How to Categorize the King Daniel 4 in light of Mesopotamian Divine-Human-Animal Boundaries

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Peter Atkins


The narrative in Daniel 4 invariably seems to raise questions about the relationship and distinction between humans, animals, and divine beings. This can be seen firstly in how the human king Nebuchadnezzar appears to offend the Most High God, and then latterly in how he receives an animalising affliction. While the basic categories of divine, human, and animal therefore seem to be important, the boundaries between them may also to be troubled by the narrative’s events. The Danielic narrative does not itself exactly determine what constitutes these boundaries, instead they appear to be left quite ill-defined. However, as scholarship on Dan 4 has recently benefitted from utilising comparative Mesopotamian material to explain aspects of the chapter, this article will look at how such divine-human-animal boundaries are constructed in such ancient Near Eastern texts. Drawing on previous studies, the key indicators of these boundaries within Mesopotamian material will be isolated, before then attempting to read Dan 4 in light of them. This article will therefore argue that the portrayal of Nebuchadnezzar in Dan 4 utilises similar divine-human-animal boundaries to those found in such Mesopotamian texts, and that the king’s position relies upon his relationship with both wisdom and immortality. Furthermore, this study of Dan 4 also aims to use this particular biblical narrative to form a basis by which future scholarship can consider similar boundaries to be at work in other Second Temple texts.

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