Why isn’t Bel and the Dragon in the Canon?

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By BibleAsk Team


The Inclusion of ‘Daniel’ and the Exclusion of ‘Bel and the Dragon’

The inclusion or exclusion of ancient texts from the biblical canon is a complex and multifaceted issue that involves historical, theological, and cultural considerations. In the case of the Book of Daniel and “Bel and the Dragon,” their differing status reflects the varying criteria and processes by which biblical canons were formed within different religious traditions.  

While the Book of Daniel is widely accepted as canonical Scripture by both Jews and Christians, “Bel and the Dragon” is considered apocryphal or deuterocanonical by many religious communities. In this exploration, we will delve into the reasons why the Book of Daniel is included in the biblical canon while “Bel and the Dragon” is excluded, drawing upon key passages from the Bible to elucidate their distinct characteristics and significance. 

Authorship and Provenance  

The question of authorship and provenance plays a significant role in the determination of a text’s canonicity. The Book of Daniel is traditionally attributed to the prophet Daniel, who is depicted as a central figure in the narrative and the recipient of divine visions and revelations. The book purports to contain historical accounts and prophetic visions dating back to the Babylonian and Persian periods, which lends it credibility and authority within Jewish and Christian traditions. 

  • Daniel 7:1-2 introduces the visionary experiences of Daniel, stating, “In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, telling the main facts. Daniel spoke, saying, ‘I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea.'” (Daniel 7:1-2 NKJV). This passage establishes Daniel as the primary source of the prophetic visions recorded in the book. 

In contrast, the authorship and provenance of “Bel and the Dragon” are less clear and are not traditionally attributed to Daniel himself. The text is believed to have been composed later than the Book of Daniel and is considered by many scholars to be a work of Jewish folklore or pseudepigrapha rather than prophetic revelation. 

The text Bel and the Dragon is viewed as canonical only by the Catholic and Orthodox Christians but as apocryphal by Protestants and typically not found in Protestant Bibles. 

Theological and Literary Characteristics  

Canonical texts are characterized by their theological depth, spiritual significance, and coherence with the broader themes and teachings of Scripture. The Book of Daniel contains a mixture of historical narratives, apocalyptic visions, and prophetic oracles that address themes of divine sovereignty, human agency, eschatological judgment, and the ultimate triumph of God’s kingdom. 

  • Daniel 2:20-23 offers a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to God, acknowledging His wisdom and sovereignty: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:20-23 NKJV). This passage exemplifies the theological depth and spiritual insight found in the Book of Daniel. 
  • Daniel 12:1-3 provides a vision of the resurrection and final judgment, offering hope and assurance to the righteous: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:2-3 NKJV). This passage encapsulates the eschatological themes and theological significance of the book. 

While “Bel and the Dragon” contains narratives that are thematically related to the Book of Daniel and share some theological motifs, such as the triumph of righteousness over idolatry and the deliverance of the righteous from persecution, its literary style and theological depth are distinct from those of canonical Scripture. The text is characterized by its episodic structure, folkloric elements, and didactic purpose rather than prophetic revelation or theological reflection. 

Legends relating to Daniel circulated in a great variety of forms and were constantly modified by scribes. From such legends there are independent selections in Daniel and Bel and the Dragon. The tone and contents of the latter work show that it was not taken from the book of Daniel. 

Reception and Recognition  

The reception and recognition of a text within religious communities play a crucial role in its eventual inclusion or exclusion from the biblical canon. The Book of Daniel has been widely recognized and revered as canonical Scripture by both Jews and Christians since antiquity, attested to by its inclusion in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. 

  • Daniel is mentioned by name in other biblical texts, such as Ezekiel 14:14 and Matthew 24:15, which affirm his prophetic status and the significance of his writings within the prophetic tradition. The Book of Daniel has been cited and interpreted by numerous Jewish and Christian theologians, scholars, and commentators throughout history, attesting to its enduring influence and authority within religious discourse. 

In contrast, “Bel and the Dragon” has not enjoyed the same level of recognition or acceptance within Jewish and Christian communities. While the text is included in certain versions of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and in the Apocrypha of certain Christian denominations, its status as canonical Scripture has been disputed by many religious authorities and scholars. 

Doctrinal and Liturgical Use  

Canonical texts often serve as the basis for doctrinal formulation, liturgical practice, and religious instruction within religious communities. The Book of Daniel has been foundational to Jewish and Christian theology, shaping beliefs about eschatology, divine sovereignty, and the nature of prophecy. 

  • Daniel’s vision of the four beasts in Daniel 7 has been interpreted as symbolic representations of successive world empires, culminating in the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom. This vision has influenced eschatological beliefs and interpretations of apocalyptic literature throughout history. The stories of Daniel’s courage and faithfulness in the face of persecution have served as inspirational examples for believers, illustrating the rewards of trusting in God and remaining steadfast in times of trial. 

Bel and the Dragon consists of two separate stories: one relating to Bel; the other, to the Dragon. In the former, Daniel, by a clever device, exposes the trick by which the priests of Bel made it appear that the idol consumed the food and drink set before it. In the latter, Daniel slays the Dragon-god by putting into its mouth cakes made of pitch, fat, and hair, after eating which it bursts apart. Daniel is thereupon cast into a den of lions, but remains unharmed by the beasts, and is fed by the prophet Habakkuk, who is miraculously brought from Judea for that purpose by an angel. 

The purpose of the stories in Bel and the Dragon is to ridicule idol-worship, and to extol the power of God, who preserves His faithful servants in all perils. But the material is drawn from current ideas and legends rather than facts as in the book of Daniel. Bel was the central figure of the Babylonian idolatry. And how the prophet Habakkuk came to be introduced into the story is hardly possible to explain! 

Conclusion  

In conclusion, the inclusion of the Book of Daniel in the biblical canon while “Bel and the Dragon” is excluded reflects a combination of factors, including authorship, theological depth, reception, and doctrinal significance. The Book of Daniel has been recognized and revered as canonical Scripture by both Jews and Christians since antiquity, attested to by its inclusion in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. Its prophetic visions, theological insights, and enduring influence have contributed to its recognition as an authoritative text within religious communities.  

In contrast, “Bel and the Dragon,” while containing moral and theological teachings, lacks the same level of recognition, acceptance, and doctrinal significance within Jewish and Christian traditions, leading to its exclusion from the biblical canon. While both books are texts of Jewish and Christian literature, their differing statuses within the canon highlight the complex process by which biblical canons were formed and the diverse criteria used to evaluate the authority and inspiration of sacred texts. 

In His service, 

BibleAsk Team 

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