AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE APOCRYPHA. By W O E Oesterley D D Litt D. © W O E Oesterley 1935. First published S.P.C.K. 1935. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


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As this Addition follows immediately after Dan..13 at the end of the book of Daniel it has no title in most of the manuscripts; but in Cod.A, Q, it is treated as the last of the visions of Daniel with the title "Vision " (ὅρασις ιβ´ - horasis ιb'). (In Theodotion's Version the whole of Daniel is divided into twelve Visions.)

In the Septuagint MS Cod. Chisianus and in the Syro-Hexaplar it is headed: "From the prophecy of Habakkuk, the son of Jesus of the tribe of Levi". (See above, p.277.)

And in the Peshitta the title is: "Bel the idol," and at verse 23, where the Dragon Story begins, there is the second title: "Then follows the Dragon."

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This Addition consists of two distinct pieces:

(1)  The Story of Bel (verses 1-22), and

(2)  The Story of the Dragon (verses 23-42)

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(1) The Story of Bel.
According to Theodotion's Version Daniel was the chief friend of Cyrus the Persian, and lived with him. Cyrus worshipped the god Bel, the great Babylonian god who was supplied daily with "twelve great measures of fine flour, and forty sheep, and six firkins of wine" (about 54 gallons). But Daniel worshipped his God. It displeased Cyrus that Daniel would not worship Bel, for that he was a living god was proved by the amount of food and drink that he consumed daily. But Daniel laughed at this, and bade the king not to be deceived, for, said he, this idol "is but clay within, and brass without, and did never eat or drink anything." This aroused the anger of the king; so he called the seventy priests of Bel, and inquired about the matter, threatening them with death, if they could not explain where all this food went to, but declaring that Daniel should die if they could show that Bel consumed it. The king and Daniel then proceeded to the temple of Bel. In the meantime, the priests took counsel. They then desired the king to have the food set forth as usual on the god's table, saying that if it was not all consumed by Bel by the next morning they would be prepared to die, but if it was all consumed, then Daniel must die. Not that they feared anything for themselves, because they had a trap-door under the table through which they were in the habit of entering the temple and carrying off the food and drink. They then retired, and the king caused the table of Bel to be spread. But Daniel, with the king,'s permission, had the floor of the temple strewn with ashes. This done, and the door of the temple having been sealed with the king's signet, they departed. During the night the priests, according to their wont, came with their wives and children, and ate and drank all that was set before Bel.

The next morning the king came with Daniel, and found the seal intact. Then they entered the temple, and the king seeing that the food was all gone, cried out: "Great art thou, O Bel, and with thee is no deceit at all." But Daniel laughed once more, saying: "Behold now the pavement, and mark well whose footsteps are these." And when the king saw that they were the footsteps of men, women, and children, he was greatly enraged, and compelled the priests to show him how they entered the temple. As a result they were put to death, but the image of Bel was handed over to Daniel who destroyed the idol and his temple.

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(2) The Story of the Dragon.
In contrast to the Bel idol, which was made of clay and brass, there was another object of worship among the Babylonians, namely a great dragon, more correctly a great serpent. That this was living was obvious for it could be seen to cat and drink. Daniel is, therefore, invited by the king to worship it. This, of course, Daniel refuses to do; but he undertakes to slay the animal without the aid of weapons, and thus to show that it is no god. The king gives him leave to do so. Thereupon Daniel boils a mixture of pitch, hair, and fat, which he gives the creature to cat; nothing loth it swallows this, and bursts in consequence. Then Daniel taunts the Babylonians for worshipping a god like that. The Babylonians, however, are greatly incensed at the death of their god, and they conspire against the king, who, as they say, has become a Jew under the influence of Daniel. They demand, therefore, the person of Daniel, or else threaten to kill the king and his entire house. In this predicament the king delivers Daniel up to them to be thrown into a den of lions. Here he remains for six days, the lions not attempting to harm him. By this time, having had nothing to eat in the den of lions, Daniel was getting hungry. Thereupon an angel went to Palestine and saw the prophet Habakkuk carrying out food to the reapers; the angel bids the prophet go to Babylon and give this food to Daniel. The prophet protests that he does not know where Babylon is, still less where the den of lions is located; so the angel takes him by the hair, and with the blast of his breath sets him down in Babylon right over the den. Habakkuk then bids Daniel eat the dinner that God had sent him. Daniel, having given thanks to God, has his dinner; Habakkuk is then transported home again. Then, it being the seventh day that Daniel had been in the lions' den, the king came to bewail him, and, lo, he finds Daniel sitting there uninjured. So the king gives glory to the God of Daniel, who is released. But they who had sought his destruction are thrown into the den, and devoured in the presence of Daniel.

