Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Bel and the Dragon

These stories come from the Deuterocanonical (often errantly referred to as "apocryphal" - but this book/chapter of Daniel was never "hidden" and thus "apocryphal" does not apply).  On another blog I was asked, "how about that dragon?"  I think many are confused about the "Bel and the Dragon" part from Daniel, so let's discuss it a bit.

There are really three stories here - one of "Bel" (aka: "Baal") and the story of the Dragon - which leads us to Daniel in the Lion's Den - Episode 2.

The Story of Bel:
So first off, Daniel is in the presence of the king - who worships Bel and asks why Daniel does not worship this god.  Daniel says he will only worship the One, True Living God.  The king states that Bel is a living god!  Daniel assures him, "Bel" is made of brass and clay - it is not a living god!  The king gets a bit indignant and brags about how Bel eats the food and drinks the wine prepared for it/him.  The king states that they will prepare the feast and lock the room - sealed with his own ring and if the food is eaten, then Bel is not a false god and Daniel would be put to death - for blaspheming Bel.  Daniel said, "Be it done according to thy word."  The priests weren't worried for they had a secret door into the chamber by which they and their families had repeatedly gone in and eaten the feast prepared for Bel.  This time, however, Daniel had the servants sprinkle ashes on the floor before the chamber was locked up.  The priests and their families came in according to their custom - ate the feast and left.  In the morning the king was so proud to declare that the food was all gone - but Daniel pointed to the floor and all the footprints left in the ashes!  The king was furious and had the priests and their families put to death and handed Bel over to Daniel to destroy.

The Story of the Dragon:
Next the king challenges, "What of the Dragon, whom we worship?!  It is certainly a living god which eats!"  Daniel assured the king again that this was no god, and to prove it - Daniel would kill the Dragon without a sword or club.  The king was quite confident that this god would prevail... but Daniel took pitch, fat and hair and put it into the Dragon's mouth - and the Dragon exploded.  Daniel proclaimed, "Look at the god whom you worshiped!"  

The Story of the Lion's Den (Episode 2):
So now the people were upset with the king!  They said he was becoming a Jew!  They complained that he had destroyed Bel and killed the priests and their dragon and demanded that Daniel be handed over to them.  The king was a bit overwhelmed by the response, so he handed Daniel over to them.  They cast Daniel into the lion's den and left him there for 6 days!  After the six days, they opened the den and found Daniel sitting amongst the lions - completely unharmed!  The king exclaimed, "Great is the God of Daniel!"  He then had Daniel's accusers thrown into the den - and they were consumed immediately by the lions.

Now of course most readers here will also be aware of the story of Daniel and the Lion's Den (we'll call that "Episode 1!") from Daniel 6.  In Daniel 6 King Darius was tricked into decreeing that anyone who would not bow before him must be thrown into the Den of Lions.  He was tricked because they were out to get Daniel - whom they knew would bow before no man and only to the One, True God.  Darius, a friend of Daniel, was caught in his own words - for it was also a "law" that no decree of the king could be changed.  So, reluctantly, he had Daniel cast into the Den of Lions, but declared to Daniel as he was been put into the den, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”  After a sleepless night of fasting, the king returned to the den and found Daniel unharmed!  The king then had Daniel's accusers thrown into the den and the lions pounced upon them, even before they hit the floor, crushing all their bones.  

One would think that after this "Episode 1" that the people would have learned a lesson about accusing Daniel - AND - the power of Daniel's God to protect him!

Now, are these really two episodes, or are they different versions of the same episode?  One could speculate either way.  The bottom line from both stories is that Daniel was protected by the Lord God Almighty because of his faith.

How about that dragon?!
Well, could that dragon be symbolic of any number of false gods?  Sure, but we don't even have to go as far as symbolism!  We have "dragons" to this day!  The "Komodo Dragon!"  They are vicious meat-eating "dragons" which would strike fear into the people.  Now, how one of these got to Babylon or Persia is anyone's guess (they come from Indonesia) - but it could be plausible that one was captured and set free to strike fear into the Babylonians/Persians - and quite possibly are at the root of the dragon fighting stories of the Middle Ages. 

Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)

Daniel 6

 1It seemed good to Darius, and he appointed over the kingdom a hundred and twenty governors to be over his whole kingdom.    2And three princes over them, of whom Daniel was one: that the governors might give an account to them, and the king might have no trouble.
    3And Daniel excelled all the princes, and governors: because a greater spirit of God was in him.
    4And the king thought to set him over all the kingdom: whereupon the princes, and the governors sought to find occasion against Daniel with regard to the king: and they could find no cause, nor suspicion, because he was faithful, and no fault, nor suspicion was found in him
    5Then these men said: We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, unless perhaps concerning the law of his God.
    6Then the princes, and the governors craftily suggested to the king, and spoke thus unto him: King Darius, live for ever:
    7All the princes of the kingdom, the magistrates, and governors, the senators, and judges have consulted together, that an imperial decree, and an edict be published: That whosoever shall ask any petition of any god, or man, for thirty days, but of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.
    8Now, therefore, O king, confirm the sentence, and sign the decree: that what is decreed by the Medes and Persians may not be altered, nor any man be allowed to transgress it.
    9So king Darius set forth the decree, and established it.
    10Now when Daniel knew this, that is to say, that the law was made, he went into his house: and opening the windows in his upper chamber towards Jerusalem, he knelt down three times a day, and adored, and gave thanks before his God, as he had been accustomed to do before.
    11Wherefore those men carefully watching him, found Daniel praying and making supplication to his God.
    12And they came and spoke to the king concerning the edict: O king, hast thou not decreed, that every man that should make a request to any of the gods, or men, for thirty days, but to thyself, O king, should be cast into the den of the lions? And the king answered them, saying: The word is true according to the decree of the Medes and Persians, which it is not lawful to violate.
    13Then they answered, and said before the king: Daniel, who is of the children of the captivity of Juda, hath not regarded thy law, nor the decree that thou hast made: but three times a day he maketh his prayer.
    14Now when the king had heard these words, he was very much grieved, and in behalf of Daniel he set his heart to deliver him and even till sunset he laboured to save him.
    15But those mer. perceiving the king's design, said to him: Know thou, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, that no decree which the king hath made, may be altered.
    16Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of the lions. And the king said to Daniel: Thy God, whom thou always servest, he will deliver thee.
    17And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den: which the king sealed with his own ring, and with the ring of his nobles, that nothing should be done against Daniel.
    18And the king went away to his house and laid himself down without taking supper, and meat was not set before him, and even sleep departed from him.
    19Then the king rising very early in the morning, went in haste to the lions' den:
    20And coming near to the den, cried with a lamentable voice to Daniel, and said to him: Daniel, servant of the living God, hath thy God, whom thou servest always, been able, thinkest thou, to deliver thee from the lions?
    21And Daniel answering the king, said: O king, live for ever:
    22My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut up the mouths of the lions, and they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him justice hath been found in me: yea and before thee, O king, I have done no offence.
    23Then was the king exceeding glad for him, and he commanded that Daniel should be taken out of the den: and Daniel was taken out of the den, and no hurt was found in him, because he believed in his God.
    24And by the king's commandment, those men were brought that bad accused Daniel: and they were cast into the lions' den, they and their children, and their wives: and they did not reach the bottom of the den, before the lions caught them, and broke all their bones in pieces.
    25Then king Darius wrote to all people, tribes, and languages, dwelling in the whole earth: PEACE be multiplied unto you.
    26It is decreed by me, that in all my empire and my kingdom all men dread and fear the God of Daniel. For he is the living and eternal God for ever: and his kingdom shall not be destroyed, and his power shall be for ever.
    27He is the deliverer, and saviour, doing signs and wonders in heaven, and in earth: who hath delivered Daniel out of the lions' den.
    28Now Daniel continued unto the reign of Darius, and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

