The Christian Bible is divided into two testaments containing many books: the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) and the New Testament (Greek Scriptures concerning Jesus Christ). But not all Christian Bibles are the same. Of course, there are various versions and translations, but I’m talking about the books within the Bibles. In some denominations or sects, the Old Testament canon1 differs considerably.
The arrangement of the texts may be different, or even the inclusion of other books may be present. For instance, the Protestants2 have one canon and the Catholics have another which is larger. And among Catholics, the Roman Catholic3 and the Eastern Orthodox4 (Orthodox Catholic Church) contents of the Old Testament are of different sizes.
These additional books or texts (some are very short) are called the Apocrypha.5 Although this Greek term implies ‘hidden books’ or ‘lost books’, this is not really true, for they have, for the most part, been known for a very long time, just not always considered canonical by all Christians. The Protestant Bible contains the smallest number of Old Testament books,6 but these Bibles can also be purchased with the additional books added, which are usually located between the old and new testament sections.
Various types of literature are represented by the Apocrypha and the purpose of them seems to be to fill in some of the gaps left out by the regular books and to carry the history of Israel into second century BC.7 No matter what is said of these books, pro or con, my opinion is the same as that of Martin Luther when he wrote, “the Apocrypha — that is, books which are not regarded as equal to the holy Scriptures, . . . are profitable and good to read.” It should be noted, also, that the Apocrypha was once much more accepted than it is today. It was a part of the King James Version Bible for 274 years, before being removed in 1885.8
The following are most of the books/texts in the Apocrypha. Other charts, lists, and articles may not include all of these, or they may be listed in a different order, or they may be combined or divided in some other way. There also exists some variation in their names.
Additions to Esther
Wisdom of Solomon
Letter of Jeremiah
The Prayer of Manasseh
Susanna and the Elders
Prayer of Azariah – Song of Three Jews
Bel and the Dragon
All the subject matter above contains the background information needed to lay the foundation for our bible study on the additions to the Book of Daniel. We will briefly outline the last three texts on the above list: (1) Susanna and the Elders, (2) The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Jews, and (3) Bel and the Dragon. All scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.9 If possible, read the full text of these three apocryphal books to gain the total context of the stories.
Susanna and the Elders
The story of Susanna (Daniel 13 in the Catholic Bible) is a prologue in some early manuscripts, so it’s logical position should be before Daniel 1. This story’s style, along with the one about Bel, will probably seem somewhat familiar to you, as it has many of the characteristics found in modern detective mysteries.
Susanna was married and falsely accused of adultery. Before punishment, she was saved by Daniel after he received a divine revelation.10 According to Bible encyclopedias, she was a believer in God and a beautiful and devoted wife to Joakim, a high priest, and lived in Babylon during the early years of exile. Her husband owned much property, which included a park, and he opened it for use by fellow exiled people. It was in this park that Susanna would walk, and sometimes bathe after the area was secured and locked by her servants.
Two of the expatriates who regularly visited the park were elders and judges who, though held in high esteem, allowed lustful thoughts toward Susanna to enter their minds. They planned to ambush and overpower her.
“Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was a hot day. No one was there except the two elders, who had hidden themselves and were watching her. She said to her maids, ‘Bring me olive oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I can bathe.’ They did as she told them: they shut the doors of the garden and went out by the side doors to bring what they had been commanded; they did not see the elders, because they were hiding,” (Susanna 15-18).
The secret plan of the men failed, as Susanna resisted when they came to her, so the men decided to blackmail her with false accusations in order to keep her quiet. She resisted that, too (Susanna 19-23).11 A court assembled the next day to decide the case. Susanna, having been alone in the park, had no witnesses, but the two elders — supposedly upright and trusted men of authority — jointly witnessed against her with the false charges. “The elders said, ‘While we were walking in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the maids. Then a young man, who was hiding there, came to her and lay with her,’” (Susanna 36-37).
Susanna is condemned to death (Susanna 38-46). “Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, ‘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 have charged against me!” (Susanna 42-43).
