« Prev For Whom and with what Object Written Next »


This story was evidently composed for Jewish use, not improbably for Jews who had returned from the Captivity, as a popular memorial of Babylonish days. And perhaps the general tenor of the piece implies that it was written to serve, not so much to convert idolaters, as for the encouragement of those who were striving, or had striven, to maintain the 195faith among the heathen. Its tone and subject make its composition in the first instance for Babylonian Jews, or Palestinian Jews returned from captivity, more likely than for their Alexandrian brethren. To these latter, however, it soon found its way. But it is amongst Christian people that this narrative has had its longest and deepest influence. The more it was valued by Christians the less it seemed regarded by Jews. In this respect its fate was similar to that of the entire LXX.

A distinct moral purpose is not obscurely indicated by the trend of the whole story. It is not merely a record of two interesting episodes in the prophet’s later days, but it also aims at a definite religious object. That object is to throw contempt on idolatry, whether directed to inanimate or animate things; to honour Daniel as vindicator of the true worship; and to shew that the adoration of heathen deities is lying and deceptive, and ought to be supplanted by that of the Lord.

It is evidently desired to put both idols and idolaters into ridiculous positions, not for mere amusement, but in order to destroy the confidence which was groundlessly placed in them. The weapons of sarcasm and contemptuous treatment are 196used with success, even as Elijah employed them on Baal and his worshippers at an earlier time (I. Kings xviii. 27). A desire to convert the heathen, by proving the absurdity of their idol-worship, may be inferred from the last clause of v. 27; compared with vv. 5, 25. As the history of Susanna deals with errors of Jewish practice, so does this writing with the errors of heathenism.

The providence of God in protecting those who suffer for His sake is clearly inculcated in the latter portion of the work. A sense of this would, with other results, give confidence in the fight against idolatry; the more needed because Bel was evidently a very popular deity with high and low, and difficult to dislodge. The frequent compounding of ‘Bel’ with proper names (Belshazzar and Belteshazzar)6565Schrader, Cuneiform Inscriptions of O.T.2 II. 125, considers Bel not to enter explicitly into the second of these names, which he takes to mean ‘may his life protect’; but even in this case the mention of a Deity is evidently understood. But cf. Dan. iv. 8. Gesenius and Longfield (Chaldee Grammar, 1869, p. 116) take the older view. See also Sayce’s art. in Hastings’ D. B. on Merodach-Baladan, where M. seems identified with Bel; also art. Merodach. shews the regard in which he was held. Compare the similar compounding of ‘Jehovah’ amongst the Jews. But, although Bel was deemed a beneficent deity, being, as Gesenius 197calls him {s.v. בֵּל sub בַּעַל), ’agathodemon, omnis felicitatis auctor,’ Daniel does not spare him on that account. Thomas Wintle6666Daniel, Oxf. 1792, p. 40. suggests that the image in chap. iii. “was Bel, or some of the Assyrian deities, as we may collect from iii. 14“; and Bar-Hebræus’ notion that the gift of Bel to Daniel, in v. 22 of our story, was in order that he might be rewarded by the gold with which the image was plated, agrees well enough with iii. 1 (Berlin, 1888, p. 28).

The aim is to depict Daniel, distinguished for his wisdom and piety, as the successful, though sorely tried, opponent of heathenism, and as the representative of the Living God. His character to a great extent resembles that pourtrayed in the rest of the work bearing his name. It is shewn how he continued to face and to solve the difficult problems of court life in Babylon. And albeit he secured no small measure of fame, and perhaps of popularity, at the time, these earthly results, in their abiding form, it has lain with posterity to give him.

On the supposition that Alexandria was the birthplace of the piece, it has been suggested that the aim of the writer was “to warn against the sin of idolatry some of his brethren who had embraced 198Egyptian superstition.”6767Chambers’s Encyclop., 1888, art. Bel. But no special reference to Egyptian forms of idolatry is apparent in support of this view, which seems based on little more than a wish to fit in the idolatry with the theory of the story having an Alexandrian origin.

A. Scholz’s nation that the whole piece is a ‘vision’ with allegoric or apocalyptic meanings only, and never intended to be taken as history, looks like a wonderfully forced hypothesis, laying a great strain on the imaginations both of the writer and the reader. The book having been received as canonical in the Roman communion, its contents must at all hazards be reconciled with the maintenance of that position. Yet it is fair to note that Luther, on other grounds, regarded Susanna and Bel and the Dragon as pretty spiritual fictions, in which history must take its chance (Zöckler, p. 216).

« Prev For Whom and with what Object Written Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection