Nebuchadnezzar knew that the best method to alienate Jews, transform them into harmless puppets, was to change their diet. It is through eating and drinking that the king would try to shake their Jewish identity.
Daniel shares the same concern as any Jew in exile: kosher food.
Daniel teaches us that faith involves both the soul and the life of the body, and that religion concerns itself also with alimentary issues . . .
The first problem of a Jew in exile, a Jew who wants to remain a Jew, concerns eating and drinking— the heroic example of Daniel and his three friends at the court of Babylon is a perfect illustration of his dilemma. Nebuchadnezzar knew that the best method to alienate Jews, transform them into harmless puppets, was to change their diet. It is through eating and drinking that the king would try to shake their Jewish identity. In response, it is also through their eating and drinking that the Jews choose to shape their resistance and preserve their identity.
The Babylonian enterprise of alienation was not limited to the intellectual domain but touched the most intimate aspects of everyday life, especially the diet. Thus the king “determines” the menu. The verb used here in the form wayeman (determined) has in the Bible no other subject but God Himself, and appears otherwise only in the Creation context (Jonah 2:2 in Hebrew; English, 1:17; 4:6-8). The unexpected use of that verb in relation to Nebuchadnezzar suggests that the king in “determining” the menu takes the place of the Creator. A more careful observation of the meals reveals the king’s intentions, which are anything but candid. Indeed, the “meat-wine” association characterizes both in the Bible and in ancient Middle-East cultures the ritual meal taken in the context of a worship service (Deuteronomy 32:38). To participate in such a meal implied submission to the Babylonian cult and recognition of Nebuchadnezzar as god; for according to Babylonian religion, the king was considered as god on earth. The daily ritual consumption of meat and wine was therefore not only destined for nourishment but aimed more specifically at making those involved to be adorers of the king. The Hebrew expression in verse 5 rendered literally as “they shall stand before the king” alludes to this function; it is a technical expression for those consecrated to religious service. It can be found in 2 Chronicles 29:11 where it describes the function of the Levite at God’s service. The Hebrews are not only indoctrinated, but also threatened in their most personal habits, so as to deeply affect their mentality and to convert them to the cult of Nebuchadnezzar. To mask this transfer of authority, the names themselves of the Hebrews are distorted:
—Daniel, in Hebrew “God is my judge,” is converted to Belteshazzar which signifies “may Bel [another name for Marduk, principal Babylonian divinity] preserve his life.”
—Hananiah, meaning “grace of God,” becomes Shadrach, “order of Aku” (Sumerian god of the moon).
—Mishael, “who is like God,” changes to Meshach, “who is like Aku.”
—Azariah, signifying “YHWH has helped,” becomes Abednego, which means “servant of Nego” (deformation of “Nabu” god of wisdom).
But their determination surpasses the surface of the words and focuses essentially on the gastronomical domain. The same Hebrew verb sam is used to refer to Daniel’s resolution (“resolved”; verse 8) and to the giving of new names (“gave”; verse 7) by the chief of eunuchs. Through these echoes, the author intends to show that Daniel’s response is directly connected to the alienating attempt of the king. To preserve his identity, Daniel chooses to eat and drink differently. He asks for vegetables and water.
Beyond the “healthy choice” issue, the concern is essentially religious. This is already hinted at in the text by Daniel’s desire to “not be soiled” (verse 8)—language of religious implications found in the Levitical context of prohibited foods (Leviticus 11:29-40). Daniel shares the same concern as any Jew in exile: kosher food. Yet there is more here: the phrase that Daniel uses to designate the menu he wishes to have is a literal quotation from the text of Creation. The same Hebrew words appear with the same associations: “vegetables,”1 “given,” “to be eaten” (Genesis 1:29). In reformulating the same expression, Daniel is affirming that his God is the Creator, and not the king. Thus, his motivation is the same as the one implied in the Levitical laws of kosher: his faith in the Creator. Indeed, the dietary laws of clean and unclean meats are also written in the book of Leviticus so as to remind of the event of Creation in Genesis 1.2 In his oppressed condition where Daniel cannot control his food, he wisely then chooses to be vegetarian. This is the safest way to keep kosher and also the most explicit testimony of his faith in the God of Creation. By doing so, Daniel speaks a more universal language designed to reach the Gentiles who observe him at the table: his God is the God of Creation and therefore also their God.
Faith and Existence
But beyond his apologetic concern and his desire to remain faithful, Daniel’s behavior contains an important lesson regarding the too often ignored connection between faith and existence. The religion of Daniel is not limited to spiritual beliefs or to abstractions, but implies also his engagement on the concrete level of existence. Daniel teaches us that faith involves both the soul and the life of the body, and that religion concerns itself also with alimentary issues that can seem disconcerting to our mind-sets rooted in Platonistic dualism. It remains nonetheless a biblical concern. The first test humans were exposed to was of alimentary nature. Adam and Eve determined their destiny and consequently that of humanity on the basis of a very simple dietary choice (Genesis 3). Later, Levitical laws on clean and unclean meats develop this same principle in establishing a link between food and holiness (Leviticus 11:44-45). The ideal of the priests includes abstaining from alcoholic beverages so as better to distinguish that which is sacred and that which is not (Leviticus 10:8-11). In the desert, the Israelites learn the same lesson. From falling quails to sprouting manna, the events are permeated with implications of a religious nature. Daniel is no innovator. His religious concern with diet is rooted in biblical tradition.
