The Passive Voice and Double Meanings in Daniel

One of the more vivid scenes in Daniel occurs when Nebuchednezzer prepares to throw the three young men into the flame. Though the actual burning turns out to be anticlimactic, the paragraph of preparation is rife with anticipation and evil depictions of the flames. Nebuchednezzer commands the oven to be heated, watches as the flames are slowly and cruelly stoked, and finally gathers everyone to watch the torture (263). The language of the fire is slow, hot, and almost malicious. It seems to take on the qualities of Nebuchadnezzar. However, the cruelty of the fire is subverted. The harsh language that describes the flames flips on itself when the three young men are saved by the angel. Right when the men are pushed into the flames, tension decreases as rescue becomes clear: “Although he had forced them so cruelly into the embrace of the fire’s flame, nevertheless the mighty sentinel of the creator saved their life there” (263). All the background of the fire is packed into the “embrace” of the flames. However, the word “embraced” is used in almost the very next line when “The angel went there, inside the furnace where they endured that terror, wrapped the noble youths in his embrace under the fiery roof” (264). Here though the meaning of embrace remains the same, the intention shifts. The embrace no longer represents all the evil of the flames, but rather the safety of the angel and God. Within the span of a few lines, and only a few moments in the story’s timeline, the trajectory of the story turns around. The double usage of “embrace” succinctly demonstrates the switch, and the reversal of fortune for Nebuchadnezzar. Sarah


The narrative of Daniel navigates multiple layers of consciousness. Nebuchadnezzar forgets and seeks answers in dreams, Daniel reveals secrets through the guidance of the divine, and men question their sanity as they witness a miracle. The translation builds distance between characters and actions, mirroring the space between dreams and reality: “Then it happened that in sleep a dream was revealed to Nebuchadnezzar; it turned out to be about him” (281). The reader perceives the voice of the narrator through this gradual reveal of information. The phrase “it turned out to be about him” recalls a storyteller winking at their audience, guiding them through a maze of foreshadowing. Nebuchadnezzar does not dream- a dream “was revealed” to him. The passive voice builds a distance between the action and the character, a space filled by the interference of the divine. Nebuchadnezzar does not “see” the events of the dream. “It seemed to him that an angel descended from the skies above” (283). The actions of the angel hang in a haze of unreality, seeming rather than being. The angel’s descent “seemed to him”: this state of confusion is linked to Nebuchadnezzar’s identity. He cannot clearly perceive the space between dreams and reality. When Daniel reveals the secret of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the king states “it is known to me that Daniel spoke truly about my secret dream, which earlier had perplexed many of my people in their mind, because the almighty sent a potent spirit, wise skills, into his mind” (281). Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t know- “it is known.” The dialogue separates consciousness and awareness from identity. However, this tactic doesn’t solely apply to Nebuchadnezzar. The knowledge Daniel possesses does not belong to him. Instead, the knowledge is sent by the divine. Once again, passive language and distance make room for the supernatural. When Nebuchadnezzar witnesses the miracle of the three young men escaping burning, he declares “that we sent three into the burning fire’s flames, commanded to the pyre. Now I truly see four people there— I do not deceive myself at all” (275). In this case, Nebuchadnezzar speaks directly. The king witnesses a miracle and the space between dreams and reality collapses. Nathalie

Anlezark, Daniel. “Daniel.” Story. In Old Testament Narratives. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011

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