Damien F. Mackey
Historian Paul-Alain Beaulieu (The Reign of Nabonidus, King of Babylon 556-539BC) has identified ‘the idea of imperial continuity with Assyria,
centred on the figure of Ashurbanipal’ as one of ‘the main characteristics of Nabonidus’ personality’ (p. 2).
Not surprising that we are going to find many Book of Daniel-like elements in the biography of the eccentric neo-Babylonian king, Nabonidus, if I am correct in identifying him with both Nebuchednezzar II ‘the Great’ and:
“Nebuchednezzar” of the Book of Daniel
The likenesses between Nabonidus and the biblical king have amazed some biblically-minded writers who adhere to the conventional view that Nebuchednezzar II and Nabonidus were quite separate neo-Babylonian kings. Consider, for instance, the following extraordinary parallels rightly discerned by John A. Tvedtnes, but without his realising that this really is Daniel’s king (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1986/09/nebuchadnezzar-or-nabonidus-mistaken-identities-in-the-book-of-daniel?lang=eng):
Nebuchadnezzar or Nabonidus?
Mistaken Identities in the Book of Daniel
A classic example of textual errors caused by “careless transcribers” or “ignorant translators” is contained in the book of Daniel. The events chronicled in the present-day book would have originally been recorded in Hebrew, the early language of the Jews. However, the book of Daniel found in the Hebrew Bible is a combination of Hebrew and Aramaic, the language of the Jews after they returned from Babylon. From Daniel 2:4 through 7:8, the text is in Aramaic. [Dan. 2:4–7:8] It is in this middle section that we find discrepancies between the biblical text and other ancient records. These discrepancies involve the identity of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who first subdued and then destroyed Jerusalem.
During his forty-year reign, Nebuchadnezzar ruled much of the Near East and rebuilt the great city of Babylon, replete with its hundreds of temples and its world-renowned hanging gardens. Some thirty years before his death in 561 B.C., he subdued Jerusalem (598 B.C.), taking its king, Jehoiakim, captive to Babylon and replacing him with Jehoiachin. When Jehoiachin proved disloyal, he was also deposed and replaced by his uncle, Zedekiah. When Zedekiah, too, revolted against his overlord, Nebuchadnezzar attacked the city.
In 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, taking the remainder of its people—along with many others from throughout the kingdom of Judah into captivity. (See 2 Kgs. 24–25.) One of the early Jewish captives, Daniel, won favor with the king and became known as a wise and trusted counselor.
Chapters two, three, and four of Daniel purport to contain accounts about Nebuchadnezzar. But only the first and best-known of these—the account of his dream about the great statue destroyed by a stone cut out of a mountainside—is actually about him. The stories in chapters three and four, as well as a reference in chapter five, are actually about another king named Nabonidus, not Nebuchadnezzar. [Dan. 2; Dan. 3; Dan. 4; Dan. 5]
Chapter three recounts that the king “made an image of gold … : he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.” (Dan. 3:1.) When this new idol was set up, a decree went forth that when music sounded, people were to prostrate themselves before the statue.
Chapter four tells of another dream of the king, this time about a great tree that was hewn down by order of God. [Dan. 4] Again Daniel was called upon for an interpretation. The tree, said the prophet, represented the sinful king, who would become mad, living for seven years “with the beasts of the field” and eating grass “as oxen.” (Dan. 4:23–26.) This prophecy was fulfilled when the king “was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.” (Dan. 4:33.) Ultimately, the king was healed, returned to his throne, and praised God.
In chapter five, the scene changes abruptly. Here we find that “Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.” (Dan. 5:1.) In verse two, he is identified as the son of Nebuchadnezzar, the king who had destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. At the feast, a finger appears, writing an ominous message on the plaster of the wall. Daniel, summoned to interpret the writing, informs the assembly that the Medes and Persians will take the kingdom.
It is this reference in chapter five that highlights the misidentification problem in the book of Daniel. Belshazzar was actually the son of Nabonidus, not of Nebuchadnezzar. And Belshazzar was never king [sic], but only crown prince.
Other ancient records establish that Belshazzar was actually Nabonidus’ son and that Belshazzar was never king—only crown prince. From the “Verse Account of Nabonidus,” preserved on a clay tablet and found at Babylon, we read a contemporary account of Nabonidus that sounds very much like the “Nebuchadnezzar” of Daniel 3–5 [Dan. 3–5]:
“His/protective deity became hostile to him,/and he, the former favorite of the gods/is now/seized by misfortunes: … against the will of the gods he performed an unholy action, … he thought out something worthless:/He had made the image of a deity/which nobody had/ever/seen in/this/country./ He introduced it into the temple/he placed/it/upon a pedestal; … he called it by the name of Nanna, … it is adorned with a … of lapis/lazuli, crowned with a tiara. …” (Pritchard, p. 313.)
The one difference between this story and the one from Daniel 3 is that the Babylonian text says the idol was made of brick, covered with gypsum and bitumin to make the facing brilliant, while the Daniel account says it was made of gold. But the ninety-foot-high statue could hardly have been made of pure gold. Continuing from the Babylonian text:
“After he had obtained what he desired, a work of utter deceit, had built/this/abomination, a work of unholiness—when the third year was about to begin he entrusted the ‘Camp’ to his oldest/son/, the firstborn, the troops everywhere in the country he ordered under his/command/. He let/everything/ go, entrusted the kingship to him and, himself, he started out for a long journey, the/military/forces of Akkad marching with him; he turned towards Tema /deep/in the west. … When he arrived there, he killed in battle the prince of Tema … and he, himself, took his residence in/Te/ma, the forces of Akkad /were also stationed/there.” (Pritchard, p. 313.)
