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SIDIC Periodical XI - 1978/3
Daniel: Jewish and Christian Commentary (Pages 08 - 13)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

Christian use of a prayer from Daniel
Lawrence Frizell


Father Lawrence Frizzell, who studied at the Biblical Institute in Rome and at Oxford, teaches on the faculty of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies of Seton Hall University (New Jersey, U.S.A.). His doctoral thesis, The People of God, is a study of the relevant concepts in the Qumran scrolls.

Foremost among the areas suggested by Vatican Council II for fraternal dialogue among Catholics and Jews is the study of Sacred Scripture (Nostra Aetate 4). Fortunately this was already common among scholars investigating the Hebrew text and its ancient translations, and contacts were developing among exegetes. It is but the first step to learn what the human author intended. Each passage takes on an extended life when incorporated into a larger context. Differences will persist between Jewish and Christian interpretations of the total message, but we can profit from the insights offered by the other tradition.

In New Testament studies we try to discern which passages of the Hebrew Scriptures were applied by Jesus to his own life and ministry, and which were developed by the preacher-theologians of the early Christian communities' The Qumran scrolls indicate that the application of biblical passages to persons as well as situations of a later period was part of the Jewish heritage, especially appropriate to a liturgical and/or prayer-study setting. To quote Dom Hubert Zeller, "More has gone into the Scriptures than man will ever take out of them?' Knowing the hermeneutical tools employed by each tradition, Christians and Jews can plumb the depths of God's gifts in the Word.

The incorporation of texts from the Hebrew Bible into the New Testament and the teachings of Christian communities is noticeable to even a casual reader. It is important also to recall that the Church took large sections of the Bible as they are and inserted them into the liturgy, where they became a vehicle of instruction and inspiration for the community of believers. The Psalter is the most obvious example of this process. In certain manuscripts of the Greek Bible, a number of hymns are collected and placed after the 151 psalms attributed (for the most part) to King David. In Rahlfs' edition of the Septuagint they are called the nine odes of the Greek Church (Exodus 15:1-19; Deuteronomy 32:1-43; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Habakkuk 3:2-19; Isaiah 26:9-20; Jonah 2:3-10; Daniel 3:26-45, 52-88 and Luke 1:46-55, 68-79).2

The first known commentator on these odes in such a collection is Verecundus, bishop of Junca, who died in 552 A.D. He states that Ezra gathered these canticles, presumably for liturgical use.3 0. Rousseau argues that Verecundus had no reason to invent this allusion to Ezra's work. Hilary of Poitiers credits Ezra with collecting the psalms into one book, so perhaps Verecundus had access to a Psalter, with the canticles attached, which alluded to Ezra.4

The present study centers on the Book of Daniel. As the Prayer of Azariah (3:26-45) has been the subject of an essay by M. Gilbert,5 we limit ourselves to the hymn of the three young men in the furnace (3:52-90), considered first in itself and then as used by the Church.

Daniel 3:52-90: Ode and Hymn

Many scholars think that this hymn was composed in Hebrews The Aramaic text recording the account of the trial by fire ends with Nebuchadnezzar blessing the God of the three youths, and decreeing that no one may blaspheme him with impunity (3:28-29). The prayerful recognition of God's presence and gifts complements this very nicely.

Both the liturgy and modern scholars divide the passage into an ode (3:52-56) and a hymn (3:57-90), noting that God is addressed in the former, creatures in the latter. Also, the refrain varies slightly in the ode but is the same throughout the hymn? Father M. Delcor sees it as one hymn, with introduction (vs. 51), praises to God (vss. 51-56), invitation to creatures (vss. 57-87) and the praises of the three youths for particular reasons (vss. 88-90).8 We shall follow the division given by Dr. Carey Moore, but reproducing the Revised Standard Version.

The Ode (RSV vss. 28-34)

51 Then the three, as with one mouth, praised and glorified and blessed God in the furnace, saying:
52 "Blessed art thou, 0 Lord, God of our fathers, and to be praised and highly exalted for ever; And blessed is thy glorious, holy name
and to be highly praised and highly exalted for ever;
53 Blessed art thou in the temple of thy holy glory
and to be extolled and highly glorified for ever.
" Blessed art thou, who sittest upon cherubim and
lookest upon the deeps,
and to be praised and highly exalted for ever.
55 Blessed art thou upon the throne of thy kingdom
and to be extolled and highly exalted for ever.
56 Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven and to be sung and glorified for ever.

