Daniel in the lions' den

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Daniel in the lions' den
Daniel's age
Daniel in the Lions' Den
Although Peter Paul Rubens' depiction shows Daniel as a young man (top),[1] Daniel would have been over eighty years old at the time of this incident,[2] making Briton Rivière's picture (bottom) more accurate.

The narrative of Daniel in the lions' den, chapter 6 of the Book of Daniel, tells how Daniel is rescued by God from a den of lions. Daniel is raised to high office by his royal master Darius the Mede, but jealous rivals trick Darius into issuing a decree which condemns Daniel to death. Hoping for Daniel's deliverance, but unable to save him, the king has him cast into the pit of lions. At daybreak he hurries back, asking if God had saved his friend. Daniel replies that God had sent an angel to close up the jaws of the lions, "because I was found blameless before him." The king has those who had conspired against Daniel, and their wives and children, thrown to the lions in his place, and commands to all the people of the whole world to "tremble and fear before the God of Daniel".[3]

Modern scholarship agrees that Daniel is a legendary figure.[4] The book of which he is the hero divides into two parts, a set of tales in chapters 1–6, and the series of visions in chapters 7–12:[5] the tales are no earlier than the Hellenistic period, and the visions date from the Maccabean era (the mid-2nd century BCE).[4] The stories were probably originally independent, but were collected in the mid-2nd century by the author of chapter 7 and expanded again shortly afterwards with the visions in chapters 8-12 to produce the modern book.[6]

Chapter 6, the story of Daniel in the lions' den, parallels chapter 3, the story of the "fiery furnace": each begins with the jealousy of non-Jews towards successful Jews and an imperial edict requiring the Jews to compromise their religion, and concludes with divine deliverance and a king who confesses the greatness of the God of the Jews and issues an edict of royal protection.[7]

Summary[edit]

Daniel is raised to high office by his royal master Darius the Mede. Daniel's jealous rivals trick Darius into issuing a decree that for thirty days no prayers should be addressed to any god or man but Darius himself; any who break this are to be thrown to the lions. Daniel continues to pray to the God of Israel, and the king, although deeply distressed, must condemn Daniel to death, for the edicts of the Medes and Persians cannot be altered. Hoping for Daniel's deliverance, he has him cast into the pit. At daybreak the king hurries to the place and cries out anxiously, asking if God had saved his friend. Daniel replies that his God had sent an angel to close up the jaws of the lions, "because I was found blameless before him." The king commands that those who had conspired against Daniel should be thrown to the lions in his place, along with their wives and children, and writes to all the people of the whole world commanding that all should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.[3]

Composition and structure[edit]

It is generally accepted that the Book of Daniel originated as a collection of folktales among the Babylonian diaspora]], the Jewish community living in Babylon and Mesopotamia in the Persian and Hellenistic periods (5th to 2nd centuries BCE).[8] Chapters 4–6, which includes the tale of Daniel in the lions' den, may belong to the earliest stage, as these differ quite markedly in the oldest texts.[9] Although the entire book is traditionally ascribed to Daniel the seer, the tales of chapters 1-6, including the story of the lion's den, are the voice of an anonymous narrator (except for chapter 4 which is in the form of a letter from king Nebuchadnezzar).[10] It is possible that the name of Daniel was chosen for the hero because of his reputation as a wise seer in Hebrew tradition.[11]

Chapters 2-7 are in Aramaic, and are in the clear form of a chiasm (a poetic structure in which the main point or message of a passage is placed in the centre and framed by further repetitions on either side):[12]

  • A. (2:4b-49) – A dream of four kingdoms replaced by a fifth
    • B. (3:1–30) – Daniel's three friends in the fiery furnace
      • C. (4:1–37) – Daniel interprets a dream for Nebuchadnezzar
      • C'. (5:1–31) – Daniel interprets the handwriting on the wall for Belshazzar
    • B'. (6:1–28) – Daniel in the lions' den
  • A'. (7:1–28) – A vision of four world kingdoms replaced by a fifth

The story of Daniel in the lions' den in chapter 6 is thus paired with the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the "fiery furnace" in Daniel 3. The parallels include the jealousy of non-Jews, an imperial edict requiring Jews to compromise their religion on pain of death, and divine deliverance. Each story climaxes with the king confessing the greatness of the God of the Jews and issuing an edict of royal protection. In each case life is preserved through divine presence in the fire or the pit.[7]

The structure of Daniel 6 itself is also in the form of a chiasm:[13]

A. Introduction: Daniel’s success (vv.1-3)
B. Darius’s edict and Daniel’s response (vv.4-10)
C. Daniel’s opponents plot his death (vv.11-15)
D. Darius hopes for Daniel’s deliverance (vv.16-18)
D'. Darius witnesses Daniel’s deliverance (vv.19-23)
C'. Daniel’s opponents sentenced to death (v.24)
B'. Darius’s edict and doxology (v.25-27)
A'. Conclusion: Daniel’s success (v.28)

Rabbinic literature[edit]

Daniel in the lions' den saved by Habakkuk, as described in rabbinic literature (France, 15th century).
Further information: Daniel in rabbinic literature

According to Josippon, "the beasts in the den received Daniel as faithful dogs might receive their returning master, wagging their tails and licking him." The Midrash Tehillim says that "the mouth of the den was closed with a huge stone, which had rolled of itself from Palestine to Babylon for that purpose" and that "upon this stone sat an angel in the shape of a lion, so that Daniel's enemies might not harass him."[14]

Depiction in art[edit]

Although Daniel is sometimes depicted as a young man in illustrations of the incident, James Montgomery Boice points out that he would have been over eighty years old at the time.[2]

Artists who have depicted this incident include:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b Boice 2006, p. 68.
  2. ^ a b Seow 2003, p. 85-86.
  3. ^ a b Collins 1984, p. 28.
  4. ^ Collins 2002, p. 2.
  5. ^ Seow 2003, p. 7-8.
  6. ^ a b Seow 2003, p. 86-88.
  7. ^ Collins 1984, p. 29,34-35.
  8. ^ Redditt 2008, p. 176-177.
  9. ^ Wesselius 2002, p. 295.
  10. ^ Redditt 2008, p. 180.
  11. ^ Redditt 2009, p. 177.
  12. ^ Goldingay 1989, p. 124.
  13. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia.

Bibliography[edit]