Graffiti Artist

writing-on-wall

Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. (Daniel 5:24)

You’ve got to hand it to God; he sure knows how to put on a show when he wants to. Most of the time he opts for the somewhat ostentatious Cecil B. DeMille approach. The downside to this is that each new performance must be bigger and better than the previous one. Even for God that’s tough to do.

Take the Plagues of Egypt series, for example. God starts out strong by turning the Nile into a river of blood. Excellent symbolic content with just the right amount of quiet menace. But then God does the frog thing. Excuse me? Frogs are inconvenient (and messy roadkill) but they are dramatically weak and symbolically ambiguous. God follows this up with gnats and flies. This has a Hitchcockian menace but the pair is compromised by obvious redundancy. After this we move in quick succession to a plague on livestock, a plague of boils (icky but dermatological), hail (a good one), and locusts (cliché). Finally, we get to the last two plagues in which God seems to hit dramatic stride. Thank God. The plague of darkness has all the pathos and primal horror of the best psychological thriller, and the symbolic content is once again clear. This is followed by what many regard as God’s masterpiece of mayhem, the striking down of the firstborn. That the Hebrews were also in danger adds a nice touch of suspense.

The plague series as a whole, however, is uneven and, at times, unintentionally amusing. Had God moved from the plague of blood right to the plagues of darkness and the killing of the firstborn, we’d not only have a more powerfully symbolic “threesome,” but a tighter development of tension. But God doesn’t always demonstrate creative restraint, especially when he’s got an unlimited budget.

But the “writing on the wall” incident is surprisingly and tantalizingly nuanced, and quite a departure from God’s typical thunder and lightning approach. Here he introduces a disembodied hand into the palace of Belshazzar, king of Babylon. A deep and disturbing silence permeates the scene as the hand writes undecipherable words on the wall. The fact that the hand seems visible only to the king gives it a striking psychological dimension much like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a play which God, of course, would have foreknown and from which God probably stole the idea in the first place.

One weakness, however, is the interpretation of the strange words on the wall: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. Daniel’s interpretation of these four words is 35 words long—and if we add for the repetition of MENE his rendition would be 49 words long. This strongly suggests that Daniel, under pressure to perform for the king, made up a bunch of stuff to impress him. A more direct (though less impressive) translation would read, Kiss my Darius, dude.

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One Response

  1. Sigh, Every ones a critic! You are not looking at who the audience is and where they are coming from. See the Hebrews and the Egyptians were workers, Granted the Hebrews did all the dirty work, but the Egyptians worked hard and played hard but were very practical and sophisticated.
    Each of their plagues was designed to gross them out. Frogs in your patai or your cocktails is really a party pooper! How can you hob nob with royalty if you got flies in your ointment?

    Ahh but ole Belsy was another story. They were nothing but a bunch of party going sots. Day in and day out. You are not going to get a drunks attention with frogs hopping by or red water. He’ll eat the frog legs and drink the water thinking its wine. God is the ultimate shrink and knows how to play to his audience.

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