Book of Bel and the Dragon

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Bel and the Dragon

BEL AND THE DRAGON (Gr. δράκωνG1532dragon, serpent). The third of the additions to Daniel which appear in the Gr. text, though they are not found in the Heb. The other two are the Song of the Three Children and Susanna. All of these were recognized as canonical by the Council of Trent, and were considered to be an integral part of the text of Daniel. Origen defended these additions as Scripture, and maintained that the Jews had deliberately removed them from their own texts.

Name. In the Gr. codices, Bel stands at the end of the canonical Book of Daniel and has no distinct title. In Codices A and B of Theod., however, it bears the title “Vision 12,” and is part of the twelfth and final vision of Daniel. In the Lat. Vul. it appears as ch. 14, but has no heading. In the LXX it follows Susanna, and is given the title “From the prophecy of Habakkuk the son of Jesus of the tribe of Levi.” There is no doubt but that this means the Biblical prophet Habakkuk. In the Pesh. the story of Bel is preceded by “Bel the idol,” and the Dragon by “Then follows the Dragon.” All Protestant VSS use the title Bel and the Dragon, but they separate this material from their canonical books.

Texts. (1) Greek. The Gr. text has been preserved in two basic edd. (a) The LXX text has survived in only one original MS, the Codex Chisianus (or Christianus; named after the Chigi family which owned it), a 9th cent. cursive MS. (b) The text of Theod. is found in several MSS, the most important of which are B, A, Q, Γ (vv. 2-4) and Δ (vv. 21-41).

(2) Syrian. There is an 8th cent. MS of the VS made by Paul of Tella in 617 from Origen’s Hexapla (col. 6). It agrees generally with the LXX.

Versions. (1) Greek. (a) The LXX. Only the Codex Chisianus, mentioned above, preserves this text. (b) Theod. This is prob. a revision of the LXX. It is a much better tr. than the LXX, but there are times when Heb. words are transliterated rather than tr. This seems to argue for a Heb. original consulted during the revision process. The Christian church discarded the Alexandrian LXX in favor of Theod., and because of the former’s lack of popularity, it disappeared almost completely. The reason behind the rejection of the LXX is not definite, but it is thought that Christians objected to mistranslations, and what they considered to be an erroneous understanding of the Heb. text by the LXX tr. in such passages as Daniel 9:24-27. Theodotion prepared his text in the period a.d. 100-130, and Bel and the Dragon were a part of the text. The first ed. of the Alexandrian VS, published before 100 b.c., seems also to have contained these stories.

(2) Syrian. There are two Syr. VSS: (a) the Syro-Hexapla taken from Origen, and (b) a Pesh. VS which sometimes follows Theod. against the LXX, sometimes agrees with the LXX against Theod., and at times diverges from both texts.

(3) Latin. (a) An Old Lat. VS which follows Theod. closely. (b) The Vul. which depends much on Jerome’s work (which was based on Theod., but on occasions is independent of any other text or VS) and follows Theod. closely.

(4) Aramaic. An Aram. VS of the Chronicles of Yerahmeel published by M. Gaster, which he claimed to be the original text.

Original language. It was the general consensus until about the turn of the cent. that Bel and the Dragon was written originally in Gr. Scholars argued that no Sem. original of any real authority had been discovered, and Origen, Eusebius and Jerome assert that no Heb. form of this material was known in their time. In spite of these arguments, scholars are more and more expressing the opinion that the original was composed either in Heb. or Aram. Some argue that Theod. made use of a Sem. original when he revised the LXX. The large number of Semitisms in the work would also lend weight to this view, and the type of Semitism—the use of kai and kai egenetowith the force of the waw-consecutive—would point to a Heb. original. This view is proposed and supported by Davies in a convincing manner.

J. T. Marshall calls attention to the possible confusion of זַעֲפָה (storm wind) and זַעַף (pitch), which could occur only with Aram. He cites several other similar illustrations. Davies points out that the concoction of Daniel also included fat and hair as well as pitch. He suggests that Marshall has been led astray by his desire to assimilate the dragon story to the Babylonian creation-myth of Marduk (Bel) and Tiamat.

