AZARIAH, PRAYER OF ăz’ ə rī’ ə (προσευχὴ ̓Αζαρίου). A Gr. addition to the Book of Daniel, which, together with its companion piece the Song of the Three Children, was inserted between 3:23 and 3:24 in the Gr. VS of Daniel. In the Vul. the Prayer thus occurs in 3:24ff; in the Apocrypha, being conjoined with the Song of the Three Children, it forms a separate entity. Among the various additions to Daniel, only this material inserted in ch. 3 is truly supplemental, in the sense of being related to the actual story of the book.
The Prayer of Azariah (who is also known by his Babylonian name, Abednego) is put on the lips of Azariah (vv. 1-22; LXX, Dan 3:24-45) as he and the other Hebrews stood in the center of the fire into which they had been thrown by King Nebuchadnezzar. It begins with a doxology, followed by a declaration that God is just, and that the judgment He had brought upon Jerusalem was deserved by reason of the sin of the people (vv. 3-10). Thereupon an eloquent plea is made for the Lord to remember His covenant, to accept the sacrifice of humbled spirits and contrite hearts in lieu of the sacrificial ritual which can no longer be performed (vv. 11-17). A vow of faithfulness follows, together with prayer for deliverance and the confounding of the enemy, that it might be known to them that the Lord alone is God (vv. 18-22).
The fact that there is nothing specific which refers to the immediate circumstances in which Azariah and his friends found themselves seems to indicate that the prayer had its own history independent of, and prior to, its insertion into the text of Daniel by a later editor. It has been plausibly conjectured that the expression of despair and national contrition contained in the prayer could well find its background in the climax of the attempts of Antiochus IV (epiphanes) to completely “hellenize” the Jewish nation (c. 168-165 b.c.).
The piety of the prayer is thoroughly Jewish, and certain phrases of it bear striking resemblance to material in the Psalms (cf. esp. the reference to the sacrifice of a contrite heart and humble spirit with Ps 51:17; cf. also Isa 57:15). The prayer is also similar in tone to that of Daniel in Daniel 9:4-19 and this could well have prompted an editor (who presumably also added the introductory narrative portion, as well as that which links the prayer with the following Song [vv. 23-27]) to insert it into an appropriate place elsewhere in the book. The unknown author may have written originally in Heb., since this was the customary language of prayer and the Gr. style contains a number of Hebraisms, but this cannot finally be determined.
The Prayer (and Song) is generally available in Eng. as a part of the Apoc. The Gr. text, which is practically identical in both LXX and Theodotionic recensions, is available in editions of the LXX, often not only as an insertion in ch. 3 of Daniel, but also as a constituent part of the hymn collection (appended to the Psalms) known as Odes (Rahlfs, Ode Z [=9]). In the Roman Catholic Church the Prayer is regarded as a canonical part of Daniel 3.
W. H. Bennett in R. H. Charles, APOT, I (1913), 625-637; W. O. E. Oesterley, The Books of the Apocrypha (1915), 386-390; E. J. Goodspeed, The Story of the Apocrypha (1939), 31-36; R. H. Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times with an Introduction to the Apocrypha (1949), 433f.; 444-448; B. M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (1957), 99-105; L. H. Brockington, A Critical Introduction to the Apocrypha (1961), 93-99; O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction (1965), 588ff.