Tag Archives: Menippean Satire

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Old Testament 102: My sample Daniel answer

If there happens to be a question about the meaning of Daniel this is what my answer will look like (though I’ll pad it out with some Bible):

Ask a Christian doomsday cult fanatic what their favourite book of the Bible is, and in the mix with Revelation and Ezekiel will no doubt be the book of Daniel. Daniel is a tale of two halves – the latter half has been widely recognised as apocalyptic in nature – a cryptic condemnation of foreign rulers, and a message of hope for the people of God in the midst of foreign persecution. But what to do with the first half of the book? Chapters 1-6 read like a series of court tales in a foreign land, with enough similarities to a Disney movie to spawn countless retellings in children’s stories in churches around the globe. But could it be that simple?

Short answer, no. Like many stories that appear to be straightforward and geared towards children (Shrek for example) the story contains an undercurrent of harsh and satirical criticism of foreign rule – a mocking of inept kings, with a hopeful note for the people of God. God is in control, despite Israel’s political dilemma.

The identification of Daniel as a Menippean Satire was proposed by Valetta. Valetta identified the fourteen elements of satire from the late (second century) BC period. A recognition that has implications for the dating, and interpretation, of Daniel. Debate in scholarly circles has been largely settled on the question of a sixth century prescriptive dating of the second half of Daniel – while scholars are not ruling out predictive prophecy per say, some, such as Goldingay, note that such a level of detail is not common in Biblical prophecy (though such an assumption seems also to depend on ruling out a single, early, author of Isaiah), other problems presented for a sixth century dating include a series of historical inaccuracies that are best explained if the book is written in the second century with a sixth century setting. The only scholar of note still advocating a sixth century dating is Tremper Longman. Longman’s position sees him advocate a fairly simplistic application of Daniel’s first six chapters, he sees them as stories of bravery under fire, to be imitated by believers facing hostility.

Daniel as satire presents a more robust application – foreign rule is seen to be ridiculous, or worthy of ridicule, in comparison to the greatness of God’s rule. Clues for the satirical reading include the use of the language of the court (Aramaic) for much of the negative presentation of foreign rulers, the refrain “oh king may you live forever” occurring at intervals and incidents where the king is experiencing a particularly humiliating or traumatic time, and the presence of all fourteen elements of the Menippean Satire described by Bahktin. A satirical reading also integrates more comfortably with the apocalyptic undertones of the second half of the book – positioning the whole book as a rebuke of foreign rule designed to inspire hope within the oppressed people of Israel. The satirical take on the king (probably Antiochus IV) softens the target for the deadly blow of chapters 7-13, the prediction of his downfall. The book then contains a united condemnation of foreign rule, a message of judgment, and a message of hope for the oppressed.