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Bel and the Dragon

BEL AND THE DRAGON (Gr. δράκων, G1532, dragon, serpent). The third of the additions to Daniel which appear in the Gr. text, though they are not found in the Heb. The other two are the Song of the Three Children and Susanna. All of these were recognized as canonical by the Council of Trent, and were considered to be an integral part of the text of Daniel. Origen defended these additions as Scripture, and maintained that the Jews had deliberately removed them from their own texts.

Name. In the Gr. codices, Bel stands at the end of the canonical Book of Daniel and has no distinct title. In Codices A and B of Theod., however, it bears the title “Vision 12,” and is part of the twelfth and final vision of Daniel. In the Lat. Vul. it appears as ch. 14, but has no heading. In the LXX it follows Susanna, and is given the title “From the prophecy of Habakkuk the son of Jesus of the tribe of Levi.” There is no doubt but that this means the Biblical prophet Habakkuk. In the Pesh. the story of Bel is preceded by “Bel the idol,” and the Dragon by “Then follows the Dragon.” All Protestant VSS use the title Bel and the Dragon, but they separate this material from their canonical books.

Texts. (1) Greek. The Gr. text has been preserved in two basic edd. (a) The LXX text has survived in only one original MS, the Codex Chisianus (or Christianus; named after the Chigi family which owned it), a 9th cent. cursive MS. (b) The text of Theod. is found in several MSS, the most important of which are B, A, Q, Γ (vv. 2-4) and Δ (vv. 21-41).

(2) Syrian. There is an 8th cent. MS of the VS made by Paul of Tella in 617 from Origen’s Hexapla (col. 6). It agrees generally with the LXX.

Versions. (1) Greek. (a) The LXX. Only the Codex Chisianus, mentioned above, preserves this text. (b) Theod. This is prob. a revision of the LXX. It is a much better tr. than the LXX, but there are times when Heb. words are transliterated rather than tr. This seems to argue for a Heb. original consulted during the revision process. The Christian church discarded the Alexandrian LXX in favor of Theod., and because of the former’s lack of popularity, it disappeared almost completely. The reason behind the rejection of the LXX is not definite, but it is thought that Christians objected to mistranslations, and what they considered to be an erroneous understanding of the Heb. text by the LXX tr. in such passages as Daniel 9:24-27. Theodotion prepared his text in the period a.d. 100-130, and Bel and the Dragon were a part of the text. The first ed. of the Alexandrian VS, published before 100 b.c., seems also to have contained these stories.

(2) Syrian. There are two Syr. VSS: (a) the Syro-Hexapla taken from Origen, and (b) a Pesh. VS which sometimes follows Theod. against the LXX, sometimes agrees with the LXX against Theod., and at times diverges from both texts.

(3) Latin. (a) An Old Lat. VS which follows Theod. closely. (b) The Vul. which depends much on Jerome’s work (which was based on Theod., but on occasions is independent of any other text or VS) and follows Theod. closely.

(4) Aramaic. An Aram. VS of the Chronicles of Yerahmeel published by M. Gaster, which he claimed to be the original text.

Original language. It was the general consensus until about the turn of the cent. that Bel and the Dragon was written originally in Gr. Scholars argued that no Sem. original of any real authority had been discovered, and Origen, Eusebius and Jerome assert that no Heb. form of this material was known in their time. In spite of these arguments, scholars are more and more expressing the opinion that the original was composed either in Heb. or Aram. Some argue that Theod. made use of a Sem. original when he revised the LXX. The large number of Semitisms in the work would also lend weight to this view, and the type of Semitism—the use of kai and kai egeneto with the force of the waw-consecutive—would point to a Heb. original. This view is proposed and supported by Davies in a convincing manner.

J. T. Marshall calls attention to the possible confusion of זַעֲפָה (storm wind) and זַעַף (pitch), which could occur only with Aram. He cites several other similar illustrations. Davies points out that the concoction of Daniel also included fat and hair as well as pitch. He suggests that Marshall has been led astray by his desire to assimilate the dragon story to the Babylonian creation-myth of Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat.

M. Gaster made what he considered to be an important discovery of the dragon story in an Aram. work called the Chronicles of Yerahmeel. This work dates to the 10th cent. Gaster believed that it was a part of the original Bel and the Dragon. Davies, however, rejects this view on the basis of insufficient support, and argues in opposition that if there had been an Aram. original, then we should have learned about this from early Jewish and Christian writers. At present, the argument seems to be in favor of Heb. as the original language of the document.

Author, place and date. Nothing definite is known about the author, place or date of composition of Bel and the Dragon. If the original was in Heb. or Aram., then Pal. would be the probable place of origin. If the LXX is original, then the author could have lived anywhere in the E Mediterranean, and the date of composition would be that of the original Gr. tr. of the Heb. text. It is almost certain, in any case, that the work was composed sometime in the 2nd cent. b.c.

Purpose. A casual reading of Bel and the Dragon should convince anyone that the author is casting ridicule on idols and the worship of any heathen god. A second purpose may be to point up Daniel’s genius in detective work and chemistry. The chief value of these accounts seems to be to amuse and entertain the reader.

Content. Bel.The LXX asserts that this material is from the prophecy of Habakkuk, and Daniel is made a priest and companion of the king of Babylon. The text of Theod. begins with the death of Astyages and the reign of Cyrus the Pers. Daniel is said to be living with the king.

There was an idol in Babylon called Bel. A great quantity of food was given each day to this idol, consisting of flour, sheep (LXX, four; Theod., forty), and liquid (LXX, oil; Theod., wine). The king worshiped this idol, and asked Daniel why he did not do likewise. Daniel replied that he worshiped only the Creator God. The king reminded Daniel of the food consumed by Bel. But Daniel countered with the claim that an idol of clay and bronze cannot eat anything. This angered the king, and he called the priests to demand of them, on penalty of death, who ate all the food. They claimed Bel ate it. Daniel offered to prove to the king that Bel did not eat the food. All went to the temple. The food was set before the idol. (Theodotius informs us that the priests, seventy in number, had a secret entrance under the table.) When all had gone out, Daniel had his servants sprinkle ashes over the floor. Then the doors were shut and sealed.

In the morning the doors were inspected, then opened. The food was gone. The king rejoiced, but Daniel pointed to the footprints in the ashes. The priests confessed, and they were delivered to Daniel. Bel was destroyed, and according to Theod., the temple also was destroyed.

The Dragon.—A great dragon was worshiped in Babylon. The king asked Daniel about the dragon, whether he considered it also of bronze, since this beast both ate and drank. Daniel asked permission to kill the dragon without the use of sword or staff. Permission received, Daniel made a concoction of pitch, fat and hair, boiled them together and made cakes. These he fed to the dragon who then burst asunder. The people threatened the king and had Daniel thrown into a den of seven lions. Usually two carcasses (LXX specifies bodies of persons condemned to death) and two sheep (Theod.), were provided for the lions each day. On the sixth day, Habakkuk was brought from Pal. by an angel with food for Daniel. When Daniel had eaten, Habakkuk was returned to his home. The king released Daniel and threw the opposition into the den where they were immediately devoured.


J. T. Marshall, “Bel and the Dragon,” HDB, I (1899), 267, 268; T. Witton Davies, “Bel and the Dragon” in R. H. Charles (ed.), Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, I (1913), 652-664; and “Bel and the Dragon,” ISBE, I (1929), 427-431; R. H. Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times (1949), 436-444, 455, 456; B. M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (1957), 115-122.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

See Book of Daniel, sec. X.

bel, bal, drag’-un (Greek words: drakon, "dragon," "serpent"; ektos, "except"; horasis "vision," "prophecy"; ophis, "serpent"; sphragisamenos, "having sealed"; choris, "except," Hebrew or Aramaic words: chatham, "to seal"; zepha’, "pitch"; za`apha’, "storm," "wind"; nachash, "snake"; tannin, "serpent," "sea monster"):




1. The Bel Story: the God of Bel

2. The Dragon Story; Meaning of "Dragon"; Serpent-Worship in Babylon


1. Manuscripts

(1) Greek

(2) Syriac

2. Recensions or Versions

(1) Greek

(2) Syriac

(3) Latin

(4) Aramaic


VI. TEACHING Little in this work that is distinctly Jewish. God is great, absolute and ever-living; angels intervene for special ends; the absurdity of idol-worship


Probably not in Babylon; perhaps the Hebrew text originated in Palestine about 146 BC or later. The Septuagint version produced in Egypt about 100 BC, which may be the date and language of the Book. Theta (Theodotion’s version) was produced probably at Ephesus about 180 AD


