I understand that religious discussion is not wanted here, but it's just the pretext to my question. I recently decided to read the Apocrypha. Sounded interesting. Anyway, when I got to The Book of Bel and The Dragon, there was this verse, which struck me as particularly interesting:

1:27 Then Daniel took pitch, and fat, and hair, and did seethe them together, and made lumps thereof: this he put in the dragon's mouth, and so the dragon burst in sunder and Daniel said, Lo, these are the gods ye worship.

Now, what I'm wondering (and the only reason I'm bringing this up here), is what would this do? It seems to be an extremely early reference to use of explosives, which is fascinating in a purely historical sense, but what sort of material would actually be formed by boiling a mixture of pitch, fat, and hair? Would this have some explosive tendency, as can be interpreted from the passage? I'm a chemistry major, but I haven't even gone through Organic yet, so if any of you know anything about the properties this would (or would not) have, I would greatly appreciate the knowledge.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm certainly not a biblical scholar but, from reading other translations, I believe the idea here wasn't that Daniel put the mixture in the dragon's mouth, upon which the mixture exploded; but rather, that the dragon burst after consuming the mixture (the implication perhaps being that the mixture reacted with the dragon's gastric juices after consumption to produce so much gas that the dragon burst). I.e., this seems more a reference to a chemical reaction that produces gas than to one that produces an explosion. I'd recommend checking this on hermeneutics.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$
    – theorist
    May 23 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ I'll add they probably were familiar with reactions that vigorously produced gas in biblical times--e.g., humans used both vinegar and sodium carbonate since at least 3500 BC. $\endgroup$
    – theorist
    May 23 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer, I will ask this on Hermeneutics. And just to clarify, is there a process that can explain what happens when the hair, fat, and pitch combined with the dragons gastric juices? You mentioned that in the dragon, it produced so much gas that the dragon burst, I am curious about that. $\endgroup$
    – Servant
    May 23 at 5:54
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I mentioned the idea behind it may have been that it produced so much gas the dragon burst. I'm afraid I can't give you a chemical reaction off the top of my head. My point wasn't to say specifically that a certain chemistry was involved, but rather that the passage may have been motivated by a familiarity with gas-producing chemical reactions rather than a familiarity with explosives. $\endgroup$
    – theorist
    May 23 at 6:03
  • $\begingroup$ There is nothing explosive in a mixture of pitch (long chain alkanes), fat (triglcerides) and hair even in the presence of gastric acid. Deeply indigestible though. perhaps the dragon's gut burst. $\endgroup$
    – Waylander
    May 23 at 6:56

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