16 Jun 2011

The "Rest" of Apocryphal Daniel: Azariah, Susanna & Bel and the Dragon,

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Apocrypha, Bible, Church, Church History, Daniel, Exegesis, King James Version, Martin Luther, Septuagint, Worship
Introduction to Forgotten Stories

Like our previous blog on the Greek Esther, the book of Daniel comes down to us in at least two forms: one in the Septuagint (LXX) and the other in the canonical Hebrew Bible preserved by post-Temple Rabbinic Judaism. In fact there are actually two Greek versions of the story one in the LXX and the one most frequently adopted by the Fathers that of Theodotion (Theodotion was a second century AD Jewish scholar who revised the LXX). There are three Additions to the (LXX) of Daniel that do not appear in the Old Testament known to Protestants. These three are known as:

1) Susanna
2) The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews
3) Bel and the Dragon

In the LXX the order of these stories is as follows: Susanna precedes chapter 1; Azariah fits between our Daniel 3.23 and 24; and Bel and the Dragon closes the book in ch. 12. In the Latin Vulgate Jerome arranged the material as follows – Susanna become ch. 13 and Bel and the Dragon become ch.14.

One hundred years ago it was commonplace among scholars to reject the Apocryphal writings on the presumption that they were written in Greek and not Hebrew or Aramaic. Today that assumption has been rejected outright. The Dead Sea Scrolls have caused most of the reevaluation. The three texts we are studying were all written in either Hebrew or Aramaic. Indeed some of the variant readings between the LXX and Theodotion can only be explained by Semitic Vorlage (if you would like more info on the languages check Carey A. Moore, The Anchor Bible: Daniel, Esther, and Jeremiah: The Additions, pp. 5f, 25-26, 81-84 & 119-120). The dates for the “Additions” is sometime in the second century B.C.

Prayer of Azariah and the Song of Three Jews

Martin Luther called the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of Three Jews “a little spice garden or flower bed since much that is good, especially the hymn of praise, Benedicite is found among them” (Luther’s Works, vol 35, p. 353). Indeed, in the history of Christian worship both the Prayer and the Song have been used extensively through the centuries.

The Prayer and Song consist of 68 verses divided up into three basic parts:

1) Prayer of Azariah (vv. 1-22); 2) narrative describing the intervention of God (vv. 23-28); 3) Psalm of praise by the three young men (vv. 29-68). An example of confession for the sin of the nation can be found in Nehemiah 1.4-11. Theologically three themes can said to be expressed through these Additions: 1) God works in human history; 2) God is also at work in individuals, 3) God is Lord of all, the Creator to be exalted and worshiped. The Song of the Three is a beautiful hymn of praise that resembles Psalm 148 and is structured like Psalm 136.

Here are a few choice verses from Prayer:

For your name’s sake do not give us up forever,
and do not annul your covenant.
Do not withdraw your mercy from us,
for the sake of Abraham your beloved . . .

Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted,
as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls . . .

such may our sacrifice bin your sight today . . .

for no shame will come to those who trust in you. . . .

Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in your patience
and in your abundant mercy . . .

Let them know that you alone are the Lord God glorious over the whole
world. (vv. 11-12, 16-17, 19, 22).

The Song is lifted to God from within the fiery furnace. God did not abandon the brave Israelites in the furnace but sent the “angel of the Lord” to be with them in the fire (v.26). Bernard Joseph Snell, in a series of lectures on the “Value of the Apocrypha” makes this observation about the Benedicte …

“This Hymn of Adoration, known as the Benedicite holds an honored place in all the liturgies of Christendom. Legendary as it is, it implicitly contains a splendid protest against idolatry, an invocation of all that is great and strong, beautiful and holy to join in the perpetual benediction of the Source of it all. Charles Kingsley regarded it as the very crown and flower of the Old Testament” (Value of the Apocrypha, p. 74).

Some Texts

Then the three with one voice praised and glorified and blessed God in the furnace:
Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and to be praised and highly exalted forever …

Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory, and to be extolled and highly glorified forever …

Bless the Lord, spirits and souls of the righteous; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
Bless the Lord, you who are holy and humble in heart; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
Bless the Lord, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
For he has rescued us from Hades and saved us from the power of death, and delivered us from the midst of the burning fiery furnace; from the midst of the fire he has delivered us.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.
All who worship the Lord, bless the God of gods, sing praise to him and give thanks to him, for his mercy endures forever.” (vv. 28-29, 31, 64-68, NRSV)

We can justly join the great Church Father, Hippolytus (who had both Palestinian and Roman ties) who testified in his commentary on Daniel, “We may marvel at the words of the three youths in the furnace” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol V. p. 191).

The Story of Susanna

The story of Susanna is set in the Babylonian Exile, in the house of Joakim, a wealthy and respected Jew. Two elders who had been appointed to be judges secretly began to lust after the beautiful pious Susanna. They present her with an ultimatum: indulge their sinful desires or else be charged with being “caught in the act” with a young man who somehow managed to escape. The chaste Susanna chooses to be faithful to God and her husband and faces the court and is sentenced to death. The Lord hears her cry for vindication and moves Daniel to intervene. She is rescued and her honor restored, the elders are executed and Daniel’s reputation as a wise man increases. Here is a brief outline of the story:

I. Two Elders Falsely Accuse Susanna (vv. 1-27)
II. Susanna Tried and Found Guilty (vv. 28-41)
III. Daniel, moved by God, intercedes on Susanna’s behalf (vv. 42-64)

Here is the prayer of Susanna as she was in distress:

O eternal God, you know what is secret and are aware
of all things before they come to be; you know that these
men have given false evidence against me. And now I am
to die, though I have done none of the wicked things
that they charged against me!” (Susanna, vv. 42b-43)

Susanna, the hero for God, was extremely popular among early Christian artists. She is depicted in numerous catacombs and sarcophagi and even glassware. Piero Boitani even declared the closing of the second and opening of the third century AD to be the “age of Susanna” (See “Susanna in Excelsis” in The Judgement of Susanna: Authority and Witness, ed. Ellen Spolsky, p. 11). Boitani notes how these suffering believers (even dying) uses images of Susanna and asks the question of why. Susanna became associated with “death and resurrection” (p.10) for early Christians.

Western artists have also delighted in portraying the dilemma of Susanna (Rembrandt; Guernico; Gewntileschi; Tintoretto; etc). Handel wrote an opera about her. Early Christians held her up as a model of piety and modesty and in various homilies (sermons). The legendary early preacher Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407) preached a great lesson on Susanna and elaborates on her chastity.

“Susanna stood as a lamb between two wolves. She was left alone between these two beasts, with no one to help her but God alone. He looked down from heaven and suffered the dispute to make clear both the chastity of Susanna and the wickedness of the elders; so that she might become a glorious women of all times. Susanna endured a severe fight, more severe than that of Joseph. He, a man, contended with one woman; but Susanna, a woman, had to contend with two men, and was a spectacle to men and to angels. The slander against her fidelity to her marriage-vow, the fear of death, her condemnation by all the people, the abhorrence of her husband and relations, the tears of her servants, the grief of all her household – she foresaw all this, and yet nothing could shake her fortitude.”

A common reading of Susanna among the Fathers is that she is the Church of God hemmed in by her antagonists the pagans and the Jews.

Some scholars believe there is an echo of Susanna in the NT through the story of the woman “caught in the act” of adultery in John 7.53-8.11. There are some interesting parallels indeed and it is possible that John used Susanna as a “model” of how to tell his story. Regardless of how we can or cannot trace the influence of Susanna in the pages of the NT or in the doctrinal debates of the early church there can be no doubt whatsoever that for the common Christian in those early centuries held Susanna at a “gut level” near their heart. As the martyred Hippolytus urged in his commentary (already cited above) “let us imitate Susannah.” It is a shame that a story that exercised such comfort and encouragement to disciples in the ravages of persecution in the early church is basically completely unknown by most American Evangelicals today.

I have previously blogged about “blessed Susanna” in my Women on the Family Tree series. You can access that blog HERE.

Bel and The Dragon

Bel and the Dragon are at times called the world’s “first detective story.” Dorothy Sayers included both Susanna and Bel and the Dragon in her anthology of “mystery stories” in her classic work Omnibus of Crime (1929). The purpose of these two episodes in Daniel are to pour ridicule on idolatry and to discredit pagan priest craft.

Bel, whose proper name was Marduk, was the most popular god among the Babylonians being their patron deity. One of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” was the colossal temple to Bel in Babylon.

The Babylonians also venerated a monstrous dragon, or snake, as a god. Daniel this monster was no god by valiantly killing it. In the ancient world the serpent was frequently seen as a religious symbol. Even among the Hebrews it could at time function as such (Numbers 21.8, cf. 2 Kings 18.4). In the mythology of the East attributes of the snake were given to a huge sea monster called Leviathan. Isaiah promised that in the future “the LORD with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea” (Isaiah 27.1, NRSV). Readers can encounter Leviathan in Job, Psalm 74 and later in the Apocrypha in 2 Esdras 6.49-52. Of course this imagery of the dragon is taken up in the Book of Revelation as well (ch. 12). In medieval legends Daniel destroying the dragon without a sword or a club is transformed into St. George who slays the dragon with his lance. And George became the patron saint of English soldering, chivalry and of the Order of Garter. Edmund Spencer wrote,

For thou, emongst those Saints whom thou doest see,
Shalt be a Saint, and thine owne nations frend
And patrone; thou Saint George shalt called bee,
Saint George of mery England, the signe of victoree
(The Faerie Queene, I.x.61, 8-9)

Such is the long journey from the ancient story of Daniel and the Dragon to the legend of St. George. Here are a few choice verses:

Then the king was angry and called the priests of Bel and said to them. ‘If you do not tell me who is eating these provisions, you shall die. But if you prove that Bel is eating them, Daniel shall die, because he has spoken blasphemy against Bel.’ Daniel said to the king, ‘Let it be done as you have said.” (vv. 8-9)

Daniel said, ‘You have remembered me, O God, and have not forsaken those who love you” (v. 38).


As we continue to reflect on the Ancestry of the King James Version throughout 2011 it will be recalled that in the “real” KJV these additions to Daniel were included in the section labeled Apocrypha following Sirach.

2 Responses to “The "Rest" of Apocryphal Daniel: Azariah, Susanna & Bel and the Dragon,”

  1. Randall Says:

    Thanks again for another interesting post. In it you mentioned “It is a shame that a story that exercised such comfort and encouragement to disciples in the ravages of persecution in the early church is basically completely unknown by most American Evangelicals today.”

    Thanks for making it know to us.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    What an insteresting pen u have .
    Thank u so much.
    Blessimgs to you
    Rich constantQ

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