Accepted as canonical by the Jews of Egypt but rejected by the Jews of Palestine Accepted as part of the Bible by Greek and Latin church Fathers, by the Council of Trent and therefore by the Roman church; denied by Protestants to be canonical


I. Introductory.

Bel and the Dragon is the third of the three Apocryphal additions to Daniel, The SONG OF THE THREE CHILDREN and SUSANNA (which see) being the other two. In the Greek and Latin versions (see below, "IV. Textual Authorities") these "additions" form an integral part of the canonical Book of Daniel, and they are recognized as such and therefore as themselves canonical by the Council of Trent. But the So of the Three Children is the only piece having a necessary connection with the Hebrew canonical Book of Daniel; in the Greek and Latin texts it follows Da 3:24. The other two are appended and appear to have an origin independent of the book to which they are appended and also of each other, though in all three as also in the Hebrew Book of Daniel the name and fame of Daniel stand out prominently.

II. Name of Bel and the Dragon.

Since in the Greek and Latin recensions or versions Bel and the Dragon forms a portion of the Book of Da it does not bear a special name. But in the only two known manuscripts of the Septuagint in Syro-Hexaplar (see below, "IV. Textual Authorities") these words stand at the head of the "addition" now under consideration: "From (or "a part of") the prophecy of Habakkuk son of Joshua of the tribe of Levi." That the Biblical writing prophet of that name is meant is beyond question. In Theta (Theodotian) this fact is distinctly stated (see Bel and the Dragon verse 33); and it is equally beyond question that these tales could never have come from the prophet so called (see below "VIII. Canonicity and Authenticity").

In codices Alexandrinus and Vaticanus of Theodotian (Theta) the title is: Horasis 12, i.e. Da 12, canonical Daniel being comprised in 11 chapters. In the Vulgate, Bel and the Dragon forms chapter 14, but, as in the case of the earlier chapters, it has no heading.

In the Syriac Peshitta (W) the story of Bel and the Dragon is preceded by "Bel the idol," and that of the Dragon by "Then follows the Dragon." Bel and the Dragon is the title in all Protestant versions of the Apocrypha, which rigidly keep the latter separate from the books of the Hebrew canon.

III. Contents.

The stories of Bel and of the Dragon have a separate origin and existed apart: they are brought together because they both agree in holding up idolatry to ridicule and in encouraging Jewish believers to be true to their religion. The glorification of Daniel is also another point in which both agree, though while the Daniel of the Bel and the Dragon story appears as a shrewd Judge corresponding to the etymology of that name, he of the Dragon story is but a fearless puritan who will die rather than be faithless to his religion.

It is evident, however that the editor of the "additions" has fused both stories into one, making the Dragon story depend on that which precedes (See Bel and of the Dragon verses 23 f). It seems very likely that, in a Nestorian list mentioned by Churton (Uncanonical and Apocryphal Scriptures, 391), Bel and the Dragon is comprised under the title, The Little Daniel.

The two stories as told in common by Septuagint and Theodotion may be thus summarized:

1. The Story of Bel: the God of Bel:

There is in Babylon an image of Bel which Daniel refuses to worship, though no form of worship is mentioned except that of supplying the god with food. The king (Cyrus according to Theodotion) remonstrates with the delinquent Hebrew, pointing Out to him the immense amount of food consumed daily by Bel, who thus proves himself to be a living god. Daniel, doubting the king’s statement as to the food, asks to be allowed to test the alleged fact. His request being granted, he is shown by expressed desire th e lectisternia, the sacred tables being covered by food which the god is to consume during the night. The doors are all sealed by arrangement, and after the priests have departed Daniel has the temple floor strewn with light ashes. When the morning breaks it is found that the doors are still sealed, but the food has disappeared. Upon examination the tracks of bare feet are found on the ash-strewn floor, showing that the priests have entered the temple by a secret way and removed the food. Angered by the trick played on him the king has the priests put to death and the image destroyed.

