As in a typical imamzadeh, Muslim pilgrims crowd the glittery interior of the Tomb of Daniel (Aramgah-e Danyal), kissing the zarih grate around a green-draped grave slab. Here, however, this behaviour is particularly intriguing given that Daniel has at best tangential relevance to Islam. In fact, he’s a semi-mythical Jewish figure who supposedly served as a faithful satarap (administrator) to Darius I (522–486 BC). Dubiously recorded in the Bible as having ‘tender love with the prince of the eunuchs’ (Daniel 1, 9) he is best remembered for unenviable ordeals in lions’ dens. These exploits were already over 300 years old when recorded in the Old Testament (Daniel 6, 16-23).
Whatever the real provenance of the Daniel relics, they brought Shush an extremely lucrative flow of Jewish pilgrims from right across the Middle East. Great wealth accrued to the townsfolk living nearby, but those living across the river were missing out on the bonanza and wanted a share of the pilgrims’ shekels. A compromise was arranged whereby Daniel’s bones would spend alternate years on either riverbank, bringing prosperity to both communities. In the 12th century, travellers reported that an even more fanciful arrangement had left the holy remains dangling in a crystal coffin suspended from a metal bridge across the middle of the river.