The Power of Point of View

Bilingualism in Perspective: Ideology Construed Through Language Shifting in Daniel – Part 2 – ZACHARY K. DAWSON

Zach_Dawson_PictureThat Daniel 7 remains in Aramaic before the Hebrew text recommences in chapter 8 has puzzled biblical scholars for years, and no answer to this question to date has fully satisfied this query. It is the present writer’s contention that Bill Arnold paved a way forward in his point-of-view analysis of Daniel, but still left much to be answered by those who came after him. He explains that because the book of Daniel has a clear structural movement from tales (chapters 16) to visions (chapter 712), it is a curious matter that the bilingualism in the book convolutes this symmetry, both in Hebrew chapter 1 and Aramaic chapter 7, (“The Use of Aramaic in the Hebrew Bible: Another Look at Bilingualism in Ezra and Daniel,” in JNSL 22/2 [1996], 12). Also, another reason it is surprising that chapter 7 remains in Aramaic is because its content consists almost entirely of a speech of Daniel, which after 7:1 is reported in first person from Daniel’s perspective, an extended direct discourse invoking the temporal plane. The present work concurs with Arnold that on the surface it is surprising that the narrator did not shift back to Hebrew when Daniel begins speaking, as this would have fit well with the book’s structure. However, an analysis of how several point-of-view techniques function—Arnold only considered the phraseological and ideological planes germane for analyzing Daniel’s bilingualism—will show correlations with other contextual factors that can help to explain the more gradual alignment of point-of-view planes as they converge over the span of text that is chapters 7 and 8.

Contrasting with chapter 7, chapter 8 is not a quote, but remains in first person narrative from Daniel’s perspective. Concerning this, Arnold writes, “In this sense, Daniel becomes the narrator in chapter 8, a process Uspensky calls ‘concurrence’. With chapter 8, the narrator and Daniel have merged, and therefore assume the same point of view. Thus the switch to Hebrew occurs because of the concurrence of point of view, making the use of Aramaic in chapter 7 an intentional literary device. It appears likely that chapter 7 was actually written in Aramaic with an eye to the Hebrew portions of chapters 8-12 (or at least, chapter 8),” (“Use of Aramaic,” 13; cf. Boris Uspensky, A Poetics of Composition: The Structure of the Artistic Text and Typology of a Compositional Form, trans. Valentina Zavarin and Susan Wittig [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973], 5). While sound in his conclusion, Arnold does not go beyond describing chapter 7 as a literary hinge transitioning to chapter 8, which quickly opens his argument for critique because he provides little basis for why the narrator would do this, or even what this accomplishes as a literary move. Nevertheless, the present work seeks to support this conclusion by taking into account additional considerations, but with regard to how the audience is being brought into proximity to Daniel, not how the narrator relates to Daniel as Arnold’s study was concerned.

As noted above, the temporal plane is invoked with Daniel’s extended discourse in chapter 7, which contributes to the audience being brought into proximity to Daniel. However, the continued use of Aramaic brings about nonconcurrence on the temporal and phraseological planes. Thus two questions arise: (1) With whom or what is the narrator merging the audience? and (2) from whom or what is the narrator distancing the audience?

To begin, that Daniel has been positioned in the book to be evaluated positively persists in this chapter, and so it is easily established that Daniel is the entity with whom the narrator merges the audience. In support of this, the inside view into Daniel’s head to let the audience know how his dream affected him (vv. 15, 18) invokes the psychological plane and contributes to the audience being brought into proximity to Daniel. Thus, both the temporal and psychological planes concur to bring the audience to converge with Daniel.

