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An Introduction to the Apocrypha-Part Nine



by Jared L. Olar

As we saw in the previous installment of our study of the Apocrypha, the Greek Septuagint's version of the Old Testament Book of Esther has six additional chapters not present in the original Hebrew version of Esther. When we turn to the Greek version of the Book of Daniel the Prophet, we find something similar: three rather lengthy sections of Greek Daniel are not present in the original Hebrew/Aramaic version of Daniel. In this installment, we will examine those three additions and their relationship to the rest of the Book of Daniel.

The Additions and Their Place in Daniel:

In its earliest form, the Book of Daniel is a compilation of narrative and prophecy written in Hebrew and Aramaic by the prophet Daniel in the latter half of the 500s B.C. That original form is the version of Daniel found in Jewish and Protestant Bibles.  However, when Daniel was translated into Greek around 200

B.C., a prayer, a hymn, and two Jewish legends about Daniel came to be inserted into the book.  These additions exist only in Greek, though they were translated from lost Hebrew or Aramaic originals. This expanded version of Daniel is the one found in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles.

The original Greek translation of Daniel, the Septuagint, was very unsatisfactory, because it was either based on a faulty original text, or else was done in haste or by an unskilled translator. Consequently, a Greek-speaking proselyte to Judaism named Theodotion prepared a fresh Greek translation of Daniel, one that was so superior to the Septuagint that in the 100s A.D. the Church abandoned Septuagint Daniel in favor of Theodotion's version. Then in the 200s A.D., the early Church Father Origen revised and corrected Septuagint Daniel. The three Greek additions are found in both the Septuagint and the Theodotion versions of Daniel.

In the late 300s A.D., St. Jerome created the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, relying on the original Hebrew and Aramaic to prepare fresh Latin translations of many Old Testament books. For the additions to Daniel, St. Jerome relied on Theodotion rather than the Septuagint, but he decided to remove the two legends from their locations in Greek Daniel and place them as appendices at the end of the book. However, he left the additional prayer and hymn where they are found in Greek Daniel. English translations follow St. Jerome's arrangement of the book, not the arrangement of Greek Daniel. The following chart shows the arrangement as it exists in Greek Daniel, but uses the traditional chapter and verse numbering based on St. Jerome's arrangement:





Chapter 1:1-21

Daniel and his friends refuse to eat the king's food.


Chapter 2:1-49

Nebuchadnezzar's dream and Daniel's interpretation.


Chapter 13:1-64

Daniel's rescue of Susanna.


Chapter 3:1-23

Nebuchadnezzar's image and the fiery furnace.


Chapter 3:24-90

The Prayer of Azariah and the Hymn of the Three Hebrew Young Men.


Chapter 3:91-97

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego are saved from the fiery furnace.


Chapter 3:98-4:34

The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar.


Chapter 5:1-30

The Handwriting on the Wall and the Fall of Babylon.


Chapter 6:1-29

Daniel in the Lion's Den.


Chapter 14:1-42

Daniel's defeat of Bel and the Dragon.


Chapter 7:1-28

Vision of the Four Beasts.


Chapter 8:1-27

Gabriel and the Vision of the Ram and the He-goat.


Chapter 9:1-27

Gabriel, the Seventy Weeks Prophecy, and the Coming of the Messiah.


Chapters 10-12

Gabriel, Michael, and the Vision of the Kings of the North and South,


and of the rise of the Antichrist and the End of the World.



As can be seen by the above chart, the additional prayer and hymn in chapter 3 are essentially just extensions or embellishments of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego being thrown into Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace. However, as we shall see, the stories of Susanna and Bel and the Dragon are added tales about Daniel which were placed in the book in what seemed to be appropriate spots.

The Story of Susanna:

After the introductory stories of how Daniel and his friends were carried into captivity to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar, and how Daniel first rose to prominence at Nebuchadnezzar's court, Greek Daniel inserts a tale of how Daniel saved a virtuous and beautiful Jewish woman named Susanna (Hebrew Shoshannah) from a false accusation of adultery.

Susanna, daughter of Hilkiah, married Joiakim, a wealthy and prominent Jew among the exiles in Babylon. The same year as her marriage, two wicked Jewish elders were appointed judges for the community of exiles. These two elders often visited Joiakim's house, and they began to lust after Joiakim's wife Susanna. Determined to satisfy their filthy lust, they hid in Joiakim's garden and watched Susanna bathe. The voyeurs then sprang out and demanded that she commit adultery with them both, right then and there-if she refused, they would invent a story that they caught her committing adultery with a young man. Refusing to sin against God, Susanna screamed. When Joiakim's servants arrived, the wicked elders uttered their false accusations. Susanna was then brought to trial, with the elders acting as both judges and witnesses, and was sentenced to death.

