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Daniel and the Hypnotized Lions

Updated: Nov 1


Daniel In The Lions Den, 1872, by Briton Riviere


by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson October 31-November 6: Daniel 1-6.


Four years ago, I told my then thirteen-year-old granddaughter, Addie, that I was writing a book and asked her what questions about science and the scriptures she would like to see addressed. After thinking for a few moments she said, “I want to know how an angel turned a bunch of lions into vegans.” I considered the question a bit and then replied, “How do you know they became vegan? Maybe the angel simply hypnotized them.”


Like almost everyone else who grew up on a farm, we had chickens, which aren’t the brightest light bulbs in God’s box of animals. Indeed, when I look at a chicken, I am amazed at how tiny their brains are. One of my favorite chicken-related activities growing up was hypnotizing chickens, which, as it turns out, is a very simple task. Here are the instructions: 1. Catch a chicken. 2. Lay the chicken on its side. 3. Stroke a few times in front of the chicken’s beak to get its attention. It turns out that getting a chicken’s attention this way is pretty much a piece of cake. 4. Start tapping on the ground in front of the chicken’s beak. 5. After maybe twenty or thirty taps, you can let go of the chicken and even stand up very slowly. The chicken will just lie there, looking straight ahead. If you make a loud noise or sudden move, the chicken will likely wake up, but if you move slowly, you can even walk away, leaving the hypnotized chicken lying there on the ground. Eventually, the other chickens will come around to check out their fallen comrade, which will startle the subject chicken back into its blissful reality. Footnote: no chickens were permanently harmed during these experiments. It wasn’t possible for me to ascertain whether the procedure caused any long-term mental dysfunction – after all, how would one identify a mentally-challenged chicken?

It turns out, technically, that I wasn’t hypnotizing the chickens. The technical term for the results of my farm-boy experiments is “motor inhibition in response to restraint,” or “tonic immobility.”1 The difference between hypnosis and tonic immobility lies in the fact that most animals can’t talk and therefore cannot discuss their experience. Apparently, this explanation of the difference also involves the proposition that animals experiencing tonic immobility do not respond to verbal suggestions.

In 2009, J. A. Castiglioni and associates at Texas A & M University tested hypnosis and pain tolerance on rabbits which were tonically immobilized as a model for human hypnosis during dental and other painful procedures. First they trained rabbits to push a lever to obtain food. Then they paired an electric shock with a sound. Then they tested rabbits that had been “trained in the tonic immobility condition” and found that they “were significantly less distracted [from eating, by the sound that had been associated with the electric shock] than the control animals.” These experiments were sort of like putting humans into post-hypnotic states, and demonstrated that tonic immobility in rabbits was like hypnosis in humans.2


Apparently the guru of tonic immobility, or what he called animal hypnosis, was Ferenc András Völgyesi, who published a book, Hypnosis of Man and Animals, in 1966. One of the photographs in the book shows Völgyesi straddling a lion, which is apparently sound asleep, holding its head up with his hands. Another photograph shows an apparently sleeping bear lying on its back. Therefore, it appears, Völgyesi demonstrated that, in addition to chickens and rabbits, lions and bears can also be hypnotized.3

With that background, we can now ponder the story of Daniel in the lions’ den as recorded in Daniel 6. King Darius had set “an hundred and twenty princes” over his kingdom, “…of whom Daniel was first…”“…and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.”4


“Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him. Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God. Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him, King Darius, live for ever. All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellors, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. Wherefore king Darius signed the writing and the decree.”5


This all sounds very similar to modern politics. Now came Daniel’s test. His custom, as was the case for the Jews for hundreds of years, was to pray three times a day. Daniel was well aware of the king’s new decree, and he could have refrained from praying for only thirty days, or he could have prayed in secret for that long, but Daniel did neither. His subsequent actions are a great example of doing what he knew was right even in the face of great, and very real danger.

“Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.”6


Daniel prayed openly with his windows open toward Jerusalem. Of course, this was exactly what the evil conspirators were hoping and expecting Daniel to do. Obviously they were delighted that they had tricked the king into eliminating their hated rival.


“Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God. Then they came near, and spake before the king concerning the king’s decree; Hast thou not signed a decree, that every man that shall ask a petition of any God or man within thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said, The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. Then answered they and said before the king, That Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day.”7


The king realized that he had made an error in judgement and that he had been lured into a trap by his advisors, and he tried all day to figure a way out of the dilemma.

“Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him: and he laboured till the going down of the sun to deliver him. Then these men assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed.”8


There was no solution for the king inside the law so:

“Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee. And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel.”9

We are told nothing in this scripture about the “den of lions” other than it was a den, with a mouth, closed off by a “stone [which] was brought” for that purpose. This den sounds like a cave or pit, with the mouth not normally closed off, as a stone had to be brought in for that purpose. It does, however, appear that this den was well known to the conspirators, as it was written into the decree as the punishment for disobedience. It was referred to as the den of lions, not a den of lions. Normally, African and Asiatic lions don’t live in caves or dens, but, rather find shelter under trees on the open savanna, in the case of African lions, or in dry, sparse forests for Asiatic lions. The only time lions use dens is when a female has young cubs. Even though today, lions are confined to sub-Saharan Africa (20-30,000 African lions) and a tiny portion of India (300 Asiatic lions); many centuries ago; lions live in Europe, Asia, Africa, India, the Middle East and even in the Americas.10 There were cave lions, but the last of them went extinct in Europe and Alaska about 14,000 years ago.11 Therefore, it is highly unlikely that these lions were not cave lions, and therefore dens were not these Persian lions’ normal habitat.

