Daniel vs. Domination (Daniel)

Friday, November 4, 2022


Biggest thank you to Mary for completing this transcript!


Channing: [00:00:00] Hi! I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists Podcast. 

Elise: [00:00:12] We focus on feminist interpretations of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me manual as a guide for study. We understand scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with The Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred texts with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:00:41] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches, is our background, we follow our faith and our God on the winding path of spirituality over institution, and connection over condemnation. We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you’ve found yourself feeling a little too faithful for some and not enough for others: Welcome! We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. This podcast is funded by our listeners’ generous donations. If you'd like to support our work, connect with us on Patreon or on our website at www.thefaithfulfeminists.com.

Elise: [00:01:22] Hello friends. Welcome back to the podcast. For this episode, we're going to be working through the first six chapters of the Book of Daniel for the dates October 31st through November 6th. So usually what we do this year, we've been kind of giving an overview of each book, so what is the Book of Daniel? This book is like a really mythic story that has a phenomenally exemplary main character/characters during the time of the Israeli conquest and colonization by the Babylonians. In the Book of Daniel, it's both narrative and it has stories in there, but it's also prophetic because it includes many of the prophecy predicting the apocalypse, and it's also part of the Ketuvim or the part of the Hebrew Bible which contains the writings of the prophets. What the Book of Daniel is not, it's not contemporary, meaning it's not written at the time that the events occurred. And in fact, most scholars even agree that based on etymological evidence and historical inaccuracies that the book of Daniel was written almost four centuries after the event it narrates. The book of Daniel is also not autobiographical. The author of the Book of Daniel is not Daniel, but some other unknown writer. We also see some other characters in the book of Daniel, we see there's a story about these three other people who are commonly referred to by their conquested, Babylonian names, which would be Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But throughout the episode we're going to try and honor their native, what would be probably Jewish or Israelite names, which would be Daniel, still, but then also Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. In the first six chapters, this book takes us through two of these really kind of iconic and well known stories in the Bible. The first story that we see is the story of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah who refused to participate in the Babylonian king's rituals even though they've been taken as they were young boys, they've been taken to be part of the king's court as eunuchs, and they refuse to worship the Babylonian God and instead they continue to pray to their own God. And because of this King Nebuchadnezzar gets super, super mad and throws them into a fiery pit. However, they remain true to their faith and they know that God will save them and God does end up saving them. 

And the second story we see is the story of Daniel and the lion's den. Now after Nebuchadnezzar’s rule was conquered by a man named Darius, Darius makes Daniel his kind of first hand man, and Daniel is responsible for interpreting dreams and Daniel still holds true and fast to his native cultural gods and customs. But there's a decree that goes throughout the land that says you cannot pray to any other gods except for these gods as outlined by the new King Darius but Daniel still continues to hold fast to his belief system and praise to his God and as punishment King Darius throws him into a pit full of lions and puts a stone on top and hopes that like the lions will devour Daniel. But of course that doesn't happen. Daniel emerges triumphant because God has watched over him.

Channing: [00:04:44] Yeah, these are two really classic Bible stories, probably ones that if you grew up on Bible stories you will probably know about, at least I know them, so that means that everyone should know them. Right? Naturally. Oh my goodness.

But before we really dive into these really classic stories, we wanted to spend a little time in the first chapter of the book of Daniel, because there was something that really stuck out to us here that we kind of wanted to walk through. Before we really begin going right into the story of people being saved from the flames or from lions dens, we first learn about how Daniel came to be in the King's Court in the first place. And we find out in chapter one verses three through four, and the text says, “And the king spoke unto Ashpenaz [who was] the master of the eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel,... children in whom was no blemish, but well favored and skillful in all wisdom and cunning in all knowledge… [who] had ability to stand in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the learning of the tongue of the Chaldeans.”

In verses five through six, we learned that “among these children were the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.” So Daniel and his friends are brought into the king’s royal court as eunuchs. Eunuchs were people who were traditionally brought into the court to be watchers over the women, so they were castrated or sometimes seen as people who weren't typically masculine in the way that that particular culture defined masculinity.

