By Faryn Thomas, Jennifer Morse, Joseph Marques, and Robert Carhuayo
How is witnessing acts of God treated across Genesis, Daniel, and Margaret?
- In Margaret, page 131, a huge crowd of people witness Margaret pray to God for salvation at the end, before her feet and hands are to be burned. God hears her and there is an earthquake, after which God speaks directly to her from the heavens. As this happens “fifteen thousand men from the crowd believed” (131). Thus, here witnessing a miracle or act of God, God saving Margaret from torture and speaking to her, converts the men in the crowd (though curiously not the women and children). In this instance witnessing an Act of God is presented as quite a simple method of conversion for those who witness it. Similarly the executioner at the end is converted after hearing God speak to Margaret.
- In Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar witnesses Hanniah, Azariah, and Mishael saved from incineration through their belief in God. Similarly to how in Margaret the crowd witnesses God speak directly to Margaret, here Nebuchadnezzar sees an angel come to save the three men, as well as seeing them survive the blaze. Nebuchadnezzar seems to believe in the existence of God after witnessing this miracle, declaring God to be the “eternal Lord, the almighty judge…” However, it seems like witnessing this miracle alone is not enough for Nebuchadnezzar to truly understand God’s word, as God chooses to punish him by sending him into the wilderness for seven years. Only at the end of this punishment does he “[understand] the creator” (Daniel 289). Thus it seems like from this example of witnessing in Daniel, pure “belief” in God, which one may get through witnessing a miracle, is not enough. One must also understand his word, which Nebuchadnezzar only gains after withstanding punishment.
- In Genesis, Lot and his family flee Sodom at God’s request right before God will burn the city down because of the Sodomite’s sinfulness. As Sodom burns, Lot’s wife “hears” the destruction and looks “back toward the slaughter (Genesis 179).” Because of her witnessing this act of God, the destruction of Sodom, she is “transformed into the likeness of a salt-stone,” a “severe punishment” for not obeying “the words of the minister of glory.” However I don’t recall an angel, or God, ever directly telling Lot and his family not to look upon the destruction of Sodom, but only to flee it. Furthermore, the destruction of Sodom is God’s will, and is presented here as God’s divine punishment, so why is her witnessing an act of God wrong, while in Daniel and Margaret, it leads to understanding?
- I wonder if it has something to do with witnessing God inflict violence. In Margaret, God doesn’t directly hurt anybody, he only saves Margaret from torture, though it could be said that he inflicts an indirect form of violence through making Margaret withstand torture for him to speak to her. In response to witnessing him speak to her, the crowd then immediately gains “belief” in God. While, in Daniel, God saves the three men, but also turns the fire against the people of the city, striking “fire on the enemies for their wickedness” (Daniel 271). After witnessing this, Nebuchanazzar professes belief in God, but is still prideful afterwards and made to go through punishment to attain a truer belief or understanding of God. Thus, the witnessing of the miracle alone is not enough to convey true belief in God. Then, in the destruction of Sodom in Genesis, God is not saving anyone, only inflicting violence and punishment on the sinful. For witnessing this, Lot’s wife is said to be committing a sinful act, and is punished. Thus, the level of violence in the act of God witnessed seems to correspond with the impact that it has on the witnesser. So, is this what is wrong with Lot’s wife witnessing the destruction of Sodom, the fact that she only witnessed God’s violence, and vengefulness, and not any true good miracle? Is there something bad about seeing God directly inflict violence?
The aforementioned dichotomy between either enlightenment or punishment at witnessing the hand of God culminates to its clearest form in Daniel’s apocalyptic vision. When God’s everlasting kingdom has outlived all other kingdoms, the “multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” It is then explained that the wise, who receive this immortality, will have a revelation, and the wicked will be punished. Again, we see that witnessing this final act of God either leads to enlightenment and reward, or cosmic punishment. What is the revelation that the wise will understand, but the wicked won’t in these future end times? Why are some rewarded and others punished for witnessing these acts of God? Is the revelation to be had the answer to this question? Is there any point in trying to answer it, then?
There’s definitely something interesting going on here, especially the double focus between blind belief and the conversion of unbelievers through dramatic, visible miracles. There seems to be something of a dividing line between the annihilation of cities and the miracles performed on a single-person scale. I would suspect that this is basically because prophets in the old testament (Moses especially) are more akin to holy wizards. When they are saved from the lions or the flames, it is much more of the miracles performed by Moses or by later saints for the conversion of the unbelieving than the all-powerful wrath of God as was laid down on Sodom. I think there is also something to be said for intent. In these examples the miracles are for the express purpose of the conversion of non-believers (or if not conversion, at least a desire for their adoration towards God). In the Sodom case, the miracle wasn’t intended for human witnessing, just the pure destruction of the wicked. I’m also interested in the question of how witnessing affects belief. Because the most holy characters in the poem, the ones who get saved by miracles, are believers without witnessing God’s miracles. Others are converted only after witnessing miracles. Does this create some sort of two-tiered belief system between the truly holy who didn’t need to witness to believe and those slightly less holy who did?
Anlezark, Daniel, ed. and trans. Old Testament Narratives. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.
Clayton, Mary, and Hugh Magennis, eds. and trans. The Old English Lives of St
Margaret. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Image: James Northcote – Daniel in the Lions’ Den – BF.1985.10 – Museum of Fine Arts.jpg