Ezekiel’s Daniel: Biblical Hero or Ancient Ugaritic Legend?
Ezekiel’s Daniel could be a real person, or he could be the Danel of ancient Ugaritic legend, and evidence points both ways. In the Biblical prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel is characterized as paragon of righteousness and wisdom, and in equal standing with the moral exemplars Noah and Job. In Ezekiel 14:14, referring to famine, Ezekiel writes that:
“even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness.”
In another extract, from Ezekiel 28:3, Daniel’s sage-like attributes are noted in a question to the King of Tyre:
“Are you wiser than Daniel? Is no secret hidden from you?”.
Although his qualities are evident, the identification of Daniel occupies murkier waters. In this debate, two principal sides have emerged, one proclaiming that Ezekelian Daniel is the Biblical Daniel from the Book of Daniel, and the other that he is Danel, an obscure 14th-century-BC hero from Ugarit (founded in circa 6000 BC; lasting to about 1185 BC) in modern-day Syria, an argument stemming from the discovery of the Ugaritic Tale of Aqhat in the early 20th century.
The Tale of Aqhat, discovered in 1929 on the Mediterranean coast of Syria, is a tale about a leader called Danel, who seems to be the basis for Ezekiel’s Daniel, where both Ezekiel and Daniel are Christian prophets. The Tale of Aqhat tablet bearing part of the Danel epic, Musée du Louvre, Paris. (Louvre Museum / CC BY-SA 2.0 FR)
Ezekiel’s Daniel or Danel? Consider The Tale of Aqhat
The Tale of Aqhat was discovered in 1929 when a peasant, plowing the fields, hit a solid object buried in the dirt on the Mediterranean coast of Syria, at Ras Sharma. Excavations revealed the existence of a stone tomb underneath, which contained a series of stone slabs that told the story of the ancient epic of Aqhat and Danel.
The story centers around Danel, a strong and just ruler who desired a son above all else. He prays to the gods for six days in the temple, and on the seventh day the god Baal intercedes with El, who grants Danel his wish. Danel is overjoyed and is given a son named Aqhat. Years pass without incident as Aqhat, apple of his father’s eye, grows up to become a man in a similar mold to his father. However, one day, Danel offers hospitality to the divine craftsman Kothor. And at a sacrifice the godly fletcher gifts the king’s son, Aqhat, a fine bow. Anat, a female deity, is outraged to see that the legendary bow has been given to a mortal, and, with covetous eyes, sets in motion a plan to obtain it.
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The goddess comes to Aqhat and offers him wealth, immortality, and even herself in return for the bow. Aqhat refuses all her advances, enraging Anat who is forced to turn to a more lethal plan. During a hunting party with Aqhat present, Anat transforms herself into a falcon, and drops her henchman Yatipan directly on top of Danel’s treasured son. Aqhat is killed, and Yatipan steals the bow before making a quick getaway. Returning to Anat, Yatipan inexplicably drops the bow, accidentally breaking the prized weapon. Anat, now even more furious, releases her seething anger on the body of Aqhat, which she tears to pieces.
As Aqhat is murdered, Danel is unaware as he rides around his realm dispensing justice to his subjects. Two messengers inform him of the crime, and alongside Danel’s heartbreak a great famine sweeps his kingdom, ushering in a period of death and instability. As Danel curses Anat and collects the remains of his fallen son, Pughat, Danel’s daughter, embarks on a quest for revenge against Anat. She disguises herself as Anat and goes to Yatipan’s camp, plying the lackey with strong drink. It is at this point that the story stops, as the ending of the Tale of Aqhat still remains lost to history. Only a fragment was found written in stone . . .
The famous story about Daniel and the lions, painted here by Peter Paul Rubens, that we all learned in school could be about 14th-century-BC Ugaritic Danel, or they may be completely different individuals. (Peter Paul Rubens / Public domain)
The Argument Against Danel
Several scholars have asserted that the Daniel from the Book of Ezekiel is not the Danel of the Tale of Aqhat, and that instead he is the Daniel from the Book of Daniel in the Bible. Danel, some assert, is not very similar to Ezekiel’s Daniel, who is portrayed as being righteous, wise, and a king.
According to this side, Danel does not show the characteristics of a king, but a village chief or elder. Danel is only once referred to as a king, and the representations of his house and duties fall more in line with that of a pastoral ruler than the characteristics of a king, who usually presided over a great urban center and possessed armies, a court of nobles, and a military caste system. In fact, the word “mlk,” which means king, suddenly appears only very late in the text, and doesn’t appear to be an epithet directly describing Danel, making the title itself questionable.
Next, Danel is not depicted as the wise and righteous ruler that Ezekiel’s Daniel symbolizes. Danel is never directly connected with the word “hkm,” which means wise or sagacious, and it is only his patron god, El, who is described in this manner.
