Damien F. Mackey
Was Daniel twice in the den of lions? Once under “Darius the Mede” and once under Cyrus?
No, not if – as according to what we have argued elsewhere – Darius was King Cyrus.
Sometimes the sacred Scriptures present us with two or more versions of the same incident, but written by different authors and hence from a different perspective. Because of seeming contradictions between (or amongst) these texts, arising as they do from different sources, critics can pounce on these as examples of biblical contradiction and error.
One such situation that I looked at were the two very similar – though in some ways quite different – accounts of Abram’s wife, Sarai, and Abraham’s wife, Sarah, being abducted by “Pharaoh” (in the case of Sarai), and by “Abimelech” (in the case of Sarah):
‘Toledoth’ Explains Abram’s Pharaoh
These tales I concluded, with the benefit of P. J. Wiseman’s illuminating toledôt theory, were recording the one and same incident:
From the now well-known theory of toledôt (or Toledoth, a Hebrew feminine plural), we might be surprised to learn that so great a Patriarch as Abram (later Abraham), did not sign off the record of his own history (as did e.g. Adam, Noah, and Jacob). No, Abram’s story was recorded instead by his two chief sons, Ishmael and Isaac.
“These are the generations of Ishmael …” (Genesis 25:12).
“These are the generations of Isaac …” (Genesis 25:19).
So, there were two hands at work in this particular narrative, and this fact explains the otherwise strange repetition of several famous incidents recorded in the narrative. And it is in the second telling of the incident of the abduction of Abram’s wife, Sarai (later Sarah), that we get the name of the ruler who, in the first telling of it is called simply
“Pharaoh”. He is “Abimelech” (20:2).
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Whilst the Egyptianised Ishmael (or his family) was recounting the story from the perspective of Egypt; Isaac (or his kin) gave the story from a Palestinian perspective.
Archaeologically we have learned that Egypt had, at this time, most appropriately, flowed over into southern Canaan.
And so with Daniel and the two accounts of his ordeal in the den of lions (Daniel 6 and Bel and the Dragon), it now follows that – given our identification of “Darius the Mede” with Cyrus – that only the one incident is being referred to, but presumably related by different authors. Hence, as with the case of the abduction of Sarah, it can read as if referring to two separate incidents. This, whilst being possible, is highly unlikely given Daniel’s advanced age at this time.
Let us consider the points of comparison:
The scene is Babylon (4:30; Bel v. 3).
In both cases, Daniel is on very good terms with a Medo-Persian king (6:3; Bel v. 2).
The people conspire against Daniel (and the king) on religious grounds (6:4-5; Bel vv. 28-29).
The king, under extreme pressure was distressed (6:14; Bel v. 30).
The fate was a den of lions (6:7, 16; Bel v. 31).
The king comes to the den to see what fate has befallen Daniel (6:19; Bel v. 40).
Daniel has been miraculously delivered (6:21; Bel v. 40).
The king rejoices, praises Daniel’s God (6:23; Bel v. 41).
Daniel is lifted out of the den (6:23; Bel v. 42).
His accusers are thrown into the den and are instantly devoured (6:24; Bel v. 42).
Perhaps the biggest apparent difference between the two narrations is the length of time that Daniel was in the den. Bel v. 31 is explicit. It was six days: “Who cast him into the lions’ den: where he was six days”. Daniel 6:19, on the other hand, gives: “At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den”.
However, that does not mean that Daniel was lifted out from the den that next day.
Daniel 6 may be telescoping events here.
Also, the motive given in Bel and the Dragon for the Babylonians wanting Daniel slain – and even threatening the king – was because Daniel, the friend of the king, had destroyed the Dragon that they worshipped (vv. 28-29):
When they of Babylon heard that, they took great indignation, and conspired against the king, saying, ‘The king is become a Jew, and he hath destroyed Bel, he hath slain the dragon, and put the priests to death’. So they came to the king, and said, ‘Deliver us Daniel, or else we will destroy thee and thine house’.
In Daniel 6:3-4, however, the motive is jealousy of Daniel who is favoured by the king.
Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.
These two motives, however, may not be incompatible.
Over a period of time, which may again be telescoped here, the Babylonians could have become incensed with Daniel both because of his being favoured by the king and because of the involvement of Daniel, in the company of the king, in the destruction of the very idols that these superstitious people held to be most worshipful.
Part Two: A Habakkuk Clue
The prophet Habakkuk was in Judea. He mixed some bread in a bowl with the stew he had boiled, and was going to bring it to the reapers in the field, when an angel of the Lord told him, “Take the meal you have to Daniel in the lions’ den at Babylon.” But Habakkuk answered, “Sir, I have never seen Babylon, and I do not know the den!” The angel of the Lord seized him by the crown of his head and carried him by the hair; with the speed of the wind, he set him down in Babylon above the den. “Daniel, Daniel,” cried Habakkuk, “take the meal God has sent you.” “You have remembered me, O God,” said Daniel; “you have not forsaken those who love you.” So Daniel ate, but the angel of God at once brought Habakkuk back to his own place.
If, as I have argued in Part One of this series:
the two accounts of Daniel in the den of lions (Daniel 6 and 14) are just two versions – from different authors and perspectives – of the one incident, then how could the prophet Habakkuk have served Daniel with a meal in the lions’ den if, as according to the parallel account of it in
Daniel 6, the Great King had actually sealed the den to prevent any such sort of intervention (v. 17): “A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed”?
It was a situation somewhat analogous to that of the tomb of Christ with the stone no longer an obstacle to access there.
My suggestion would be that, between the initial visit of the king to the den (6:19): “At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den”, and the last one days later, when he had Daniel released (14:39-40): “And upon the seventh day the king came to bewail Daniel: and he came to the den, and looked in, and behold Daniel was sitting in the midst of the lions. And the king cried out with a loud voice, saying: ‘Great art thou, O Lord the God of Daniel’. And he drew him out of the lions’ den”, the stone had been removed.
This could have been done either at the order of the king himself, in order to see and communicate with Daniel, or – to carry further the Resurrection analogy (cf. Matthew 28:2) – by the angel who had hair-raisingly transported Habakkuk to the den in Babylon.