M. Gaster made what he considered to be an important discovery of the dragon story in an Aram. work called the Chronicles of Yerahmeel. This work dates to the 10th cent. Gaster believed that it was a part of the original Bel and the Dragon. Davies, however, rejects this view on the basis of insufficient support, and argues in opposition that if there had been an Aram. original, then we should have learned about this from early Jewish and Christian writers. At present, the argument seems to be in favor of Heb. as the original language of the document.

Author, place and date. Nothing definite is known about the author, place or date of composition of Bel and the Dragon. If the original was in Heb. or Aram., then Pal. would be the probable place of origin. If the LXX is original, then the author could have lived anywhere in the E Mediterranean, and the date of composition would be that of the original Gr. tr. of the Heb. text. It is almost certain, in any case, that the work was composed sometime in the 2nd cent. b.c.

Purpose. A casual reading of Bel and the Dragon should convince anyone that the author is casting ridicule on idols and the worship of any heathen god. A second purpose may be to point up Daniel’s genius in detective work and chemistry. The chief value of these accounts seems to be to amuse and entertain the reader.

Content. Bel.The LXX asserts that this material is from the prophecy of Habakkuk, and Daniel is made a priest and companion of the king of Babylon. The text of Theod. begins with the death of Astyages and the reign of Cyrus the Pers. Daniel is said to be living with the king.

There was an idol in Babylon called Bel. A great quantity of food was given each day to this idol, consisting of flour, sheep (LXX, four; Theod., forty), and liquid (LXX, oil; Theod., wine). The king worshiped this idol, and asked Daniel why he did not do likewise. Daniel replied that he worshiped only the Creator God. The king reminded Daniel of the food consumed by Bel. But Daniel countered with the claim that an idol of clay and bronze cannot eat anything. This angered the king, and he called the priests to demand of them, on penalty of death, who ate all the food. They claimed Bel ate it. Daniel offered to prove to the king that Bel did not eat the food. All went to the temple. The food was set before the idol. (Theodotius informs us that the priests, seventy in number, had a secret entrance under the table.) When all had gone out, Daniel had his servants sprinkle ashes over the floor. Then the doors were shut and sealed.

In the morning the doors were inspected, then opened. The food was gone. The king rejoiced, but Daniel pointed to the footprints in the ashes. The priests confessed, and they were delivered to Daniel. Bel was destroyed, and according to Theod., the temple also was destroyed.

The Dragon.—A great dragon was worshiped in Babylon. The king asked Daniel about the dragon, whether he considered it also of bronze, since this beast both ate and drank. Daniel asked permission to kill the dragon without the use of sword or staff. Permission received, Daniel made a concoction of pitch, fat and hair, boiled them together and made cakes. These he fed to the dragon who then burst asunder. The people threatened the king and had Daniel thrown into a den of seven lions. Usually two carcasses (LXX specifies bodies of persons condemned to death) and two sheep (Theod.), were provided for the lions each day. On the sixth day, Habakkuk was brought from Pal. by an angel with food for Daniel. When Daniel had eaten, Habakkuk was returned to his home. The king released Daniel and threw the opposition into the den where they were immediately devoured.

Bibliography J. T. Marshall, “Bel and the Dragon,” HDB, I (1899), 267, 268; T. Witton Davies, “Bel and the Dragon” in R. H. Charles (ed.), Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, I (1913), 652-664; and “Bel and the Dragon,” ISBE, I (1929), 427-431; R. H. Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times (1949), 436-444, 455, 456; B. M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (1957), 115-122.





Bel and the Dragon is one of several additions to the book of Daniel. The original book of Daniel ends after chapter twelve. The extra material is found only in translations, such as the Septuagint, but not in the Masoretic Text. Bel and the Dragon is a later addition most likely derived from various legends and folk stories about Daniel. This non-canonical material includes chapter 13, known as the “Song of the Three Children”; chapter 14, known as “Susanna”; and chapter 15, known as “Bel and the Dragon.” The fifteenth chapter is a single narrative in three parts.

According to the text of Bel and the Dragon, Daniel is honored above all others by the new Persian king, Cyrus. The king asks Daniel why he does not worship the statue of Bel, to which the people have been offering great quantities of food every day. Daniel replies that he does not worship false gods made with human hands but only the living God. Cyrus claims that Bel is a living god, since all of the food offered to him disappears each night—eaten, he claims, by the idol. Daniel repeats his belief that his God is superior to Bel.

