Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Little Known Jewish Dragons (Part II)

This is a continuation of my examination started in the previous post, of some of the less known dragons in the Jewish tradition.

Our next dragon, also from the apocrypha appears in a story normally called "The book of Bel and the Dragon", which is a supposed continuation to the book of Daniel. The book, has come to us in two different translations - Greek and Theodotian, though the differences are not great.

The first few verses (which I will omit) tell of how Daniel proves to King Cyrus that "Bel" the god worshiped in Babylon is false. The King admits that Bel - an idol - is a false God, but insists a dragon worshiped in Babylon is a true deity:

1:23 And in that same place there was a great dragon, which they of Babylon worshipped.
1:24 And the king said unto Daniel, Wilt thou also say that this is of brass? lo, he liveth, he eateth and drinketh; thou canst not say that he is no living god: therefore worship him.
1:25 Then said Daniel unto the king, I will worship the Lord my God: for he is the living God.
1:26 But give me leave, O king, and I shall slay this dragon without sword or staff. The king said, I give thee leave.
1:27 Then Daniel took pitch, and fat, and hair, and did seethe them together, and made lumps thereof: this he put in the dragon’s mouth, and so the dragon burst in sunder : and Daniel said, Lo, these are the gods ye worship.

Is this a fire breathing dragon? the use of pitch and fat would seem to me to suggest it. I assume that the dragon bursts because the fat and pitch catch fire, though this conjunction is not in the text.
The story also exists in the Midrash -

 מדרש בראשית רבה סח, יג: "והנה מלאכי אלהים", זה דניאל, "עולים ויורדים בו", שעלה והוציא את בלעו מתוך פיו. הדא הוא דכתיב: (ירמיה נא) "ופקדתי על בל בבבל והוצאתי את בלעו מפיו". שהיה לו תנין אחד לנבוכדנצר, והיה בולע כל מה שהיו משליכין לפניו. א"ל נבוכדנצר לדניאל, כמה כחו גדול, שבולע כל מה שמשליכין לפניו. אמר לו דניאל: תן לי רשות ואני מתישו. נתן רשות. מה עשה? נטל תבן והטמין לתוכו מסמרים, השליך לפניו, ונקבו מסמרים את בני מעיו. הדא הוא דכתיב: "והוצאתי את בלעו מפיו". 

In this version the monster is a Crocodile (תנין) and not a dragon, though possibly they are one and the same in early Hebrew. Daniel kills the beast not with Pitch and Fat, but with straw filled with nails.

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