Daniel in the Lion’s Den: Belshazzar, Nabonidus, and Nebuchadnezzar

Of the books of the Old Testament, Daniel is one of the most highly contested. Beginning with Porphyry in his book, Against the Christians in 285 A.D. and continuing to today, Biblical skeptics have denied Daniel’s 6th century B.C. dating (claiming the book was written during the time of the reign of Antiochus Epiphanies IV in 165 B.C.), its authenticity, and its historicity. It’s almost as if its ultimate author (God) recognized these challenges well in advance, as oftentimes the questions and challenges posed are soundly refuted with new historical discoveries, scholarship, or archaeological digs. As Jesus prophesied, “the stones have cried out.” This blog will offer a handful of refutations to claims concerning Daniel’s knowledge about Belshazzar, Nabonidus, and Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel 5:7-12 states: “’Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.’ Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled. 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.’”

The king offered Daniel the “third highest ruler in the kingdom” (since Nabonidus and Belshazzar were in the two highest positions) if he correctly interpreted the words. Daniel (5:26-28) delivered: “Here is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Belshazzar as Nebuchadnezzar’s “Son”

Daniel (5:22) referred to Belshazzar as Nebuchadnezzar’s son, yet other historical records suggest Belshazzar is the son of Nabonidus. The Aramaic term for son can be used to describe a male in a person’s lineage. Compare this with the reference to Jesus as the “Son of David” even though He is many generations down the lineage of David. Daniel also refers to Nebuchadnezzar as Belshazzar’s father (5:2,11,13,18). Note that the Aramaic word for father (“ab”) can also refer to grandfather, great grandfather, ancestor, predecessor, etc.

Belshazzar was the heir, descendent, and eventual successor to the throne through Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter, Nitocris. Archaeological findings have confirmed that Nabonidus is the father of Belshazzar.[1] Historians in the Boston Museum have noted that Nabonidus was married to Nitocris.

Herodotus referred to Nabonidus by his Roman name of Labynetus, noting that Nitocris’ son had inherited his name, along with the “sovereignty of Assyria” and whom Cyrus marched against.[2]

The Nabonidus Cylinder from Ur confirms Belshazzar as Nabonidus’ son and Nabonidus as the king of Babylon. The following translation of a portion of the Nabonidus Cylinder at Ur comes from Paul-Alain Beaulieu of Livius.org: “As for me, Nabonidus, king of Babylon, save me from sinning against your great godhead and grant me as a present a life long of days, and as for Belshazzar, the eldest son – my offspring – instill reverence for your great godhead in his heart and may he not commit ant cultic mistake, may he be sated with a life of plenitude.”

And the Stones Cried Out

For thousands of years, we had no record other than Daniel of Belshazzar as the king, so skeptics’ claims against the authenticity of Daniel abounded. That changed in the 1854, when the first of four “Nabonidus Cylinders” were excavated. The cylinders listed Belshazzar as co-regent in Babylon while his father was absent – and his father was Nabonidus. Daniel was absolutely correct.

“After he [Nabonidus] 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 Tayma deep in the west.”[3]

In conclusion, the evidence suggests that Belshazzar was a coregent with his father Nabonidus who reigned over Babylon just prior to the invasion by the Medes and Persians. He was also considered a relative of Nebuchadnezzar as the son of Nabonidus who was married to Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter Nitocris. We can thank God for His Word and the way the stones cry out to refute those who try to deny that simple fact.

[1] Nona Lendering (2020) based on the Nabonidus Cylinder from Sippar, the Nabonidus Cylinder from Ur, the Chronicle of Nabonidus (ABC 7), a Verse Account of Nabonidus, the Cyrus Cylinder, and a Chronographic document concerning Nabonidus (CM 53).  https://www.livius.org/articles/person/nabonidus/

[2] http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Herodotus/1d*.html

[3] This translation is from Livius.org, derived from The Verse Account of Nabonidus, translated from the Nabonidus clay cuneiform tablets by A. Leo Oppenheim (in James B. Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the New Testament, Princeton, 1950). Authors at Livius made “minor changes” to it.

One Reply to “Daniel in the Lion’s Den: Belshazzar, Nabonidus, and Nebuchadnezzar”

  1. Amen. Now this is the truth: “We can thank God for His Word and the way the stones cry out to refute those who try to deny that simple fact.”

    We count on the word of God. It is true and reliable. Thanks for speaking the truth and bringing this into the light.


    Liked by 1 person

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