As she was led to her execution, she prayed to God to save her. He answered her prayer, stirring up the Holy Spirit in ``a young lad named Daniel,'' who cried out, ``I will have no part in this woman's death!'' At Daniel's assertion that the elders had borne false witness against Susanna, and had not been properly examined, she was returned to court and the trial was resumed. With precocious wisdom, Daniel then examined the elders separately, thereby showing that their testimony was contradictory and false. The elders, being found guilty of perjury, were sentenced to death and executed, and Susanna was restored to her husband and family with joy. ``And from that day onward, Daniel was greatly esteemed by the people.''

The story of Susanna is certainly a moving, dramatic, and well-told tale that can hold its own against modern television courtroom dramas in the tradition of Perry Mason. However, the story's depiction of Daniel and the Jewish community in Babylon doesn't seem to agree with the picture painted in Dan. 1-2. In ch. 1:3-7, Daniel and his friends are described as ``young men'' who had been carried to Babylon in 605 B.C. Thus, in Dan. 1-2 the Babylonian Exile had just begun. But in the story of Susanna, we have an apparently well-established Jewish community in Babylon, with a leading and wealthy member named Joiakim-and at that time Daniel is just ``a young lad'' (other translations say ``young boy'').

It is because this tale shows Daniel as a youth that Greek Daniel places it so early in the book. Chronologically, it would appear that this tale would have to be inserted between verses 2 and 3 of chapter 1-after King Jehoiakim's deportation to Babylon, but before Daniel and his friends were selected to become eunuchs in Nebuchadnezzar's palace. However, that is difficult, though not impossible, to reconcile with the established community of exiles depicted in Susanna. Also, while Susanna's Daniel is wise and righteous like the Daniel of the rest of the book, there is the inconsistency that the tale introduces Daniel as if he had not been mentioned before.

In light of these considerations, it is clear that this story is a later Jewish legend about Daniel, very probably a fictional tale rather than being based on any authentic events of Daniel's life. In fact, it's not impossible that the germ of this story was Daniel's own name, which means ``God is my judge,'' a very fitting name for ``a young lad'' whose righteous judgment overturns the false witness of two wicked judges.

However, whether fictional or historical, the story upholds biblical truths and spurs the reader to godliness of life. 1 It also foreshadows in some ways the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11). In both cases, there were legal irregularities as men attempted to put a woman to death-but Daniel saved an innocent woman whom the Torah did not condemn, while Jesus saved a sinful woman by setting aside the letter of the Torah in favor of His Torah of mercy. Christians have also seen in the tale of Susanna an allegory of God's righteous judgment vindicating the Church, the pure Bride of Christ, from the assaults and unjust accusations of Satan (Rom. 8:33-34; Rev. 12:10-11).

The Prayer of Azariah and the Hymn of the Three Hebrew Young Men:

Chapter 3 of Greek Daniel contains an extended version of the story of the miraculous deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego from the fiery furnace. In Protestant and Jewish Bibles, chapter 3 has 30 verses, but Greek Daniel has 67 additional verses inserted between the verses that are numbered 23 and 24 in Protestant and Jewish Bibles.

These verses begin with the Prayer of Azariah (Abed-nego), in which Azariah praises God and asks Him to deliver him and his friends from the furnace into which they had been cast. Then come a few verses which mention that the fire was stoked to such an intense heat that the fire soared 49 cubits above the furnace and burned the Chaldeans standing nearby. However, the angel of the Lord came down into the furnace and drove out the fire, preventing it from burning Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Afterwards comes a lengthy hymn of praise and thanksgiving for God's deliverance, traditionally called the Benedicite from the Latin Vulgate's rendering of the word, ``bless,'' found in the hymn's repeated refrain, ``Bless the Lord.''

While these prayers are lovely and stirring, and have been incorporated into the ancient liturgies of Christianity, there is no doubt that they are a later embellishment of the original story, as can be seen not only from the simple fact that they do not exist in the original Hebrew and Aramaic text of Daniel, but also from the fact that these extra verses consistently refer to the heroes by their Hebrew names, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, whereas the original story only uses their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.

Bel and the Dragon:

The third addition to Daniel tells a story that is placed during the reign of Cyrus the Persian, who conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. The story begins in 549 B.C. with the death and burial of Astyages, King of Media, who was overthrown by his grandson Cyrus the Persian. One of Cyrus' favorites was a Jewish priest named Daniel, son of Abal. After Cyrus became King of Babylon, he began to participate in the cult of Babylon's chief god Bel, but Daniel worshipped only the true God. Every day, the 70 priests of Bel sacrificed sheep and made offerings of food and drink to the idol, and every morning the food that had been placed before the idol would be gone.

When Cyrus asked Daniel why he didn't worship Bel, Daniel told him that Bel was nothing but a man-made idol, not a god at all, and had never eaten any food. Enraged, Cyrus decided to test Bel, to see whether or not Daniel was right-and if Bel passed the test, Daniel would be executed for blasphemy. After the food offering was placed before the idol, Cyrus had Daniel sprinkle ashes all over the floor of Bel's temple without the knowledge of the priests. Then the temple was sealed for the night.

The next morning, the food was gone, as usual, and the temple's seal was unbroken. However, the ashes on the floor revealed footprints everywhere-the priests had installed a trap door, through which they and their families entered the temple every night to consume the sacrifices, in order to maintain the falsehood that Bel was a living god. In anger, Cyrus arrested the priests and their families and had them all put to death, and then had Daniel destroy the idol and temple of Bel.

Still a polytheist, Cyrus drew Daniel's attention to a great dragon that the Babylonians worshipped as a god-it could not be denied that the dragon was alive, unlike the idol of Bel. Daniel replied with a request for permission to slay the dragon, promising that he could do it using neither sword nor club. After obtaining permission, Daniel boiled a concoction of pitch, fat, and hair, which he made into cakes and fed to the dragon. When the dragon ate the concoction, it exploded into a huge, gory mess. ``This is what you worshipped,'' Daniel said in triumph.

Having been deprived of two of their gods by a Jew in such short order, the people of Babylon went to Cyrus, saying, ``The king has become a Jew!'' They threatened a rebellion unless he handed Daniel over to them. Fearing for his life and the lives of his family, Cyrus gave up Daniel, who was thrown into a den of hungry lions. However, God intervened to save Daniel's life. God sent an angel to the prophet Habakkuk in Judah, and the angel commanded Habakkuk to take the food he was about to serve and give it to Daniel in the lion's den. When Habakkuk balked at such a seemingly impossible order, the angel grabbed Habakkuk by the hair of his head and carried him through the sky at great speed to Babylon, where Habakkuk gave his food to Daniel.

After Daniel had been in the lion's den for seven days, Cyrus came to mourn his friend. Astonished to find Daniel still alive, Cyrus praised Daniel's God and declared that He alone was God. He then took Daniel out of the lion's den, and threw in those who had tried to kill Daniel-the lions instantly killed and ate them.

The most notable feature of this tale is that it includes another version of the story of Daniel in the lion's den, found in Dan. 6. However, in Dan. 6 the king who unwillingly agrees to Daniel being thrown to the lions is not Cyrus the Persian, but Cyrus' subject king Darius the Mede, son of Ahasuerus (Hebrew Achashverosh, Persian Khshayarsha, Greek Xerxes), who ruled Babylon for a short time in 539 and 538 B.C. before Cyrus came to take up the personal rule of Babylon. Chapter 6 ends with the words, ``So Daniel fared well during the reign of Darius, and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.'' It is at that point that Greek Daniel inserts the story of Bel and the Dragon, in which Cyrus is a main character.

Obviously it is highly unlikely that Daniel was thrown into a lion's den twice, both times for opposition to idolatry. In addition, the temple and cult of Bel were not abolished in Babylon during the reign of Cyrus the Persian. On the contrary, Cyrus sought to worship all gods equally, including both Bel and the true God. The remarkable story of the angel carrying Habakkuk by his hair is unattested in other ancient Jewish sources, though chronologically at least it seems to agree with what can be known about when Habakkuk lived. Finally, there is the blunt fact that there is no such thing as dragons. All of these considerations make it clear that this tale does not recount any historical events, but rather is just an edifying legend, a midrash, based on the Daniel of history.

In addition, the fact that Daniel is freshly introduced to the reader, as he was in the tale of Susanna, shows that this story was not an original part of the Book of Daniel, but was a separate document at first. (Note as well that the story tells us the name of Daniel's father, and identifies him as a priest, things mentioned nowhere else.) Bel and the Dragon is an entertainingly-written Jewish polemic against idols, based on the original stories of Daniel that were first written in the 500s B.C. This literary attack on Babylonian idolatry perhaps forms part of the cultural and religious background of the visions of beasts, dragons, and the fall of Babylon that are found in the Book of Revelation.

Interestingly enough, in both Susanna and Bel and the Dragon, Daniel displays great wisdom and performs impressive detective work. Furthermore, though all three of the additions to Daniel are probably works of fiction, they agree with other biblical books in the lessons they teach about the folly of idolatry, the necessity to remain faithful to God even in the face of persecution, the beauty of the praise of God, and the excellence of godliness, moral virtue, and God-guided reason. It is no wonder that Christians and Jews have long held these additions in high regard.


1The tale of Susanna has also inspired Christian artists through the ages, most notably the post-Renaissance painter Artemisia Ghentileschi, a rape victim who coped with her trauma by producing several studies of biblical heroines like Jael, Esther, Judith, and Susanna. Ghentileschi's father, also a painter, had hired a friend to teach his young daughter how to paint. When the tutor raped Ghentileschi, her father only pressed charges for breach of contract rather than rape---and during the trial proceedings, Ghentileschi was tortured to make sure she was telling the truth about her rape.  Ghentileschi responded to this terrible betrayal by painting a study of Susanna in which her rapist and her own father appear as the two perverted elders.

Issue 16


File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.01.On 11 Jan 2004, 21:51.