Monday, February 08, 2010

Bel & The Dragon

Since my mind is in spin disc mode (too much, too fast, too soon, way too much to emotionally handle/process, I don't have a grandmother, slow down, world), it's very hard to concentrate. Since it's hard to concentrate, it's very hard to do work. So we're going to trick my mind by researching for my paper (through typing up quotes and suchlike but pretending like I'm just writing a blogpost.) Excellent.

(And yes, there's a good chance I chose 'Bel & the Dragon' because it sounds like 'Belle & the Dragon' which reminds me of 'Belle & the Beast' which reminds me of 'Beauty & the Beast.' So there.)


Under the subject heading Daniel, Additions To in The Anchor Bible Dictionary with David Noel Freedman as Editor-in-Chief, Volume 2 (D-G), published by Doubleday in 1992 in New York.

D. "Bel and the Snake"

"Bel and the Snake" represents two distinct "confrontation narratives" in which the prophet Daniel, a confidant of King Cyrus of Persia (550-530 BC), courted his own death by deliberately setting out to disprove the "divinity" of two much revered Babylonian gods: the idol Bel (Akk Belu 'He who rules,' i.e. Marduk of Babylon) and a large, living snake. In both stories Daniel's clever use of food proved the undoing of the false gods, that is, Bel could not eat and therefore was not a living god; and because of what the snake did eat he died immediately. These brief tales, each of which is only 22 verses long, are designated as Daniel 13 in ('O' sign with slash through the middle): Daniel 14 in the LXX and Vg.

(page 24)

2. Genre of the Two Tales

The plot for "Bel," the world's first detective story, is certainly plausible. And whether believable or not, Daniel's being safe in the pres (up till here is page 24) ence of ravenous lions and a prophet's being transported by the hair of his head do have biblical antecedents (cf. Daniel 6 and Ezek 8:3).

Yet few, if any, scholars argue for the historicity of either tale. For one thing, "Bel" has a couple of historical errors: Cyrus did not "succeed" (v 1) but rather took by force the kingdom of his grandfather, Astyages (cf. Herodotus Hist. 1: 130); and more important, classical authors like Herodotus, Strabo and Arrian agree that it was the Persian king Xerxes I (486-465 BC) who destroyed Bel and his temple (not Daniel [v 22 of O w/slashthru), or Cyrus the Great [the LXX]). Second, both "Bel" and "The Snake" are typologically identical with other unhistorical stories in Daniel 1-6 where Daniel, described in the third person, is always the hero (except in Daniel 3), and the then-reigning king is the other principal. Moreover, it is always Daniel's strong adherence to his faith that is responsible for bringing him into a dangerous situation and for saving him from it, with the result that Daniel is rewarded by the king, his enemies are destroyed, and the God of Israel is recognized as the one true God.

(page 25)


1. It is the "historization of a myth, the myth being that most exciting part of Enuma Elish (The Babylonian New Year Creation Epic), where Marduk, the tutelary god of Babylon, kills Tiamat, the primordial goddess of salt water" (Freedman 25). Scholars suggest that "echoes of this struggle between Marduk and Tiamat" are seen "even in the ingredients Daniel fed the snake in v 27 (i.e., "pitch, fat, and hair")" (Freedman 25). This is due to the fact that the Aramaic words for 'pitch' and 'barley' can also mean 'wind' or 'storm' and this refers to "one of the weapons Marduk used to kill Tiamat" (Freedman 25). Hair would represent the Greek translator's misreading of the Aramaic word for storm or whirlwind for that meaning hair (Freedman 25). Critics of this viewpoint explain that Tiamat was "envisioned by the Babylonians as a female dragon, not a snake." Further, while snake worship did exist in Neo-Babylonian culture, there is no evidence of Neo-Babylonians "worshipping living snakes."

