Belshazzar's Feast and the Handwriting of God
The Chaldean king Belshazzar made a feast to his chief officers, at which in drunken arrogance, by a desecration of the sacred vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from the temple at Jerusalem, he derided the God of Israel (Daniel 5:1-4). Then he suddenly saw the finger of a hand writing on the wall of the guest-chamber, at which he was agitated by violent terror, and commanded that the wise men should be sent for, that they might read and interpret to him the writing; and when they were not able to do this, he became pale with alarm (Daniel 5:5-9). Then the queen informed him of Daniel, who would be able to interpret the writing (Daniel 5:10-12). Daniel, being immediately brought in, declared himself ready to read and interpret the writing; but first he reminded the king of his sin in that he did not take warning from the divine chastisement which had visited king Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4), but offended the Most High God by desecrating the holy vessels of His temple (Daniel 5:13, Daniel 5:14). He then interpreted to him the writing, showing the king that God had announced to him by means of it the end of his reign, and the transference of the kingdom to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:25-28). Daniel was thereupon raised to honour by Belshazzar, who was, however, in that same night put to death (Daniel 5:29, Daniel 5:30).
This narrative presents historical difficulties, for a Chaldean king by the name of Belshazzar is nowhere else mentioned, except in the passage in Baruch 1:11f., which is dependent on this chapter of Daniel; and the judgment here announced to him, the occurrence of which is in part mentioned in Daniel 5:30, and in part set forth in Daniel 6:1 (Daniel 5:31), does not appear to harmonize with the extra-biblical information which we have regarding the destruction of the Chaldean kingdom.
If we consider closely the contents of this chapter, it appears that Belshazzar, designated in Daniel 5:30 as king of the Chaldeans, is not only in Daniel 5:22 addressed by Daniel as Nebuchadnezzar's son, but in Daniel 5:11, Daniel 5:13, and Daniel 5:18 is also manifestly represented in the same character, for the queen-mother (Daniel 5:11), Belshazzar himself (Daniel 5:13), and Daniel (Daniel 5:18) call Nebuchadnezzar his אב, father . If now אב and בּר do not always express the special relation of father and son, but אב is used in a wider sense of a grandfather and of yet more remote ancestors, and בּר of grandsons and other descendants, yet this wider interpretation and conception of the words is from the matter of the statements here made highly improbable, or indeed directly excluded, inasmuch as the queen-mother speaks of things which she had experience, and Daniel said to Belshazzar (Daniel 5:22) that he knew the chastisement which Nebuchadnezzar had suffered from God in the madness that had come upon him, but had not regarded it. In that case the announcement of the judgment threatening Belshazzar and his kingdom (Daniel 5:24-28), when compared with its partial fulfilment in Belshazzar's death (Daniel 5:30), appears to indicate that his death, together with the destruction of the Chaldean kingdom and its transference to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 6:1[5:31]), occurred at the same time. Nevertheless this indication, as has already been remarked, appears to have more plausibility than truth, since neither the combination of the two events in their announcement, nor their union in the statement of their fulfilment, by means of the copula ו in Daniel 6:1, affords conclusive proof of their being contemporaneous. Since only the time of Belshazzar's death is given (Daniel 5:30), but the transference of the Chaldean kingdom to the Median Darius (Daniel 6:1) is not chronologically defined, then we may without hesitation grant that the latter event did not happen till some considerable time after the death of Belshazzar, in case other reasons demand this supposition. For, leaving out of view the announcement of the judgment, the narrative contains not the least hint that, at the time when Belshazzar revelled with his lords and his concubines, the city of Babylon was besieged by enemies. “Belshazzar (Daniel 5:1-4) is altogether without care, which he could not have been if the enemy had gathered before the gates. The handwriting announcing evil appears out of harmony with the circumstances (Daniel 5:5), while it would have had a connection with them if the city had been beleaguered. Belshazzar did not believe (Daniel 5:29) that the threatened end was near, which would not have been in harmony with a state of siege. All these circumstances are not to be explained from the light-mindedness of Belshazzar, but they may be by the supposition that his death was the result of an insurrection, unexpected by himself and by all.” Kliefoth, p. 148.
Now let us compare with this review of the chapter the non-biblical reports regarding the end of the Babylonian monarchy. Berosus, in a fragment preserved by Josephus, c. Ap . i. 20, says that “ Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded in the kingdom by his son Evilmerodach, who reigned badly ( προστὰς τῶν πραγμάτων ἀνόμως καὶ ἀσελγῶς ), and was put to death ( ἀνηρέθη ) by Neriglissor, the husband of his sister, after he had reigned two years. This Neriglissor succeeded him, and reigned four years. His son Laborosoarchod, being still a child ( παῖς ὤν ), reigned after him nine months, and was murdered by his friends ( διὰ τὸ πολλὰ ἐμφαίνειν κακόηθη ὑπὸ τῶν φίλων ἀπετυμπανίσθη ), because he gave many proofs of a bad character. His murderers by a general resolution transferred the government to Nabonnedus, one of the Babylonians who belonged to the conspirators. Under him the walls of Babylon along the river-banks were better built. But in the seventeenth year of his reign Cyrus came from Persia with a great army and took Babylon, after he had subjugated all the rest of Asia. Nabonnedus went out to encounter him, but was vanquished in battle, and fled with a few followers and shut himself up in Borsippa. But Cyrus, after he had taken Babylon and demolished its walls, marched against Borsippa and besieged Nabonnedus. But Nabonnedus would not hold out, and therefore surrendered himself. He was at first treated humanely by Cyrus, who removed him from Babylon, and gave him Carmania as a place of residence ( δοὺς οἰκητήριον αὐτῷ Καρμανίαν ), where he spent the remainder of his days and died.”
Abydenus, in a shorter fragment preserved by Eusebius in the Praepar. Ev . ix. 41, and in the Chron. Armen . p. 60f., makes the same statements. Petermann's translation of the fragment found in Niebuhr's Gesch. Assurs, p. 504, is as follows: - ”There now reigned (after Nebuchodrossor) his son Amilmarodokos, whom his son-in-law Niglisaris immediately murdered, whose only son Labossorakos remained yet alive; but it happened to him also that he met a violent death. He commanded that Nabonedokhos should be placed on the throne of the kingdom, a person who was altogether unfit to occupy it.” (In the Praepar. Evang . this passage is given in these words: Ναβοννίδοχον ἀποδείκνυσι βασιλέα προσήκοντα οἱ οὐδέν ). “Cyrus, after he had taken possession of Babylon, appointed him margrave of the country of Carmania. Darius the king removed him out of the land.” (This last passage is wanting in the Praep. Ev .)
(Note: With these statements that of Alexander Polyhistor, in Euseb. Chron. Armen . ed. Aucher, i. p. 45, in the main agrees. His report, according to Petermann's translation (as above, p. 497), is as follows: - ”After Nebuchodrossor, his son Amilmarudokhos reigned 12 years, whom the Hebr. hist. calls Ilmarudokhos . After him there reigned over the Chaldeans Neglisaros 4 years, and then Nabodenus 17 years, under whom Cyrus (son) of Cambyses assembled an army against the land of the Babylonians. Nabodenus opposed him, but was overcome and put to flight. Cyrus now reigned over Babylon 9 years,” etc. The 12 years of Amilmarudokhos are without doubt an error of the Armenian translator or of some transcriber; and the omission of Loborosoarchod is explained by the circumstance that he did not reign a full year. The correctness of the statement of Berosus is confirmed by the Canon of Ptolemy, who names as successors of Nabokolassar (i.e., Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned 43 years), Illoarudmos 2 years, Nerigassolassaros 4 years, and Nabonadius 17 years; thus omitting Laborosoarchod on the grounds previously mentioned. The number of the years of the reigns mentioned by Berosus agrees with the biblical statements regarding the duration of the exile. From the first taking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in the fourth year of Jehoiakim are mentioned - Jehoiakim 7 years, Jehoiachin 3 months, and his imprisonment 37 years (Jeremiah 52:31), Evilmerodach 2 years, Neriglissar 4 years, Laborosoarchod 9 months, and Nabonnedus 17 years - in all 68 years, to which, if the 2 years of the reign of Darius the Mede are added, we shall have 70 years. The years of the reigns of the Babylonian kings amount in all to the same number; viz., Nebuchadnezzar 44 1/4 years, - since he did not become king till one year after the destruction of Jerusalem, he reigned 43 years, - Evilmerodach 2 years, Neriglissar 4 years, Laborosoarchod 9 months, Nabonnedus 17 years, and Darius the Mede 2 years - in all 70 years.)
