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Friday, 17 February 2012

Misunderstood Belshazzar

"Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein."

So opens the fifth chapter of the book of Daniel in the Hebrew Scriptures. And until 1854, nothing whatsoever was known of this Belshazzar outside of what Jews had written based on this very account. Skeptics had a field day in ridiculing the historicity of Daniel, as everyone knew that the last king of Babylon, before it fell to Cyrus the Great, was Labynetos. Or maybe it was Naboendelus. Or Nabonnedon. Or even Nabonadius. All seem to be different forms of the same name, every ancient history spelling it differently. That Jewish historian Josephus identified 'Naboendelus' with the biblical 'Baltasar' was dismissed as wishful thinking.

All this has changed, however, as the sands give up their secrets. The Nabonidus Cylinder showed both the biblical and secular histories to be accurate, but not complete. Belshazzar, it turns out, was the eldest son of Nabonidus, who put him in charge of the kingdom so he could spend a few years taking care of some business in the  Arabian desert. Beshazzar was the king, but not the 'first ruler in the kingdom.' A careful reading of Daniel's account, though, would have already made that clear:

"He king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom."

Nabonidus being the first, and Belshazzar the second. But what about the third royal actor in this drama, the queen?

"The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. "O king, live forever!" she said. "Don't be alarmed! Don't look so pale! There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father-your father the king, I say-appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. This man Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means." --NIV 1.2

 First of all, we note what appears to be an obvious corruption in the text:

"King Nebuchadnezzar your father-your father the king, I say-"
 This was virtually unchanged in the NIV from the KJV:
"the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father"

In actuality, "I say" is not in the Chaldee text, and the two mentions of "the king" are at opposite ends of the sentence. So the duplication was rightly dropped in the NIV 2.1 upgrade, not really being in keeping with CBT translation philosophy in the first place.

But back to The Queen. Pretty much everybody is agreed that she was Belshazzar's Queen Mother, since his queens were obviously already in the banquet hall with him--not to mention that many decades had transpired since ol' Nebuchadnezzar had given up the ghost, and even more since he elevated Daniel. It appears that we can identify her rather precisely as Belshazzar's mother, Nabonidus' wife, and--get this-- ol' Neb's daughter Nitocris--thus making Nebuchadnezzar Belshazzar's actual grandfather, even though Nabonidus wasn't his son.

And what about Nitocris? Well, Herodotus said that she was the wife of Labynetos, and that they had a son by the same name. So, it turns out that Herodotus did in fact mention Belshazzar after all--he just called him Junior instead of by his given name.

See how stupid it can be to doubt the Bible? Enough evidence was already there to show the biblical account to be historical; only the doubters couldn't see it.

We can't blame the doubters for that, though.  Even Hippolytus in his Commentary on Daniel (14.1-2), published in the first decade of the third century, missed the significance of the "third ruler" mention, while accepting the other Biblical information at face value as he tried to fit it into the already spotty historical record:

"And so after the death of Nebuchadnezzar his son Evil Merodoch succeeded to his kingdom, of whom the Scripture does not mention, surely because he lived reverently, surely because there was nothing monstrous in him. He reigned twelve years and after him his brother Belshazzar reigned, concerning whom Scripture now makes a narrative."

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