Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah
Fiery furnace (1266) by Toros Roslin.
Three Holy Children
Venerated inJudaism
Major shrineTomb of Daniel, Susa
Feast16 December – Roman Catholicism
17 December – Eastern Orthodoxy
Tuesday after fourth Sunday of Pentecost – Armenian Apostolic Church
AttributesThree men in the fiery furnace
Franz Joseph Hermann, "The Fiery Furnace; from the Book of Daniel, 3"; St. Pankratius, Wiggensbach, Germany. King Nebuchadnezzar (left) watches the three youths and the angelic figure in the furnace (right), while the king's gigantic statue towers behind them (centre).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Hebrew names Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) are figures from chapter 3 of the biblical Book of Daniel. In the narrative, the three Jewish men are thrown into a fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon for refusing to bow to the king's image. The three are preserved from harm and the king sees four men walking in the flames, "the fourth ... like a son of God". They are first mentioned in Daniel 1, where alongside Daniel they are brought to Babylon to study Chaldean language and literature with a view to serving at the King's court, and their Hebrew names are replaced with Chaldean or Babylonian names.[1]

The first six chapters of Daniel are stories dating from the late Persian/early Hellenistic period, and Daniel's absence from the story of the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace suggests that it may originally have been independent.[2] It forms a pair with the story of Daniel in the lions' den, both making the point that the God of the Jews will deliver those who are faithful to him.[3]


Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, late 3rd century/early 4th century.
Depicted on Moone High Cross, Ireland, 10th century

King Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image in the plain of Dura (meaning dwelling) and commanded that all his officials bow before it. All who failed to do so would be thrown into a blazing furnace. Certain officials informed the king that the three Jewish youths Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who bore the Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and whom the king had appointed to high office in Babylon, were refusing to worship the golden statue. The three were brought before Nebuchadnezzar, where they informed the king that God would be with them. Nebuchadnezzar commanded that they be thrown into the fiery furnace, heated seven times hotter than normal, but when the king looked, he saw four figures walking unharmed in the flames, the fourth "like a son of God." Seeing this, Nebuchadnezzar brought the youths out of the flames, and the fire had not had any effect on their bodies. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire was on them. The king then promoted them to high office, decreeing that anyone who spoke against God should be torn limb from limb.[1]

Composition and structure

Book of Daniel

It is generally accepted that the Book of Daniel originated as a collection of stories among the Jewish community in Babylon and Mesopotamia in the Persian and early Hellenistic periods (5th to 3rd centuries BCE), expanded by the visions of chapters 7–12 in the Maccabean era (mid-2nd century).[4] Some researchers have concluded that Daniel is a legendary figure.[5] It is possible that the name Daniel was chosen for the hero of the book because of his reputation as a wise seer in Hebrew tradition.[6] The tales are in the voice of an anonymous narrator, except for chapter 4, which is in the form of a letter from king Nebuchadnezzar.[7] Chapter 3 is unique in that Daniel does not appear in it.

Daniel 3

Daniel 3 forms part of a chiasmus (a poetic structure in which the main point or message of a passage is placed in the centre and framed by further repetitions on either side) within Daniel 2–7, paired with Daniel 6, the story of Daniel in the lions' den:[8]

Chapters 3 and 6 contain significant differences. The story of the fiery furnace does not include Daniel, while the story of the lions' den does not include Daniel's friends; the first story takes place under Nebuchadnezzar and the second under Darius; and in the first story the disobedience to the earthly ruler takes place in public, while in the second Daniel petitions God in private. The stories thus supplement each other to make the point that the god of the Jews will deliver those who are faithful to him.[3]

Genre and themes

The Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace (15th century icon of the Novgorod school).

The legendary nature of the story is revealed by the liberal use of hyperbole – the size of the statue, the use of every kind of music, the destruction of the executioners, and the king's rage followed by his confession of the superiority of the God of Israel. The plot is a type known in folklore as "the disgrace and rehabilitation of a minister," the plot of which involves a man in a state of prosperity who is sentenced to death or prison by the plots of his enemies but vindicated and restored to honour.[9]

When Nebuchadnezzar confronts the defiant Jewish youths who refuse to submit to his will he asks them what god will deliver them from his hands. Their reply is the theological high point of the story: without addressing the king by his title, they tell him that the question is not whether they are willing to bow before the king's image, but whether God is present and willing to save.[10] When the three are thrown into the furnace the king sees four men walking in the flames, the fourth like "a son of gods,"[11] a divine being.


Daniel's absence from the tale of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego suggests that it may originally have been an independent story. (According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 93a), Daniel was out of the country at the time of the incident.)

The Hebrew names of the three youths were Hananiah (חֲנַנְיָהḤănanyāh), "Yah is gracious", Mishael (מִישָׁאֵלMîšā’êl), "Who is what El is?" and Azariah (עֲזַרְיָהǍzaryāh), "Yah has helped", but by the king's decree they were assigned Chaldean names, so that Hananiah became Shadrach (שַׁדְרַך Šaḏraḵ), Mishael became Meshach (מֵישַׁךְ Mêšaḵ) and Azariah became Abednego (עֲבֵד נְגוֹ ‘Ǎḇêḏ-Nəḡō).[12]

The Chaldean names are related to the Hebrew ones, with the names El and Yah replaced by Babylonian theonyms: Šaḏraḵ may reflect Šudur Aku "Command of Aku (the moon god)",[13] Mêšaḵ is probably a variation of Mi-ša-aku, meaning "Who is as Aku is?", and Abednego is either "Slave of the god Nebo/Nabu" or a variation of Abednergal, "Slave of the god Nergal."

The word "Dura" (where the statue is erected) means simply "plain" or "fortress" and is not any specific place; the Greek historian Herodotus mentions a golden image of the god Bel in Babylon, but the gigantic size of this statue might suggest that its origins lie in folklore.[14] The statue's dimensions (6×60 cubits) are linked intertextually with those of Ezra–Nehemiah's Second Temple (60×60 cubits), suggesting that the king's image is contrasted with the post-exilic place of worship for faithful Jews like Daniel.[15]

Christian liturgy

The Greek Septuagint version of Daniel 3 includes the deuterocanonical Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children.[16] The song is alluded to in odes seven and eight of the canon, a hymn sung in the matins service and on other occasions in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The reading of the story of the fiery furnace, including the song, is prescribed for the vesperal Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Orthodox on Holy Saturday. The Latin canticle Benedicite Dominum is based on the "song of the three youths". It is used at Lauds for Sundays and feast days.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the feast day of the three youths, along with Daniel, is 17 December. The Orthodox also commemorate them on the two Sundays before the Nativity of Christ.

In the Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the Oriental Orthodox or ancient non-Chalcedonian churches, the feast day of the three youths, along with Daniel, is commemorated on the Tuesday after the fourth Sunday of Pentecost.[17]

The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod also includes Daniel and the three youths in the Calendar of Saints on 17 December.

In modern Western culture

This article may contain irrelevant references to popular culture. Please remove the content or add citations to reliable and independent sources. (December 2022)



Film and television

See also



  1. ^ a b Levine 2010, p. 1239-1241.
  2. ^ Levine 2010, p. 1233, 1239 footnote 3.1–7.
  3. ^ a b Seow 2003, p. 87.
  4. ^ Collins 1984, p. 29, 34–35.
  5. ^ Collins 1984, p. 28.
  6. ^ Redditt 2008, p. 176–177, 180.
  7. ^ Wesselius 2002, p. 295.
  8. ^ Redditt 2008, p. 177.
  9. ^ Collins 1984, p. 55.
  10. ^ Seow 2003, pp. 55–57.
  11. ^
  12. ^ while Daniel became Beltheshazzar (בֵּ֣לְטְשַׁאצַּ֗רBelteshazzar, Daniel 1:7. "1611 King James Bible. Book of Daniel, chapter 1". Archived from the original on February 9, 2013.
  13. ^ Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'ERI-AKU'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915
  14. ^ Levine 2010, p. 1239, footnote 3.1–7.
  15. ^ Wesselius 2002, p. 303.
  16. ^ Collins 1984, p. 56.
  17. ^ "Commemoration of the Prophet Daniel, and his Companions STS. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego". Archived from the original on 2021-06-24. Retrieved 2021-06-21.
  18. ^ Sterne, Laurence (2019). Hawley, Judith (ed.). Tristram Shandy. New York • London: W. W. Norton. p. 191. ISBN 9780393921366.
  19. ^ Henry, Nancy (2018). Women, Literature and Finance in Victorian Britain: Cultures of Investment. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 71. ISBN 9783319943312.
  20. ^ Trollope, Anthony (1988). Cockshut, A. O. J (ed.). Miss Mackenzie. Oxford University Press. p. 404. ISBN 978-0-19-281846-1. Retrieved 30 December 2022.
  21. ^ "Miss Mackenzie". The Spectator. 4 March 1865. p. 244. Retrieved 30 December 2022.
  22. ^ Levine, Robert. "Hasse's Il Cantico...Bongiovanni C". Classics Today.
  23. ^ "The Three Holy Children". English Heritage Music Series. University of Minnesota. Retrieved 19 April 2023.
  24. ^ Buryl Red And Grace Hawthorne – It's Cool In The Furnace (1972, Vinyl), retrieved 2021-07-22
  25. ^ "It". Word Choral Club - EN. Retrieved 2021-07-22.

General and cited references