As mentioned in the introduction to this blogsite, The Book of Daniel attempted to attach to Nebuchadnezzar distorted accounts of some of the events in the life of Nabu Na'id, the Last King of Babylon.

It is from that standpoint that a brief discussion of the Book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, and Nabu Na'id are in order.


The Book of Daniel, chapter four, tells the story about the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, having a vision whereby he was to be exiled from all men by God’s commandment and that he would have to dwell “with the beasts of the field and they shall make thee eat grass as oxen,” etc., for a period of seven years.

Then in verse thirty-three of chapter four it claims that that vision was actually fulfilled and he “was driven from men, and did eat grass as the oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagle’s feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.”


When we look at this period of time through the lens of history we find that there was no seven-year period (or even a one-year period) when king Nebuchadnezzar was absent from the throne—unless he was busy besieging a city or commanding the army in the field.  Throughout the entire 43 years of his rule he remained the absolute ruler of Babylon and never set up a crown prince or other personage as a regent.  As a matter of fact, the only king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire who did disappear for any length of time was Nabu Na’id, the subject of our trilogy The Last King of Babylon.

Modern English translations of the Old Testament are based upon the so-called Masoretic Text (MT) which was complied during the high Middle Ages (8th-10th centuries A.D.), which in turn was based upon copies no longer in existence but which supposedly trace back to the early 2nd century A.D.  At any rate, it appears that the writers and editors of these original texts upon which the MT Bible is based took a lot of liberties, to put it mildly, with Neo-Babylonian history in order to come up with memorable stories with which to frame the “Jewish” experience during their years in Babylon.  In the case of the “Nebuchadnezzar” story as told in the Book of Daniel, what they most likely did was to take the story of Nabu Na’id’s ten-year absence from Babylon, made it seven years, and then attached the story to Nebuchadnezzar either because by the time the MT texts were compiled they had forgotten about Nabu Na’id, or because they had other motivations for making that change (to be discussed shortly). 

Scholars believe that the book of Daniel was written in the 160s B.C. because of its linguistic style, grammar, and vocabulary.  This would make all of the events “prophesied,” such as the rise of the Persian Empire and Alexander, historical events rather than prophecies.  It would also explain the historical/factual errors that occur such as the confusing of Nabu Na’id with Nebuchadnezzar and calling Belshazzar a king when he was only a regent and crown prince.


Interestingly, however, the writers of the Dead Sea scrolls (writing during the same time period) knew quite well which king it was that had disappeared from Babylon and they stated so.  The Dead Sea scrolls account is much closer—in terms of content—to the original version as recounted in the Nabu Na’id biography, and in the Babylonian chronicles, and other cuneiform accounts, than is the fanciful account in the Book of Daniel MT text from which our modern English translations were taken.

The reason that the writers and editors of the MT text changed the Babylonian king’s term of absence from ten years to seven was because the number seven has always had special astrological significance.  In ancient times there were only seven known members of our solar system, outside of the planet earth (Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn).  As a result we have always had seven days in a week ever since Sumerian times precisely because of the seven major heavenly bodies observable by the naked eye to ancient man, and we have always had a concept of “seven heavens,” etc., because that’s exactly what the ancient Mesopotamians believed.  And, as a result of that, both the Bible and the Qur’an are full of reverences to the “seven heavens,” the “seventh heaven,” and the “seven levels of heaven,” all in slavish imitation of the older “pagan” Babylonian mythological concepts of “heaven” based on the known existence of the seven major bodies of the heavenly skies.


As for the verses about Nebuchadnezzar growing hair and grazing with the oxen they were taken from the Gilgamesh Epic account of Enkidu, as it says in tablet one:

“Aruru washed her hands, she pinched off some clay, and threw it into the                      
wilderness.  She created valiant Enkidu, born of silence, endowed with
strength by Ninurta.  His whole body was shaggy with hair, . . . .
he ate grasses with the gazelles, and jostled at the watering hole with the
animals.”  (The Epic of Gilgamesh, translation by Maureen Gallery Kovacs).


The bird claws for toe nails part in the Book of Daniel was influenced by some of the fantasy paintings of mythological scenes and creatures that filled the walls of Babylon—and then became a part of “Jewish” folk eschatology and fable.

To recount now how all of this got so mixed up in the MT and our modern translations of the Hebrew Bible, we start with the fact that the “Jews” of the immediate post Babylonian “captivity” world had knowledge of a Babylonian king who “disappeared” into the desert for ten years.  Even though Tayma was a moderately civilized place, and much more desirable to live in than Babylon was, due to its climate, 3500 foot elevation, and clean, clear, desert air, to many people living in the cities of the fertile crescent, and unfamiliar with Tayma’s history, it might well have seemed like Nabu Na’id had been exiled “to the wilderness.”


Then, even though Nabu Na’id moved to Tayma of his own volition, most probably to control the lucrative trade routes out of southern Arabia, or possible for personal archaeological reasons (due to Northern and Western Arabia’s long history of worshiping  the moon god, and the rumors of ancient temples there), there is evidence that he and the official priesthoods of Babylon, primarily the Marduk priesthood, did not get along very well.  In fact at some point, probably in 553 B.C. when Nabu Na’id was campaigning in Edom and Mo’ab, the Marduk priesthood did a liver reading which “told” them that Nabu Na’id was “unclean,” or under a curse of some sort and could not return to Babylon.  While we don’t have a document saying precisely that, it should be inferred because we do have a clay tablet from ten years later saying that the priests did another liver reading and the gods have lifted the curse, so everything is hunky-dory now, and its okay for the king to return to Babylon.  On this subject, Nabu Na’id himself said: 

“Then the predicted term of ten years arrived, it happened on the very day
which the king of the Gods, the Divine Crescent, had in the dream predicted
the 17th day of tishrinti, . . . .Then my good fortune (i.e. a favorable reading)
was found again in the victims used for the decisions of the diviner.  I arranged
for my followers in the distant mountain regions to live in great plenty and
abundance and I myself took the road home undisturbed.”  (From Pritchard,
A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures of the Ancient Near East, vol. II).

What this means is that the priesthoods in Babylon sacrificed some lambs, or goats, in order to read their livers so they could pronounce a favorable reading for Nabu Na’id allowing him to return home to Babylon.  Now, they would not have had to perform these liver readings allowing him to come home had they not performed similar liver readings ten years previously that came out negative and placed him under some sort of “curse” preventing him from returning to Babylon during those ten years.  In other words, it was conflicts with the established and official Babylonian priesthoods, of which the Marduk priesthood was chief, that had led to the original “negative” liver readings as a way of telling Nabu Na’id that he was not welcomed back in Babylon.  Likewise, it was the established priesthoods, led by the Marduk priesthood, that then reversed themselves ten years later when they decided that they needed Nabu Na’id back in Babylon more than they needed him gone.

It is also interesting to note that throughout this rather lengthy composition by Nabu Na’id, he attributed his absence from Babylon not to the Marduk priesthood, or to the God Marduk, but solely to the command of his own personal God Nanna-Suen.  Likewise, the command for him to leave Tayma and return to Babylon was Nanna-Suen’s, and Nanna-Suen’s alone.  He never mention’s Marduk’s name, or the priesthoods in Babylon, as having had anything to do with his absence or his return.  That was his way of demoting them to the status of irrelevance.

Of course the reasons that the Marduk priesthood changed their minds and performed a “favorable” reading for Nabu Na’id in 543 B.C., is because they needed him back in Babylon to fend off the Persians who were getting increasingly aggressive.  In other words, if we may return to the historical discrepancies in the Book of Daniel, what the writers and editors of the Book of Daniel did was to take the stories about Nabu Na’id’s conflicts with the Marduk priesthood, and their censorship of him in 553 B.C. when he was out on campaign in Edom, Moab, and Arabia, and doctor that story into saying that it was the “Jewish” God Yahweh who evicted the king.  Yes, there was a God who was angry with the Babylonian king, but it was Marduk, not Yahweh, and the king was Nabu Na’id, not Nebuchadnezzar.
Then, once the idea that this Babylonian king had been “exiled to the wilderness” for “religious” reasons had gained currency, it was no small leap for the “Jewish” folklore story tellers to graft the descriptions of Enkidu from the Gilgamesh Epic onto the growing legend-come-myth of the “exiled” Babylonian king.  Then, sometime between the writing of the Dead Sea scrolls (200-100 B.C.) and the final edition of the parent copies, or proto type, of the MT (100-150 A.D.), the tellers of “Jewish” folk tales forgot about Nabu Na’id entirely and grafted this entire, growing myth onto Nebuchadnezzar because he was the only Babylonian king whose name they could remember by the time the first century A.D. rolled around.


Another possible interpretation for this mix up is that the “Jewish” rabbis and scribes hated Nebuchadnezzar so much for having destroyed the 1st temple, that they purposely  distorted the Nabu Na’id story and attached it to Nebuchadnezzar as a way of making it look like “God,” more particularly Yahweh, had punished him (i.e. Nebuchadnezzar) for his wickedness.  In other words, the writers and editors of the book of Daniel knew perfectly well what they were doing (i.e. falsifying the Nebuchadnezzar account), but they did it for the purpose of delivering a moral message:  “You defy the Hebrew God, or mess with his people, and you just might be turned into a beast to graze in the fields.”

To sum up, yes, there is a grain of truth to the Book of Daniel story, but you have to search real hard to find that grain.  Yes, there really was a Neo-Babylonian king who left Babylon to spend a number of years (but 10 years, not 7) in “the wilderness” (actually Arabia).  He really did neglect the traditional religious rituals during his absence such as the annual AKITU festival, which in turn greatly displeased the official priesthoods and may have alienated some segments of the general population as well.  All of this contributed to his being denigrated in some of the folktales and legends of people in later centuries.  By the time the progenitor of the MT of the Hebrew Bible was first being compiled and edited in the early 2nd century A.D., the “Jewish” scholars responsible probably had several versions of the Nabu Na’id-come-Nebuchadnezzar tale and so they chose the juiciest one in order to illustrate a religious point—i.e. when you displease God or mess with his chosen people bad things happen to you.


There is one more gem of historical truth in the Book of Daniel that must be mentioned.  The first five verses of the book talk about the Babylonians bringing to Babylon some of the top level “children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes.  Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:3-4).   Verse five then goes on to tell how the palace provided them with room and board for three years apparently while they were learning “the tongue of the Chaldeans” after which “they might stand before the king.”

What these passages are talking about is the recruitment and training of scribes—a very common practice in the Ancient World.  Kings could come and go, armies could win or lose, but everybody needed scribes.  These fine young men “skilful in all wisdom” that the Book of Daniel is talking about certainly must have been scribes for the kingdom of Judah.  As professional scribes they probably already had some knowledge of Babylonian cuneiform since Akkadian (and its Babylonian and Assyrian dialects) had been the universal language of diplomacy throughout the Near East for nearly two thousand years.  That would explain why only three years were needed to bring them up to the level of proficiency in Babylonian Akkadian that the palace desired.  Since the kingdom of Judah was geographically located between Babylon and Egypt, these scribes also most likely were proficient in Egyptian as well—which made them doubly useful to the Babylonian palace.

The above scenario provides the factual basis for the fictional character Ya’qub ben Yidhaq in the trilogy The Last King of Babylon.

I chose to use this fictional character as chief scribe to Nabu Na’id rather than any of the personages mentioned in the Book of Daniel because the characters in the Book of Daniel from 1:6  on are engaged in activities that are just way too far out in the realm of fanatasy and I did not want to get into that.  Also, the above-mentioned historical errors and confusion with the names of the Babylonian kings made it impossible to directly use any of the characters or specific events mentioned in the Book of Daniel in a bone-fide Historical novel.
None of the “Jewish” characters named in the Book of Daniel (other than the two Judean kings Yahu Yaqim and Mattanyahu/Zedeqiah) can be verified by Babylonian sources—even though clay tablets have been discovered providing the names of nearly 30,000 “Jews” taken from the kingdom of Judah and resettled in Babylonia.  These lists include everyone of importance from the king on down and includes the rations they were given.  But there is no mention of Daniel or any of his co-protagonists mentioned in the Book of Daniel.  That being said, some scholars believe that there may have been an important wise man named Daniel who lived prior to the exile and to whom the fanciful stories in the book of Daniel were attributed (Finkel, Irving, and Michael Seymour, Babylon, 2008 p. 155)


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