All (Animal) Guts, No Glory

It’s your lucky day. A while back I threatened to give you more information about some men in the king’s court, specifically, the “magicians and enchanters” (1:20). We’ve reached the second appearance of these characters, so the time has come, ready or not.

After his lousy night of sleep, King Nebuchadnezzar called in the experts, the people who could explain his troubling dream to him. Specifically, he called for “the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans” (2:2, ESV). This sounds like a terrifying group whose company I would rather avoid, but I’m not an ancient Near Eastern king whose kingdom and life might very well depend on the expertise they represented.

So, who are these guys and what did they put on their resumes?

  • Magicians’ expertise was the occultic arts. These included the familiar sounding astrology, sorcery, and exorcism, but their expertise also included an array of wild and wacky sounding skills: hydromancy (mixing liquids in a divining cup and then interpreting the message therein); haruspicy (the study of messages encoded in, I’m not kidding, animal entrails); hepatoscopy (the study of messages encoded in, again, I’m not kidding, animal livers); augury (tracking the behavior of sacred animals and interpreting its meaning); and oneiromancy (dream interpretation). (I suspect that if the vocabulary didn’t scare you away, some of you are thinking, “Ancient Near Eastern quacks.” Maybe, but more charitably, these “skills” constituted fields of science. Unless I am swamped with requests to explain further, you’ll just have to trust me on this.)
  • Enchanters were likely priests who communicated with the spirit world (including the dead) via magic spells and incantations.
  • Sorcerers’ specialty was witchcraft – using charms, incantations, spells, and the like to manipulate powers in order to influence circumstances, people, and even the gods for good or evil.
  • Chaldeans is a technical term here, not a reference to the people from Chaldea (an area just south of Babylon). They were a special class of priest-scholars, who were experts in astrology and probably a whole lot more.

If you read this list carefully, you may have noticed that only one group is particularly skilled in interpreting dreams – the magicians. This doesn’t mean the other experts didn’t have something to contribute, but, really, the list is less about trying to assess the role each group may have played in unraveling the king’s mystery than it is about telling you, “Look, everyone was there. And no one could help.” The narrator has piled up the titles to impress upon us that every available expert was present. As a group, these wise guys were the “political consultants, trend spotters, and religious gurus of the day” (Longman, 77). If they can’t help, who can? And that, my friends, is precisely the point the narrator will be making – but not until he has a little fun with these so-called experts.

However, that fun will have to wait until after I have myself some holiday fun (Xmas, to be exact). I’ll see you again about the time I’m ready to start working off those Christmas cookie calories! Merry Christmas, and Immanuel (“God With Us”)!

4 responses to “All (Animal) Guts, No Glory”

  1. “And that, my friends, is precisely the point the narrator will be making – but not until he has a little fun with these so-called experts.”
    Unlike certain theories which I have proposed but won’t mention here, here’s one that I feel I’m on more solid ground with: the narrators in the Bible seem to have some fun tweaking false beliefs, whether it’s those of the “so-called experts” you mentioned or idol worshipers, such as in the following examples:
    1) Laban’s stolen idols, which Rachel keeps hidden by claiming that the “custom of women is upon” her (one would think that any idol worth its weight in gold [:)] would have been able to tell Laban that Rachel was lying her… well, what she was sitting on [and I mean a certain part of her anatomy here, not her camel or her camel’s “furniture”]… off or at least provide a hint or too [“Yo, Laban… Laaaaaaabaaaaaaaan… you’re getting warmer… warmer… red hot… no, no, no, now you’re getting colder… ice cold… aaaaugh, you’re freezing now… oh, forget it”]);
    2) the idol of Dagon that keeps falling flat on its face when left alone with the ark of the covenant; and,
    3) Elijah’s mocking of the prophets of Baal (“Y’all need to scream louder and cut yourselves more because your “god” Baal evidently isn’t hearing you”), not to mention the 450-to-1 odds in their favor and his subsequent dousing of his bullock with several gallons of water.

    1. The prophets love to have a little fun, too. Isaiah, especially, pokes a lot of fun at idols.

  2. […] terrifying dream (his first was in ch. 2), for which he desperately needs an interpretation. His Babylonian experts will fail him again, and he will call on Daniel to help. This dream signals a turning point in […]

  3. […] in Daniel 2, you recognize this scenario. Nebuchadnezzar has had a bad dream, and he summons the experts. They can’t help, so Daniel has to interpret the […]

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