Holy and Human
One must, however, observe that in spite of the rigor of Daniel’s attitude, he remains profoundly human. Daniel is not an ascetic, far from it. In fact, the young Hebrews are handsome and their faces are not downcast as the official of the king thought they would be (verse 10). In a minimum time span, ten days,3 proof was provided that the abstention from meat and wine does not exclude one’s enjoyment of life. One must also note Daniel’s behavior toward the king’s official. His religious convictions and his ideal of sanctity do not make him arrogant or sinister. On the contrary, Daniel approaches his superior in humility “and asks for permission” (Daniel 1:8). He even maintains with him relations of friendship and respect (verse 9). This attitude contains an important lesson to be meditated upon by all those obsessed by holiness. Holiness does not exclude humanity; it implies it. To drape oneself in the starched mantle of justice is not holiness nor is disincarnated detachment from reality or any enjoyment. It is a distorted idea of holiness that has long been evidenced by somber and emaciated “saints,” mindless of good food and laughter, who have rendered religion intolerable to the rest of us wretched and finite beings. In reaction, humanistic movements of all sorts have appeared with slogans of love and fraternity. The law of God has become suspect, and holiness has lost its rigor. Biblical thought transcends these extremes; and, as said by Abraham Heschel, the secret lies in being both “holy and human.”4 Daniel is after all a pleasant fellow, well in flesh, but he is also a saint as he makes no compromise and remains faithful to the end.
1 The Hebrew term used here for “vegetables” is derived from zera which means seed and implies everything which grows on the face of the earth, including cereals, fruits, and vegetables.
2 The text of Leviticus 11 which records these laws uses the same technical words and stylistic expressions (beasts of the earth, creeping animals, after its kind, etc.). Furthermore, the listing of the animals follows the same sequence as in Genesis 1:24-26 (the sixth day ofcreation). After the creation of the animals of the earth (Genesis 1:24-25; cf. Leviticus 11:2-8), the creation of man is related successively to that of the animals of water (Genesis 1:26a; cf. Leviticus 11:9-12), that of the animals of the air (Genesis 1:26b; cf. Leviticus 11:13-23), and that of the animals of the earth and of the reptiles (Genesis 1:26c; cf. Leviticus 11:24-43). Lastly, in Leviticus 11 as in Genesis 1:24-26, the relation between humans and animals has its counterpart in the relation between humans and God. In Genesis 1:20, the duty of domination over the animals is associated with the fact that humans are created in the image of God. Likewise in Leviticus 11, the duty to distinguish between clean and unclean meats is associated with the fact that human holiness reflects divine holiness: “you shall be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45).
3 The number ten symbolizes in the Bible a minimum (Genesis 18:32; Amos 5:3; 6:9). It must be added that the number ten is represented in Hebrew by the smallest letter of the alphabet, yod. In a temporal context, it symbolizes a time-span where one is put to the test. A countdown of ten days exists also between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement, as a time of preparation and testing.
4 Abraham Heschel, God in Search of Man (New York: 1955), 238
“Could Daniel’s 10-Day Diet Make a Difference?”
Evelyn Cole-Kissinger, MS, RD, IBCLC
“Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance
with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see. So he (the chief official)
agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young
men who ate the royal food” (Dan 1:12-15).
The benefits of a plant-based diet are limitless. Some of the documented results are:
Controls the appetite—helps you reach and maintain your healthy weight, creates energy, enhances the immune system,
reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease, balances blood sugar, blood presure and hormones, relieves constipation, and slows
I challenge you to try a plant-based diet for just 10 days. See if you can feel the difference—physically, mentally and
7 Steps to A Healthy Lifestyle
1. Eat more vegetables.
2. Eat more fruit.
3. Eat more whole grains.
4. Eat more beans.
5. Drink more water.
6. Eat meals at regular times.
7. Go for a walk every day.
Crowd out a lot of other high fat, high sugar foods by following the 7 Steps to A Healthy Lifestyle. Every meal, ask yourself,
“What am I eating that is high in fiber?” “How much of my meal is from plants?” Drink water to crowd out other beverages
with caffeine, sugar, additives and alcohol. Get regular exercise to motivate you to continue making healthy choices.
Focus on getting MORE of the “good stuff ”—plant-based foods. Instead of dwelling on, “Oh, I shouldn’t eat this or I can’t
have that,” focus on what enriches your health. It becomes more of a present than a punishment. It’s kind of like living a
passionate life for God. When you focus on following God’s plan, your thoughts are centered on the positive instead of
focusing on avoiding sin.
When you experience more energy, clearer thinking, and possibly a change in your body size and health, you may actually
learn to prefer plant-based foods. I do. Consider Daniel’s 10-Day Diet and see what difference it will make for you.