Daniel And His Friends In Babylon -- By: William H. Shea

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 04:2 (Spring 1991)
Article: Daniel And His Friends In Babylon
Author: William H. Shea

Daniel And His Friends In Babylon

William H. Sheaa

The first chapter of Daniel tells how Daniel and his three friends were exiled from Judah to Babylon. The year was 605 BC and this was the first of Nebuchadnezzar’s three campaigns against Judah. Hostages were taken from the upper class and nobility of Jerusalem and Daniel and his three friends found themselves among them. Upon arrival in Babylon they were enrolled in a course of training for civil servants. In order to enroll them as students, the Babylonians under whom they studied gave them all Babylonian names. While some of the names included names of Babylonian gods, we need not see a deep theological plot in this. It was merely the normal way in which Babylonians gave names and they undoubtedly did it for many captives from many different lands, not just Hebrews from Judah.

At the end of their course the four Hebrews stood before the king and passed their oral examinations with flying colors. As a consequence they were given important government posts. After they passed the trial by fire described in Daniel 3 they were promoted to even more prominent positions. That being the case, and in view of the large number of tablets that have been excavated from this period in Babylon, one might expect to find a reference to these individuals, either by their Babylonian names or their Hebrew names. As it turns out, that does indeed appear to be the case.


My interest in this subject was initially stimulated by a comment which I noted in a book by A.L. Oppenheim. In his work Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization, he has a section which deals with commerce and trade. There he made the observation,

It is certainly no accident that the rab tamkari, “chief trader,” was a high official at the court of the Babylonian kings, an office which was held under Nebuchadnezzar II by a man called Hanunu, i.e., Hanno, a typical Phoenician name.

It is clear that Hanunu was not a native Babylonian because he does not bear a Babylonian name. The verbal root hanan, which means “to be gracious,” does not occur in the Babylonian language. It does occur, on the other hand, in the West Semitic languages which were spoken and written in Syro-Palestine. This included Phoenicia and the Phoenicians had a strong reputation for being good businessmen. Thus, Oppenheim’s estimate that Hanunu might have been a Phoenician was a reasonable one. As I looked at that comment, however, I asked the question, “how does one know that Hanunu was a Phoenician and not a Hebrew?” The

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