Bel and the Dragon

Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics

Bel and the Dragon

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The final Apocryphal addition to Daniel is the tale of how he destroyed the worship of the Babylonian god Bel and the great dragon image, by showing how the priests removed the food left for it. As a result of these blasphemous exposures Daniel is consigned to the lions' den for a week. The story also involves the prophet Habakkuk, who is transported by the angel of YHWH from Judaea to Babylon in order to provide Daniel with food during his confinement in the den of lions (vv. 33–9). The method by which Daniel exposes the worship of the idol links this humorous piece of propaganda with the critique of idols in Isa. 40–8. His refusal to worship the Babylonian god confirms his loyalty to YHWH: ‘Then said Daniel unto the king, I will worship the Lord my God: for he is the living God’ (v. 25). The effect of Daniel's exposure of the priests is to have the king accused of becoming a Jew: ‘When they of Babylon heard that, they took great indignation, and conspired against the king, saying, the king is become a Jew, and he hath destroyed Bel, he hath slain the dragon, and put the priests to death’ (v. 28). After Daniel's survival in the lions' den the king praises Daniel's god: ‘Then cried the king with a loud voice, saying, Great art thou, O Lord God of Daniel, and there is none other beside thee’ (v. 41). As in the Book of Daniel, the king is shown as being sympathetic to Daniel and his religion. This is typical of all the Diaspora novellas in the Bible. The Jews' enemies may be in the imperial court, but they are never the emperor himself. The books of Daniel and Esther promote the claim that faithful Jews may rise to positions of power in the courts of their conquerors, and that fidelity to their religion, including refusing to bow to any power other than to YHWH, need not be an obstacle in the way of promotion. They may have to face opposition and punishment, but YHWH will protect them and ensure their eventual triumph. This is obviously religious propaganda, but given the weakness of their position and numbers, it represents a brave attempt by Jewish writers to preserve the religion of their fathers. On the other hand, as the wisdom books demonstrate, rulings about the fate of the righteous helped to maintain a healthy realism among the communities of the Diaspora.

Chapter.  424 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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