Q&A: Are the Additions to Daniel Reliable?

Francisco asks:

“Are the ‘lost chapters’ of Daniel reliable or not? Are they legit?”

What are the ‘lost chapters’ of Daniel?

While there is – predictably – a lot of hype from some people on the Internet about “lost chapters” of Daniel, there really isn’t anything “lost” about them. There exist three additions to the book of Daniel that Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Protestant Bibles include, while most Protestant Bibles do not include them. These additions include a lengthy addition to Daniel chapter 3 that we call “The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews”, as well as two other additions that appear in different places in Daniel in different ancient versions. These last two additions are called “Susanna” or “Susanna and the Elders” and “Bel and the Dragon”.

Most commentaries don’t cover the Apocrypha, so a book like this can be really useful. This book is designed to bring top level scholarship accessibly to the average reader.
“The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews” takes place right in the middle of the climax of the story of the Fiery Furnace, right after Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (whose Hebrew names are Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) are thrown into the fire for refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue. The first part is a prayer by Azariah/Abednego from inside the furnace where he repents on behalf of all Israelites. A brief prose block follows this, then a song of praise sung by all three Jews. This section is situated between Daniel 3:23 and 3:24 (using the versification found in most Protestant Bibles).

“Susanna” comes either at the end of Daniel (after chapter 12, as in the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate) or at the very beginning (in Theodotion’s Greek translation of the Jewish Bible/Old Testament). It tells the story of a beautiful and chaste young woman who is falsely accused by two men who wanted to lie with her. They attempt to blackmail her with the threat of their false accusation, but she refuses to lie with them. Daniel is stirred up by God to defend her. He investigates the situation and discovers an inconsistency in the stories of the two men, thereby vindicating Susanna.

“Bel and the Dragon”, like “Susanna” comes at the end of Daniel in the Septuagint and Vulgate, but after chapter 6 of Daniel in Theodotion’s translation. “Bel and the Dragon” shows Daniel proving first an idol and then a “dragon” (a large reptile or some sort) not to be gods. He is thrown again into a lions’ den (this time for six days) where he is fed by the prophet Habakkuk and then released when the king changes his mind.

Okay, so are they reliable?

So what are we supposed to do with these additions to Daniel? Why are they in some Bibles and not in others? Their canonicity (that is, their right to belong among the authoritative body of scripture) is challenged on account of them being absent from the book of Daniel in its Hebrew/Aramaic form. They are, however, included in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that we call the Septuagint, and this is potentially a very important point. As a rule, most Protestant traditions have chosen to accept as canon only the portions of the Old Testament that appear in the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish Tanakh. It is presumed, probably rightly it turns out, that the Hebrew texts that we have are closer to the most likely original forms of the books of the Old Testament than the Septuagint usually is. On occasion a Septuagint reading may prove superior, but this is decided on a case by case basis and it is no longer assumed by scholars, especially since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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If you’re interested in getting a copy of the Apocrypha to read for yourself, this is what I use: a hardcover NRSV annotated Apocrypha. It includes commentary and lots of articles to help you make your own decisions.

But many Christians, especially Eastern Orthodox, believe that the Septuagint should be the basis for our Old Testament rather than the Hebrew Bible. They believe this on account of the fact that, for the earliest Church, the Septuagint was their de facto Old Testament. Quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament often appear to derive from something other than the Masoretic Hebrew Bible. Often (not always) this something is the Septuagint. Very quickly (like in the first generation), the earliest Church became predominately Greek speaking rather than Aramaic or Hebrew speaking. Because of this, Eastern Orthodox Christians regard the Septuagint as the authoritative Old Testament, not because it represents the earliest form of the text, but because it represents the form of the text that was held authoritative by the early Church. In the West (and this includes both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions), emphasis has been on the greater antiquity of the Hebrew version of the Old Testament and on Hebrew being its original language (with some Aramaic portions). This is why the Latin Vulgate’s Old Testament is translated from the Hebrew rather than from the Greek. The Vulgate includes texts, such as the additions to Daniel, that we refer to as “the Apocrypha”, but originally there were prefaces to these apocryphal books that set them apart as not having a Hebrew original.

So Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and some Protestants include the additions to Daniel in their Bible because they were pretty much included (or least not usually excluded) from the very beginning, while most Protestants do not include them because they are most likely not a part of the most original form of Daniel. Your question was “are they reliable?” I hope you see that the answer to this question is not a simple “yes” or “no”, but it’s going to depend on what you mean by “reliable” and what you think the source of that reliability is.

We can say this: there is nothing sinister about the additions to Daniel. Either they are authoritative scripture or they are simply examples of ancient Jewish texts with religious themes that celebrate virtue and faithfulness. There is no basis for supposing them to have a diabolical origin, or for them to be heretical documents thrust upon us by corrupt Church leadership. Neither is there any reason for us to regard these texts as things that have been suppressed by corrupt Church leadership. There is no conspiracy surrounding the additions to Daniel (or the whole Apocrypha, for that matter). We’ve known about these for as long as Christianity has existed, but there have been legitimate points of disagreement among Christians about whether or not they should be considered part of our authoritative body of scripture.

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