It was then that Daniel came to the rescue, rising “. . . he shouted with a loud voice, ‘I want no part in shedding this woman’s blood!’” (Susanna 46). He has the case reopened and questions each witness alone. Each man provided differing details, which proved they had been lying. This “cross-examination of the two elders succeeds in convincing the people that Susanna is innocent of the charge brought against her. She is acquitted, but her accusers are put to death,” (Susanna 47-64).12
This story had much popular interest before it was removed from most Protestant Bibles. There is a video slide show of oil paintings about Susanna and the Elders by various 16th to 18th century artists, along with classical music by Bach. It is listed at the end of this article; see References & Notes for details.13
The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Jews
This apocryphal text should come between Daniel 3:23 and 3:2414 (it is part of Daniel 3 in the Catholic Bible), as it integrates with the furnace episode. Who is Azariah? Well, remember the story of Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, being thrown into a fiery furnace? Well, Azariah was Abendego’s Hebrew name, before it was changed by the king of Babylon. Daniel and all his friends’ names were changed to be allied with the Chaldean culture. For a deeper OBS study of Daniel 3, see Reference & Notes at the end of this article.15
A prayer of penance is offered by Azariah alone (Song of the Three 1-22), when the three young men were thrown into the furnace, but didn’t burn. “They walked around in the midst of the flames, singing hymns to God and blessing the Lord. Then Azariah stood still in the fire and prayed aloud,” (Song of the Three 1-2).
It was a confession of sin and a plea for mercy.16 After a brief narrative (Song of the Three 23-27), a song sung by all three men, while still in the furnace, is a hymn of thanksgiving as God saved them from death (Song of the Three 28-68).17
This long song, although it mentions the fiery experience, is really a prayer that has nothing to do with the actual furnace event, but “an ordinary hymn of praise. It is well known from the fact that it forms a part of the Anglican Prayer-book, as it had formed part of many early Christian liturgies.”
Bel and the Dragon
This last apocryphal addition to Daniel (Daniel 14 in the Catholic Bible) should be at the very end of Daniel, following chapter 12. There are two stories here. One story is of Bel (a shortened version of Baal [see Isaiah 46:1; Jeremiah 50:2 and 51:44]), which is a Babylon deity. The other story is of a revered live serpent/dragon, worshiped by many local inhabitants.
In the first story, the statue of Bel was believed by the king to be consuming a large amount of food set out on a nightly basis within a closed chamber. Daniel, believing only in the one true creator God, tells the king that he is being deceived and wants to prove this fact. “Do not be deceived, O king, for this thing is only clay inside and bronze outside, and it never ate or drank anything,” (Bel 7). The king granted permission to expose the deception.
There were seventy priests, along with their wives and children who brought food into the temple chamber that night. “The priests of Bel said, ‘See, we are now going outside; you yourself, O king, set out the food and prepare the wine, and shut the door and seal it with your signet. When you return in the morning, if you do not find that Bel has eaten it all, we will die; otherwise Daniel will, who is telling lies about us’,” (Bel 11-12).
After all the priests had left, Daniel scatters the temple floor with light ashes. “When the morning breaks it is found that the doors are still sealed, but the food has disappeared. Upon examination the tracks of bare feet are found on the ash-strewn floor, showing that the priests and their families had entered the temple by a secret way and removed the food. Angered by the trick played on him, the king has the priests put to death and the image [of Bel] destroyed” (Bel 16-22).18
In the second story, about the living dragon, many people in Babylon worshiped a live dragon, who they lavishly feed. In most Bibles this animal is called a dragon or a serpent, but also as the Dragon-god19 or a mythological monster or a snake20 in some literature sources. Daniel refuses to bow to this serpent, but offers to kill it instead. “Give me permission, O king, and I will kill the dragon without sword or club,” (Bel 26a).
Believing this god can take care of itself if necessary, the king accepts Daniel’s challenge. “Then Daniel took pitch, fat, and hair, and boiled them together and made cakes, which he fed to the dragon. The dragon ate them, and burst open. Then Daniel said, ‘See what you have been worshiping!’” (Bel 27).
