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the Second Week of Advent
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Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
mē´nē , mē´nē , tē´kel , ū - far´sin , men´ā , men´ā , tek´el , ōō - far´sin ( וּפרסין תּקל מנא מנא , menē' menē' teḳēl ūpharṣı̄n ; Theodotion, Μανή , θεκέλ , φαρές , Manḗ , thekél , pharés ): These are the words that, according to Daniel's reading, were inscribed on the walls of Belshazzar's palace and that caused the great commotion on the occasion of his last feast ( Daniel 5:25 ). As the only authority that we have for the reading is that of Daniel, it seems but fair that the interpretation of the terms be left to the person who gave us the text. According to his interpretation, there is a double sense to be found in the three different words of the inscription (Daniel 5:26-28 ).
Menē' , which, however it is pointed, must be taken from the verb menāh (Hebrew mānāh ; Babylonian manu ), is said to have indicated that God had numbered (the days of) Belshazzar's kingdom and finished it (or delivered it up). Both of these meanings can be shown to be proper to the translation, menāh .
Teḳēl , on the contrary, is interpreted as coming from two roots: the first, teḳal , "to weigh," and the second, ḳal , "to be light or wanting" (Hebrew ḳālal ; Babylonian ḳalâlu ).
Perēṣ (or parṣı̄n ) also is interpreted as coming from two roots: first, peraṣ , "to divide" (Hebrew pāras or pārash ; Babylonian pârasu ), and the second as denoting the proper name Pāraṣ , "Persia." Thus interpreted, the whole story hangs together, makes good sense, and is fully justified by the context and by the language employed. If the original text was in Babylonian, the signs were ambiguous; if they were in Aramaic, the consonants alone were written, and hence, the reading would be doubtful. In either case, the inscription was apparent but not readable, except by Daniel with the aid of God, through whom also the seer was enabled to give the proper interpretation. That Daniel's interpretation was accepted by Belshazzar and the rest shows that the interpretation of the signs was reasonable and convincing when once it had been made. We see, therefore, no good reason for departing from the interpretation that the Book of Daniel gives as the true one.
As to the interpretation of the inscription, it makes no difference whether the signs represented a mina, a shekel, and two perases, as has been recently suggested by M. Clermont-Ganneau. In this case the meaning was not so apparent, but the puns, the play upon the sounds, were even better. We doubt, however, if it can be shown that teḳel means sheḳel . On the old Aramaic documents of Egypt and Assyria, it is with one exception spelled sheḳel . In the Targum of Onkelos, sheḳel is always rendered by ṣela‛ ; in the Peshitta and Arabic VSS , by mathḳal ; in the Samaritan Targum, by mathḳal (except only perhaps in Genesis 23:16 , where we have ethḳel ). In the Targum of Onkelos, wherever tiḳlā' occurs, it translates the Hebrew beḳa‛ (Genesis 24:22 and Exodus 38:26 only). Menē , to be sure, may have meant the mina, and perēṣ , the half-mina. The parash is mentioned in the inscription of Panammu and in an Aramaic inscription on an Assyrian weight. Besides this, it is found in the New Hebrew of the Mishna It is not found, however, in the Targum of Onkelos, nor in Syriac, nor in the Old Testament Hebrew; nor in the sense of half-shekel in the Aramaic papyri. While, then, it may be admitted that Daniel may have read, "A mina, a mina, a shekel, and two half-minas," it is altogether unlikely, and there is certainly no proof that he did. Yet, if he did, his punning interpretations were justified by the usage of ancient oracles and interpreters of signs, and also by the event.
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​m/mene-mene-tekel-upharsin.html. 1915.