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THE PRAYER OF MANASSES
MANASSES, in 2 Chron. xxxiii. 12 seq., is the typical penitent. He has exceeded the Jewish kings in wickedness; he is punished, repents, and is restored to his kingdom. Both in verses 12-13 and 18–19 the chronicler tells us that he prayed.” It was natural, therefore, that a prayer should appear in later days purporting to be his. Whether the prayer that bears his name was a penitential psalm of a ģeneral character that became identified with his name, or whether it was actually written by some pious Jew as "the Prayer of Manasses," it is difficult
” to decide.
"I have set up. abominations and have multiplied detestable things," if it is an original verse of the Prayer, would seem to make the latter opinion the most probable, referring to his enormities as related in 2 Chron. xxxiii. 6.
The prayer is preserved in the Christian second or third century writing known as the Didascalia, which forms the first six books of the Apostolical Constitutions, compiled not later than the sixth century. It is there given to illustrate the power of repentance, and the depth of God's mercy. It consists of fifteen verses, and includes Invocation of God (1-7), Confession of Sin (8-10), Plea for Forgiveness (11-15). “The prayer," says Dr. Oesterley,1 " is a beautiful one, finely constructed, full without being drawn out, and breathing throughout deep personal religion. It is certainly one of the best pieces in the Apocrypha. It is probable that it was written about the beginning of the first century B.C.
1 Oesterley, p. 404.
ADDITIONS TO THE BOOK OF DANIEL
1.—THE PRAYER OF AZARIAH AND THE SONG OF
THE THREE CHILDREN This block of literary matter appears in all the Greek MSS. of the Book of Daniel between vv. 23 and 24 of chapter iii. It does not occur in the Aramaic text. In the A.V. and R.V. it is headed “• The Song of the Three Holy Children,' which followed in the third chapter of Daniel after this place-fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace (ver. 23). That which followeth is not in the Hebrew, to wit, And they walked-unto these words, Then Nebuchadnezzar (ver. 24).
As the ordinary text shows no reason why Nebuchadnezzar should be “ astonished,” it seems obvious that this long interpolation has taken the place of something similar, which has been lost from the Hebrew.
The passage divides itself under analysis into two pieces of narrative, the Prayer of Azariah, and the Song of the Three Children. The first piece of narrative (vv. I and 2) links it on to the context, the second relates the heating of the furnace, the burning of the attendants, and the descent of the Angel of the Lord.
The prayer acknowledges the justice of God's judgements on Jerusalem, bewails the cruelty and wickedness of her enemy, recalls the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and describes the forlorn state of the Jews," without prince, or prophet, or leader, or burnt-offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, or place to offer before Thee and to find mercy.' In return for penitence it asks for restoration and judgement on the enemy.
The song with its refrain,“ Sing and highly exalt Him for ever," is the Benedicite of the Prayer Book, with a Preface of Blessing, and an ascription. In its joyous note of union in the worship of God with all things created there is a great contrast to the depressed tone of the prayer which precedes it. And indeed there seems no reason why the two should be linked together. Both compositions seem to have originally referred to events other than those recorded in Daniel. The name Azariah seems to be the reason of the inclusion of the prayer; the writer may well have been an Azariah of the time of the persecution of Antiochus. Had one of the children prayed thus he could hardly have described Jerusalem as without a prophet” in the early days of the exile.
The Song, again, seems to be a psalm written in days of prosperity, when the Temple was the centre of worship. Its presence in this context is an enigma.
It would seem that the interpolator wished to connect the two ideas of national penitence and the glory of the Creator to comfort his countrymen under the stress of persecution, and selected these two compositions for the purpose.
It is practically certain that the scene of the story of Susanna was originally set in a township in Palestine, and that it had no connection with Daniel or Babylon in the days of the exile. Scholars are agreed that the original story bears every mark of having been written in the latter years of Alexander Jannæus, king and high-priest 103-76 B.C., and that it was a tract intended to support the reform of the law, whereby the accused gained the benefit of cross-examination of witnesses. As we know that it was something of a burning question between Pharisees and Sadducees whether false witnesses should suffer death on the score of intention, or only in the event of their victims having been executed before the discovery of their fraud, the Pharisees holding the former and the Sadducees the latter view, we can well understand the motif of the story. The reform in the legal process is associated in the Mishna with the name of Simon ben Shetach, who, as the brother-in-law of Alexander, is supposed by Ball to have been instrumental in securing the triumph of the Pharisaic party (Pirkė Aboth, i. 9, Ball (Wace, ii. 305-360).
It seems probable that a tradition of the story became involved in the Daniel-cycle, and the scene moved to the Babylon of three centuries before.
So far as the story is concerned, the Jewish tendency noticeable in the stories of Jael, Esther, and Judith to make a woman the means of deliverance again runs its course. It is well and dramatically told, and the characters stand out clearly. The simple issues of passion and purity, which are the abiding theme of romance, exercise their unfailing attraction.
The story is familiar to all. The young wife of Joakim attracts the evil desire of his two friends, who were judges. They agree to surprise her together, and on so doing tell her that if she refuses to yield to them, they will accuse her of being unfaithful to her husband with a young man in the garden. She raises an alarm, and has no means of proving her innocence when accused. As she is being led out to die, a youth named Daniel stops them, and insists on the right of cross-examination. He questions the two accusers separately, and their accounts do not tally. They are, therefore, both gagged and hurled down a chasm.
Such was the original story. It is plain that its transfer to Babylon only introduces impossible complications. The exiles could hardly have had pleasure gardens and hundreds of retainers, nor had Babylon a stadium, on which the interest of the tale partly turns. It is fairly certain, too, that in the middle second century Daniel was a semi-angelic person, and could hardly have been treated of in the tone of this book. It was after the reform had been achieved that it became possible to add picturesque additions to what was at first a homely and useful parable. Shakespeare's familiarity with the Apocrypha is shewn in The Merchant of Venice, where Portia is a “ A Daniel come to judgement.”
III.-BEL AND THE DRAGON In Bel and the Dragon we have the third addition appended to Daniel in the Greek and Latin versions. This was done because it gave illustrations of Daniel's wisdom and faith in the true God. Its origin was quite distinct, and it was translated from a Hebrew original, which has perished.
It is no doubt later than our Book of Daniel, which is usually placed 160 B.C., and it was probably written in Palestine in a similar period of persecution to that which produced the longer book. The reign of Antiochus VII. (139–128 B.C.) is suggested, as he followed the example of Antiochus Epiphanes in persecuting the Jewish religion.
The book gives two distinct stories; the first, that of Bel, relates how Daniel," who lived with the King, and was honoured among all his friends,” refused to worship the image of the Babylonian God Bel or Marduk. We are not given any details of the worship, except the provision of large quantities of food and wine, that were left in the temple, and consumed during the night. By sprinkling ashes on the floor, Daniel proves that the priests and their families removed the victuals when the temple was closed, entering by secret doors. So the King has the image destroyed, and the priests killed.