According to these reports, there reigned in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar four other kings, among whom there was no one called Belshazzar, and only one son of Nebuchadnezzar, viz., Evilmerodach; for Neriglissar is son-in-law and Laborosoarchod is grandson (daughter's son) of Nebuchadnezzar, and Nabonnedus was not at all related to him, nor of royal descent. Of these kings, only Evilmerodach and Laborosoarchod were put to death, while on the contrary Neriglissar and Nabonnedus died a natural death, and the Babylonian dominion passed by conquest to the Medes, without Nabonnedus thereby losing his life. Hence it follows, (1) that Belshazzar cannot be the last king of Babylon, nor is identical with Nabonnedus, who was neither a son nor descendant of Nebuchadnezzar, and was not put to death by Cyrus at the destruction of Babylon and the overthrow of the Chaldean kingdom; (2) that Belshazzar could neither be Evilmerodach nor Laborosoarchod, since only these two were put to death - the former after he had reigned only two years, and the latter after he had reigned only nine months, while the third year of Belshazzar's reign is mentioned in Daniel 8:1; and (3) that the death of Belshazzar cannot have been at the same time as the destruction of Babylon by the Medes and Persians.
If we now compare with these facts, gathered from Oriental sources, those narrated by the Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon, we find that the former speaks of several Babylonian kings, but says nothing particular regarding them, but, on the other hand, reports many sayings and fabulous stories of two Babylonian queens, Semiramis and Nitocris, to whom he attributes (i. 184f.) many exploits, and the erection of buildings which Berosus has attributed to Nebuchadnezzar. Of Babylonian kings he names (i. 188) only Labynetos as the son of Nitocris, with the remark, that he had the same name as his father, and that Cyrus waged war against this second Labynetos, and by diverting the Euphrates from its course at the time of a nocturnal festival of its inhabitants, stormed the city of Babylon (i. 191), after he had gained a battle before laying siege to the capital of the Babylonians (i. 190). Xenophon ( Cyrop . vii. 5, 15ff.), agreeing with Herodotus, relates that Cyrus entered the city by damming off the Euphrates during a festival of its inhabitants, and that the king was put to death, whose name he does not mention, but whom he describes (v. 2. 27, iv. 6. 3) as a youth, and (iv. 6. 3, v. 2. 27f., v. 3. 6, vii. 5. 32) as a riotous, voluptuous, cruel, godless man. The preceding king, the father of the last, he says, was a good man, but his youngest son, who succeeded to the government, was a wicked man. Herodotus and Xenophon appear, then, to agree in this, that both of them connect the destruction of Babylon and the downfall of the Chaldean kingdom by Cyrus with a riotous festival of the Babylonians, and both describe the last king as of royal descent. They agree with the narrative of Daniel as to the death of Belshazzar, that it took place during or immediately after a festival, and regarding the transference of the Chaldean kingdom to the Medes and Persians; and they confirm the prevalent interpretation of this chapter, that Belshazzar was the last Chaldean king, and was put to death on the occasion of the taking of Babylon. But in their statements concerning the last king of Babylon they both stand in opposition to the accounts of Berosus and Abydenus. Herodotus and Xenophon describe him as the king's son, while Nabonnedus, according to both of these Chaldean historians, was not of royal descent. Besides this, Xenophon states that the king lost his life at the taking of Babylon, while according to Berosus, on the contrary, he was not in Babylon at all, but was besieged in Borsippa, surrendered to Cyrus, and was banished to Carmania, or according to Abydenus, was made deputy of that province. Shall we then decide for Herodotus and Xenophon, and against Berosus and Abydenus? Against such a decision the great imperfection and indefiniteness of the Grecian account must awaken doubts. If, as is generally supposed, the elder Labynetus of Herodotus is the husband of Nitocris, who was the wife of Nebuchadnezzar, then his son of the same name cannot be identical with the Nabonnedus of Berosus and Abydenus; for according to the testimonies of biblical and Oriental authorities, which are clear on this point, the Chaldean kingdom did not fall under the son of Nebuchadnezzar, and then the statement of Herodotus regarding the two Labynetuses is certainly incorrect, and is fabricated from very obscure traditions. Xenophon also shows himself to be not well informed regarding the history of the Chaldean kings. Although his description of the last of these kings appears to indicate an intimate knowledge of his character, and accords with the character of Belshazzar, yet he does not even know the name of this king, and still less the duration of his reign.
Accordingly these scanty and indefinite Grecian reports cannot counterbalance the extended and minute statements of Berosus and Abydenus, and cannot be taken as regulating the historical interpretation of Daniel 5. Josephus, it is true, understands the narrative in such a way that he identifies Belshazzar with Nabonedus, and connects his death with the destruction of the Babylonish kingdom, for ( Ant . x. 11, 2f.) he states that, after Nebuchadnezzar, his son Evilmerodach reigned eighteen years. But when he died, his son Neriglissar succeeded to the government, and died after he had reigned forty years. After him the succession in the kingdom came to his son Labosordacus, who continued in it but nine months; and when he was dead ( τελευτήσαντος αὐτοῦ ), it came to Baltasar, who by the Babylonians was called Naboandelus (Nabonnedus), against whom Cyrus the king of Persian and Darius the king of Media made war. While they besieged Babylon a wonderful event occurred at a feast which the king gave to his magnates and his wives, as described by Daniel 5. Not long after Cyrus took the city and made Baltasar prisoner. “For it was,” he continues, “under Baltasar, after he had reigned seventeen years, that Babylon was taken. This was, as has been handed down to us, the end of the descendants of Nebuchadnezzar.” But it is clear that in these reports which Josephus has given he has not drawn his information from sources no longer accessible to us, but has merely attempted in them to combine the reports of Berosus, and perhaps also those of the Greek historians, with his own exposition of the narrative of Daniel 5. The deviations from Berosus and the Canon of Ptolemy in regard to the number of the years of the reign of Evilmerodach and of Neriglissar are to be attributed to the transcriber of Josephus, since he himself, in his work contra Apion, gives the number in harmony with those stated by those authors without making any further remark. The names of the four kings are derived from Berosus, as well as the nine months' reign of Labosordacus and the seventeen years of Naboandelus; but the deviations from Berosus with respect to the death of Evilmerodach, and the descent of Neriglissar and Nabonnedus from Nebuchadnezzar, Josephus has certainly derived only from Jeremiah 27:7 and Daniel 5; for the statement by Jeremiah, that all the nations would serve Nebuchadnezzar, his son and his son's son, “until the very time of his land come,” is literally so understood by him as meaning that Evilmerodach, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, was succeeded by his own son, who again was succeeded by his son, and so on down to Belshazzar, whom Daniel (Daniel 5:22) had called the son of Nebuchadnezzar, and whom Josephus regarded as the last king of Babylon, the Nabonnedus of the Babylonians. Josephus did not know how to harmonize with this view the fact of the murder of Evilmerodach by his brother-in-law, and therefore he speaks of Evilmerodach as dying in peace, and of his son as succeeding him on the throne, while he passes by in silence the death of Labosordacus and the descent of Baltasar, and only in the closing sentence reckons him also among the successors of Nebuchadnezzar.
But if in the passages quoted Josephus gives only his own view regarding the Chaldean rulers down to the time of the overthrow of the kingdom, and in that contradicts on several points the statements of Berosus, without supporting these contradictions by authorities, we cannot make use of his narrative as historical evidence for the exposition of this chapter, and the question, Which Babylonian king is to be understood by Belshazzar? must be decided on the ground of existing independent authorities.
Since, then, the extra-biblical authorities contradict one another in this, that the Chaldean historians describe Nabonnedus, the last king of the Chaldean kingdom, as a Babylonian not of royal descent who, after putting to death the last descendant of the royal family, usurped the throne, which, according to their account, he occupied till Babylon was destroyed by Cyrus, when he was banished to Carmania, where he died a natural death; while, on the other hand, Herodotus and Xenophon represent the last Babylonian king, whom Herodotus calls Labynetus = Nabonedos = Nabonned = Nabonid, as of royal descent, and the successor of his father on the throne, and connect the taking of Babylon with a riotous festival held in the palace and in the city generally, during which, Xenophon says, the king was put to death; - therefore the determination regarding the historical contents of Daniel 5 hinges on this point: whether Belshazzar is to be identified, on the authority of Greek authors, with Nabonnedus; or, on the authority of the Chaldean historians, is to be regarded as different from him, and is identical with one of the two Babylonian kings who were dethroned by a conspiracy.
