Bel and the Dragon

Bel and the Dragon

The tale of Bel and the Dragon incorporated as chapter 14 of the extended Book of Daniel was written in Aramaic around the late second century BC and translated into Greek in the Septuagint. This chapter, along with chapter 13, is referred to as deuterocanonical, in that it is not universally accepted among Christians as belonging to the canonical works accepted as the Bible. The text is viewed as apocryphal by Protestants and typically not found in modern Protestant Bibles, though it was in the original 1611 edition of the King James Version. It's listed in "Article VI" of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England [ [ Article VI at] ] .


The chapter is formed of three independent narratives, ["The Jerome Biblical Commentary", vol. 1, p. 460, says of the second episode, "Although once an independent story, in its present form it is edited to follow the preceding tale;" Daniel J. Harrington writes of Daniel 14:23-42: "This addition is a combination of three episodes" (Harrington, "Invitation to the Apocrypha", p. 118); Robert Doran writes, however, "The links between all the episodes in both versions are so pervasive that the narrative must be seen to be a whole. Such stories, of course, could theoretically have existed independently, but there is no evidence that they did." ("Harper's Bible Commentary", p. 868).] which place the culture-hero Daniel at the court of Cyrus, king of the Persians: "When King Astyages was laid to rest with his ancestors, Cyrus the Persian succeeded to his kingdom." [In the Greek version that has survived, the verb form "parelaben" is a diagnostic Aramaism, reflecting Aramaic "qabbel" which here does not mean "receive" but "succeed to the Throne" (F. Zimmermann, "Bel and the Dragon" "Vetus Testamentum" 8.4 (October 1958), p 440.] There Daniel "was a companion of the king, and was the most honored of all his Friends" (14:1).

The narrative of Bel (14:1-22) is a folk tale ridiculing worship of idols. In it, the king asks Daniel, "Do you not think that Bel is a living god? Do you not see how much he eats and drinks every day?" to which Daniel answers that the idol is made of clay covered bronze and thus, cannot eat or drink.

Enraged, the king then demands that the 70 priests of Bel show him who consumes the offerings made to the idol. The priests then challenge the king to set the offerings as usual (which were "twelve great measures of fine flour, and forty sheep, and six vessels of wine") and then seal the entrance to the temple with his ring: if Bel does not consume the offerings, the priests are to be sentenced to death; otherwise, Daniel is to be killed.

Daniel then proves through a ruse (by scattering ashes on the whole perimeter on the temple in the presence of the king after the priests have left) that the sacred meal of Bel is actually consumed at night by the priests and their wives and children, who entered through a secret door when the temple's doors were sealed.

The next morning, Daniel calls attention to the footprints on the temple's floor; the priests of Bel were then arrested and, confessing their deed, showed the secret passage that they used to sneak inside the temple. They, and their wives and children are then put to death, and Daniel is permitted to destroy the idol of Bel and the temple. This version has been cited as an ancestor of the "locked room mystery".

In the brief but autonomous companion narrative of the dragon (14:23-30), "there was a great dragon, which the Babylonians revered." In this case the supposed god is no idol. However, Daniel slays the dragon by raking pitch, fat, and hair ("trichas") to make cakes ("mazas", barley-cakes, but translated "lumps") that cause the dragon to burst open upon consumption. In other variants, other ingredients serve the purpose: in a form known to the Midrash, straw was fed in which nails were hidden, [Zimmermann 1958:438f, note 1 compares A. Neubauer, "Book of Tobit" (Oxford) 1878:43.] , or skins of camels were filled with hot coals, [Zimmermann 1958:439, note 2 attests the Talmudic tractate "Nedarim", ed. Krotoschin, (1866) 37d.] or in the Alexander cycle of Romances it was Alexander the Great who overcame the dragon by feeding poison and tar. [Zimmermann 1958:439 note 3 attests Spiegel, "Iranische Altertümer" II.293 and Theodor Nöldeke, "Beiträge zur geschichte Alexanderromans" (Vienna) 1890:22.]

The parallel with the contest between Marduk and Tiamat, in which winds ("sâru") controlled by Marduk burst Tiamat open, has been noted by many informed readers; ["Jewish Encyclopedia", under "Bel and the dragon"; "Encyclopaedia Biblica" under "Daniel"; Zimmermann 1958.] barley-cake has been substituted for "wind" [Zimmermann 1958:440.]

As a result, the Babylonians are indignant. "The king has become a Jew; he has destroyed Bel, and killed the dragon, and slaughtered the priests," they say, and demand that Daniel be handed over to them.

The third narrative (14:31-42), Daniel in the Lions' Den, is apparently Daniel's first or second trip. It has been made into a consequence of the preceding episode, but the Septuagint precedes it with the notice, "From the prophecy of Habakkuk, son of Jesus, of the tribe of Levi." Daniel remains unharmed in the den with seven lions, fed by the miraculous transportation of the prophet Habakkuk. "On the seventh day the king came to mourn for Daniel. When he came to the den he looked in, and there sat Daniel! The king shouted with a loud voice, 'You are great, O Lord, the God of Daniel, and there is no other besides you!' Then he pulled Daniel out, and threw into the den those who had attempted his destruction, and they were instantly eaten before his eyes."

Some have suggested that the Daniel in Bel and the Dragon is different from that of Daniel 1-13 in the NAB

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