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Cyrus takes Babylon: Daniel & Prayer of Nabonidus
||In October 539 BCE, the Persian king Cyrus took Babylon, the ancient capital of an oriental empire covering modern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. In a broader sense, Babylon was the ancient world's capital of scholarship and science. The subject provinces soon recognized Cyrus as their legitimate ruler. Since he was already lord of peripheral regions in modern Turkey and Iran (and Afghanistan?), it is not exaggerated to say that the conquest of Babylonia meant the birth of a true world empire. The Achaemenid empire was to last for more than two centuries, until it was divided by the successors of the Macedonian king Alexander the Great. A remarkable aspect of the capture of Babylon is the fact that Cyrus allowed the Jews (who were exiled in Babylonia) to return home.||
Chronicle of Nabonidus
Verse account of Nabonidus
Prayer of Nabonidus
crown prince Bêlsharusur) took
place in the second century BCE, but it contains some older elements.
no less than four authors have contributed to the text. The resulting
can not be taken as history. Too many elements are too
(e.g., about every personal name is wrong).
However, chapter four contains a bit of information that is corroborated by a text known as the Prayer of Nabonidus. According to Daniel's story, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar suffers from a mental illness, and lives isolated for seven years, until he acknowledges the power of the one God. From cuneiform texts, nothing is known about Nebuchadnezzar's mental health. The original story must have centered on another royal patient: Nabonidus, about whom rumors like this did circulate (see the Verse account). Moreover, several details return in the Prayer, where Nabonidus is the sad hero: the period of seven years, the isolation, the ultimate recognition of the power of the supreme God. Since the authors of Daniel consistently avoid mentioning Nabonidus, it is likely that one of them is responsible for the change of names.
This means that two elements of the Verse account are corroborated: the madness of Nabonidus and his monotheistic attitude. Stated differently, we have two sources for the accusations - a Babylonian poem full of insults and a Jewish story.
(Not all editions of this text use the same numbering. There is a change of perspective in lines 33/34.)
the end of the twelve months Nebuchadnezzar
was walking about the royal palace of Babylon.
(4.30) The king spoke, saying, 'Is not this great Babylon,
have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of
at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar,
lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I
the Most High and praised and honored Him Who lives forever: for His
is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to
(4.35 ) All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He
according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants
the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, 'What have You
There must have circulated a Jewish story about the mad king Nabonidus who went to Temâ to recover his wits, and recognized the supreme God. Two people reworked this original: one of the authors of Daniel changed the name of the monarch, the author of the Prayer changed the illness (to make the story fit Leviticus 13?). The reconstructed story independently confirms two points made by the author of the Verse account: Nabonidus suffered from a mental disease and insulted the Babylonian clergy by his monotheistic ideas . This does not prove that Nabonidus was mad, but it makes it extremely plausible that the accusation was very old.
Words of the prayer, said by Nabonidus, king of
[the great] king, [when afflicted] with an ulcer on command of the most
high God in Temâ:
[the end is missing]
(It is interesting to notice that the line 'have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone' returns in Daniel, just twenty-two lines below the story of the madness of Nebuchadnezzar.)