It is my opinion that this den of lions known to Darius, King of the Persians, and his counselors, was very likely part of a menagerie kept by the king as a sign of power. Aristocratic and royal menageries have deep roots in history and are the forerunners of modern zoological gardens. The function, however was quite different, it being primarily for show and demonstration of power rather than for preservation, education, and scientific study.


Kings and pharaohs have been maintaining menageries for at least 5,000 years. Along with gardens of exotic plants, exotic animals were commonly collected by our wealthy and powerful ancestors. Exotic animals were sometimes even tamed and kept as pets. For example, Ramses II (c. 1303 - 1213 BC) had a pet lion, which accompanied him into battle.12 The gardens of Babylon were considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Josephus says that they were built by King Nebuchadnezzar II (605 - 562 BC). 13 It seems very likely that, if the fabled gardens actually existed, they would have included a menagerie of some kind. It is very likely that King Darius I (550 -486 BC), living shortly after Nebuchadnezzar, would also have developed exotic gardens and a menagerie, which likely included lions. It is clear that the lions’ den was close to the king’s residence, for we read in Daniel,

“Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick brought before him: and his sleep went from him. Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions.”14


The next verses tell us a bit more about the lions’ den, being, apparently a pit of some sort because Daniel was taken “up” out of it:

“And when he [the king] came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions? Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. Then was the king exceeding glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.”15


These verses, in my opinion, explain the angelic intervention in Daniel’s behalf, “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me.” The shutting “of the lions’ mouths” sounds very much like hypnosis leading to tonic immobility. In the next verse it is clear that the lions were still very much carnivorous:

“And the king commanded, and they brought those men which had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions, them, their children, and their wives; and the lions had the mastery of them, and brake all their bones in pieces or ever they came at the bottom of the den.”16


The story of Daniel and the Lions’ Den concludes with the following statement:

“Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and steadfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions. So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian."17

Another favorite story in the book of Daniel, often taught together with Daniel and the Lion’s Den, because of the common theme of obeying God’s commandments no matter the circumstances is that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. We read in Daniel 3 of a time a few years earlier than the events in Daniel 6, with a previous king:


“Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, whose height was threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits: he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent to gather together the princes, the governors, and the captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counsellors, the sheriffs, and all the rulers of the provinces, to come to the dedication of the image which Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up… Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O people, nations, and languages, That at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king hath set up: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace.”18

So when all the people, of all nations and languages heard all kinds of musick, they “…fell down and worshipped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up,”19 except for certain Jews.


“Wherefore at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews. They spake and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever. Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, shall fall down and worship the golden image: And whoso falleth not down and worshippeth, that he should be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”20


Concerning the “burning fiery furnace,” A Verse-by-Verse Commentary on the Book of Daniel states:

“The fiery furnace was probably a brick kiln. Since all buildings were constructed of bricks, many of them of burned bricks [others of sun-dried bricks], kilns were numerous in the vicinity of ancient Babylon. Excavations show that ancient brickkilns were similar to modern ones, which are found in that area in great numbers. These kilns are ordinarily cone-shaped structures built of bricks. The unbaked bricks to be fired line the inner walls. An opening on one side of the wall permits fuel to be thrown into the interior. Fuel consists of a mixture of crude oil and chaff [straw]. A tremendous heat is thus produced, and through the opening the observer can see the fired bricks heated to a white glow.”21

Optimum firing temperature for bricks is about 1000o C,22 and glazed brick, as used to such beautiful affect in the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, portions of which can be seen in several museums throughout the world, requires somewhat higher temperatures. During early excavations of Babylon, what appeared to be a typical kiln was discovered. However, the kiln bore a cuneiform inscription stating, “This is the place of burning where men who blasphemed the gods of Chaldea died by fire.”23 This inscription does not necessarily refer to the three “men” in question discussed in this story, but it does indicate that burning heretics in brick kilns (furnaces) may not have been uncommon in early Babylon. Furthermore, Nebuchadnezzar’s herald referred to “… a burning fiery furnace,”24 not the burning fiery furnace.


“Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Then they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”25


We are then informed,

“Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated.”26


Nebuchadnezzar, being a narcissistic king, may well have commanded a furnace (kiln) to be heated to seven times its normal functioning temperature. Carrying out that command would have been an entirely different matter. The kilns of Babylon were about 1000oC. Reaching temperatures of 2000-2300o C requires an input of hot air – as produced by a blast furnace – and blast furnaces weren’t invented until the first century AD in China.27 By 1900, electric carbon arc furnaces had been developed that could reach temperatures of around 3900o C, just over half the temperature Nebuchadnezzar was demanding (7000o C). Even at that temperature, the heat is,

“…so intense that it burns and vaporizes every known substance… The best firebrick known to furnace makers is consumed by it like lumps of resin, leaving no trace behind.”28

Therefore, it is not possible that brick makers in Nebuchadnezzar’s time could have made a furnace that could reach temperatures of 7000o C. Even if they could develop the technology, the furnace itself would have melted away at half the required temperature – but which of them was going to tell the king that his demand couldn’t be met. I’m sure they were saying to the king, “Oh, yes your highness, may you live forever, the furnace is indeed seven times its normal operating temperature – just as you demanded.” So Nebuchadnezzar,

“…commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.”29

Then came the miracle:

“Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”


“Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spake, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, ye servants of the most high God, come forth, and come hither. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, came forth of the midst of the fire. And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, upon whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them.”30

Obviously, Nebuchadnezzar was impressed:

“Then Nebuchadnezzar spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, in the province of Babylon.”31


So how did this miracle take place? Obviously by faith. Paul tells us in Hebrews, of the,

“…prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”32

But by what mechanism did these miracles occur? We don’t know, but there is a modern situation that may shed some light on the question. When the Cokeville Elementary School, Wyoming, was taken over by two terrorists in May 1986, the bomb one of them detonated should have leveled the school and killed the 154 hostages. But the only person killed in the blast was the woman who released the trigger. Rather than spreading out to cause maximum damage, as designed, the blast was directed almost straight up. Witnesses claim that a ring of angels surrounded the blast area, directing the explosion upward and away from the hostages, mostly children, who had been on their knees praying.33


Could something similar have happened to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego? Even though the fire was hot enough to slay “…those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.” When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace, he saw a fourth person, “…like the Son of God.” Could there have been other angels surrounding the three Hebrews that Nebuchadnezzar and those with him couldn’t see? Of course the explosion at Cokeville was a one-time event. A brick kiln would have been burning for quite some time, so the circumstances were not completely parallel.


The Bible Dictionary states that,

“Miracles should not be regarded as deviations from the ordinary course of nature so much as manifestations of divine or spiritual power. Some lower law was in each case superseded by the action of a higher.”34

This superseding of a lower law by a higher one will be addressed more fully in some of my later essays.


References

1. Erhard, H. W., Mendl, M., Christiansen, S. B., Individual differences in tonic immobility may reflect behavioural strategies. Applied Animal Behaviour, Science, 64:31-46, 1999.

2. Castiglioni, J.A., Russell, M.I., Setlow, B., Young, K.A., Welsh J.C., Steele-Russell, I., An animal model of hypnotic pain attenuation, Behavioral Brain Research, 197:198-204, 2009.

3. Völgyesi, Ferenc András, Hypnosis of Man and Animals, Billing & Sons Ltd. London, 1966; see also hypnosisandsuggestion.org/animal-hypnosis

4. Daniel 6:1-3

5. Daniel 6:4-9

6. Daniel 6:10

7. Daniel 6:11-13

8. Daniel 6:14-15

9. Daniel 6:16-17

10. animalsake.com/lion-habitat-where-do-lions-live

11. Stuart, Anthony J. and Lister, Adrian M., Extinction chronology of the cave lion Panthera spelaea, Quaternary Science Reviews, 30:2329-2340, 2011.

12. Vernon N. Kisling, ed., Zoo and aquarium history: Ancient animal collections to zoological gardens, CRC Press, Cleveland, Ohio, 2000.

13. Josephus, Flavius, Compete Works, translated by William Whiston , Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1978.

14. Daniel 6:18-19

15. Daniel 6:20-23

16. Daniel 6:24

17. Daniel 6:25-28

18. Daniel 3:1-2, 4-6

19. Daniel 3:7

20. Daniel 3:8-12

21. Commentary on Daniel and Revelation, A Verse-by-Verse Commentary on the Book of Daniel, a section of volume IV from the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, no specific author identified, Review and Herald Pub Assoc , Hagerstown, MD, 1980.

22. Karaman, Sedat, Ersahin, Sabit and Gunal, Hikmet, Firing temperature and firing time influence on mechanical and physical properties of clay bricks, Journal of Scientific & Industrial Research, 65:153-159, 2006.

23. Rimmer, Harry, Dead Men Tell Tales, Berne Witness Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1939.

24. Daniel 3:6

25. Daniel 3:13-18

26. Daniel 3:19

27. Golas, Peter J., Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Part 13, Mining, Cambridge University Press. p. 152, 1999.

28. The Potentialities of the Electric Furnace, In, Railway and Locomotive Engineering: A Practical Journal of Motive Power and Rolling Stock, volume 13, p 301, no author listed, Agnus Sinclair Company, New York, 1900.

29. Daniel 3:20-23

30. Daniel 3:24-27

31. Daniel 3:28-30

32. Hebrews 11:32-34

33. Wixom, Hartt, and Wixom, Judene, The Cokeville Miracle: When Angels Intervene, Cedar Fort, Springville, UT, 2015.

34. Bible Dictionary, lds.org


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