The decision in favour of the former I have in my Lehrb. der Einl., along with many interpreters, contended for. By this view the statements of Berosus and Abydenus regarding Nabonned's descent and the end of his life must be set aside as unhistorical, and explained only as traditions intended for the glorification of the royal house of Nebuchadnezzar, by which the Babylonians sought to lessen the undeniable disgrace attending the downfall of their monarchy, and to roll away the dishonour of the siege at least from the royal family of the famed Nebuchadnezzar. But although in the statements of Berosus, but particularly in those of Abydenus regarding Nebuchadnezzar, their laudatory character cannot be denied, yet Hävernick ( N. Krit. Unterss . p. 70f.) and Kranichfeld, p. 30ff., have with justice replied that this national partiality in giving colour to his narrative is not apparent in Berosus generally, for he speaks very condemnatorily of the son of Nebuchadnezzar, saying that he administered the affairs of government ἀνόμως καὶ ἀσελγῶς ; he also blames the predecessor of Nabonnedus, and assigns as the reason of the murder of the former as well as of the latter their own evil conduct. Nor does it appear that Berosus depreciated Nabonnedus in order to benefit his predecessors, rather he thought of him as worthy of distinction, and placed him on the throne in honour among his predecessors. “What Herodotus says (i. 186) of the wife of Nebuchadnezzar is expressly stated by Berosus to the honour of the government of Nabonnedus, namely, that under his reign a great part of the city wall was furnished with fortifications ( τὰ περὶ τὸν ποταμὸν τείχη τῆς Βαβυλωνίων πόλεως ἐχ ὀπτῆς πλίνθου καὶ ἀσφάλτου κατεκοσμήθη ); and it is obviously with reference to this statement that in the course of the narrative mention is made of the strong fortifications of the city which defied the assault of Cyrus. Moreover, in the narrative Nabonnedus appears neither as a traitor nor as a coward. On the contrary, he goes out well armed against the enemy and offers him battle ( ἀπαντήσας μετὰ τῆς δυνάμεως καὶ παραταξάμενος ); and the circumstance that he surrendered to Cyrus in Borsippa is to be accounted for from this, that he only succeeded in fleeing thither with a very small band. Finally, it is specially mentioned that Cyrus made war against Babylon after he had conquered the rest of Asia. From this it is manifest that the fame of the strength of Babylon was in no respect weakened by Nabonnedus' seventeen years' reign.” (Kranichfeld.) All these circumstances stand in opposition to the opinion that there is a tendency in Berosus to roll the disgrace of the overthrow of the kingdom from off the family of Nebuchadnezzar, and to attribute it to an incapable upstart.
What Berosus, moreover, says regarding the treatment of Nabonnedus on the part of Cyrus shows no trace of a desire to depreciate the dethroned monarch. That Cyrus assigned him a residence during life in Carmania is in accordance with the noble conduct of Cyrus in other cases, e.g., toward Astyages the Mede, and toward the Lydian king Croesus (Herod. i. 130; Justin. i. 6, 7). In addition to all this, not only is the statement of Berosus regarding the battle which preceded the overthrow of Babylon confirmed by Herodotus, i. 190, but his report also of the descent of Nabonnedus and of his buildings is established by inscriptions reported on by Oppert in his Expédit. Scient . i. p. 182ff.; for the ruins of Babylon on both banks of the Euphrates preserve to this day the foundations on which were built the walls of Nabonnedus, consisting of hard bricks almost wholly covered with asphalt, bearing the name of Nabonetos, who is not described as a king's son, but is only called the son of Nabobalatirib. Cf. Duncker, Gesch. des Alterth . ii. p. 719, 3rd ed.
After all that has been said, Berosus, as a native historian, framing his narratives after Chaldean tradition, certainly merits a preference not only to Herodotus, who, according to his own statement, i. 95, followed the Persian tradition in regard to Cyrus, and is not well informed concerning the Babylonian kings, but also to Xenophon, who in his Cyropaedia, however favourably we may judge of its historical value, follows no pure historical aim, but seeks to set forth Cyrus as the pattern of a hero-king, and reveals no intimate acquaintance with the history of the Chaldean kings. But if, in all his principal statements regarding Nabonnedus, Berosus deserves full credit, we must give up the identification of Belshazzar with Nabonnedus, since the narrative of Daniel 5, as above remarked, connects the death of Belshazzar, in point of fact indeed, but no in point of time, with the destruction of the Babylonian kingdom; and the narratives of Herodotus and Xenophon with respect to the destruction of Babylon during a nocturnal revelry of its inhabitants, may rest also only on some tradition that had been transmitted to their time.
(Note: Kranichfeld, p. 84ff., has so clearly shown this origin of the reports given by Herodotus and Xenophon regarding the circumstances attending the taking of Babylon by Cyrus, that we cannot refrain from here communicating the principal points of his proof. Proceeding from the Augenschein (appearance), on which Hitzig argues, that, according to Daniel 5:26., the death of Belshazzar coincided with the destruction of the Chaldean kingdom, since both events are announced together in God's writing, Kranichfeld assumes that this appearance (although it presents itself as an optical illusion, on a fuller acquaintance with the manner of prophetic announcement in which the near and the more remote futures are immediately placed together) has misled the uncritical popular traditions which Herodotus and Xenophon record, and that not from first and native sources. “The noteworthy factum of the mysterious writing which raised Daniel to the rank of third ruler in the kingdom, and certainly, besides, made him to be spoken of as a conspicuous personage, and the interpretation which placed together two facta, and made them apparently contemporaneous, as well as the factum of one part of the announcement of the mysterious writing being actually accomplished that very night, could in the course of time, even among natives, and so much the sooner in the dim form which the tradition very naturally assumed in foreign countries, e.g., in the Persian tradition, easily give occasion to the tradition that the factum mentioned in the mysterious writing occurred, as interpreted, in that same night.” In this way might the Persian or Median popular tradition easily think of the king who was put to death that night, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, as also the last Babylonian king, with whom the kingdom perished, and attribute to him the name Labynetus, i.e., the Nabonnedus of Berosus, which is confirmed by the agreement of Herodotus with Berosus in regard to the battle preceding the overthrow of Babylon, as well as the absence of the king from Babylon at the taking of the city. - ”The historical facts with respect to the end of the Chaldean kingdom, as they are preserved by Berosus, were thrown together and confused along the dim course of the tradition with a narrative, preserved to us in its original form by Daniel, of the contents of the mysterious writing, connecting the death of the king with the end of the kingdom, corresponding with which, and indeed in that very night in which it was interpreted, the murder of the king took place; and this dim tradition we have in the reports given by Herodotus and Xenophon. But the fact, as related by Daniel 5, forms the middle member between the statement given by Berosus and the form which the tradition has assumed in Herodotus and Xenophon.” “This seems to me,” as Kran., in conclusion, remarks, “to be the very simple and natural state of the matter, in view of the open contradiction, on the one side, in which the Greek authors stand to Berosus and Abydenus, without, however (cf. Herodotus), in all points differing from the former; and, on the other side, in view of the manifest harmony in which they stand with Daniel, without, however, agreeing with him in all points. In such circumstances the Greek authors, as well as Berosus and Abydenus on the other side, serve to establish the statements in the book of Daniel.”
Against this view of the origin of the tradition transmitted by Herodotus and Xenophon, that Cyrus took Babylon during a riotous festival of its inhabitants, the prophecies of Isaiah 21:5, and of Jeremiah 51:39, cannot be adduced as historical evidence in support of the historical truth of this tradition; for these prophecies contain only the thought that Babylon shall suddenly be destroyed amid the tumult of its revelry and drunkenness, and would only be available as valid evidence if they were either vaticinia ex eventu , or were literally delivered as predictions.)
But if Belshazzar is not the same person as Nabonnedus, nor the last Babylonian king, then he can only be either Evilmerodach of Laborosoarchod, since of Nebuchadnezzar's successors only these two were murdered. Both suppositions have found their advocates. Following the example of Scaliger and Calvisius, Ebrard ( Comm. zur Offb. Johannes, p. 45) and Delitzsch (Herz.'s Realencykl . iii. p. 277) regard Belshazzar as Laborosoarchod or Labosordacus (as Josephus writes the name in the Antt .), i.e., Nebo-Sadrach, and Bel = Nebo; for the appearance of the queen leads us to think of a very youthful king, and Belshazzar (Daniel 5:13) speaks of Nebuchadnezzar as if all he knew regarding him was derived from hearsay alone. In v. 6:1 (Jeremiah 5:31) it is indicated that a man of advanced age came in the room of a mere youth. If Daniel reckons the years of Belshazzar from the death of Evilmerodach (cf. Jeremiah 27:7), for Belshazzar's father Neriglissar (Nergal-Sar), since he was only the husband of a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, could only rule in the name of his son, then Belshazzar (Nebo-Sadrach) was murdered after a reign of four years and nine months, of which his father Nergal-Sar reigned four years in his stead, and he himself nine months. With Belshazzar the house of Nebuchadnezzar had ceased to reign. Astyages, the Median king, regarded himself as heir to the Chaldean throne, and held as his vassal Nabonnedus, who was made king by the conspirators who had murdered Belshazzar; but Nabonnedus endeavoured to maintain his independence by means of a treaty with the king of Lydia, and thus there began the war which was directed first against the Lydian king, and then against Nabonnedus himself.
