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Tomb of Daniel, Susa, Iran

In the travel book Walpole's Memoirs of the East around the year 1800, William Ouseley described the Tomb of Daniel in Shush as being located in "a most beautiful spot, washed by a clear running stream and shaded by planes and other trees of ample foliage… it has at all times been customary with the people of [Iran] to resort hither on certain days of the months, when they offer up their prayers at [the tomb of Daniel], in supplication to the prophet's shade." (1)


For centuries, ​Daniel's Tomb​ in Shush, Iran has been sacred site for both Jewish and Muslim pilgrims. Along with the Tomb of Esther, the Tomb of Daniel​ ​has been one of the most popular memorial shrines in Iran. ​Long believed to be a source of ​supernatural ​power and blessings, Daniel’s Tomb attracts visitors who ​pray in the shrine and kiss the green catafalque of the prophet’s remains. Its huge complex and glittering interior rooms convey the importance of this Jewish prophet to both Jews and Muslims.

Description

17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. 21 And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

-From the Book of Daniel, Chapter 1, Verses 17-21

Daniel: Daniel was a Jewish prophet in the Bible who was taken into captivity to Babylon from Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon around 600 BCE after the destruction of the First Temple. During his exile in Babylon, Daniel rose in ranks of governmental positions of the Babylonian kingdom. According to the Book of Daniel, he was known to possess such wisdom in interpreting dreams and visions that he won the favor and trust of King Nebuchadnezzar. Despite pressure to conform to the polytheist religion of the royal court, Daniel remained true to his Jewish faith and was thrown into a lions’ den as punishment. The Book of Daniel also mentions that Daniel received prophecies concerning Israel and its destiny from God. (2)

History of the Tomb: Though the Bible mentions that Daniel lived in Babylon (present-day Iraq) at one point and may have lived in Shush, the exact burial site of Daniel is unknown, as the Bible does not specify where it is. Various traditions and legends have claimed his burial site over the years, but the tomb in Shush, Iran is the most widely accepted, serving as a popular pilgrimage site for both Jews and Muslims alike.

A 10th-century Arab chronicler named Ibn Hawqai gave an account for this location of Daniel’s Tomb, writing that it contains the bones of Daniel in a coffin. Pilgrims and visitors to the tomb “held it in great veneration and in times of distress, famine or droughts brought it out and prayed for rain. Abu Mousa Al Ashoari, a Muslim, ordered that the coffin be encased with three coverings and submerged it in the river so that it could not be viewed. The grave can be seen by anyone who dives to the bottom of the water." (3) A 12th century account by Benjamin of Tudela, a well-known Jewish travel writer who visited Asia from 1160 to 1163, holds that the mausoleum of the tomb does not hold the actual remains of Daniel, which were discovered in 640 CE. (4) According to Benjamin, the Jews who lived on the side of the river where the tomb was located grew rich from the booming tourism business surrounding the tomb, incurring the jealousy of their Nestorian Christian neighbors across the river who wanted a share of their wealth. After endless bickering, the two sides reached a compromise; one side would house Daniel’s grave and switch after each year, allowing the communities on both sides of the river to become wealthy. (5) This story was most likely orally passed down to Benjamin, and reveals the supernatural powers and blessings the Jews and non-Jews living in the area attributed to the tomb.

Similar to Ibn Hawqai’s account in which a Muslim leader, Abu Mousa Al Ashoari, buries the remains of the prophet in the river, Benjamin makes note of a Muslim figure who mediated between the two quarreling sides of the river. To settle the dispute over ownership rights and put an end to what he perceived to be an inappropriate handling of the famous prophet’s remains, a ​Muslim ​sultan ordered for a glass reliquary containing the wooden coffin to be fastened with chains to the bridge connecting the two sides of the river. It is interesting to note that Daniel’s remains, then, serve as a literal link between Jews and Christians, and that it was done so by a Muslim sultan. By placing Daniel’s coffin in the middle of the river so both communities can equally partake in the blessings and power of the relics, the Muslim sultan created an environment conducive for interfaith relations. (6) In this way, throughout oral traditions at least, Daniel’s tomb served as a symbol of bridging the gap between Jews and Gentiles.

The current structure of the tomb was renovated in 1870 CE under the order of the Shia scholar Sheikh Jafar Shooshtari. (7) In July 2014, a local Muslim official in Shush named Zuhair al-Chalabi notified Iraqi news that the tomb was destroyed by ISIS militants. (8)

Appearance: Daniel’s Tomb is known for its gold conical, faceted dome which is typical of Khuzestan tombs and pre-Islamic buildings. (9) The tomb is full of early Persian and Islamic influences in its architecture and design; for example, its walls and entrances that feature pointed archways and blue tilework are stylistically similar to those of Iranian mosques. (10) The interior of the shrine is bedazzled in gold and marble, lit up by natural lighting that streams through its windows. The large coffin, draped in green and framed in gold and silver, is highly decorated in a style normally reserved for ​notable Muslims. (11)

Shush​: Shush, formerly known as Susa, is an ancient city in southwestern Iran, in the lower Zagros Mountains east of the Tigris River. It is approximately 250 miles southwest of Tehran, close to the border of Iraq. Shush was one of the cities that served as capital of Persia in ancient times. It was also one of the major homelands of the Jews in exile during the Babylonian Captivity. (12) The Biblical books of Esther, Ezra, Daniel, and Nehemiah mention Shush.

Shush, Iran

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