The lions’ den is one of the most well-known parts of the book of Daniel. Indeed, the episode has been taken up in contemporary culture as a metaphor for people in difficult, even dire, circumstances. Of course the metaphorical nature of this kind of talk (“that meeting was like being in the lions’ den” or “she barely escaped the lions’ den that time”) means that the circumstances aren’t literally as dire as they would be if, like Daniel, the speaker or subject was really facing real lions in a real lions’ den.
Interestingly enough, the way the lions’ den is described has led some scholars to wonder if even Daniel really faced real lions in a real lions’ den. We could begin with the notion of the lions’ “den.” Zoologically, lions don’t live in dens at all, but live outside, in the open. The only lions that live in “dens” are in zoos, and of course, the lions in Daniel are definitely controlled by the king. Unfortunately, we have no archaeological evidence for such zoo-like dens in the ancient world, and it is unlikely that a lion could survive for long in such a den—if by that word we imagine some sort of subterranean cavern or bottle-shaped dungeon (lions are mentioned in pits in
But then there is the matter of the lions themselves. Although the story in
Although we inherited our own metaphorical use of the lions’ den from
- van der Toorn, Karel. “In the Lions’ Den: The Babylonian Background of a Biblical Motif.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 60 (1998): 626–40.
- Strawn, Brent A. What Is Stronger than a Lion? Leonine Image and Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. Fribourg: Academic Press; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005.