One of my goals this year is to read through the Apocrypha. I was doing really good but eventually slowed down considerably. Part of the reason for that is I kept reading other material to help me understand what I was reading. This week I received the new CEB Study Bible. I got the edition with the Apocrypha and was inspired to start reading again. I thought I would start with a smaller portion so I picked Bel and the Dragon or Bel and the Snake as it is in the CEB.
I’ve been thinking through the reasons offered why the Apocrypha should not be considered part of the canon. Norman Geisler offers arguments in favor of the Protestant canon in his General Introduction to the Bible. I only want to focus on one of those arguments for the purpose of this blog. His second reason is stated as follows:
“Some of the Apocryphal stories are extrabiblical and fanciful. The story of Bel and the Dragon is a good case in point. In it, the pagan priests of Bel try to deceive Daniel by using a trapdoor to go in and consume the food offered to Bel to prove that Bel is a ‘living God’ who ‘eats and drinks every day’ (v. 6). So, in order to assist the ‘living God,’ Bel, ‘in the night the priests came with their wives and children, as they were accustomed to do, and ate and drank everything’ (v. 15). The same unauthentic ring may be heard in the other legendary books of Additions to Esther, Prayer of Azariah, and Susanna, as well as Tobit and Judith.” (173 Page reference is to the 1968 edition.)
I must say I’m not impressed with this. First, to call the story “extrabiblical” is question begging. That is to say it assumes the 66 books of the Protestant canon are “biblical” and so therefore anything not part of it is “extrabiblical.” To affirm that stories from Bel and the Dragon are extrabiblical is assuming what you’re trying to prove. Second, he describes the story in Bel and the Dragon as “fanciful.” How is this any more fanciful than Jonah and the big fish, a talking snake or the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal? These are but a few of the stories that liberals have long assessed as fanciful but Geisler would not consider them as such. Finally, he concludes that it has an “unauthentic ring.” This strikes me again as quite subjective and ironic in light of other stories from the Old Testament that Geisler readily accepts.
David deSilva says that “Bel and the Dragon is no longer regarded as a historical narrative. . . . Rather, this narrative is another manifestation of Judaism’s polemic against idolatry . . .” (Introducing the Apocrypha, 239).