2. Other scholars have preferred to view "Bel" and "The Snake" as popular or priestly anecdotes of Haggadah inspired by Jer 51: 34-35, 44:

    "Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon has devoured me, he has crushed me; he has made me an empty vessel, he has swallowed me like a monster; he has filled his belly with my delicacies, he has rinsed me out. The violence done to me and to my kinsmen be upon Babylon," let the inhabitants of Zion say, 'My blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea,' let Jerusalem say...And I [i.e. God] will punish Bel in Babylon and take out of his mouth what he has swallowed. The nations shall no longer flow to hm; the wall of Babylon has fallen.
Although no extant texts illustrate any intermediate stages in the evolution of "Bel and the Snake" from Jeremiah 51, the process of subsequent midrashic elaboration and embellishment is documentable. For example, Daniel's concoction of "pitch, fat and hair" (v 27) is described in later Jewish literature as concealing a variety of lethal objects: pointed nails (B'reshit Rabbah), iron combs with sharp tines (Josippon), iron hatchets (Chronicles of Jerahmeel), and very hot coals (Jer. Nedarim 37d). By contrast, Nickelsburg (1981:27) suggests that "Bel and the Snake" may be a midrashic treatment of Isaiah 45-46. (All this is on page 25)

3. The third and most recently proposed genre for the two tales is idol parody, a motif well illustrated by Isaiah 44 and 46. As "a Daniel confrontation it [i.e., 'Bel and the Snake'] sought to ground the rejection of idol worship, typically formulated in the inherited parodies, in the historical act of a well known hero of the faith in the which it [the idol parody] appeared as a recognized oral genre" (Roth 1975: 43). Roth also maintains that the idol parodies of "Bel" and "The Snake" were written to counteract the appeal of idolatry, and esp. zoolatry, to Egyptian Jews of the 1st century BC (cf. Wis 15: 18-19; Let. Aris. 138). Egypt did indeed have a long history of snake worship; for example, Apophis, the wicked enemy of Re, was depicted as a snake, as was Buto, the snake goddess of lower Egypt.

Needless to say, such tales were designed for Jews, not gentiles. Any impact on the latter would have been most negative, the gentiles resenting such Jewish pretensions: (page 25)


If "Bel and the Snake" was originally composed in Greek, then its exclusion from the Jewish canon is quite understandable. But if, as seems more likely, "Bel" and "The Snake" were originally Hebrew/ Aramaic compositions, then their exclusion from the Jewish or Palestinian canon is more puzzling- unless, of course, they were added to the book of Daniel after its canonization.

In all likelihood, "Bel and the Snake" (whether placed after Daniel 12 [so "O w/strikethru"] or after "Susanna" [so the LXX and the Vgl), was added after the composition of the canonical Daniel but before Daniel and its Adds were (page 26) translated into Greek. However, the reason(s) for "Bel and the Snake"'s being excluded from the older and more venerated text of Daniel is a matter of sheer speculation. Certainly the traditional view (i.e. that the Council of Jamnia ([in AD 90)] rejected the Adds to Daniel) is rapidly losing supporters (Cohen 1987: 186).


Date and Place of Composition. Like the stories in canonical Daniel, "Bel and the Snake" may date to the 3rd century BC, or, quite possibly, somewhat later. Certainly there is nothing in either narrative to preclude its having originated as haggadic elaborations of Jer 51:34-35, 44, or Isaiah 45-46 sometime during the late Persian period, there being nothing distinctively Greek in either narrative.

It is likely that "Bel and the Snake" was added to the Semitic text of Daniel several decades after 163 BC, i.e., the date of the canonical Daniel. Antiochus VII Sidetes' invasion of Judea and his razing a portion of the walls of Jerusalem in 135 BC could have provided an appropriate Sitz in Leben for inerting "Bel and the Snake" into canonical Daniel.