 Daniel 14

 1And Daniel was the king's guest, and was honoured above all his friends.    2Now the Babylonians had an idol called Bel: and there were spent upon him every day twelve great measures of fine flour, and forty sheep, and sixty vessels of wine.
    3The king also worshipped him, and went every day to adore him: but Daniel adored his God. And the king said to him: Why dost thou not adore Bel?
    4And he answered, and said to him: Because I do not worship idols made with hands, but the living God, that created heaven and earth, and hath power over all flesh.
    5And the king said to him: Doth not Bel seem to thee to be a living god? Seest thou not how much he eateth and drinketh every day?
    6Then Daniel smiled and said: O king, be not deceived: for this is but clay within, and brass without, neither hath he eaten at any time.
    7And the king being angry called for his priests, and said to them: If you tell me not, who it is that eateth up these expenses, you shall die.
    8But if you can shew that Bel eateth these things, Daniel shall die, because he hath blasphemed against Bel. And Daniel said to the king: Be it done according to thy word.
    9Now the priests of Bel were seventy, besides their wives, and little ones, and children. And the king went with Daniel into the temple of Bel.
    10And the priests of Bel said: Behold we go out: and do thou, O king, set on the meats, and make ready the wine, and shut the door fast, and seal it with thy own ring:
    11And when thou comest in the morning, if thou findest not that Bel hath eaten up all, we will suffer death, or else Daniel that hath lied against us.
    12And they little regarded it, because they had made under the table a secret entrance, and they always came in by it, and consumed those things.
    13So it came to pass after they were gone out, the king set the meats before Bel: and Daniel commanded his servants, and they brought ashes, and he sifted them all over the temple before the king: and going forth they shut the door, and having sealed it with the king's ring, they departed.
    14But the priests went in by night, according to their custom, with their wives and their children: and they ate and drank up all.
    15And the king arose early in the morning, and Daniel with him.
    16And the king said: Are the seals whole, Daniel? And he answered: They are whole, O king.
    17And as soon as he had opened the door, the king looked upon the table, and cried out with a loud voice: Great art thou, O Bel, and there is not any deceit with thee.
    18And Daniel laughed: and he held the king that he should not go in: and he said: Behold the pavement, mark whose footsteps these are.
    19And the king said: I see the footsteps of men, and women, and children. And the king was angry.
    20Then he took the priests, and their wives, and their children: and they shewed him the private doors by which they came in, and consumed the things that were on the table.
    21The king therefore put them to death, and delivered Bel into the power of Daniel: who destroyed him, and his temple.
    22And there was a great dragon in that place, and the Babylonians worshipped him.
    23And the king said to Daniel: Behold thou canst not say now, that this is not a living god: adore him therefore.
    24And Daniel said: I adore the Lord my God: for he is the living God: but that is no living god.
    25But give me leave, O king, and I will kill this dragon without sword or club. And the king said: I give thee leave.
    26Then Daniel took pitch, and fat, and hair, and boiled them together: and he made lumps, and put them into the dragon's mouth, and the dragon burst asunder. And he said: Behold him whom you worshipped.
    27And when the Babylonians had heard this, they took great indignation: and being gathered together against the king, they said: The king is become a Jew. He hath destroyed Bel, he hath killed the dragon, and he hath put the priests to death.
    28And they came to the king, and said: Deliver us Daniel, or else we will destroy thee and thy house.
    29And the king saw that they pressed upon him violently: and being constrained by necessity he delivered Daniel to them.
    30And they cast him into the den of lions, and he was there six days.
    31And in the den there were seven lions, and they had given to them two carcasses every day, and two sheep: but then they were not given unto them, that they might devour Daniel.
    32Now there was in Judea a prophet called Habacuc, and he had boiled pottage, and had broken bread in a bowl: and was going into the field, to carry it to the reapers.
    33And the angel of the Lord said to Habacuc: Carry the dinner which thou hast into Babylon to Daniel, who is in the lions' den.
    34And Habacuc said: Lord, I never saw Babylon, nor do I know the den.
    35And the angel of the Lord took him by the top of his head, and carried him by the hair of his head, and set him in Babylon over the den in the force of his spirit.
    36And Habacuc cried, saying: O Daniel, thou servant of God, take the dinner that God hath sent thee.
    37And Daniel said: Thou hast remembered me, O God, and thou hast not forsaken them that love thee.
    38And Daniel arose and ate. And the angel of the Lord presently set Habacuc again in his own place.
    39And upon the seventh day the king came to bewail Daniel: and he came to the den, and looked in, and behold Daniel was sitting in the midst of the lions.
    40And the king cried out with a loud voice, saying: Great art thou, O Lord the God of Daniel. And he drew him out of the lions' den.
    41But those that bad been the cause of his destruction, he cast into the den, and they were devoured in a moment before him.
    42Then the king said: Let all the inhabitants of the whole earth fear the God of Daniel: for he is the Saviour, working signs, and wonders in the earth: who hath delivered Daniel out of the lions' den.



  1. Generally, those who make snide remarks about the parts removed from their truncated Bibles have never read those missing parts. The stories removed from Daniel are very good example. They don't even know that the stories are about demonstrating the falsehood of the Persian gods. No Christian who actually read those stories would object to them. In fact they show the power and glory of the one, true God of Daniel and God's people.

    (btw, I always believed that the "Dragon" was a statue just as Bel (or Baal) was and was "eating" in the same way. The pitch "bomb" exploded in the stomach of the statue and destroyed it. But I could be wrong. ;-)

  2. Well, I don't know that John's comment (whom I quoted from the other blog) was meant to be "snide" so much as it was that he wanted to know what's up with that "dragon" story.

    As for your take on the dragon being another statue, like "Bel" - that is possible. As you said though, the REAL POINT was the fact of demonstrating the power of God. I wouldn't say you were "wrong" at all - I believe we're not supposed to get all caught up in the particulars - but focus on the THEME. I did, however, want to point out that there ARE as in STILL "dragons" on earth - so Daniel could have exploded a REAL dragon! Again, THAT was not the point.

    Thank you for the comment! And (poke, poke, nudge, nudge) when you have time, continuing your articles on St. Augustine would be nice too!

    In JMJ,


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