Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Very Important Discovery

I happened to have been given a tip about the prophet Daniel being understood by Jews and Christians alike to have been a court eunuch. Believe it or not this is a very important discovery. I think it begins to explain that eunuchs were understood to be a class of human being more closely connected with the divinity. But first the reference:

"And of thy sons which shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away: and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the King of Babylon."(II Kings XX, 18; Isa, XLIX, 7) What is meant by 'eunuchs'? — Rab said: Literally eunuchs. R. Hanina said: In their days the idols were sterilized.(i.e., their impotency was demonstrated) Now, according to the opinion that the idols were sterilized in their days, it is well to state, And there is no hurt in them.(Dan. III, 25; v. next note.) But on the view that 'eunuchs' is literally meant, what is meant by, And there is no hurt in them?(since castration itself, which eunuchs underwent, is a hurt) — No hurt of fire. But is it not written, nor the smell of fire had passed on them?(Ibid. 27, which renders the former verse on this interpretation superfluous). They were neither hurt [by the fire] nor even smelled thereof. Now according to the opinion that the idols were sterilized in their days, it is well to write, For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths.(Isa. LVI, 4) But on the view that 'eunuchs' is literally meant, would Scripture recount the shame of the righteous? — There were both among them(Among those who were exiled to Babylon, some were actually castrated for eunuchs, and others lived to see the 'sterilization of the idols', and Isa. LVI, 4 refers to the latter)[Sanhedrin 93b]

A little background quickly - the tradition comes from the third century. 'Rab' is Abba Arika, student of Judah I and founder of the Academy at Susa. That Rab's opinion appears first and thus represents the authoritative interpretation of the passage.

And now a little background on the passage itself. The rabbis are connecting Isa 39.7 with the understanding that the tradition that the prophet Daniel and his friends were court eunuchs in Babylonia. The tradition is as old as Josephus (Ant 10.186) In Josephus' view Daniel and his friends were already considered relatives of King Zedekiah sentenced by Nebuchadnezzar to castration and service in his palace. The Jerusalem Talmud opines "that they were eunuchs and were healed" and that the miracle happened in the fiery furnace. (YShab 6.8)

The point is that "the prevalent Jewish tradition was adopted by the Christian church, and is mentioned by Origen, Jerome, Theordoretus and their disciples and followers."[Studies in the Hasmonaean period p. 93] As Efron concludes while the question of WHICH eunuch at Nebuchadnezzar's court was Daniel is never solved "at any rate, one way or another, the eunuchization decreed for the sons of Zedekiah is fulfilled in the fate of Daniel and his friends. Similar views are scattered through midrashic literature" [ibid]

The important thing to see here is that both Jewish and Christian traditions thought that the prophet Daniel and his companions mutilated themselves to prove their chastity in the court of the Babylonian king. Yet more than this there is a tradition which says that Daniel received prophetic powers BECAUSE he was castrated. This view comes from Origen who writes in his commentary on Matthew 19:12:

it is necessary to cite stories from the Bible, then we will present the following: There are eunuchs of the Pharaoh who do not produce anything good, who were eunuchized in order to bring him his wine and food; but there are also people of God, who are eunuchs in order to rebuild demolished Jerusalem. The former are written about in Genesis [Genesis 40]; an example of the second kind, however, is the one about whom it is written in the second book of Ezra that he says: "And I was a eunuch of the king. And it occurred in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of king Artaxerxes" etc., up to "I found grace in the eyes of the king and he sent me on a mission" [Nehemiah 1:11 - 2:6]. When you come upon the second book of Ezra, you will find the entire text and consider why the eunuch is holy who was made the leader in the rebuilding of the temple of God. For the children of the Hebrews say that Daniel and his three companions Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were eunuchized in Babylon and thus was fulfilled what Isaiah said to Hezekiah: "They will take from your seed and make of them eunuchs in the house of the king of Babylon" [Isaiah 39:7]. They say that Isaiah also spoke the prophecy about them: "The foreigner who submits to the Lord should not say: The Lord will separate me from His people" etc. up to "better than sons and daughters" [Isaiah 56:3-5]. It is good, where it pertains to the secret meaning of the verse, not to produce children in Babylon, but rather to be without progeny in Babylon like Daniel, so that we, once we have received of the divine spirit (like Daniel and his companions), will give birth to visions and prophecies.[Comm Matt 15:5]

The point is that Origen was only developing a pre-existent Jewish tradition about the eunuch Daniel. And there is more, much more. The castration obsessed Marcionite tradition also venerated Daniel as Ephrem will soon tell us.

I think we are about to uncover a lost civilization of Christian castati. It all develops from Daniel, the prophet who knew when the end of Judaism would come, the only prophet who explicitly references the messiah.

He did so because he was a eunuch.

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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