The Rage Against God

I’m borrowing the title of the Peter Hitchens book to highlight an interesting connection between a psalm and Daniel.  Having recently picked up some Aramaic, I was reading Daniel 6 in the wee hours (see my insomnia post!) and discovered a word in the Daniel-in-the-lions’-den story that also turns up, just once, in the Psalms in Hebrew.  The word is the verb ‘ragash‘, which appears in Psalm 2:1, in the gripping opening line, “Why do the nations rage?”  Being the only occurrence of this verb, its meaning is debated, but it seems to connote a crowd in tumult (see the cognate noun, used positively, in 55:15 (Eng. 14), to indicate a happy, noisy, chaotic crowd headed for worship at the temple.)

Well, the verb turns up three times in the lions’ den story, and in an interesting pattern.  In 6:7 (Eng. 6:6), the group that envies Daniel goes to the king, Darius, urging him to issue a decree that there be no worship for thirty days, except that directed to Darius himself.  We are led to understand this as an appeal to his ego.  Daniel learns of this, but maintains his three-time daily prayer routine towards Jerusalem (we are reminded of the programmatic, and possibly exilic, prayer of Solomon in 1 Kings 8), which makes him a sitting duck for the set-up, and his opponents in v. 12 (Eng. 11) come in in ‘ragash‘ fashion to catch him red-kneed.  When Darius learns of this development, he looks for a way to excuse Daniel, but now Daniel’s rivals in v. 16 (Eng. 15) ‘ragash‘ back into the king to remind him of his obligations to keep the irrevocable law of the Medes and Persians.  Into the lions’ den goes Daniel.

The third encounter in particular gives the reader the sense that the king is not in a strong negotiating position.  These plotting officials have the king pinned with his own strong piece, the legal force of his own edict.  He, like Daniel, is boxed in by them.  Thus the rhetorical force of this part of the story gives us a possible insight into the still-debated meaning of this elusive word.  In the English versions of Daniel 6, we are offered many alternative translations for ‘ragash’: ‘to come by agreement’ (ESV); ‘to go as a group’ (NIV); ‘[the conspirators] came’, says NRSV, giving the noun, ‘conspirators’, a little borrowed connotation from the verb, which may carry this sense in Psalm 2:1.  Somewhere I think I read, ‘stormed in’.  Perhaps that is the closest so far.  My sense is that it connotes the noisy, unruly approach of a group of persons with hostile, though hidden, intentions in this passage, though I don’t claim this with any dogmatism.  This seems to be the sense of the story, which justifies Daniel as courageously devout, and interestingly, absolves the Persian emperor Darius from any responsibility for Daniel’s plight, at the cost of making him seem disempowered.  Such an apologetic might have a real function in a Jewish community still living under Persian power.

So as in Psalm 2, not to mention in Esther, Daniel 6 finds “the nations raging” against the LORD still, and as in Psalm 2, this plotting and rebellion proves ultimately futile.  An interesting instance of how a rare Hebrew OT word lines up in meaning with its rare Aramaic counterpart.

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