Daniel and Archaeology
by Rick Dack, Founder and Director of Defending the Bible Int’l.
(All images and text are owned/purchased by Defending the Bible Int'l. and cannot be used without permission)
On a dark day in 1929, the body of lecturer R.P. Daugherty was found in a YMCA. What would compel this orator/scholar to take his own life? Did his family life have anything to do with his suicide, or was it his work that pushed this troubled man over the edge? R.P. Daugherty was a strong advocate for the elimination of portions of the book of Daniel, namely the parts concerning the name Belshazzar due to its absence on archaeological documents. He toured vociferously in the United States throughout the 1910's and 1920's, proclaiming that this biblical text was in error. In 1924, a document was discovered that contained both the names Belshazzar and his father Nabonidas. This find stunned the archaeological world and Daugherty was forced to recant his beliefs about Belshazzar. After Daugherty's shame came to light, he wrote a book called Nabonidas and Belshazzar. Daugherty wrote, "Daniel 5 is as accurate as cuneiform literature is accurate and the scripture can be considered compelling because it names Belshazzar." (Billington/Aling 2000, 100-101 ) Shortly after the work was published, Daugherty took his own life. Do current biblical critics proclaim Daniel as inaccurate, and if so, is there a ready defense to be found among learned scholars? Is there any evidence to support the Exile, Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidas, Belshazzar's banquet, and his demise the night of the Medo-Persian invasion, and what of the invaders Cyrus and Darius? Do the miracles in the Book of Daniel have any historical support, or should they be confined to the mythological section of a library?
Where to start?
The Neo-Babylonian Empire lasted from approximately 626-539 B.C. The well-known capital city known as Babylon (about 50 miles south of Baghdad) dates back to the times of Hammurabi (ca. 1728-1626 B.C.E.) (Blaiklock 1983, 337) who brought to prominence to the god Marduk and was the founder of the great law code (Roux 1992, 202). A number of years later, it was overrun by the Hittites, Kassites, Elamites and Assyrians. The eleventh and last dynasty (Neo-Babylonian) produced kings who could be divided into two groups, the first group included the forefathers (Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar II and Evil-Merodoch) and the later weak elements (Neriglissar, Labashi-Marduk, Nabonidas and Belshazzar) which brought the Neo-Babylonian curtain down with Belshazzar's death on October 12, 539 B.C.E. with Darius' entrance into the city (Blaiklock 1983, 337). This city has revealed much to the archaeologist.
The excavations by Koldeway at Babylon (1899-1917) unearthed the remains of a ziggurat, canals, a temple to the God Marduk, as well as the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon and other nearby structures (palaces and fortifications), but the most impressive and well preserved section of Babylon is the Ishtar Gate and Processional Street that consisted of a center lane, walkways, and red breccia slabs along the sides. The slabs contained the inscription, "Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, Son of Nabopolassar, King of Babylon, am I. The street for the procession of my great lord Marduk I decorated magnificently with stones from the mountains. Marduk, my Lord, give eternal life" (Marzahn 1994, 9). The Ishtar Gate walls depicted bulls, dragons and lions in blue glazed tiles (Blaiklock 1983, 337), and the Gate itself consisting of two large structures (one in front of the other with half oval openings) can be seen today at the Vorderasiatisches Museum of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in a reconstruction.
Daniel Enters Babylon
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged It [….] Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility- young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace [….] He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians [….] Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego . (http://bible.com/bibles.html). – Daniel 1: 1-7.
It is believed that Daniel's expulsion from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon occurred in the year 597 B.C., though some believe it was in the summer of 605 B.C. partly because of his (Nebuchadnezzar's) father's death and his ascension to the throne. This theory is supported by the last two texts of Nabopolassar, which are dated to May and August 605 B.C.E. and the first texts of Nebuchadnezzar, dated to September and October of 605 B.C.E. This event was one of three that occurred (605, 597: Ezekial taken and 586 B.C.E.), but some critics have contended that in the third year of Jehoiachin there was no deportation, but the historian Berosus the Chaldean disagrees (ca. 300 B.C.E.) because there is evidence of Nabopolassar telling his son (Nebuchadnezzar, the crown prince) to quell the revolts in the west among the Jews and other peoples (Free 1992, 193-194). This episode more than likely involved Jerusalem's siege and Daniel's deportation. Further evidence involves the Babylonian Chronicle which states that all of the Hatti-land was captured (including Palestine and Syria) and recalls his first advance against Jerusalem: "The seventh year, the month of Kislev, the king of Babylonia mustered his forces and marched to Syria (Syria/Palestine). He camped against the city of Judah (Jerusalem) and on the second day of the month of Adar he took the city and captured the king. He appointed the king of his choice there, took its heavy tribute and brought them to Babylon" (Price 1997, 233). During these activities, Nabopolassar (the 8th of Av or August 16, 605 b.c.) and his son Nebuchadnezzar takes the throne in just under a month. (Free 1992, 193).
Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar
It is obvious that the building projects of Nebuchadnezzar were quite impressive, but what can be learned of the man? It is known that he was great military leader in his campaigns to Carchemish; he followed the fleeing Egyptians to Hamath in Syria, where he conquered "the whole land of Hatti," which included Judah. He took the Jerusalem Temple vessels back for Marduk (Blaiklock 1983, 332-333), assailed Ashkelon due to failure to pay tribute, destroyed Ekron in Philistia, as evidenced by the Ekron Inscription/Temple dedication discovery of Seymour Gittin in 1996 (Price 1997, 226), and he journeyed to Tyre. His boastfulness, as recorded in Daniel 4:30, is probably a direct result of his pride in his capital city of Babylon and his later accomplishments at the city of Ur, which he rebuilt. However, there is no doubt that there was a restlessness within the king and a madness that would grip him during his reign (Blaiklock 1983, 334).
Once Daniel (Belteshazzar) entered Babylon, he was to serve the court of Nebuchadnezzar along with Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (to later be named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) who were to be trained for three years and then serve the king. The first of many conflicts arose when the royal food and wine was offered to Daniel and the other Israelites during their training, and they refused to consume it because it was considered defiled. The chief official was fearful of punishment by the king if Nebuchanezzar had seen the Israelites malnourished, but Daniel persuaded the chief official to test them for ten days in which they would eat only vegetables and then was told to compare them with those who ate the royal food. When the ten days had passed, Daniel and the others were considered healthier and were provided with vegetables. From then on, they continued with their training in literature, and after three years Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were assigned to the king's court.
Daniel the Interpreter
After their introduction to the court of Nebuchadnezzar, the king became deeply troubled and inquired of his astrologers to interpret his recurring dream and its solution. His astrologers were unable to tell the King his dream and were scheduled to die. When Arioch, commander of the king's guard, went to carry out the executions, Daniel inquired of him why the king was so furious and offered such a terrible penalty. Daniel was told and then went to inquire of God after he met with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel was then given the answers to the king's questions, offered the explanation, and everyone was reprieved. Daniel was then given authority over all of the Babylonian province and was placed in charge over the wise men. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were also given administrative duties after Daniel requested it of the king. This story may seem like a pleasant account, but is it true? Is there any archaeological evidence for the characters within this story? Before these questions are answered, it is important to cite another biblical instance in which some of these same characters are involved.
The Fiery Furnace
On the plain of Dura, an image was set up by Nebuchadnezzar. All of the major officials from the capital as well as those from the surrounding provinces, came and were told to bow down to this image of gold at the sound of the instrumentation. If those officials did not bow down to the image that was set up, they would be thrown in to the fiery furnace. Some of the astrologers told the king that the Jews would not bow to the image and, as the biblical story goes, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were sent for, refused to bow down and were bound and thrown into the furnace. While in the furnace the three men and the eventual fourth, the one who "looks like a son of the gods" walked around unscathed. Then Nebuchadnezzar approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!" (Daniel 3:26). The men left the furnace unharmed and were once again promoted in the kingdom.