The word Bel, a short form of Baal, occurs in the Old Testament in Isa 46:1; Jer 50:2; 51:44, where it stands for Merodach or Marduk, chief of the Babylonian deities. Originally however it denotes any one of the Babylonian local deities, and especially the principal deity worshipped at Nippur (for similar use of the Hebrew "Baal" see the article on this word). In Theodotion Cyrus appears as an abettor of Bel-worship, which is quite in accordance with the practice of the early Persian kings to show favor to the worship of the countries they conquered. See Century Bible, "Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther," 40.

2. The Dragon Story; Meaning of "Dragon"; Serpent-Worship in Babylon:

There is in Babylon a great live dragon worshipped by a large number of the inhabitants, who lavishly feed it. In the present case the god is or is represented by a living creature which can be fed, and, indeed, needs feeding. Daniel refuses to bow down before the dragon and makes an offer to the king to kill it. Believing the god well able to care for himself, the king accepts Daniel’s challenge. Daniel makes a mixture of which pitch forms the principal ingredient and thrusts it down the dragon’s throat, so that "it bursts asunder and dies." The people are infuriated at the death of their god and demand that the king shall have the god-murderer put to death, a demand to which the royal master yields by having Daniel cast into a den of lions, as was done to other culprits found guilty of capital charges. But though the prophet remained in the company of 7 lions for 6 days he suffered no injury. On the last day when Daniel, without food, was naturally hungry, a miracle was performed by way of supplying him with food. Habakkuk (see above, "II. Name"), when cooking food for his reapers, heard an angel’s voice commanding him to carry the food he had prepared to Daniel in the lions’ den in Babylon. Upon his replying that he did not know where the den, or even Babylon, was, the angel laid hold of his hair and by it carried the prophet to the very part of the den where Daniel was. Having handed the latter the meal intended for the reapers, he was safely brought back by the angel to his own home. It would seem that Habakkuk was protected from the lions as well as Daniel. Seeing all this the king worshipped God, set Daniel free, and in his stead east his accusers into the lions’ den, where they were instantly devoured,

Zockler in his commentary (p. 215) speaks of the "fluidity" of the Dragon myth, and he has been followed by Marshall and Daubney. But what in reality does the Greek word drakon, rendered "dragon," mean? In the Septuagint the word is used generally (15 times) to translate the Hebrew tannin which denotes a serpent or sea monster. It is this word (tannin) which in the Aramaic version of the Dragon story translates the Greek drakon. Now in Ex 4:3 and Ex 7:9 the Hebrew tannin and nachash ("serpent") seem identified as are the Greek drakon and ophis in Re 12:9. We may therefore take drakon in the present story to stand for a serpent. We know that in Babylon the god Nina was worshipped in the form of a serpent (see Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, 281 f), and it is more probable that it is the worship of this god or of some other serpent deity that is here meant, than that there is any allusion to the Babylonian story according to which Marduk the supreme deity of Babylon engaged in a conflict with Tiamat the monster--foe to light and order.

(1) The dragon of the present story is a god and not as Tiamat, a kind of devil, and a male, not a female.

(2) The dragon in the present story is a serpent, which is not true of Tiamat.

(3) Apsu (male) and Tiamat (female) are Babylonian deities who give birth to the gods of heaven; these gods subsequently led by their mother Tiamat engaged in a fierce contest with Marduk.

Since Gunkel published his book, Schopfung und Chaos (1895), it has been the fashion to see reflections of the Marduk-Tiamat conflict throughout the Old Testament. But recent investigations tend to show that Babylonian mythology has not dominated Hebrew thought to the extent that was formerly thought, and with this statement Gunkel himself now agrees, as the last edition of his commentary on Genesis proves.

IV. Textual Authorities.

1. Manuscripts:

(1) Greek.

There exist in Greek two forms of the text (see below).

(a) The Septuagint text has been preserved in but one original MS, the codex Christianus (from the Chigi family who owned it, published in Rome in 1772). This belongs to about the 9th century. This text has been printed also in Cozza’s Sacrorum Bibliorum vestustissima fragmenta Graeca et Latina, part iii, Romae, 1877, and in Swete’s edition of the Septuagint side by side with Theodotion. In Tischendorf’s Septuagint it occurs at the close of the ordinary text of the Septuagint.

(b) Of Theta (the text of Theodotion) we have the following important manuscripts: Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus, Q (codex Marchalianus), Gamma (verses 1,2-4 only) and Delta (from verse 21 to verse 41).

(2) Syriac.