And from here a really interesting thing happens with Daniel. We learn that the king appoints that every child that is taken into his care is given a portion of the king's meat and the portion of the king's wine that they should be eating every single day. But Daniel does not want to do this. In verse eight we read, “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the king's meat nor his wine… therefore, he requested that he might not defile himself.” And the eunuchs who were given the order to feed the children the king's meat were kind of like, “Ooh, sorry, you have to do it. We don't wanna not follow the king's instructions and get in trouble.” But Daniel said, I actually think this is really beautiful, we just read it straight from the text and verses 12 through 16, “give us pulse [or porridge] to eat and water to drink” for 10 days, “then let our countenance be looked upon before thee and compare to the countenance of the children that eat the king's meat. And at the end of 10 days, their countenance appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the King's meat.” We also learned in verse 18 that because of this choice to not partake in the king's meat and wine, that God additionally blesses these four children with “knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom.” And Daniel gets a special gift, which was “understanding in all visions and dreams.” And what really stuck out to us about this particular portion of the text is the example that Daniel holds of not participating in systems founded or based on exploitation. And also I think that there is a huge commentary here also for Daniel not participating in a system that's built on his own people's exploitation, right? He recognizes that the king is benefiting from the enslavement and the conquest of Daniel's native peoples and he refuses to participate in any way that he has control over in the system of exploitation. And we see him continue to resist those acts throughout the next few chapters. And so I think that this chapter, especially as it happens in his childhood, is really indicative of his like really strong moral stance and virtues to stay true to the native culture of his childhood and not participate in systems that try to take him away from that and replace his native identity with something different, with something colonized. 

Elise: [00:09:10]I'm so glad that you brought up this point because someone whom we are such super fans of- Reverend Dr. Wil Gafney- who's really guided, honestly she's been our kind of like lantern to walk through the Hebrew Bible and kind of our lighthouse guiding our path and she offers kind of a similar interpretation that you were offering here in a sermon that she has actually posted on her website that people can watch. It's an 11 minute sermon that she's titled, “Strategies of Resistance: A Lesson from Daniel.” And the next few pieces that we'll share comes explicitly from this sermon that she offers. And she says, just like you've said, that we should read the book of Daniel as an “anti-imperial text.” It's a subversive text because the people who are seen as heroes, the four main characters, are pushing back against their colonizers, against their conquerors. And like you've said, these four young people have been taken captive by the empire and have been forced to assimilate, right? These four main characters are made to take its culture, right? Take the culture of the conqueror, take the culture of the colonizer. These four people are made to eat its food, made to answer to different names that the Empire gave them, and names that stick even still in the stories of their own people. We know the three main characters as Shadrach, Michach, and Abednego, not by their native names, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. What's really crucial here, Gaffney says, is that all of these characters were taken when they were really, really young. They've been made eunuchs in the king's court so that they would be made to love the empire, made to love the colonizers even more than they loved themselves and their own people and their own history. And this includes the colonizers requiring these four characters to pray to the gods of the empire only and not to their native God to really strip themselves away and leave behind their native culture. And in this way, the empire is absolutely insatiable and rapacious. We already know that these four main characters were already colonial subjects, right? Like Babylon has already conquered Israel. But that wasn't enough for this story, the Empire wanted more of them and wanted more of their souls. Wil Gafney says, “As long as there is a corner of your soul that is free, uncolonized, unconquered, unbought, or unbossed, the empire will by any means necessary seek to uproot that liberty and colonize the last vestige of your right mind, heart, and soul.”

Channing: [00:11:52] One thing that's really coming through for me is we're walking through this sermon by Wil Gafney, is the resonance that this story, I think also is bringing to my mind the experience of many of our First Nations or Indigenous folks whose children were stolen by the state and forced to attend residential schools, where they were forced to cut their hair, forced to wear colonizer clothing and exchange their, you know, traditional indigenous clothing items for what we would consider western clothing, and speak a different language and be given different names, that experience actually is really incredibly similar to what we're seeing these four characters go through in the text as well. And I just think that that similarity there that we're seeing is so incredibly striking. And what I find really hopeful in this story, especially in the book of Daniel, is how steadfastly these four boys clung to the God of their people, of their childhood, and not the one that the empire tried to force upon them. Instead of just kind of saying like, “Okay, you want us to worship a different God. We will.” They didn't negotiate or compromise. They said, “No, we know the God of our childhood and we remember them and that is the God that we will continue to worship.” And this is one of the things that Wil Gafney mentioned in her sermon that sometimes we just need to say no. She says, “No to the slaughter of school children. No to military grade weaponry in the streets. No to families ripped apart by militarized immigration assault troops. No to bad preaching. No to death-dealing theology. No to violence against women. No to bullying in the White House. No to bullying gay teens and trans teens to death. No to incompetence and corruption in government. No to everything that stands against the life-giving love of God and liberty it grants. No and hell no.”

And I think, kind of continuing on with those similarities that we're seeing with First Nations folks in residential schools is that they've been saying no and hell no all along, and they continue to stay true to their faith and to their gods of their native peoples. And they continue to do exactly this, right? They continue to say no, and there's a lot of strength and resilience that I think are really paralleling one another in this book of Daniel. 

