Religion of Thursday, 24 January 2013
Source: Sarfo, Samuel Adjei
By Dr. Samuel Adjei Sarfo
This essay proceeds on the assumption that biblical miracles could be reinterpreted in the context of modern scientific thought, and that by so doing, they could be expunged of their metaphysical nature without any harm to the core values of their object lessons. This is important to us because miracles tend to turn their performers into gods and demigods, diminishing others and discouraging them from using the power of the mind to replicate the wonders of the forebears.
Let us use the fabled wisdom of the Prophet Daniel as our case study.
In the Apocrypha (read the deuterocanonical books used by the Catholics and edited out of the Bible by Martin Luther), two stories clearly demonstrate Daniel’s shrewd intelligence and deep insight. The first (called “Bel and the Dragon”) tells of how Daniel exposed the chicanery of the court priests. These demanded elaborate sacrifices from the King by way of sumptuous dishes provided daily to the god. They placed these in front of the carvings of the god and claimed that he fed on the food in the middle of the night. Daniel scoffed at that claim, and with the King’s permission, he sprayed some ashes in the chamber of the temple. The following day, the foot-prints of the priests and their families betrayed them as those who went into the shrine in the middle of the night to eat the food!
The second story is recounted in the book called Susanna. Here, two judges, seething with their unrequited lust for a beautiful maiden called Susanna, way-laid her and sought to have sex with her. When the girl rebuffed their overture, they teamed up to concoct an elaborate indictment against her. But for the timely intervention of Daniel who exposed the lies of the wicked judges, the girl would have been stoned to death. In this instance, Daniel simply separated the judges and induced them to give contradictory accounts of the incident.
Daniel’s shrewd intelligence could also be cited to explain why he was able to interpret the strange dream of Nebuchadnezzar. The King had a terrible nightmare and woke up unable to recollect the dream. He summoned his magicians and soothsayers to tell him the dream he had and also its interpretation. These men of course found the King’s command impossible to fulfill and told him so. Typical of the capriciousness of ancient Kings, Nebuchadnezzar angrily ordered all his wise men killed. When Daniel heard of the order, he begged the King for a stay of execution and asked for time to come up with an answer.
Under the circumstance, all that the shrewd Daniel had to do was to concoct a dream for the King and an interpretation thereof. He made up a scary story of a huge image, with the head of gold, the breast and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of brass, the legs of iron, the feet a mixture of iron and clay. Daniel pooh-poohed the King into accepting that narrative as the dream he had, and the King, already tired and befuddled by his own preposterous command, yielded to Daniel’s superior powers of imagination. (We are sure of this because no matter his distractive state of mind, the King could not have possibly forgotten the powerful image invoked by Daniel if the account was indeed the dream he had had). Daniel then interpreted the dream he made up, pointing out the King’s rule as symbolizing the golden head and pushing the catastrophic end of time he foretold into the remotest future. Consequently the King’s ego was so sufficiently massaged that Daniel was amply rewarded.
Now several years after, Daniel continued to dominate the palace politics of Babylon. His insight and wisdom left him unscathed in the daily scheming and intrigues within the ranks of the King’s advisors and servants. But nobody was safe under the new King Darius. He had brought in seven lions from Media and put them in an underground cage in the palace. Those who fell out of favor with the King were regularly fed to the lions. Even though Daniel was the King’s favorite advisor, he could not resist thinking over the matter and fearing that his luck might one day run out. Should the day come for him to face the lions, he wanted to have certain security guarantees. He therefore decided to make friends with the lions. He first contacted the keeper of the lions who gave him unrestricted access to the den in exchange for Daniel’s friendship and benevolence. At night, Daniel, a strict vegetarian, would go and throw large chunks of meat to the lions. Soon, the lions were so used to him to the point where he could actually enter the den and play with them, petting them and grooming them. Daniel even became better friends with the lions than the keeper himself who saw Daniel’s work with the lions as a big opportunity to take a break from his daily routine.
For thinking ahead of the pack, Daniel was soon to be rewarded with a miracle forever associated with his name. Over time, Daniel had managed to create powerful enemies in the palace. The relatives and friends of the priests of Bel ( a.k.a. Baal) and the lustful judges whom he helped expose had risen through the ranks to become important members of the King’s Privy Council. These bore a hereditary antipathy for Daniel and worked with other palace lackeys who were angry over the fact that Daniel, a mere immigrant, had been elevated high above them to enable him order them around. They all planned to strike at Daniel at his most vulnerable hour.
After thinking through the matter, the conspirators decided that one thing on which Daniel would not compromise was his religious faith. They therefore went to persuade the King to put a thirty-day injunction on any request anybody could make of any gods, except the king.
“ Anyone that fails in this command shows disrespect for your glorious majesty. Cast him before the lions, Oh King,” they all intoned. The new King, eager to please his counselors and establish his authority, agreed to the suggestion, quite oblivious of the motives of his trusted counselors.
Of course Daniel heard of all that ensued, and assured of his own place in the scheme of things, he refused the King’s order, and to add insult to injury, he opened his high window facing Jerusalem and openly prayed to his God in blatant defiance of the orders of the King. The schemers were quick to report the matter to the King, and much against his wishes, the King ordered Daniel to be cast into the lion’s den. Of course, the animals knew Daniel well and would not budge an inch to harm him. In the morning, a much disturbed king, forced to cast his best advisor into the lion’s den, stealthily approached the dungeon and uttered these famous words, “Daniel, has the God whom thou worship been able to save thee from the jaws of the lions?”
Daniel aptly answered, “May the King live forever! The Almighty God has locked the jaws of these hungry lions, and his servant and yours remains unscathed, for thy servant is innocent of any wrong-doing.” With great alacrity, the King ordered Daniel released, and the schemers and their families cast into the lion’s den. The poor souls did not hit the ground before those lions broke their bones and made mincemeat of them……
This is how the greatest miracle of Daniel was born, and down to this day, in epic songs and emotive sermons, the story of how Daniel survived the lion’s den remains a staple lesson amongst the faithful lot. Yet if the truth be known, the quality of Daniel’s life and the authenticity of his mental acumen will nevertheless remain instructive. As a man, Daniel still symbolizes the phenomenal power of the mind to transcend and discern the limitless depths of the unknowable. He demonstrates to us modern men and women that no problem is bigger for us if we think it carefully through. Daniel shows that with the proper cultivation of the mind, we should triumph over our most vicious enemies and survive through the most complex web of intrigues and scheming. In the lions’ story in particular, Daniel shows us the power of proactive thinking and preemptive action. If we consider his survival methods as effective tools to confront the vicissitudes of modern life, we would gain more experience and knowledge than in believing that a purely physical event constitutes an extraordinary miracle. If we mistake his mental prowess as arising out of metaphysical power, we will negate the versatile efficacy of scientific thought and forever feel inferior and inadequate to use our god-given faculties to replicate the mythical and transcendent acts of Daniel…..
Probably, the books of Bel and the Dragon and Susanna, like many others, were expunged from the Bible because of their lessons in intellectual discernment and clarity of perspective, but they certainly throw an ample light on Daniel’s ingenuity, so much so that when Shakespeare’s Shylock shouts in “The Merchant of Venice” that Daniel has come to judgment, the axiom should rather celebrate the wisdom and versatility of the man, not his so-called miracles, and its intrinsic import should echo down to our time to edify this generation in all actions, at all times and for all places.
Samuel Adjei Sarfo is a practicing lawyer in Austin, Texas. You can email him at email@example.com; or visit his website at www.sarfolawfirm.com.