The King of the World Gets Boanthropy

Daniel chapter 4 is an epic tale in itself, one in which Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon begins as the king of the most powerful empire in the world and then dreams a foreboding dream. He does not heed Daniel’s prophetic interpretation of his dream, instead falling into pride and being cursed for seven years to live like a cow. But in the end, proud Nebuchadnezzar is humbled and restored to an even greater glory than before. Someone needs to turn this into a musical.

It wasn’t until I took a seminary class on the book of Daniel though that I learned that Nebuchadnezzar’s seven-years-a-cow punishment is most likely a documented psychological disorder, known as boanthropy. The Pharmaceutical Journal defines boanthropy as “a psychological disorder in which the sufferer believes he or she is a cow or ox.” Fascinating that this is still happening to the extent that it is mentioned in the medical literature. Am I the only one who missed this in Sunday school? Apparently, this was not limited to Nebuchadnezzar, but is a possibility for any one of us, should God in his providence choose to let our minds go. Beware, prideful world rulers! Beware, prideful self, prone to take credit for your own limited works when they were all gifts of sheer grace. God opposes the proud. How? Sometimes he turns us into cows.

I also can’t help but appreciate whenever the Old Testament is demonstrated to be sound history, in spite of all the skepticism hurled against it. After an initial reading of this text, many would be tempted to dismiss this narrative as mythological moralizing. Yet here we have an ancient text proving not only that truth is stranger than fiction, but also that we can trust the seemingly mythological text of Daniel to present reliable history. If Daniel is proven reliable with such a strange thing as boanthropy, then we should be willing to trust the text in other areas we might be tempted to scoff at. Indeed, that would have something to do with the humility the king’s boanthropy is meant to cultivate.

Photo by Jonas Koel on Unsplash

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