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Nebuchadnezzar defies God
(3173 AM - 587 BCE)
Ezekiel's vision of the Second Temple
(3187 AM - 573 BCE)
Nebuchadnezzar spoils Egypt
(3190 AM - 570 BCE)
Death of Prophet Ezekiel
(3192 AM - 568 BCE)
The madness of King Nebuchadnezzar
(3198 AM - 562 BCE)
Belshazzar and the writing on the wall
(3200 AM - 560 BCE)
(3204 AM - 556 BCE)
Previous << Generation 27 >> Next
Hebrew years 3120 to 3240 (640-520 BCE)
~~~ Part I ~~~ Part II ~~~ Part III ~~~ Part IV
After having destroyed Judah and the Temple of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar felt he was above all gods. He created a large idol statue of gold for people to venerate as an act of obedience to his power over their own gods. As it was against Jewish religion to worship any idol figure, the three governors who were the friends of Daniel would not obey the king’s order in their provinces. They were denounced to Nebuchadnezzar by jealous Chaldeans. As a punishment, the three were thrown into a burning fiery furnace but they did not die.
The three men in the fiery furnace
(marble sarcophagus, Vatican Museum, source Flickriver)
Nebuchadnezzar could even distinguish in the furnace that a fourth person was among them and, in his own words, the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods (Daniel 3:25). The king quickly realized this was an act of God, and felt immediately as humbled as he had been at the time of the dream that Daniel had interpreted:
Nebuchadnezzar spoke and said: 'Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel, and delivered His servants that trusted in Him, and have changed the king's word, and have yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, that every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill; because there is no other god that is able to deliver after this sort.' Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, in the province of Babylon. --- Daniel 3:28-30
Following his destruction of the Temple and its spoil of religious tools, God would have decreed the death of the King. But, as the act was guided by divine desire, and as Nebuchanezzar then acknowledged the supremacy of God following the incident of the furnace, he was granted extra years to live, 15 in total, as King Hezekiah had also benefited for his good deeds. But, because he raised himself as if he was above all gods, his fate was sealed:
But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened that he dealt proudly, he [Nebuchadnezzar] was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him.--- Daniel 5:20
In the 25th year of the captivity, Ezekiel had a vision where he was taken by an angel and brought to the Temple that will be rebuilt. This vision offers many details that were confirmed by the future. One passage says:
Then came he [the angel]unto the gate which looks toward the east, and went up the steps thereof; and he measured the jamb of the gate, one reed broad, and the other jamb, one reed broad. --- Ezekiel 40:6
The gate described above is the one that gave access to the courtyard of the Temple, by which all the pilgrims were directed. It was a double gate, of identical size as mentioned by Ezekiel, whereas the exit was a set of triple gates. The access to these gates was through a set of stairs, of irregular depth so that the pilgrims would have their heard turned downwards (as a sign of piety) when going up to the Temple. These gates were facing towards the East, as also mentioned by Hezekiel. The following is a diagram how these gates looked approximately. They still exist today in Jerusalem, partially and obstructed, and called the Huldah Gates.
Representation of the Huldah Gates, the double gates entrance on the left side, as seen by Hezekiel
The Huldah Gates today, the exit side
(photo: Albert Benhamou)
In the later years of his life, the British scientist Isaac Newton spent a considerable amount of his time deciphering the Hebrew text related to the dimension of the Temple, and wrote a detailed essay about it.[1a] For Newton, the Temple of Solomon was a representation of the cosmos.
The king of Babylon turned against Egypt after having conquered the Levant:
In the 37th year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the country of Babylon, he went to Mitzraim [Egypt] to wage war. Amasis, king of Egypt, collected [his army], and marched and spread abroad. --- J. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 1974, p. 308, translation from clay tablet at the British Museum
This campaign was announced to Ezekiel in that same year, at the very beginning of the new Hebrew year 3190 (570 BCE), as a divine prize to Nebuchadnezzar after Tyre:
And it came to pass in the seven and twentieth year, in the first month, in the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying: 'Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyre; every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled; yet had he no wages, nor his army, from Tyre, for the service that he had served against it; therefore thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off her abundance, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army. I have given him the land of Egypt as his hire for which he served, because they wrought for Me, saith the Lord God. --- Ezekiel 29:17-20
The years in Ezekiel are counted from the start of the captivity of King Jehoiachin, in 597 BCE, while the Babylonian chronicles count the years from the start of the reign of the king, so 605 BCE for Nebuchadnezzar.
Nebuchadnezzar took to Babylon the Jews who had previously fled to Egypt, including Jeremiah. The land of Egypt was left utterly desolated.
The Book of Ezekiel opens with the following sentence:
Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river Chebar that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. --- Ezekiel 1:1
There is no further detail about what happens. The next verse concerns the first vision he had of God in the fifth year [of the captitivy]. We can thus assume that, when Ezekiel wrote the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God, he meant to say that his time was up and that he died. This is the time when he completed his book, that will be included in the Jewish canon, and he would have added the closing verse 1:1 at the beginning.
His tomb is still located in Iraq, in a village called Al-Kilf near the city of Najaf, and is revered by both Jews and Muslims. Although, in recent years, there has been some attempt to exlcude the Jews from the shrine and turn it into a mosque.[1b]
Tomb of Ezekiel (photography, 1932)
The text of the Book of Ezekiel was inscribed in 66 stone tiles of marble or black basalt, of about 12 inches squared shape (so-called the Ezekiel Plates), found in his shrine and smuggled to Lebanon in the 20th century. They were later sold to an Israeli businessman in 1947 and found their way to Jerusalem in 1953 where they are exhibited today. There is barely any difference between the text of these plates and the known text of the Book of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel Plates (photo: ICEJ, Matthias Guggisberg)
However Nebuchadnezzar suffered from mental torments, with dreams and nightmares, in the years that folllowed. A new dream preoccupied him and he called upon Daniel for help. The dream portrayed a huge tree that grew to dominate the world, until an angel from Heaven came down to cast a spell that destroyed it. What happened is that Nebuchadnezzar being the master of the known world of the times, he grew in vanity so God would not let him rest upon it. Yet, as He had granted him extra years to live, He surely decided to comply with it but did so but by making Nebuchadnezzar lose power in 562 BCE because of madness. He was cast out of the city of Babylon, as he was considered insane, and he probably died 7 years later, as the Biblical text stated (Daniel 4:22, "seven times"), in insanity.
Old Nebuchadnezzar by William Blake, 1795 (Tate Gallery, London)
Jeremiah had prophetized about the end of the nations and empires of the time. Indeed, the 26th Dynasty of Egypt will be the last dynasty of native rulers as they will then be replaced by foreign rulers. Also, Nebuchadnezzar’s reign ended in 562 BCE, in the 26th year after having destroyed Jerusalem. This was the sign of a divine punishment, because the number 26 is always special in the Biblical text, as it represents the numerical value of the tetragram name of God.
Nebuchadnezzar's son, Amel-Marduk, called Evil-Merodach in the Bible, was brought to reign in his stead. He changed some of the policies established by his father and this caused some resentment among the upper class of Babylon. One of his first acts was to free the old king of Judah, Jehoiachin, (Leviticus Rabbah 18:2) who had surrendered voluntarily to Nebuchadnezzar but had nonetheless been taken captive to Babylon and left in jail for over 36 years. Jehoiachin was then treated with the honours due to a king, but died soon after.
This new ruler had no talent to become a great leader as his father had been, and busied himself in arranging great feasts for his guests. This was certainly a manner to please them but also to keep them close enough and better control them. Because the new king of Babylon clearly faced some difficulty to impose his authority. In the Bible, he is mentioned as Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 5:1-2). Historians associated this name with the last king of Babylon, before the Persian conquest. But the name Belshazzar simply means “son of the lord” (Bel/Bels= lord like the god Baal, and Azzar/Usur= firstborn son), in other words “the heir of the king”. It could have been said for any king who came to rule after his father, as it was the case for Amel-Marduk. Anyway, he was indeed the "last king" of Babylon because he became the last legitimate Chaldean ruler over Babylon. The following rulers were indeed usurpers.
There is also his mention in one of the Apocrypha books:
And pray you for the life of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and for the life of Belshazzar his son, that their days may be upon earth as the days of heaven. --- Apocrypha, Baruch, chapter 1, 11
During a feast, he asked to bring the golden vessels of the Temple of Jerusalem to drink from them (Daniel 5:3). For this act, which caused the sacred vessels to become profaned, he was to receive divine punishment. So, during the feast and in front of the entire assembly, God had a human hand to write on a wall. But nobody was found to understand the writing.
Belshazzar's Feast - by Rembrandt, 1635
(National Gallery, London)
So Daniel was called to interpret it. He explained that his father Nebuchadnezzar had been punished by God because of his vanity. As of Belshazzar:
“And you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you know all this; but hast lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your consorts and your concubines, have drunk wine in them; and you have praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know; and the God in whose hand your breath is, and whose are all your ways, have you not glorified; then was the palm of the hand sent from before Him, and this writing [on the wall] was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE MENE, TEKEL UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE, God has numbered your kingdom, and brought it to an end. TEKEL, you are weighed in the balances, and are found wanting. PERES, your kingdom is broken, and given to the Medes and Persians.” Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with purple, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made proclamation concerning him, that he should rule as one of three in the kingdom. In that night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. --- Daniel 5:22-30
Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall (Gustave Doré, 1868)
The Biblical text is correct in mentioning that the son of Nebuchadnezzar was slayed. Indeed Amel-Marduk was assassinated by his brother-in-law Nergal-sharezer, or Neriglissar, who had been one of the high-ranked officers of Nebuchadnezzar’s army who conquered Jerusalem and was ordered to protect Jeremiah the Prophet:
Now Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying: 'Take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm; but do unto him even as he shall say unto you.' So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent, and Nebushazban Rab-saris, and Nergal-sharezer Rab-mag, and all the chief officers of the king of Babylon; they sent, and took Jeremiah out of the court of the guard [when he was under arrest], and committed him unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, that he should carry him home; so he dwelt among the people. --- Jeremiah 39:11-14
This Nergal-sarezer was married to one of the daughters of Nebuchadnezzar. He murdered Belshazzar and succeeded him as king of Babylon. He was probably old himself, since 27 years had passed since the conquest of Jerusalem. He only reigned four years and was supposed to be succeeded by one of his late sons, still a boy of age.
Nergal-sarezer was killed in another conspiracy and Nabonides seized power. He had no legitimacy to reign and was not even Chaldean but probably from Assyria because he worshipped Sin, which was the god of Charan, instead of worshipping Marduk, god of Babylon. His reign effectively marked the end of the Chaldean dynasty over the Babylonian empire, and it occurred precisely when Jeremiah had prophetized:
The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, that was the first year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; which Jeremiah the prophet spoke unto all the people of Judah, and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying: “From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even unto this day, these three and twenty years, the word of the Lord has come unto me, and I have spoken unto you, speaking betimes and often; but you have not hearkened. And the Lord has sent unto you all His servants the prophets, sending them betimes and often -- but you have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear -- saying: 'Return you now every one from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that the Lord has given unto you and to your fathers, for ever and ever; and go not after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and provoke Me not with the work of your hands, and I will do you no hurt.' Yet you have not hearkened unto Me, says the Lord; that you might provoke Me with the work of your hands to your own hurt. Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not heard My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the Lord, and I will send unto Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and a hissing, and perpetual desolations. Moreover I will cause to cease from among them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the lamp. And this whole land shall be desolation, and a waste; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, says the Lord, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it perpetual desolations. And I will bring upon that land all My words which I have pronounced against it, even all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah hath prophesied against all the nations. --- Jeremiah 25:1-13
The 70 years of Jeremiah’s prophecy started from the year of his prophecy, in the 13th year of Josiah, king of Judah, and ended with the year when Nabonides usurped power and the trone of the Chaldeans.
The name of Nabonides is mentioned in a clay cylinder, of which archaeologists have found only two copies. The cylinder was written in the 13th year of Nabonides’ reign, in year 544 BCE (Hebrew year 3216).
Nabonides cylinder from Sippar (British Museum)
A translation of this cylinder has given the following text:
I, Nabonidus, the great king, the strong king, the king of the universe, the king of Babylon, the king of the four corners, the caretaker of Esagila and Ezida, for whom Sin and Ningal in his mother's womb decreed a royal fate as his destiny, the son of Nabū-balāssi-iqbi, the wise prince, the worshiper of the great gods, I: […] In the beginning of my everlasting reign they sent me a dream. Marduk, the great lord, and Sin, the luminary of heaven and the netherworld, stood together. Marduk spoke with me: 'Nabonidus, king of Babylon, carry bricks on your riding horse, rebuild Ehulhul and cause Sin, the great lord, to establish his residence in its midst.' […] But Marduk spoke with me: 'The Mede whom you mentioned, he, his country and the kings who marched at his side will be no more.' --- Harper, Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, London, 1911, Vol.1 p.163
It is interesting to note that this cylinder mentions a dream that Nabonides claimed to have had during which the god of Babylon, Marduk, had talked to him. Since the times of Nebuchadnezzar, dreams must have been considered to be very important as being messages from the gods. An usurper like Nabonides would of course find it useful to use dreams in an attempt to portray himself as a messenger of the gods and justify his legitimacy in power. But, in his case, the dream was a political invention and his assertion that Cyrus the Mede will be no more proved to be wrong.
[1a] To look at Isaac Newton's essay, in Latin, click here
[1b] Elgot, Jessica, "Iraq cleric slams plan to turn Jewish tomb into mosque", Jerusalem Post, 12 April 2010; to read it online, click here
 Parsons, David, Bache, Florence, "Dating the Ezekiel Plates", Jerusalem Post, 5 January 2011; to read it online, click here
 The tetragram name is composed of two letters Heh (value 5 each), one letter Yod (value 10) and one letter Wav (value 6), which adds up to a total of 26
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