How to greet a king

By Mark Morgan | Daniel

Jun 02
Rude King by j4p4n (https://openclipart.org/detail/172120/rude-king). Licence: public domain.

In Australia, where I live, there are many common greetings, including “G’day”, a greeting made internationally famous by the film Crocodile Dundee.

However, we all know that our greetings vary.  Family and friends may receive one type of greeting while new acquaintances may warrant another.

We may greet employers, teachers, government officials, doctors, academics, religious leaders or army officers in various other ways.

If, however, we met the leader of our country, we might think very carefully about how address them. And if you live in the British Commonwealth, do you know how to greet a king?

Formality

The new King of England is also the king of Australia, and apparently many people ask how they should greet him or other members of the royal family.  As a result, the answer is given on the royal website, including instructions for bowing or curtsying.

Nowadays, at least in Western countries, there is little formality in most of our greetings. One exception to this is courtrooms, in which many people have to appear at some stage; there, rules covering greetings and the use of correct titles are quite strict.

The Bible includes quite a few records of people greeting kings, queens and other rulers.  And when I write Bible-based fiction, I want my characters to greet their rulers appropriately.

How to greet a king in Bible times

I’m currently working on a story about the life of Daniel and want his interactions with royalty to be right.  He spoke to kings of Babylon, Media and Persia over a long career in their courts, so how he should address them?

The Book of Daniel in the Bible gives us quite a few examples to work with – from Daniel and others.  We’ll look at their expressions as translated in the English Standard Version.

Greetings in the book of Daniel

“O king, live forever” is an initial greeting found only in the book of Daniel.  It comes from the lips of  the Chaldeans (astronomers, magicians or astrologers) in Nebuchadnezzar’s court,[1] the queen (or queen mother) in Belshazzar’s court[2] and from Daniel himself speaking to King Darius from inside the lions’ den.[3]

This form of greeting was probably carefully crafted to imply that the speaker was so pleased with the king’s reign that he would like it to continue forever.  It probably came first from some honey-tongued loyalist, but then caught on more widely.

Nevertheless, no king will want this expression repeated endlessly in a conversation, however genuine its sentiment may be.

At the same time, rulers do not want their subjects to be inappropriately familiar.  Traditionally, the English King is called ‘Sir’ during conversation, and in Daniel’s time, kings were often addressed with their title “O king”[4] or in the third person: “the king”,[5] or even “my lord, the king”.[6]

Using the king’s name?

The king’s name is only used when prefixed with a title or other indicator of respect: e.g. “King Nebuchadnezzar”,[7] “O Nebuchadnezzar”[8] or a combination of the two.[9]  There is one occasion where Daniel names king Belshazzar with no qualifier,[10] and perhaps that reflects how little respect Daniel had for the man.

If the options above don’t give you enough to work with, the brief but respectful “my lord” could also be used,[11] an expression Daniel also used when addressing angels.[12]

Overall, in Daniel’s time, “O king” seems to be the most popular expression, particularly at the start of a conversation.  After that, “you”[13] and suchlike were acceptable as long as titles or the third person were tossed in from time to time.

Sycophancy?

A typical example of addressing royalty is when Daniel’s enemies speak to king Darius:

“Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, ‘O King Darius, live forever!  All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.  Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.’ ”

Daniel 6:6-8

This seems to me a very artificial way of showing respect!  It might show genuine respect for the king, but it seems more likely to be an administrative requirement intended to feed the inflated ego of a king who is constantly afraid of revolutions.

See also

You may also be interested in another Bible Tales article: Anointing Bible kings

Notes

Notes
1 Daniel 2:4; 3:9
2 Daniel 5:10
3 Daniel 6:21
4 Daniel 2:29, 31, 37; 3:9, 10, 12, 17, 18, 24; 4:22, 24, 27; 5:10, 18; 6:7, 8, 12, 13, 15, 21, 22
5 Daniel 2:7, 10, 11, 25, 27, 30, 36, 45; 4:23; 5:17; 6:15
6 Daniel 4:24
7 Daniel 2:28
8 Daniel 3:16
9 Daniel 4:31; 6:6
10 [10] Daniel 5:22
11 [Daniel 4:19
12 Daniel 10:17, 19; 12:8
13 Daniel 3:12; 4:22, 25, 26, 27; 5:10, 11, 17, 22-28
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