But of these conjectures and combinations there is no special probability, for proof is wanting. For the alleged origin of the war against the Lydian king and against Nabonnedus there is no historical foundation, since the supposition that Astyages regarded himself, after the extinction of the house of Nebuchadnezzar, as the heir to the Chaldean throne is a mere conjecture. Neither of these conjectures finds any support either in the fact that Nabonnedus remained quiet during the Lydian war instead of rendering help to the Lydian king, or from that which we find on inscriptons regarding the buildings of Nabonnedus. According to the researches of Oppert and Duncker ( Gesch. d. Alterthums, ii. p. 719), Nabonetus (Nabunahid) not merely completed the walls left unfinished by Nebuchadnezzar, which were designed to shut in Babylon from the Euphrates along both sides of the river; but he designates himself, in inscriptions found on bricks, as the preserver and the restorer of the pyramid and the tower, and he boasts of having built a temple at Mugheir to the honour of his deities, the goddess Belit and the god Sin (god of the Moon). The restoration of the pyramid and the tower, as well as the building of the temple, does not agree with the supposition that Nabonnedus ascended the throne as vassal of the Median king with the thought of setting himself free as soon as possible from the Median rule. Moreover the supposition that Neriglissar, as the husband of Nebuchadnezzar' daughter, could have conducted the government only in the name of his son, is opposed to the statements of Berosus and to the Canon of Ptolemy, which reckon Neriglissar as really king, and his reign as distinct from that of his son. Thus the appearance of the queen in Daniel 5 by no means indicates that Belshazzar was yet a boy; much rather does the participation of the wives and concubines of Belshazzar in the feast point to the age of the king as beyond that of a boy. Finally, it does not follow from Daniel 5:13 that Belshazzar knew about Nebuchadnezzar only from hearsay. In the verse referred to, Belshazzar merely says that he had heard regarding Daniel that he was one of the Jews who had been carried captive by his father Nebuchadnezzar. But the carrying away of Daniel and of the Jews by Nebuchadnezzar took place, as to its beginning, before he had ascended the throne, and as to its end (under Zedekiah), during the first half of his reign, when his eldest son might be yet a mere youth. That Belshazzar knew about Nebuchadnezzar not from hearsay merely, but that he knew from personal knowledge about his madness, Daniel tells him to his face, Daniel 5:22.
Finally, the identification of Labosordacus, = Nebo-Sadrach, with Belshazzar has more appearance than truth. Bel is not like Nebo in the sense that both names denote one and the same god; but Bel is the Jupiter of the Babylonians, and Nebo the Mercury. Also the names of the two kings, as found on the inscriptions, are quite different. For the name Λαβοσόρδαχος (Joseph. Ant .) Berosus uses Λαβοροσοάρχοδος ; and Abydenus (Euseb. praep. ev . ix. 41) Λαβασσάρασκος ; in the Chr. arm . it is Labossorakos, and Syncellus has Λαβοσάροχος . These names do not represent Nebo-Sadrach, but that used by Berosus corresponds to the native Chaldee Nabu-ur-uzuurkud, the others point to Nabu-surusk or - suruk, and show the component parts contained in the name Nabu-kudrussur in inverted order, - at least they are very nearly related to this name. Belshazzar, on the contrary, is found in the Inscription published by Oppert (Duncker, p. 720) written Belsarrusur . In this Inscription Nabonetus names Belsarrusur the offspring of his heart. If we therefore consider that Nabonnedus represents himself as carrying forward and completing the work begun by Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, the supposition presses itself upon us, that also in regard to the name which he gave to his son, who was eventually his successor on the throne, he trod in the footsteps of the celebrated founder of the Babylonian monarchy. Consequently these Inscriptions would indicate that Belshazzar (= Belsarrusur) of Daniel was the son of Nebuchadnezzar, and his successor on the throne.
Though we may rest satisfied with this supposition, there are yet weighty reasons for regarding Belshazzar as the son and successor of Nebuchadnezzar, who was put to death by his brother-in-law Neriglissar, and thus for identifying him with Evilmerodach (2 Kings 25:27; Jeremiah 52:31). Following the example of Marsham in Canon chron . p. 596, this opinion is maintained among modern critics by Hofmann ( Die 70 Jahre, p. 44ff.), Hävernick ( N. K. Unt . p. 71), Oehler (Thol. Litt. Anz . 1842, p. 398), Hupfeld ( Exercitt. Herod. spec . ii. p. 46), Niebuhr ( Ges. Ass . p. 91f.), Zündel (p. 33), Kranichfeld, and Kliefoth. In favour of this opinion we notice, first, that Belshazzar in the narrative of Daniel is distinctly declared to be the son and successor of Nebuchadnezzar. The statement of Berosus, that Evilmerodach managed the affairs of the government ἀνόμως καὶ ἀσελγῶς, entirely harmonizes also with the character ascribed to Belshazzar in this chapter, while the arguments which appear to oppose the identity of the two are unimportant. The diversity of names, viz., that Nebuchadnezzar' successor both in 2 Kings 25:27 and Jeremiah 52:31 is called אויל מרדך, and by Berosus, Abydenus, and in the Canon of Ptolemy Εὐειλμαράδουχος, Amilmarodokos , ̓Ιλλοαρούδαμος (in the Canon only, written instead of ̓Ιλμαρούδακος ), but by Daniel בּלשׁאצּר, is simply explained by this, that as a rule the Eastern kings had several names: along with their personal names they had also a surname or general royal name, the latter being frequently the only one that was known to foreigners; cf. Niebuhr, Gesch. Assurs u. Babels, p. 29ff. In the name Evilmerodach, the component parts, Il ( = El ), i.e., God, and Merodach, recur in all forms. The first part was changed by the Jews, perhaps after the tragic death of the king, into 'ewiyl, stultus (after Psalms 53:1-6?); while Daniel, living at the Babylonian court, transmits the name Belshazzar, formed after the name of the god Bel, which was there used. Moreover the kind benevolent conduct of Evilmerodach towards king Jehoiachin, who was languishing in prison, does not stand in contradiction to the vileness of his character, as testified to by Berosus; for even an unrighteous, godless ruler can be just and good in certain instances. Moreover the circumstance that, according to the Canon of Ptolemy, Evilmerodach ruled two years, while, on the contrary, in Daniel 8:1 mention is made of the third year of the reign of Belshazzar, forms no inexplicable discrepancy. Without resorting to Syncellus, who in his Canon attributes to him three years, since the numbers mentioned in this Canon contain many errors, the discrepancy may be explained from the custom prevalent in the books of Kings of reckoning the duration of the reign of a king only in full years, without reference to the months that may be wanting or that may exceed. According to this usage, the reign might extend to only two full years if it began about the middle of the calendar year, but might extend into three calendar years, and thus be reckoned as three years, if the year of the commencement of it and the year in which it ended were reckoned according to the calendar. On the other side, it is conceivable that Evilmerodach reigned a few weeks, or even months, beyond two years, which were in the reckoning of the duration of his reign not counted to him, but to his successor. Ptolemy has without doubt observed this procedure in his astronomical Canon, since he reckons to all rulers only full years. Thus there is no doubt of any importance in opposition to the view that Belshazzar was identical with Evilmerodach, the son and successor of Nebuchadnezzar.
With the removal of the historical difficulty lying in the name Belshazzar the historical credibility of the principal contents of this narrative is at the same time established. And this so much the more surely, as the opponents of the genuineness are not in a position to find, in behalf of their assertion that this history is a fiction, a situation from which this fiction framed for a purpose can be comprehended in the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes and in the relations of the times of the Maccabees. According to Berth., v. Leng., Hitz., and Bleek, the author sought on the one hand to represent to the Syrian prince in the fate of Belshazzar how great a judgment from God threatened him on account of his wickedness in profaning the temple, and on the other, to glorify Daniel the Jew by presenting him after the type of Joseph.
But as for the first tendency (or purpose), the chief matter is wholly wanting, viz., The profanation of the holy vessels of the temple by Antiochus on the occasion of a festival, which in this chapter forms the chief part of the wickedness for which Belshazzar brings upon himself the judgment of God. Of Antiochus Epiphanes it is only related that he plundered the temple at Jerusalem in order that he might meet his financial necessities, while on the other hand the carrying away by Nebuchadnezzar of the vessels belonging to the temple (Daniel 1:2) is represented as a providence of God.
