The Sordid History of Daniel 4-5

*In my haste to publish this, I neglected to mention that one of my sources is my friend, Michael Whitworth’s book, The Derision of Heaven: A Guide to Daniel (Bend, Oregon: Start2Finish, 2013).

My Wednesday Bible class has been studying the book of Daniel. We’ve concluded the first six chapters and will begin chapter seven this evening. Our focus has, thus far, been on how Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah lived faithfully to God while living in a society unfriendly to their religion. Furthermore, we have noted and discussed how we as Christians can live faithfully to God while living in our own Babylon–be that our nation, workplace, home, or where ever. Yet, when we arrived at chapters four and five, the history of Daniel did not align with other document histories.

Something that always catches my attention is when Scripture and secondary sources disagree. This usually leads me down a rabbit hole of historical investigation. I’ve always believed that when Scripture and any other authority are at odds, I’ve misinterpreted one or both. Chapters four and five have information that historians point out as non-historical, at best, or manipulated to fit into the various prophetic schema of Israel, at worst. 

Nabonidus was the king when Babylon fell to Cyrus the Great, so why are Belshazzar and Darius the critical figures in chapter five? For so long, historians had dismissed the book of Daniel as folklore that spun together various prophetic passages to Israelite favor. Yet, in 1854, British explorers uncovered the temple of Ur, finding cylinders from Nabonidus’ reign. Moreover, listed among a prayer for the king was the inclusion of his son, Belshazzar. Since then, extensive documentation has corroborated this information to the extent that it’s common knowledge and doesn’t require citation. 

Folks have also remarked that the madness of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter four was misplaced because Nabonidus was known to have had a mental breakdown for about a decade. However, Eusebius of Cesarea (4th century CE) quotes Greek historian Abydenus (c. 250–200 BCE), whose history of the Assyrians is preserved in quotations from various later historians—the writings, aside from these quotations, are lost in history. Abydenus quotes from a historian whose work was closer to the period than his, Megasthenes (c. 350–290 BCE). Eusebius quotes, 

[Megasthenes] subsequently relates from the Chaldeans’ [accounts] that when [Nebuchadnezzar] had returned to the royal court, some deity took control of his mind and spoke in this manner: ‘Oh brave Babylonians, I, Nebuchadnezzar, I predict that grief will befall you.’ He continues on in this vein for a while and then the historian [tells us] that after this eloquent speech he suddenly disappeared from sight. Then [his] son, Amilmardochus [Evil-morodach in the Hebrew Scriptures; Amul-Marduk in history], ruled. (Chronicle 1.11)

Nabonidus was the last Babylonian king, but he lived in exile because of his favoritism towards the moon god, Sin, while Marduk was the city’s chief god. During this exile, Belshazzar was co-regent. When the Persians, under Cyrus the Great, conquered Babylon, Belshazzar was killed, and his father exiled once more. Another detail is that Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as Belshazzar’s father (Dan. 5:2, 11). Nabonidus was Belshazzar’s father, who led a coup to take the throne, being no son of Nebuchadnezzar. 

Belshazzar is regarded as king in this chapter because of his father’s absence, and he acts as a regent in his father’s absence. Nebuchadnezzar may be described as Belshazzar’s father because the latter succeeded the former. This designation is seen in other literature when no direct relation existed. One possible explanation for Darius the Mede may be that he was Gobryas (Greek), the general who captured Babylon on Cyrus’ behalf. He was governor of Gutium in Media. Another possible explanation is that in Daniel 6:28, the text could read, “The reign of Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus.” Kings often had multiple regnal names (cf. 1 Chron. 5:26). Cyrus took over the Median Empire, having a Median mother. Therefore, it wouldn’t be implausible that he would be called the king of the Medes. Yet, this is my best attempt at setting the record straight.  

Author: Steven

Minister at Glendale Road Church of Christ (Murray, KY)

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