Prophet Ezekiel and Plato’s ‘Myth of Er’


Damien F. Mackey




Traces of Ezekiel’s famous ‘merkabah’ vision of the wheels within wheels may perhaps be found towards the end of Plato’s Republic, in the mysterious Myth of Er.






The prophet Ezekiel tells of what he saw (1:15-17):


As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels, and their construction: their appearance was like a gleaming of beryl; and the four had the same form, their construction being something like a wheel within a wheel. When they moved they moved in any of the four directions without veering as they moved. ….


Ezekiel would encounter these whirling creatures again at the river Chebar, in captivity, when he said (3:15): “I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who lived by the river Chebar. And I sat there among them stunned for seven days” (note this is exactly what Job’s three friends had done as well, Job 2:13).

Here is the prophet’s full account of it (Ezekiel 3:12-21):


Then the spirit lifted me up, and as the glory of the Lord rose from its place, I heard behind me the sound of loud rumbling; it was the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, that sounded like a loud rumbling. The spirit lifted me up and bore me away; I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me. I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who lived by the river Chebar. And I sat there among them stunned for seven days.

At the end of the seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’, and you give them no warning, or speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before them, they shall die; because you haven’t warned them, they shall die for their sin, and their righteous deeds that they have done shall not be remembered; but their blood I will require at your hand. If, however, you warn the righteous not to sin, and they do not sin, they shall surely live, because they took warning; and you will have saved your life.


Myth of Er


Now let us see what (as I think) Plato might have done to this inspired text, in the ‘Myth of Er’, at the end of the Republic, with Ezekiel, replaced by the messenger, Er; Er being the soul of a dead person come to life, whereas Ezekiel had been in spirit lifted out of his body. And Er being set apart as a messenger to the dead as they choose their destiny, whereas Ezekiel, set apart as the prophet-sentinel, is amongst the exiled living, calling them to righteousness over evil (Republic, 614):


[Er] said when his soul left its body it travelled in company with many others till they came to a wonderfully strange place, where there were, close to each other, two gaping chasms in the earth, and opposite and above them two other chasms in the sky. Between the chasms sat Judges, who, having delivered judgement, ordered the just to take the right-hand road that led up through the sky, and fastened the badge of their judgement in front of them, while they ordered the unjust, who carried the badges of all that they had done behind them, to take the left-hand road that led downwards. When Er came before them, they said that he was to be a messenger to men about the other world, and ordered him to listen to and watch all that went on in that place.


As to the Glory of God and the wheels within wheels, a famous image from Ezekiel, Plato again tells of something very similar. It is what he calls the ‘spindle of Necessity’, and is eschatological like Ezekiel.

And the seven day period is there also, as in Ezekiel (Republic, Bk. 10, 615):


‘After seven days spent in the meadow the souls set out again and came on the fourth day to a place from which they could see a shaft of light running straight through earth and heaven, like a pillar, in colour most nearly resembling a rainbow, only brighter and clearer; after a further day’s journey they entered the light and could then look down its axis and see the ends of it stretching from heaven, to which they were tied; for this light is the tie-rod of heaven which holds its whole circumference together like the braces of a trireme [a Greek boat]. And to these ends is fastened the spindle of Necessity, which causes all the orbits to revolve; its shaft and its hook are of adamant, and its whorl a mixture of adamant and other substances. And the whorl is made in the following way. Its shape is like the ones we know; but from the description Er gave me we must suppose it to consist of a large whorl hollowed out, with a second fitting exactly into it, the second being hollowed out to hold a third, the third a fourth, and so on up to a total of eight, like a nest of bowls. For there were in all eight whorls, fitting one inside the other, with their rims showing as circles from above and forming a continuous surface of a single whorl round the shaft, which was driven straight through the middle of the eighth…’.


Er’s “Forgetful river”, where the souls were all encamped (ibid., 620), has probably taken the place of the river Chebar, where Ezekiel was living amongst the exiles. Whereas Er seems to be amongst the dead, Ezekiel – who does in fact have a vision of dead bones becoming en-fleshed again (Ezekiel 37:1-14) – is a prophet to the living, with the portfolio from God to warn the evildoers. Ezekiel’s account of the good who turn to evil, and the evil who turn to good, may have been picked up in the Greek version as souls choosing in what form they will come back, whether as tyrants or as virtual saints.

Now, Justin Martyr had given consideration to this famous Platonic myth:


The Myth of Er


Justin is quoting from Plato’s The Republic book 10. It is the very last section of the Republic where Socrates is relating to Glaucon a story about the fate of souls after death. The story is known as the myth of Er. A description is given of a man called Er son of Armenius from Pamphylia and his journey into the realm of the dead. In his journey he was shown how Souls were judged, how they had to pay back 10 fold for all that they did on earth. Halliwell introduces the myth.

The myth of Er belongs to a great ‘family’ of Platonic eschatological visions, whose other members are the myths found in the Gorgias; Phaedo, and Phaedrus… Few will dispute that the interpretation of all these passages must take as primary frame of reference Plato’s own attitudes to myth …Yet the myth of Er contains an especial number of elements ­- starting with Er’s name itself – which stimulated inquiries into Plato’s sources” (Halliwell 1988,169) “the rewards and punishments experienced during human life cannot compare with those which await us after death. Socrates explains the nature of these by relating the story of Er, a Pamphylian soldier who returned to life and told of what his soul had witnessed in the other world” (Halliwell 1988, 169).

Having seen many Er comes to the place where the souls were permitted to choose their next life on earth. This process was overseen by ones who were called the three daughters of Necessity (Thugateras tees Anagkees), being Lachesis, Clotho and Atropos who can be seen in the writings of Hesiod and Pindar. They were first named by Hesiod (Ferguson, 118). They were singing in tune with a Siren which was making a single sound. Lachesis sung of the past, Clotho of the present and Atropos of the future. Our main interest is in Lachesis as it is her words which Justin quotes. She is called the Disposer of Lots or She who allots. Her name can also be an appellative for lot or destiny as in Herodotus (LS 1978, 466). Lachesis sang of the past and when it was time for souls to choose their next life on earth, they would be lined up by a prophet to appear before Lachesis. They could choose their life in order of the lots they received. They would each choose a daimon to go through their life with them. A daimon is sometimes synonymous with a god as in Homer, but sometimes considered inferior as in Hesiod where it is between God and man. In the myth of Er they are attendant (Ferguson, 120) or guardian spirits. We will let Socrates relate the rest of this event:

From the lap of Lachesis he (the prophet) took numbers for drawing lots and patterns of lives. Ascending a high platform (beema), he began to speak:

“The word of the maiden Lachesis, daughter of Necessity. Souls, creatures of the day, here begins another cycle of mortal life and death it brings. Your guardian spirit will not be given to you by lot. You will choose a guardian spirit for yourselves. Let the one who draws the first lot be the first to choose a life. He will then be joined to it by Necessity. Virtue knows no master. Your respect or contempt for it will give each of you greater or smaller share. The choice makes you responsible God is not responsible” -Aitia elomenou. Theos anaitios ….

It is the last four words spoken by the prophet as the word of Lachesis, which Justin Martyr quotes to indicate Plato took them from Moses and uttered {eipe} them.

These then are the four words under investigation. …. Justin’s claim that these four words came from Moses to Plato.

[End of quote]


The discussion after this goes beyond our interest. I inserted a part of it here simply to demonstrate that a Platonic Myth, whose origin I think might lie with the prophet Ezekiel, was discussed by Justin Martyr in terms of a possible Hebrew-biblical connection.

There is also an interesting – but rather difficult and perhaps occasionally far-fetched – article in which comparisons are made of the mathematics of Plato and that attributed to Ezekiel:


The forgotten harmonical science of the Bible


Ernest G. McClain


Here is a portion of it (# 3):


Both Ezekiel and Plato project their arithmetic into similar concentric circles, “a wheel in a wheel,” functioning as the throne of an idealized heaven. Plato’s analysis of 5,040 fits many of Ezekiel’s metaphors and thus facilitates decoding the sameness and difference between nascent Greek science and traditional Jewish wisdom. This is the cross-cultural ambiance in which Philo was educated and about which he wrote with equal passion for Greek learning and for his own religion, which shared the same models. The music of the synagogue embodied their union and freed his soul to roam where it would. The two musical modes decoded from Bible numerology have proved to be associated historically with the mode of the Torah (Greek Dorian) and the mode of the Prophets (Greek Phrygian) in ways Philo helps us understand; they are the two modes Plato admitted in model cities.16,17

