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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Subject Matter and Literary Genre.

1.

The Prayer of Azariah, though in its present context said by an individual, is a communal confession of sin and plea for mercy similar to Dan 9:4–19 (cf. Ps 44; 74; 79; 106; Ezra 9:6–15; Neh 1:5–11; Bar 1:15–3:8 ; 4Q504). It is full of the theology of Deuteronomy. The Song of the Three Jews is a hymn of praise; there is no need to suppose that its two parts ever existed separately. It is closely related to Ps 148 and the ‘list science of nature wisdom’ (Koch 1987: 1.205; Collins 1993: 207; cf. Job 38–41; Sir 43 ). These additions shift the emphasis in Dan 3 away from the king towards the faithfulness of the martyrs, who thus acknowledge and bless God before Nebuchadnezzar does (Hammer 1972: 213).

2.

Susanna is the story of the eventual vindication of an innocent woman who thwarted an attempted rape by two of the elders of her community. Since the refutation of its historicity, the story has been variously categorized: as a moral fable ( see Baumgartner1926: 259–67), as a midrash (on Jer 29:21–32 ) which either critiques perverted Jewish authorities (OG: Engel 1985: 177–81) or is designed to be an attack on Sadducean court practice (Brüll 1877 ), as a folktale (Baumgartner 1929; Schürer 1987; LaCoque 1990 ), as a wisdom instruction (Theodotion: Engel 1985: 181–3), as a parable on Jewish relations with Hellenism (Hartman and Di Lella 1989: 420), as a court legend adapted for the Jewish community (Wills 1990 ), perhaps with a particular ‘democratized’ stress on the persecution and vindication of the righteous (Nickelsburg 1984: 38), as a novella (Collins 1993: 437). For all its folkloristic feel, the story is replete with religious terminology and themes. Because Susanna is a woman, there has been some recent interest in the tale from that perspective. Through the contrast of the virtuous woman with the lecherous elders Susanna is subversive of the Jewish establishment (LaCoque 1990 ); she is also the story's object whose feminine passivity allows God to be the avenger (Pervo 1991 ). Motifs in the story suggest that Susanna is a new Eve, the one who knows the law and is obedient in the garden (cf. T. Levi 18:10–11 ; Pss. Sol. 14:1–5; Brooke 1992; Pearce 1996 ). The story is told from a male angle which encourages the (male) reader to be voyeuristic like the elders and Susanna's choice of death rather than rape makes her subscribe to the idea that her purity, the hallmark of her husband's esteem, is more important than her life (Glancy 1995; cf. Steussy 1993: 118). What happens to Susanna challenges through stereotyped feminine instability the notions of righteousness and true ethnic identity (Levine 1995 ).

3.

Bel and the Dragon are two interwoven court tales about the falsehood of idolatry. They are typologically very similar to the stories of Dan 1–6 . Some have supposed them to be historicizations of part of the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish or to be interpretations of scriptural passages: Jer 51:34–5, 44 (Moore 1977: 122); Isa 45–6 (Nickelsburg 1981: 27). But both tales are principally polemical parodies of idolatry. In both the friendship between the king and Daniel is challenged, in Bel by Daniel mocking his friend's worship of the clay and bronze, in the Dragon by indignant Babylonians casting aspersions on the king's nationalism. In both stories there is a subtle interweaving of themes concerning life, food, and deity. In the story of Bel Daniel shows that the idol does not and cannot eat, and therefore cannot be said to be alive; his God, by contrast, is the living God. In the test it is the priests and their families who take the food offered to Bel. In the story of the Dragon Daniel shows that eating is not a sufficient criterion of divinity; the Dragon eats and dies and as a result Daniel is given to the lions for food, is himself miraculously fed while the lions fast, and those who have been his detractors are in the end themselves turned into the lion's dinner. Though provided with some characteristics of historical verisimilitude, the two tales are polemics not against the Gentile world as such but against idolatry and all the religious attitudes that go with it (Collins 1993: 419). Not only is idolatry attacked (cf. Isa 44:9–20; Jer 10:1–6; Hab 2:18–19; Ps 115 ), but also the actual destruction of the idols is depicted (cf. Jub 12:12–13 ). Its similarity to Dan 6 suggests that the den episode may have originated as an independent tradition.

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