Koch, K. 1993. “Gottes Herrschaft uber das Reich des Menschen: Daniel 4 im Licht neuer Funde,” The Book of Daniel in the Light of New Findings (ed. by A. S. van der Woulde),104-106

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bronze, this ‘tree’ was adorned with bronze rings or bands extending around its circumference and overlapping at their joints.  Within the distance uncovered we find two of them, each 0.70 wide, separated from each other by a slightly narrower interval” (Gordon Loud, Khorsabad. Part 1 (Oriental Institute Publications, 38), 1936, pp. 104-105.  In conclusion, Henze noted that the parallels are imperfect, as in Daniel the tree itself was cut down before the bands or fetters were applied, and the bands represent the tree’s fertility in Assyrian ceremony whereas its purpose is unclear in the biblical text.  Since the text itself is unclear and no use is made of the fetters in the interpretation, the meaning of the fetters was possibly already lost to the biblical author himself”.