The importance of the priestly 7-year calendrical cycle is emphasized in Ezekiel 39:10 where God insists that after his destruction of Israel’s enemies the country will have no “need to take wood out of the field or cut down any out of the forests” for a period of seven years, “for they will make their fires of the weapons” of warfare. I analyze the tonal content in 5,040 “days plus nights” as furnishing Jewish “weapons” of spiritual warfare not merely on this circumstantial biblical evidence but because this also follows Jewish philosophical precedent.

[End of quote]


The Greeks often absorbed Hebrew and Near Eastern culture and civilization, mythology and folklore, and re-presented it as their own. Every later generation does this sort of thing, of course. Perhaps it is more true to say that western scholars have given credit to the Greeks – the civilization with which they especially identify (we find Socrates and his friends holding gentlemanly-like discussions, ‘My dear chap …’) – for culture, ideas, inventions, philosophies, laws, you name it, that actually arose from the more ancient nations of the Fertile Crescent (Egypt, Syro-Palestine, Mesopotamia).

Much has been attributed to the Greeks that did not belong to them. Take architecture, for example. Egyptologist Sir Henry Breasted made the point that Queen Hatshepsut’s marvellous temple structure, “The Most Splendid of Splendours” at Deir el-Bahri, near Thebes, was a witness to the fact that the Egyptians developed architectural styles for which the later civilization of Greeks would be accredited as the originators (A History of Egypt, 1924, p. 274).



The Historical Daniel


Damien F. Mackey



With Daniel’s governorship of Babylon enduring for possibly about half a century, then it should not be so terribly difficult to find some traces of him in the Neo-Babylonian history.  





From the details given in the Book of Daniel it may be argued that Daniel’s floruit as the governor of Babylon extended from the early reign of Nebuchednezzar II until the early reign of Cyrus. In conventional terms, this would be, in round figures, from 600 BC to 540 BC – approximately 60 years. King “Nebuchednezzar”, in awe of Daniel’s wisdom after the Jewish sage had recalled and interpreted the king’s dream, had made Daniel the ruler of Babylon (Daniel 2:48): “Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men”. V. 21: “And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus”.

The last date that the Book of Daniel gives us for its hero is the third year of King Cyrus (10:1): “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision”.

Daniel may have died at about that stage, or he may simply have retired from official business. Whatever be the case, it should be possible to find in the Neo-Babylonian records a governor of Babylon of long duration, who had continued until the early reign of Cyrus.

Less optimistic about the possibility of finding any such sort of account of Daniel (Belteshazzar) in the historical records , however, is Robert D. Wilson (Studies in the Book of Daniel, Vol. 2)


Was Daniel An Historical Character?


There are those who doubt the historicity of Daniel upon the grounds that his name does not appear in the records of the period of the exile. One noted critic stated the case thus: “It is natural that we should turn to the monuments and inscriptions of the Babylonian, Persian, and Median Empires to see if any message can be found of so prominent a ruler, but hitherto neither his name has been discovered, nor the faintest trace of his existence.”

Dr. Wilson discusses this phase of the question thoroughly, looking at the various types of inscriptions that have come to us and showing that it is most unreasonable to base an argument upon the kind of data that we have, especially upon the lack of evidence. After setting forth the case in an impartial manner and discussing pro and con every possibility, Dr. Wilson draws this conclusion:

“Inasmuch, then, as these inscriptions mention no one filling any of the positions, or performing any of the functions or doing any of the deeds, which the book of Daniel ascribes to its hero Belteshazzar; how can anyone expect to find in them any mention of Daniel, in either its Hebrew or its Babylonian form? And is it fair, in view of what the monuments of all kinds make known to us, to use the fact that they do not mention Daniel at all as an argument against his existence? “What about the numerous governors, judges, generals, priests, wise men writers, sculptors, architects, and all kinds of famous men, who must have lived during that long period? Who planned and supervised the building of the magnificent canals, and walls, and palaces, and temples of Babylon? Who led the armies, and held in subjection and governed the provinces and adjudged cases in the high courts of justice, and sat in the king’s council? Who were the mothers and wives and queenly daughters of the monarchs who sat upon the thrones of those mighty empires? Had the kings no friends no favorites, no adulatory poets or historians, no servile prophets, no sycophantic priests, no obsequious courtiers, who were deemed worthy to have their names inscribed upon these memorials of royal pride and victory; that we should expect to find there the name of Daniel, a Hebrew captive, a citizen of an annihilated city, a member of a despised and conquered nation, a stranger living on the bounty of the king, an alien, a slave, whose very education was the gift of his master and his elevation dependent on his grace? Let him believe who can. As for me, were the documents multiplied tenfold, I would not expect to find in them any reference to this humble subject of imperious kings.”


[End of quotes]


Let us not give up so easily.


A Possible Candidate for Daniel


If my recent revision of Neo-Babylonian history is correct, then this should affect somewhat – but also assist, hopefully – the search for the historical Daniel. Given my argument that some of the Neo-Babylonian kings have been duplicated, and perhaps even triplicated:


Neo-Babylonian Dynasty Needs ‘Hem Taken Up’. Part One: Seven Kings Become Four

“This article will be an attempt to streamline the Neo-Babylonian (or Chaldean) Dynasty according to the author’s view that its present arrangement may contain duplications”.


Neo-Babylonian Dynasty Needs ‘Hem Taken Up’. Part Two: How the Kings Line Up


this series being supplemented by another article:


“Nebuchednezzar” of the Book of Daniel



then one might expect the potential 60 years of floruit for Daniel as governor of Babylon to be somewhat reducible.

Whilst there may not be any known governor of Babylon from the early reign of Nebuchednezzar II until the first few years of Cyrus – as I’d anticipate from the Book of Daniel that there should be – with my new identification of Nebuchednezzar II (and Daniel’s “Nebuchednezzar”) with King Nabonidus, then such an official comes right into view. He is Nabu-ahhe-bullit, who was governor of Babylon from at least Nabonidus’s 8th year until the 3rd year of Cyrus. Thus we read in the following article



From the contemporary cuneiform contract tablets, we know that Terike-sarrutsu was the governor (shakin mati) of Babylonia in Year 1 Nabunaid [Nabonidus] (555/4 BC).

Nabu-ahhe-bullit succeeded him as office holder by Year 8 Nabunaid (548/7 BC). This man remained in office down to Year 3 Cyrus but became a subordinate of the governor Gubaru, the appointee of Cyrus, when Babylon was captured by the army of Cyrus in 539 BC. He is not to be confused with Ugbaru.

[End of quote]


Rather than Daniel’s having at this stage become “a subordinate” of Gubaru’s, though, he may have departed (one way or another) from the political scene.

By now Daniel would have been in his 60’s or 70’s.

This is how I would tentatively reconstruct the chronology of his governorship:


Daniel, as Nabu-ahhe-bullit, had been appointed governor of Babylon close to the third year of Nebuchednezzar II (= Nabonidus), who reigned for 43 years. That is a service of four decades.

He continued on through the 2-3 years of Belshazzar, son of Nabonidus, envisaging himself in Susa (Daniel 8:1-2): “In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me. In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam …”.

He was still in Babylon in the 1st year of Cyrus, but then moved to Susa, Cyrus’s capital, and served the king until his 3rd year.


The Name


It is thought that the Babylonian name that “Nebuchednezzar” gave to Daniel, Belteshazzar, is not actually a Bel name, as definitely is Belshazzar (Bel-sarra-usur), “Baal protect the King”.

That Belteshazzar is more of a balatu (“life”) type of name. Correspondingly, we read at ( “Thus the name Belteshazzar seems to be connected in the writer’s mind with Bel [sic], the favourite deity of Nebuchadrezzar; but it can only mean Balatu-utsur , “his life protect,” which looks like a mutilation”.

That does not mean that the name given to Daniel would have lacked reference to a deity. For “Nebuchednezzar” specifically said (Daniel 4:8): “Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.)”. From this it might be expected that Daniel was given the name of the god whose name was held likewise by the king (Nebuchednezzar/Nabonidus): namely, Nabu.

Appropriately, in the name of the long-lived governor of Babylon, Nabu-ahhe-bullit, we have both the Nabu element and the balatu -like element in bullit. This element, bullit, at least, is an appropriate one for the first part of the name, Belte-shazzar.

However, there is also the Nabu-ahhe-bullit like name, Nabubullitsu (e.g. in Sir W. Budge’s Babylonian Life and History, Index, p. 159), that comes yet closer to Belteshazzar, which is, after all, a foreign transliteration of an originally Babylonian name.


Finally, now with my revised Neo-Babylonian history, we have virtually a perfectly matching chronology for Daniel and his proposed alter ego, Nabu-ahhe-bullit.




“Surely your God is the God of gods!” (Daniel 2:47)

Babylon the great is fallen!


Damien F. Mackey



According to Paul-Alain Beaulieu, The Reign of Nabonidus, King of Babylon, 556-539 B.C. (1989), p. 63: “… there is no evidence that the king [Nabonidus] tried to impost the cult of Sîn as supreme deity in his early reign”. But, as Beaulieu will interpret it (p. 62): “Upon his return from Arabia, Nabonidus imposed a major religious reform, resulting in the rejection of Marduk, the undisputed supreme god of Babylon of the past six centuries …”.

“In inscription 17 Nabonidus, in an accent of supreme devotion”, Beaulieu continues, “goes as far as to call Sîn ilāni ša ilāni, “god of gods”, probably the highest epithet ever given to a god in the Mesopotamian tradition”.

Now, was King Nabonidus, as “Nebuchednezzar”, inspired to attain to that “highest epithet” due to the extraordinary incident when Daniel recounted and interpreted the king’s Dream? Because that is just what “Nebuchednezzar” called Daniel’s God (Daniel 2:47):


“Surely your God is the God of gods …”!


The full verse reads: “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”

And Nabonidus, servant of Sîn, had likewise claimed: “I have seen se[cret things]. …”.

Daniel had said to the king, when interpreting the latter’s first Dream (2:37-38):


“Your Majesty, you are the king of kings. The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed all mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds in the sky. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are that head of gold”.


And so Nabonidus, basing himself upon such high authority, can likewise say, this time addressing Marduk (Beaulieu, p. 50. Emphasis added): “When Marduk, the lofty leader of the gods, the lord of the universe, brought into being a sovereign to assume rulership, he called Nabonidus the king to the function of provider. He raised his head above all kings. At his command the great gods rejoiced at his kingship”.


In the case of the second Dream, the words of “Nebuchednezzar” addressed to the Most High (4:35): “No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’”, are somewhat reminiscent of Nabonidus in these words to Sîn (Beaulieu, pp. 60-61): “… who does not reconsider his order, and you do not utter you command twice … without you who can do what?”


In Baruch 1:11, we read of prayers asked by the Jews for King Nebuchednezzar and his son, Belshazzar, for long life for them: “… pray for King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia and his son Belshazzar, that they may live as long as the heavens last. …”.

And King Nabonidus will pray to Sîn for long life for (the same) Belshazzar (Beaulieu, p. 64): And as for Belshazzar, my eldest son, my offspring, lengthen his days. May he not commit any sin”.

Unfortunately Belshazzar, however, now king, would hear this terrible denunciation from Daniel just prior to Belshazzar’s having his kingdom taken away from him (5:22): “But you, Belshazzar, [Nebuchednezzar’s] son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven”.

Hence (vv. 30-31): “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two”.

New light on Nebuchadnezzar’s madness

Siegfried H. Horn

In 1870 higher criticism dominated Biblical scholarship in Germany. Most scholars believed that the book of Daniel was a product of the Maccabean period of the second century B.C. But some German scholars dissented. One of these was Otto Zockler, who in his commentary on the book of Daniel published in J. P. Lange’s Bible Commentary,* cap ably defended the authenticity, historicity, and sixth-century origin of Daniel.

Confronting Zockler were six main arguments that critical scholars considered to be proof of a late-origin Daniel. These were as follows:

1. Aramaic, in which parts of the book of Daniel were written, was a late Semitic language not used in literature of the sixth century B.C.

2. Existence of three Greek words in Daniel 3 indicates that the book was written in the Hellenistic period, after Alexander the Great had brought Greek culture and language to the Oriental world.

3. Chronological contradictions between Daniel 1:1 and Jeremiah 25:1 show that the writer of Daniel was so far removed from the historical events he described that he made mistakes.

4. Mention of Belshazzar as last king of Babylon proves that the story is legendary. All ancient sources present Nabonidus as Babylon’s last king and never even mention Belshazzar.

5. Ancient historians never mention Darius the Mede as king of Babylon, as Daniel 6 does; thus the book of Daniel is not a trustworthy historical source.

6. Nebuchadnezzar’s madness of seven years, recorded in Daniel 4 but in no other ancient source, is further proof of the legendary nature of the book.

Today, the first four arguments no longer pose problems for the conservative Bible scholar. The solutions, however, obtained through archeological discoveries, are different than Zockler thought they would be.+

But what of the last two arguments for a late-dated Daniel? Have no discoveries been made that shed light on Darius the Mede or Nebuchadnezzar’s madness?

The problem of Darius has at least a reasonable solution, which I suggested twenty-three years ago. It has satisfied some conservative scholars, though others feel the answer lies elsewhere. Reference to the September, 1959, Ministry, page 44, or The SDA Bible Commentary, volume 4, pages 814-817, will refresh your memory on the tentative explanation of who this Darius may have been.

The madness of Nebuchadnezzar has been a disturbing enigma, be cause no extra-Biblical records mention a mental derangement of the great Babylonian king. In defense of the historicity of the story, the conservative Bible student has pointed out, of course, that very little is known of any aspect of Nebuchadnezzar’s life after his tenth year of reign. And, it might be added, it is not likely that many kings of any age would advertise such a humiliating disability.

Furthermore, lack of contemporary records does not mean some thing didn’t happen. For example, we have no such records of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Tyre a 13- year ordeal, lasting from 585 to 572 B.C.—except what Ezekiel tells us in his book (see Eze. 26:1-14; 29:17, 18). Yet five cuneiform tablets dating from 569 to 563 B.C. show that Tyre was in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar after 570 B.C. Another bro ken tablet with no date extant refers to food provided to “the king and his soldiers for their march against Tyre,” a likely reference to the siege, during which the Babylonians sent supplies to their troops besieging the Phoenician city. 1

Another example of the lack of documentary records of Nebuchadnezzar’s activities relates to a military campaign against Egypt in his later years. The prophets Jeremiah (43:10-13) and Ezekiel (29:19, 20) predicted such a campaign, but only a small fragment of a cuneiform tablet confirms that it occurred. The few broken lines of the fragment, owned by the British Museum, include information that in his “37th year [568/567 B.C.] Nebuchadnezzar, king of Bab[ylon], marched against] Egypt to deliver a battle. [Ama]sis of Egypt [called up his a]rm[y].” Amasis was defeated, despite his large force of chariots and horsemen, and help of allies. 2

Whatever the reason, the Babylonians did not leave us many records of their martial exploits and political accomplishments. Professor Eckhard Unger comments: “One of the most striking contrasts between Assyria and Babylonia is that the Assyrian monarchs brag with great glee about their military activities in their records while this was frowned upon by the Babylonians. This Babylonian idiosyncrasy is already ob served with regard to the neo-Sumerian King Gudea of Lagash . . . who was a mighty ruler . . . but whose inscriptions speak only of his pious works and building activities.

