Bel and the Dragon Introduction

Bel and the Dragon Introduction

This material follows Daniel 12 in some Greek manuscripts and follows Susanna in the Latin Vulgate, where it is numbered Daniel 14.
The History of the Destruction of Bel and the Dragon is the third addition to The Book of Daniel, most likely added when Daniel was translated from Hebrew into Greek. In the Greek Septuagint Bible this book was located at the end of Daniel. In the Latin Vulgate Bible it followed Susanna (chapter 13) as a second appendix chapter (chapter 14) of Daniel. There are actually two short stories in this single-chapter book, each about a Babylonian deity. In each story Daniel is the main character and he is again seen applying his brilliant wisdom to reveal that the Babylonian gods have no reality or authority.
Idolatry, the sin of worshipping other or false gods, is depicted in at least two key ways in the Old Testament. For some biblical authors it was the spiritual equivalent of adultery, the abandonment of one's sworn spouse to pursue intimate relations with another person. For these authors, both the Lord God and the other gods were real (though not necessarily equal) and idolatry was unfaithfulness (Exod 20.3-6). As Jews came to understand that the Lord God was not the best of all available gods, but was, in fact, the one and only God, the Creator and Lord of all, they began to perceive the gods of other peoples to be non-existent or illusions. While earlier biblical authors compiled dramatic stories of great rivalries between the Lord God of Israel and other national gods, such as Baal as depicted in Elijah's challenge at Mount Carmel (1 Kgs 18.20-40), later biblical authors tended to use humor and parody to depict the worshippers of idols and false gods (Isa 40.9-20). Bel and the Dragon, composed between the third and first centuries b.c., is an excellent example of this kind of parody. The clear, underlying aim of this book is to discredit the Babylonian gods, whether inanimate (the Bel image) or living (the gigantic dragon), and to undermine the authority claimed for them.
The first story (Bel) features both humor and a keen satirical edge, showing Daniel at his cleverest as a detective putting together clues and then setting a trap to expose the hypocrisy of the priests of the god Bel. In the second story (The Dragon), Daniel once again refuses to worship a Babylonian deity. The king was forced by Daniel to admit that Bel was not a living god, but still asserted that another object of Babylonian worship, a huge dragon, was clearly alive and thus a “living” god to his people. Declaring that this dragon is no god, Daniel says that he will slay it “without sword or staff.” He easily does this by feeding the dragon hairballs, but for killing this “deity” he is once again thrown into a den of lions. There Daniel is miraculously visited by the prophet Habakkuk, who brings him food. When the king came to the den a week later to mark the passing of Daniel, he was stunned to find him still alive amidst the lions. Once more the king acknowledges that Daniel's God is the one true God. This story clearly has fanciful elements, but the message is clear and forceful—that God alone is God and will sustain the faithful under the worst tribulations.
Daniel and the Babylonian Deity Bel (1-22)
Daniel Slays the Dragon (23-42)

King James Version 1611, spelling, punctuation and text formatting modernized by ABS in 1962; typesetting © 2010 American Bible Society.

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