Daniel dans la fosse aux lions

Daniel in the lions' den saved by Habakkuk (France, 15t century).

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 story of Daniel in the lions' den is found in the sixth chapter of the Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible, and in the lesser known story of Bel and the Dragon in the Greek versions. Daniel is an official in the Persian empire under King Darius. Darius (at the instigation of his other officials) had made a decree that no-one was to offer prayer to any god or man except him for a period of thirty days. Daniel continued to pray as was his habit, knowing that praying would have him killed. For this action, his friend Darius sadly had him arrested and thrown into a lions' den. However, he was unharmed, and after he was released the following morning, the people who had cajoled the king into making the decree (which was for the sole purpose of getting at Daniel) were thrown into the lions' den themselves.

Dating the narrative

Critical scholars speculate the dating of the authorship of chapter 6. Paul L. Redditt postulates, "the only issues here are when people in the Diaspora began to tell the story and when its hero became Daniel."[3] Louis F. Hartman and Alexander Di Lella place the story more broadly within the Persian period, basing it on Persian loanwords.[4]

Literary structure

Based on Wayne S. Towner's work,[5] John E. Goldingay outlined the contents of Daniel 6 with the chiastic structure presented below,[6] of which Ernest C. Lucas has supported,[7] as well as critiqued by Tremper Longman and David E. Garland.[8]

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)

Chapter 6

According to the Book of Daniel, Darius the Mede took over the kingdom of Babylon when he was sixty-two years of age.[5:31] This introduces the sixth chapter where Daniel is appointed to serve as one of three royal administrators over the satraps who governed throughout the kingdom.[v.1-2]

Daniel was a distinguished government official who possessed exceptional qualities that won the favor of Darius. This caught the attention of other administrators in the same service as well as the satraps themselves. They investigated Daniel for any corruptible behavior that they could use against him, but found nothing. So, they resorted to conspire against Daniel by urging the king to issue this decree: that anyone in the next thirty days, found praying to god or man, other than the king, shall be fed to the lions.[v.3-8]

Darius put the prayer decree in writing in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians. The conspirators used this as leverage to convict Daniel of treason since they knew he prays to his God, YHVH, three times a day. As soon as they caught him, they apprehended Daniel and addressed the King about what they’ve discovered. Per the law, Darius was forced to have Daniel thrown into the lions’ den.[v.9-15]

Subsequently, Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den[v.16] and a stone was placed over the mouth of the entrance. The king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles.[v.17] Darius was so upset with what he was forced to do, that he couldn’t eat, sleep or be entertained.[v.18] The next morning, Darius calls to Daniel to find out if his God has rescued him.[v.19-20] Daniel replies that God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions so as not to hurt him.[v.22] He is then brought out of the den unscathed, due to his faith in God.[v.23]

Daniel’s accusers and their families, however, are thrown into the lions’ den and do not even reach the bottom of the pit before being consumed by the lions.[v.24] Darius then writes a letter to all the peoples, nations and tongues magnifying the God of Daniel, YHVH.[25-28] Daniel thus prospers in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.[v.28] [9]

Daniel’s regular prayer

It was customary for Daniel to pray to his God, YHVH, three times a day in his upper chambers, while facing Jerusalem with his windows open. He prostrated himself in prayer, giving thanks to his God. Despite hearing the news of the royal decree, Daniel continued to do what he always does, and that was to go home and pray. His actions were not meant to provoke the authorities.[10]

Daniel in the lions' den

Throughout the Ancient Near East, and even in the Hebrew Bible, lions have often been symbolic of monarchs. The lions surrounding Daniel could be seen as a symbolic representation of the nations and empires of the world.[11]

Daniel released

Daniel is released from the lions' den and his accusers, and their families, are thrown in to meet such fate that he was faced with. The Greek Septuagint version specifies that the accusers are the other two administrators and their families, not necessarily the entire lot of 120 satraps.[12]

Parallels with chapter 3

The story of Daniel in the lions' den in chapter 6 is similar to the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. David Syme Russell notes a number of parallels between the two chapter, including the trials suffered, the jealousy of conspirators, rescue by an angel, accusers meeting the same fate they had intended for the protagonists, and the fact that the king praises God and issues a royal decree protecting Jewish worship.[13]

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]

Christian analysis

James B. Jordan suggests that the motive of the satraps was to hurt Darius, who would lose a useful man should Daniel perish, so Daniel suffers on behalf of Darius, and does, in fact, rescue him. In applying the traditional Christian interpretation of the Hebrew Bible as a series of prefigurations of the gospel story, Jordan also writes that "the fact that the den was sealed points forward to the seal on Jesus' tomb."[15]

Depiction in art

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



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