Apocrypha: Bel and the Dragon

Another writing associated with the Biblical Daniel’s life, but deemed non-canonical by Jews as well as modern Protestants.  It does not exist in Hebrew and was most likely composed in Greek.  It is considered canonical by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.  It sometimes appears as Chapter 14 in the book of Daniel, though does not make sense there in terms of the overall flow of the book of Daniel.

The story itself involves Daniel’s interactions with the Persian King Cyrus over the matter of two revered idols – the first a statue named Bel and the second what was probably a very large snake.  The King inquires why Daniel does not worship Bel, and Daniel responds that Bel is simply a statue, not a god.  The King protests that Bel devours a great deal of food every single day – 12 bushels of wheat, 40 sheep and six measures of wine.  Daniel counters that it is the priests who attend to Bel along with their wives and children who are eating the provisions – the  statue does not eat them.

When interrogated the priests of Bel swear the statue is the only one consuming the provisions and offer for the King himself to set up the provisions and then lock and seal the temple with the priests outside of it.  Daniel agrees with this but secretly also has the king strew the temple floor with ash.  In the morning the food is gone as usual, despite the temple still being sealed.  However there are footprints everywhere from the priests and their children, proving they had a secret way into the temple and were themselves consuming the provisions.

The second event is very similar but apparently involves a large snake.  Daniel feeds this snake cakes made out of boiled fat, hair, and pitch.  These apparently clog the snake to the  point that it bursts open and dies.  This angers the people and the King, so Daniel is placed into a lion’s den with seven lions for six days.  At the end of that time, sustained in part by a visit from the prophet Habakkuk, Daniel is alive and vindicated.

This seems to best fit as a work of religious fiction.  It doesn’t necessarily contradict anything Scriptural but doesn’t  fit  well with the canonical accounts of Daniel.  Rather, it seems to exaggerate the existing account of Daniel in the lion’s den, something that certainly could be true but doesn’t seem to serve any great purpose.

 

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