Destruction of Bel and the Dragon
Destruction of Bel and the Dragon, THE HISTORY OF THE, one of the apocryphal books of the Old Testament, found only in the Greek. SEE APOCRYPHA.
I. Title and Position. — This apocryphal piece, which is called by Theodotion, or in our editions of the Sept., Βὴλ καὶ Δράκων, Bel and the Dragon, and in the Vulg. The History of Bel and the Great Serpent, has in the Sept. the inscription ἐκ προφητείας Α᾿μβακοὺμ υἱοῦ Ι᾿ησοῦ ἐκ τῆς φυλῆς Λευϊv, A Part of the Prophecy of Habakkuk, the Son of Jesus, of the Tribe of Levi, and is placed at the end of Daniel as a supplemental chapter, forming in the Vulg. the 14th chapter of that prophet. In the English Authorized Version it is entitled in full as above, where it is placed between the History of Susanna and the Prayer of Manasses. SEE BEL AND THE DRAGON.
II. Contents. — The plan of the writer is both ingenious and attractive. Cyrus, who was a devout worshipper of Bel, urged Daniel to serve his idol, and referred to the marvelous fact that it devoured daily the enormous sacrifice of twelve great measures of fine flour, forty sheep, and six vessels of wine (ver. 1-6); but Daniel, knowing the deception connected therewith, smiled at it (ver. 7); thereupon the king summoned the priests of Bel, and demanded an explanation from them (ver. 8-10); they, to satisfy him that -
the idol does consume the sacrifice, told the monarch that he should place it before Bel himself (ver. 11-13). Daniel, however, had ashes strewed on the pavement of the temple, and convinced Cyrus, by the impress of the footsteps upon the ashes, that the sumptuous feast prepared for Bel was consumed in the night by the priests, their wives, and their children, who came into the temple through secret doors, and the king slew the crafty priests (ver. 11-22). As for the Dragon, who, unlike the dumb Bel, was, as Cyrus urged, a living being (ver. 23, 24), Daniel poisoned it, and then exclaimed, "These are the gods you worship!" (ver. 25, 27). The Babylonians, however, greatly enraged at the destroyer of their god, demanded of Cyrus to surrender Daniel, whom they cast into a den wherein were seven lions (ver. 28-32). But the angel of the Lord commanded the prophet Habakkuk, in Judaea, to go to Babylon to furnish Daniel with food, and when he pleaded ignorance of the locality, the angel carried him by the hair of his head through the air to the lions' den, where he fed and comforted Daniel (ver. 36-39). After seven days Cyrus went to the den to bewail Daniel, "and, behold, Daniel was sitting!" The king then commanded that he should be taken out, and all his persecutors be thrown in to be instantly devoured, and the great Cyrus openly acknowledged the greatness of the God of Israel (ver. 40-42). This story is read in the Roman Church on Ash-Wednesday, and in the Anglican Church on the 23d of November. SEE DANIEL, APOCRYPHAL ADDITIONS TO.
III. Character of the Book. — The object of the Jewish author of the history of the destruction of Bel and the Dragon was, according to Jahn, "to warn against the sin of idolatry some of his brethren who had embraced Egyptian superstitions. The book was therefore well adapted to the time, and shows that philosophy was not sufficient to keep men from apostatizing into the most absurd and degrading superstitions." The time of the writing Jahn ascribes to the age of the Ptolemies, when serpents were still worshipped at Thebes.
Among the difficulties attending this as a portion of the book of Daniel, Jahn enumerates the denominating Daniel a priest (Daniel 14:1), which he conceives to be a confounding of Daniel the prophet with Daniel the priest (Ezr 8:2; Ne 10:7); the order of the king to destroy the idol of Bel, and the assertion that serpents were worshipped at Babylon; but he conceives all these difficulties to be removed by regarding the whole as a parable, pointing out the vanity of idols, and the impostures of the priests. We are informed by Herodotus that the temple of Bel was destroyed by Xerxes. By Protestants, of course, these apologies for the canonicity of this and the other apocryphal additions to Daniel are regarded as wholly insufficient. SEE DEUTERO-CANONICAL.
IV. Source and original Language. — The basis of this story is evidently derived from Daniel 6 and Eze 8:3, ingeniously elaborated and embellished to effect the desired end. It is not in the nature of such sacred legends to submit to the trammels of fact, or to endeavor to avoid anachronisms. That Daniel, who was of the tribe of Judah, should here be represented as a priest of the tribe of Levi; that he should here be said to have destroyed the temple of Belus which was pulled down by Xerxes, and that the Babylonians should be described as worshippers of living animals, which they never were, are therefore quite in harmony with the character of these legends. Their object is effect, and not fact. The Greek of our editions of the Sept. is the language in which this national story has been worked out by the Alexandrine embellisher to exalt the God of Abraham before the idolatrous Greeks. Various fragments of it in Arameean and Hebrew are given in the Midrash (Bereshith Rabba, c. 68), Josippon ben- Gorion (p. 34-37, ed. Breithaupt), and in Delitzsch's work, De Habacuci vita et etate, which will show the Babylonian and Palestinian shape of these popular traditions, SEE BEL.