The work of T. J. Meadowcroft, who observes several links between chapters 2–6 and chapter 7, can help legitimate the literary hinge that Arnold assumed. One of these links that bears significance for point of view is the role reversal of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar with regard to visions. At first, Nebuchadnezzar has visions/dreams, which cause him distress (2:1; 4:5), but later in 7:1 it is now Daniel who is the visionary (כבהמשׁ־על השׁרא וחזוי חזה חלם), and the audience becomes informed later that Daniel, too, is frightened (v.15, יבהלנני). However, the way Daniel responds to his visions markedly differs from how Nebuchadnezzar responds to his. Whereas Nebuchadnezzar responds in haste and fear, even serving out threats to those who cannot interpret his visions (2:5), Daniel “kept the matter in his heart” (7:28, נטרת בלבי ומלתא), which concludes the Aramaic section of the book, (see T. J. Meadowcroft, Aramaic Daniel and Greek Daniel: A Literary Comparison, JSOTSup 198 [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995], 234-43). As the two main point-of-view characters in the book, this offers an evaluative contrast between these characters; Daniel handles the receiving of his visions more wisely than Nebuchadnezzar, who then after waiting receives divine help in understanding them (8:15ff).

But what about the phraseological plane? It may be that when inquiry is made into the context of Daniel’s dream, particularly its religio-historical background, that the nonconcurrence of planes begins to make sense. Multiple studies over the past generation have purported that Daniel’s vision is dependent on some Canaanite or Mesopotamian background, though opinions vary as to what specific foreign backdrop chapter 7 has. Discussing the Canaanite background, John Collins explains that the vision in Daniel 7 relies on the battle between Baal and Yamm in an ancient Ugaritic myth; “the myth of Baal and Yamm is one formulation of a traditional narrative presupposed in Daniel 7, and can throw light on the choice of imagery and structure of relationships in the biblical text,” (“Stirring Up the Great Sea: The Religio-Historical Background of Daniel 7,” in The Book of Daniel in the Light of New Findings, BETL 56, ed. A. S. van der Woude [Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1993], 125). While Daniel 7 has much in common with this myth, scholars do not assume that the author knew the myth in its form as found at Ugarit; the important notion here is that the ingredients of the vision in Daniel 7 derive from a foreign mythology. If the vision the narrator relates through Daniel is recognizably Babylonian, it follows that borrowing material from another cult and recontextualizing it to promote a Jewish ideology would serve a rhetorical means to polemicize against foreign opposition that identified readily with such material. Making this point, Collins asserts, “By positing an area of similarity between Daniel and the Chaldeans, the authors of the tales are able to assert the superiority of Daniel and his God. Similarly, the use of imagery associated with Marduk or with Baal may serve to make the claim that Yahweh, not a pagan deity, is the true deliverer” (“Stirring Up the Great Sea,” 123). Thus, the phraseological plane functions here in such a way that political and theological differences are positioned to clash, but where the audience sees their God triumphing out of a foreign backdrop.

These posts have attempted to engage heretofore under-analyzed correlations between literary and socio-cultural features that ideologically cohere the book of Daniel into a social act that seeks to elicit social change. As a heuristic method, Yamasaki’s perspective criticism employed in this work, evaluating the use of bilingualism in the book of Daniel, has indicated that the shifts in language correspond to shifts in point of view, which redound with the book’s ideological agenda. When the initial shift to Aramaic occurs in chapter 2, there accompanying it is a shift in scene to a foreign domain, the king’s court, along with the events that transpired there. The phraseological plane misaligns with the ideological plane to create distance and negative evaluative sentiments towards Nebuchadnezzar and his actions. Over against this, the narrative makes artful use of nonconcurrence of the planes when Daniel (and his companions in other parts of the story) overcome and surprise the king, prospering in their foreign context as God has supernaturally enabled them. Further, the gradual realignment of the point-of-view planes as the narrative approaches chapter 8 corresponds with a creative use of polemicizing on the part of the narrator. Here, the recontextualizing of foreign mythological elements to cast the God of Israel as the perpetual universal victor functions rhetorically to reassure a Jewish audience of their God’s supremacy, and thereby their sense of security as a people opposed by numerous other groups in a complex, uncertain socio-political milieu.


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