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19. The Rise Of The Neo-Babylonian (Chaldean) Empire

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The Rise of the Chaldeans

The Chaldeans (Kaldu to the Assyrians) are a sub-grouping of the Arameans who settled in the northwest (later capital at Damascus) and east (on the Assyrian border), southeast (Babylonia) and further southeast in the marshlands of the head of the Persian Gulf. (The Aramaic language of the Bible is somewhat different from Chaldean, but in earlier times, it was thought to be Chaldean. Now it is identified with the more broadly dispersed Aramaic dialect.)

Strictly speaking, the word Chaldean should be limited to the area called by the Assyrians “land of the sea,” the extent of which is unknown. “When these tribes migrated to Babylonia is uncertain, as is also their original home; but as they are closely related to the Aramaeans, it is possible that their first settlements lay in the neighborhood of the Aramean states bordering on the Holy Land.”1 Pinches indicates that Sennacherib refers to 75 strong cities and fortresses of Chaldea, and 420 smaller towns which were around them. There were also Chaldeans (and Arameans) in Erech, Nippur (Calneh), Kis, Hursag-kalama, Cuthah, and probably Babylon.2 The Chaldeans in the Persian Gulf area were known as Bit Yakin (Merodach Baladan’s tribe), Bit Dakkuri and Bit Amukkani.3

The Aramaic tribes were showing interest in settling in the rich lands of the middle Euphrates. Tiglath-Pileser I (beginning of the first millennium) was forced to confront the pressing hordes of Arameans. They controlled the caravan trade around the Habur and settled along the eastern, western borders of the Assyrian country. Ironically, David’s reduction of the Arameans of Damascus probably took pressure from the Assyrians and allowed the Neo-Assyrian Empire to develop.

For three hundred years there was constant interaction between the Assyrians and surrounding peoples, including the Arameans. In the eighth century, the mighty Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727) set out to establish Assyrian control. One of his major tasks was to establish order in Babylonia so as to secure his southern border. The Chaldeans around the marsh land of the Persian Gulf recognized only their own authority. The Aramean tribes on the east bank of the Tigris were likewise not submitting to a central authority, the Arameans around Cuthah, Sippar and Babylon were becoming restless.4 He began by attacking the Arameans on the Assyrian border, then crossed the Tigris to the east, then attacked the Arameans around Nippur.

Aramean/Chaldean Groupings in Neo-Assyrian Times

The Babylonian king was presumably Nabu-nasir who was left on the throne and proved a faithful vassal until his death in 734.5 When Nabu-nasir died, confusion reigned, culminating in the usurpation of the throne by a Chaldean of the Bit-Amukkani tribe. Tiglath-Pileser violently suppressed the revolt, and the Chaldean areas were severely reduced. Merodach-Baladan of Bit-Yakin paid homage and tribute to him. This is the same man who sent messengers to Hezekiah (Isaiah 39). Tiglath-Pileser took the throne himself (he took the hands of Marduk), and adopted the name Pul (as used in the Bible).

It became Merodach-Baladan’s task to unite the disparate and divided Chaldean tribes. He apparently was eventually able to do so. He also formed an alliance with the Elamites, the only people who might be able to stand against the Assyrians. In 721 he threw off the Assyrian yoke, entered Babylon and “took the hands of Bel.”

Sargon set out in 720 to confront the combined armies, but Merodach-Baladan failed to join up with the Elamites in time. The battle was indecisive, but apparently the Assyrians withdrew and Merodach-Baladan was left to rule in peace. However, after a decade, Sargon moved south and Merodach-Baladan was forced to flee. Sargon allowed him to remain chief of the Bit Yakin, perhaps as a conciliatory move.

When Sennacherib became king in 705, Merodach-Baladan resumed his intrigue against Assyria. He could entice the Arameans to the north and east to join him, but he had trouble with the Babylonians who had a lingering resentment of his previous rule. He enlisted the aid of Elam again and sent messengers west to induce the rulers of that area to rise up against Assyria, probably to be timed with his invasion of Babylon. Hezekiah gladly received the messengers and was soundly rebuked by Isaiah.

The plans of Merodach-Baladan were frustrated when the Babylonians appointed their own king, forcing him to march on the city earlier than he had planned and take the throne once more. This was in 703 B.C. Sennacherib put his troops in the field and soundly defeated the Elamites and their allies. Only the Elamites proved a worthy fighting force. Merodach-Baladan fled, and Sennacherib marched on Babylon, where he was gladly received by the inhabitants. Sennacherib dealt a severe blow to the entire Chaldean district. He placed a certain Bel-Ibni on the throne in Babylon. Sennacherib made another punitive raid against the Chaldeans in 700 and deported many from Bit Yakin, while Merodach-Baladan fled once more to the Elamites. (N.B. it would appear to me that Merodach-Baladan appealed to Hezekiah prior to the 701 invasion by Sennacherib. If so, Isaiah 38-39 took place before 36-37. Their placement in that order by Isaiah would indicate the Babylonian emphasis of 40-66.)

Merodach-Baladan died, and after a period of time, a certain Chaldean by the name of Mushezib-Marduk proclaimed himself king of Babylon. Sennacherib, after an arduous battle, laid siege to Babylon and defeated it in 689. “The sack of Babylon marks a turning point in Sennacherib’s policy. For some sixteen years he had endeavoured to refound a separate kingdom in Babylonia, and his endeavours had ended in complete failure. The capital city itself, always previously well disposed to Assyria, had finally become a stronghold of the Chaldaean party. The force of circumstances alone was sufficient to cause any man of ability to take severe measures…The damage to the city during the siege and the sack was reparable, and it is known that Sennacherib himself commenced the work of rebuilding the city.”6

Sennacherib placed his son, Esarhaddon, on the throne in Babylon. When Esarhaddon became king, there was a decade of relative peace in Babylonia. His two sons, Ashurbanipal and Shamash-shum-ukin, ruled after him in Nineveh and Babylon. The Chaldeans were so well ensconced in Babylonia that no one could rule without their cooperation. The result was an anti-Assyrian feeling that forced Shamash-shum-ukin to rebel against his brother, the king of Assyria in 652. Ashurbanipal, after a bloody war, defeated his brother, who committed suicide.

Southern Babylonia broke away from Assyria after Ashurbanipal’s death under Nabopolassar, the chosen leader of the Chaldeans in 626 and began hostilities in 625 B.C.

The Neo-Babylonian Empire7

This political entity is called Neo-Babylonian to contrast it with the Old Babylonian Empire lasting from about 1800 to 1500 B.C. As indicated above, the rulers of this new empire are interlopers from the point of view of the native population. Though the Chaldeans had been making their presence felt for generations and no doubt had intermarried and intermixed, there apparently was still a distinction to be made between them and the “Babylonians.”8

The biblical material needs to be discussed before the Neo-Babylonian Empire is taken up. The most remarkable Judean monarch of the century was Manasseh’s grandson, Josiah, who reigned from about 640-609 B.C. Recent studies of Assyrian chronology make it possible to correlate Judah’s movement toward independence rather precisely with events in Assyria.

In 2 Chronicles 34:3 we are told that Josiah began to seek the God of David his father in the 8th year of his reign. This would be 633-632 or about the time of the death of Ashurbanipal. The death of Ashurbanipal’s successor, Asshuretelilani, about 629 was immediately followed by disorders in Assyria and Babylonia.

In the twelfth year (629/628 B.C.) of Josiah’s reign there was a thoroughgoing religious reform. Such a purge assumes military control over the Assyrian provinces of Samaria and Megiddo.

In 628-627 B.C., during Josiah’s thirteenth year, Jeremiah received his call as God’s prophet (Jer. 1:2).

The finding of the old law book in the temple during the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign (623-622 B.C.) resulted in a still more thoroughgoing religious reform, in which all sacrificial worship was confined to the Jerusalem temple (2 Kings 22-23). On Josiah’s part, the reform probably signaled the final break with Assyria. We know that by 623 B.C., Assyrian control over Babylonia had ceased entirely, and that a Babylonian king, Nabopolassar, had consolidated his position and was preparing to attack Assyria itself.9

Josiah was killed trying to protect Babylon from Egypt. In 2 Kings 23:29, the Hebrew ‘al, must mean “in behalf of,” since we know from the Babylonian Chronicle10 that Egypt was supporting Assyria. Josiah wanted no assistance to go to Assyria. Later the Babylonians defeated Necho at Carchemish. Apparently Egypt wanted a weak Assyria as a buffer state against Babylon and so went to Assyria’s assistance (so in the Babylonian Chronicle). Josiah did not want Egypt to reassert control over Syria and so went against Necho at the cost of his own life.11

Nabopolassar (626-605 B.C.)

Properly speaking, the Neo-Babylonian Empire begins with Nabopolassar who became king of Babylon in 626 B.C. and began hostilities against his overlord Assyria in 625 B.C. With his allies, the Medes and Scythians, he defeated Assyria, driving her to the west. He defeated the Assyrians and Egyptians in Haran in 609 B.C. and the Egyptians again in 605 B.C., giving him undisputed control of Syria and Palestine.

Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadrezzar) (605-562 B.C.)

The officer who led these campaigns was the oldest son of Nabopolassar and crown prince Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar, becoming king at his father’s death in 605, was the most illustrious of the rulers of this era. The name is more properly Nebuchadrezzar (Nabu-kudurri-usur). The name, according to Wiseman, means “O Nabu, protect my offspring” rather than “O Nabu, protect my boundary.”12 The name was used by a middle kingdom Babylonian (1124-1103) and thus has ancient connections. The spelling with an “n” may be merely an inaccuracy, though some would argue it represents an Aramaic spelling. Jeremiah and Ezekiel use the more correct form.

Nabopolassar is generally identified as a Chaldean from the Sea Lands of the Bit Yakin group.13 However, Wiseman argues that the evidence for this identification is not clear and that all that Nabopolassar says is that he was not a member of the royal house.14 Nebuchadnezzar has for a wife, Amyitis, the daughter of Astyages, the Mede. This would accord with the practice of the Chaldeans to ally with the Medes. For the family tree see p. 150.

Thompson argues that the priesthood at Babylon was so strong that Nabopolassar was virtually under their control. At least he shows considerable deference to them in his building projects and constant self-abnegation. He says that the same policy of deference was carried on by Nebuchadnezzar.15

Nebuchadnezzar was in sole control of the army at Carchemish. There, having routed the Egyptians and taken over the area of “Hatti land” or Syro-Palestine, he heard of his father’s death in Babylon. He made the five hundred mile plus journey back in twelve to fifteen days and was crowned king.16

Egypt apparently exercised temporary control of Palestine. Jehoahaz succeeded his father but was deposed by Necho within three months. Necho put up Eliakim (Jehoiakim) who paid tribute to Necho but later was forced to submit to Babylon (2 Kings 24:1). Jeremiah was busy at this time. Jehoiakim burned his scroll (Jer. 36).

The Chronicle says, “In the first year of Nebuchadrezzar in the month of Sivan he mustered his army and went to the Hatti-territory, he marched about unopposed in the Hatti-territory until the month of Kislev. All the kings of the Hatti-land came before him and he received their heavy tribute. He marched to the city of Askelon and captured it in the month of Kislev. He captured its king and plundered it and carried off [spoil from it…] He turned the city into a mound and heaps of ruins and then in the month of Sebat he marched back to Babylon.”17 Note that the Chronicle does not mention any city but Ashkelon. Jerusalem is not mentioned. Daniel 1:1 says that Nebuchadnezzar besieged it, but this phrase can mean “treated it as an enemy.” 2 Kings 25:1 says, “In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years; then he turned and rebelled against him.” 2 Chron. 36:6 says, “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against him and bound him with bronze chains to take him to Babylon.” Wiseman believes the removal of Jehoiakim would have been within the first year of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule.18

There is some debate about the time, but Nebuchadnezzar at some point besieged Tyre. Thompson says: “Tyre, safeguarded by the sea, appears always to have clung to her independence, both against Egyptian and Babylonian. Josephus says that a few years after the battle of Carchemish Tyre led a Phoenician revolt; according to Menander, Nebuchadrezzar besieged the city for thirteen years in the reign of Ithobalus (Ethbaal), and Ezekiel (ch. xxix) refers to the great difficulty of the operations: ‘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 he had no wages, nor his army, from Tyre, for the service that he had served against.’ Presumably Nebuchadrezzar was compelled to recognize that he must ‘contain’ it only, which he could do with a small force.”19

How are we to reconcile the account of Ezekiel 26 attributing the disastrous fall to Nebuchadnezzar with Ezekiel 29:17‑20 and the non‑biblical accounts that indicate Babylon’s apparent inability to capture Tyre?20 Jerome says that the Tyrians carried off all wealth when it became apparent the city would fall.21

Some would argue that the destruction of Tyre refers to a mainland city with that name, while the failure to gain pay (Ezekiel 29) refers to the island fortress. A reference in ANET, p. 477, from the thirteenth century B.C. indicates two cities: “Let me tell you of another strange city, named Byblos. What was it like? And its goddess? Once again--[thou] hast not trodden it. Pray instruct me about Beirut, about Sidon and Sarepta. Where is the stream of the Litani? What is Uzu [ed. Note “old Tyre on the mainland”] like? They say another town is in the sea, named Tyre-the-port. Water is taken (to) it by the boats, and it is richer in fish than the sands.”

More likely, however, the prophecy has both specific and general implications. Having begun in a generalized way: nations (1‑6), he becomes particular with Babylon (7‑11), but he becomes general again in v. 12. “They” (the nations) will despoil her. At this point we are looking to the subsequent devastating calamity under Alexander the Great.

In his fourth year (601 B.C.) Nebuchadnezzar began further law enforcement in “Hatti land.” At that time, he decided to invade Egypt. He was met by the Saite king, Necho II, and the battle was fiercely fought. Egypt had reorganized and re-provisioned her army after the Carchemish debacle and the battle was a standoff. The Chronicle says, “In open battle they smote the breast (of) each other and inflicted great havoc on each other. The king of Akkad [Nebuchadnezzar] and his troops turned back and returned to Babylon. In the fifth year the king of Akkad (stayed) in his own land and gathered together his chariots and horses in great numbers.”22

Jehoiakim apparently thought this battle indicated Egyptian superiority and shifted his allegiance from Babylon to Egypt. He rebelled after three years (2 Kings 24:1-2), and Nebuchadnezzar dealt with him by encouraging bands of brigands until he could deal with him himself. Jehoiakim died mysteriously (Jer. 22:19), possibly murdered to placate Nebuchadnezzar. In any event, “in the seventh year [598], the month of Kislev, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, and encamped against (i.e. besieged) the city of Judah and on the second day of the month of Adar he seized the city and captured the king [Jehoiachin]. He appointed there a king of his own choice (lit. heart) [Zedekiah], received its heavy tribute and sent (them) to Babylon.”23

An internal rebellion took place 595/4. The text is fairly cryptic: “In the tenth year the king of Akkad (was) in his own land; from the month of Kislev to the month of Tebet there was rebellion in Akkad…with arms he slew many of his own army [Wiseman reads in Nebuchadrezzar, p. 34, “his numerous leading persons/officials”]. His own hand captured his enemy.”24 Wiseman also links this event with Jeremiah 29 (written shortly after 597) were Jeremiah says that the King of Babylon roasted a certain Zedekiah and Ahab in fire.25

Zedekiah, refusing to learn from the mistake of Jehoiakim and to listen to Jeremiah’s warnings, rebelled against Babylon (Jer. 27:1-11). The data of the last days of Zedekiah come from the Bible (the Chronicle is missing at this point). Zedekiah rebelled in 588 and Nebuchadnezzar besieged the city with the intent of starving it into submission. Apries, the new Egyptian king responded to Zedekiah’s appeals, probably with a limited force (Ezek. 17:15 for the appeal). The city fell in 586.

Jeremiah predicted Babylonian attacks on Egypt (43:8-13), but there is little evidence in the Babylonian records for it.26 Ezekiel’s prophecy (29:17-20) seems to contradict what is known of Egyptian history during the Babylonian period. The usual point made is that Nebuchadnezzar did not invade Egypt, but Persia did.27 During the Babylonian period, it is said, Egypt prospered. For an excellent presentation of an alternate view, see J. B. Reilly, “The Historicity of Nebuchadnezzar’s Invasion of Egypt,” Th.M. thesis, DTS. He argues three basic points:

(1) Amasis (Egyptian ruler during Nebuchadnezzar’s time) was confined to the western part of the delta with Greek mercenaries. Any discussion of prosperity for Egypt should be confined to that area.

(2) Cambyses (the Persian ruler who invaded Egypt) did not go south of the Delta and did not destroy Egypt. The Elephantine papyri should read, “They [Babylon] had destroyed the temples of Egypt, but not the temple of Yaho.”28

(3) The period from 567 B.C. (Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion) to 525 B.C. is the forty years of destruction spoken of by Ezekiel. After Persia’s entrance, Egypt began to prosper.

“Nebuchadnezzar died about August-September, 562 B.C., and was succeeded by his son Amel-Marduk (562-560 B.C.), whom Jeremiah calls Evil-Merodach.”29

Amel-Marduk (Evil-Merodach) (562-560 B.C.)

Josephus quotes Berosus who says of Amel-Marduk: “After beginning the wall of which I have spoken, Nabuchodonosor fell sick and died, after a reign of forty-three years, and the realm passed to his son Evil-maraduch. This prince, whose government was arbitrary and licentious, fell a victim to a plot, being assassinated by his sister’s husband, Neriglisar, after a reign of two years.”30

Amel-Marduk ruled only two years. From Jeremiah 52:31-34 we learn: “Now it came about in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah (560 B.C.), in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth of the month, that Evil-Merodach king of Babylon, in the first year of his reign, showed favor to Jehoiachin king of Judah and brought him out of prison. Then he spoke kindly to him and set his throne above the thrones of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin changed his prison clothes, and had his meals in the king’s presence regularly all the days of his life. And for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king of Babylon, a daily portion all the days of his life until the day of his death” (see also 2 Kings 25:27-30). “10 (sila) to Ia-ku-u-ki-nu, the son of the king of Ia-ku-du (i.e. Judah). 2 1/2 sila for the 5 sons of the king of Judah.”31 This tablet actually comes from Nebuchadnezzar’s time, and so Amel-Marduk increased the ration established by his father. Thompson says, “He was given little time to prove his worth; the two years of his brief reign are merely enough to show that political conditions were again hostile to the royal house.”32

Nergal-sharra-usur (Neriglissar) (559-556 B.C.)

Whether there was a revolution or Amel-Marduk died in 559 is not clear, but Neriglissar succeeded him to the throne.33 He was married to a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar and may have been next in line after Amel-Marduk. “He is probably to be identified with Nergal-sharezer who held the office of rab mag at the siege of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. If, as seems likely, the Neriglissar is also the same man, he was already middle-aged on his accession.”34 Little is known about this man except that he restored temples in Babylon and Borsippa. Wiseman translates a tablet that for the first time reveals an extensive military campaign in Cilicia.35

The six or so years of the reign of these two kings are passed over in silence in the Bible, except for the elevation of Jehoiachin. Daniel is involved through 539 when Cyrus comes to Babylon, but no mention is made of Amel-Marduk or Neriglissar. Ezekiel’s prophecies do not extend beyond 571 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar was still ruling.

Labashi-Marduk (556 B.C.)

Neriglissar died in 556 B.C. of unknown causes. His son Labashi-Marduk attempted to assume the throne but was opposed. After just three months of rule, he was overthrown by officers of the state. They placed Nabu-na’id (Nabonidus) on the throne.

Nabu-na’id (Nabonidus) (556-539 B.C.)

Nabonidus usurped the throne though he was not a direct descendant of Nebuchadnezzar. Wiseman suggests that he may have married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar which would make Belshazzar a grandson (and hence a “son”) of the sacker of Jerusalem.36

Nabonidus was probably rather old when he ascended the throne. He had connections with the city of Haran (the last stronghold of the Assyrians in 609 B.C.). Either his father or mother was a priest(ess) of the Moon God at Haran.37

Nabonidus took his army west, but withdrew from Palestine in 553. The excuse he gives is to rebuild the temple in Haran. This homage to a foreign deity (to the Babylonians) apparently created hostility in the priests of Babylon.

There follows a very mysterious time in Nabonidus’ life. “He let (everything) go, entrusted the kingship to him and, himself, he started out for a long journey, the (military) forces of Akkad marching with him; he turned towards Tema (deep) in the west. He started out the expedition on a path (leading) to a distant (region). When he arrived there, he killed in battle the prince of Tema, slaughtered the flocks of those who dwell in the city (as well as) in the countryside, and he, himself, took his residence in [Te]ma, the forces of Akkad [were also stationed] there.”38

Nabonidus spent his declining years in this pleasant oasis for unknown reasons. Perhaps he was unwelcome in Babylon or perhaps Haran was not safe from the Medes.39 “Seventh year [549 B.C.]: The king (i.e. Nabonidus, stayed) in Tema; the crown prince, his officials and his army (were) in Akkad…Eighth year: (blank of two lines)…Ninth year: Nabonidus, the king, (stayed) in Tema; the crown prince, the officials and the army (were) in Akkad…Tenth year: The king (stayed) in Tema; the crown prince, his officials and his army (were) in Akkad…Eleventh year [545 B.C.]: The king (stayed) in Tema; the crown prince, the officials and his army (were) in Akkad.”40 By 547 Cyrus was already putting pressure on Babylon. An Elamite governor was apparently appointed in Erech. This would mean that Cyrus had a pincer movement on Babylon ten years before conquering it.41

During Nabonidus’ stay in Tema his son and crown prince, Belshazzar was ruling in Babylon. Until recent times, the existence of this man was unknown outside the Bible and provoked much skepticism as to his authenticity. With the publication of the Babylonian materials, he is now well-known as the “vice-regent” in Babylon in the absence of his aged father.

“[Seventeenth year:]…Nebo [went] from Borsippa for the procession of [Bel…] [the king (Nabonidus)] entered the temple…In the month of Tashritu, when Cyrus attacked the army of Akkad in Opis on the Tigris, the inhabitants of Akkad revolted, but he (Nabonidus) massacred the confused inhabitants. In the 14th day, Sippar was seized without battle. Nabonidus fled. The 16th day, Gobryas (Ugbaru), the governor of Gutium and the army of Cyrus entered Babylon without battle. Afterwards Nabonidus was arrested in Babylon when he returned (there)…In the month of Arahshamnu, the 3rd day, Cyrus entered Babylon, green twigs were spread in front of him--the state of ‘Peace’ was imposed upon the city. Cyrus sent greetings to all Babylon. Gobryas, his governor, installed (sub-) governors in Babylon.”42 Oates says, “The reasons for the king’s return to Babylon are as obscure as those which led to his departure. After 10 years, and now certainly approaching 70 years of age, he left Taima.”43 He came back, for whatever reason, and resumed the religious ritual. After the defeat at Opis mentioned above, he fled to Babylon. There Herodotus tells us, while the Babylonians were reveling (“Belshazzar the King made a great feast to a thousand of his lords and drank wine before the thousand”), the Persians broke into the city unopposed. Herodotus preserves the story (doubted by some) that Cyrus diverted the Euphrates River (flowing through Babylon) and was able thus to enter the city.44 Belshazzar was killed that night (Dan. 5:30), but “The old king Nabonidus was given Carmania to rule, or much more probably as a place of abode in a new land.”45

Connections of the Neo-Babylonian Empire with Daniel and Ezekiel

The key issues in Daniel are:

The captivity of Daniel (fourth year/third year) and whether there was a deportation.

The identity of Darius the Mede (perhaps the most knotty of all the problems).

The historicity of Belshazzar (now proven).

The identity of the Chaldeans as a special religious class.

These issues have all been confronted by Evangelicals. Robert Dick Wilson, Studies in the Book of Daniel; Wiseman and Kitchen (see bibliography); J. Whitcomb, Darius the Mede. G. Archer, Daniel in EBC.

Nebuchadnezzar’s mental illness.

Is there anything in the extra‑biblical record to support the biblical statements on Nebuchadnezzar’s madness? Thompson says: “The name of Nebuchadrezzar became the centre of much romance, notably the story of his madness in the book of Daniel. ‘His own inscriptions speak only of a four‑year‑long suspension of interest in public affairs, which may not be a reference to his malady, though tradition of something of the kind may have lent verisimilitude to the account of it in Daniel’ (C.H.W. Johns, E.Bi. col. 3371). His religious character is illustrated above; like Ashurbanipal he may have suffered some mysterious affliction (p. 127), and this might have been ascribed to a divine visitation.”46

Because of Nabonidus’ long stint in Tema, the hostility of the Bab-ylonian priesthood to him, and a fragment from Qumran attributing a sickness of seven years to Nabonidus through which he was instructed by a Jewish soothsayer, some want the Nebuchadnezzar story to be transferred to Nabonidus.47 However, there is no reason why the problem could not have happened to Nebuchadnezzar, and one surely would not expect to find a record of it in the accounts. If Nebuchadnezzar “withdrew from public life for four years,” a seven year hiatus should not be considered improbable.

Was Nebuchadnezzar a believer in the sense of an OT saint? Certainly, he acknowledges the existence, position and power of the Most High God. However, the acknowledgement of the person of God in Daniel two does not prevent him from trying to kill the three Jewish men for worshipping the same God in chapter three. Furthermore, in chapter four the same lesson has to be learned again. It seems unlikely to me that he was ever more than a polytheist.

Ezekiel prophesies entirely during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. The symbolism, metaphors and parables can only be understood with the backdrop of the historical happenings in Babylonia, Egypt and Judah over a ten year period. (Only one prophecy is beyond that era. It is against Tyre and refers to events in 571 B.C.)

Babylon’s Influence on the Bible

Babylon, Babylonian, Babylonish

Genesis 10:10; 11:9.
Joshua 7:21 (Babylonish garment).
2 Kings 17-25 = 31 x’s
1 Chronicles = 1
2 Chronicles 32-36 = 9 x’s
Ezra = 15.
Nehemiah = 2
Esther 2:6.
Ps. 87:4; 137:1,8.
Isaiah 13; 14; 21; 39; 43; 47; 48 = 13 x’s.
Jeremiah 20-52 = 168 x’s! (70 x’s in 50-52).
Ezekiel = 20 x’s.
Daniel = 17 x’s.
Micah 45:10
Zech. 2:7; 6:10.
Matt. 4 x’s (genealogy).
Acts 7:43 (Stephen’s sermon).
1 Peter 5:13.
Rev. 14; 8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2,10,21 = 6 x’s.

Total: 370

Chaldea, Chaldean

Gen. 11:28, 31; 15:7 = 4 x’s.
Job 1:17
2 Kings 24:2; 25 = 8 x’s.
Ezra 5:12.
Isaiah 13; 23; 43; 47:1, 5; 48:14,20 = 7 x’s.
Jeremiah = 42 x’s.
Ezekiel = 8 x’s.
Daniel = 12 x’s.
Hab. 1:6
Acts 7:4.

Total: 85

Chaldee(a/n)

Babylon(ia/n)

Total

Early:

5

3

8

Eighth century: (Isaiah/Mic)

7

20

27

Seventh century: (Jer/Kg/Ch)

50

203

253

Sixth century: (Ez/Dan/Hab)

21

37

58

Fifth century:

1

23

24

New Testament:

1

12

13

All Occurrences

85

298

383

Observations:

The very early occurrences have to do primarily with the Table of Nations and Abraham.

The eighth century contacts are primarily in Isaiah and have to do with the contacts with Hezekiah and prophetically to the Babylonian exile.

The seventh century contacts are found in Jeremiah, Kings and Chronicles. This of course is the height of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and so we find the most frequent mentions here.

The sixth century contacts are in Ezekiel and Daniel.

The references are diminishing in the following period, because such references are usually to the past.

The importance of Babylon to the Bible.

The beginning of civilization is in Mesopotamia. Babel along with Erech, Accad and Calneh are attributed to the building enterprises of Nimrod. The Babylonian word Babilu means “Gate of God.” The reference to Babel with the meaning of “confusion of language” is a play on that word. Here originates writing, astrology, languages, pagan religion, mathematics, etc. It is Ur of the Chaldees from which Abraham comes as well. The flood account of Genesis has much in common with the Babylonian account.

Babylon becomes sort of an archetype of evil and seems to be used somewhat that way in Isaiah 13/14. The same seems to be true in Zechariah 5 when “evil” is taken to Shinar and a temple is set up for her. Isaiah castigates Babylon for her idolatry (Isa. 47:11-15).

Babylon in Jeremiah’s time was looked upon as a scourge in God’s hand which took credit for what she did to Israel and in turn was punished for it (Isa. 47:6; Jer. 25; Zech. 1:15).

Babylon’s downfall is predicted in drastic terms in Isaiah 13 and 21, but this probably refers to the fall to Sennacherib in 689 B.C. Jeremiah’s prediction (using much of Isaiah’s terminology) has to refer to 539 B.C., since he is prophesying fifty years later (Jer. 25:12; 50-51). The language of Jeremiah is “destruction language” and refers to the fact that the empire was utterly defeated by the Persians. The city continued for another two hundred years and only gradually fell into the ruin we now see. It was last mentioned on a clay tablet in 10 B.C. (R. K Harrison in Zondervan Bible Dictionary).

Most commentators take the reference to Babylon in Revelation 17-18 as symbolic, referring actually to Rome. Peter’s reference, in my opinion, is probably to be taken literally: there was a Jewish community near Babylon on into the fifth century A.D. The Rabbis used Babylon to refer to Rome, saying that Babylon destroyed the temple twice, 586 B.C. and 70 A.D.48

The city of Babylon was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Herodotus says it was 200 square miles and located on both sides of the river. It had eight access gates, the most famous of which was Ishtar. There were over 50 temples. The hanging gardens were on huge arches and were watered by mechanical devices. At the center was ziggurat which was 300 feet square and 300 feet high.

Historical Chronology Of The Last Days Of Judah

640-609

Josiah reigned in Judah. He began reform in his 12th year (628/7) and extended it further in his 18th year (623/2) after the weakness of Assyria became apparent when they were driven from Babylon by Nabopolassar (626/5). Egypt also felt free to begin to move into Canaan. Jeremiah began his ministry in the 13th year of Josiah (Jer. 1:2).

626-623

Tablet #25127 (British Museum).

Nabopolassar defeated the Assyrian army at the gates of Babylon and was crowned king of Babylon on November 23, 626. He was not yet strong enough to attack Nineveh.

616-608

Tablet #21901

A gap covering 622-617 exists. Medes were the head of an Anti-Assyrian group. Egypt had allied herself with Assyria.

614-12

The Medes defeated Asshur in 614. Nabopolassar joined them and defeated Nineveh in 612 B.C.

609-8

A remnant of the Assyrian army fled to Haran under Assurballit II who tried to reconstitute the kingdom. They were forced out of Haran by Babylon in spite of extensive Egyptian help in 609.

The Egyptians joined Assyria in an effort to retake the garrison in 609 but failed. Josiah tried to interdict the Egyptian army at Megiddo and was killed (2 Kings 23:28-30; 2 Chron. 35:20-27).

The Egyptians at this point took over control of Syria after the defeat of the Assyrians.49 Pharaoh Necho, on his way back, deposed Jehoahaz who had ruled only three months after the death of Josiah, his father, and put Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah, on the throne.

607-6

Tablet #22047

Babylonian armies under Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar battled against mountain people and tried to control the Egyptians in Syria. The latter were entrenched at Carchemish. Nabopolassar returned to Babylon in 606/5 where he died.

605-594

Tablet #21946

Nebuchadnezzar, in sole command of the army, marched against the Egyptians at Carchemish and defeated them. Jer. 46:2 places this in the fourth year of Jehoiakim (cf. also Jer. 25:1, which relates the fourth year of Jehoiakim to the first year of Nebuchadnezzar).

605

Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem and Jehoiakim became his vassal. (2 Kings 24:1). Dan. 1:1 says that in Jehoiakim’s third year Nebuchadnezzar carried off captives.50 Daniel must be using the accession year of Nebuchadnezzar which was not counted as his first year in Babylon. Cf. also 2 Chron. 36:6 where Jehoiakim was bound but apparently not carried off, or was taken temporarily as a hostage of war and returned.

601-600

In December Nebuchadnezzar marched against Egypt. Judah was probably still a vassal of Babylon (he would not likely have left his rear exposed to a hostile army). The battle was fierce and Babylon suffered heavy losses. Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon to regroup his army. (ANET sup. p. 564).

600-599

While Nebuchadnezzar was refurbishing his troops, Judah enjoyed a measure of independence but Nebuchadnezzar probably was involved in encouraging other of his vassals against Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:2).

598-97

In December Nebuchadnezzar came west again to put an end to the rebellion. Jehoiachin, son of the now dead Jehoiakim, was on the throne. On March 16, 597, Jerusalem was surrendered, Jehoiachin and others were deported to Babylon, and Zedekiah, another son of Josiah, was put on the throne.

595-4

A local rebellion in Babylon led Zedekiah’s advisors to believe they could throw off Babylon’s yoke. This was in direct opposition to the word of the Lord (cf. Jer. 28:1ff).

586

The final destruction of the city and temple were absent from the Babylonian Chronicle due to a gap. The data for that final destruction and deportation are found in 2 Kings 25 and 2 Chron. 36.

560

Thirty-seven years after the first attack on Jerusalem, Jehoiachin was elevated by Evil-Merodach (Ewal-Marduk) (2 Kings 25:2-30). He seems to be regarded as the official king even in exile (c. Ezek. 1:2).

Sources:

W. F. Albright, “King Jehoiachin in Exile,” B. A. Reader #1.

D. N. Freedman, “The Babylonian Chronicle,” B. A. Reader #1.

        The Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pp. 303-312.

F. F. Bruce, Israel and the Nations.

On Nabonidus’ prolonged absence in Tema, see ANET, p. 306.

On mention of Belshazzar, see ANET, p. 310, footnote.


1T. G. Pinches, “Chaldea” in International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, 1:589, 1929 edition.

2Ibid.

3S. Smith, CAH 3:33.

4Smith, CAH 3:33.

5Ibid.

6Ibid., p. 69.

7See CAH 3:40 on origins of the rulers of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

8When Merodach Baladan sent emissaries to Judah (Isa. 38-39; 2 Kings 20) he was the head of the Chaldean grouping in southern Mesopotamia. He made himself head of Babylon but was unwelcome by the people who received Sennacherib with open arms (CAH 3:63-65).

9See: F. M. Cross, Jr. & D. N. Freedman, “Josiah’s Revolt against Assyria,” JNES, XII (1953), pp. 56-58, and Wright, BA.

10D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of the Chaldaean Kings.

11D. N. Freedman, “The Babylonian Chronicle,” BAR #1, pp. 113-127.

12D. J. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, p. 2-3.

13W. W. Hallo, The Ancient Near East: A History, 1971, p. 145.

14Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar, pp. 5-6.

15Thompson, “The New Babylonian Empire,” CAH 3:206ff.

16Ibid., p. 18.

17Wiseman, Chronicles, p. 69.

18Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar, pp. 24-25.

19CAH 3:214.

20See A. S. Lawhead, “A Problem of Unfulfilled Prophecy in Ezekiel: a Response,” WTJ 16 (1981): 15-19 and J. Bright, History of Israel, p. 333 (he says they were obliged to acknowledge Babylonian suzerainty). See also Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar, pp. 27ff, who shows Babylonian control of Tyre. Lawhead was responding to D. L. Thompson, “A Problem of Unfulfilled Prophecy in Ezekiel,” WTJ 16 (1981): 93-106 who argues for a general interpretation of Scripture (Tyre will fall) and not a specific fulfillment. For an overall discussion, see John C. Beck, The Fall of Tyre According to Ezekiels Prophecy, Th.M. Thesis, DTS.

21Keil, Ezekiel, 1:421-22.

22Wiseman, Chronicle, p. 71.

23Ibid., p. 73.

24Ibid.

25Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar, p. 35.

26Ibid, p. 39f. Bright, History of Israel, p. 333, is much more sanguine about the idea of an invasion.

27Thompson, CAH 3:215, says, “The small fragment of a Babylonian Chronicle first published by Pinches shows that Nebuchadrezzar launched an expedition against Egypt in his thirty-seventh year, i.e. about 567 B.C. Whether Pinches’ ingenious restoration (Ama)su, ‘Amasis,’ for the lost king’s name is correct, or whether Nebuchadrezzar marched against Egypt with any aim other than conquest, we cannot say; the very distance to which he penetrated is a matter of dispute. One tradition says he made Egypt a Babylonian province, another that he invaded Libya, while Jeremiah ‘foretold’ that he would set up his throne in Tahpanhes, but there is no proof that he did so. We might almost assume from the tradition that certain Babylonian deserters built a ‘Babylon’ in Egypt near the Pyramids, which appears to have existed as an important fort in the time of Augustus, that his army at all events left some mark there.”

28ANET, 492: “Now, our forefathers built this temple in the fortress of Elephantine back in the days of the kingdom of Egypt, and when Cambyses came to Egypt he found it built. They [Babylon] [had] knocked down all the temples of the gods of Egypt, but no one did any damage to this temple.”

29Thompson, CAH 3:217.

30Josephus, Contra Apionem, I, 20 (147).

31ANET, p. 308.

32R. C. Thompson, CAH 3:217. See also Joan Oates, Babylon, p. 131.

33Wiseman leaves it vague (Chronicles, p. 38), but Thompson (CAH 3:218) argues for a revolution.

34Wiseman, Chronicles, p. 38. Joan Oates, Babylon, 131.

35Wiseman, Chronicles, pp. 39-42.

36Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar, p. 12.

37For a personal account of his remarkable mother, Adad-guppi’, see ANET, pp 560-62. She lived to be either 102 or 104. Her life spanned most of the neo-Babylonian period.

38ANET, p. 313.

39For the literature on this issue, see ANET, p. 306, n. 5. (J. Lewy, “The Assyro-Babylonian Cult of the Moon and Its Culmination at the Time of Nabonidus,” HUCA 19 [1946]: 434ff; R. P. Dougherty, “Tema’s Place in the Egypto-Babylonian World of the Sixth Century B.C.” Mizraim 1 [1933]: 140-43; R. P. Dougherty, “Ancient Teima and Babylonia,” JAOS 41 [1922]: 458-59; W. F. Albright, “The Conquests of Nabonidus in Arabia,” JRAS [1925]: 293ff.).

40ANET, p. 306.

41CAH 3:223.

42ANET, p. 306.

43Oates, Babylon, p 134.

44A. de Sélincourt, The World of Herodotus, pp. 211ff.

45CAH 3:224-225.

46CAH 3:217, f.n. 1. Also p. 425, note.

47Oates, Babylon, p. 133.

48See for the reference and translation Strack-Billerbeck, Kommentar, 3:816. For the text see S. Buber, ed., Midrasch Tanchuma, Vilna, 1885. The reference is found in the commentary on Leviticus 12 (tazria’) 16.

49CAH 3:130: The struggle continued from 609-605 when Necho was defeated at Carchemish.

50Wilson argues for a foray against Jerusalem before Carchemish in Jehoiakim’s third year. Or we could assume that Jeremiah (46:2) is using Palestinian system and Daniel the Babylonian system.

Related Topics: Archaeology, History