I. Heavenly creatures are called to praise God (RSV vss. 35-41)

57 Bless the Lord, all works of the Lord,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
58 Bless the Lord, you heavens,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
59 Bless the Lord, you angels of the Lord,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever. " Bless the Lord, all waters above the heaven, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
61 Bless the Lord, all powers,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
62 Bless the Lord, sun and moon,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
63 Bless the Lord, stars of heaven,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.

II. Elements from heaven should praise God (RSV vss. 42-51)

64 Bless the Lord, all rain and dew,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
65 Bless the Lord, all winds,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever. `6 Bless the Lord, fire and heat,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
67 Bless the Lord, winter cold and summer heat, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
68 Bless the Lord, dews and snows,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever. f9 Bless the Lord, nights and days,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever. 7° Bless the Lord, light and darkness,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
71 Bless the Lord, ice and cold,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
72 Bless the Lord, frosts and snows,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
73 Bless the Lord, lightnings and clouds,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.

III. Earthly creatures should praise God (RSV vss. 52-59)

74 Let the earth bless the Lord;
let it sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
75 Bless the Lord, mountains and hills,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
76 Bless the Lord, all things that grow on the earth, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
77 Bless the Lord, you springs,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
78 Bless the Lord, seas and rivers,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
79 Bless the Lord, you whales and all creatures that move in the waters,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
80 Bless the Lord, all birds of the air,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
81 Bless the Lord, all beasts and cattle,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.

IV. The human race should praise God (RSV vss. 60-68)

82 Bless the Lord, you sons of men,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
83 Bless the Lord, 0 Israel,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
84 Bless the Lord, you priests of the Lord,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
85 Bless the Lord, you servants of the Lord,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever. " Bless the Lord, spirits and souls of the righteous,
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
87 Bless the Lord, you who are holy and humble in heart, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.
88 Bless the Lord, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael, sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever. for he has rescued us from Hades and saved us from the hand of death,
and delivered us from the midst of the burning fiery furnace;
from the midst of the fire he has delivered us.
89 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever.
90 Bless him, all who worship the Lord, the God of gods, sing praise to him and give thanks to him, for his mercy endures for ever."

The relation between creation and history is clear in the phrase "God of our fathers" (vs. 52) and in the last stanza. The hymn draws heavily upon the psalms (especially 103, 148) and breathes a liturgical fragrance. From approximately the same period, a Qumran text, "The words of the heavenly lights",9 ends with a fragment under the rubric "Hymns for the Sabbath Day" which touches the same themes (see Ps 92:1-5).

Give thanks .. .
[Bless] His holy Name unceasingly
. . . all the angels of the holy firmament . . . [above] the heavens,
the earth and all its deep places,
the great [Abyss] and Abaddon
and the waters and all that is [in them].
Let all His creatures [bless Him] unceasingly for everlasting [ages] 10

Delcor suggests that verse 53 refers to the Jerusalem Temple rather than to the heavenly Temple, because the expression "You sit upon the cherubim" indicates God's presence above the Ark of the Covenant.' However, another Qumran text 12 describes an angelic liturgy followed by a description of the Merkabah (see Ezek 1-3). "The cherubim bless the image of the Throne-Chariot above the firmament, and they praise the majesty of the fiery firmament beneath the seat of His glory" (Vermes p. 212). Since all in the Temple is patterned after the heavenly prototype (see Ex 25:9, 40; Wis 9:8; etc.), this ode concentrates on the celestial reality. The phrase "You look upon the depths" (vs. 53) is understood better in this interpretation.

Hymn of praise

Following the ode, it is natural for the poet to call first the heavenly creatures and the waters above the firmament (vs. 60) to bless God. God's creative activity has the same movement and, to some extent, the six-day structure of Genesis 1 is background for the hymn. The last section (vss. 82-90) is not only the culmination of creation in the human being and the Chosen People, but it also represents the community possessing the authority to call all works of the Lord to the duty of blessing him. Behind this must be the theology of man and woman created in God's image (see Ps 8).

Jesus ben Sirach's reflection on Genesis 1:26-28 articulates a theological background for this hymn in Daniel. It dates to approximately 200 B.C.

The Lord created man . . . and granted (human beings) authority over the things on earth.
He endowed them with strength like his own, and made them in his own image.
He placed the fear of them in all living beings, and granted them dominion over beasts and birds
He set his eyes upon their hearts to show them the majesty of his works.
And they will praise his holy name, to proclaim the grandeur of his works (Eccles 17:1-10; see 39:14-16 and Wis 9:2).

God reveals himself through creation (see Wis 13:1-5); the acknowledgment of his attributes leads those made in his image and likeness to praise the manifestation of his person (the Name). Because God's Name is revealed at Sinai (Ex 3:14; 34:6-7), Jesus ben Sirach moves immediately from creation to covenant: "He bestowed knowledge upon them, and allotted to them the law of life. He established with them an eternal covenant, and showed them his judgments" (17:11-12).

In the same way, both Psalm 148 and the hymn of the three young men come to a climax with the Chosen People, constituted because of the promise to the patriarchs (vs. 83; see vs. 52 "God of our fathers"), represented by the priests and Levites ("servants of the Lord" Ps 135:1-2,20; 1 Chron 9:33) and exemplified by the righteous, defined as "holy and humble in heart". Typical of the righteous are the three youths, members of the tribe of Judah (Dan 1:6).13

Usually, blessing is considered in its descending and ascending aspects: God's gifts and human acknowledgment (thanks for the gifts, praise to the Giver). It is striking that this entire prayer is pure praise until verse 88, when motives for the ascending blessing are given. There seems to be a movement from the general responseof creatures to their raison d'être to the specific deliverance of the martyrs. King Nebuchadnezzar intended to kill them, but fire did not harm them, even though their executioners died in the flames (3:22, 48). The Creator controls the forces of nature, placing them at the service of the righteous. The Book of Wisdom reflects thus on the plagues and the Exodus experience:

For the whole creation in its nature was fashioned anew, complying with your commands, that your children might be kept unharmed . . . Fire even in water retained its normal power, and water forgot its fire-quenching nature. Flames, on the contrary, failed to consume the flesh of perishable creatures that walked among them (Wis 19:6, 20-21).

The finale (vss. 89-90) reverts to the litany formula (Ps 106:1; 136) of the Temple liturgy as the theme which unites all worshipers of the one God: "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever." The goodness of God manifests itself in forgiveness (Prayer of Azariah) and in other forms of mercy towards those caught in the ambiguities of the human order.14

The Canticle in Christian Tradition

Christian interpretations of the hymn consider it first within the context of Nebuchadnezzar's persecution, indeed as a source of inspiration to the Church in a similar trial." Hippolytus, priest of Rome, wrote the first extant Christian commentary on the book of Daniel about the year 202-204 A.D." It deserves our attention.

The Greek text of Daniel 3:1 notes that it was in the eighteenth year of his reign that Nebuchadnezzar made the golden statue. The first two letters of the name Jesus in Greek add up to the number eighteen. So, according to Hippolytus, Nebuchadnezzar imitated Jesus, the Son of God who, when he lived in the world, raised up his own statue from among the dead — that is, the man that he was —and manifested it pure and irreproachable (as if from gold) to his disciples. The sixty cubits in height imitate the sixty patriarchs who prefigured, according to the flesh, the statue of God, the Word . . . The six cubits in width imitate the six days of creation, for it was on the sixth day, molded in dust, that man was created (II, xxvii).

The theme of resurrection develops also from the fact that fire burned the bonds but not the clothes of the martyrs (Dan 3:25, 27). God's power can restore the corruptible body just as he preserved the clothes which shared the holiness of the young men (II, xxviii).

As in the Köln papyrus 967," Hippolytus attributed the prayer of Azariah to all three youths. After confessing their sins and those of Israel, they invited all creatures to join them in praising, blessing and glorifying God. In his summary, Hippolytus adds after verse 63: "Bless, all you elements who move in the heavens, sing praise to him and exalt him forever." After "sons of men" (vs. 82), Hippolytus named the beings of the underworld, the spirits of the angels of Tartarus (see 2 Pet 2:4; Jas 2:19) and the souls of the just. Thus he interprets verse 86 as referring to demons and the dead; the litany should be all-inclusive. "After making the rounds of all creatures, they name themselves as the smallest, the most humble" (II, xxix).

Then Hippolytus speaks directly to the youths, requesting their prayers so that he may obtain the reward of martyrdom." He asks them to describe the fourth person in the furnace (Dan 3:25).
Who is this man who, by your mouth, reviewed all creation without forgetting any creature that exists or existed? You only spent an hour in the furnace, but you learned all the creation of the world. It was the Word who was with you, and who spoke by your mouth, because he alone knows the way in which the world was created . . . They named everything: celestial, terrestrial, and subterranean beings, proving thus that everything created by God's Word is his servant (II, xxx).

