Defending the Theistic View

Belshazzar, the “son” of Nebuchadnezzar

lion2One of the most criticized portions in the Book of Daniel, besides the appearance of Darius the Mede, the depiction and description of Belshazzar, the King (or co-regent) of Babylon. Critics have often pointed to what they believe to be historical errors in the Book of Daniel as to who and what he was.

The Book of Daniel introduces Belshazzar right after it finishes talking about a divinly inflicted mental illness that causes him to behave like an animal. — Belshazzar was having a feast and under influence of wine intoxication he orders that the sacred vessels from Solomon’s Jewish temple be brought to him. And he used the dishes which were sacred to Yahweh to bless pagan gods, hence committing sacrilege against him.

And then a hand appears and writes four words on the wall right by a lamp stand: Mene Mene Tekel Parsin. — When the court astrologers and wise men couldn’t understand the meaning of the writing the Queen mother tells Belshazzar about Daniel and how he helped his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. So the King sent for him.

When Daniel had come he reminded Belshazzar about Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment from God for until he realized that God was greater than him, but that he (Belshazzar) didn’t repent like him, but blasphemed against God. The writting on the wall was God’s condemnation of his kingdom. And that night, he was killed by the united coalition of the Persians and Medes.

The “Son” of Nebuchadnezzar
The most used criticism of the depiction of King Belshazzar is that the book calls him the “son” of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 5: 1,23. Also, The latter is called the formers “father.” — Farrel Till, in his post entitled A Father/Son Discrepancy in Danielinsists that this is a historical mistake and that if the writer of Daniel were a high ranking official of the Babylonian court then he wouldn’t have made such an error. — He protests against Christian apologists that say that “son” and “father” in the case of Belshazzar are nothing more than indications that one was an ancestor and that the other was a descendant. He makes the claim that Christians are wrong in using the logic that Father/Son in this case is anything like saying the Jews are the “sons” of Abraham or that Jesus Christ is the “son” of David because Abraham and David were separated from the later Jews and Jesus by centuries which he points out is not the case with Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. Till says:

In the book of Daniel, however, the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar are related in consecutive chapters. The account of Nebuchadnezzar’s seven years of madness in fulfillment of a second dream that Daniel had interpreted ends the 4th chapter, where Nebuchadnezzar praised Daniel’s god after he had regained his sanity: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride” (4:37). Then immediately the next chapter opens with an account of the feast that King Belshazzar held to honor a thousand of his lords, so the writer went directly from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar to the reign of Belshazzar without mentioning any of the four kings who reigned between them. This within itself would indicate an ignorance of 6th-century Babylonian history, because it at least implies that the writer thought that Belshazzar’s reign followed Nebuchadnezzar’s.

In other words, just because Daniel doesn’t mention any of the kings that came between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, Farrel Till assumes that Daniel thought that they were literal first generation father and son instead of ancestor and descendant. But this argument doesn’t take into account an important implication: This doesn’t need to be construed as ignorance on the author’s part. One could also say that Daniel just didn’t see the other rulers of Babylon that came between the two said kings as being relevant to what he wanted to write about and therefore didn’t mention them.

Till goes on to say that in order for the terms for “father” and son” to be justifiably understood as “ancestor” and “descendant” that there has to be a context to support it. He says:

As I showed by analyzing Driver’s examples above, the word father was indeed used to convey a relationship as distant as “grandfather,” but the contexts of the passages cited show that this was the intended meaning. Context, context, context–it is always the context that determines the meanings of words, and inerrantists like Hatcher and Miller seem to have trouble recognizing this very basic literary principle. (Emphasis his)

The context he’s talking about is to show “textual evidence” (i.e. showing kings between) that the terms for “father” and “son” could be understood as not being literal. Or else, he insists, it must be literal. — But my arguement, however, is that Daniel omitted any mention of the intervening kings because he saw them as irrelevant to what he wanted to say, not necessarily out of ignorance. And if that’s the case, the terms are not problematic at all.

Till rightly points out that other passages in the Bible mention one other Babylonian King Amel-Marduk (a.k.a, the Biblical “Evil-merodach“) in the Book of Jeremiah52:31. — But taking this fact into account, remembering that the author of the Book of Daniel had in fact read the book of Jeremiah (Daniel 9:2) that makes it even less likely, in my opinion, that the writer was ignorant of other kings of Babylon between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. I think this supports my theory that Daniel purposely left out any mention of the other kings. — And if this is the case, as it seems to be, then Till’s arguments of context are rendered irrelevant, hence, there is no reason to assume that Daniel believed they were actually father and son.

