BEL AND THE DRAGON

1. And king Astyages was gathered to his fathers, and Cyrus of Persia received his kingdom.
2. And Daniel conversed with the king, and was honoured above all his friends.
3. Now the Babylons had an idol, called Bel, and there were spent upon him every day twelve great measures of fine flour, and forty sheep, and six vessels of wine.
4. And the king worshipped it and went daily to adore it: but Daniel worshipped his own God. And the king said unto him, Why dost not thou worship Bel?
5. Who answered and said, Because I may not worship idols made with hands, but the living God, who hath created the heaven and the earth, and hath sovereignty over all flesh.
6. Then said the king unto him, Thinkest thou not that Bel is a living God? seest thou not how much he eateth and drinketh every day?
7. Then Daniel smiled, and said, O king, be not deceived: for this is but clay within, and brass without, and did never eat or drink any thing.
8. So the king was wroth, and called for his priests, and said unto them, If ye tell me not who this is that devoureth these expences, ye shall die.
9. But if ye can certify me that Bel devoureth them, then Daniel shall die: for he hath spoken blasphemy against Bel. And Daniel said unto the king, Let it be according to thy word.
10. Now the priests of Bel were threescore and ten, beside their wives and children. And the king went with Daniel into the temple of Bel.
11. So Bel's priests said, Lo, we go out: but thou, O king, set on the meat, and make ready the wine, and shut the door fast and seal it with thine own signet;
12. And to morrow when thou comest in, if thou findest not that Bel hath eaten up all, we will suffer death: or else Daniel, that speaketh falsely against us.
13. And they little regarded it: for under the table they had made a privy entrance, whereby they entered in continually, and consumed those things.
14. So when they were gone forth, the king set meats before Bel. Now Daniel had commanded his servants to bring ashes, and those they strewed throughout all the temple in the presence of the king alone: then went they out, and shut the door, and sealed it with the king's signet, and so departed.
15. Now in the night came the priests with their wives and children, as they were wont to do, and did eat and drink up all.
16. In the morning betime the king arose, and Daniel with him.
17. And the king said, Daniel, are the seals whole? And he said, Yea, O king, they be whole.
18. And as soon as he had opened the dour, the king looked upon the table, and cried with a loud voice, Great art thou, O Bel, and with thee is no deceit at all.
19. Then laughed Daniel, and held the king that he should not go in, and said, Behold now the pavement, and mark well whose footsteps are these.
20. And the king said, I see the footsteps of men, women, and children. And then the king was angry,
21. And took the priests with their wives and children, who shewed him the privy doors, where they came in, and consumed such things as were upon the table.
22. Therefore the king slew them, and delivered Bel into Daniel's power, who destroyed him and his temple.
23. And in that same place there was a great dragon, which they of Babylon worshipped.
24. And the king said unto Daniel, Wilt thou also say that this is of brass? lo, he liveth, he eateth and drinketh; thou canst not say that he is no living god: therefore worship him.
25. Then said Daniel unto the king, I will worship the Lord my God: for he is the living God.
26. But give me leave, O king, and I shall slay this dragon without sword or staff. The king said, I give thee leave.
27. Then Daniel took pitch, and fat, and hair, and did seethe them together, and made lumps thereof: this he put in the dragon's mouth, and so the dragon burst in sunder : and Daniel said, Lo, these are the gods ye worship.
28. 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.
29. So they came to the king, and said, Deliver us Daniel, or else we will destroy thee and thine house.
30. Now when the king saw that they pressed him sore, being constrained, he delivered Daniel unto them:
31. Who cast him into the lions' den: where he was six days.
32. And in the den there were seven lions, and they had given them every day two carcases, and two sheep: which then were not given to them, to the intent they might devour Daniel.
33. Now there was in Jewry a prophet, called Habbacuc, who had made pottage, and had broken bread in a bowl, and was going into the field, for to bring it to the reapers.
34. But the angel of the Lord said unto Habbacuc, Go, carry the dinner that thou hast into Babylon unto Daniel, who is in the lions' den.
35. And Habbacuc said, Lord, I never saw Babylon; neither do I know where the den is.
36. Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown, and bare him by the hair of his head, and through the vehemency of his spirit set him in Babylon over the den.
37. And Habbacuc cried, saying, O Daniel, Daniel, take the dinner which God hath sent thee.
38. And Daniel said, Thou hast remembered me, O God: neither hast thou forsaken them that seek thee and love thee.
39. So Daniel arose, and did eat: and the angel of the Lord set Habbacuc in his own place again immediately.
40. Upon the seventh day the king went to bewail Daniel: and when he came to the den, he looked in, and behold, Daniel was sitting.
41. Then cried the king with a loud voice, saying, Great art Lord God of Daniel, and there is none other beside thee.
42. And he drew him out, and cast those that were the cause of his destruction into the den: and they were devoured in a moment before his face.


