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Daniel in rabbinic literature

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Title: Daniel in rabbinic literature  
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Daniel in rabbinic literature

Allusions in rabbinic literature to the Biblical story of Daniel contain various expansions, elaborations and inferences beyond the text presented in the book of the Bible.


According to rabbinical tradition Daniel was of royal descent; and his fate, together with that of his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, was foretold by the prophet Isaiah to King Hezekiah in these words, "and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon".Isaiah 39:7 (Talmud tractate Sanhedrin 93b; Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer lii).[1]

According to this view, Daniel and his friends were eunuchs, and were consequently able to prove the groundlessness of charges of immorality brought against them, which had almost caused their death at the hands of the king.[1]

His righteousness

It was said of Daniel, "If he were in one scale of the balance and all the wise men of the heathens in the other, he would outweigh them all" (see Yoma 77a).[1]


When the King Nebuchadnezzar heard Daniel reproduce the dream which he had, he could not doubt the truthfulness of his interpretation (Tan., ed. Buber, i. 191). Nebuchadnezzar admired Daniel greatly, although the latter refused the proffered divine honors, thus distinguishing himself favorably from his contemporary Hiram (the "prince of Tyre" Ezekiel 28), who demanded honor as a god (Genesis Rabba xcvi.).[1]

Nebuchadnezzar's idol

Life at court was fraught with many dangers for the pious Daniel. In the first place he denied himself much in the matter of food, since he would not partake of the wine and oil of the heathens (Ab. Zarah 36a); and more than once he endangered his life by refusing to take part in the idolatry of the king. Daniel was not forced, as were his three friends, to worship the idol which Nebuchadnezzar set up; for the king, who well knew that Daniel would rather be cast into the fiery furnace than commit idolatry, sent him away from Babylon so he would not be forced to condemn his own god—Daniel—whom he worshiped to death by fire. Furthermore, it was God's intention to cause the three men to be taken out of the furnace during the absence of Daniel, so that their rescue should not be ascribed to the merit of the latter (Sanhedrin 93a; compare also Cant. R. vii. 8, and the Jewish Encyclopedia on Azariah in Rabbinical Literature).

Nevertheless, the king endeavored to induce Daniel to worship the idol by trying to make him believe that it was something alive and real; and he ordered that there be placed in its mouth the frontlet (tzitz) of the high priest, on which was written the name of God; and since this name possessed the miraculous power of enabling inanimate things to speak, the idol could utter the words "I am thy god." Daniel, however, was not to be so easily deceived. Asking permission to kiss the idol on the mouth, he stepped before it and conjured the frontlet in the following words: "Although I am only a man of flesh and blood, yet I stand here as God's messenger. Take care that God's name is not desecrated by you, and thus I command you to follow me." While he was kissing the idol the frontlet passed from the idol's mouth into his. When Nebuchadnezzar, as usual, sent for musicians to give songs of praise to the idol, he noticed that Daniel had silenced it (Cant. R. vii. 9). [1]

On another occasion Daniel was strongly urged by King Cyrus to recognize Bel, whose divinity was evidenced by the fact that he ate up the sacrifices placed daily before him. This was reported by the priests, who entered the temple every night by a subterranean passage, ate the sacrifices, and then announced that the idol had eaten the offerings. Daniel exposed this fraud. He had ashes strewn on the floor of the temple, and on the following day he convinced the king that persons had entered the temple at night, by showing him the footprints in the ashes. At another time a dragon was worshiped by the Babylonians, and their king tried to make Daniel also worship it. Daniel boiled pitch, fat, and hair together and gave lumps of it to the dragon, which thereupon burst.[1] (Bel and the Dragon)

In the lions' den

Illustration from a Michael carrying Habakkuk to Daniel.

Daniel's success at court naturally excited the envy and ill will of the Babylonians, who gathered in a mob and threatened the king and his house if he did not deliver Daniel to them. The king was powerless to resist, and the people took Daniel and threw him into a den with seven famished lions. Daniel remained there unharmed for six days, being fed during that time by the prophet Habakkuk, whom an angel had in an instant transported from Judea to Babylon, holding him by the hair of his head. On the seventh day the king went to the den to bewail Daniel, and was astonished to find him alive.

Although Daniel was not forced to sin in any way, he was prepared to sacrifice his life rather than omit his prayers; hence it was easy for his enemies to convict him of having violated the royal order. While he was at prayer his enemies entered his room, and watched to see whether the accusations against him could be substantiated, as the king did not believe them. Daniel did not omit his "Minchah" prayer. Notwithstanding his friendship for Daniel, the king listened to the accusations of the nobles, and condemned him to be cast into the den of lions. The mouth of the den was closed with a huge stone, which had rolled of itself from Palestine to Babylon for that purpose. Upon this stone sat an angel in the shape of a lion, so that Daniel's enemies might not harass him. (Midrash Tehillim xxiv., lxvi.)[1]

Daniel's enemies insisted that the lions were tame because they were not hungry, whereupon the king commanded that the accusers themselves spend a night with the beasts. As a result the enemies of Daniel, numbering 122, with their wives and children, making a total of 366 persons, were torn by 1,469 lions. (Midrash Tehillim l.c.)[1]

Although Daniel was no prophet, God held him worthy to receive the revelation of the destiny of Israel, even to the Day of Judgment, thus distinguishing him from his friends, the prophets Genesis Rabba xcviii. 2)[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i - DANIEL


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