Belshazzar of Daniel and History: Reconstructed


A number of scholars like L. Grabbe, H. H. Rowley, W. von Soden, R. H. Charles, J. A. Montgomery, L. F. Hartman and A. A. Di Lella, A. Kuhrt would like to see Daniel as some kind of “myth-fabrication of the imagination for whatever purpose” as opposed to history based on realism of the past.

It is not necessary to go through their data analysis with the preconceived spirit of hermeneutics of suspicion (the ‘yes but’ hermeneutics).

Critical reconstruction is needed whenever one picks up any works of these scholars. Alert is a necessary ingredient. Alter motives are at play that they may not even be aware of themselves but in their phraseology it can be seen.


The Bible can be a source for history contrary to the notion that history has to be a source for the Bible

Scholars are arguing that Daniel wrote in Daniel 5:30 that Belshazzar died on the night of the invasion of Babylon by the Persians. They say “yet our current knowledge of the fall of Babylon allows us to say with a good deal of confidence that Belshazzar did not die at that time”. It is not necessary to say who is cited here but the above list will all hold hands on this issue. Reality denial. This brings them all in confrontation with the Bible and absence of data makes them all claim that since they have no data to the effect that Belshazzar died that night, therefore, he never did. History says nothing, the Bible does. The Bible is wrong. History is right.

But then, what about the case where the Bible was the only source about the existence of a Babylonian king and nobody knew about this Babylonian king who reigned only two years but when the cuneiform tablets were uncovered in the late Victorian period in Mesopotamia cities, his name appeared on tablets confirming what Jeremiah was talking about. Not even the careful Greeks, all of the historians, Herodotus, Xenophon, Berossus, Plutarch, Tacitus, not even Josephus, mentioned a single line about Evil-Merodach as Babylonian king. For millennia there was a reality denial due to the absence of history confirmation. Only the Bible was a lone voice. And then it came in the 1850-post period.

Thus: Daniel is just as much a source of history as Jeremiah and Jeremiah was proved to be historical by the cuneiform texts, why would the contemporary of Jeremiah, Daniel now suddenly not be an eye-witness account that cannot be trusted? All the above scholars on this issue are under serious review here. What is the likelihood that Evil Merodach as Jeremiah reported, did exist? 100% accuracy. What is the likelihood that Belshazzar died the night of the invasion of the palace as Daniel 5:30 reported? 100%.


Belshazzar is said to be mentioned only on the 14th year of Nabonidus

According to scholars, their evidence shows that the cuneiform texts (published by Dougherty) demonstrate that Belshazzar was mentioned in the 14th year of Nabonidus the last time. What they do, these scholars apparently, is to say that Nabonidus died at the invasion of Babylon which was Nabonidus 17th year (see the tablet in Dougherty to Nabonidus’ 17th year). Thus, if Nabonidus died that night in 539 BCE, and it was presumable the 17th year, then the 14th is years before, in 542 BCE (?).

Answer: Nabonidus did not die in 539 BCE or the night of the invasion. His 17th year goes at least 3 years beyond 539. His 14th year would have been in 539 BCE depending on who did the counting and with what system of counting, ascension/non-ascension calculation, the scribe is operating. If he works with a non-ascension calculation, then he will start the first year after thus the calculation will be one number shorter. If he works with an ascensions calculation then it will be one number higher. Chronological computations of years and dates in Ancient Times requires a knowledge of the options that are applied with the calculations. Hezekiah was calculated by one scribe from his birth and another scribe from his sole rule. Sargon was calculated with two systems utilized, the non-ascension denial system from Babylon that gives an event in the 9th palu and another Assyrian system giving the same event by that northern scribe to the 11th palu. When you talk about 14th and 17th you need to ask who are the scribes? Are they talking about the same system from start to finish? It is not that simple as the above scholars are trying to make it. But, it can be worked out. Chaos and confusion is not an option for a proper answer. We do not work toward nihilism in the science. There is a there there.