The citizens are infuriated, and to keep peace, the king reneges on his agreement with Daniel and throws him into a lion’s den. Now this is a different story than the one in Daniel 6, when he was thrown into the lion’s den for not praying to the king as demanded by law. It may or may not have been the same den of lions, but this is a second and separate event. At that time and place, a den of lions was a normal punishment for culprits found guilty of capital crimes.21
After a week, the king made a visit and found Daniel alive. “When he came to the den he looked in, and there sat Daniel! The king shouted with a loud voice, ‘You are great, O Lord, the God of Daniel, and there is no other besides you!’ Then he pulled Daniel out, and threw into the den those who had attempted his destruction, and they were instantly eaten before his eyes,” (Bel 40-42).
How do Daniel’s actions instruct us now, and for the future?
The whole Book of Daniel, including these additions, demonstrates that wise living is characterized by integrity, faith, and dependence on God’s wisdom. In the coming tribulation, a ruler (the Antichrist) will demand that he be worshiped, else we will be killed (2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 13:7-8). Most people in the world will submit to and worship him. But a small remnant, those like Daniel, will refuse and they will be delivered from those persecutions by the Lord Jesus Christ at his second coming.22
In this present day, whether at work or during social events or any other activities, we must never do anything that conflicts with God’s moral and ethical principles. Stand firm, keep your faith, and never compromise. Just as God saved Daniel, his friends, and Susanna from harm, so he can save all of us in any present or future oppression. We must always do what is right in God’s eyes.
Copyright © 2019, Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- canon: (1) a Church decree or law. (2) a collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine.
Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed., (Eds.) C. Soanes and A. Stevenson, (USA: Oxford University Press, 2008 [revised]).
- “Protestantism,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 7 December 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestantism
- “Catholic Church,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 6 December 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church
- “Eastern Orthodox Church,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 9 December 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Orthodox_Church
- The biblical apocrypha from the Ancient Greek: ἀπόκρυφος, romanized: apókruphos, lit. ‘hidden’.
“Biblical apocrypha,” (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 25 November 2019), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_apocrypha
- Barry, John D. “Canon, Books in Codices,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, (Eds.) John D. Barry, et al., (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
- “Bible: Sacred Text,” (Encyclopædia Britannica, 21 October 2019), https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bible
- “The Apocrypha Books,” (WordProject, International Biblical Association, retrieved 10 December 2019), https://www.wordproject.org/bibles/resources/catholic/apocrypha.htm
- All scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), ©1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Silverman, Jason M. and Barry, John D., “Susanna, Text,” Ed. By John D. Barry, et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
- Davies, T. Witton, “Susanna, the History of,” James Orr et al. (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopædia, (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), p. 2873.
- “Susanna & the Elders,” (display of paintings about the Bible story of Susanna in the Book of Daniel), Music: Brandeneburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major; Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach; video edited by Yong W. Kang, Arabesque Art Gallery in Bahrain, uploaded to YouTube on 22 September 2014 – VIDEO: https://youtu.be/NbJ1KYAZF88
- Cook, Michael J. and Silverman, Jason M., “Song of the Three Young Men,” John D. Barry et al., (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
- Hermann, Ray, “Daniel’s Friends were Thrown into the Fire,” (The Outlaw Bible Student, OBS, 1 May 2019), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/daniels-friends-were-thrown-into-the-fire/
- “The Prayer of Azariah,” (Encyclopædia Britannica, retrieved 11 December 2019), https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Prayer-of-Azariah
- Davies, T. Witton, “Song of the Three Children,” James Orr et al. (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopædia, (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), p. 2834.
- Davies, T. Witton, “Bel, and the Dragon,” James Orr, et al., (Eds.). The International Standard Bible Encyclopædia, (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), p. 428.
- Singer, Isidore (Ed.), The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, (New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1901–1906), vol.2, p. 650.
- Silverman, Jason M. and Barry, John D., “Bel and the Dragon,” Ed. by John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
- Davies, T. Witton, “Bel, and the Dragon,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopædia, (see above).
- Pentecost, J. Dwight, “Daniel,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Walvoord and Zuck, (Eds.), (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), vol. 1, pp. 1340–1341.