There exists in the Ambrosian Library at Milan, a manuscript of the 8th century of the Syro-Hexaplar version made by Paul of Tella in 617 AD at Alexandria from col vi (Septuagint) of Origen’s Hexapla. This most valuable manuscript has been edited and published by Ceriani.

2. Recensions or Versions:

(1) Greek.

(a) The Septuagint:

Of this we have but one manuscript (see above under "Manuscripts") and until its publication at Rome in 1772 what is now known as Theta was believed to be the real Septuagint version, notwithstanding hints to the contrary by early Christian writers.

(b) Theta, or the Version of Theodotion:

This version appears to be a revision of the Septuagint, with the help, perhaps, as in the case of the canonical Daniel, of a Hebrew (or Aramaic) original, now lost. It is much less pedantic than Aquila’s Greek translation which preceded it, and its Greek is better. It is also a better translation than the Septuagint; yet it has many transliterations of Hebrew words instead of translations. This version of Daniel displaced that of the Septuagint at a very early time, for though Origen gave place to the Septuagint in his Hexapla, in his writings he almost always cites from Theta. In his preface to Daniel Jerome points to the fact that in his own time the church had rejected the Septuagint in favor of Theodotion, mentioning the defectiveness of the former as the ground. Even Irenaeus (died 202) and Porphyry (died 305) preferred Theodotion to the Septuagint. Field was the first to point out that it is the work of Theodotion (not the Septuagint) that we have in 1 Esdras, etc.

(2) Syriac.

In addition to the Syro-Hexaplar version (see above, under "Manuscript") the Peshitta version must be noted. It follows Theodotion closely, and is printed in Walton’s Polyglot (in one recension only of Bel and the Dragon) and in a revised text edited by Lagarde in 1861; not as R. H. Charles (Enc Brit, VII, 807) erroneously says in The Book of Tobit by Neubauer.

(3) Latin.

(a) The old Latin version, which rests on Theodotion, fragments of which occur in Sabatier’s work, Bibliorum sacrorum Latinae versiones antiquae (1743, etc., II).

(b) The Vulgate, which follows Jerome’s translation, is also based on Theodotion, and follows it closely.

(4) Aramaic.

For the Aramaic version published by M. Caster and claimed to be the text of the book as first written, see below, "V. Original Language." V. The Original Language: Principal Opinions.

It has been until recent years most generally maintained that Bel and the Dragon was composed and first edited in the Greek language. So Eichhorn, de Wette, Schrader, Fritzsche, Schurer and Konig. In favor of this the following reasons have been given:

(1) No Semitic original with reasonable claims has been discovered. Origen, Eusebius and Jerome distinctly say that no Hebrew (or Aramaic) form of this tract existed or was known in their time.

(2) The Hebraisms with which this work undoubtedly abounds are no more numerous or more crucial than can be found in works by Jewish authors which are known to have been composed in the Greek language, such as the continual recurrence of kai (= "and"), kai eipe ("and he said"), etc.

On the other hand, the opinion has been growing among recent scholars that this work was written first of all either in Hebrew or Aramaic Some of the grounds are the following:

(1) It is known that Theodotion in making his translation of other parts of the Old Testament (Daniel) endeavored to correct the Septuagint with the aid of the Massoretic Text. A comparison of the Septuagint and of Theodotion of Bel and the Dragon reveal differences of a similar character. How can we account for them unless we assume that Theodotion had before him a Semitic original? A very weak argument, however, for the translator might have corrected on a priori principles, using his own Judgment; or there might well have been in his time different recensions of the Septuagint. Westcott (DB, I, 397a; 2nd edition, 714a) holds that some of Theodotion’s changes are due to a desire to give consistency to the facts.

(2) Much has been made of the Semiticisms in the work, and it must be admitted that they are numerous and striking. But are these Hebraisms or Aramaisms? The commonest and most undoubted Semiticism is the repeated use of kai and kai egeneto with the force of the waw-consecutive and only to be explained and understood in the light of that construction. But the waw- consecutive exists only in classical Hebrew; Aramaic and post-Biblical. Hebrew, including late parts of the Old Testament (parts of Ecclesiastes, etc.), know nothing of it. It must be assumed then that if the Semiticisms of this work imply a Semitic original, that original was Hebrew, not Aramaic

The following Hebraisms found in the Septuagint and in Theodotion may briefly be noted:

(1) The use of the Greek kai with all the varied meanings of the waw-consecutive. (see below, under "VI. Teaching"). The beginning of a sentence with kai en ("and there was") Bel and the Dragon (verses 1,3 in the Septuagint; 2 f, etc., in Theodotion) agrees with the Hebrew waw-consecutive construction, but makes poor Greek. In verse 15 kai egeneto can be understood only in the light of the Hebrew for which it stands.