Belshazzar as “King” in Daniel 5

Scholars again whine over the absence of sources indicating that Belshazzar was ever king. There is a silence about that in the sources, Babylonian, Greek and other. William Shea suggested that the event that night in the palace with everyone there for a banquet was actually his coronation night, although Daniel did not state it as such. So Belshazzar was supposedly to be made king that night. But he died on his first night as king.


The death of the ruler of Babylon is said to have occurred several weeks after the city was taken

Reading the Nabonidus Chronicle iii.23 some thought that the individual may be the king’s son. Others concluded it is his wife. They insisted that this individual only died weeks later after the city was taken and this would contradict Daniel 5:30 which states that Belshazzar died the same night as the invasion. Look at the differences in the sources here: Nabonidus Chronicle which was composed by a scribe years later does not mention that individual’s name. Daniel as first eyewitness to the event does. If scholars object in accepting Daniel’s account of the events, they already did it also for millennia with Jeremiah and look what happened: cuneiform tablets confirmed that Evil-Merodach was really a king of Babylon as Jeremiah was mentioning. Is it not better to put our doubting hearts at ease and rather work with what is there? Anyone, who doubt the Word of God is a scholar of suspicion and join ranks with the great Rebel that was thrown out of heaven for his suspicions on the character of God.

The Nabonidus Chronicle iii, lines 14-18 is reporting the taking of Babylon by Gubaru “without a battle” the flight and capture of Nabonidus and the entry of Cyrus into Babylon about three weeks after Gubaru had entered.

It is not a case of Daniel 5:30 vs Nabonidus Chronicle iii, lines 14-18. It is a case of Daniel 5:30 plus Nabonidus Chronicle iii, lines 14-18. If it was the coronation night of Belshazzar, and Belshazzar died that night as Daniel is saying with validity of factuality as source in itself, then the Nabonidus Chronicle, focusing on Nabonidus really, mention his flight and capture to be kept alive weeks later. The death of Belshazzar is not necessary to be mentioned. Why is it not mentioned? It is a confusing state of affairs legally when a prince is crowned as king and dies hours later the same day before the conclusion of the ceremony, almost unprecedented in history. Focusing then on the previous king Nabonidus and his subsequent post-entry moves, is a better option for the narrative of the scribe in the Nabonidus Chronicle. The Chronicle scribe’s intention is to “paint with changing colors only in stripes” not to enter into the detail of each object.


There was no fighting but Daniel 5:30 says the king was killed that night

The whiners are crying that the Nabonidus Chronicle says that there was no fighting that night of the invasion and that all went without a battle. Thus they claim that Daniel is wrong and the Chronicle is supporting evidence of their claim.

Answer: It is not a battle when none of the soldiers are involved in combat or counter-combat. None of this occurred that night. Killing one individual of high rank is not a combat. Capturing Saddam Hussein was not a battle. Even if they killed him in his hole where they found him in 2003, would not qualify for a battle. In similar vein, the death of Belshazzar that night is not evidence of a battle by Daniel. Daniel does not say that there was a battle that night either.


Belshazzar was put in charge of Babylon according to BM 38299

The Babylonian scribe of the BM 38299 (from the days of Gobryas or Cyrus) says that the oldest son of Nabonidus was put in charge of Babylon before he left for Tema. In BM 38299 col. ii, line 18 he mentioned that “one camp he put into the charge of his eldest son”. He himself and troops left (line 19) and this is after he did some “abominations, the work of no-sanctuary” (line 17) concluding the list of abominations that he did in Babylon (lines 2-16). Nabonidus made the Babylonian priest angry with his new theology: 1. Ea did not fashion Mummu he maintained (line 2); 2. Anu did not know the name of Adapa (line 3); 3. He built and renovated E. HUL.HUL (line 7); 4. He placed his new god in this temple (line 9); 5. He omitted the New Year Festival (line 11); 6. He placed a bull before this new temple similar to that of the E.SAG. ILA (line 15); 7. He practiced this new theology that he preached (line 16). The scribe was not satisfied with Nabonidus and a long list of problems is given in column i as well. Belshazzar is not named but there is evidence that Nabonidus was not in charge of Babylon in his absence during this time.

