Daniel and the Village Elders

Note: This is a short story sort of in the style of the apocryphal stories of Daniel. Not all such stories are consistent with the basic Daniel story in the Biblical book, but I have tried to stick with what can be fitted in. I have added references for the two Biblical laws that Daniel cites, though you can be certain he didn’t quote chapter and verse from material that hadn’t been so divided at that time.

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It was evening as Daniel approached the village, one of the camps occupied by Judean exiles. He was returning from a mission for King Nebuchadnezzar, and as was often his custom, he hoped to stay with his own people for the night before returning to the palace the next day. But tonight was to be different.

As he approached the entryway to the village–it would be too optimistic to call it a gate–he could see that the elders were gathered. A young man was standing there with head hanging, clothing torn and dirty, and a large bruise on the side of his face. A few paces away toward the gate was a body crumpled, and apparently ignored. Two men, better dressed and uninjured stood next to the young man. One of them was speaking.

“. . . He struck down our servant, slipped from the tent, and when he saw Azariah here he began to run toward the gate. He’s the murderer, alright, and he should be stoned. He probably raped her as well!”

Daniel saw a gleam of triumph on the man’s face that didn’t fit with the sorrow that would accompany losing a loved one or even the concern over financial loss that would result from losing a valued slave. There was clearly something wrong here–besides, that is, the shameful treatment of the body. He doubted there was a Levite in the camp to explain the law to the people and help see that it was carried out. He looked at the body. There were specks of blood on the clothing, but he could no sign of the type of blow that would kill someone quickly. The head appeared to be whole, where it was not covered by cloth, and there was no large mass of blood.

“Pardon me, my lords,” he said. He could see them calculating how to react to him. He was dressed as a Babylonian courtier, but he addressed them in Hebrew. That left them uncertain as to how to react. Exiles were left pretty much to manage their own affairs, and they would see no reason for a Babylonian to interfere. But a Babylonian official who spoke Hebrew might be different.

“Yes, my son?” said the man in the center who appeared to be the village chief. He looked old enough to Daniel that it was likely he had been an elder back home.

“Is it permitted for a visitor to ask a question?”

“He’s an outsider! What does he have to do with our laws?” The witness who had just finished speaking jumped in before the elder could speak. Daniel could see that had been a mistake as the elder reacted to this challenge to his authority.

“He can speak,” said the elder. “We must hear everything before we condemn someone to death.”

Daniel turned to the witness. “Do you swear by the God of Israel that you personally saw the things to which you testified just now?”

The man hesitated. “I saw them,” he said.

The elder spoke again. “Do you swear that by the God of Israel? That’s what you were asked.” He looked concerned.

“It’s true,” he said. “But I didn’t see everything with my own eyes.” He looked angrily at his companion. “I’ll take your word, but I won’t swear by the God of Israel and testify falsely.”

“So you believe what you said is true, but you didn’t see it with your own eyes?” The elder was now angry.

“Yes.”

“But we still have two witnesses who say that this young man killed the girl,” said one of the other elders.

“Only one witness,” said Daniel. “Only one person witnessed the event and can properly swear and give testimony.”

The second elder spoke again. “But do any of us doubt the veracity of Ehud, our countryman? Surely we still know that this young man is a murderer. We cannot release him!”

The chief elder hesitated again.

“My Lord,” Daniel spoke again.

“You may speak,” said the chief elder. He enjoyed the respect that this young man gave him. He’d been prepared to be angry at the intruder, but now he noticed that this young intruder was the only one giving him the respect he was due.

“The law says, ‘A single witness shall not be sufficient to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing. At the word of two or of three witnesses shall the accusation be established’ (Deuteronomy 19:15). Only one person witnessed the crime, and it cannot be established by the testimony of one who did not actually see the crime.”

“I disagree. We are here in a foreign land. We cannot afford to break trust with our fellow countryman Ehud. I believe his testimony, and I will take the word of his companion in establishing his testimony,” said the second elder.

“My Lord, may I ask another question of the witnesses?” Daniel’s voice was respectful, and he clearly addressed the chief elder.

“Go ahead.”

“With what weapon did the young man strike the girl?”

“With an axe,” said Ehud quickly, as his companion’s mouth opened and then closed.

Daniel walked over to the body. He knew that what he was about to do was shocking. He settled in his mind that he would not be staying in these people’s camp that night. Everyone else might forget, but he remembered such of the laws as he’d learned before he was taken into exile. There was no priest and no temple to go to for purification, but he’d do what he could do after he had handled the corpse.

He reached down and tore the robe from the back of the victim, leaving her back exposed as a gasp went up from the gathered villagers. The gasp was for his audacity in handling the body and in uncovering her in that way. But then there was another gasp as the gathered people saw that the girl’s back was beaten to a pulp, with pieces of her clothing still clinging to the wounds. Everybody could see in a moment that she had not be killed with an axe, but instead had been beaten to death.

It took only a few moments for the verdict to be given for the accused young man to be released. The girl had no family there, but the elders determined to bury her properly.

The chief elder turned to Daniel. “Can we not convict this man of the murder of the girl?” he asked, now convinced of Daniel’s wisdom and learning.

“Not unless there are witnesses that he was the one who beat her. But you can convict him of bringing false testimony. The law also says, ‘You shall do to him as he planned to do to his brother’ (Deuteronomy 19:19). We do not have a temple, but I think it would be right to follow this law even here.”

Ehud’s face turned white as he heard the village elders, one after another, agree to the verdict based on their own witness to the false testimony.

All in all, thought Daniel, it was not the restful evening he’d hoped for. But justice was done, however unpleasant.

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