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Both stories as we now have them are variations, respectively, of episodes narrated in the book of Daniel itself. The background of the first is Dan.iii, the worship of the golden image; that of the second is, Daniel in the lions' den. The obvious purpose of both stories is to illustrate the folly of idolatry, especially of identifying the god with his image, and also to show forth the power of the One and only God and His solicitude for His faithful servant. This latter, it is true, occupies only a subordinate place. It is, however, evident that some older traditional material has also been placed under contribution. The references to Habakkuk in the opening verse of the first story in the Septuagint text, as well as in the body of the second story in both the Septuagint and Theodotion's Version, point to this. Similarly, the tradition about Daniel being a priest and the son of Habal, in verse 2 of the Septuagint text. Most authorities, moreover, hold that the dragon in the second story is Tiamat, the primeval monster slain by Marduk. If so, this would be another piece of ancient traditional material utilized.

(See, e.g., Gunkel, Schopfung und Chaos in Urzeit und Endzeit, pp.320 ff. (1895). In the text of our story it is evidently a living serpent to which reference is made, and which was worshipped. But this does not militate against GunkeI's contention that the prototype of our story is the Tiamat myth, for in transmission a myth takes on all kinds of variations; moreover, there are later recensions of our story (see Ball, in Wace, op. cit., ii.345 f , 357) which embody other original details. The central point of the slaying of the dragon in our story is that Daniel slays it "without sword or staff". In the Tiamat myth the same trail occurs.)

Now, with regard to the main purpose of both stories, namely the denunciation of idolatry, it is not beside the mark to inquire against whom it is directed: had the writer in mind Gentile idolaters to whom he wished to prove the superiority of the Jewish religion? In other words, are these stories to be regarded as polemic-apologetic writings? Or were there those of his own race against whom the writer felt compelled to raise his voice? In favour of the former view there is the fact that a good deal of apologetic literature was put forth by Jewish writers during the last two pre-Christian centuries which was successful in making many proselytes. In favour of the latter is the mention of Habakkuk, of whom Gentiles were not likely to have heard. The mention of Daniel is somewhat different. His name would doubtless have been likewise unknown to Gentiles, but as the hero of the stories that would not matter; whereas Habakkuk's role is quite subordinate.

But there is another reason for believing that these stories were written against Jews; and this raises a subject of some importance. Before coming to this, however, it is necessary to say a word as to the place of origin of the stories. Data for deciding this question with any certainty is wanting, we have therefore to be guided by the probabilities of the case. Alexandria, Babylon, and Palestine have been suggested. If the stories were written for renegade Jews Palestine is highly improbable; there was but little danger of idolatry among the Jews there; it was in the lands of the Dispersion that Jews were subject to this temptation. Babylon is more likely, especially if, as some authorities maintain, the stories were originally written in Hebrew; in their Greek form, on the other hand, their home was probably Alexandria. These are all suppositions, for definite evidence is wanting. But there are some considerations that tend to support the opinion that the stories were originally written in Hebrew as a protest against idolatrous Jews living in Babylonia. And that at a somewhat later time the Greek translation was made in Alexandria for the similar purpose of arousing shame among Jews in different parts of Egypt who were guilty of idolatrous practices.