(Note: According to Bleek and v. Leng., this narrative must have in view 1 Macc. 1:21ff. and 2 Macc. 5:15ff., where it is related of Antiochus as something in the highest degree vicious, that he entered into the temple at Jerusalem, and with impure hands carried thence the golden basins, cups, bowls, and other holy vessels. But in spite of this wholly incorrect application of the contents of the passages cited, Bleek cannot but confess that the reference would be more distinct if it were related - which it is not - that Antiochus used the holy vessels at a common festival, or at least at the time of offering sacrifice. But if we look closely at 1 Macc. 1:21ff., we find that Antiochus not only took away the utensils mentioned by Bleek, but also the golden altar, the golden candlestick, the table of shew-bread, the veil, and the crowns, and the golden ornaments that were before the temple, all which (gold) he pulled off, and took also the silver and gold, and the hidden treasures which he found; from which it clearly appears that Antiochus plundered the temple because of his pecuniary embarrassment, as Grimm remarks, or “for the purpose of meeting his financial necessities” (Grimm on 2 Macc. 5:16). Hitzig has therefore abandoned this reference as unsuitable for the object assumed, and has sought the occasion for the fiction of Daniel 5 in the splendid games and feasts which Antiochus held at Daphne (Polyb. xxxi. 3, 4). But this supposition also makes it necessary for the critic to add the profanation of the holy vessels of the temple at these feasts from his own resources, because history knows nothing of it. Polybius merely says that the expense of these entertainments was met partly by the plunder Antiochus brought from Egypt, partly by the gifts of his allies, but most of all by the treasure taken from the temple.)
As regards the second tendency of the composition, the glorifying of Daniel after the type of Joseph, Kliefoth rightly remarks: “The comparison of Daniel with Joseph rests on hastily collected indefinite resemblances, along with which there are also found as many contrasts.” The resemblances reduce themselves to these: that Daniel was adorned by the king with a golden chain about his neck and raised to the highest office of state for his interpretation of the mysterious writing, as Joseph had been for the interpretation of the dream. But on this Ewald
(Note: P. 380 of the 3rd vol. of the second ed. of his work, Die Propheten des A. Bundes .)
himself remarks: “The promise that whoever should solve the mystery would be made third ruler of the kingdom, and at the same time the declaration in Daniel 6:3 (Daniel 6:2show that in the kingdom of Babylon there existed an arrangement similar to that of the Roman empire after Diocletia, by which under one Augustus there might be three Caesars. Altogether different is the old Egyptian law set forth in Genesis 41:43., and prevailing also in ancient kingdoms, according to which the king might recognise a man as the second ruler in the kingdom, or as his representative; and since that mentioned in the book of Daniel is peculiar, it rests, to all appearance, on some old genuine Babylonish custom. On the other hand, the being clothed with purple and adorned with a golden chain about the neck is more generally the distinguishing mark of men of princely rank, as is seen in the case of Joseph, Genesis 41:42.”
To this it must be added, that Belshazzar's relation to Daniel and Daniel's conduct toward Belshazzar are altogether different from the relation of Antiochus to the Jews who remained faithful to their law, and their conduct toward that cruel king. That the conduct of Belshazzar toward Daniel does not accord with the times of the Maccabees, the critics themselves cannot deny. Hitzig expresses his surprise that “the king hears the prophecy in a manner one should not have expected; his behaviour is not the same as that of Ahab toward Micah, or of Agamemnon toward Calchas.” Antiochus Epiphanes would have acted precisely as they did. And how does the behaviour of Daniel harmonize with that of Mattathias, who rejected the presents and the favour of the tyrant (1 Macc. 2:18ff.), and who put to death with the sword those Jews who were submitting themselves to the demands of the king? Daniel received the purple, and allowed himself to be adorned with a golden chain by the heathen king, and to be raised to the rank of third ruler in his kingdom.
(Note: “In short, the whole accompaniments of this passage,” Kranichfeld thus concludes (p. 213) his dissertation on this point, “are so completely different from those of the Maccabean times, that if it is to be regarded as belonging peculiarly to this time, then we must conceive of it as composed by an author altogether ignorant of the circumstances and of the historical situation.”)
While thus standing in marked contrast to the circumstances of the Maccabean times, the narrative is perfectly consistent if we regard it as a historical episode belonging to the time of Daniel. It is true it has also a parenetic character, only not the limited object attributed to it by the opponents of the genuineness - to threaten Antiochus Epiphanes with divine judgments on account of his wickedness and to glorify Daniel. Rather it is for all times in which the church of the Lord is oppressed by the powers of the world, to show to the blasphemers of the divine name how the Almighty God in heaven punishes and destroys the lords of this world who proceed to desecrate and abuse that which is sacred, without taking notice of the divine warnings addressed to them on account of their self-glorification, and bestows honour upon His servants who are rejected and despised by the world. But when compared with the foregoing narratives, this event before us shows how the world-power in its development became always the more hardened against the revelations of the living God, and the more ripe for judgment. Nebuchadnezzar demanded of all his subjects a recognition of his gods, and prided himself in his great power and worldly glory, but yet he gave glory to the Lord of heaven for the signs and wonders which God did to him. Belshazzar knew this, yet it did not prevent him from blaspheming this God, nor did it move him to seek to avert by penitential sorrow the judgment of death which was denounced against him.
The verses describe the progress of Belshazzar's magnifying himself against the living Do, whereby the judgment threatened came upon him and his kingdom. A great feast, which the king gave to his officers of state and to his wives, furnished the occasion for this.
The name of the king, בּלשׁאצּר, contains in it the two component parts of the name which Daniel had received (Daniel 1:7), but without the interposed E, whereby it is distinguished from it. This distinction is not to be overlooked, although the lxx have done so, and have written the two names, as if they were identical, Balta'sar. The meaning of the name is as yet unknown. לחם, meal-time, the festival . The invitation to a thousand officers of state corresponds to the magnificence of Oriental kings. According to Ctesias ( Athen. Deipnos . iv. 146), 15, 000 men dined daily from the table of the Persian king (cf. Esther 1:4). To account for this large number of guests, it is not necessary to suppose that during the siege of Babylon by Cyrus a multitude of great officers from all parts of the kingdom had fled for refuge to Babylon. The number specified is evidently a round number, i.e., the number of the guests amounted to about a thousand. The words, he drank wine before the thousand (great officers), are not, with Hävernick, to be explained of drinking first, or of preceding them in drinking, or of drinking a toast to them, but are to be understood according to the Oriental custom, by which at great festivals the king sat at a separate table on an elevated place, so that he had the guests before him or opposite to him. The drinking of wine is particularly noticed as the immediate occasion of the wickedness which followed.
חמרא בּטעם, while he tasted the wine, i.e., when the wine was relished by him; thus “in the wanton madness of one excited by wine, Proverbs 20:1” (Hitz.). From these words it appears that Belshazzar commanded the temple vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem to be brought, not, as Hävernick thinks, for the purpose of seeking, in his anxiety on account of the siege of the city, the favour of the God of the Jews, but to insult this God in the presence of his own gods. The supposition of anxiety on account of the siege does not at all harmonize with the celebration of so riotous a festival. Besides, the vessels are not brought for the purpose of making libations in order to propitiate the God to whom they were consecrated, but, according to the obvious statement of the text, only to drink out of them from the madness of lust. וישׁתּון, that they may drink ; before the imperf. expresses the design of the bringing of the vessels. ב שׁתה, to drink out of, as Genesis 44:5; Amos 6:6. שׁגלן, the wives of the king; cf. Nehemiah 2:6 with Psalms 45:10. לחנן, concubines ; this word stands in the Targg. for the Hebr. פּלּגשׁ . The lxx have here, and also at Daniel 5:23, omitted mention of the women, according to the custom of the Macedonians, Greeks, and Romans (cf. Herod. Ch. 5:18; Corn. Nep. proem . §6); but Xenophon ( Cyr . v. 2. 28) and Curtius (v. 1. 38) expressly declare that among the Babylonians the wives also were present at festivals.
היכלא denotes the holy place of the temple, the inner apartment of the temple, as at 1 Kings 6:3; Ezekiel 41:1. אשׁתּיו for שׁתיו, with א prosthet ., cf. Winer, chald . Gr . §23, 1.