Since other documents were not existing, this king was for a long time considered as insignificant. Exactly the same could be said of Nebuchadnezzar II, if we were not in formed by outside records, especially the Bible, about his military activities, which his own records pass over in silence. This is the reason that it is difficult to check on the biblical data about Nebuchadnezzar.” 3

It should not surprise us, then, if we find no corroboration of Nebuchadnezzar’s mental illness in Babylonian records. And, when we consider the humiliating nature of the affliction, the likelihood of the royal archives’ preserving documentation of the event seems most unlikely. But the unlikely may have occurred! A recently published Babylonian cuneiform text seems to shatter the silence about Nebuchadnezzar’s illness. The tablet is in the British Museum, No. BM 34113 (sp 213), and was published by A. K. Grayson in 1975.4 Unfortunately, it is merely a fragment, and the surviving text is not as clear as we would like it to be. But the lines that may refer to the king’s illness are exciting nevertheless:

2 [Nebu]chadnezzar considered

3 His life appeared of no value to [him, ……]

5 And (the) Babylon(ian) speaks bad counsel to Evil-merodach [….]

6 Then he gives an entirely different order but [. . .]

7 He does not heed the word from his lips, the cour[tier(s) – – -]

11 He does not show love to son and daughter [. . .]

12 … family and clan do not exist [. . .]

14 His attention was not directed towards promoting the welfare of Esagil [and Babylon]

16 He prays to the lord of lords, he raised [his hands (in supplication) (. . .)]

17 He weeps bitterly to Marduk, the g[reat] gods [……]

18 His prayers go forth to [……]

Let’s attempt to decipher the text. Brackets [ ] indicate which words or letters are broken from the original tablet and have been supplied by the translator. Words or letters in parentheses ( ) are supplied by the translator for better understanding of the English rendering. The numerals preceding the lines of text indicate which lines of the tablet are quoted. The missing lines are either too badly preserved to make sense or not understandable, and therefore make no contribution to a better understanding of the text as a whole. The end of every line is missing and the beginnings of lines 2 and 12 are broken off—though there is no doubt that the reconstruction of the beginning of line 2 is correct. Evilmerodach of line 5 was the eldest son of Nebuchadnezzar and his successor on the throne. He is mentioned in the Bible as having re leased King Jehoiachin of Judah from prison after his accession to the throne (2 Kings 25:27-30; Jer. 52:31-34). Esagil in line 14 is the name of the principal temple complex of Babylon, in which the ziggurat, a 300-foot high temple tower, stood. The temple was dedicated to the chief god, Marduk, mentioned in line 17 of the tablet.

The text definitely refers to Nebuchadnezzar in lines 2 and 3, but it is not certain to whom lines 6 and on refer. Professor Grayson, editor of the tablet, suggests that “the main theme seems to be the improper behaviour of Evil-merodach, particularly with regard to Esagil, followed by a sudden and unexplained change of heart and prayers of Marduk.” However, another interpretation of the poorly preserved text seems plausible, especially if read in the light of Daniel 4, which relates Nebuchadnezzar’s seven-year period of mental derangement.

Read lines 3, 6, 7, 11, 12, and Mas referring to strange behavior by Nebuchadnezzar, which has been brought to the attention of Evilmerodach by state officials. Life had lost all value to Nebuchadnezzar, who gave contradictory orders, re fused to accept the counsel of his courtiers, showed love neither to son nor daughter, neglected his family, and no longer performed his duties as head of state with regard to the Babylonian state religion and its principal temple. Line 5, then, can refer to officials who, bewildered by the king’s behavior, counseled Evilmerodach to assume responsibility for affairs of state so long as his father was unable to carry out his duties. Lines 6 and on would then be a description of Nebuchadnezzar’s behavior as described to Evilmerodach. Since Nebuchadnezzar later recovered (Dan. 4:36), the counsel of the king’s courtiers to Evil-merodach may later have been considered “bad” (line 5), though at the time it seemed the best way out of a national crisis.

Since Daniel records that Nebuchadnezzar was “driven from men” (Dan. 4:33) but later reinstated as king by his officials (verse 36), Evilmerodach, Nebuchadnezzar’s eldest son, may have served as regent during his father’s incapacity. Official records, however, show Nebuchadnezzar as king during his lifetime.

It is regrettable that this extremely important text has come down to us in such a fragmentary condition. But we can be grateful that at least a portion of it has been preserved, since it seems to shed light on a Biblical narrative otherwise unvindicated by extra-Biblical documentation.


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