In a rage, Cyrus pits the Persian priests against Daniel. If they cannot prove that Bel eats the food, they will be executed. If Daniel cannot prove someone else is eating it, he will be executed. The priests ask the king to place the food himself and then seal the room with his own signet. Without telling the priests, however, Daniel spreads ashes in the idol’s chamber, as the king watches. The idol and food are then sealed in the room overnight.

The next morning, the king breaks the seal and sees that the food has been eaten. He begins to praise Bel when Daniel points out the evidence in the ashes. There are footprints of men, women, and children leading to a secret door in the wall. The seventy priests and their families have been sneaking in nightly to eat the idol’s offerings. Cyrus is furious and orders the priests, their wives, and their children killed. He gives the idol of Bel to Daniel to be destroyed.

The second part of Bel and the Dragon involves an actual living dragon, which Cyrus again tells Daniel to worship. Since the dragon is flesh and blood, Cyrus claims, it is superior to Bel and should be honored. Daniel again claims to worship only God and says he can kill this dragon without weapons. The king agrees to Daniel’s demonstration, and Daniel poisons the dragon with a mixture of tar, hair, and ashes. This causes the dragon to burst open, proving it to be an inferior creature and not a god to be worshiped.

The final part of Bel and the Dragon is a re-telling of Daniel’s experience in the lions’ den. Angry that Daniel destroyed the idol Bel and the living dragon, the people of Persia demand Daniel be handed over to them. King Cyrus is afraid of a revolution, so he agrees. Daniel is thrown into a den with seven lions for six days. These lions were typically fed two human corpses and two sheep every day, but, to make them more ferocious for Daniel, they are starved.

According to the story, God provides for Daniel through the prophet Habakkuk. God does this by sending an angel to carry Habakkuk from Judea, by his hair, and holding him over the den so he can drop food to Daniel. On the seventh day, Cyrus sees that Daniel is alive and well. He orders the ringleaders of the people thrown into the lions’ den instead, and they are immediately devoured.

The book of Daniel is inspired, but Bel and the Dragon, as an addition to the inspired text, is not considered part of the biblical canon. It is included in some apocryphal Bibles and in Catholic versions of the text.




Daniel 13-14 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

III. Appendix: Susanna, Bel, and the Dragon[a]

Chapter 13

Susanna. In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim, who married a very beautiful and God-fearing woman, Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah; her parents were righteous and had trained their daughter according to the law of Moses. Joakim was very rich and he had a garden near his house. The Jews had recourse to him often because he was the most respected of them all.

That year, two elders of the people were appointed judges, of whom the Lord said, “Lawlessness has come out of Babylon, that is, from the elders who were to govern the people as judges.” These men, to whom all brought their cases, frequented the house of Joakim. When the people left at noon, Susanna used to enter her husband’s garden for a walk. When the elders saw her enter every day for her walk, they began to lust for her. They perverted their thinking; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments. 10 Though both were enamored of her, they did not tell each other their trouble, 11 for they were ashamed to reveal their lustful desire to have her. 12 Day by day they watched eagerly for her. 13 One day they said to each other, “Let us be off for home, it is time for the noon meal.” So they went their separate ways. 14 But both turned back and arrived at the same spot. When they asked each other the reason, they admitted their lust, and then they agreed to look for an occasion when they could find her alone.

15 One day, while they were waiting for the right moment, she entered as usual, with two maids only, wanting to bathe in the garden, for the weather was warm. 16 Nobody else was there except the two elders, who had hidden themselves and were watching her. 17 “Bring me oil and soap,” she said to the maids, “and shut the garden gates while I bathe.” 18 They did as she said; they shut the garden gates and left by the side gate to fetch what she had ordered, unaware that the elders were hidden inside.

19 As soon as the maids had left, the two old men got up and ran to her. 20 “Look,” they said, “the garden doors are shut, no one can see us, and we want you. So give in to our desire, and lie with us. 21 If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was here with you and that is why you sent your maids away.”

