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Daniel 5 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on Daniel 5 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.

(5:1-2,11,18,22) "Belshazzar the king "
Apparently, the author of Daniel knew of only two Babylonian kings during the period of the exile: Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, who he wrongly thought was the son of Nebuchadnezzar. But Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 BCE and was succeeded by his son, Awil-Marduk (referred to in the bible as "Evilmerodach" [see 2 Kg.25:27 and Jer.52:31]). In 560 BCE, Amel-Marduk was assassinated by his brother-in-law, Nergal-shar-usur. The next and last king of Babylon was Nabonidus who reigned from 556 to 539, when Babylon was conquered by Cyrus. It was Nabonidus, and not Belshazzar, who was the last of the Babylonian kings. Belshazzar was the son and viceroy of Nabonidus. But he was not a king, and was not the son (or any other relation) of Nebuchadnezzar.
The issue of the author of the SAB seems to be with the word “son” and with his title “king”.
But let's start with the name Belshazzar. The fact that this book gets this name right already verifies its accuracy. No other historian gives the name of the last king of Babel (except Baruch and Josephus who clearly depend on Daniel). Not one! So how could Daniel have known this name, unless he had been there? The walls of the palace that contained his name were destroyed within half a century after his death, only to be dug up thousands of years later.
Second, the title. The name contains the title. It contains three parts: Bel-sar-usur:

the name is expressed by three monograms, the first signifying the god Bel; the second, shar, a king; and the third being the same sign which terminates the name of Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar, Nergalshareser

Therefore Raymond Dougherty, an eminent scholar in this field, points out:

Of all the non Babylonian records dealing with the situation at the close of the Neo-Babylonian empire the fifth chapter of Daniel ranks next to cuneiform literature in accuracy so far as outstanding events are concerned. The Scriptural account may be interpreted as excelling because it employs the name Belshazzar, because it attributes royal power to Belshazzar, and because it recognizes that a dual rulership existed in the kingdom. Babylonian cuneiform documents of the sixth century B.C. furnish clear-cut evidence of the correctness of these three basic historical nuclei contained in the Biblical narrative dealing with the fall of Babylon.

So he certainly can be called king. Note that Daniel does not say he was the next king. That is an interpolation by sceptics. From the fact that Belshazzar can only make him third in the kingdom, we find a clear indication that he shared power.
So that leaves us with the word “son”. The author of the SAB complains that he had no genetic relationship to Nebuchadnezzar. This word is used in two ways:
  1. Nebuchadnezzar is called the father of Belshazzar when Daniel describes the setting of this event in verse 2, by the queen, verse 11, by Belshazzar himself, verse 11, and by Daniel, verse 18.
  2. Belshazzar is called the son of Nebuchadnezzar by Daniel, verse 22.
So everyone is calling Nebuchadnezzar the father of Belshazzar. And indeed, this was common usage all over the Middle East:

This claim ignores the ancient usage of the terms 'son' or 'father' in that it often referred to a successor in the same office whether or not there was a blood relationship. Thus in the Egyptian story, 'King Cheops and the Magicians, Prince Khephren came to pass in the time of thy father, King Neb-ka.' Actually Neb-ka belonged to the Third Dynasty, a full century before the time of Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty.
In Assyria a similar practice was reflected in the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, which refers to King Jehu (the exterminator of the whole dynasty of Omri) as 'the son of Omri.' Kitchen (1966) shows that here "father' equals 'predecessor'; he cites several examples of how the ANE dealt with geneologies -- he notes that the most extreme example can be found where the Egyptian King Tirhakah (of the 25th dynasty) referred to Sesostris III (of the 12th dynasty, c. 1880 B.C.), a difference of 1,200 years!
Textual (non-Biblical) evidence reveals that "son" was used at least 12 different ways in the ancient Orient, and "father" was used at least 7 different ways.

2 Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.

3 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.

4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.

5 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.

(5:5-6) The handwriting on the wall
A detached hand writes upon the wall, and when the king sees it "the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against the other."
The author of the SAB was there and can confirm it did not happen? Perhaps he can explain why Daniel was made the third ruler (verse 29) in the kingdom of Belshazzar?

6 Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.

7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.

8 Then came in all the king’s wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.

9 Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.

10 Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:

11 There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;

12 Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.

13 Then was Daniel brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?

14 I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.

15 And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not shew the interpretation of the thing:

16 And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.

17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.

18 O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:

19 And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.

20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him:

21 And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.

22 And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;

23 But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:

24 Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.

25 And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.

26 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.

27 TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

28 PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

29 Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

30 In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.

31 And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.

Darius the Median is a fictitious character whom the author perhaps confused with Darius I of Persia, who came to the throne in 521 BCE, 17 years after the fall of Babylon. The author of Daniel incorrectly makes him the successor of Belshazzar instead of Cyrus.
No, Daniel doesn't confuse anyone. He carefully calls him Darius the Median to distinguish him from Cyrus the Persian. Daniel also calls Cyrus the successor of Darius, see chapter 6:28.
Darius the Median is the same as Cyaxares II, a view which has been common for thousands of years and has only been seriously questioned in the 19th century. Steven Anderson in his PhD dissertation Darius the Mede: A Reappraisal has conclusively made the case that there is solid historical evidence for Darius the Median. We can start with one of the earliest historians, Xenophon, writing about 100 years after Darius the Median, mentions Cyaxares II, a king who reigned before Cyrus. Cyrus gave him Babylon to rule after Babylon's capture:

And now when the march had brought them into Media, Cyrus turned aside to visit Cyaxares [II]. After they had met and embraced, Cyrus began by telling Cyaxares that a palace in Babylon, and an estate, had been set aside for him so that he might have a residence of his own whenever he came there, and he offered him other gifts, most rich and beautiful. ... And for her dowry I will give her the whole of Media: since I have no lawful son.

The last section is about his daughter: he gave her to Cyrus, and after Darius' death, Cyrus united the Medians and Persians into one throne. On the difference in names: Xenophon calls him Cyaxares II, but it was common to adopt throne names, so Darius is his throne name, which Daniel as courtier uses.