Why Read The Apocrypha: Bel and the Dragon

Why Read The Apocrypha: Bel and the Dragon

Part 9 in Our Why Read the Apocrypha Series. So far we have discussed – the Book of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah,  the Prayer of Azariah and the Three Children, and Susanna and the Elders.

Today we will discuss Bel and the Dragon –

  •  Its history and background
  •  The original language of the text
  •  The Church Fathers view of this work
  •  Criticisms
  • And we will read portions from this book

Bel and the Dragon, also known as the History of the Destruction of Bel and the Dragon, is a Greek Apocryphal addition to the book of Daniel. King Cyrus asks Daniel to serve the Babylonian god Bel, but Daniel refuses. The king insists that Bel is god because he eats and drinks. However, through a clever test, Daniel proves to the king that it was not Bel enjoying the temple offerings but the priests and their families. 

Next involves the dragon, a living god of the Babylonians. Even though this being eats and drinks, Daniel proves it was not a god. He is then thrown into the lion’s den and is saved by God through the prophet Habakkuk. The book ends with King Cyrus finally believing that Daniel’s God is the true God. 

History and Background

Little is known about the history of this book. Bel and the Dragon exist in the Septuagint, and in Theodotion’s translation of Daniel and its additions. 

In some Bibles, this work is incorporated as chapter 14 in the book of Daniel, or in a separate section for apocryphal books. Bel and the Dragon is regarded as canonical by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches but is seen as apocryphal by Protestants. 

The date of this work is potentially during the Persian period (559 – 331 B.C). Many scholars believe Bel and the Dragon was originally written in either Hebrew or Aramaic, and possibly translated into Greek at a later date. 

(Wikipedia “Bel and the Dragon”, Britannica “Bel and the Dragon”, Early Jewish Writings “Bel”, Jewish Encyclopedia “Bel and the Dragon”).

Church Fathers’ View Throughout History

apocrypha - bel and the dragon

The early church fathers have historically been divided on the books of the canon. Most defaulted to the Old Testament canon comprising of only 22 books* (the ones we have now) because it is the number of the letters in the Hebrew Alphabet. The dispute was over if the books now called Apocryphal, should either be considered inspired and included in the canon, included in a separate section labeled as uninspired or if they should be disregarded entirely. 

The Old Testament canon wasn’t resolved until somewhere between 200 A.D. and 382 A.D. However, the ‘apocryphal’ books were included in the Greek Septuagint, which was quoted by the New Testament writers and Jesus over 300 times. 

Whether or not you believe these books should be considered God Inspired Scripture, these were the books that Jesus and the apostles would have read and studied from. In addition to this, they were a part of our history and culture, until the Catholic church started dissecting and disputing every part of our religion. 

*Note: The Hebrews counted 1 – 2 Samuel, 1 – 2 Kings, 1 – 2 Chronicles, and the books of the prophets as their own books, instead of separate books as in modern Bibles. Depending on how you group the books of the Old Testament, it has between 22 – 39 books. 

(Wikipedia “Development Old Testament Canon”).

Criticisms Against Bel and the Dragon

Many Bible Scholars believe this work was only written to ridicule idol worship and to show the importance of Elohim instead. They disregard it as merely a mash-up of Babylonian legends, a fun story to illustrate the events during the time of High Priest John Hyrcanus (164 B.C. – 104 B.C.), or a fairy tale. 

While the writing style and storyline is different from the “traditional” Old Testament canon, this work does not contradict the scriptures. Just because it is different or may be similar to worldly stories, doesn’t mean it’s wrong or uninspired or dangerous. 

(Early Jewish Writings “Bel”, Christianity.com “What is Bel and the Dragon”, Times of Israel “Bel and the Dragon excluded from Torah”, Jewish Encyclopedia “Bel and the Dragon”).

Introduction to Bel and the Dragon

why read the apocrypha the book of Bel and the Dragon

Here is the link to this book if you want to read it for yourself!

Part 1: The Destruction of Bel

During the reign of King Cyrus, Daniel is honored by the king above all others. The Babylonian’s great idol was called Bel and it was given great quantities of food and drinks daily. Cyrus asks Daniel why he doesn’t worship Bel as a god. Daniel said he worshiped Elohim, and Bel was a created statue who didn’t eat or drink.

Verses 4 – 7: “And the king worshipped it [Bel] 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 anything.”

Who is eating the Temple offerings?

King Cyrus is angry that Daniel would suggest that Bel was not god. The king demands to know if Bel or someone else is eating the temple offerings. 

Verses 9 – 10: “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. ”

Sneaky Priests Indulge in the Offerings with Their Families

Cyrus and Daniel go into the temple and watch the king’s servants set up the temple offerings for Bel. Daniel had ashes spread across the floor of the temple, and the doors were sealed. The next day everyone would come back to see if the food was gone or not. The priests weren’t worried because they had made entrances where they and their families would come and eat and drink Bel’s offerings. 

Verse 15: “Now in the night came the priests and their wives and children, as they were wont to do, and did eat and drink up all.”

Footprints in the Temple

Verses 18 – 20:  “And as soon as he had opened the door, 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 the king was angry…”

Daniel Destroys Bel

 Verses 21 – 22: “And took the priests and 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.”

Part 2: The Destruction of the Dragon

The Babylonians also worshipped a living dragon. This being eats and drinks, so Cryus tells Daniel that it must be a god. Daniel requests that the king allow him to kill the dragon without a sword and staff to prove that it was not a god. 

Verses 24 – 26: “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. ”

Exploding Dragon

Verse 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. ”

Conspiracies against King Cyrus and Daniel

The people of Babylon were angry that Daniel had destroyed their idols and that the king had allowed it. They believed Cyrus was becoming a Jew lover and they were not happy about it. They threaten the king to give up Daniel or they would kill Cyrus and his family. 

Verses 29 – 31: ”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.”

God uses Habakkuk to help save Daniel 

The angel of the Lord tells Habakkuk to go to Babylon and give food to Daniel who is in the lions’ den. He protests and God forcibly drags him to Babylon. Daniel happily eats, and Habakkuk is taken back to his home. On the seventh day, King Cyrus comes to Daniel to see if he is still alive. Overjoyed, he proclaims that Daniel’s God is the true God. The king takes Daniel out of the lions’ den and throws the men who conspired against him in the den instead. 

Verses 40 – 42: “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. ”

The Destruction of Bel and the Dragon is the last addition to the book of Daniel in the Apocrypha. In it, we see a little bit more about the life of Daniel and how God continued to save and deliver him from his enemies. We also see more of Babylonian idol worship and its futility. These and many more important lessons are between the pages of the Apocrypha. Shalom. 

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