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.
The parallel with the contest between Marduk and Tiamat, in which winds controlled by Marduk burst Tiamat open, has been noted by many informed readers; barley-cake plays the same role as the wind.
As a result, the Babylonians are indignant, and threaten the king if he does not give them Daniel. Daniel is handed over, and thrown into a lions’ den. The prophet Habakkuk is miraculously recruited and brought to share a meal with Daniel in the den. When Daniel is found alive in the den seven days later, the king throws his persecutors to the lions, who eat and kill them.