Also, it so appears that the ancient historian Josephus’ perspective was the same as mine. In the Antiquities of the Jews 10,11,2 he mentions the kings that came between Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar and then, in the next paragraph, and then calls Nebuchadnezzar a “progenitor” (i.e. an ancestor) of Belshazzar. — So Josephus understood the terms in Daniel as I do (that Nebuchadnezzar was only an ancestor and not the actual father), which is more support for my position.

Well, Till keeps on with his criticism:

The fact that the writer of Daniel leaped from Nebuchadnezzar to Belshazzar, passing over completely the reigns of four intervening kings, certainly indicates a fuzzy knowledge of the history of this period. That lack of knowledge provides the best explanation for why the writer would have called Nebuchadnezzar the “father” of Belshazzar and Belshazzar the “son” of Nebuchadnezzar when the two were not related. He called them father and son because he thought that they were.

I think I have already made my point clear as to why Daniel wouldn’t have had to necessarily mention the other kings because of the irrelevance to Daniel, so I will move on. — However, Till’s argument that the two men weren’t related is a huge assumption. In fact the Encyclopædia Britannica says:

The Babylonian inscriptions indicate that he was in fact the eldest son of Nabonidus, who was king of Babylon from 555 to 539, and of Nitocris, who was perhaps a daughter of Nebuchadrezzar. (Emphasis mine)

Till dismisses such claims of relations between Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar as nothing more than Christian apologetics that only base their arguments on assumptions. But I just cited the Encyclopædia Britannica which is not a Christian apologetic at all. It shows that even secular scholars and historians believe it as well, and are therefore not in agreement with Till. But Till has a habit of dismissing probabilities if he just doesn’t like them or if they allow for the Bible to be true.

Also, a fact that Farrel Till never mentions it that the two men didn’t have to be related for the terms for “father” and “son” to be used. An alternate meaning for “father” other than “ancestor” is also “predecessor.” And likewise, the alternate understanding for “son” other than “descendant” can also mean that Belshazzar was just a “successor” to Nebuchadnezzar. So there’s nothing out of the ordinary here.

Daniel Gets it Right!!
According to the Book of Daniel Belshazzar was called the “King” of Babylon. This claim hase been assailed by anti-Daniel critics (not Farrel Till) who point out the fact that Nabonidus was still king of Babylon officially as long as he was still alive. –Archaeological Experts point point out that Belshazzar “stood in as temporary ruler” in his father’s absence. One could say he was a stand in king. They also point out:

Nabonidus, as King of Babylon, paid little attention to the politics, religion, of Imperial Babylon preferring instead to travel and research the older buildings, temples, and objects of antiquity that lay in the outer most of his Empire. For this reason he is included in archaeology’s ‘hall of fame’ because his abandonment of his royal duties were in favour of some of the first archaeological investigations.

In other words, Nabonidus wasn’t much of a king and his son was a stand in as Co-Regent. Apparently Belshazzar was more of a king than his father, though he was officially second in command or a stand-in king.

Further vindication of Daniel’s calling Belshazzar the king of Babylon is found in ancient text of The Verse Account of Nabonidus (which is pro-Cyrus propaganda). In talking about Nabonidus it says:

After he had obtained what he desired, a work of utter deceit, had built this abomination, a work of unholiness -when the third year was about to begin- he entrusted the army [?] to his oldest son, his first born, the troops in the country he ordered under his command. 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 to Temâ deep in the west.

Nabonidus is said to have “entrusted the kingship” to his oldest son in this ancient Persian inscription. In another ancient tablet from Babylon called The Nabonidus Cylinder–Nabonidus himself identifies his oldest son as Belshazzar. – The can be no greater vindication for Belshazzar being called the “king” than this, though he was second in the kingdom. — A hint in the Book of Daniel itself that Belshazzar was the second in the kingdom can be found Daniel 5:16 when Balshazzar asks Daniel to interprate what the so-called writing on the wall:¨

Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.

The hint that Daniel knew that Belshazzar was the second in the kingdom and not first is his offer to make him the third ruler in the kingdom. Why not make him the second? Because that was his office while Nabonidus was the first as long as he was still alive. Hence we have indirect textual evidence of Nabonidus in the Book of Daniel. — Farrel Till, however, has no real response to this. He says: 

This conclusion, however, is mere assumption, because the text reads as if the queen exercised a great deal of power in the kingdom. How, then, do Turkel and his like-minded cohorts who recycle this quibble not know that the author of this book meant here that if Daniel could decipher the handwriting on the wall, he would be elevated to a position that would make him third behind the king and the queen? The fact that chapter five indicates to any reasonable reader who doesn’t have an emotionally important belief in inerrancy to protect that Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s father would lend support to the probability that Belshazzar was offering Daniel only a position of authority after the queen’s.

