Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Influence of Daniel's Prophetic Moral Lessons on the Structure and Themes of the Passover Haggadah

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Influence of Daniel's Prophetic Moral Lessons on the Structure and Themes of the Passover Haggadah

Article excerpt

It is hypothesized that the literary structure and some themes of the Passover Haggadah were strongly influenced by the prophetic moral lessons of the Book of Daniel. This is based on these two texts' use of both Hebrew and Aramaic, with each text both beginning and ending in one or the other language. Likewise, both texts share common themes of redemption and resurrection, and both employ zoomorphic and angelology symbolism which contrasts the ineffable nature of God and Israel with the cyclical and transient nature of successive unjust civilizations.


In the Book of Daniel, Belshazzar, unlike his father Nebuchadnezzar, does not acknowledge the true God. One day he has a feast and invites all his companions, consorts, and concubines to the palace where they drink from the Temple's holy vessels and simultaneously praise their pagan gods. In the same hour, came forth fingers of a man's hand and wrote over against a candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the kings palace; and the king saw the palm of the hand that wrote (Dan. 5:5).

The frightened king promises to reward anyone who can read this mysterious writing and interpret it for him. Daniel comes to the rescue. He reads and explains the writing on the wall, in which the words are Aramaic but transliterated into Hebrew: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin (5:25). Because it was written in Hebrew letters, it was indecipherable to Belshazzar and his people who could read only Babylonian cuneiform writing. Therefore, Daniel was needed to explain the strange writing:

'This is the meaning: MENE MENE--God NUMBERED (twice for emphasis) your kingdom and brought it to an end. TEKEL--you are WEIGHED in the balance [judged] and found wanting. UPHARSIN--your kingdom is DIVIDED and given to the Medes and Persians' (5: 25-28).

The Hebrew-Aramaic words mene mene, tekel, and upharsin capture the moral essence of the entire Book of Daniel. Indeed, they summarize it. The words apply not only apply to Belshazzar, not only to each successive empire mentioned in Daniel--particularly to the Seleucid Greeks, who were then persecuting the Jews but had not yet been defeated at the time of its writing--but to all empires in space and time, in the past, present, and future. Every empire's days are numbered, are weighed (judged) and found wanting, and will be divided and destroyed. Only God's loyal adherents, Israel, escape the dictum of His judgmental writing. Thus "God's Judgment," the essence of this Book, is encapsulated and translated bilingually in the Hebrew "Daniel [God Judges]" and in the Aramaic "tekel [you have been weighed in the balance (judged)]" and you will be destroyed. This theme is captured and reiterated in the Haggadah which recounts that during every successive generation there will be different nations that want to destroy us, but God [Ha-Kadosh Barukh Hu] saves us from them. The influence of this and other prophecies on the content of Chad Gadya is discussed below.



During Belshazzar's reign, Daniel himself has a dream which thematically recapitulates Nebuchadnezzar's earlier dream of successive empires rising and falling, but with different imagery. He sees four winds of the heavens break forth from the sea, and four beasts coming up from the sea. The number four is repeatedly employed, as it is in the Haggadah, and likely represents the four lettered Tetragrammaton name of God.

The first beast is a lion with eagle's wings which are plucked off. The second successive beast representing the Mede Empire is a voracious bear chomping on bloody ribs (not unlike the zoomorphic symbolism later used to describe the Soviet Empire). The third successive beast is a four-headed, four-winged leopard. The fourth successive beast is dreadful and terrible. It has ten horns and iron teeth, and is exceedingly strong. …

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