Shalom, everyone! The Book of Daniel is one of the most widely read books of prophecy and history in the Hebrew Scriptures. Daniel not only gives us prophecies of what would befall the Hebrew people in the “last days,” but also gives us a bird’s eye view of life as a Judahite/Israelite exile in the pagan kingdom of Babylon, also known as the Land of Shinar. King Nebuchadnezzar not only conquered the Kingdom of Judah, but he also began a relentless campaign of assimilation of the Judahite exiles into Babylonian. This campaign was effective to the point that the House of Judah lost its original Hebrew language and paleo-Hebrew script, and adopted the Babylonian language of Aramaic, and its block-script. A dialect of the Aramaic language, Judeo-Aramaic, and its block-script are known as modern Hebrew today. While there is an effort to revive paleo-Hebrew as the official script of the Hebrew nation, the original Hebrew tongue, also known as “Lashon HaKodesh” is lost to most linguists/Bible scholars today. Even the Book of Daniel was originally written in two languages, Hebrew and Aramaic: Chapters 1, and 8 through 12 were written in Hebrew, but chapters 2 through 7 were written in Aramaic.
Daniel 1:1-7 shows the beginning of the assimilation process of the Kingdom of Judah into the Babylonian language, writing, and culture. The following is a breakdown of how this assimilation began. The English translation for the following scriptural references is taken from Mechon-Mamre:
Daniel 1:1 ~ “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.”
Jehoiakim was originally installed as king of Judah by the Necho II, Pharaoh of Egypt, after the death of King Josiah at Meggido and the overthrow of Josiah’s original successor, King Jehoahaz, circa 608 BCE (2 Kings 23:29-34). Jehoiakim was an evil king who reigned for a total of 11 years. When King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian horde crushed Egypt circa 601 BCE, the Kingdom of Judah became a vassal state of Babylon. During the third year of his reign as a vassal king to Babylon, Jehoiakim rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, prompting the Babylonians to set up the first siege against Jerusalem circa 597 BCE.
Daniel 1:2 ~ “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God; and he carried them into the land of Shinar to the house of his god, and the vessels he brought into the treasure-house of his god.”
YAH caused Jehoiakim‘s rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar to fail miserably. Incensed by Jehoiakim‘s rebellion, Nebuchadnezzar had Jehoiakim bound in chains and carried away to Babylon. The Babylonians also loot the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and carry away some of the vessels that were used in the Temple service. Nebuchadnezzar took these sacred Temple vessels and placed them in the treasury of the house of worship dedicated to his own pagan deity.
Over a period of about 11 years, Nebuchadnezzar installs two more vassal kings in Judah: Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. Both reigns end in disaster and exile. Jehoiachin (a/k/a Jeconiah) reigned only three months before being exiled to Babylon with his immediate family and officers. Zedekiah reigned 11 years and then rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah was easily crushed by the Babylonians, who killed both his sons, put out his eyes and carried him back to Babylon in chains (2 Kings 24:8 – 25:7).
Daniel 1:3 ~ “And the king spoke unto Ashpenaz his chief officer, that he should bring in certain of the children of Israel, and of the seed royal, and of the nobles,”
During this first siege of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar took about 10,000 people from the Kingdom of Judah back to Babylon with him. These exiles were primarily from the elite and skilled population of the Kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 24:14): All the princes of the royal House of Judah, all the mighty warriors, and skilled craftsmen and smiths. The majority of the population, the poor and unskilled remained in the land of Judah.
Daniel 1:4 ~ “youths in whom was no blemish, but fair to look on, and skilful in all wisdom, and skilful in knowledge, and discerning in thought, and such as had ability to stand in the king’s palace; and that he should teach them the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.“
Nebuchadnezzar was looking for the best and the brightest among the elite group of exiles he brought from Judah to Babylon. They had to be young, good-looking without blemish, whether physically or in reputation, and they had to be intellectuals, having the skills worthy of serving in the precarious royal court. Nebuchadnezzar orders that this “cream of the crop” be taught the culture and language of the Chaldeans (Babylonians) which was Aramaic. Aramaic is written using the familiar block-script used in modern Hebrew today. The assimilation process officially began by forcing these young elites from Judah to learn the Babylonian language and culture. These young people would heavily influence future generations in the House of Judah.
Daniel 1:5 ~ “And the king appointed for them a daily portion of the king’s food, and of the wine which he drank, and that they should be nourished three years; that at the end thereof they might stand before the king.”
Assimilation also occurs with food. The king ordered that these young elites from Judah be given food and wine from the royal court for a period of three years, the length of their training under the watchful eye of Ashpenaz the king’s chief officer. Boundaries are relaxed over food. It becomes much easier to spread ideas and concepts to another person when enjoying a meal together, or feeding them one’s own food.
Daniel 1:6 ~ “Now among these were, of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.”
Four of the elite group of young men from Judah brought to be tutored in the royal court were singled out. These four young men were the best of the best. They were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The name “Daniel” means “El is my Judge.” “Hananiah” means “YAH is gracious.” “Mishael” means “Who is like El?” And “Azariah” means “YAH has helped.”
Daniel 1:7 ~ “And the chief of the officers gave names unto them: unto Daniel he gave the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego.”
The final step in assimilation is the adoption of the dominant culture’s naming convention. The king chief officers gave Daniel and his three colleagues names according to the Babylonian culture. Daniel was given the name “Belteshazzar” which means “Ba’al protect the King.” Hananiah was given the name “Shadrach” or “Shudur Aku” which means “command of Aku,” Aku being the moon deity of Babylon. Mishael was given the name “Meshach” or “Mish-a-aku” which means “Who is like Aku?” Azariah was given the name “Abed-nego” which means “servant of Nebu/Nabu/Nergal.” No doubt this move by the king’s chief officer was to influence other members of the Judahite elite to adopt Babylonian names as well.
Once a minority population begins taking on the names of the dominant culture, it becomes much easier for this minority to adopt more of the dominant culture eventually forgetting their original culture. By the time the remnant of Judah returned to the Land of Israel roughly 70 years later, they spoke Aramaic as their lingua franca and were already heavily influenced by both Babylonian and Persian culture, after Babylon was conquered by the Medes and Persians. The original Hebrew language, script, and culture were now lost to the House of Judah.