Till’s argument is that Daniel cliams the Queen mother was the second and that Belshazzar was first. But let’s see what Daniel really says about the Queen mother:

The queen, hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. “May the king live forever!” she said. “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale! There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.” (Daniel 5:10,13)

 This is all Daniel says about the Queen mother. There are no other passages about her in the entire book. — And I fail to see where the text of Daniel reads as if ”the text reads as if the queen exercised a great deal of power in the kingdom,” as he says. That’s because it doesn’tsay or even imply it what Till says. He is resorting to inserting things in the text of Daniel that aren’t there because he cannot satisfactorily explain away why Daniel would only receive the third position of power and not the second.

The proof is in the name
The very proof that Daniel is authentic is the very use of the name “Belshazzar” in the book. The Bible Dictionary of the Commentary Reference Series volume 8 points out: 

Until Recent years, there was no historic evidence regarding Belshazzar as the last king of Babylon, and critics commonly pointed to this silence as evidence that the writer was misinformed. Now, of course, the existence of Belshazzar, his position as joint king ruling in Babylon for his absent father, and his role during the last years before the fall of Babylon are all amply attested. (Page 250, emphasis mine)

Also, Belshazzar’s identity was unknown until the 19th century when ancient inscriptions were found with his name on it. (Ibid, page 126) But apparently, not even this is good enough for skeptics. — Farrel Till quotes a Christian apologist that mentions that the Historian Herodotus who wrote in 450 B.C. didn’t know Belshazzar’s name so “the very name of Belshazzar had been forgotten, at least so far as the informants of the Greek historian were concerned.”  Till’s rebuttal is: 

The fact that the name Belshazzar, to use Turkel’s own expression, had been “forgotten” in some places does not mean that it had been forgotten everywhere; hence, Turkel is arguing from silence when he claims, as he apparently intended, that second-century BC Jews would not have known about the existence of Belshazzar. I have already quoted above a passage from the second-century BC apocryphal book of Baruch that shows a mistaken belief of the time that Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s father, so rather than the name of Belshazzar having been forgotten by second-century BC Jews, it was obviously known to them. What had apparently been forgotten was the real parentage of Belshazzar, so the fact that Daniel 5 reflects the same mistaken view of his parentage that was indicated in other second-century BC works really indicates the opposite of what Turkel wants his gullible readers to think: This book was in all probability written much later than the 6th century BC when “Daniel” was allegedly an important official in the Babylonian court.

It is absolutely ironic that Till is resorting to the tactic that no early mention of Belshazzar’s name doesn’t prove that he was unknown to the Jews.  Calling it an argument from silence knowing that this man makes such arguments all the time when it suits his purpose is quite hilarious. — It is true that the apologist he is answering to does leave some room for the idea that Belshazzar’s name may still have been known by some, however I also want to make a more solid claim.

 The MSN Encarta Encyclopedia explains:

Although no ancient historian mentions his name as one of the successors of the second Chaldean king, Nebuchadnezzar II, the Babylonian cuneiform inscriptions gave the name Belsaruzar as that of the son of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon. (Emphasis mine)

The MSN Encarta, which is not a Christian apologetic, shows no historian names him. So to say that an ignorant Jew from the Maccabean period could get information that had already been unknown to the most educated and informed is absurd and a major stretch. Not to mention, Belshazzar is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible outside of Daniel. A second century B.C. writer would have had no historical source. The inscriptions mentioned, as I said earlier, were found in the 19th century.

Also, Till’s citation of the non-biblical book of Baruch, despite Till’s claims, is not independent proof that Belshazzar was still known because the book, being written in the late second century B.C., would have sourced the book of Daniel itself. — And If anyone were to cite Daniel as proof that Belshazzar’s name was indeed known in the second century B.C. I would say that Till is obviously correct in saying that he was indeed known to the Jews of the second century B.C., but that was only because of Daniel. I would like to ask: “Then who did Daniel source?” — Again, there were no sources. Till’s claim is just pathetic and a desperate attempt to salvage his anti-Daniel stance. The only logical explanation is what he rejects: That Daniel was written in Babylon in the 6th century B.C. by someone who knew more about Babylon than any of the best historians.

The conclusion of this post is that there is no historical problem about Belshazzar in the book of Daniel. Perhaps a blood-relationship will indeed be proved in the future or perhaps the meanings of the terms father and son as “predecessor” and “successor” are really all we need to resolve any so-called “problem” in Daniel about this person.  — Also, I want to point to the lack of knowledge about Belshazzar out side of the Bible until the 19th century as proof of the books authenticity. Furthermore, the claims that Daniel made a mistake in identifying Belshazzar as the “son” of Nebuchadnezzar are nothing more than critical grumblings that were began when skeptics were forced to eat crow when it it was discovered that Daniel’s mention of a previously unknown Babylonian ruler had been vindicated.

One response

  1. Pingback: The Book of Daniel — The Persian and Median Empire « Explanation

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