See Witton Davies' introduction to this book in Charles' Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, pp. 652-3. 'Bel and the Dragon forms the third of the Apocryphal additions to Daniel, and was written originally almost certainly in Hebrew, though none of the Hebrew original has survived. The other two additions are the Song of the Three Children and Susanna. In the Greek and Latin texts the three additions to Daniel constitute an integral part of the canonical Book of Daniel, and were recognized as such, and therefore as themselves canonical, by the Council of Trent. The Song of the Three Children is, however, the only one of the three which has a necessary connexion with the Hebrew canonical Book of Daniel, standing in the Greek and Latin texts between Dan. iii. 24 and 25. The other two additions are appended, and appear to have an origin independent of the book to which they are attached and also of each other, though in all three, as also in the canonical book, the name and fame of Daniel forms the principal theme.

I. Name and Position in the Canon.

In the Greek Codd. Bel and the Dragon stands at the end of the canonical Book of Daniel, bearing therefore no distinct title. In Codd. A and B of  it is, however, preceded by the words 'Vision xii'; i.e. it forms the twelfth and last of the series of visions into which this enlarged Book of Daniel is divided. In the LXX it is called 'Part of the prophecy of Habakkuk the Son of Jesus of the tribe of Levi': see note on v. 1. In the Vulgate Bel and the Dragon forms ch. xiv of Daniel.

In Syriac (see 3) the Story of Bel is preceded by the heading 'Bel the idol', that of the Dragon having at its beginning the words, 'Then follows the Dragon.'

Bel and the Dragon is the title in all the Protestant versions of the Apocrypha, these versions keeping the books now known as Apocryphal apart as being, it was thought, deutero- or non- canonical. In a Nestorian list of biblical works mentioned by Churtonit is called 'The Lesser Daniel.'

2. Contents.

The two stories as told in common by LXX and may be thus summarized.

1. The Story of Bel, vv. 1-22. There is in Babylon an image of Bel (Marduk, Merodach) which Daniel refuses to worship, though no form of worship is mentioned besides that of supplying the god with food. The king, identified in with Cyrus, remonstrates with the delinquent Hebrew, pointing him to the immense quantity of food consumed daily by Bel as a proof that the god thus recognized is a living, true deity. Daniel denies that the food is eaten by the god, and asks permission to put the matter to a test. This request being granted, he is shown the lectisternia, the sacred tables, covered with food which it is alleged the god will consume during the night. It is agreed that the doors of Bel's temple shall be closed and sealed for the night after the departure of the priests. But in addition, Daniel takes the precaution of having, without the priests' knowledge, the floor of the temple strewn lightly with ashes. When the morning breaks, the doors are still closed and the seals intact, but the food has disappeared, evidence, the king thinks, that it has been consumed by Bel. Daniel, however, points to the tracks of bare feet on the ash-strewn floor as evidence that the priests have entered the temple by secret doors and removed the food. Angered by the trick which the priests had played on him, the king has them put to death and the image destroyed.

2. The Dragon Story, vv. 23-42. There is in Babylon a great live serpent (dragon) worshipped by a large number of the inhabitants, who feed it lavishly. In the present case the god is represented by a living creature which can be fed and which needs feeding. Daniel refuses to bow down before the serpent, and throws out a challenge to the king, that, if permission is given him, he will destroy the creature alleged to be a god. Receiving the requested permission, Daniel makes a mixture of which pitch is the principal ingredient, and thrusting it down the serpent's throat this creature bursts asunder and dies. Infuriated at the death of their god, the populace demand the death of this god-murderer. The king yields, and has Daniel cast into the den of lions, the usual punishment of persons found guilty of capital charges. But though Daniel remained in the company of seven lions for seven days, he suffers no injury. On the sixth day Daniel, being naturally hungry, is miraculously supplied with food. The prophet Habakkuk has prepared the midday (?) meal for his reapers, and is on the way to the field where they are. An angel arrests him, telling him he is to carry the meal to Daniel in the lions' den in Babylon. On his alleging his ignorance of the location of the lions' den, and even of Babylon itself, the angel lays hold of the hair on the crown of his head and conveys the prophet to the den, where, seeing Daniel, he hands him the food, and seems as safe among the lions as Daniel himself. The angel then restores Habakkuk to his Palestine home. Seeing that Daniel was preserved (the Habakkuk incident is an evident interpolation), the king magnifies God, sets Daniel at liberty, and substitutes for him in the den Daniel's accusers, who are at once devoured by the lions.

