Saturday, June 10, 2023



I was following the news about Australian VC winner Ben Roberts-Smith having lost his defamation lawsuit in respect of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, and the thought came to mind at how many times our heroes are found to have had feet of clay . . . John Lennon, Mother Teresa, Roald Dahl, Rolf Harris.

This had me then wondering where that expression had originated. It turns out it was the Bible, which then led me to other expressions originating from that source. It has also begat (How’s that for a biblical expression?) this new occasional Bytes category.

It has also begatted (?) a further future new Bytes category – Dark Sides – about the clay footsies and negative sides of famous people.


Feet of Clay:


An expression for a weakness or character flaw, especially in people of prominence and power. It can also be used to refer to larger groups, such as societies, businesses, and empires. An entity with feet of clay may appear powerful and unstoppable, but they cannot support their splendour and will easily be knocked over.


The phrase originates from the Book of Daniel in the Bible. In it, Daniel interprets a dream of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In that dream, a magnificent statue is seen with a head of gold, but weaker and less valuable metals beneath, until finally having feet of clay mixed with iron. 

Daniel predicts that the glorious statue shall be smashed by a stone into pieces, like chaff on the threshing floor, and blown to the winds.

The image of the expensive statue laid low has resonated as an analogy for seemingly powerful figures with substantial weaknesses.

From Danield 2:31-45:
Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.

This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold.

After you, another kingdom will arise, inferior to yours. Next, a third kingdom, one of bronze, will rule over the whole earth. Finally, there will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron—for iron breaks and smashes everything—and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others. Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.

The Book of Daniel is generally agreed to be written around 165 BC. The generally accepted interpretation of the statue dream is that it predicts the history of the Middle East up until the time of writing, that is, the 'predictions' were written about events that had already taken place and were made to look like predictions for the future. 

The golden empire is the Babylonians (as is clear from the setting of Daniel); the second empire of silver is the Medes; the bronze empire is the Persian Empire; and the fourth iron empire is the Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great. These were clearly not believed to be as strong as the Greek empire of Alexander's day, which was pure iron. The prediction that it will be smashed by a stone "not cut from human hands", means that it will be smashed by the work of God.

More fundamental Christian groups have alternative explanations, including that the feet of clay is the present day and that the smashing by a stone will be the second coming of Jesus:

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