The Greek translation (Septuagint) of the book of Daniel inserts between vv. 23 and 24 of chap. 3 a section embracing sixty‐eight verses, which is not found in the Semitic original; this section is seen by Protestants as one of the Apocrypha, but is considered deuterocanonical by Roman Catholics and some Orthodox churches (See Apocrypha, article on Jewish Apocrypha). It consists of a brief connecting narrative (vv. 1–2, 23–28) and two (or perhaps more correctly three) poems of liturgical character. The poems purport to be the words recited or sung by the three young men whom King Nebuchadrezzar caused to be thrown into a fiery furnace when they refused to worship the golden image that he had set up.
The first of the poems is in the form of a prayer and is placed upon the lips of Azariah, the Hebrew name of the youth also called by his Babylonian name, Abednego (Dan. 1.6–7). The prayer is not specifically appropriate to the situation of the fiery furnace, being simply a national lament like Psalms 74 and 79, which are petitions for the deliverance of Israel after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. The prayer differs from these psalms by stating that the disaster was a justified punishment for the sins of the nation (vv. 5–8), an emphasis quite incongruous with the situation of the young men, who were being punished precisely for their religious integrity. The concluding verses of the prayer (19–22) would be suitable for anyone suffering oppression and are doubtless the reason the prayer was felt to be suitable.
The much longer poem that begins in verse 29 also is irrelevant to the particular situation of the youths, except for v. 66, which may well have been added when the hymn was interpolated into the book of Daniel. It falls naturally into two parts, which may originally have constituted two separate hymns. They are known in the liturgical tradition of the Western church as, respectively, the Benedictus es and the Benedicite, from the opening words of the Latin version of each. The first consists of general words of praise addressed to God in his glory; in the second section (vv. 35–68) the various parts of creation, the heavens, the forces of nature below them, and the inhabitants of earth are summoned to join in a chorus of praise, following a pattern established by Psalm 148. The whole of verses 29–68 is unified by a refrain repeated after each line, somewhat in the manner of Psalm 136, but with an appropriately different form in each of the two parts.
It has plausibly been suggested that the reason for the introduction of this material in the middle of Daniel 3 was to correct the inartistic and perhaps religiously offensive emphasis of the original text on King Nebuchadrezzar and his reactions; the addition of the prayer and the hymns transfers the center of attention from the Babylonian king to the God of Israel and his faithful worshipers.
There are no unambiguous clues to the language in which this material was composed, but the general tone and atmosphere of the prayer and the hymn(s) suggest that it was Hebrew, and this impression is reinforced by the fact that Hebrew was the normal language of prayer among Jews. Their lack of specific appropriateness to the situation of the three young men suggests that they were previously independent compositions arbitrarily inserted by an editor who then composed the brief narrative section, perhaps in Aramaic, which is the language of this part of Daniel. It would follow, then, that the place of composition would likely be Palestine and the author a Palestinian Jew. The same set of suppositions would hold for the editor who introduced the poems into the book and produced the Semitic text from which the Greek translation was made.
With regard to the date of composition of the poems, there is also no clear evidence, except for v. 15, which speaks of the absence of civil government and the cessation of Temple worship. In their present context, of course, the words are intended to apply to the putative situation of the youths in the Babylonian exile, but they would be even more appropriate in the early second century BCE when Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Temple (164 BCE; 1 Macc. 1.20–61) and when, indeed, there was no prophet or native government.
Robert C. Dentan