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Chapter 5

DANIEL'S "MACROBIOTIC EXPERIMENT"

Macrobiotic theorists George Ohsawa and Michio Kushi credit the prophet Daniel with conducting the world's first "macrobiotic experiment" at the court of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon during the Hebrew's captivity (c. early 6th Century BC).

Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 597, and Nebuchadnezzar decreed that the cream of Judean royal and noble youth be brought to his palace to be educated in Chaldean culture and language. The king shrewdly planned to co-opt the best minds among the conquered Jews, not unlike the way America and Russia spirited away German Jewish rocket-scientists before, during, and after World War II to engineer their nuclear weapons and space programs.

Among the chosen Hebrew elite was Daniel When the young Jews arrived at Nebuchadnezzar's court, they were assigned "a daily portion of the rich food, and the wine which he drank." This sumptuous fare no doubt was less than kosher in terms of ritual cleanliness. Daniel, not wanting to defile himself, balked at eating this food and drink.

The Biblical account of what happened (Daniel Chapter 1) relates that Ashpenaz, Nebuchadnezzar's chief eunuch and administrator of the "foreign student" program, befriends Daniel and sympathizes with his conscientious objection to rich food, but, being a prototypical bureaucrat, he is worried about repercussions that may befall him if this "youth without blemish" physically wastes away on a simple vegetarian diet. We can assume that he resorted to time-honoured bureaucratic tactics and busied himself doing nothing.

Daniel is determined, and recognizing that he is getting the run-around from Ashpenaz, he approaches Melyar--the steward appointed directly over Daniel and three of his friends. Melyar proves more pliable than his superior, and Daniel convinces him to allow the four young Jews to eat a diet of simple foods for a ten day period as a test. They agree to have their physical appearance and condition compared to a "control group" that has the king's diet after the ten have elapsed, and if they fail to measure up--they will tender no further protest regarding rations.

The Bible does not provide clear details about the specific foods Daniel objected to. Nebuchadnezzar's table would likely have included meat and other rich delicacies. In the King James Version of the Bible, the king's food is referred to as "meat,' but in 17th Century English, the word "meat" was a generic term for food. The Revised Standard Version simply says "rich foods," but the American Standard Version of 1901 calls these foods "dainties." The later term has interesting connotations.

Babylonian dainties, according to Harper's Bible Dictionary, "may have been delicate meats, rich cakes, or confections made by Hebrew women captives." Four hundred years before Daniel's time, Samuel the prophet had predicted with reference to "a king who will reign over you," that: "He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers (1 Samuel 8: 11, 13). Dainties are also referred to in Psalm 141: 3-4:

"Set a guard over my mouth O Lord,
keep a watch over the door of my lips:
Incline not my heart to any evil,
to busy myself with wicked deeds.
In company with men who work iniquity
And let me not eat of their dainties!"

And in Proverbs 23: 1-3:

When thou sittest to eat with a ruler,
consider diligently what is before thee:
And put a knife to thy throat if thou be
a man given to appetite.
Be not desirous of his dainties for they are deceitful
meat.

We can be reasonably safe in assuming that Daniel, "endowed with knowledge" and "understanding learning" was familiar with these Scriptures, and that they served to harden his resolve.

Other possible objections Daniel may have had were that the food may have been offered to idols ( a common practice that was still creating ethical dilemmas for Christians in the 1st Century), or been from animals not scrupulously bled after slaughter as decreed in Leviticus.

As for the "pulse" or vegetables that Daniel asked for, pulse (from the Latin "puls") specifically refers to legumes such as lentils and beans, but in this instance may simply have been a generic term for vegetable foods of any sort. Babylon, situated on the fertile alluvial plain beside the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, was as agriculturally bountiful as Palestine was barren. The Babylonians used sophisticated irrigation systems to water their rich soil, and a variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables would have been grown by them. Lettuce was grown in the famous hanging gardens of Babylon as early as the 7th Century BC.

While Daniel's primary motivation for refusing Nebuchadnezzar's food was to remain ritualistically clean and undefiled, he seems to have been confident about the nutritional adequacy of his proposed vegetarian diet, and this certitude was verified by the results of his test.

Daniel 1: 15 states that "at the end of the ten days it was seen that [Daniel and his three friends] were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's rich food." Thus he won his suit, and was permitted to continue eating a vegetarian diet.


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