(2) The syntactical feature called parataxy (coordination) presents itself throughout the Greek of this piece, and it has been reproduced in the English translations (the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American)) as any English reader can see. In the classical languages it is hypotaxy that prevails. If, as seems likely, those responsible for Septuagint and Theodotion followed a Hebrew original, they failed to make sufficient allowance for the peculiar force of the waw-consecutive idiom, for this does not involve hypotaxy to an y considerable extent.

(3) The constant occurrence of Kurios ("Lord") without the article implies the Hebrew Yahweh; and the phrase the "Lord God" is also Hebrew.

(4) There are difficulties and differences best explained by assuming a Hebrew origin. The Greek word sphragisamenos has no sense in verse 14 (Septuagint) for, retaining it, we should read of a sealing of the temple (of Bel) and also of a sealing with signet rings of the doors. The Hebrew word "shut" (catham) is written much like that for "seal" (chatham), and was probably, as Marshal suggests, mistaken for the latter. The temple was "shut" and the doors "sealed." In verse 10 the Septuagint (choris) and Theodotion (ektos) have 2 words of similar sense, which are best explained as independent renderings of one Hebrew word.

Marshall, identifying this dragon story with the Babylonian creation-myth of Marduk and Tiamat, thinks that instead of "pitch" used in making the obolus with which Daniel destroyed the dragon, the original Aramaic document has "storm wind," the two words being in Aramaic written much alike (za`apha’ = "storm wind," and zepha’ = pitch). But the fact is quite overlooked that the obolus contained not only pitch, but also "fat" and "hair" (see Bel and the Dragon, verse 27). Besides, in the Aramaic version, published by Gaster, to which Marshall attaches great importance as at least a real source, we have four ingredients, namely, pitch (zepetha’), fat, flax (kittan) and hair. Dr. Marshall’s suggestion involves therefore not only the confusion of two words spelled differently in Aramaic, but the substitution of 3 or 4 terms for one in the original draft. Moreover, in Bel and the Dragon the several ingredients are made up into a cake with which the dragon was gorged. Dr. Marshall’s view assumes also an Aramaic original which is a gainst the evidence. But the suggestion would not have been made but for a desire to assimilate the dragon story to the Babylonian creation-myth, though in motive and details both differ so essentially.

In favor of a Semitic original many writers have cited the fact that forms of the story have been found in Hebrew and Aramaic in the 13th century. Raymund Martini in his Pugio Fidei (written against the Jews) quotes Bel and the Dragon from a Hebrew Midrash on Genesis which Neubauer discovered and which is almost verbatim identical with the unique manuscript containing Midrash Rabba de Rabba (see Neubauer, Tobit, viii, and Franz Delitzsch, de Habacuci, 82). Still other Hebrew forms of these stories have been found. All the "additions" to Daniel "occur in Hebrew in the remains of Yosippon," the "Hebrew Josephus," as he has been called. He wrote in the 10th century.

But most important of all is the discovery by Dr. M. Gaster of the dragon story in Aramaic, imbedded in the Chronicles of Yerahmeel, a work of the 10th century. Dr. Gaster maintains that in this Aramaic fragment we have a portion of the original Bel and the Dragon (see PSBA, 1894, 280 ff (Introduction), 312 (Text) and 1895 (for notes and translation)). The present writer does not think Dr. Gaster has made out his case.

(1) If such an Aramaic original did really exist at any time we should have learned something definite about it from early writers, Jewish and Christian.

(2) Dr. Gaster has discovered an Aramaic form of only two of the three "additions," those of the So of the Three Children and of the dragon story. What of the rest of the Aramaic document?

(3) It has already been pointed out that the waw-consecutive constructions implied in the Greek texts go back to a Hebrew, not an Aramaic original.

