4Q242 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.

The following Aramaic text belongs to the famous Dead Sea Scrolls: four scraps of parchment from Cave 4, usually called 4Q242, copied from an older original in the second half of the first century BCE. The story is similar to Daniel's account of a king of Babylon who is ill, lives isolated for seven years, and becomes convinced of the truth of the monotheistic creed. The difference is that in Daniel, the subject is Nebuchadnezzar, not Nabonidus.

There must have circulated a Jewish story about the mad king Nabonidus who went to Tema 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 reallt mad, but it makes it plausible that the accusation was very old. 

Prayer of Nabonidus

[1] Words of the prayer, said by Nabonidus, king of Babylonia, [the great] king, [when afflicted] 

[2] with an ulcer on command of the most high God in Temâ:

["I, Nabonidus,] was afflicted [with an evil ulcer] 

[3] for seven years, and far from [men] I [was driven, until I prayed to the most high God.] And 

[4] an exorcist pardoned my sins. He was a Jew from [among the children of the exile of Judah, and said:]

[5] "Recount this in writing to glorify and exalt the name of [the most high God."Then I wrote this:] "When 

[67] I was afflicted for seven years [by the most high God] with an evil ulcer during my stay at Tema, 


[7] I prayed [to] the gods of silver and gold, [bronze and iron,] wood, stone and lime,{{It is interesting to notice that the line "have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, 

[8] wood and stone" returns in Daniel, just twenty-two lines below the story of the madness of Nebuchadnezzar.}} because [I thought and considered] them gods [...""]

[the end is missing] 

This page was created in 1998; last modified on 18 January 2017.