Week 7 - The Handwriting on the Wall
The Last King of Babylon
Jeremiah 27:7 And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son's
son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great
kings shall serve themselves of him.
Belshazzar is somewhat of an enigma. Nabonidus calls him his son, offering
a prayer to Sin, the moon god, on a clay cylinder: "[That] my son, the offspring
of my heart, might honor his godhead and not give himself to sin." The 17
years Nabonidus is married to Nitocris before Daniel 5 is not enough time to
conceive a son old enough to serve as regeant. He was probably adopted, hence
"offspring of my heart", and according to Isaiah, was the grandson of
While Nabonidus is excavating, and Belshazzar is partying, Nitocris, daughter
of Nebuchadnezzar, widow of Nergal-sharezar, now wife of Nabonidus, orders
the completion of important works begun by Nebuchadnezzar. She builds a canal
to divert the Euphrates into a marsh, and while the marsh fills, completes
construction of a stone bridge over the Euphrates within Babylon. The bridge
of Nitocris conveniently joins the two parts of the city for the first time.
The inattention of Nabonidus, and profligate administration of Belshazzar
irritate the Persians (who pay taxes to Babylon), and they distribute
propaganda explaining to the citizens why Cyrus would make a much better ruler
than Nabonidus (and Belshazzar). Among other things, Nabonidus had been
bringing the gods of the cities of Babylonia (who were believed to live in
their idols) to Babylon, which they didn't like, and Cyrus said that he would
return them to their home cities. Nabonidus was a popular ruler (probably
because he did the bare minimum as ruler), but Belshazzar was very unpopular -
constantly partying at taxpayer expense.
Soon Cyrus comes with an army, and Nabonidus returns to order a resistance
by the armies of Babylon, but the half hearted resistance is defeated at Opis.
Nabonidus retreats to Borsippa, and Belshazzar shuts himself up in the city,
considering it impregnable.
Jeremiah 51:57 And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise men, her
captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men: and they shall sleep a perpetual
sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts.
- 5:1 Taking a cue from the fall of Ninevah
to his great grandfather Nabopolassar [Nahum 1:10], Belshazzar throws a huge
party for a thousand nobles, getting nearly all his military commanders
drunk at the same time.
- 5:2 Having the wives and concubines at the drunken party was
considered bad behaviour - just as with Xerces and Vashti 100 years later.
- 5:3 Nebuchadnezzar had put away the temple treasures from Judah, and
Belshazzar had been forbidden to play with them. Now, thinking a long
seige is ahead, he figures he can do what he wants.
- 5:10 The Queen was not at the party, and likely didn't approve. I think
this was Nitocris, as she had been active in public works within Babylon.
Apparently, she didn't spend a lot of time with Nabonidus. It could also
be Amytis princess of Persia, widow of Nebuchadnezzar.
- 5:16 Third highest ruler in the kingdom: after Nabonidus and Belshazzar.
- 5:18 Father - ancestor.
- 5:22-23 Belshazzar knew what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, but refused to humble himself.
- 5:25 Literally, a mina, a mina, a shekel, and [two] Half-Minas. A
shekel was a silver coin weighing a shekel, a mina was 60 shekels (and a talent
was 60 minas). This random collection of coins made no sense to the
- 5:26 The root of mina is "counted" (i.e. count out 60 shekels).
- 5:27 The root of shekel [tsekel] is "weighed" (i.e. a certain weight of silver)
- 5:28 A mina could be cut in half, and a half mina was called a peres
- or 30 shekels (or 30 pieces of silver). The root of peres was "divided".
The plural of peres was parsin - which sounds like Persian (to the Babylonians
as well as us).
While Belshazzar and his military are partying, Cyrus rediverts the Euphrates
into the marsh, using the convenient canal dug by Nitocris, and sends Darius to
Babylon as regeant. Darius comes under the wall on the lowered Euphrates, and
once inside the city, the citizens not invited to the feast of Belshazzar open
the gates for him. They had been very unhappy because they could not celebrate
the New Years festival in honor of Marduk in the absence of the Nabonidus the
king (as opposed to Belshazzar, the regeant). They welcome Cyrus and his
regeant Darius as the new king, and after Belshazzar and his nobles are
executed, Cyrus issues a general order of amnesty for everyone else, and the
New Year festival is finally celebrated with Cyrus the king in the city.
Cyrus installs Darius the Mede as regeant of Babylon.
Nabonidus returns to Babylon, surrenders, and is brought before
Cyrus, who honors him, and funds his retirement in Carminia, where there are
marvelous fossils to unearth as well as ancient artifacts. When queen
Nitocris dies, the son of Cyrus attends the funeral to honor the queen.
Cyrus fulfils his "campaign" promises, and returns the idols brought to
Babylon by Nabonidus to their cities of origin. He returns the articles
for the Jewish temple to Jerusalem as part of this policy, and finances
rebuilding the Jewish temple.