Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream in Daniel and Alexander’s Dream in Josephus

The Letter to the Hebrews begins with the multiple forms of the divine revelation: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways (πολυμερῶς καὶ πολυτρόπως) by the prophets (Heb 1:1, NRSV).” What does the phrase “the various ways of the divine revelation” mean? One of the ways that God reveals himself to humans is “dream” or “vision.” Indeed, the dream is the best way to convey a divine message to humans. In the Old Testament, the divine message is revealed in dreams to Jacob (Gen 28:12-15; 31:10-13), to Laban (Gen 31:24), to the Midianite soldier (Judg 7:13-15), to Solomon (1 Kgs 3:5-14), to Samuel (1 Sam 3:3-14), and to Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2:1-45; 4:4-27). The dream narratives in the Old Testament are conceived principally as a means of conveying divine messages both “good” and “bad,” such as the divine deliverance and judgment.

Josephus also accounts Alexander’s dream in Antiquities of the Jews 11.334-35. Among the biblical dream narratives, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel can be compared to Alexander’s dream in Josephus in terms of common themes and features.

Tae Hun Kim discusses the similarities of the two dreams as follows (Kim 2003, 430):

  1. The dreamer is a great pagan king who previously had not been particularly well-disposed toward the Jews.
  2. A positive change in his attitude toward the Jews is effected by his dream and its fulfillment, and great honor is given to the Jews as a result.
  3. A human-like figure (an angelic watcher in Dan 4:13; Jaddua himself in Ant. 11.334) appears and delivers an oral message, though in a different way.

Kim also shows how the two dreams are different in themes and features (Kim 2003, 430):

  1. In Antiquities Alexander is not presented as particularly hostile to the Jews. Nebuchadnezzar, however, destroyed Jerusalem and exiled the Jews. Nebuchadnezzar’s change of attitude toward the Jews thus is much more dramatic.
  2. Alexander’s dream is a divine encouragement and promise of blessing; there is no punitive element in his dream. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream foretells a divine castigation and punishment.
  3. Alexander had a specific dream that answered specific concerns he already had in mind, and thus the dream functioned like an oracle, i.e., a divine response to Alexander’s question regarding the outcome of his imperial plan. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is an unsolicited vision of pending disaster, which does not address him personally or cater to his concerns.
  4. The message of Alexander’s dream was sufficiently clear that he could readily understand it without the aid of a dream interpreter. The identity of the dream figure still eluded him, yet Alexander did not call for a dream interpreter. But the dream message addressed to Nebuchadnezzar was so cryptic that Daniel had to be brought in to explain to the king the meaning and the repercussions of his vision.

After the comparison of similarities and differences of the two dreams, Kim concludes as follows:

Both dream narratives share a common theme, i.e., a great pagan king becomes the protector of the Jews by means of a divinely-inspired dream, and the honor of the Jews is greatly increased as a result. In this sense, both dreams essentially function as a propaganda piece for the Jews (Kim 2003, 431).

Does the dream of Daniel function as a propaganda piece for the Jews? Does the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 reveal an optimist tendency toward the foreign king? I think the theme of Daniel is not to express a propaganda for the Jews, but to insist that the Most High God is only one real God. The dream of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 is probably a polemical exaggeration. This theme also occurs in the tradition of Nabonidus in Prayer of Nabonidus (4QProNab; 4Q242). As a result, the dream of Daniel 4 reveals not only a possibility of conversion of a pagan king, but it also expresses the acknowledgment of the Most High God.

Reference List

Kim, Tae Hun. “The Dream of Alexander in Josephus Ant. 11.325-39.” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period. 34 no 4 (2003): 425-442.

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Bamot in Kings and Chronicles

The Hebrew בָּמוֹת (bāmôt) means “high places” appeared, as a cultic context, 97 times in the Hebrew Bible. But what’s basic meaning of bāmôt? They were local sanctuaries. In the Hebrew Bible, the local sanctuaries were once legitimate cultic sites. They are often perceived as the site of Canaanite rituals, but they are local sanctuaries for the worship of YHWH before the centralization of Jerusalem Temple (1 Sam 9:12). The Moabite Stone (Mesha Inscription) contains the reference to the term bāmôt. The following map shows bāmôt sites. These sites contain religious sanctuaries that reflect a variety meanings of bāmôt, including platform for rituals, an altar, and a temple (Nakhai 1994, 21).