(4) The Aramaic text of the Dragon story not seldom differs both from the Septuagint and Theodotion as in the following and many other cases: The two Greek versions have in Bel and the Dragon, verse 24 "The king (said)," which the Aramaic omits: in verse 35 the Aramaic after "And Habakkuk said" adds "to the angel," which the Septuagint and Theodotion are without.

(5) The compiler of the Yerahmeel Chronicle says distinctly that he had taken the So of the Three Children and the dragon story from the writings of Theodotion (see PSBA, 1895, 283), he having, it is quite evident, himself put them into Aramaic. Dr. Gaster lays stress on the words of the compiler, that what he gives in Aramaic is that which "Theodotion found" (loc. cit.). But the reference can be only to the Septuagint which this translator made the basis of his own version; it is far too much to assume that the Chronicler means an Aramaic form of the stories.

VI. Teaching.

The two stories teach the doctrine of the oneness and absoluteness of Yahwe, called throughout Kurios ("Lord"), a literal rendering of the Hebrew word ’adhonai ("Lord") which the Jews substituted for Yahwe in reading the Hebrew as do now-a-day Jews. In the Greek and Latin versions it is the word read (the Qere perpetuum, not that written Kethibh), which is translated. It would have been more consonant with universal practice if the proper name Yahweh had been transliterated as proper names usually are.

But very little is said of the character of Yahweh. He is great and the only (true) God in Bel and the Dragon (verse 41), the living God in contrast with Bel (verse 57). Of the nature of His demands on His worshippers, ritualistic and ethical, nothing is said. There is no reference to any distinctly Jewish beliefs or practices; nothing about the torah or about any Divine revelation to men, about sacrifice or the temple or even a priesthood, except that in the Septuagint (not in Theodotion) Daniel the prophet is spoken of as a priest--strong evidence of the low place assigned by the writer to the external side of the religion he professed. We do however find mention of an angel, a sort of deus ex machina in the Dragon story (verses 34 ff); compare Da 6:22.

The incident of the transportation of Habakkuk to Babylon shows that the writer had strong faith in supernatural intervention on behalf of the pious. Apart from this incident the two stories steer fairly clear of anything that is supernatural. But Bel and the Dragon verses 33-39 are a late interpolation.

VII. Author, Place and Date of Composition.

Nothing whatever is known of the author of the book and nothing definite or certain of the place or date of composition. It has been commonly felt, as by Bissell, etc., that it reflects a Babylonian origin. Clay (see Bel and the Dragon, verse 7) abounded in Babylon (but surely not only in Babylon); bronze (Bel and the Dragon, verse 7) was often used in that country for the manufacturing of images, and the lion, it is known, was native to the country (but that was the case also in Palestine in Biblical, and even post-Biblical times). None of the arguments for a Babylonian origin have much weight, and there are contrary arguments of considerable force.

The anachronisms and inconsistencies are more easily explained on the assumption of a non-Babylonian origin. Besides, the Judaism of Babylon was of a very strict and regulation kind, great attention being given to the law and to matters of ritual. There is nothing in Bel and the Dragon regarding these points (see above under "Teaching").

If we assume a Hebrew original, as there are good grounds for doing, it is quite possible that these legends were written in Palestine at a time when the Jewish religion was severely persecuted: perhaps when Antiochus VII (Sidetes, 139-128 BC) reconquered Judah for Syria and sorely oppressed the subject people. Yet nothing very dogmatic can be said as to this. We cannot infer much from the style of the Hebrew (or Aramaic?), since no Semitic original has come down to us. It is quite clear that these "additions" imply the existence of the canonical Book of Da and belong to a subsequent date, for they contain later developments of traditions respecting Daniel. The canonical Book of Daniel is dated by modern scholars about 160 BC, so that a date about 136 BC (see above) could not be far amiss.

If, on the other hand, we take for granted that the Septuagint is the original text of the book, the date of that recension is the date of the work itself. It seems probable that this recension of Daniel was made in Egypt about 150 BC (see 1 Macc 1:54; 2:59), and we have evidence that up to that date the "three additions" formed no part of the book, though they exist in all Greek and Syriac manuscripts of Daniel, which have come down to us. Probably the "additions" existed as separate compositions for some time before they were joined to Daniel proper, but it is hardly too much to assume that they were united no later than 100 BC. Yet the data for reaching a conclusion are very slight. It may be added that the Greek of the Septuagint is distinctly Alexandrian in its character, as Westcott, Bissell and others have pointed out. Theodotion’s version is supposed to have been made at Ephesus toward the end of the 2nd century AD.