BM 38299 col. ii, 18

Line 18 ka-ra-aš  ip-te-qid  ana  riš-tu-u  bu-kur-šu

       Camp    he placed  to   favorite   his son

My translation: He placed a camp [Babylon presumably] to a favorite, his son.


Gobryas and his reversing of the deeds of Nabonidus as far as theology is concerned

The text in the days of Gobryas or Cyrus seems to say that Gobryas reversed all the wrongs that Nabonidus did in BM 38299 col. vi, 2-28. The specific counter actions were made in lines 17, 19, 20, 21 and 22. Scholars want to read Cyrus here as the reformer. Gobryas as King Darius the Mede is likely the one who did this and in conjunction with Cyrus in line 2, “he proclaimed peace to them”. It is again a case where the evidence, due to the broken quality of the text, should permit the eyewitness account of Daniel to identify the individuals at the rule here for us. Daniel did not say that Cyrus became king of Babylon. Why would Daniel leave out Cyrus as king of Babylon when Isaiah his pre-prophet prototype was saying Cyrus would come? Since Daniel was wishing the 70 years would end, naming Cyrus in Babylon in 539 BCE would have diplomatically and politically put himself and the fulfillment of his Daniel 9 dream closer to his heart. But Daniel did not. It was Darius the Mede not Cyrus that ruled in the first two years of Babylon takeover. Gobryas was first. He was a Mede.


Nabonidus was in all likelihood later put in prison

One sentence in the Chronicle reads BM 38299 from the time of Gobryas or Cyrus reads a wish that someone must remain in prison: BM 38299 col. vi line 26 “[…] may he dwell in prison”. The Leitmotif of this whole writing is the mess made by Nabonidus and the change by Gobryas when he took it over. In all likelihood he placed Nabonidus in prison and this scribe, relating the anecdotes regarding Nabonidus wish him to remain in jail.

BM 38299 col. vi line 26

[…]li-ra-mu-šu  ki-šuk-ki

“[…] may he remain in prison”. Notice that Sydney Smith also interpreted this individual as Nabonidus (Babylonian Historical Texts 1924 page 97 at line 26).

So the night of the death of Belshazzar, Nabonidus did not die. He died later and was imprisoned.

About his imprisonment the Nabonidus Chronicle reads:

Nabonidus Chronicle Col. III line 16

arki  mdNabu-na’id  ki  šib-sa  ina  Babili KI  a-bit

“Afterwards Nabonidus when he returned to Babylon, was taken prisoner.”

Nabonidus did not return to Babylon on the 16th of Tishri in 539 BCE but “afterwards” or arki. Nabonidus could not have died or taken prisoner by Gobryas on the 16th of Tishri 539 BCE. Afterwards means not the same day. Nabonidus was taken prisoner after the invasion not with the invasion.


Nabonidus Chronicle was written in the time of Darius or Artaxerxes I

The scribe made many errors and erasures to the errors in this document probably copied or composed in the time of what some would say, Artaxerxes I. It was first discussed in 1880 and since then a wealth of information consists on it.

Sydney Smith recopied the broken tablet and provided a fresh transliteration and translation in 1924.



Sydney Smith’s information about Gobryas is very interesting. He was originally an official in southern Babylonia in the time of Nebuchadnezzar. That king made him governor of Gutium. According to Xenophon, Cyropaedia, IV, 6 it is said that Gobryas offered his services to Cyrus because the new king Nabonidus had killed Gobryas’ son in a fit of temper while hunting. Smith would place this revolt of Gobryas in 548 BCE. Gobryas was an old man (Nabonidus Chronicle III, 22 and Xenophon). The Gutian revenge caused Nabonidus to flee and he returned to Babylon where he was captured (Nabonidus Chronicle col. III, 15-16). Gobryas secured the immunity of the sacred places in Babylon from plundering and Smith concluded that when Cyrus entered later in Marcheswan in Babylon Gobryas was appointed in charge to restore the gods to their own cities and initiate a conciliatory policy in Babylonia. Gobryas did not live too long after these events.


