A Byzantine bronze plaque that once was part of a casket, with eight perforations around the edges for attachment. A scene was created on it by hammering, which illustrates two chapters from the biblical Book of Daniel.
On the right side we see a large furnace, built of stones with a door opening at the bottom for the firewood (for this door see Dan. 3:26; Seow, p. 58); on top of it three figures are depicted, standing in the flames. They are wearing orientalising costumes consisting of tunics, cloaks and Phrygian hats. Two of them stand with their hands raised, in the position of prayer. The third figure is reaching off the side of the scene.
These three men are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, young men from Israel who were taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel one can read their story. King Nebuchadnezzar set up an image of gold, 60 cubits (circa 27 meter) high, and ordered that everybody should worship the image, or else be thrown into a blazing furnace. The three men refused to worship the statue as this would be idolatry; they said that the God they served would deliver them from the fire. They were thrown into the furnace, which for the occasion was heated seven times hotter than usual; it was so hot that it killed the soldiers who had to throw the men into the fire. However, Nebuchadnezzar saw that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were unharmed, as was a fourth man who was walking around in the fire, looking like "a son of god" (so in the Aramaic version of the text; the New Revised Standard Version has "a son of a god" (Seow, p. 58-59)). The king then ordered the men to come out of the furnace and called them servants of the Most High God. The Greek version (which is a greatly expanded text including a prayer of one of the three men and a hymn by the three men), elaborates on how the angel of the Lord descended into the furnace to help them.
The scene on the left shows two lions, one male and one female, beside a cypress tree. This most likely illustrates chapter 6 of the Book of Daniel, which tells how the king of Babylon (in this case Darius the Mede, probably a literary fiction, or a subordinate ruler under Cyrus the Great) was asked by jealous rivals of Daniel to issue a decree that for a month petitions should only be addressed to Darius himself, not to any god or human, and that whoever would break this decree should be thrown to the lions. As Daniel continued to pray to the God of Israel, he was thrown into the lions' den, where an angel sent by God closed the jaws of the lions, so that Daniel was saved.
It has also been suggested that the large tree between the two scenes refers to Daniel 4; this chapter informs us that in a dream Nebuchadnezzar sees an enormous tree in the middle of the land, its top touching the sky, under which wild animals found shelter (Daniel 4:9-12); Daniel explains that this tree is in fact the king (4:22).
Jehoiakim was king of Judah from circa 609 to circa 598 BC. In his third year Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, conquered Judah and ordered that members of the Israelite royal family and nobility, deported to Babylon, should be instructed in the language and literature of the Babylonians for three years and then brought into the king’s service. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (all Hebrew names containing either El of Yah, referring to the God fo Israel). In Babylon by the king’s decree they were given new, Chaldean names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (all containing references to Babylonian gods: Bel, Aku, and Nebo/Nabu), and they were appointed to high office.
The book of Daniel is part of the Ketuvim (Writings) in the Tenakh (Hebrew Bible), and of the Major Prophets in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible). It was partly written in Hebrew and partly in Aramaic.
The Aramaic part was written in a chiastic style, in which the narration develops and then returns to the starting point in parallel stories, placing the main point of the text in focus. The centre of the text are chapters 4 and 5 (Daniel interprets a dream, and Daniel interprets the handwriting on the wall); these chapters are framed by chapers 3 and 6 (the fiery furnace and the lions' den), and then by chapter 2 and 7 (a dream of four kingdoms and a vision of four world kingdoms, both replaced by a fifth). See Redditt 2008, p. 177.
Chapter 3 (the fiery furnace) is paired with chapter 6 (the lions' den) in the structure of the text. Possibly for that reason the two stories are also combined in the illustration on our plaque.
Charles Ede Ltd., Christmas Catalogue 2015, no. 50.
John J. Collins, Daniel. With an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature (The Forms of the Old Testament Literature, Volume XX) (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans, 1984);
John J. Collins, "Daniel", in Karel van der Toorn - Bob Becking - Pieter W. van der Horst (eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd, extensively revised edition, Leiden, Boston, Köln, Koninklijke Brill Academic Publishers; Grand Rapids, Michigan - Cambridge, U.K., William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), p. 219-220;
Scott B. Noegel - Brannon M. Wheeler, Historical Dictionary of Prophets in Islam and Judaism (Historical Dictionaries of Religions, Philosophies, and Movements, Volume 43) (Lanham, MD, Scarecrow Press, 2002);
Paul L. Redditt, Introduction to the Prophets (Grand Rapids, Michigan - Cambridge, U.K., William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008);
Choon Leong Seow, Daniel (Louisville - London, Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), esp. p. 50-60;
William H. Shea, "Bel(te)shazzar Meets Belshazzar", Andrews University Seminary Studies Vol. 26 (1988), No. 1, p. 67-81.
Byzantine, circa 4th-6th century C.E.
Width 23.4 cm, height 13 cm; dimensions in the frame 40 x 30 cm.
UK private collection, acquired in the 1980s; thereafter with Charles Ede Ltd., London.
Recomposed from large fragments with some restoration, particularly to the edge. Framed behind glass.