VIII. Canonicity and Authenticity.

The Alexandrian Jews, recognizing the Septuagint as their Bible, accepted the whole of the Apocrypha as canonical. The Palestine Jews, on the other hand, limited their canonical Scriptures to the Hebrew Old Testament. There is, of course, some uncertainty (largely no doubt because it was originally a translation from the Hebrew) as to whether the Septuagint at the first included the Apocrypha in its whole extent or not, but all the evidence points to the fact that it did, though individual books like Da existed apart before they formed a portion of the Greek or Egyptian canon.

In the early Christian church all the three "additions" are quoted as integral parts of Da by Greek and by Latin Fathers, as e.g. by Irenaeus (IV, 5, 2 f); Tertullian (De idololatria c.18); Cyprian (Ad fortunatum, c.11).

By a decree of the Council of Trent these "additions" were for the Roman church made as much a part of the Bible canon as the Hebrew Book of Daniel. Protestant churches have as a rule excluded the whole of the Apocrypha from their Bibles, regarding its books as either "Deutero-canonical" or "non-canonical." In consequence of this attitude among Protestants the Apocrypha has until lately been greatly neglected by Protestant writers. But a great change is setting in, and some of the best commentaries by Protestant scholars produced in recent years deal with the Apocrypha and its teaching.

Julius Africanus (flourished about first half of 3rd century AD) was the first to impugn the truth of the stories embodied in the "additions" to Daniel. This he did in a letter to Origen to which the recipient vigorously replied.

The improbabilities and contradictions of these three pieces have often been pointed out from the time of Julius Africanus down to the present day. The following points may be set down as specimens:

(1) Daniel is called a priest in the Septuagint (Bel and the Dragon, verse 1), and yet he is identified with the prophet of that name.

(2) Habakkuk the prophet (he is so called in Theodotion (see Bel and the Dragon, verse 33), and no other can be intended) is made to be a contemporary of Daniel and also of the Persian king Cyrus (see Bel and the Dragon, verses 1 and 33 in the English Bible). Now Cyrus conquered Babylon in 538 BC, the principal Jews in Babylon returning to Palestine the following year. The events narrated in Bel and the Dragon could not have occurred during the time Cyrus was king of Babylon, but the Septuagint speaks of "the king" without naming him.

(3) It was not Cyrus but Xerxes who destroyed the image of Bel, this being in 475 BC (see Herodotus i.183; Strabo xvi.1; Arrian, Exped. Alex., vii.1).

(4) It is further objected that dragon-worship in Babylon, such as is implied in the dragon story, is contrary to fact. Star-worship, it has been said, did exist, but not animal-worship. So Eichhorn and Fritzsche. But there is every reason for believing that the worship of living animals as representing deity, and especially of the living serpent, existed in Babylon as among other nations of antiquity, including the Greeks and Romans (see Herzog, 1st edition, article "Drache zu Babylon," by J. G. Muller). It has already been pointed out (see list of meanings) that the word "dragon" denotes a serpent.


Eichhorn, Einleitung in die apoc. Schriften des Alten Testaments (1795), 431 ff (remarkable for its time: compares the Septuagint and Theodotion); W. H. Daubney, The Three Additions to Daniel (Cambridge, 1906; contains much matter though rather uncritically treated); the commentaries of Fritzsche (Vol I: still very rich in material; it forms part of the Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch); Bissell (in Lange’s series, but not a translation); Ball Speaker’s Commentary (this is the best English commentary on the Apocrypha). See also Schurer, Geschichte3, III, 333, and his article in RE3, I, 639; and the articles by Kamphausen in EB, I, 1014; Toy, in Jewish Encyclopedia, II, 650; R. H. Charles, Encyclopedia Brittanica, VII, 807, and especially that by J. Turner Marshall in HDB, I, 267. Fritzsche Libri Veteris Testamenti Graece (1871), and Swete, The Old Testament in Greek, III, 1894, and later editions, give the Septuagint and Theodotion on parallel pages. In the edition of the Septuagint edited by Tischendorf, the Septuagint is given in the text and Theodotion in an appendix.

T. Witton Davies

See also

  • Apocrypha
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