Danel has no special skills in diplomacy or business. He does not follow prophetical procedure, choosing not to inspect the vulture’s liver in order to foresee the future, alternatively ripping the bodies open to look for his son, nor does he decipher the flight of the vultures, instead confirming only from their presence that a time of famine is approaching. These traditional trappings of the classic “wiseman,” are not followed, and it is the same for Danel’s capacity to be righteous.
Danel is never celebrated for his close relationship with the gods, and his prayers to Baal initially go unanswered by the deity because of his whining and mourning. Although Danel possesses judicial abilities, examples of this in the text serve only to underline his position as chief, and in this sense have a neutral function instead of illustrating his sentencing skills.
The Aqhat states that “they judged the case of the widows, they tried the lawsuit of the orphan”. The inclusion of “they” is a subject that suggests that this is a general responsibility of the court, and not necessarily exclusively Danel’s domain. To add to this, the outcome of the trials are never discussed, suggesting that the end product of Danel’s justice does not matter all too much.
Some have pointed to the fact that Danel does not share the same attributes of Noah and Job, whom Daniel appears alongside with in the Book of Ezekiel. Unlike his 2 co-characters, Danel is unable to save his son from being murdered, making him the odd one out. Furthermore, Danel is characterized as a devotee of Baal, whom he prays for at the beginning of the story for a son. In contrast, Noah and Job’s righteousness is characterized by their stance against Israel’s idolatry, a sin that Danel commits when he prays to a god other than the one true God of the Old Testament.
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Choosing Danel as the basis for Daniel then, appears a strange choice, especially as he is at odds with the other characters and even Ezekiel himself, who explicitly judges Israel for their worship of Baal. Such arguments have led a number of academics to conclude that Ezekiel’s Daniel has to be the Biblical Daniel, an archetype of righteousness and justness, who fits more in line with the characteristics of Noah and Job. To add to this, there is no evidence in the Bible that a non-biblical character, like Danel, is referenced in any chapter of the Holy Book.
The Ugaritic culture began about 8,000 years ago and this is a 14th-12th-century-BC statue of the ancient god Baal of Ugarit, a title given to various deities in the Mesopotamian and Semitic pantheons. (Louvre Museum / Public domain)
The Argument For Danel
In contrast, a large swathe of scholars contend that there is more evidence that Ezekiel’s Daniel is based off the Ugaritic Danel from the fable of Aqhat.
This side attempts to rebut the depiction of Daniel as a non-righteous and not particularly wise man. Daniel is in fact seen dispensing justice twice in the text to widows and orphans, and, in contrast, it cannot be seen as a neutral function. The phrase “to judge the widow/orphan” does in fact have a positive, rather than neutral, meaning, and can be compared to other examples in the Bible which denote this affirmative attribute.
Furthermore, Kings III from the Bible clearly illustrates a deep connection between justice and wisdom, which gives Danel the missing sagacious quality. It states how:
“And all Israel heard of the judgement which the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to render justice.”
Next, certain elements of Ezekelian Daniel’s wisdom can be compared to Danel. Ezekiel, writing about Daniel, notes how “no secret is hidden from you,” implying that Daniel’s wisdom is a feature of mantic wisdom, a type of knowing that involves magical qualities. An example of this in the Aqhat is when Danel successfully uses incantations to implore the clouds to rain.
This side further argues that Danel was more similar to Noah and Job than is given credit for. Danel is shown to share a similar sort of righteousness and is constantly referred to as a “man of Rp’u,” which can be compared to a Hebrew expression translated to “Man of God” While the other side associate “Rp’u” with Baal, and thus the idolatry of Danel, it can be alternatively argued that this references the God El, who sits alongside the godly judges of Hadad (Baal) And Astarte. In the Aqhat story, Danel is specifically called “El’s servant” and is clearly his patron god, as El is the one who allows Danel to have a son.
In the Old Testament, El, unlike Baal who is demonized, is associated with Yahweh of the Israelite pantheon, making it possible that Danel was assimilated into Yahwist tradition as a pious and devoted acolyte and as a result a perfect model for Ezekiel’s Daniel.
The argument that Danel couldn’t be the Daniel of Ezekiel because he couldn’t save his son like Noah, Job, and Daniel has also been scrutinized. The unity of Noah and Job in this respect is broken down by the fact that in the story of Job he does not save his children, but instead gains new ones.