Elise: [00:14:32] Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. And when Wil Gafney, I mean, I encourage people to just go listen to the whole sermon because she does it so much more persuasively and I think, kind of, poetically than we're even able to articulate here. I think that what happens is that we really focus on the firm “no” that happens in this story, but the consequences around that is that the empire responds with lethal rage, right? They're prepared to kill, they're prepared to throw Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah into burning fire. They have this kind of like spectacle burning and there are a few verses that showcase this kind of pure rage that oppressors experience when their power is threatened. And I think it's a really good reminder of how those in power will often act or respond when they don't get to claim, own, and oppress whomever they want, as long as their hearts desire. And I think that while this could be considered like a trope, maybe, like I'm thinking here of how similar this is to the Egyptian Pharaoh in the story of Moses, but I think it's also a fairly accurate description of rage when faced with resistance. For example, chapter three, verse 13 says, “Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.” Verse 19, “Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.” 

Channing: [00:16:06] Absolutely. And we also see this rage from the new conquering king that replaces Nebuchadnezzar, who is Darius the Median. Remember, as Elise mentioned before, Daniel is the right hand man of Darius, but Daniel continues to worship God in defiance of a decree that Darius gives. We can also note here the lateral violence in this part of the story. It's not Darius that designs the decree that bans the worship. It's other presidents and other princes in the government who want to find fault in Daniel for being the favored one. They are the ones who spy on Daniel to catch him praying to his God. They are the ones who turn him in. They are employed by the empire and place empiric power over taking care of their own people. These people choose to abide by the system that affords them bits of power as presidents and princes, instead of standing in solidarity with Daniel. White women do this all the time. We hold to the system of white supremacy because we want the power it affords us, even if that means having to wage war on women of color, disabled women and gender marginalized folks. 

Elise: [00:17:19] This is also, again, reminding me of other stories that we've talked about this year. This is also reminding me of another story that we've covered this year. The story of Joseph and his coat of many colors who gets betrayed by his own brothers because his brothers are jealous and want to have their own bits of power. So I think these moves are important to recognize, a bit of lateral violence going on the way that we often turn against each other as opposed to turning against the empire or turning against the colonizers together. But Reverend Dr. Wil Gafney continues, she's kind of reflecting on this defiance and this resistance strategy of the four main characters. She says that they are willing to let the empire spill their blood. She says that sometimes resistance means being willing to die. Sometimes resistance means preparing to die, and sometimes it means dying. She says that these characters in the fire, they sing the songs of their people and use their last breath to speak out against the empire. And guess what happens? God appears in the midst of their resistance. She says, “Resistance is not futile. But it is costly. We follow one who resisted empire to the cost of his life, and we are called to do the same.”

And what I love about Gafney's work here is that because it's rooted in the daily terrors of our lives, as we live in systems of oppression and as it speaks from a marginalised standpoint, it makes the central message of the story- which is “trust God”- feel much more deep and relevant. And I think that in church and talks and lessons and manuals within the church, we really fear connecting these stories to our everyday experience in any type of meaningful, critical way. Now I know, sure, the church or the manuals will say things like, “Oh yeah, the scriptures are modern day text.” Or even in this week in the Come Follow Me Manual, it says, “In a sense, we all live in Babylon. The world around us is filled with many temptations to compromise our standards and question our faith in Jesus Christ.” Okay. Side note, we may live in an empire, but white folks have not been torn from their families and land and enslaved. So that line, like, “We all live in Babylon” doesn't mean perhaps what I think that they want it to mean, or it's just like a really, I would go so far as to say like offensive interpretation that's happening here. But either way when lessons, I think, make surface level attempts at connecting to the real world, but then don't actually spend any time critically engaging with the true woes—like the woes of oppression and racism and transphobia, et cetera—the lessons actually feel far more disconnected and boring and commonplace because it's the same exact lesson that's being taught to like nursery kids and primary kids and youth. I think that was one of the main reasons why Channing and I even wanted to start the podcast three years ago because we would go to Sunday school and just be like, “Are you serious? Like, this is what we're getting from the story when there's so much more here?” So all that to say, I really appreciate Gafney's work and the work of feminist and womanist theologians because they're not afraid to put the text in conversation with our lived experience. They're not afraid to let the text critique our world today, and I think that the more the Church tries to turn away from the pain of the world and the pain that the institution causes, the less people are going to care about scriptures. Do you want people to care about scriptures then show them how to read it in a worldly way, like be in the world and of it so that we can critique it and change it!

