A change from first (Dan. 4:1-18+, 19b-27+) to third person (Dan. 4:19+a, 28-33) and then back to first person (Dan. 4:34+–37) occurs in the chapter. For the most part the material written in the third person (except Dan. 4:19+a) describes the king’s madness, to which the king “would not have been a sane witness.” ( [James A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Edinburgh, Scotland: T & T Clark, 1927, 1959), 223]; cf. L. F. Hartman and A. A. Di Lella, The Book of Daniel, AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1978), 174. Cf. [John E. Goldingay, “Daniel,” vol. 30 in Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker, eds., Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word Books), 82,85].)3
This entire section is written in the third person whereas all the rest of the edict is in the first person. This need not strike us as strange. In fact, as long as the consciousness of the ego of the king was dimmed, if not entirely submerged, he perceived nothing of what had really happened to him and consequently could not report concerning this period. It matters little, as far as we are concerned, whether the king himself for this reason reported objectively about himself what others told him had transpired, or whether he let his scribe do it for him.4
Nebuchadnezzar narrates the fulfilment of the dream altogether objectively, so that he speaks of himself in the third person. . . . The reason of his speaking of his madness in the third person, as if some other one were narrating it, lies simply in this, that in that condition he was not Ich = Ego (Kliefoth). With the return of the Ich, I, on the recovery from his madness, Nebuchadnezzar begins again to narrate in the first person (v. 31 ).5
dramatically the account of the king’s madness is told in the 3d pers., for of that he would not have been a sane witness; the change of person is anticipated somewhat too early in v. 15. The dramatic propriety involved appears from the fact that probably most readers do not stumble over the incongruity.6
Told in the third person, thus emphasizing that, during the recorded events, the king was in no condition to assess his own experiences.7
1 Stained glass window in St. Quintinus Cathedral in Hasselt (Belgium), Presentation: Dream of Nabu-kudurri-usur II. Image courtesy of Reinhardhauke, 18 October 2012. This image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.
2 Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: the fallen tree. “Ars Moriendi,” Marseille - BM - ms. 0089 (f. 024v), 15th century. Image courtesy of culture.gouv.fr. Image is in the public domain.
3 Stephen R. Miller, “Daniel,” in E. Ray Clendenen, Kenneth A. Mathews, and David S. Dockery, eds., The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 128.
4 H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Daniel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1949, 1969), 197.
5 Carl Friedrich Keil, “Daniel,” in Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), 9.593.
6 Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, 223.
7 Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Daniel,” in D. A. Carson, ed., New Bible Commentary (4th ed.) (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1994, 1970), 752.
8 Building Inscription of King Nebukadnezar II, 604-562 BC. During the excavations of Babylon, in the immediate vicinity of the Ishtar Gate, numerous fragments of bricks with remains of white-glazed cuneiform characters have been found. These fragments obviously belonged to a building inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II at the gate. Their exact location is unknown but there is no doubt that the text refers to the construction of the gate. The text was restored by comparison to with another complete inscription on a lime stone block and gives three excerpts of this main inscription of the king. Abridged excerpt: “I (Nebuchadnezzar) laid the foundation of the gates down to the ground water level and had them built out of pure blue stone. Upon the walls in the inner room of the gate are bulls and dragons and thus I magnificently adorned them with luxurious splendour for all mankind to behold in awe.” Image courtesy of Gryffindor, 2007. Image is in the public domain.
9 Color monotype in tempera, finished with pen, black ink and watercolor on paper by William Blake, 1795. Image courtesy of The Minneapolis Institute of Art. Image is in the public domain.
10 Klępsk, the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Madness and healing Nebuchadnezzar” (fresco on the balustrade galleries). Image courtesy of Archive Roweromaniaka Wielkopolska, No 175-28, 11 September 2004. This image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.