Why is Nebuchadnezzar Portrayed as an Animal?

In his recent article, Christopher B. Hays asks the following question: “Why is Nebuchadnezzar portrayed as an animal?” (“Chirps from the Dust: The Affliction of Nebuchadneaar in Daniel 4:30 in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context,” JBL 126/2 [2007]: 3-25). His answer is that the animals of Dan 4:30 (MT) can symbolize demons and the dead in ancient Near Eastern texts. Nebuchadnezzar’s portrait as an animal (MT Dan 4:30) and his recovery (MT Dan 4:36) reveals the movement from affliction to salvation (thanksgiving). But Hays did not discuss the reason of why the author of Daniel 4 shows the movement by using the type of animal imagery.

The tale of Nebuchadnezzar’s affliction and his recovery reveals the main theme of the Aramaic tales in Daniel: the acknowledgement of the God of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar is afflicted by divine powers becuase he does not give glory to God. Dan 4:30 (NRSV) reads:

Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty? 

The conclusion of Daniel 4 is the restoration to the king of his royal splendour “for the glory of my kingdom” (Dan 4:33). His former glory made him supreme ruler of the world, but his new position will be different. Nebuchadnezzar is recovered by dvine powers becuase he acknolweges that he has to give glory to the God of Israel. Dan 4:34 (NRSV) reads:

When that period was over, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me. I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored the one who lives forever. For his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation.

Thus, the author of Daniel 4 reveals the main theme of the narrative in Daniel 4 through the transition from Nebuchadnezzar’s affliction to his restoration.

Reference List

Hays, Christopher B. “Chirps from the Dust: The Affliction of Nebuchadneaar in Daniel 4:30 in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context.” JBL 126/2 (2007): 3-25.