In this verse the expression they drank wine is repeated for the purpose of making manifest the connection between the drinking and the praising of the gods. The wickedness lay in this, that they drank out of the holy vessels of the temple of the God of Israel to glorify ( שׁבּח, to praise by the singing of songs) their heathen gods in songs of praise. In doing this they did not only place “Jehovah on a perfect level with their gods” (Hävernick), but raised them above the Lord of heaven, as Daniel (Daniel 5:23) charged the king. The carrying away of the temple vessels to Babylon and placing them in the temple of Bel was a sign of the defeat of the God to whom these vessels were consecrated (see under Daniel 1:2); the use of these vessels in the drinking of wine at a festival, amid the singing of songs in praise of the gods, was accordingly a celebrating of these gods as victorious over the God of Israel. And it was not a spirit of hostility aroused against the Jews which gave occasion, as Kranichfeld has well remarked, to this celebration of the victory of his god; but, as the narrative informs us, it was the reckless madness of the drunken king and of his drunken guests (cf. Daniel 5:2 ) during the festival which led them to think of the God of the Jews, whom they supposed they had subdued along with His people, although He had by repeated miracles forced the heathen world-rulers to recognise His omnipotence (cf. Daniel 2:47; 3:32f., 4:14 [Daniel 4:17], 31 , 34 ). In the disregard of these revelations consisted, as Daniel represents to Belshazzar (cf. Daniel 5:18), the dishonour done to the Lord of heaven, although these vessels of the sanctuary might have been profaned merely by using them as common drinking vessels, or they might have been used also in religious libations as vessels consecrated to the gods, of which the text makes no mention, although the singing of songs to the praise of the gods along with the drinking makes the offering of libations very probable. The six predicates of the gods are divided by the copula ו into two classes: gold and silver - brass, iron, wood and stone, in order to represent before the eyes in an advancing degree the vanity of these gods.
The warning signs, the astonishment of Belshazzar, the inability of the wise men to give counsel, and the advice of the queen .
Unexpectedly and suddenly the wanton mad revelry of the king and his guests was brought to a close amid terror by means of a warning sign. The king saw the finger of a man's hand writing on the plaster of the wall of the festival chamber, and he was so alarmed that his whole body shook. The בּהּ־שׁעתא places the sign in immediate connection with the drinking and the praising of the gods. The translation, in the self-same hour, is already shown to be inadmissible (see under Daniel 3:6). The Kethiv נפקוּ ( came forth ) is not to be rejected as the indefinite determination of the subject, because the subject follows after it; the Keri נפקה is to be rejected, because, though it suits the gender, it does not in respect of number accord with the subject following. The king does not see the whole hand, but only ידא פּס, the end of the hand, that is, the fingers which write. This immediately awakened the thought that the writing was by a supernatural being, and alarmed the king out of his intoxication. The fingers wrote on the plaster of the wall over against the candlestick which stood on the table at which the king sat, and which reflected its light perceptibly on the white wall opposite, so that the fingers writing could be distinctly seen. The feast had been prolonged into the darkness of the night, and the wall of the chamber was not wainscotted, but only plastered with lime, as such chambers are found in the palaces of Nimrud and Khorsabad covered over only with mortar (cf. Layard's Nineveh and Babylon ).
מלכּא ( the king ) stands absolutely, because the impression made by the occurrence on the king is to be depicted. The plur. זיוהי has an intensive signification: the colour of the countenance . Regarding זיו, see under Daniel 4:33. The suffix to שׁנוהי is to be taken in the signification of the dative, since שׁנא in the Peal occurs only intransitively. The connection of an intransitive verb with the suff. accus. is an inaccuracy for which שׁוּבני, Ezekiel 47:7, and perhaps also עשׂיתיני, Ezekiel 29:3, afford analogies; cf. Ewald's Lehrb . §315 b . In Daniel 5:9, where the matter is repeated, the harshness is avoided, and עלוהי is used to express the change of colour yet more strongly. The meaning is: “the king changed colour as to his countenance, became pale from terror, and was so unmanned by fear and alarm, that his body lost its firmness and vigour.” The bands or ligaments of his thighs ( חרץ, equivalent to the Hebr. חלצים ) were loosed, i.e., lost the strength to hold his body, and his knees smote one against another. ארכּוּבא with א prosth ., for רכוּבא, in the Targg. means the knee . The alarm was heightened by a bad conscience, which roused itself and filled him with dark forebodings. Immediately the king commanded the magicians to be brought, and promised a great reward to him who would read and interpret the mysterious writing.
Since there are in this verse only three classes of wise men named as ordered to come to the king, to whom he promised the reward for the reading and the interpretation of the writing, and in Daniel 5:8 it is first stated that all the king's wise men came, the probability, is, that at first the king commanded only the three classes named in Daniel 5:7 to be brought to him. On this probability Kranichfeld founds the supposition that the king purposely, or with intention, summoned only the three classes named to avoid Daniel, whom he did not wish to consult, from his heathen religious fear of the God of the Jews. But this supposition is altogether untenable. For, first, it does not follow from Daniel 8:27 that under Belshazzar Daniel was president over all the wise men, but only that he was in the king's service. Then, in the event of Daniel's yet retaining the place assigned to him by Nebuchadnezzar, his non-appearance could not be explained on the supposition that Belshazzar called only three classes of the wise men, because the supposition that מלכּא חכּימי כּל ( all the king's wise men ) in Daniel 5:8 forms a contrast to the three classes named in Daniel 5:7 is not sustained by the language here used. But if by “all the wise men of the king,” Daniel 5:8, we are to understand the whole body of the wise men of all the classes, and that they appeared before the king, then they must all have been called at the first, since no supplementary calling of the two classes not named in Daniel 5:7 is mentioned. Besides this, the words, “the king spake to the wise men of Babylon,” make it probable that all the classes, without the exception of the two, were called. Moreover it is most improbable that in the case before us, where the matter concerned the reading of a writing, the חרטמּים, the magicians Schriftkenner, should not have been called merely to avoid Daniel, who was their רב ( president ) (Daniel 4:6 [Daniel 4:9]). Finally, it is psychologically altogether very improbable, that in the great agitation of fear which had filled him at the sight of the hand writing, Belshazzar should have reflected at all on this, that Daniel would announce to him misfortune or the vengeance of the God of the Jews. Such a reflection might perhaps arise on quiet deliberation, but not in the midst of agitating heart-anguish.
The strange circumstance that, according to Daniel 5:7, the king already promised a reward to the wise men, which presupposes that they were already present, and then that for the first time their presence is mentioned in Daniel 5:8, is occasioned by this, that in Daniel 5:7 the appearing of the wise men is not expressly mentioned, but is naturally presupposed, and that the first two clauses of the eighth verse are simply placed together, and are not united to each other by a causal nexus. The meaning of the statement in Daniel 5:7 and Daniel 5:8 is this: The king calls aloud, commanding the astrologers, etc., to be brought to him; and when the wise men of Babylon came to him, he said to each of them, Whoever reads the writing, etc. But all the king's wise men, when they had come, were unable to read the writing. As to the names of the wise men in Daniel 5:7, see under Daniel 2:2. יקרה for יקרא, from קרא, to read . As a reward, the king promises a purple robe, a gold chain for the neck, and the highest office in the kingdom. A robe of purple was the sign of rank worn by the high officers of state among the Persians, - cf. Esther 8:15 with Xenophon, Anab . i. 5. 8, - and among the Selucidae, 1 Macc. 10:20; and was also among the Medes the princely garb, Xen. Anab . i. 3. 2, ii. 4. 6. ארגּון, Hebr. ארגּמן, purple, is a word of Aryan origin, from the Sanscrit râga , red colour, with the formative syllables man and vat ; cf. Gesen. Thes. Addid . p. 111f. וגו ' דּי והמנוּכא does not depend on ילבּשׁ, but forms a clause by itself: and a chain of gold shall be about his neck . For the Kethiv המנוּכא the Keri substitutes the Targum. and Syr. form המניכא (Daniel 5:7, Daniel 5:16, and Daniel 5:29), i.e., The Greek μανιάκης, from the Sansc. mani, jewel, pearl, with the frequent formative syllable ka in the Zend, whence the Chaldee word is derived; it signifies neck- or arm-band, here the former. The golden neck-chain ( στρεπτὸς χρύσεος ) was an ornament worn by the Persians of rank, and was given by kings as a mark of favour even to kings, e.g., Cambyses and the younger Cyrus; cf. Herod. iii. 20; Xen. Anab . i. 1. 27, 5. 8, 8. 29.
