Jun 6, 2022

Names and Daniel 2

Recently while working through Daniel 2, I noticed that the name Daniel is used fifteen times in the chapter whereas his Babylonian name, Belteshazzar is only used once (v. 26). In v. 26, the narrator tells us that, “The king declared to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar.” While this might seem incidental, it seems fair to ask why the name Belteshazzar occurs only once and why here. The text does not say, but there at least four functions for the use of names in narratives.

(1) Names can be used to make the storytelling less cumbersome. Suppose that one’s story involved a pirate with one-eye a peg leg. To restate, “one-eyed pirate with a peg leg,” over-and-over could become quite tedious and cumbersome. A name makes the storytelling smoother.

(2) Names can also make a story more personal and relatable. While it is acceptable to say, “there was a young child,” assigning a name raises the emotional stakes. I have ministered for a number of years in a prison and one of the frequent complaints is that prisoners are known by their numbers rather than their names.

(3) Names can also add particularize and add veracity. We are not writing about any woman but about “Chloe.” In a similar way, names can bring veracity. A name can shift a story from the realm of the hypothetical and theoretical to a real situation. This phenomenon works even if the name is fictitious. Suppose a pastor wants to use an illustration that involves some level of embarrassment without revealing the identity of the person involved. He might say, there was a young man, let’s call him “Jake.” This simple move can affirm that the story actually happened and is not simply made up.

(4) Finally, names can have a symbolic or rhetorical function in a narrative. Suppose that we have a love story about a restless young man who goes through a series of dating trials and tribulations in search of his soul mate. Eventually, he meets the one, a young lady named Destiny. It would be over-the-top obvious but the young man has found his destiny/Destiny.

We now return to Daniel 2 with these four functions in mind. As I see it, the functions three and especially four are in play. Names in Daniel tend to provide verisimilitude. While the use of a name does not establish historicity (although I do believe Daniel is historical), it does suggest that this the way that author wants us to understand it. Also, if one who holds to a sixth century date for the book (as I do) then the original audience would be able to make connection between Daniel and the one known as Belteshazzar. In modern terms, it would allow readers to connect his birth certificate name and his business card name. As Tanner states, “To the original readers, it would have been an additional reminder that the famous Jewish ruler in the courts of Babylon, whom they knew as Belteshazzar, was none other than the biblical Daniel.[1] The lone reference to Belteshazzar in Daniel 2 comes at a strategic point in the approximate center of the narrative in v. 26 (out 49 verses) and the meaning of Belteshazzar is probably something like “May Bel (a Babylonian deity) protect his life.” If this is the correct understanding of the name then there is great irony for the reader already knows (and Nebuchadnezzar will learn later, vv. 46-47) that it is not Bel but El (Daniel) who will protect Daniel’s life.

No comments: