Daniel in the City of Susa

Daniel’s vision in Daniel 8 is set in a distant city, Susa. Susa was in Babylonian territory, but on the very eastern edge. It was about 225 miles from where Daniel most likely had the vision, Babylon. Although some believe Daniel may have actually been in Susa at the time of the vision, the text allows that he may have only been there in his vision. “And I looked in the vision, and it came about while I was looking, that I was in the citadel of Susa, which is in the province of Elam” (Dan 8:2, NAS).

Map of the distance between Babylon and Susa (about 225 miles).

Daniel further specifies that he was “beside the Ulai Canal.” Some older versions take this to be the Ulai River (KJV), but the word (uval, אוּבָל) is not the normal word for a river (nahar, נָהָר). What Daniel seems to be referring to is the (now dry) canal that separated the royal city at Susa from the lower city. That canal performed two functions. It provided water into the heart of the city, for both the royal residence (the “citadel”) and for the lower city; it also formed something of a barrier that protected the royal city on its eastern side.

Plan of the Ulai Canal in the city of Susa.

The canal likely silted up and filled in fairly quickly once it was no longer maintained. Today it is just a dry depression between the Royal city and the much larger lower city.

Photo of the Ulai Canal, taken by Todd Bolen in 2018.

Why did this vision take place in Susa, and not in the Babylonian capital? Perhaps because the first part of the vision relates to the Medo-Persian empire. It also has an intriguing connection to Esther, about 70 years later. Does it anticipate that book?

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