It is not quite certain what the princely situation is which was promised to the interpreter of the writing, since the meaning of תּלתּי is not quite clear. That it is not the ordinale of the number third, is, since Hävernick, now generally acknowledged, because for tertius in Aram. תּליתי is used, which occurs also in Daniel 2:39. Hävernick therefore regards תּלתּי, for which תּלתּא is found in Daniel 5:16 and Daniel 5:29, as an adjective formation which indicates a descent or occupation, and is here used as a nomen officii corresponding to the Hebr. שׁלישׁי . Gesenius and Dietrich regard תּלתּי as only the singular form for תּליתי, and תּלתּא as the stat. abs . of תּלת, third rank . Hitzig would change תּלתּי into תּלתּי, and regard תּלתּא as a singular formed from תּלתּאין, as triumvir from triumvirorum , and would interpret it by τρίτος αὐτός, the third ( selbst-dritt ): as one of three he shall rule in the kingdom, according to Daniel 6:3. Finally, Kranichfeld takes תּלתּי to be a fem. verbal formation according to the analogy of ארמית, אחרי, in the sense of three-ruler-wise, and תּלתּא for a noun formed from תּלתא, triumvir . Almost all these explanations amount to this, that the statements here regard the government of a triumvirate as it was regulated by the Median king Darius, Daniel 6:3 (2); and this appears also to be the meaning of the words as one may literally explain תּלתּי and תּלתּא . Regarding the Keri עלּין see under Daniel 4:4, and regarding פּשׁרא, under Daniel 4:15.
As all the wise men were unable to read the writing, it has been thought that it was in a foreign language different from the usual language of Babylon, the knowledge of which could not legitimately be expected to be possessed by the native wise men; and since, according to Daniel 5:17, Daniel 5:24., Daniel at once showed his acquaintance with the writing in question, it has from this been concluded that already the old Babylonians had handwriting corresponding to the later Syro-Palmyrenian inscriptions, while among the Hebrews to the time of the Exile the essentially Old-Phoenician writing, which is found on the so-called Samaritan coins and in the Samaritan Scriptures, was the peculiar national style of writing (Kran.). But this interpretation of the miracle on natural principles is quite erroneous. First, it is very unlikely that the Chaldean wise men should not have known these old Semitic characters, even although at that time they had ceased to be in current use among the Babylonians in their common writing. Then, from the circumstance that Daniel could at once read the writing, it does not follow that it was the well-known Old-Hebrew writing of his fatherland. “The characters employed in the writing,” as Hengstenberg has rightly observed ( Beitr . i. p. 122), “must have been altogether unusual so as not to be deciphered but by divine illumination.” Yet we must not, with M. Geier and others, assume that the writing was visible only to the king and Daniel. This contradicts the text, according to which the Chaldean wise men, and without doubt all that were present, also saw the traces of the writing, but were not able to read it.
By this not only was the astonishment of the king heightened, but the officers of state also were put into confusion. “In משׁתּבּשׁין lies not merely the idea of consternation, but of confusion, of great commotion in the assembly” (Hitzig). The whole company was thrown into confusion. The magnates spoke without intelligence, and were perplexed about the matter.
Not only was the tumult that arose from the loud confused talk of the king and the nobles heard by those who were there present, but the queen-mother, who was living in the palace, the wife of Nebuchadnezzar, also heard it and went into the banqueting hall. As soon as she perceived the cause of the commotion, she directed the attention of her royal son to Daniel, who in the days of his father Nebuchadnezzar had already, as an interpreter of dreams and of mysteries, shown that the spirit of the holy gods dwelt in him (Daniel 5:10-12).
By מלכּתא interpreters rightly understand the mother of the reigning king, the widow of his father Nebuchadnezzar, since according to Daniel 5:2 . The wives of the king were present at the festival, and the queen came before the king as only a mother could do. Among the Israelites also the mother of the reigning king was held in high respect; cf. 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 24:12, 2 Kings 24:15; Jeremiah 13:18; Jeremiah 29:2. מלּין לקבל, by reason of the words, not: because of the affair, to which neither the plur. מלּי nor the gen. רברבנוהי agrees. Instead of the Kethiv עללת the Keri has עלּת, the later form. The queen-mother begins in an assuring manner, since she can give an advice which is fitted to allay the embarrassment.
Her judgment concerning Daniel is that of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 4:5-6 (Daniel 4:8, Daniel 4:9); and that she states it in the same words leads to the conclusion that Nebuchadnezzar was her husband. The מלכּא אבוּך at the end of this verse may be an emphatic repetition of the foregoing אבוּך נב מלכּא (Maur., Hitz.), but in that case מלכּא would perhaps stand first. מלכּא is better interpreted by Ros., v. Leng., Klief., and others as the vocative: thy father, O king, by which the words make a greater impression.
The remarkable endowments of Daniel are again stated (according to Daniel 5:11) to give weight to the advice that he should be called in. The words from מפשּׁר [ interpreting ] to פטרין [ doubts ] are an explanatory parenthetical clause, after which the following verb, according to rule, joins itself to שׂכלתנוּ . In the parenthetical clause the nomen actonis אחויה [ showing ] is used instead of the participle, whereby the representation of the continued capability lying in the participle is transferred to that of each separate instance; literally, interpreting dreams, the explanation of mysteries and dissolving knots . The allusion of פטרין משׁרא to קטרי חר משׁתּרין, Daniel 5:6, is only apparent, certainly is not aimed at, since the former of these expressions has an entirely different meaning. Knots stands figuratively for involved complicated problems. That Daniel did not at first appear along with the wise men, but was only called after the queen had advised it, is to be explained on this simple ground, that he was no longer president over the magicians, but on the occasion of a new king ascending the throne had lost that situation, and been put into another office (cf. Daniel 8:27). The words of the queen do not prove that Belshazzar was not acquainted with Daniel, but only show that he had forgotten the service rendered by him to Nebuchadnezzar; for according to Daniel 5:13 he was well acquainted with the personal circumstances of Daniel.
Daniel is summoned, reminds the king of his sin, and reads and interprets the writing.
The counsel of the queen was followed, and without delay Daniel was brought in. העל, cf. העלּוּ Daniel 5:15, is Hebr. Hophal of על = עלל, to go in, as הוּסף, Daniel 4:33. The question of the king: Art thou Daniel ... ? did not expect an answer, and has this meaning: Thou art indeed Daniel . The address shows that Belshazzar was acquainted with Daniel's origin, of which the queen had said nothing, but that he had had no official intercourse with him. It shows also that Daniel was no longer the president of the magicians at the king's court (Daniel 2:48.).
cf. Daniel 5:11. It is not to be overlooked that here Belshazzar leaves out the predicate holy in connection with אלהין ( of the gods ).
The asyndeton אשׁפיּא is in apposition to חכּימיּא as explanatory of it: the wise men, namely the conjurers, who are mentioned instar omnium . דּי with the imperf. following is not the relative particle, but the conjunction that before the clause expressive of design, and the infinitive clause dependent on the clause of design going before: that you may read the writing to make known to me the interpretation . מלּתא is not the mysterious writing = word, discourse, but the writing with its wonderful origin ; thus, the matter of which he wishes to know the meaning.
The Kethiv תּוּכל, Daniel 5:16, is the Hebr. Hophal, as Daniel 2:10; the Keri תכּוּל the formation usual in the Chaldee, found at Daniel 3:29. Regarding the reward to Daniel, see under Daniel 5:7. Daniel declines (Daniel 5:17) the distinction and the place of honour promised for the interpretation, not because the former might be dangerous to him and the latter only temporary, as Hitzig supposes; for he had no reason for such a fear, when he spoke “as one conveying information who had just seen the writing, and had read it and understood its import,” for the interpretation, threatening ruin and death to the king, could bring no special danger to him either on the part of Belshazzar or on that of his successor. Much rather Daniel rejected the gift and the distinction promised, to avoid, as a divinely enlightened seer, every appearance of self-interest in the presence of such a king, and to show to the king ad his high officers of state that he was not determined by a regard to earthly advantage, and would unhesitatingly declare the truth, whether it might be pleasing or displeasing to the king. But before he read and interpreted the writing, he reminded the king of the punishment his father Nebuchadnezzar had brought upon himself on account of his haughty pride against God (Daniel 5:18-21), and then showed him how he, the son, had done wickedly toward God, the Lord of his life (Daniel 5:22, Daniel 5:23), and finally explained to him that on this account this sign had been given by God (Daniel 5:24).