The first thing to which attention must again be drawn is that religious syncretism, world-wide in its ramifications, was characteristic of the period extending from the time of Alexander the Great to well into the Christian era. It was a movement by which the Jews, as is proved by abundant evidence, were deeply affected. "The time of Alexander the Great and his successors," writes Bousset, "was one of general intermingling. The frontiers between countries disappear, peoples begin to speak a common language, both as a tongue in the ordinary sense, and intellectually. Identical thoughts course through the minds of all; religious beliefs run into one another. Is it likely that Judaism alone should have been exempt from the effects of this process? It is true that ever since the Maccabaean era efforts in the direction of a narrow exclusiveness held sway. But the drawing together of Judaism and the surrounding world, brought about during the preceding centuries, the results of which appear clearly and ominously at the end of the pre-Maccabaean period, could not be broken off and obliterated as though it had never existed." (Die Religion des Judentums im spathellenistischen Zeitalter, p.473 (1926); see in general, also Bertholet, Das religiongeschichtliche Problem des Spatjudentums (1909), and Wendland, Die hellenistisch-romische Kultur . . . (1912).)

The Jews of Palestine, the centre of orthodox Judaism, were, naturally enough, not affected to anything like the same extent as those of the Dispersion.
(Cp. Sib. Orac. iii. 271, "Every sea and every land is full of thee." For one of the most remarkable instances of religious syncretism among the Jews see the present writer's essay, "The Cult of Sabazios" in The Labyrinth (ed. by S. Hooke, 1935).)

While Jewish communities flourished in every country of the world as then known, the two most important centres of the Dispersion were Babylon and Alexandria. It would take us much too far afield to deal with the various forms of idolatry and snake-worship both in Babylon and Egypt, nor is this necessary since much has been written about each. (E.g. Sayce, Lectures on the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians (1887); Oldham, The Sun and the Serpent, esp. chap.xi (1905); Scott-Moncrieff, Paganism and Christianity in Egypt, esp. chap.i (1913); Jeremias, Das alte Testament im Lichte des alten Orients, passim (1930), etc. etc.)

But knowing of the existence of this and of the settlement of Jews in the midst of surroundings in which these things were in vogue; and realizing also the syncretistic tendencies characteristic of the time; we feel justified in believing that many Jews both in Babylon and Alexandria, as well as in other parts of Mesopotamia and Egypt, were tempted to assimilate much of what they saw going on around them. And that, therefore, the stories under consideration were written with the purpose of exposing the folly of this among those of the author's race, thereby recalling them to a better frame of mind.

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The unanimous opinion of the older authorities, as well as some later ones, is that the original language of our stories was Greek. A few modern scholars believe that they were originally written in Aramaic, while others contend for a Hebrew original. A discussion on the subject cannot well find a place here as it would involve dealing with many technicalities.

These have been well dealt with by Witton Davies both in his Introduction to the stories and in his notes in the commentary; and his contention for a Hebrew original is convincingly upheld. (In Charles, op. cit., i.652 ff.)

Quite apart from this, however, from what has been said above there is an a-priori reason for assuming either an Aramaic or a Hebrew original, of which the Greek is a translation; in view of Witton Davies' arguments the latter is far more likely.

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What has been said regarding these in the other Additions to Daniel applies here (see pp. 277 E, above).

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Fritzsche, op. cit., i.113 ff., 146 ff. (1851).
Brull, " Die Geschichte von Bel und dem Drachen," in Jahrbucher fur judische Geschichte und Litteratur, viii. 28 f. (1887).
Ball, in Wace, op. Cit., ii.344 ff. (1888).
Bludau, op. cit., pp.189 ff. (1897).
Rothstein, in Kautzsch, op. cit., i.178 ff. (1900).

Witton Davies, in Charles, op. cit., i.652 ff. (1913).