For the next two months we will be exploring the far reaches of our faith. We will be exploring sacred texts many of us have not heard before. We will engage sacred texts from other faith traditions in earnest, as we seek to boldly challenge our faith and the institutions that fashioned it.
This is the part where I hand out little bags to y’all just in case you get ill. These next few weeks might serve to alarm you. You may be encouraged at how visible God is beyond the confines of the 46 First Testament books and the 27 books of the Second Testament. I hope that as we depart the safe harbor of orthodox Christian canon, we may explore the waters beyond. We are in a sense becoming explores searching for a world outside of the one that we have known. Only, we are not seeking to dominate, control, and exploit. We depart our harbor in search of knowledge and new understanding that we may bring back to the cities of our lives and share the wisdom we gain.
Exploration is not always easy or comfortable. My promise to you is that I will not ask of you anything that I am not willing to do first and I will not do anything to harm any of us.
Today we will explore Daniel 14. I would like you to take out your pew Bibles and turn to the end of Daniel on page (_____). Is everyone there? Did anyone find the end of Daniel in their Bible?
It ends at chapter 12, right? There is no Daniel 14 in the Bible that we use in the Protestant Church. We cut that part out during the Reformation. The powers that be removed them in order to distance the reformers from Rome. So, today some Christians include this book in the Bible and others do not.
There has been controversy about this chapter of Daniel for at least 1,700 years. Why?
Before we go to the “why”, let’s check out the “what” and “how” real quick. The Bible is not a static document. Prior to 367 AD there were many collections of letters, gospels, and other writings that Christian communities (churches) used to teach, preach, and learn of the person of Jesus Christ. It was sort of a mini arms race to secure the most followers that accepted your Bible. These power struggles pitted bishop against bishop and church against church. This war was won when, in 331 AD, Constantine, the Emperor, commissioned 50 copies of the Bible being used by the Bishop of Constantine. A letter from Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, affirmed this action in 367 AD.
The scholar Felix Just offers us these four “Criteria for Canonicity.”
- Apostolic Origin — attributed to and based upon the preaching/teaching of the first-generation apostles (or their close companions).
- Universal Acceptance — acknowledged by all major Christian communities in the ancient world (by the end of the 4th century) as well as accepted canon by Jewish authorities (for the Old Testament).
- Liturgical Use — read publicly when early Christian communities gathered for the Lord’s Supper (their weekly worship services).
- Consistent Message — containing a theological outlook similar to or complementary to other accepted Christian writings.
What about Daniel 14? Why is it not in the Bible?
Daniel 14 is also known as, “Bel and the Dragon.” It consists of 2 stories. The first is a story of Daniel remaining loyal to God and not worshipping the gods of Babylon. Daniel exposes the priests of Bel, who worship an idol of the dragon, by putting ash all over the floor of the temple and proving that it was them that ate the food set out for Bel.
The second story is a reframing of a previous story of Daniel in the lion’s den. Daniel is in there because he killed the dragon the Babylonians worshipped with some sort of homemade poison. There is time travel by the prophet Habakkuk in there, as he brings Daniel a meal from God to Babylon from Judea.
I do not know the exact reasons why this chapter of Daniel was not kept in the Bibles in our pews. I imagine it has not been able to maintain a fan club because it has not been in there for us to read and engage. Is it any stranger than much of the other stories that we maintained in our canon?
A human that is born of a virgin. That same human being God. That same human God dying and rising from the dead 3 days later and then ascending in to heaven. A cranky old man calling on she-bears to devour a bunch of teenagers that called him bald. A time traveling Messiah. An ark with a pair of every animal on earth in it. A fiery furnace that cannot consume 3 people. A shepherd boy that threw a rock that killed a giant grown man.
The Bible is filled with amazing stories that defy the norms we encounter all around us. Let us look at the first story of Daniel 14.
Daniel was a companion of the king and was held in higher honor than any of the Friends of the King. The Babylonians had an idol called Bel, and every day they provided for it six bushels of fine flour, forty sheep, and six measures of wine. The king revered it and went every day to worship it; but Daniel worshiped only his God. When the king asked him, “Why do you not worship Bel?” Daniel replied, “Because I do not revere idols made with hands, but only the living God who made heaven and earth and has dominion over all flesh.” Then the king continued, “You do not think Bel is a living god? Do you not see how much he eats and drinks every day?” Daniel began to laugh. “Do not be deceived, O king,” he said; “it is only clay inside and bronze outside; it has never eaten or drunk anything.” Enraged, the king called his priests and said to them, “Unless you tell me who it is that consumes these provisions, you shall die. But if you can show that Bel consumes them, Daniel shall die for blaspheming Bel.” Daniel said to the king, “Let it be as you say!”
There were seventy priests of Bel, besides their wives and children. When the king went with Daniel into the temple of Bel, the priests of Bel said, “See, we are going to leave. You, O king, set out the food and prepare the wine; then shut the door and seal it with your ring. If you do not find that Bel has eaten it all when you return in the morning, we are to die; otherwise Daniel shall die for his lies against us.” They were not perturbed, because under the table they had made a secret entrance through which they always came in to consume the food. After they departed the king set the food before Bel, while Daniel ordered his servants to bring some ashes, which they scattered through the whole temple; the king alone was present. Then they went outside, sealed the closed door with the king’s ring, and departed. The priests entered that night as usual, with their wives and children, and they ate and drank everything.
Early the next morning, the king came with Daniel. “Are the seals unbroken, Daniel?” he asked. And Daniel answered, “They are unbroken, O king.” As soon as he had opened the door, the king looked at the table and cried aloud, “You are great, O Bel; there is no deceit in you.” But Daniel laughed and kept the king from entering. He said, “Look at the floor and consider whose footprints these are.” “I see the footprints of men, women, and children!” said the king. In his wrath the king arrested the priests, their wives, and their children. They showed him the secret door by which they used to enter to consume what was on the table. The king put them to death, and handed Bel over to Daniel, who destroyed it and its temple.
It is sort of a Scooby-Doo mystery. The priests of Bel would have gotten away with it, if it were not for that meddling Daniel.
Daniel 14 is offering us something profound. It is calling us to think. It is calling us to use non-violence as a means of action. To humiliate the oppressors. Daniel stands his ground and seizes the moral initiative with creative alternative to violence. He meets force with ridicule and humor. He risks his life to expose the unjust power of his oppressors. In the process he shames the oppressor into repentance. He forces the powers that be to make decisions that they were not ready for. This transforms everyone. The oppressor no longer have the edge. Their power is questioned and judged. Nonviolence wins.
A nonviolent call is not a call to passivity or tolerance but a call to creative resistance that destabilizes the violent acts of power of the oppressor. This is the core of what Daniel 14 shares with us. Jesus’ Third way of active resistance in nonviolence is modeled for us in Daniels resistance against the Babylonian Bel. We too are called to withstand the injustice of the oppressor, expose the false gods, and destroy the idols so that all may be liberated.