Bel and the Dragon

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BEL AND THE DRAGON

Bel and the dragon are two stories, now united as one, that constitute a deuterocanonical addition ending the Book of Daniel (Dn 14.142) in the Catholic canon [see bible, iii (canon)]. The story of Bel (v. 122) tells how Daniel, Cyrus's court favorite, proved that the statue of bel, i.e., marduk, was no true god and that the food offered it was consumed, not by the idol, as Cyrus believed, but by the priests. Through Daniel's clever detective work Cyrus was convinced, the priests were put to death, and the idol was handed over to Daniel, who destroyed itTheodotion's text [see bible, iv (texts and versions)] adds: "and its temple," i.e., the renowned Esagila. The story of the dragon (v. 2342) tells how Daniel destroyed a living dragon (serpent?) worshiped at Babylon by feeding it cakes made from a mixture of pitch, fat, and hair, which caused it to burst asunder. The irate populace obliged the king to condemn Daniel to be thrown into a den of lions (a doublet of the story in Dn6.225), where he was fed by Habacuc (Theodotion adds "the prophet"), who was brought through the air from Palestine, and where he was kept unharmed by God until his release. The king then put his accusers to death.

Both stories, in the manner of Wis 13.114.31, the Letter of jeremiah (Bar 6.172), and other Old Testament texts, ridicule idol worship. They were probably intended to strengthen Jewish faith against idolatry, particularly of the Babylonian type that experienced a reflorescence in the 3rd century b.c. Their popular, burlesque character explains the presence of such improbable elements as Cyrus's credulity and Habacuc's journey. Since there is no evidence of a cult of living serpents in Babylon, the dragon story may be another attack on Marduk, who was accompanied or symbolized by a dragon in the Babylonian art, and it may contain a remote reference to the myth of Marduk's victory over Tiamat (i.e., chaos represented as a sea monster) at creation. Preserved only in Greek, the stories were probably composed in Hebrew or Aramaic between the 3rd and 1st centuries b.c.

Bibliography: r. h. pfeiffer, History of N.T. Times (New York 1949) 436438, 455456. f. zimmermann, "Bel and the Dragon," Vetus Testamentum 8 (1958) 438440. e. d. van buren, "The Dragon in Ancient Mesopotamia," Orientalia 15 (1946) 145.

[m. mcnamara]

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BEL AND THE DRAGON

BEL AND THE DRAGON , two stories appearing in different versions in the Apocrypha, the Septuagint, and Theodotion; they appear as a continuation of the Book of Daniel. In "Bel," Daniel challenged the divinity of the idol Bel, which was reputed to eat and drink. By scattering ashes on the temple floor, he revealed the footprints of the priests who secretly removed the sacrifices placed before the idol. As a result the Persian king, Cyrus, destroyed the idol and killed the priests. In "The Dragon," Daniel caused the death of a dragon worshiped by the Babylonians, by feeding it a mixture of pitch, fat, and hair. Thrown into the lion's den at the crowd's demand, Daniel was miraculously unharmed and survived for a week without food, after which he was fed by the prophet Habakkuk who was miraculously transported to Babylon (see Prophecy of *Habakkuk). The king thereupon praised God and had Daniel's accusers thrown to the lions who devoured them. The object of these stories is to portray the futility of idolatry. The suggestions that they are either a "Jewish version" of the Babylonian Marduk and Tiamat legend, or propaganda against Hellenistic idolatry, seem improbable. They appear to be popular works composed in Babylon when Bel was no longer worshiped, i.e., between the destruction of the temple of Babylon by Artaxerxes (485–465 b.c.e.) and its rebuilding by Alexander the Great (332 b.c.e.). Snakes (= dragons) were used in the Babylonian cult, and the stories were perhaps a midrashic elaboration of Jeremiah 51:34, 44. The two Greek versions seem to be translations from an Aramaic original. A version from the Midrash Bereshit Rabbati of R. Moses ha-Darshan (published by A. Neubauer, Book of Tobit (1878), Hebrew portion p. 39–40) as well as by Ch. Albeck (1940, p. 175) is found in the Pugio Fidei of Raymond *Martini (p. 957). These two versions are almost identical with the Syriac Peshitta. An Aramaic version of Bel and the Dragon in the Chronicle of Jerahmeel is based on Theodotion. A Hebrew fragment is preserved in Genesis R. 68:20 and a Hebrew version is found in *Josippon (3).

[Yehoshua M. Grintz]

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Bel and the Dragon, customary name for chapter 14 of the Book of Daniel, a passage included in the Septuagint and the Apocrypha. It was written possibly in the 1st cent. BC as a response to Gentile threat to the Jewish culture and state. The first half recounts the story of the Babylonian idol Bel, ministered to by priests who secretly consume food left for it, thus deceiving the king and the people. Daniel reveals the fraud, and priests and idol are destroyed by the king. The second half of the passage tells of a dragon, i.e., a live reptile, worshiped as a god; Daniel kills it and is thrown to the lions. The prophet Habakkuk is brought miraculously to the den by an angel to feed him. Daniel is preserved, and the Babylonian king recognizes the power of the God of Daniel. Both stories are highly satirical and polemical.

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Bel and the Dragon. Two stories which appear together in the Apocrypha, and at the end of Daniel in Roman Catholic Bibles. They are directed against idolatry.