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The Jig Is Up
Written June 17, 2019

 

Background:  I've been rewriting Bible stories in the first person, usually giving alternative explanations for alleged paranormal events.  But in one passage, scripture itself actually exposes the truth behind a divine “miracle,” namely the mysterious disappearance of two tons of food from a locked room.

The scripture to which I refer is in the book of Daniel.  The next-to-last chapter relates the story of Susanna, and the final chapter tells about Bel and the Dragon.

At least, those two chapters are in the Bibles which Catholics and Orthodox Christians read.  However, lest Protestants get the idea that a miracle may not be what it seems, the chapters have been declared “apocryphal” and banished from the Bibles they read.

I hereby dare to retell these outlawed accounts.  My title comes from the renegade band Styx; the illustrations are based on woodcuts by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld; and the role of Bel will be portrayed by Ganesh.

 
Hangman is coming down from the gallows, and I don't have very long.  I must tell my tale.

I'm Zedekiah, son of Maaseiah.  Along with Ahab, son of Kolaiah, I've been condemned to death by the King of Babylon.  [Jeremiah 29:21-23]]|

A few years ago, Ahab and I were among those who had to leave Jerusalem, having been exiled to Babylon.  Until now, life has not been bad in Babylonia.  We're elders of the community, and we were appointed to be judges for this year's term.

Judicial trials are held in a large house owned by Joakim, who is very rich and has a great-looking wife.

Last month, on a hot day, the court recessed for lunch.  Ahab and I each headed to our respective homes.  But then I turned back.  [Daniel 14:1-4]]|

Susanna

I must confess — it won't make any difference now — I was infatuated with Joakim's wife Susanna.  I dreamed of seducing her.  She always took a walk in her garden at noon, and I liked to watch.  [14:8-12]|

However, when I arrived at the garden wall, I suddenly found myself standing face to face with Ahab.

“Zedekiah!” he exclaimed.  “What are you doing here?”

“What am I doing?  What are you doing?  Didn't I see you leave for lunch?”

“Well, yes, but then I remembered I forgot something.”

“So did I.”

“In the courtroom?”

“Well, no, actually, in the garden here.”

“You don't mean Joakim's wife?  You've noticed her too?”

“How could I not?  I wish I could be alone with that beautiful creature.”

“So do I.  But I think that today she has her two maids with her.”

“That's unfortunate.  But look, the garden doors are open.  We could sneak in and hide among the bushes and spy on the women.”

“Let's do that!”  And so we did.  [14:13-16]|

We heard Susanna's musical voice, asking her maids to bring bath oil because she wanted to bathe, right there in the garden pool.  We were going to see her naked!  “But first, shut the garden doors, for privacy.”  The maids closed the outer doors and went into the house for the oil, leaving Susanna alone.

Seeing our chance, we ran to her.  “We are overcome with desire for you, fair lady!” Ahab blurted.  She gasped.

“Look,” I said, “the gate is shut, and no one can see us.”  Ahab begged, “Let us make love to you!”  [14:17-20]|

She shrank back from our advances, of course.  Her father Hilkiah had brought her up to obey the Law of Moses.  She was never going to commit adultery, especially not with a couple of lecherous old men like us.  [14:2-3]|

Nevertheless, I told her she had to submit.  I threatened, “If you don't, we'll tell everyone there was a young man in the garden here with you, and that's why you sent your maids away.”

We're judges,” Ahab reminded her.  “The people will believe us.  We can corroborate each other's stories.  It's your choice, my dear:  surrender your body or surrender your life!”

“No!” she said.  “I won't do it!  Better to be at the mercy of your court than to sin against God!”

She opened her mouth and screamed as loud as she could.  We tried to shout her down.  With all that commotion, the whole household began to rush into the garden.

If we're going to claim that she'd been having sex with a young man, I thought, where is her lover now?  I ran and opened the gate to make it look as though he had escaped.  [14:21-26]|

Though we would have preferred to lie with her, now we had no choice but to lie about her.  We couldn't admit why we were in the garden.  If we did, we might be charged with attempted theft of Joakim's property, namely his wife.  The result of our lies would be that she would be condemned to death for adultery.  It would serve her right for rejecting us, two upstanding elders of the community.

The trial was held the next day.  When the defendant came in, we wanted to gaze one last time on that lovely face.  We ordered her veil removed.  She was in tears.  So were her relatives.  No one, least of all her husband, could believe that she was guilty of adultery.  Yet there she stood, on trial.  We put our hands on her bare head.  [14:27-35]|

“Zedekiah and I,” Ahab testified, “were strolling in the garden by ourselves.  This woman came in.  The defendant, here.  She didn't see us, because we were in a corner of the garden.  She had two maids with her, but she shut the doors and dismissed them.  Then a young man came and lay with her.  He must have been hiding somewhere.  They did it right there in the garden, under a tree.”

“Yes, under a tree,” I concurred.

“We were shocked!” Ahab continued.  “We ran in and caught them in the act.  But we weren't strong enough to hold the man, and he got away.”

I added, “We asked the woman who he was, but she wouldn't tell us.”