The meaning of the word 'dragon.' The Greek word translated 'dragon' denotes originally a large serpent. Homer uses [Gr.] and [Gr.] interchangeably without the least apparent difference. Even the drakoti of Greek mythology remains essentially a serpent. In the East the serpent came to be commonly used as a symbol of the principle of evil. In the LXX [Gr.] translates most frequently (twelve times) the Hebrew (tannin), rendered in the A. V. generally (eight times) 'dragon.' sometimes (thrice) 'serpent.' In two passages (Amos ix. 3, Job xxvi. 3) the usual Hebrew word for serpent  is represented in the LXX by [Gr.]. There is no good reason for departing from the simple impression which the narrative gives that in the present tale the dragon is a live snake worshipped as a god. Perhaps such worship is to be regarded as a survival of totemism. There is abundant evidence of snake worship in various parts of the ancient world, and there is good reason for believing that it obtained in Babylon, (1) The god Nina was worshipped in the form of a serpent. (2) On Babylonian seals men are figured worshipping gods apparently serpentine in form, their lower parts consisting of serpent coils with worshippers in front. (3) Both Berosus and Helladius speak of gods worshipped as serpents in Babylon." (4) Jensen, quoted by Baudissin (PRE v, p. 6), says there was a serpent god called in Sumerian Serah. For traces of serpent worship among the Hebrews, see Num. xxi. 8 f , 3 Kings xviii. 4. There is no certain proof that in ancient Babylon the live serpent as in distinction from the image of a serpent was worshipped, but there is no conclusive evidence to the contrary, and the analogy of other countries favours a decision in the affirmative.

Fritzsche holds that the story was composed in Egypt, where serpent worship is known to have existed in early times, but that the author inaccurately transferred it to Babylon. But since Fritzsche's time fresh evidence of such worship in Babylon has presented itself. Modern writers generally maintain that the dragon in this story represents a mythical monster with a serpent's head and neck, an eagle's legs, a lion's body, and a unicorn's horn.* In this or some similar form a very large number of Babylonian inscriptions picture this monster or other monsters (we can never be quite sure as to this) as in conflict with Marduk or some other Babylonian deity. The monster has been very commonly identified with the mythological dragon, but no decisive proof of the identity has been furnished. W. Hayes Ward has made a careful attempt to bring together the various forms in which the 'dragon-myth' has been portrayed on Babylonian-Assyrian inscriptions,' and he assumes throughout that in all it is the Marduk-Tiamat conflict of the Babylonian Creation legend that is set forth, but he gives no proof of this, for the name Tiamat is not once connected with the representation. Indeed it seems now generally understood that Tiamat was a snake deity, and that the dragon of the story now under consideration is no other than Tiamat: so Sayce, Ball, Gunkel, Marshall, Toy.

The present writer ventures with Jensen and Baudissin to dispute and even deny this, and for the following reasons:

    1. There is no evidence in the Babylonian-Assyrian inscription that Tiamat was conceived as a serpent. The serpentine forms pointed out cannot be shown to be intended for Tiamat.
    2. Berosus does not once translate the Babylonian Tiamat by dragon or by any word denoting serpent. He uniformly transliterates the word, though not as we should do now, but as Thalatth.
    3. The idea embodied in Tiamat differs from that of the dragon or serpent. In Babylonian mythology Tiamat stands for the female principle, expressing itself in darkness and disorder, older than the gods themselves, since the birth of the gods took place through their separation from the primaeval chaos ( = Tiamat). Tiamat is usually identified with the primaeval ocean, wild and rebellious, needing to be subdued. We are probably to see a reference to it in the Dinn rendered by English versions 'the deep': LXX [Gr.]: Vulg. Abyssus.
    4. In the present story the dragon is a god alongside of Bel in the preceding story: there is not the remotest hint that he is regarded other than as a Babylonian deity worshipped in the form of a serpent or dragon.