Nabonidus Killed

Xenophon, Cyropardia VIII, 5, 31 reported that Gobryas’ troops killed Nabonidus. It may be one of the reasons why Gobryas as Darius the Mede, may have disappeared from the scene. Nabonidus was in all likelihood killed in his 17th year because the economic text dates to his 17th year.


Gobryas death and the Nabonidus Chronicle

Gobryas is Darius the Mede. So far I rely on synchronism with Daniel’s eye-witness account. If Gobryas is Darius the Mede, he had to live at least two more years for Daniel to have a vision in Darius the Mede’s second year. Gobryas could not have died in Marcheswan of 539 BCE. He came into the city on the 16th of Tishri 539 BCE. His troops surrounded the gates of Esagila (Col. iii line 17). They respected the religious operations of the Babylonians (Col. iii line 18). Then there is an interesting phrase: “and no appointed ceremony was passed over” (Col. iii line 18). ul iš-ša-kin u si-ma-nu ul etiq(iq). This is reformation already in action. Gobryas was already improving situations in Babylon before Cyrus arrived. Cyrus is said to have arrived in Marcheswan 3 presumably of 539 BCE (as is conventionally accepted by scholars). One should question this for this reason. The next mention of Marcheswan in line 22 is one year later. We know that to be correct because Gobryas “his governor” or mpahatu-šu, appointed governors in Babylon or mpahatimeš ina BabiliKI ip-te-qid (Col. iii line 20). This activity of appointment of governors to administer Babylon was done after the arrival of Cyrus in line 19 to proclaim peace over the city. The return of the gods by Gobryas in line 21 was between the months of Kislimmu and Addari which is after Marcheswan until the end of the year. So the death of Gobryas in the month of Marcheswan on night of the 11th described in line 22(mUg-ba-ru imut ina …= “Ugbaru died in…” could not have been in 539 BCE. The order is Marcheswan (Cyrus) Kislimmu then Tebetu and šabattu then Addaru (Gobryas’ reform) and the months goes on until the next year Marcheswan (death of Gobryas). Gobryas’ Reformation in Babylon was over two years, 539 BCE and after Nisannu of 538 BCE for a couple of months until his death. This is what the Nabonidus Chronicle clearly says in Col. iii.


Two reckoning systems for the economic texts

554  553  552  551  550  549  548  547  546  545  544  543  542  541  540  539  538  537

Ascension                       1       2       3     4       5       6      7      8       9     10     11     12     13     14    15     16     17

Non-ascension                       1        2     3       4       5      6      7       8      9     10     11     12      13   14     15     16



                                                                                                                                                                  Died          Died 


   1     2       3       4      5      6      7       8      9      10

(Nabonidus away from Babylon)

                                   Belshazzar      1     2       3            5      6      7       8      9      10

                               Put in charge          (Bel-šar-uur in charge of Babylon)

                                    of Babylon

            BM 38299 col. ii line 18

“one camp he put into the charge of his eldest child”


Texts from the 17th year of Nabonidus

Eduard Meyer in 1898 described how there are a number of texts from the 17th year of Nabonidus (538 BCE, see supra the diagram), namely: 28th day of the 6th month; 7th month, 8th month, 9th month, 7th day of the fourth month, 21st day of the 5th month, two texts from the 5th day of the 6th month which read “House of the King of Babel”.

Cyrus dating texts were 24th day of the 8th month, 7th day of the 9th month and 24th day of the 9th month. The first text for Cyrus from Babylon is the 21st day of the 12th month. That would have been in 538 BCE.