Virtually every major Jewish settlement has been suggested as the place of composition for "Bel and the Snake." Because zoolatry was a temptation for some Egyptian Jews, many scholars, ranging from Fritzsche (1851) to Roth (1975: 42-43) have argued for an Egyptian provenance. But scholars believe that "Bel" and "The Snake" are semitic compositions look to either Babylon (Bissell 1880; EncJud 4:412) or Palestine (Brull 1887: APOT 1: 652-64). The discovery of Pseudo-Daniel at Qumran makes a late 2d or early 1st-century BC Palestinian provenance for "Bel and the Snake" more likely than ever before. (pages 26-27)


From Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel by John J. Collins copyrighted in 1993, published by Augsburg Fortress (apparently Fortress Press) in Minneapolis, MN.


Bel and the Seprent obviously has much in common with Daniel 1-6, especially chap. 6. It too may be characterized as a court legend, which culminates in the recognition of the true God in tones of wonder. Again the king is gullible, and Daniel's opponents are villainous and murderous. Within the common framework of the court legend, however, Bel and the Serpent rings some distinctive changes.

First, the courtly elements of the story are reduced. David's enemies are not rival sages but priests and the Babylonian populace. Second, the legendary elements are greatly reduced and appear only in the third section of the story. Daniel disposes of Bel and the Serpent by his own wits, and the episode with Bel has often been dubbed a detective story. In this regard the story recalls the practical wisdom of Ahikar rather than the mantic wisdom of Daniel or Joseph. Third, the polemic against idols is much more central in this story than in any of the tales in Daniel 1-6. There is some polemic against idolatry in Daniel 1-6 - for example, when the three young men refuse to worship the statue in chap. 3 or when Daniel berates Belshazzar in 5:23- but none of these stories revolves around the issue of idolatry. There the Jews are endangered because of their fidelity to their own religion; here Daniel provokes opposition by his attack on the idols. When the courtiers plot against Daniel in chap. 6, it is because of professional jealousy; in Bel and the Serpent he initiates the hostilities by destroying the idols and having the priests slaughtered.

Idol parodies occur frequently in biblical literature in the post exilic period, beginning with Second Isaiah 9esp. Isa 44:9-20). Examples are found in Hab 2:18-19; Jer 10:1-16; and Psalms 115 and 135. An extended example is found in the apocryphal Letter of Jeremiah. Although these parodies are quite caustic, they differ from Bel and the Serpent in two respects. First, they are not cast as narratives; second, they neither call for nor narrate the destruction of the idols. The message of the biblical idol parodies is that idol worship is folly and should be avoided. The message of Bel and the Serpent is that idols should not be tolerated.

An analogous story about the destruction of idols is found in Jubilees 12. There Abraham upbraids his father: "What help or advantage do we have from these idols before which you worship and bow down?" (v 2). His father advises him to "be silent, my son, lest they kill you." Abraham, however, "arose in the night and burned the house of idols. And he burned everything in the house. And there was no man who knew" (Jub 12:12-13). The analogy, however, is limited. In the story of Bel and the Seprent, Daniel first exposes the futility of the idols. In this respect, a better parallel can be found in the story of Mosollamus,t he Jewish archer, attributed to Hecataeus of Abdera by Josephus (AgAp 1.22 par. 201-4). Mosollamus shot a bird that the pagan soldiers were watching for augury and thereby demonstrated its lack

(page 417)

of foreknowledge. Moreover, Daniel destroys the idols with the permission of the pagan king. The repudiation of the idols does not necessarily imply a repudiation of the gentile world.

The story may also have a midrashic dimension. Moore endorses the view that "these tales are pure Jewish fiction, being popular or priestly anecdotes of haggadah inspired by several verses in one chapter of Jeremiah," specifically Jer 51:34-35 ("Nebuchadrezzar, the king of Babylon, has devoured me...he has swallowed me like a monster; he has filled his belly with my delicacies") and 51:44 ("And I will punish Bel in Babylon and take out of his mouth what he has swallowed"). Apt though these verses are, however, there is no explicit link between them and Bel and the Serpent, and the suggestion that they inspired the story is not compelling. Nickelsburg finds "a number of remarkable parallels to Isaiah 45-46" which "suggest that our story may have developed as a kind of commentary on these chapters of Second Isaiah." In Isaiah 45, Yahweh addresses Cyrus, who will come to know him (vv 1, 3). Beside Yahweh there is no other God (5,6). Isaiah 46 (OG) begins a polemic against idols with "Bel has fallen." Again, the parallels are apt, but they are by no means adequate to generate the story. There is no evidence that the story originated as a midrash on a scriptural text.

