Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 3

First post in this series can be found here.
This article is not my own, but was originally posted by Darwin’s Beagle. The author has given permission for the article to be reposted here.

3.1 Summary of Chapter 3
Nebuchadrezzar made a 90-foot tall gold statue and decreed that whenever music was heard everyone was to bow down to it and worship it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, remaining true to their Jewish heritage, did not do this. People jealous of their success reported them to Nebuchadrezzar, who was upset at this report. He had them brought before him and gave them one last chance to reconsider. They tell him no thanks. He gets angrier, has a furnace made seven times hotter than normal, and has some of his strongest guards tie them up, take them to the furnace, and throw the three in. The furnace is so hot, in fact, that the large, strong guards who tie up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and take them to be thrown into it are instantly killed by the heat. Nebuchadrezzar is surprised when he sees FOUR people walking around in the furnace apparently unharmed, “the fourth is like the Son of God”.

Nebuchadrezzar takes them out of the furnace and, indeed, they are not harmed. Their hair is not singed, their clothes are not burned, and they don’t even smell of fire. Nebuchadrezzar declares on the spot that they can worship their God and not others. He further proclaims that anybody who says a bad thing about their God will be destroyed.

3.2 Analysis
The whole tenor of this story sounds like an unbelievable myth designed to inspire people to maintain their faith in the face of overwhelming persecution. The detail about the furnaces being made seven times hotter than normal makes no sense. Why seven times hotter and not five or ten? The part about the soldiers who drag Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego to the furnace being killed by the heat bears the mark of unbelievable myth as well.

A 90-foot tall gold statue would be a memorable work of art, not to mention that if it were solid gold it would go a long way to bankrupting the coffers of Babylon. There is no mention in any other writings of such a structure.

There are some anachronisms in the story as well. Nebuchadrezzar has his herald tell the people to bow down and pray to the statue when they heard “horn, flute, harp, lyre…” The Hebrew words for these instruments are derived from the Greek and would most likely have entered the language during the Hellenic period (332–164 BCE). Furthermore, there is considerable doubt those musical instruments were invented during the 6th Century BCE.

Another thing is that the fourth figure is likened to the “Son of God” and has been associated with Jesus Christ by extreme bible-believers. However, this portrayal is in contradiction with other prophecies in Daniel in which the putative Jesus Christ figure is referred to as the “Son of Man”. What the author is more likely referring to when he says “Son of God” is an angel, and when he says “Son of Man,” he is referring to a mortal human.

As far as I am concerned these are minor quibbles. Since there are no prophecies to be verified one way or another, nor is there any significant historical information, this story taken by itself does not really constitute compelling evidence that Daniel is a forgery. However, as part of the overall picture of the entire book, it reinforces the conclusion that Daniel was written significantly later than the extreme bible-believers propose.

The next installment in this series will look at Chapter 4 of Daniel in which Nebuchadrezzar has a vision of going insane.

Links to the other articles

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