The Apocrypha’s “The Song of Three Children”: Trimming Some of the Bible’s Fat
The last server job I had was at an upscale Nuevo Latino restaurant in Philadelphia. Like most waiters, we tried to maximize our money each night, which included knowing our menu, cocktail and wine list backwards and forwards in order to steer customers to the best options. Like most restaurants, we had expensive entrees ($31) and cheaper ones ($18). One of these cheaper entrees was the lechon asado, and although it was one of the chef’s signature dishes we steered tables away from it, towards slightly more expensive (and, in my opinion, better) entrees.
Of course, you can’t tell a table not to order a particular menu item, especially when the restaurant was famous for it. No, we had to find different methods. One way was to play up one of the downsides of the dish—it had a lot of gristle. So, table-side, my description went like this: the lechon asado is pork shank, slow roasted for seven hours, which gives the fat time to render down.
Most tables stopped you when you said fat and render down, which was the goal, but some customers started salivating. Sounds great, they’d say, handing their menu over. And when it was time to clear the plates, they’d inhale every bite of that fat and said to pass compliments on to the chef.
If I enjoyed fat (or gristle), I might have felt differently, but I like my meat lean. That’s where the flavor is, some contend, in disbelief when I express my preference. Turns out, I also like my prose equally lean—with all the padding, bloating, unnecessary clutter trimmed. As The Apocrypha’s “The Song of Three Children,” certain “editors” felt the same way about Bible books, which explains why this excised book was cut.
This short Bible book adds little to what exists in The Old Testament’s Book of Daniel. The only really curious things about this book is that the story is not about three children; rather, it’s about three men.
In Daniel, those three men are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and, when brought before king Nebuchadnezzar and ordered to praise his God, they decline, accepting instead to be placed in a furnace, where, they say, their God will protect them. “The Song of Three Children” provides details about what happens in that furnace—and provides different names for the men—Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael. For the first 25 lines of this book, the men pray to God, expressing their sorrow for their sins, etc. An angel of the Lord enters the furnace and turns its center into a cool place. While this climate change happens, the men begin their song/blessing of the Lord. These blessings last 28 lines until the book ends.
Although you can understand men in this situation would bless the lord so profusely, you can understand why the story is fine without all of them. Included, all they offer is repetition, and unless you like here these repeated prayers, they detract from the story. The ones who prefer the prayers probably object to having something they enjoying chewing on being cut out.
The story doesn’t end here, for in the Book of Daniel, the men are retrieved by the king, who marvels at their survival. This is the real meat of the story, not this padding that was, thankfully, trimmed.