Setting and Function

The provenance of Bel and the Serpent is quite uncertain. If we assume that it was incorporated into the Book of Daniel by the OG translator, then the date can be no later than the second century BCE. The fact that the OG version makes Daniel a priest, in contradiction to Daniel 1, suggests a date before MT Daniel had become authoritative (therefore before the mid-second century.)

If the original language was Hebrew or Aramaic, then an origin in the Egyptian diaspora during the Hellenistic period is unlikely, because there is no clear example of Egyptian-Jewish literature from this period in a Semitic language. The inaccuracy of the portrayal of Babylonian religion argues against an origin in the eastern diaspora. If the original language was Hebrew rather than Aramaic, the land of Israel is by far the most likely place of composition. In that case, the sympathetic portrayal of the gentile king is more plausibly dated before the time of Antiochus Epiphanes rather than later. We may suggest, then, that the original document was composed in Jerusalem in the first quarter of the second century BCE, in circles different from those that collected the tales of Daniel 1-6. It is readily admitted, however, that several steps in this argument are uncertain and the conclusion is highly tentative.

The Judaism portrayed in the story is strict, even intolerant, on the matter of idolatry, but it is not antagonistic to the gentile world as such. The king is naive but he is no tyrant, and he does not hesitate to repudiate the idols and acknowledge the God of Daniel when the evidence warrants it. Both versions of the story make clear that he hands Daniel over only under duress, and eventually he comes to mourn him. The story implies a world where Jews live under a gentile ruler. The desirable objective is not independence but the conversion of that ruler. In this respect Bel and the Seprent is typical of the so-called diaspora novels (Daniel 1-6, Esther, 3 Maccabees), but such an attitude was also at home in the land of Israel in the period before Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean revolt.

The story makes little attempt to be fair to Babylonian religion and is, indeed, a caricature. Nonetheless, it has considerable metaphorical potential. The priests of Bel

(so far this has all been on page 418)

are representative of manipulators of images in all ages. The manipulation of religious images for personal gain is endemic to religion and is all too familiar a problem in the modern world. The serpent that bursts is symbolic of the idolization of mindless consumption. The stance of Daniel, in contrast, is one of honesty and integrity. The point at issue is not only his adherence to specifically Jewish forms of worship but his rejection of fraud and hypocrisy, which were certainly not peculiar to Babylonian religion.


Although Bel and the Serpent was composed in a Semitic language, there is no evidence that it was ever part of the Hebrew-Aramaic Book of Daniel. The identification of Daniel as as priest shows that it came from a different strand of tradition. It is not correct, then, to speak of its "rejection from the Jewish canon." It was simply part of the extensive corpus of Hebrew and Aramaic literature that never came to be regarded as biblical. Its inclusion in the Book of Daniel must be attributed to the Greek translator. The earliest citation is found in Irenaeus (Haer 4.5.2), who cites vv 4 and 5 with reference to "Daniel the Prophet." It was rejected by Jerome, on the grounds that it is not found in the Hebrew of the Book of Daniel. It was less popular than Susanna in the church fathers, and the episode of the lions' den was more often cited from Daniel 6.

(page 419)


Now let's look at The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English edited by R.H. Charles, D. Litt., D.D., Volume 1 published by Oxford University Press, first published in 1913, in New York.

Page 652 is where Bel & the Dragon shows up.

I need to photocopy this because I can't type it all up. Ah well. I should probably write my paper at some point. Damn the damned paper.

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