Samson & Daniel

Week 3: Hebrew Bible - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Background Reading

Samson and Daniel certainly have some qualities in common: perhaps most obviously, they are both riddlers - Samson is a poser of riddles, and Daniel is able to interpret the enigmatic dreams of the Babylonian Kings. But at the same time, the stories of Samson and Daniel come from completely different parts of the Bible and different periods of Jewish history. This introduction will give you some basic information to help you appreciate those differences.


The story of Samson is found in the Book of Judges. Although it is difficult to establish when the text of the Book of Judges may have been written, the period that it describes is quite clear: the Judges were said to have governed the people of Israel after their arrival from Egypt but before the establishment of King David in Jerusalem. Samson is one of the central characters in the Book of Judges, along with Debbora and Gideon, among others.

As you will see in the story of Samson, this was a time when the Israelites lived side-by-side with the Philistines. There was conflict between the Israelites and the Philistines, and also divine conflict between the God of the Israelites and the gods of the Philistines, most notably Dagon, who figures in the story of Samson. Here is a story from the Book of Samuel which suggests something of the conflict between the Israelite God and Dagon (I Samuel 5):

When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again. And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him.

The Philistine god Dagon will make an appearance in the story of Samson, when you will see Samson emerge as a warrior for his God. Yet there are some twists and turns in Samson's story: he has a miraculous birth, worthy of a holy man, but his life is filled with some admittedly unholy escapades. What kind of hero is Samson? That is definitely a question worth asking as you read his story.

Daniel: The Canonical Book

The "canonical" Book of Daniel, as reported in the Jewish scriptures, and transmitted as well by Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians, contains twelve chapters. Chapters 1-6 concern the exploits of Daniel in the courts of the Babylonian kings, especially King Nebuchadnezzar. Chapters 7-12 contain Daniel's dream visions and prophetic interpretations. Large portions of the Book of Daniel are written in Aramaic; the remainder is written in Hebrew.

Traditionally, the authorship of the Book of Daniel was ascribed to the prophet Daniel himself, who would have composed the work during the period of the Babylonian exile, in the 6th century BCE This was a time when Jerusalem had been overthrown and the Jews were supposed to have been relocated to Babylon. This is also sometimes referred to as the "Babylonian captivity". Daniel's story takes place in Babylon, and it has much in common with another famous Biblical captive - Joseph - who was taken away into Egypt and rose to power there, much as Daniel became a man of power in Babylon. But unlike Joseph, Daniel's faith was continually put to the test, as his Jewish practices and beliefs more than once made him a target for persecution.

Daniel: The Extra-Canonical Chapters

In addition to this canonical Book of Daniel, written in Hebrew and Aramaic, there are additional chapters and verses, which are preserved only in Greek. These "extra-canonical" or "apocryphal" portions of the Book of Daniel can be found in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible called the Septuagint. Some of the selections you will be reading this week come from these extra-canonical chapters:

These chapters formed a part of the Latin Vulgate and were read and recognized as sacred, canonical texts in the western European Church, and were affirmed as canonical by the Council of Trent (1564). Like the Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox Churches accept the extended text of Daniel as canonical.

In early Protestant translations of the Bible, the extracanonical portions of Daniel were put in a separate appendix that was printed together with the Old and New Testaments, together with other apocryphal books (the Book of Tobit, Book of Judith, etc.) The apocryphal books were not officially removed from the King James' version of the Bible until 1885. That means that if you buy a King James' version of the Bible today, it will probably not contain Chapters 13 and 14 of Daniel - but for most of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, these apocryphal materials were included in the King James' version of the Bible, usually in an appendix called "apocrypha."

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM