Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar

We know more about Nebuchadnezzar then we do about any other ancient king, and all we know confirms the Biblical record.

Orley M. Berg is an executive editor of MINISTRY


"The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" (Dan. 4:30). According to the book of Daniel, Babylon, under King Nebuchadnezzar, became one of the great cities of the ancient world, and Nebuchadnezzar her greatest king. In few instances have the results of archeology done more to substantiate the claims of a Biblical book. This is particularly significant when we consider that perhaps no book of the Bible has suffered more from the critics than has Daniel.

Excavations at Babylon, most of them under the direction of the German archeologist Robert Koldewey, who dug therefrom 1899 to 1917, have brought to light many thousands of clay tablets, cylinders, and other inscriptions, of which the majority relate to Nebuchadnezzar and his father, Nabopolassar. As a result, we know more today about King Nebuchadnezzar than we do about any other ancient king. The Bible mentions him more than 150 times, and now the vast number of Babylonian inscriptions provide amazing confirmation of the Biblical texts.

We now know that Nebuchadnezzar probably equaled or even surpassed the astonishing building record of the great Ramses II of Egypt. Numerous accounts speak of his enterprises, many of them in language similar to his boast of Daniel 4:30. The inscription on a clay cylinder in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto is typical: "Let the learned read again and again all my deeds which I have written in my inscription, and let him ever give thought to the praise I deserve from the gods."

The city of Babylon that Nebuchadnezzar inherited from his father was almost square, with walls about a mile long on each side. Inside stood the palaces and administrative buildings, together with the main temple of Marduk, or Esagila. Nebuchadnezzar built another palace three miles to the north and added to the city on the west. Thus the new Babylon was about ten miles in circumference, surrounded by great double walls twenty-four and twenty-six feet wide! Another pair of double walls, twelve and twenty-six feet wide, respectively, surrounded the inner city. By filling the moat between the walls, four span of horses could be driven abreast atop the wall!

Koldewey's excavations brought to light parts of the walls and the foundations of many of the buildings Nebuchadnezzar erected, along with many bricks bearing his royal stamp. Writing about his construction of the walls, the king declared, "I caused a mighty wall to circumscribe Babylon in the east. I dug its moats, and its escarpments I built out of bitumen and kiln brick. At the edge of the moat I built a powerful wall as high as a hill. I gave it wide gates and set in doors of cedar wood sheathed with cop per."

Nebuchadnezzar also laid out the royal Processional Way, a sacred street, seventy-five feet wide, which ran from the famed Ishtar Gate through the city to the complex of Esagila. The pavement consisted of heavy blocks of limestone. On the underside of each slab were the words "Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, son of Nabopolassar, King of Babylon, am I. The Babel Street I paved with Shadu slabs for the procession of the great lord Marduk. Marduk, lord, grant eternal life."

Some of the inscriptions speak of Nebuchadnezzar's expeditions into the Lebanon mountains to obtain cedar for his building operations. Among the titles he appropriated to himself was that of The Royal Woodcutter. Near the Ishtar Gate, Koldewey found what he believed to be the site of the famous Hanging Gardens, considered to be among the seven wonders of the ancient world. He uncovered huge brick arches that he felt must have served as the foundations, and also a water-lifting device utilizing a series of buckets, which apparently served to irrigate the greenery.

Many recovered texts point to the religious character of Nebuchadnezzar. One such declares, "Nebuchadnezzar, King of righteousness, humble, lowly, who has the knowledge of the fear [i.e., worship] of the gods, who loves justice and righteousness, who seeks after life, who puts in the mouth of the people the fear of the mighty gods." He declares in another: "O Marduk, lord of the gods, my divine creator, before thee may my deeds be righteousness, may they endure forever!"

This religious zeal helps to account for his chief building interest—restoring or building temples. Altogether, more than twenty such projects at Babylon and Borsippa are known, the two chief ones being that of Marduk, or Esagila, at Babylon, and that of Nebo, or Ezida, at Borsippa. In an inscription regarding the restoration of Esagila, a work begun by Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar says: "To raise up the top of E-temen-an-ki, that it might rival heaven, I laid my hand." The antiquity of this temple tower goes back at least to 2000 B.C., leading many to believe it to be the site of the original Tower of Babel (see Gen. 11:4). As restored by Nebuchadnezzar, it consisted of seven superimposed terraces rising 288 feet above the plain. At the top was a temple of Marduk, 48 feet high, plated with gold, and decorated with enameled brickwork of blue.

Nebuchadnezzar and the kingdom of Judah

Not only do the ancient tablets con firm the historical accuracy of the book of Daniel, they also add considerable background information that enables us to visualize more accurately those eventful years when Babylon was directly affecting the history of God's people. The coming Babylonian captivity of Judah was first announced by Isaiah to King Hezekiah (see Isa. 39:5-8). The Lord, through Jeremiah, refers three times to Nebuchadnezzar as "my servant" (see Jer. 25:9; 27:6; and 43:10), indicating God's use of the heathen king to accomplish His purpose in regard to His people.

The book of Daniel begins with the account of Nebuchadnezzar coming into Judah and taking captives to Babylon, among whom were Daniel and his three companions. Many of the tablets unearthed have a direct bearing on this period of Jewish and Babylonian history. Among the most significant are those now known as the Babylonian Chronicles. They speak of the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C., a battle that broke the might of Assyria, and of the battle of Carchemish, in 605 B.C. (Jer. 46:2). The young crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar, won this latter victory when he was sent by his father to meet Pharaoh-necho and the Egyptian army as it came up from the south.

King Josiah, of Judah, lost his life trying to prevent the Egyptian forces from passing the fortress of Megiddo. Although unsuccessful, he did slow their advance, thus giving Nebuchadnezzar the extra time he needed to destroy the last contingent of the Assyrian might at Haran, eliminating them from the forth coming conflict at Carchemish.

The Battle of Carchemish, along the Euphrates, stands as one of the most significant battles of history. Thereafter, Assyria passed off the stage of world history, Egypt never again existed as a major world power, and Babylon emerged as the master of the civilized world. Thus the stage was set for Judah to become her vassal and for Nebuchadnezzar to fulfill his role foretold in prophecy.

According to the Babylonian account, Nebuchadnezzar received word of the death of his father following the Battle of Carchemish and hastened back to Babylon to secure the throne. Shortly thereafter, he returned to the battlefield. Both the clay tablets and the Biblical account (Jer. 47:5-7) refer to the fall of Ashkelon on the Philistine plain at that time. The Babylonian text also agrees with 2 Kings 24:7, stating: "The king of Babylon took all the area claimed by the king of Egypt from the River of Egypt to the River Euphrates."

Perhaps the most exciting account to come out of Babylon is Nebuchadnezzar's own record of his siege of Jerusalem. The siege began December 18, 598 B.C., and continued until March 16, 597 B.C., when the city capitulated. In this case we have the exact date of a Biblical event recorded in the Bible (see 2 Kings 24:10-17). The Biblical record states that among the Jewish prisoners was King Jehoiachin, whom Nebuchadnezzar re placed with Zedekiah as the puppet ruler. The Babylonian record corroborates this fact. Another tablet that came to light shortly after World War II names Jehoiachin, together with his mother, wives, family, leading officials, and craftsmen, as among the captives of Babylon, and lists the day-by-day rations they received. According to this record, Jehoiachin (who was still called "king of Judah") received twenty times as much rations as most others.

Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah three times during his 43-year reign. The first invasion occurred in 605 B.C., at which time Daniel and his companions were taken; the second, just noted, happened in 597 B.C.; and the third was in 587 B.C., at which time Jerusalem and the beautiful temple of Solomon were leveled. Both Biblical and Babylonian records exist for this final invasion, as well. A large inscription may be seen on the side of the Dog River, or Nahrel-Kalb, twenty miles north of Beirut. The steep cliff-side at this juncture gives excellent defensive positions to contest the advance of invading armies along the Mediterranean coast, and here many of the ancient conquerors of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome (and others even in modern times) have left their commemorative inscriptions and bas reliefs. Nebuchadnezzar left a record here of his third invasion into Pales tine.

Perhaps the most sensational find relating to this campaign was the discovery by J. L. Starkey, in 1935 and 1938, of twenty-one pieces of pottery in the ruins of Lachish, twenty-two miles inland on the border of the Shephelah, or low lands, of Judah. Known as the Lachish letters, most of the documents were hasty notes written by one Hoshaiah to Yaosh, the commander of the Judean forces at Lachish. Hoshaiah, in command of an outpost north of Lachish, was in a position to see the fire signals of Azekah, a city guarding the vale of Elah, in the Shephelah, or valley, to the north. In letter No. 4, now in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, Hoshaiah writes, "And let (my lord) know that we are watching for the signals of Lachish ac cording to all the indications which my lord hath given, for we cannot see Azekah. '' Apparently the city of Azekah had fallen, for it was no longer sending its smoke signals. Lachish was sure to be next, and these letters were the last frantic cry for help.

An exact parallel to this same situation is depicted in Jeremiah 34:7: "When the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah; for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained" (R.S.V.). After Azekah fell, only Lachish was left. It wasn't long until it too was taken, and from Lachish Nebuchadnezzar and his armies went up against Jerusalem.

Today the greatness of Babylon and the might of its greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar, stand out in bold relief. The record of the book of Daniel can be read with absolute confidence. This is especially significant in view of the revival of interest in this book that is now evident in evangelical Christianity. Its history is reliable. So also are its prophecies, many of which relate to the events of our day and the immediate future.

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Orley M. Berg is an executive editor of MINISTRY

June 1980

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