Furthermore, the lost ending of the Aqhat insinuates that the conclusion of the epic is a happy one, and one that includes the resurrection of his son, Aqhat. The surviving extracts of the tale note that the period of “infertility” following the famine would end in 7 or 8 years, and there is a strong motif throughout that Danel needs a son, leading to the common assumption that Aqhat is either resurrected or replaced. Thus, the common themes of the Noah and Job stories, that of a man passing though disaster and achieving deliverance with the aid of their children in some way, can equally be applied to Danel’s experience. To add to this, Danel is also a non-Israelite, like Noah and Job, which gives the triad even more unity.
Next, they point to the chronological issues apparent in the opposing side’s argument, which maintains that Ezekiel’s Daniel is the Biblical Daniel, a man contemporary to the prophet Ezekiel who wrote his biblical chapter between 592 and 570 BC. The Biblical Daniel was based off an Israelite king of the same name who, alongside prophet Ezekiel, was deported to ancient Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar after his invasion of Judah. At the time of writing, Daniel was a young man, making his inclusion in Ezekiel’s texts alongside celebrated mythical figures such as Noah and Job unusual.
It is more likely then, that Ezekiel’s Daniel is also a righteous character from antiquity, such as Danel. The Ugaritic texts were written in the 14th century BC, giving the character enough time to establish himself as a recognized hero, especially if he had been integrated into Israelite Yahwist traditions.
Finally, in the pages of the Book of Ezekiel, Daniel is closely associated with the Kingdom of Tyre, and it is implied that he is well known in this ancient city. The kingdom of Tyre was in the same vicinity of the Ugaritic homeland, making it perfectly possible that Ezekiel’s Daniel was a Syrian-Phoenician like Danel.
The question remains: Ugaritic Danel or Biblical Daniel? There are a number of mysteries in the Bible that could be explained by earlier religions, but it is always difficult to be sure. (crosswalk)
Ugaritic Danel or Biblical Daniel?
Despite their opposing viewpoints, both sides still feature some major weaknesses.
In the argument against Danel, followers still have to deal with the chronological problems, and the uncomfortable fact that the real-life Daniel from Ezekiel’s time appeared far too young to be gracing the presence of the ancient luminaries of Noah and Job. Moreover, it doesn’t appear logical that Daniel, an Israelite, would be associated with two famous non-Israelites.
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On the other hand, the argument for Danel has more holes. Perhaps the biggest one is that there are no mentions of non-Biblical characters in the Bible. So, there appears no reason why the case of Danel a particular exception would be, especially since he was known to be a polytheist, worshiping a pantheon of gods, including Baal and El.
Furthermore, while it is possible to conclude that Daniel has to be another figure from antiquity like his two co-characters, who had been known for centuries, other triads appear equally as feasible. It has been alternatively advanced that through their order of appearance, that Noah represented pre-Israelites, Daniel the Israelites, and Job the non-Israelites to encapsulate the widest range.
Yet, triads in the Book of Ezekiel are not particularly important or strict, as one can point to the inconsistency of the sword, famine, and pestilence trinity, which makes the fact that Daniel was mentioned with two non-Israelites largely irrelevant. In addition, scholars arguing for an identification with Danel have maintained that the spelling of Danel is the same as the Daniel of the Book of Ezekiel, spelt without the Hebrew “yod,” whereas the biblical Daniel does include “yod.” Again, however, this can be discounted as the Bible abounds with variant spellings. Although we cannot be sure, the case for Biblical Daniel as Ezekiel’s Daniel remains stronger than the Ugaritic Danel of the Tale of Aqhat.
Top image: Ezekiel’s Daniel may be Biblical, or it may be based on the Ugaritic Danel from the Tale of Aqhat, with evidence pointing in both directions. Prophets Daniel and Ezekiel on the south side of the medieval rood screen, St Firman's, North Crawley, Buckinghamshire, England. Source: World History
By Jake Leigh-Howarth
Aqhat Epic. Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Aqhat-Epic.
Book of Ezekiel. Bible Study Tools. Available at: https://www.biblestudytools.com/ezekiel/.
Day, J. 1980. The Daniel of Ugarit and Ezekiel and the Hero of the Book of Daniel. Vetus Testamentum. 30:2
Dressler, H.H.P. 1979. The Identification of the Ugaritic Dnil with the Daniel of Ezekiel. Vetus Testamentum. 29:2
Greenstein, E. L. 2010. Texts from Ugarit Solve Biblical Puzzles. Bas Library. Available at: https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/36/6/5
Klein, R.C. 2018. Identifying the Daniel Character in Ezekiel. Jewish Bible
Stedman, R.C. 1997. God Rules: Ezekiel, Daniel. Ray Stedman: Authentic Christianity. Available at: https://www.raystedman.org/bible-overview/highlights/god-rules-ezekiel-daniel
The Story of Aqhat. WorldHistory. Available at: https://www.worldhistory.biz/ancient-history/61360-the-story-of-aqhat.html