Thursday, February 25, 2021

Daniel and the Neo-Elamite kingdom

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Power and Politics in the Neo-Elamite Kingdom. Notice of a New Book: Gorris, Elynn. 2020. Power and Politics in the Neo-Elamite Kingdom (Acta Iranica, 60). Leuven: Peeters.

What, you ask, does ancient Judaism have to do with the Neo-Elamite Kingdom? Not much, but not nothing.

It happens that I am reading the Hebrew of Daniel chapter 8, which my honours Hebrew class will be reading in a couple of weeks. When I saw the notice of this new book, I couldn't help thinking of vv. 1-2:

In the third year of the reign of King Belshaz′zar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first. 2 And I saw in the vision; and when I saw, I was in Susa the capital, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in the vision, and I was at the river U′lai. (RSV)
Daniel's vision is set in the late Neo-Elamite kingdom in the capital city Susa. The Masoretic Text implies that he was there only in his vision. The Septuagint (Old Greek and Theodotian) make it look more like he saw the vision when he really was in the city.

At the putative time of Daniel's vision (there was no reign of Belshazzar, who was regent for his father Nabonidus), Susa had lost much of its power. It may have been under the influence of the Neo-Babylonians. Cyrus the Great conquered Elam shortly afterwards. Susa became a royal city in the Persian Empire. Its placement in Daniel 8 may be with the latter status in mind, to underline that the vision involved the Persian Empire. The writer may not have known the exact timing of the rise of Susa as a Persian royal city. Elsewhere in the Bible (Esther 1:2 etc., Nehemiah 1:1) that's what it was.

The Ulai river was a real place in Susa. The meaning of the phrase in Daniel is uncertain. He saw the vision either at "the canal of Ulai" or "the gate of Ulai."

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