How do one explain this? Nabonidus was arrested and put in jail shortly after the 16 of Tishri in 539 BCE. However, Cyrus wanted all the Babylonians to be treated with peace. The Nabonidus Chronicle indicates that flowers were thrown before him in his entry to Babylon in Marcheswan of 539 BCE. He came with peace the text says. Thus, it might mean that Nabonidus was granted favors to do business from and to his house shortly after his imprisonment. The last document seems to date to his 17th year and 9th month. That would be one month after Gobryas died who died on the 11th day of the 8th month in that year. One can assume that Nabonidus died shortly afterwards as Xenophon said that the soldiers of Gobryas killed Nabonidus. If it was an anomaly to kill Nabonidus for Cyrus, then one would expect him to take a firmer grip in Babylon so that the economic text on the 21st day of the 12th month is indicative of his influence in the city in the absence of King Darius the Mede or Gobryas that died a few months before. Nabonidus loyalist would still refer to him as the “king of Babylon” in economic texts and that was probably understood by all as a reference to the king with a chain and heavy ball around his one leg living in the shadow of King Darius the Mede (Gobryas) who desires to kill him for the killing of his own son but who had to bow out before King of Persia (Cyrus) and his commands.


No king died on the invasion night of Gobryas theory

Skeptic scholars are saying that no king died that night. But even Xenophon in Cyropaedia 7.5.26-30 says that there was a banquet that night and that a king died. Are scholars now going to argue that Xenophon was a Greek Jew who danielized Babylonian historiography with inserts from Daniel 5:30?


Gobryas just governor not king objection

The answer was provided by W. Shea (1988) citing A. R. Millard “A Statue from Syria with Assyrian and Aramaic Inscriptions” where in the Assyrian version the person is just called a “governor” but in the Aramaic translation he is called a “king”. So one would expect skeptical scholars to lay down their swords and come to their knees to the accuracy of the historiography of the eye-witness Daniel. Gobryas may be just called a “governor” in the Nabonidus Chronicle but Daniel called him “King”


Third position in the kingdom

Since Nabonidus returned to Babylon after the defeat against the Gutiums, he probably wanted to install his son Belshazzar as king of Babylon that night at the banquet as W. Shea is opting. Therefore he could offer Daniel the third position of honor because he himself would be king that night as first position, his father would be second as step-down king and Daniel would then be the third position. Shea is correct to say that Daniel was not offered a third rank official in the Babylonian Administration but a “third” ruler in the kingdom.


Name of Daniel in Babylonian a mocking of idols

This theory by W. Shea has more flesh to the bones. Daniel’s Babylonian name was Belteshazar which is šar-uur “protect the king” with a divine epithet attach in front of the phrase, namely the god Bel. However, Daniel compromised the name of Bel by putting a eth at the end of it. Beleth. There is no god with that name. He made it nonsense by doing this. Why did Daniel do it? Shea says that the name underwent a distortion. The same distortion happened with the name of Abed-Nego which was probably meant to be Abed-Nebu/Nebo which is the name of a god in Babylon. By this manner they discounted worshiping the god attached mandatory to their phrase. Abed-Nego is meant to be “servant of the god Nebo” but they compromised it to say “servant of [no god existing] Nego”. The same with Daniel’s Babylonian name.

If the skeptics think this is outrageous of Shea to suggest this, they are invited to consider the Jewish names in the Murašu Archives from Nippur. There it was the tendency of the Jews in the days of Artaxerxes I and Darius II to put a strange MEŠ at the end of the divine epithet, also making it gibberish or non-extant. For example, Shamesh-ba-ra-ku “bless the sungod” is distorted by the Jews as ShameshMESH ba-ra-ku or šamešMEŠba-ra-ku. There is a plural element here thus making it nonsense saying in translation: “bless the sungods”. There is only one sun but they make it plural with the Sumerian particle for plural MESH. Just go to the index of any of the texts deal with by A. Clay or Hilprecht in the years 1898, 1902, 1912 or more recent texts by the dissertation of W. Stolpers 1986 of the Murashu Brothers Texts that can be downloaded from the internet like all these other texts as well. The Jews had a tendency to make the god epithet redundant when they were given these names in Babylon.