In Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar has dealings with four types of "wise men". NIV and NLT render them "magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers." The ESV does something rather confusing and renders them "magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans", apparently following the NASB and KJV. That is confusing to me since I thought Chaldean was a general term for a person of the nation of which Babylon was the capital.

What are each of these categories of "wise men"—what are the distinguishing marks of each of their practice? Is the fourth one literally "Chaldeans" in the Hebrew, and how do we interpret that especially? Are there Babylonian or other ancient records that shed further light on this?

3 Answers 3


Daniel 2:2 is written in Hebrew. In transliteration, the list of professionals that the king calls is:

  1. hartumim
  2. ashaphim
  3. mechashphim
  4. casdim

The verse is an echo of Genesis 41:8.

"Hartumim" appear in the story of the dreams of Pharaoh in Genesis 41:8, in Exodus 7:11 and elsewhere, as dream interpreters and fortune tellers. The word might come from "harat", meaning to write by means of impression in clay or chiseling in stone and apparently means people who possessed powers by means of their writing, possibly amulets, incantations, etc.

"ashaphim" appear only in Daniel, here in 2:2 Hebrew, and in 2:10,27, 4:4, 5:7,11,14 in Aramaic. Cassutto says that the word loaned from Accadian and means magicians, people who can transform things, create illusions, etc by power of words or voice. In modern Hebrew the word is used to translate "wizard".

"mechashphim" are magicians appear in the story of the transformation of the staffs to crocodiles in Exodus 7:11. The word also appears in Deut. 18:10, II Chron 33:6, Malachi 3:5 and in the feminine form once in Exodus 22:17.

"casdim" (Chaldeans) were known as expert astrologers and also had a religion based on astrology - that's a possible meaning in 2:2, and that's the interpretation of the oral tradition. The word is used in Daniel 1:4 to denote the language that the king taught the captive boys from the royalty of Jerusalem. It is not used anywhere else in the OT to denote wise men or magicians. My guess is that it just means the kings wise men who the author refers to collectively as the Chaldeans in the same sense that he uses the proper name in 1:4.

The intention of the list is to cover all of the possible wisdom professions and to show that none of them can compete with the word of God as given to Daniel. The place to look for corroborative material is probably from Seleucid culture rather than Babylonian. My intuition is that the author uses "casdim" as a code word for Seleucids and that the whole work is part of an anti-Greek polemic.


This is more an expanded comment on Eli's answer than an answer in itself. Eli wrote:

The intention of the list is to cover all of the possible wisdom professions and to show that none of them can compete with the word of God as given to Daniel.

This is an astute observation when taking into account the style of the whole book. Long lists occur in many places in the book, and are clearly to give an exhaustive, expansive, totalizing feel.

In the next chapter (3:2),

King Nebuchadnezzar sent to gather the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces...

Then the music instruments are also listed at length, and there is another expansive expression about who was present (3:7):

As soon as all the people heard the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, all the people, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped...

Then in 4:1:

King Nebuchadnezzar to all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth...

Two lists in 5:3-4:

...that the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone.

And another in 6:7:

All the presidents o the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed...

These are only some of the examples. It is interesting to note that these lists most often concern groups of pagans, and often those who are in some sort of authority and are set up in contrast or opposition to Daniel.

Since this is such a repeated pattern in Daniel, to miss that "none of [the wisdom professions] can compete with the word of God as given to Daniel" would be to miss the point of the passage.

  • @EliRosencruft Thank you for your answer!
    – Kazark
    Commented May 18, 2012 at 19:25
  • 1
    In SP, four things clustered map into the four voices of God (Prophet, Priest, King, Judge). Magician shares root with engraving and is used in the 'magical' appearance of the golden calf. It represents Priest. Astrologer shares with 'covering' as Prophet 'hides' the word. Sorcerer - stubble... the result of Judgement. Chaldeans - earth breakers. The king is always of the earth. The four voices of the non-Jewish counselors were perversions of God's revelation of himself in the four real voices. So not only can't they compete, but they are fraudulent.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented May 31, 2012 at 23:27
  • And they are the cheap imitations of the four voices of God. Magician (חר 'hole/grave') - prophet. Astrologer (אש fire) - judge. Sorcerer (from the Son's marriage) - Priest. Chaldeans (clod breakers) the king.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 12:14

Some thing which I think is extremely plausible when you consider :

Daniel and his friends found favour and were very richly rewarded by at least 4 rulers of Babylon .

We are not told if they ever married or returned to Israel .

We are told that Daniel could interrupt dreams and he had a vision of the " end times " which made him sick !!

The " wise men " from the east recorded in Matthew 2 .

What do we know of them :

They definitely knew of the the coming King of the Jews and could recognise and were on the look out for " His Star " ... because they asked King Herrod where is He we ,we saw His star in the east ? And they had journeyed a great distance from the east , with very expensive gifts ... Babylon is in the east from Jerusalem .

Daniel 1 vs 3 also notes that these young men were taken from royalty and nobility .

I wonder if they were the descendants of Daniel , Hanniah , Mishael and Azariah.

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  • It would be good to see more engagement with the texts in your answer, so that you can make it clearer how you've used hermeneutical principles to arrive at and test/check your conclusions.
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