Hippolytus identifies the angel who brings a dew-laden breeze to the furnace (Dan 3:49-50) with the one who crowned the Egyptians and punished the Sodomites. He is the "Angel of great counsel" (LXX Is 9:6; see Rhabanus Maurus, P.L. CXIII c. 1152) and therefore is related to Jesus as the Messiah (II, xxxii).19

Chromatius, bishop of Aquileia (387-407?) relates the rescue of Paul and Silas from prison (Acts 16:23-26) to the three youths and notes that when two or three are gathered in common prayer, the Lord will be with them (Mt 18:20) to rescue them (C.C. IXa pp. 492-493).

Liturgical use through the centuries

The canticle of the three young men entered the Christian liturgy at an early date. Writing about 406 A.D., Rufinus noted that it was sung by Christians throughout the world (P.L. XXI c. 612-614). In the seventh century the council of Toledo expressed concern: "The hymn of the three youths, in which all creatures of heaven and earth praise God, and which the Catholic Church celebrates everywhere, is neglected by certain priests in Sunday Masses and martyrs' feasts" (canon 14). The Roman Missal used the canticle as a text on Ember Saturday, and suggested it for the priest's thanksgiving after Mass. The fourth biblical prayer of Lauds in the Divine Office was always a canticle of the Old Testament. The song of the three youths was selected for Sunday Lauds (followed by Ps 148). This relates to the commemoration of creation on the first day of the week.

As the word Benedicite (the common title of the hymn as used in the Office) indicates, the liturgical text begins with verse 57. Instead of the motives given after the names Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael (vs. 88), the Church inserts: "Let us bless the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit; let us sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever." As with many of the psalms, Christians considered this hymn to be "open" to a reading in view of the way in which revelation developed through Jesus' teaching. The interpretation of the experience in the furnace in the light of Christ's redemptive work goes back to Hippolytus, if not earlier. The inclination to seek hints of the Trinitarian mystery throughout the Old Testament provided the basis for this addition. It is, of course, a variant of the usual prayer ("Glory be to the Father . . .") which terminates each psalm.

"The three, as with one mouth . . . praised God" (vs. 51). These three men . . . symbolize the elect of God who, united in belief of the Holy Trinity, adore, worship and proclaim one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit . . .20

The ecclesiastical use of this hymn ends with verse 56, addressing God directly in his eternal dwelling place. This would seem to be the Church's expression of a desire to unite worship of the earthly community with that of the heavenly court, as in the Sanctus and the Te Deum.

Often an added note of interpretation is found in the antiphon recited before and after a given psalm or canticle. The antiphon for the ordinary Office throughout the year reads: "The king commanded, and the three children were cast into the furnace, fearing not the flame, but saying: Blessed be God." The duty of creatures to praise God in word and deed is placed within the context of the total response which is martyrdom. At Easter, there is an explicit link with the resurrection of Christ: "He who delivered the three children from the burning fiery furnace, Christ, is risen from the grave."

The recent reform of the Office places the Benedicite at Lauds of the first Sunday in the four-week cycle and at Lauds of major feasts; it uses Daniel 3:52-57 at Lauds on the second and fourth Sundays. The antiphon for Easter Sunday now reads: "Our Redeemer has risen from the grave: let us sing a hymn to the Lord our God."

The Church uses this canticle to express her vision of creation's response to God, both in his creative activity and provident presence to all levels of nature and in the coming renewal which is the Kingdom, whose first-fruits are found in Christ's resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-28). Although one may wonder whether this prayer developed from a Jewish theology of thehuman being as high priest of creation (recalling the cosmic symbolism in Philo's description of the high priest's vestments), this is certainly present in the Christian vision of reality. The two components of the phrase "kingdom of priests and holy nation" (Ex 19:6) may have been applied to the entire people of Israel, and this is the Christian understanding. "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Pet 2:9).

Like the leaven in the dough (Mt 13:33), the movement of creatures through history towards the Kingdom consists in a presence orienting and coordinating all things to serve God. Those created anew in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) conform themselves ever more to his image (Gal 4:19) so that they can help bring the inanimate world to the service of love (Mt 25:31-46), wherein the image of God is recognized in all human beings. It is singularly appropriate that the Benedicite is suggested as a prayer after the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Having elevated bread, wine and other elements of daily life to the mediation of God's highest gift to his people, the Christian community recognizes that every level of creation is a straining toward the same goal (Rom 8:19-23), and through Christ is more and more integrated into the crescendo of thanks-andpraise which is a response, in time and beyond, to God's gift of himself.