22 “I am completely trapped,” Susanna groaned. “If I yield, it will be my death; if I refuse, I cannot escape your power. 23 Yet it is better for me not to do it and to fall into your power than to sin before the Lord.” 24 Then Susanna screamed, and the two old men also shouted at her, 25 as one of them ran to open the garden gates. 26 When the people in the house heard the cries from the garden, they rushed in by the side gate to see what had happened to her. 27 At the accusations of the old men, the servants felt very much ashamed, for never had any such thing been said about Susanna.

28 When the people came to her husband Joakim the next day, the two wicked old men also came, full of lawless intent to put Susanna to death. 29 Before the people they ordered: “Send for Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah, the wife of Joakim.” When she was sent for, 30 she came with her parents, children and all her relatives. 31 Susanna, very delicate and beautiful, 32 was veiled; but those transgressors of the law ordered that she be exposed so as to sate themselves with her beauty. 33 All her companions and the onlookers were weeping.

34 In the midst of the people the two old men rose up and laid their hands on her head. 35 As she wept she looked up to heaven, for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly. 36 The old men said, “As we were walking in the garden alone, this woman entered with two servant girls, shut the garden gates and sent the servant girls away. 37 A young man, who was hidden there, came and lay with her. 38 When we, in a corner of the garden, saw this lawlessness, we ran toward them. 39 We saw them lying together, but the man we could not hold, because he was stronger than we; he opened the gates and ran off. 40 Then we seized this one and asked who the young man was, 41 but she refused to tell us. We testify to this.” The assembly believed them, since they were elders and judges of the people, and they condemned her to death.

42 But Susanna cried aloud: “Eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things before they come to be: 43 you know that they have testified falsely against me. Here I am about to die, though I have done none of the things for which these men have condemned me.”

44 The Lord heard her prayer. 45 As she was being led to execution, God stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel, 46 and he cried aloud: “I am innocent of this woman’s blood.” 47 All the people turned and asked him, “What are you saying?” 48 He stood in their midst and said, “Are you such fools, you Israelites, to condemn a daughter of Israel without investigation and without clear evidence? 49 Return to court, for they have testified falsely against her.”

50 Then all the people returned in haste. To Daniel the elders said, “Come, sit with us and inform us, since God has given you the prestige of old age.” 51 But he replied, “Separate these two far from one another, and I will examine them.”

52 After they were separated from each other, he called one of them and said: “How you have grown evil with age! Now have your past sins come to term: 53 passing unjust sentences, condemning the innocent, and freeing the guilty, although the Lord says, ‘The innocent and the just you shall not put to death.’ 54 Now, then, if you were a witness, tell me under what tree you saw them together.” 55 “Under a mastic tree,”[b] he answered. “Your fine lie has cost you your head,” said Daniel; “for the angel of God has already received the sentence from God and shall split you in two.” 56 Putting him to one side, he ordered the other one to be brought. “Offspring of Canaan, not of Judah,” Daniel said to him, “beauty has seduced you, lust has perverted your heart. 57 This is how you acted with the daughters of Israel, and in their fear they yielded to you; but a daughter of Judah did not tolerate your lawlessness. 58 Now, then, tell me under what tree you surprised them together.” 59 “Under an oak,” he said. “Your fine lie has cost you also your head,” said Daniel; “for the angel of God waits with a sword to cut you in two so as to destroy you both.”

60 The whole assembly cried aloud, blessing God who saves those who hope in him. 61 They rose up against the two old men, for by their own words Daniel had convicted them of bearing false witness. They condemned them to the fate they had planned for their neighbor: 62 in accordance with the law of Moses they put them to death. Thus was innocent blood spared that day.

63 Hilkiah and his wife praised God for their daughter Susanna, with Joakim her husband and all her relatives, because she was found innocent of any shameful deed. 64 And from that day onward Daniel was greatly esteemed by the people.


