Song of the Three Holy Children
Song Of The Three Holy Children is the title of one of the minor pieces found in the Apocrypha, and placed in the English Version immediately after the book of Baruch. SEE APOCRYPHA. The full caption of the translators is as follows: "The Song of the Three Holy Children, which followeth in the third chapter of Daniel after this place — fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace, ver. 23. That which followeth is not in the Hebrew, to wit, And they walked [the first words of the piece in question] — unto these words, Then Nebuchadnezzar, ver. 24." It contains sixty-eight verses.
I. Title and Position. — This piece is generally called The Song, or Hymn, of the Three Holy Children because ver. 28 says that "the three, as out of one mouth, praised, glorified, and blessed God," though it ought rather to be denominated The Prayer of Azarias, and the Song of the Three Holy Children; inasmuch as nearly half of it is occupied with the prayer of Azarias. Originally it was inserted in the 3d chapter of Daniel, between the 23d and 24th verses; but, being used liturgically in connection with similar fragments, it was afterwards transposed to the end of the Psalms in the Codex Alexandrinus as Hymn 9 and 10, under the titles of "The Prayer of Azarias," and "The Hymn of our Fathers." It occupies a similar position in many of the Greek and Latin psalters, and most probably was so placed already in the old Latin version.
II. Design. — This piece is evidently liturgical in its purpose, being suggested by the apparent abruptness of the narrative in Daniel (Da 3:23), as well as:by the supposition that these confessors, who so readily submitted to be thrown into a fiery furnace, in which they remained some time, would employ their leisure in prayer to the God whom they so fearlessly confessed. Accordingly, Azarias is represented as praying in the furnace (ver. 2-22), and, in answer to his prayer, we are told that the angel of the Lord appeared, who, notwithstanding the increased heat of the furnace, cooled the air like "a moist whistling wind" (ver. 26, 27); whereupon all the three martyrs burst into a song of praise (ver. 28-68), thus affording an example of prayer and thanksgiving to the afflicted and delivered Church, which she has duly appreciated by having used it as a part of her service ever since the 4th century, and by its being used in the Anglican Church to the present day.
III. Unity, Author, Date, and Original Language. There is hardly any connection between the prayer of Azarias and the song of the Three Holy Children. The former does not even allude to the condition of the martyrs, and is more like what we should expect from an assembly of exiled Jews on a solemn fast day than from confessors in a furnace. This want of harmony between the two parts, coupled with the fact that ver. 14, which tells that the Temple and its worship no longer exist, contradicts ver. 30, 31, 61, 62. where both are said to exist, and that the same author. would not have put the prayer into the mouth of Azarias alone, shows that the two parts proceed from different sources. Those who are acquainted with the multifarious stories wherewith Jewish tradition has embalmed the memory of scriptural characters well know that it is almost impossible to trace the authors or dates of these sacred legends. Neither can the language in which they were originally written be always ascertained. These legends grew with the nation; they accompanied the Jews into their wanderings, assumed the complexions and were repeated in the languages of the different localities in which the Jews colonized. An Apocryphal piece may, therefore, have a Palestinian or Babylonian origin, and yet have all the drapery of the Alexandrian school.
De Wette (Lehrbuchi) conceives that the prayer and the hymn betray marks of two different authors (Da 3:30; comp. with ver. 53, 55, 84, 85, Stephen's Division), and that the latter has the appearance of being written with a liturgical object. Certain it is that, from a very early period, it formed part of the Church service (see Rufinus, in Symbol. Apost., who observes that this hymn was then sung throughout the Whole Church; and Athanasius, De Virginitate). It is one of the canticles still sung on all festivals in the Roman, and retained in the daily service of the Anglican, Church. In its metrical arrangement it resembles some of the ancient Hebrew compositions. De Wette adduces (loc. cit.) several proofs from the style to show that it had a Chaldee original, and had undergone the labors of various hands. It is maintained by those who contend for the divine authority of this hymn that the context requires its insertion, as without it there would be an evident hiatus in the narrative (Da 3:23). "Then these men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace," after which we find immediately (ver. 24, Heb.), "then Nebuchadnezzar was astonished," etc. The cause of this astonishment is said to be supplied by the Greek translation — "And they walked in the midst of the fire praising God, and blessing the Lord (ver. 1, A.V. Apocr.) but the angel of the Lord came down into the oven," etc. (ver. 27). But this addition seems by no means necessary in order to account for Nebuchadnezzar's astonishment, as the cause of it is given in Daniel, ver. 92 (ver. 25 in the Heb. and A.V.). SEE DANIEL, APOCRYPHAL ADDITIONS TO.