1. See, for example, the forthcoming monograph by Asher Finkel, Vigilance in the Gospel of Mark.
2. Some manuscripts add Isaiah 5:1-9; 38:10-20; the Prayer of Manasseh; Luke 2:29-32; Glory to God in the Highest. See H. Schneider, "Die biblischen Oden in christlichen Altertum", Biblica 30 (1949), pp. 28-65; 432-453.
3. The commentary is edited in Corpus Christianorum (Latin series) XCIII. Henceforth this will be abbreviated C.C.; Migne, Patrologia Latina will be abbreviated P.L. No manuscript of the Hebrew Psalter exists with the odes attached; see Schneider, p. 33.
4. O. Rousseau, "La plus ancienne liste de cantiques liturgiques tires de l'Ecriture", Recherches Sciences Religieuses 35 (1948), p. 129.
5. M. Gilbert, "La priere d'Azariah", Nouvelle Revue Thêologique 96 (1974), pp. 561-582. See Andre Lacocque, "The Liturgical Prayer in Daniel 9", Hebrew Union College Annual 47 (1976), pp. 119-142.
6. Winfried Hamm, Der Septuaginta-Text des Buches Daniel Kap. 3-4 nach dem Kellner Teil des Papyrus 967, Bonn: Rudolf Habelt 1977, pp. 57, 249. (I thank Father Arthur McCrystall for use of this text.) For a reversion back to Hebrew, see Curt Kuhl, Die drei Manner im Feuer Beihefte ZAW 55 (1930). Moses Gaster, "The Unknown Aramaic Original of Theodotion's Additions to the Book of Daniel", first published in 1894 and 1895, is reprinted in Texts and Studies in Folklore, Magic, Medieval Romance, Hebrew Apocrypha and Samaritan Archaeology, New York: Ktav, 1971, Vol. I, pp. 39-68, with an Aramaic text in III pp. 16-21.
7. Carey Moore, Daniel, Esther, and Jeremiah: The Additions, Garden City: Doubleday, 1977, p. 75. We follow his division of the hymn on the same page.
8. M. Delcor, Le Livre de Daniel, Paris: Gabalda, 1971, p. 103.
9. M. Baillet, "Un recueil liturgique de Qumran, Grotte 4: les paroles des luminaires", Revue Biblique 68 (1961), pp. 195-250.
10. G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975, p. 205.
11. Delcor, p. 104.
12. John Strugnell, "The Angelic Liturgy at Qumran", Oxford Congress Volume, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 7 (1960), pp. 318-345.
13. Moore, p. 73, considers the names in vss. 60-88 as listed "in ascending order of importance". This judgment fails to take into account the all-inclusive nature of the phrase "sons of men", and the parallelism of the succeeding verses. In the last centuries of the Second Temple period, it was recognized clearly that belonging to the Chosen People included an explicit call to righteousness and holiness on the part of the individual. This was accompanied by a sense of unworthiness and sinfulness exemplified in the Qumran Hodayot (1 QH). Thus, the truly righteous are recipients of gifts and must be "humble in heart". They would not be considered the "most important" but the Israelites who have lived the vocation for which all have been chosen.
14. Probably the stories of the three youths and Daniel in the lions' den were circulated among Palestinian Jews during the persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In 2 Maccabees 6-7, the martyrs give witness by their blood, and God's triumph is in terms of resurrection and final retribution in the new life. Note the valiant mother's speech: "I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being . . . Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again with your brothers" (7:28-29). The allusion to the Maccabean martyrs in relation to Daniel 3 is made early in the third century (Hippolytus of Rome, Commentary on Daniel, II, xx; see xxxv on the reason God does not act thus to save the Christian martyrs). St. Augustine asks this question in Sermo 32 (C.C. XLI p. 406) and Enarrationes in Psalmis 32 and 136 (C.C. XL pp. 1277, 1988).
15. See Margaret Shatkin, "The Maccabean Martyrs", Vigiliae Christianae 28 (1974), pp. 97-113 for use of other texts.
16. G. Bardy, Hippolyte: Commentaire sur Daniel, Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1947, p. 17.
17. Hamm p. 249.
18. Sermons in the early Church frequently draw a parallel between the three youths and St. Lawrence of Rome, who was burned alive.
19. Because St. Jerome cannot understand how the wicked Nebuchadnezzar could have seen the Son of God, he follows Symmachus, who translates "son of God" by "angel"; see Commentary on Daniel Book III (C.C. LXXVa, pp. 807-808).
20. Rhabanus Maurus, P.L. CXII c. 1152; see Rupert von Deutz, In Daniele liber unus, P.L. CLXVII c. 150507; John Beleth, Summa de Ecclesiasticis Officiis, C.C. (continuatio medievalis) XLIa No. 30d, 85a, 92c.


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