The narrative of Bel and the Dragon is incorporated as chapter 14 of the extended Book of Daniel. The text exists only in Greek. The original Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) text survives in Codex Chisianus.
This chapter, along with chapter 13, is rejected by Rabbinic Judaism, but is viewed as canonical by both Catholic and Orthodox Christians. It is considered apocryphal by Protestants.
The chapter contains a single story that may previously have represented three separate narratives, which place Daniel at the court of Cyrus, king of the Persians: “When King Astyages was laid to rest with his ancestors, Cyrus the Persian succeeded to his kingdom.” There Daniel “was a companion of the king, and was the most honored of all his Friends” (14:1).
The narrative of Bel (14:1–22) ridicules the worship of idols. In it, the king asks Daniel, “You do not think Bel is a living god? Do you not see how much he eats and drinks every day?” to which Daniel answers that the idol is made of clay covered by bronze and thus cannot eat or drink. Enraged, the king then demands that the seventy priests of Bel show him who consumes the offerings made to the idol. The priests then challenge the king to set the offerings as usual (which were “twelve great measures of fine flour, and forty sheep, and six vessels of wine”) and then seal the entrance to the temple with his ring: if Bel does not consume the offerings, the priests are to be sentenced to death; otherwise, Daniel is to be killed.
Daniel then uncovers the ruse (by scattering ashes over the floor of the temple in the presence of the king after the priests have left) and shows that the “sacred” meal of Bel is actually consumed at night by the priests and their wives and children, who enter through a secret door when the temple’s doors are sealed.
The next morning, Daniel calls attention to the footprints on the temple floor; the priests of Bel are then arrested and, confessing their deed, reveal the secret passage that they used to sneak inside the temple. They, their wives and children are put to death, and Daniel is permitted to destroy the idol of Bel and the temple. This version has been cited as an ancestor of the “locked room mystery”.
In the brief but autonomous companion narrative of the dragon (Daniel 14:23–30), “There was a great dragon which the Babylonians revered.” In this case the supposed god is no idol, but an animal. However, Daniel slays the dragon by baking pitch, fat, and hair (trichas) to make cakes (mazas, barley-cakes) that cause the dragon to burst open upon consumption. In other variants, other ingredients serve the purpose: in a form known to the Midrash, straw was fed in which nails were hidden, or skins of camels were filled with hot coals, or in the Alexander cycle of Romances it was Alexander the Great who overcame the dragon by feeding it poison and tar.