The rest of the text becomes fragmentary, but we can discern that Nabonidus ordered the slaughter of many people in the northern Arabian town of Tema and that he enslaved large numbers of them. Column four on the tablet is in especially bad shape, but we can discern the words “The king is mad.”
This brings us to the account of “Nebuchadnezzar’s” madness in Daniel 4. The Babylonian accounts do not mention that Nebuchadnezzar became mad. But it is well known that Nabonidus did. Records kept by the Babylonian priests confirm Nabonidus’s temporary madness in the wilderness of Tema. The records show that Nabonidus “stayed in Tema” at least from the seventh through eleventh years of his reign, leaving “the crown prince, the officials and the army” in Babylonia. During this time, the New Year festival, over which only the king could preside, was omitted.
The Dead Sea scrolls found at Qumran in 1948 confirm that Nabonidus, not Nebuchadnezzar, was the mad king. A fragmentary document titled “The Prayer of Nabonidus” tells of a king NBNY (Hebrew uses no vowels) who, while at Tema, was diseased by the God of Israel. A Jewish adviser (no doubt Daniel) counsels him to honor God, reminding him, “Thou has been smitten with this noisesome fever … for seven years because thou hast been praying to gods of silver and stone, which gods are but stock and stone, mere clay.” (Theodore H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures, 3d ed., Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/ Doubleday, 1976, p. 537.)
The fact that the gods of silver and gold were actually made of stock and stone might indicate gold or silver plating, which could identify the brick idol of Nabonidus with the gold idol mentioned in the book of Daniel.
How could such apparent errors have crept into the sacred record? ….
My answer: Conventional neo-Babylonian history, and not the Book of Daniel, is at fault.
The great Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal, who so significantly influenced king Nabonidus, has certain features that also may remind one of Daniel’s “Nebuchednezzar” – so much so, in fact, that I had initially wondered about exploring an identification of the two.
I had then written:
Nabonidus is somewhat like an Assyrian king. He adopts Assyrian titulature and boasts of having the Assyrian kings as his “royal ancestors”. There is nothing particularly strange about his supposed long stay in Teima in Arabia. This was a typical campaign region adopted by the neo-Assyrian kings. There is nothing particularly remarkable about his desire to restore the Ehulhul temple of Sin in Harran. Ashurbanipal did that.
Nabonidus is said to have had two major goals, to restore that Sin temple and to establish the empire of Babylon along the lines of the neo-Assyrians. Once again, Ashurbanipal is particularly mentioned as being his inspiration.
Nabonidus was not singular in not taking the hand of Bel in Babylon for many years, due to what he calls the impiety of the Babylonians. Ashurbanipal (and now you will notice that he keeps turning up) could not shake the hand of Bel after his brother Shamash-shum-ukin had revolted against him, barring Babylon, Borsippa, etc. to him. He tells us this explicitly.
Nabonidus is not singular either in not expecting to become king. Ashurbanipal had felt the same.
…. They share many Babylonian building works and restorations, too.
…. Ashurbanipal of 41-43 years of reign (figures vary) … Nebuchednezzar II the Great of an established 43 years of reign.
The great Nebuchednezzar has left only 4 known depictions of himself, we are told. Ridiculous! ….
The last 35 years of Nebuchednezzar are hardly known, they say. ….
It is doubted whether Nebuchednezzar conquered Egypt as according to the Bible. … Ashurbanipal … certainly did conquer Egypt.
The many queries about whether an inscription belongs to Nebuchednezzar or Nabonidus now dissolves.
It was Nabonidus, not Nebuchednezzar, they say, who built the famous palace in Babylon.
Nabonidus’s well known madness (perhaps the Teima phase) is Nebuchednezzar’s madness.
Nabonidus calls Sin “the God of gods” (ilani sa ilani), the exact phrase used by Nebuchednezzar in Daniel 2:47 of Daniel’s God (“the God of gods”).
Looking for a fiery furnace? Well, Ashurbanipal has one. His brother dies in it.
“Saulmagina my rebellious brother, who made war with me, they threw into a burning fiery furnace, and destroyed his life” (Caiger, p. 176).
Oh, yes, and Belshazzar, they say, was Nabonidus’s son, not Nebuchednezzar’s son. Contrary to the Bible.
And Belshazzar was not a king, they also say.
Well he wasn’t a king while Nabonidus = Nebuchednezzar …. reigned.
But he was later. I’ll believe Daniel 5 (Writing on the Wall).
Ashurbanipal also apparently had a lions’ den.
For, according to Jonathan Grey, The Forbidden Secret (p. 102):
“…. The biblical book of Daniel also records that the Hebrew captive Daniel was tossed into a den lions. (Daniel chapter 6)
That such ‘lion’s [sic] den’ punishment was in keeping with the times is now proven by the discovery of that same inscription of Ashurbanipal that we just mentioned. It continues thus:
The rest of the people who had rebelled they threw alive among bulls and lions, as Sennacherib my grandfather used to do. Lo, again following his footsteps, those men I threw into the midst of them.
On one occasion, as the famed excavator Marcel Dieulafoy was digging amid the ruins of Babylon, he fell into a pit that appeared like an like an ancient well. After being rescued by his companions, he proceeded with the work of identification. How astonished was he to find that the pit had been used as a cage for wild animals! And upon the curb was this inscription:
The Place of Execution, where men who angered the king died torn by wild animals”.