Reading Across the Human-Animal Boundary: The Animalising Affliction of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4
AuthorsAtkins, Peter J.
AdvisorsCollins, Matthew A.
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AbstractA major aspect of the narrative in Daniel 4 is the imagery employed to describe the affliction received by Nebuchadnezzar when he is driven from his throne. It is plain that as part of his affliction he will live as an animal, however the degree to which he actually becomes an animal is less clear. This unusual depiction of the king’s affliction has intrigued numerous subsequent readers and has provoked two predominant lines of interpretation: either that Nebuchadnezzar undergoes a physical metamorphosis of some kind into an animal form; or diverse other ways of reading the text that specifically preclude or deny an animal transformation of the king. This thesis addresses such bifurcation of interpretative opinion about Nebuchadnezzar’s affliction, examining why such interpretation is so divided and demonstrating ultimately how neither of these traditional interpretations best reflect the narrative events in Daniel 4. Firstly, I survey the range of previous interpretations of Nebuchadnezzar’s affliction and how they can broadly be grouped into these two general trends. I examine in detail the various texts and forms of the narrative to show how metamorphic interpretations of Daniel 4 are largely reliant upon later developments within the textual tradition and are not present in the earliest edition of Nebuchadnezzar’s animalising affliction. However, while the various editions of Daniel 4 seem to contain no explicit evidence that a metamorphosis was ever intended, I also show that it is equally inadequate to state that the king does not undergo an animal transformation at all. Turning to the wider ancient Near Eastern context of the Danielic narrative, I examine a range of Mesopotamian texts which appear to conceive of the human-animal boundary as being indicated primarily in relation to possession or lack of the divine characteristic of wisdom. Demonstrating how various Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Jewish texts appear to reflect the same conceptual idea, I argue that the narrative in Daniel 4, through the king’s loss of reason, in fact represents a far more significant categorical change from human to animal than has hitherto been recognised. This thesis therefore demonstrates that both traditional readings of Nebuchadnezzar’s animalising affliction are inadequate. Read instead in the context of this the narrative of Daniel 4 describes a more subtle yet much more profound crossing of the human-animal boundary.
CitationAtkins, P. (2020). Reading across the human-animal boundary: The animalising affliction of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 [Unpublished doctoral thesis]. University of Chester.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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