Daniel 14 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Chapter 14

Bel and the Dragon.[a] After King Astyages[b] was gathered to his ancestors, Cyrus the Persian succeeded to his kingdom. Daniel was a companion of the king and was held in higher honor than any of the Friends of the King. The Babylonians had an idol called Bel,[c] and every day they provided for it six bushels of fine flour, forty sheep, and six measures of wine. The king revered it and went every day to worship it; but Daniel worshiped only his God. When the king asked him, “Why do you not worship Bel?” Daniel replied, “Because I do not revere idols made with hands, but only the living God who made heaven and earth and has dominion over all flesh.” Then the king continued, “You do not think Bel is a living god? Do you not see how much he eats and drinks every day?” Daniel began to laugh. “Do not be deceived, O king,” he said; “it is only clay inside and bronze outside; it has never eaten or drunk anything.” Enraged, the king called his priests and said to them, “Unless you tell me who it is that consumes these provisions, you shall die. But if you can show that Bel consumes them, Daniel shall die for blaspheming Bel.” Daniel said to the king, “Let it be as you say!”

There were seventy priests of Bel, besides their wives and children. 10 [d]When the king went with Daniel into the temple of Bel, 11 the priests of Bel said, “See, we are going to leave. You, O king, set out the food and prepare the wine; then shut the door and seal it with your ring. 12 [e]If you do not find that Bel has eaten it all when you return in the morning, we are to die; otherwise Daniel shall die for his lies against us.” 13 They were not perturbed, because under the table they had made a secret entrance through which they always came in to consume the food. 14 After they departed the king set the food before Bel, while Daniel ordered his servants to bring some ashes, which they scattered through the whole temple; the king alone was present. Then they went outside, sealed the closed door with the king’s ring, and departed. 15 [f]The priests entered that night as usual, with their wives and children, and they ate and drank everything.

16 Early the next morning, the king came with Daniel. 17 “Are the seals unbroken, Daniel?” he asked. And Daniel answered, “They are unbroken, O king.” 18 As soon as he had opened the door, the king looked at the table and cried aloud, “You are great, O Bel; there is no deceit in you.” 19 [g]But Daniel laughed and kept the king from entering. He said, “Look at the floor and consider whose footprints these are.” 20 “I see the footprints of men, women, and children!” said the king. 21 [h]In his wrath the king arrested the priests, their wives, and their children. They showed him the secret door by which they used to enter to consume what was on the table. 22 The king put them to death, and handed Bel over to Daniel, who destroyed it and its temple.

23 There was a great dragon[i] which the Babylonians revered. 24 The king said to Daniel, “You cannot deny that this is a living god, so worship it.” 25 But Daniel answered, “I worship the Lord, my God, for he is the living God. 26 Give me permission, O king, and I will kill this dragon without sword or club.” “I give you permission,” the king said. 27 Then Daniel took some pitch, fat, and hair; these he boiled together and made into cakes. He put them into the mouth of the dragon, and when the dragon ate them, he burst. “This,” he said, “is what you revered.”

28 When the Babylonians heard this, they were angry and turned against the king. “The king has become a Jew,” they said; “he has destroyed Bel, killed the dragon, and put the priests to death.” 29 They went to the king and demanded: “Hand Daniel over to us, or we will kill you and your family.” 30 When he saw himself threatened with violence, the king was forced to hand Daniel over to them. 31 They threw Daniel into a lions’ den,[j] where he remained six days. 32 In the den were seven lions. Two carcasses and two sheep had been given to them daily, but now they were given nothing, so that they would devour Daniel.

33 The prophet Habakkuk was in Judea. He mixed some bread in a bowl with the stew he had boiled, and was going to bring it to the reapers in the field, 34 when an angel of the Lord told him, “Take the meal you have to Daniel in the lions’ den at Babylon.” 35 But Habakkuk answered, “Sir, I have never seen Babylon, and I do not know the den!” 36 The angel of the Lord seized him by the crown of his head and carried him by the hair; with the speed of the wind, he set him down in Babylon above the den. 37 “Daniel, Daniel,” cried Habakkuk, “take the meal God has sent you.” 38 “You have remembered me, O God,” said Daniel; “you have not forsaken those who love you.” 39 So Daniel ate, but the angel of God at once brought Habakkuk back to his own place.

40 On the seventh day the king came to mourn for Daniel. As he came to the den and looked in, there was Daniel, sitting there. 41 The king cried aloud, “You are great, O Lord, the God of Daniel, and there is no other besides you!” 42 He brought Daniel out, but those who had tried to destroy him he threw into the den, and they were devoured in a moment before his eyes.