Friday, July 24, 2020

How is the Fourth Beast in Dan 7:7 "different"?

In Daniel 7, the seer has a vision of four beasts who arise from the sea to trouble the earth (we later find out that these beasts stand for four kingdoms or empires that will arise). He describes each beast, with the remark that they were "each different from the other" (שָׁנְיָן דָּא מִן־דָּא).  The first three beasts resembled, in order, a lion, a bear, and a leopard. The fourth beast is not given an animal name, but is said to be "different from all the beasts that preceded it" (7:7, NRSV; מְשַׁנְּיָה מִן־כָּל־חֵיוָתָא דִּי קָדָמַיהּ). The other translations are similar to the NRSV, as are the ancient versions (LXX, Peshitta, Vulgate). However, what is the point of saying that the fourth beast was different from all the other beasts, when in v. 3 it had already been stated (and shown) that all the beasts were different from each other?

The answer lies, perhaps, in the different verb stems used. In v. 3, the Pe'al (G stem) is used statively, in the meaning "be different" (in other contexts it can denote a change of state, "change, become different").  In v. 7, the Pa'el (D stem) passive participle is used.  The D stem's function with this verb is factitive, that is, it brings about the state denoted by the G stem — in a word, it makes it transitive, "change something, make something different." The passive participle would mean, at face value, "changed, made different."  So does it mean "the fourth beast was changed/made different"? Not exactly, but we're getting there.

Many times, when the root שׁני is used, there is a nuance present beyond just "change," in that the change is often for the worse.  In Dan 5:9, when the king is troubled, his "countenance changed upon him" — that is, he turned pale, or his features were twisted by fear, or the like. In other dialects, some of the translation values it has are fade, be dislocated, depart, go insane, deteriorate. (See the entry in the ComprehensiveAramaic Lexicon.) In the Qumran Enoch text, the sinful angels are told "you perverted/corrupted your activity" (שניתן עבדכן).

Now the meaning of Dan 7:7 comes into focus. The fourth beast is not just "different" or even "changed"; it is distorted, or perverted, an even more monstrous creature than they are.  The comparative grade should be used with the translation, in keeping with the use of the particle min with adjectives or participles of this kind: "it was more monstrous than [or perhaps: stranger than] the beasts that preceded it": a fitting description of a creature with iron teeth and ten horns!

 BIBLIOGRAPHY: Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon, s. v. šny