The address, Thou, O king, is here an absolute clause, and is not resumed till Daniel 5:22. By this address all that follows regarding Nebuchadnezzar is placed in definite relation to Belshazzar. The brilliant description of Nebuchadnezzar's power in Daniel 5:18 and Daniel 5:19 has undeniably the object of impressing it on the mind of Belshazzar that he did not equal his father in power and majesty. Regarding וגו עממיּא, see under Daniel 3:4, and with regard to the Kethiv זאעין, with the Keri יעין, see under Daniel 3:3. מחא is not from מחא, to strike (Theodot., Vulg.), but the Aphel of חיא ( to live ), the particip. of which is מחי in Deuteronomy 32:39, contracted from מחיא, here the part. מחא, in which the Jod is compensated by the lengthening of the vowel a 4 . Accordingly, there is no ground for giving the preference, with Buxt., Ges., Hitz., and others, to the variant מחא, which accommodates itself to the usual Targum. form. The last clause in Daniel 5:19 reminds us of 1 Samuel 2:6-7. In Daniel 5:20 and Daniel 5:21 Daniel brings to the remembrance of Belshazzar the divine judgment that fell upon Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4). רם is not the passive part., but the perf. act . with an intransitive signification; cf. Winer, §22, 4. תּקף, strong, to be and to become firm, here, as the Hebr. חזק, Exodus 7:13, of obduracy . העדּיו, 3rd pers. plur. imper., instead of the passive: they took away, for it was taken away, he lost it; see under Daniel 3:4, and Winer, §49, 3. שׁוּי is also to be thus interpreted, since in its impersonal use the singular is equivalent to the plur.; cf. Winer. There is no reason for changing (with v. Leng. and Hitz.) the form into shewiy, part. Piel . The change of construction depends on the rhetorical form of the address, which explains also the naming of the ערדין, wild asses, as untractable beasts, instead of בּרא חיות ( beasts of the field ), Daniel 4:20 (23). Regarding the Kethiv עליה, see under Daniel 4:14; and for the subject, cf. Daniel 4:22 (25), 29 (32).
Daniel now turns to Belshazzar. The words: forasmuch as thou, i.e., since thou truly knowest all this, place it beyond a doubt that Belshazzar knew these incidents in the life of Nebuchadnezzar, and thus that he was his son, since his grandson (daughter's son) could scarcely at that time have been so old as that the forgetfulness of that divine judgment could have been charged against him as a sin. In the דּי קבל כּל, just because thou knowest it, there is implied that, notwithstanding his knowledge of the matter, he did not avoid that which heightened his culpability. In Daniel 5:23 Daniel tells him how he had sinned against the God of heaven, viz., by desecrating (see Daniel 5:2 and Daniel 5:3) the vessels of the temple of the God of Israel. And to show the greatness of this sin, he points to the great contrast that there is between the gods formed of dead material and the living God, on whom depend the life and fortune of men. The former Belshazzar praised, the latter he had not honoured - a Litotes for had dishonoured . The description of the gods is dependent on Deuteronomy 4:28, cf. with the fuller account Psalms 115:5., Psalms 135:15., and reminds us of the description of the government of the true God in Job 12:10; Numbers 16:22, and Jeremiah 10:23. ארחת, ways, i.e., The destinies . - To punish Belshazzar for this wickedness, God had sent the hand which wrote the mysterious words (Daniel 5:24 cf. with Daniel 5:5).
Daniel now read the writing (Daniel 5:25), and gave its interpretation (Daniel 5:26-28). The writing bears the mysterious character of the oracle. פּרס, תּקל, מנא (Daniel 5:28) are partic. Piel, and the forms תּקל and פּרס, instead of תּקיל and פּריס, are chosen on account of their symphony with מנא . פּרסין is generally regarded as partic. plur ., but that would be פּרסין ; it much rather appears to be a noun form, and plur. of פּרס = Hebr. פּרס (cf. פּרסיהן, Zechariah 11:16), in the sense of broken pieces, fragments, for פרס signifies to divide, to break in pieces, not only in the Hebr. (cf. Leviticus 11:4; Isaiah 58:7; Psalms 69:32), but also in the Chald., 2 Kings 4:39 (Targ.), although in the Targg. The meaning to spread out prevails. In all the three words there lies a double sense, which is brought out in the interpretation. מנא, for the sake of the impression, or perhaps only of the parallelism, is twice given, so as to maintain two members of the verse, each of two words. In the numbering lies the determination and the completion, or the conclusion of a manner, a space of time. Daniel accordingly interprets מנא thus: God has numbered ( מנה for מנא, perf. act .) thy kingdom, i.e., its duration or its days, והשׁלמהּ, and has finished it, i.e., its duration is so counted out that it is full, that it now comes to an end. In תּקל there lies the double sense that the word תּקל, to weigh, accords with the Niphal of קלל, to be light, to be found light (cf. תּקל, Genesis 16:4). The interpretation presents this double meaning: Thou art weighed in the balances ( תּקלתּא ) and art found too light (like the תּקל ). חסּיר, wanting in necessary weight, i.e., deficient in moral worth. תּקלתּא, a perf . formed from the partic. Piel ; cf. Winer, §13, 2. As to the figure of the balance, cf. Job 31:6; Psalms 62:10 (9).
For פּרסין (Daniel 5:25) Daniel uses in the interpretation the sing. פּרס, which, after the analogy of תּקל, may be regarded as partic. Piel, and he interprets it accordingly, so that he brings out, along with the meaning lying in the word, also the allusion to פּרס, Persian: thy kingdom is divided, or broken into pieces, and given to the Medes and Persians . The meaning is not that the kingdom was to be divided into two equal parts, and the one part given to the Medes and the other to the Persians; but פרס is to divide into pieces, to destroy, to dissolve the kingdom. This shall be effected by the Medes and Persians, and was so brought about when the Persian Cyrus with the united power of the Medes and Persians destroyed Babylon, and thus put an end to the Chaldean kingdom, whereby the kingdom was transferred first to the Median Darius (Daniel 6:1 [Daniel 5:31]), and after him to the Persian Cyrus. In the naming of the Median before the Persian there lies, as already remarked in the Introduction, a notable proof of the genuineness of this narrative, and with it of the whole book; for the hegemony of the Medes was of a very short duration, and after its overthrow by the Persians the form of expression used is always “ Persians and Medes,” as is found in the book of Esther.
Daniel rewarded, and the beginning of the fulfilment of the writing .
Belshazzar fulfilled the promise he had made to Daniel by rewarding him for reading and interpreting the writing. והלבּשׁוּ is not to be translated: (commanded) that they should clothe, - this meaning must be conveyed by the imperfect (cf. Daniel 2:49), - but: and they clothed him . The command was then carried out: Daniel was not only adorned with purple and with a golden chain, but was also proclaimed as the third ruler of the kingdom. The objection that this last-mentioned dignity was not possible, since, according to Daniel 5:30, Belshazzar was slain that very night, is based on the supposition that the proclamation was publicly made in the streets of the city. But the words do not necessitate such a supposition. The proclamation might be made only before the assembled magnates of the kingdom in the palace, and then Belshazzar may have been slain on that very night. Perhaps, as Kliefoth thinks, the conspirators against Belshazzar availed themselves of the confusion connected with this proclamation, and all that accompanied it, for the execution of their purpose. We may not, however, add that therewith the dignity to which Daniel was advanced was again lost by him. It depended much rather on this: whether Belshazzar's successor recognised the promotion granted to Daniel in the last hours of his reign. But the successor would be inclined toward its recognition by the reflection, that by Daniel's interpretation of the mysterious writing from God the putting of Belshazzar to death appeared to have a higher sanction, presenting itself as if it were something determined in the councils of the gods, whereby the successor might claim before the people that his usurpation of the throne was rendered legitimate. Such a reflection might move him to confirm Daniel's elevation to the office to which Belshazzar had raised him. This supposition appears to be supported by Daniel 6:2 (1).
Bleek and other critics have based another objection against the historical veracity of this narrative on the improbability that Belshazzar, although the interpretation predicted evil against him, and he could not at all know whether it was a correct interpretation, should have rewarded Daniel instead of putting him to death (Hitzig). But the force of this objection lies in the supposition that Belshazzar was as unbelieving with regard to a revelation from God, and with regard to the providence of the living God among the affairs of men, as are the critics of our day; the objection is altogether feeble when one appreciates the force of the belief, even among the heathen, in the gods and in revelations from God, and takes into consideration that Belshazzar perhaps scarcely believed the threatened judgment from God to be so near as it actually was, since the interpretation by Daniel decided nothing as regards the time, and perhaps also that he hoped to be able, by conferring honour upon Daniel, to appease the wrath of God.
(Note: ” Non mirum, si Baltasar audiens tristia, solverit praemium quod pollicitus est. Aut enim longo post tempore credidit ventura quae dixerat, aut dum Dei prophetam honorat, sperat se veniam consecuturum.” - Jerome.)
The circumstance, also, that Daniel received the honour promised to him notwithstanding his declining it (Daniel 5:17), can afford no ground of objection against the truth of the narrative, since that refusal was only an expression of the entire absence of all self-interest, which was now so fully established by the matter of the interpretation that there was no longer any ground for his declining the honours which were conferred upon him unsought, while they comprehended in themselves in reality a recognition of the God whom he served.
With the death of Belshazzar that very night the interpretation given by Daniel began to be fulfilled, and this fulfilment afforded a certainty that the remaining parts of it would also sooner or later be accomplished. That this did not take place immediately, we have already shown in our preliminary remarks to this chapter.
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Daniel 5". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany