1. Date of Nebuchadnezzar’s first invasion
In this section, we will examine the controversial issues that center on the apparent historical inaccuracies and the identities of some characters in the book of Daniel.
1. Date of Nebuchanezzar’s first invasion of Judah
The first of these issues is presented in the very first verse of the book.
Daniel 1:1 – “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the articles of the house of God, which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the articles into the treasure house of his god.”
A cross reference to Jeremiah 25:1 and 46:2 highlights a discrepancy in the date of Nebuchadnezzar’s first invasion of Judah.
Jer 25:1 – “The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon) …”
Jer 46:2 – “Concerning the army of Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt, which was by the River Euphrates in Carchemish, and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah.”
According to Daniel 1:1, the crucial siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchanezzar king of Babylon came “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah.” The passages in Jeremiah state that that the event took place in the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, which was in the fourth year of Jehoiakim.
A probable explanation of the one-year difference is that Daniel used a Babylonian form of chronology while Jeremiah followed the Palestinian system. This is because he of all the prophets was the only one thoroughly instructed in Babylonian culture and point of view. Having spent most of his life in Babylon, it is only natural that Daniel should use a Babylonian form of chronology. According to the Babylonian reckoning, the first year of a king’s reign began from the year of accession. The following year was known as the first year of rule. As for the Palestine system of chronology, there was no accession year as such, so that the length of rule was computed differently with the year of accession being regarded as the first year of the reign. Consequently, the third year of the Daniel-system of computation would be identical with the fourth year in system employed by Jeremiah (see Table 1a).
Table 1a – Date of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah in relation to King Jehoiakim’s reign
An alternative explanation of this discrepancy is offered by present-day bible chronologists. Their assumption is that Daniel used the old calendar year in Judah which began in the fall in the month of Tishri (Sep-Oct) and that Jeremiah used the Babylonian calendar which began in the spring in the month Nisan (March-April). According to the Babylonian Chronicle, in late spring or early summer of 605 BC, “Nebuchadnezzar conquered the whole area of the Hatti country,” an area that includes all Syria and the territory south to the borders of Egypt. This would be Jehoiakim’s 4th year according to the Nisan reckoning and the 3rd year according to the Tishri calendar (See Table 1b).
Table 1b – Date of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion in relation to the old Judean and Babylonian Calendars
2. Last King of Babylon: Belshazzar or Nabonidus (553-539 BC)?
Dan 5:1 – “Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of a thousand. While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple…..”
Dan 5:30 – “That very night, Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.”
The second issue on the historicity of Daniel involves identity of Nabonidus. According to Daniel, Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon and his father was Nebuchadnezzar. However, the cuneiform records state that it was Nabonidus, father of Belshazzar who was the ruler of the neo-Babylonian empire before it fell to Cyrus in 539 BC. There is no specific mention of the person Nabonidus in the book of Daniel. Daniel does not record Nebuchadnezzar’s immediate successors. Table 2 shows a plausible summary of the history between Nebuchadnezzar’s death in 562 BC and the fall of Babylon in 539 BC. (Appendix 1 and Table 2)
Table 2 – List of Babylonian kings after the death of Nebuchadnezzar in 562 BC.
According to historical records, Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded by his son Amel-Marduk after his death in 562 BC. Amel-Marduk was assassinated by Nerglissar after he had reigned for two years. Nerglissar ruled for the next four years and died of natural cause. His son Neglissar succeeded him in 556 BC but was beaten to death within nine months of his reign. His murderers then appointed one of their number, Nabonidus to the throne. Nabonidus is said to have been away from Babylon, either fleeing to Borshippa or residing in the oasis of Teima in Arabia. Under these circumstances, he appointed his eldest son Belshazzar as co-regent in his absence, thus resulting in him being identified as the last king of Babylon before its fall in 539 BC. Note that Daniel 5:18 states Belshazzar as “son of Nebuchadnezzar. This reference is according to the Semitic usage where the term “son” could also mean “grandson” or “descendant”.
The third critical objection to the historical accuracy of the book of Daniel concerns Nebuchadnezzar’s illness, of which Babylonian history draws a veil over.
Daniel 4:33 – “That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar, he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like bird’s claws.”
The lack of Babylonian historical records of Nebuchadnezzar’s mental illness is due largely to the Mesopotamian peoples’ reluctance to discuss the matter. They were highly superstitious. While every form of disease was regarded as the work of underworld deities who entered into the apertures of the head and began to create disturbances within the body itself, mental affliction was regarded as possession by demons. A mentally disabled person would then be banished from society.
Although his insanity was supernaturally imposed, it was not a transformation to some mythical creature. The illness was a rare form of monomania, a condition of mental imbalance in which the sufferer is deranged in on significant area only. The form of monomania which afflicted Nebuchadnezzar is known as Boanthrophy. This is a rare condition in which the sufferer imagines himself to be a cow or a bull, and acted accordingly. A person in this stage of insanity in his inner consciousness remains somewhat unchanged, but his outer behaviour is irrational.
A modern case similar to that of Nebuchadnezzar’s condition was observed by Raymond Harrison in 1946 in a British mental institution.
“….his symptoms were well-developed and admission, and diagnosis was immediate and conclusive. He was of average height and weight with good physique, and was in excellent bodily health. His mental symptoms included pronounced anti-social tendencies, and because of this he spent the entire day from dawn to dusk outdoors, in the grounds of the institution…. His daily routine consisted of wandering around the magnificent lawns…..and it was his custom to pluck up and eat handfuls of grass as he
4. The identity of Darius the Mede.
The identity of Darius the Mede has long been recognized as the most serious historical problem in the book of Daniel. Some bible scholars have suggested that Darius the Mede is another name for Cyrus the Persian, and still some argued that he never existed. The most probable explanation is drawn from cuneiform sources. According to the sources, two persons, Ugbaru, governor of Gutium, was associated with the fall of Babylonian 539 BC. He died shortly after. Upon his death, Gubaru, who was mentioned in numerous cuneiform texts, was appointed by Cyrus as “the governor of Babylon and the region beyond the river.” It was Gubaru who is now regarded as the most suitable individual for the designation of Darius the Mede.