We were elders and judges.  She was only a woman.  Therefore the assembly believed us and condemned her to death.  [14:36-41]|

But while she was being led away, a young man raised an objection.  “No!” he shouted.  “I want no part in shedding this woman's blood!”

People asked him what he meant.  “You fools have rushed to judgment without making a careful inquiry.  Reopen the trial so we can discover the truth!”

Everyone hurried back in and, over our protests, appointed the young man an honorary “elder.”

I don't know why he suspected us of lying.  He was a very bad man, not loyal to authority at all.  He demanded that the two of us should be questioned separately.  We objected on the grounds of judicial privilege, but he insisted and the the guards escorted Ahab out into the garden.  Unfortunately, we hadn't taken the trouble of conferring to get all the details of our stories straight.  [14:45-51]|

“Now then, Zedekiah,” he said to me.  “The sins of your past are coming home to you!”

“What sins?” I protested.

“You've been a terrible judge.  You have condemned the innocent, and you have  acquitted the guilty.  Tell us, if you really saw these two people making love under a tree, what kind of tree was it?”

I looked out the window.  There were many trees in the garden, but most were cloves, so that's what I said.

Under a little clove tree?” he replied.  “That lie has cost you your life!  You shall be cloven!  God's angel will cleave you in two!  Guards, silence him.  Bring in the other reprobate.”  [14:52-56]|

I could only hope Ahab would give the same answer as I.  But no, he said a yew tree.  “A yew?” came the reply.  “God's angel will hew you in two!


“You judges are no sons of Judah.  You must be Canaanites, from the way you mistreat the women of Israel.  You have terrified them into submitting to your villainy.  You have given false evidence against this blameless woman.  You shall be put to death!”

King Cyrus confirmed the sentence.  So now Ahab and I sit here awaiting the hangman, while that upstart cross-examiner is held in great esteem.  [14:57-64]|Now he's a “Friend of the King.”  They call him Daniel, which means “God has judged.”

 Bel

The story is that Cyrus once worshiped a god called Bel, often going into Bel's temple and bowing down before the idol.  As a Jew, Daniel refused to do that, of course.  “I don't bow before idols made with hands,” he said.  “I worship the living God!”  [15:1-5]|

“Bel is a living god,” the king retorted.  “How you can think otherwise?  Don't you see how much he eats and drinks?  I deliver a great offering to his altar daily, 12 bushels of flour and 40 sheep and 50 gallons of wine, and by the next day all that food is gone.”

Daniel laughed.  “Don't be deceived, your majesty.  This Bel is just clay covered with bronze.  He's never eaten anything.  [15:6-7]|No, the offering is being stolen by the priests who serve this temple.  There's no miracle.” [15:10]|

The priests denied this, of course, all 70 of them.  They made a bet with the king.  “We're going to leave now,” they said.  “Lay the provisions before the god as usual, then lock the temple door and seal it with your signet.  Tomorrow when you return, if you don't discover that Bel has eaten all the food, let us be put to death.  But if Daniel's accusations against us prove false, let him die.”

The priests headed to their homes.  But once they were gone, Daniel ordered his servants to bring in some ashes and sift them over the whole floor.  Then everybody left the temple and the king locked the door behind him.  [15:14]|

Later that night, under cover of darkness, the priests secretly returned as they always did, sneaking in through a hidden entrance they'd constructed beneath the altar table.

They brought their wives and children too, and they ate and drank everything.  [15:11-15]|

Next morning the king was up early, and Daniel was with him.  The king asked, “Are the seals intact?”  They were.  “Then break them and open the door.”

The morning sun shone in.  The king took one look at the altar, where there was nothing but debris:  sheep bones and overturned baskets and empty wine bottles.  Obviously Bel had feasted.  The king shouted, “Great are you, O Bel!  In you there is no deception whatever.”

He started to step across the threshold and bow before the idol, but Daniel just laughed and held him back.  “Look at the floor,” Daniel said.

“I see footprints,” said the king.  “Wait a moment.  Bel has no feet!  But I see footprints of men in the ashes.  And footprints of women and children too!”

He had the priests arrested.  They confessed everything and were put to death, and Daniel destroyed the idol and the temple both.  [15:16-22]|

The Dragon

That was not the only false god in Babylon.  They also had a huge snake they called a dragon.

The king said, “Now Daniel, you can't tell me this god is not living.  Bow down to the sacred dragon.”

“Yes, he's alive now, but not for long,” said Daniel.

“What?" asked the king.  “Are you threatening to stab him or beat him to death?”

“No, I won't use any weapons.  But may I feed him?”

The king granted permission, and Daniel boiled up a concoction of tar and hair and pushed it down the snake's throat.  The snake choked on the viscous hairball and died.  Daniel scoffed, “See what things you people worship!”  [15:23-27]|

The people are unhappy with what Daniel has done.  They're also unhappy with their king.  They fear he's converting to the immigrants' side and becoming a Jew.  They hold him responsible for the death of the dragon as well as for pulling down Bel and putting his priests to the sword.  They're threatening to kill the king unless he hands over the troublemaker Daniel.  [15:28-29]|

I wish I could tell you how that's going all going to turn out.  But I'll never know.

 

(a retelling of the apocryphal chapters of Daniel)

Click here for other Bible stories I've retold in the first person.

TBT

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