Bamot

These sites were “torn down” (2 Kgs 23:8; 2 Chr 33:3), “burned” (2 Kgs 23:15), and “removed” (1 Kgs 15:14; 2 Kgs 17:29; 2 Kgs 23:19) mostly by the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah. Beside the issue of centralization of the DrtH, it is interesting to compare bāmôt of the books of Kings with those of the books of Chronicles during the time of the United Monarchy:

  • 1 Kgs 3:2-4: people sacrificed at high places since temple was not yet built. Solomon walked in the statues of David though he sacrificed at high places. Solomon sacrificed 1,000 animals at high places at Gibeon.
  • 1 Kgs 11:7: Solomon built a high place for Chemosh.
  • 1 Chr 16:39: David stationed Zadok before the tabernacle of YHWH in high place of Gibeon.
  • 1 Chr 21:29: The Tabernacle Moses had made and the altar of burn offering were at the high place of Gibeon.
  • 2 Chr 1:3: Solomon went to the high place at Gibeon for there was the tent of meeting that Moses had made.

There is no doubt that both Kings and Chronicles see bāmôt as legitimate cultic sites during the time of the United Monarchy, but the ways how both books describe are different.

In the books of Kings, the ancient people of Israel continued to offer sacrifices at bāmôt before Solomon built the Jerusalem Temple (1 Kgs 3:2). For example, Solomon also offered sacrifices at the bāmôt of Gibeon (1 Kgs 3:3).

In the books of Chronicles, the Chronicler mentions that the tabernacle was located at Gibeon (1 Chr 16:39). Solomon visited the cult site at Gibeon in 2 Chr 1:3-13 and sacrificed a thousand burnt offerings on its bronze altar. After Solomon had completed the building of the temple, the priests and Levites brought up the ark, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in “the tent” to the new building. The ark was already in the city of David; the tabernacle was brought from Gibeon. Why does the Chronicles mention the tabernacle at Gibeon? Ralph W. Klein states that “locating the tabernacle at Gibeon may be an attempt to justify Solomon’s pilgrimage to the high place at Gibeon” (Klein 2006, 368). The Chronicler depicts Solomon as the ideal king so that the tabernacle should be there at the bāmôt in Gibeon.

Reference List

Fried, Lisbeth. S. “The High Places (bāmôt) and and the Reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah: An Archaeological Investigation.” JAOS 122/3 (2002): 437-65.

Klein, Ralph W. 1 Chronicles: A Commentary. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.

Nakhai, Beth A. “What’s a Bamah? How Sacred Space Functioned in Ancient Israel.” BAR 20/3 (1994): 18-29.

The Monday Night Group

Did you know that there were missionaries who aided Korea’s democratic revolution? I went to the library today and found an interesting book entitled More Than Witnesses: How a Small Group of Missionaries Aided Korea’s Democratic Revolution (Seoul: Korea Democracy Foundation, 2006).

More Than Witnesses in EnglishMore Than Witnesses in Korean

This book is a collection of the witnesses of missionaries who got involved in Korea’s democratic revolution. They came from the United States, Canada, Australia, and Germany. They voluntarily walked the path of suffering in the darkest days of Korea’s political history in the 1970s and 1980s. The current president of Korea Democracy Foundation, Father Ham Sei Ung, designates them as “Good Samaritans.”

They are a small minority of missionaries those who were struggling for justice, while the majority of missionaries remained silent. They agreed to get together to share news about what was happening to their Korean colleagues, students, and neighbors on Monday nights. This is how the “Monday Night Group” was born.

As a missionary-journalist and a member of the Monday Night Group, Jim Stentzel edited this book, and all contributors of the book were also the members of the group.

Stentzel identifies the small group of missionaries with the small minority within the Korean Christian community:

One of the interesting things about the democratic revolution that occurred slowly in south Korea over the last three decades of the 20th century is that the Korean Christians who played such central roles in the revolution were a small minority within the Korean Christian community, which at that time comprised a minority of the south Korean people. Why is this worth noting? Because self-proclaimed ‘Christian majorities’- in south Korea today as well as in the United States- lay moral claim to levers o conservative state power. As a small minority within a minority Christian in the 1970s, the Korean Christian patriots could never have been accused of such arrogance. Any secret ambition to impose a religious or moral agenda would have been laughable. The Korean Christian patriots were more the conscience of the nation than a power base. They sought not power themselves but the empowerment of others, especially the exploited and oppressed (pp. 29-30).

This book provides a new aspect on missionaries to Korea. They were sent to Korea to transform Korean, but they were transformed. They were also introduced to some of the dark side of capitalism. They saw God’s handiwork to the Korean Christians who moved to the forefront of the country’s struggle for democracy and human rights.