Channing: [00:21:08] Oh my gosh, yes. Okay. Of course you would use the phrase that means so much- “in the world”- to me. But yes, seriously, such a powerful and amazing call to action and it's all inspired by Dr. Reverend Wil Gafney. She is just an absolute powerhouse when it comes to interpretations of the text, and that actually like moves us really well into the last thing, the last point that I really wanted to bring up, because we are a primarily feminist podcast, one of the questions that's always in the back of my mind when we come to read the text is: Where are the women? And I went through the whole text and the book of Daniel doesn't end at chapter six. There are actually six more chapters after that which focus on more of the apocalyptic prophecies, and we're not gonna cover that this week—mostly because I personally hate talking about the apocalypse—so, we just don't do it very much here on the podcast. But in the entire book of Daniel women don't show up, with one exception, and that is at the end of chapter six when we learned that after Daniel escapes the lion’s den, the king then commands that those who had created the law— that Elise had mentioned earlier, where Daniel wasn't allowed to worship any other gods—that instead those people be cast into the lion's den instead. Rather than just punishing the politicians who made those plans, rather than putting just them in the lion's den, we learn in verse 24 that the king also commands, “to cast them into the den of lions, along with their children and their wives.” The text makes it very explicit that these people die—and we're not gonna read the thing here cuz it's a little gory—but I did want to mention and bring a little bit of attention here because I think it speaks to a point that Elise brought up earlier, which is those intersecting positions of both privilege and oppression. I wanna look a little bit more closely at that, right? These wives who are pushed into the lion's den, they are wives of powerful men, and we can imagine that they experience a privilege of safety while they're alive because of this proximity to power. But we have to remember to look at the system, the umbrella, the bigger picture. Look at the system of domination that they're relying on. They're relying on the system to work exactly as it's planned for their protection. But unfortunately, systems of domination are fickle because the system only operates to protect itself. In the same way systems today protect themselves, we can't rely on systems to protect us individually. This is why really frequently the approach to dismantling systems of oppression relies on supporting power in the people, not power in the institutions or power in systems. For example, white supremacy protects itself and often white people often choose to participate in hopes for a portion of the crumbs of power that it offers, but the crumbs come at a very high cost. To participate in systems of domination and oppression, we often have to give up important pieces and parts of ourselves in order to gain a proximity to power. This happens too, just in sexism and misogyny. Those systems protect themselves and fascinatingly enough women can also participate in sexism and can participate in misogyny to gain a proximity to power. But again, the cost is high. And this goes for all systems of domination that we've discussed here on the podcast. Heteronormativity, cisnormativity, colonization, anthropocentrism, all of them do the same thing. They ask a high price for a participation in order to receive proximity to power. But ultimately, at the end of the day the power is a facade. It's not real because, just like we see in this example, the system can turn back on us at any moment if it even perceives that we've somehow betrayed it. These women that we see in this text, like so many women today, are both beneficiaries and victims of systems of domination. Certainly, they died at the hands of sexism, but they lived by conquest and enslavement. One of the things that I'm really learning as we're moving through the text and doing the podcast for as many years as we have been is it's really tempting to look at people as individuals engaging with or working within systems of domination. But it is a far more effective approach, at least for me, to look at the bigger picture and see how the systems of domination are really operating in the story. And I think that this is one place that, especially for white women, really we ought to pay attention to and recognize that there are so many different places in society that we can be in, and the cost to participate is high and it may cost us our lives. And so really in this story, in this book of Daniel, we see kind of a parallel story, right? The cost is your life, whether it's for or against, and you really have to decide: which side are you fighting for? Which side are you on? In summary, that is the book of Daniel. That is what we have for you today. 

Elise:[00:26:40] No, and I think it's a good reminder to us too that sometimes, at least in our experience, you and I will come up on these iconic stories and think to ourselves like, “Oh yeah, yeah, there's nothing new here, we're really familiar with it.” And then the more time you spend in the story, the more the interpretation just does like a complete 180. And now, instead of thinking of the story of Daniel and the Lions Den, or the story of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah as these, like, you know, animated VHS cartoon movies, right? You see them as anti-imperial, anti-colonial texts that outline strategies of resistance and help us practice moving from individual understandings to systemic understandings while recognizing the consequences in what's being asked of us, and in that way, I think this book is quite radical. 

Channing: [00:27:34] Absolutely. Absolutely. Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for this episode about the Book of Daniel. We always look forward to spending time with you, and we can't wait to see you again next week. So until then, take good care. We love you. Bye!

Elise:[00:27:55]  Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminists Podcast. We know your time and space is sacred, and we are so grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we'd be so happy if you left us a loving rating on iTunes and Spotify, so other seekers can find us.

Channing: [00:28:14]Financial donations support the many hours of research, work, and devotion to each episode, as well as the everyday cost of creating and publishing the podcast. You can support us on Patreon or through a simple Venmo donation and help us create a world where creators, artists, activists, and beauty makers are valued and paid for their labor. Find us on those platforms and on Instagram as The Faithful Feminists. We are deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends!

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