Some people may ask where was Daniel during this time? Wasn't he the head of the wise men and astrologers and couldn't he have stopped this action by the men under him? Why were the astrologers so anti-Jew? Were they perhaps jealous of the rise of those who were exiled and wanted them eliminated so they could have the chance to achieve greatness in the kingdom? It may have been that Daniel's jurisdictional boundaries were such that he had no power over those who were raising the issue with the king. The text does not indicate why.
Dr. William Shea's article "Daniel 3: Extra-Biblical Texts" cites rather interesting evidences concerning the plain of Dura, the loyalty oath, and the participants. He believes that the object of adoration was probably an image of Marduk and not of himself; when people bowed down to the image they pledged their loyalty and allegiance to it and what it represents. Another question has also arisen concerning why the punishment was so strict if it was not adhered to. Shea believes that there were episodes of revolt prior to the drama at the plain of Dura.
The first piece of evidence he cites is the Chronicle that Nebuchadnezzar published in either 595 or 594 B.C.E. It says, "In the tenth year the King of Akkad (was) in his own land…there was a rebellion against Akkad.with arms he slew many of his own army. His own hand captured his army." A contract tablet reveals a revolt in the eleventh year of Nebuchadnezzar in which Nabopolassar receives the property of Baba-ahu-iddina, who was accused of breaking a royalty oath as well as causing an insurrection that brought about his execution. So how do these two theories parallel? It is believed that these writings occurred during the same general time period and are of the same events. Shea believes that the suppression of the revolt that brought on the plain of Dura "insistence of loyalty" was probably during the months of December and January 595/594 B.C.E. (Shea 1982, 30-33).
The next issue to discuss is the participants at the plain. Is there any archaeological evidence that would compliment this biblical story? Shea believes that a 5 columned prism, the undated "Istanbul Prism of Nebuchadnezzar," from the general time period of Nebuchadnezzar, may offer the names of biblically related characters as court officials from the time of the oath. These biblical figures, according to the prism, were appointed by the King. The prism's first 3 columns consist of Nebuchadnezzar's telling the gods how much he has done, how much they have contributed, and in the final section he gives a prayer to his God. There is some contention concerning Meschech in Column 3 (line 12), who might be Mussalim- Marduk. However, there is strong evidence for Abed-nego, the Court official in Column 3 (line 15), who is called Ardi-Nabu, secretary of the crown prince. There is also Hananiah in Column 3 (line 18), called Hanunu, chief of the royal merchants (Shea 1982, 37-39, 46-50).
After his fathers death in 562 B.C.E. this son of Nebuchadnezzar ruled for approximately 2 years. He is probably most famous for the release of the political prisoner King Jehoiachin as cited in 2 Kings 25:27-30. This event is acknowledged by two inscriptions that were found in Babylon and the other at Susa. The Babylonian inscription describes the oil, barley and other foods given to him and names him and his five sons as the receivers. Part of this clay artifact reads, "Youkin, king of Judah." The French expedition team inscription find at Susa is contained on a stone vase which reads, "Palace of Amel-Marduk, King of Babylon, son of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon." This vase was probably carried from Babylon to Persia on a Mesopotamian campaign (Free 1992, 199-200). Meroduch met his end at the hands of his brother Neriglisssar (Nergalsharezer of Jeremiah 39:3) who reigned 4 years and then died. Neriglissar's young son, who became the heir, never enjoyed his inheritance because he was deposed 9 months later, tortured and killed because of his wickedness, (Roux 1992, 381) by the priestly party and a member of this same party was elected. His name was Nabonidas.
Nabonidas and Belshazzar
This Babylonian of the priestly group was a military leader as well as a builder who strengthened fortifications at the Euphrates River. He also rebuilt temples such as the one at Shamash of Sippar and was the discoverer of the foundation record of Naram-Sin. His son, Belshazzar, was his co-ruler during the ten year period that he was at Teima. This ten year stay at Teima was more than likely due to the severe economic and political upheavals of Babylonia. Nabonidas tried to solve his financial problems by securing Southern Arabia trade routes but another problem loomed. The Dead Sea Scroll known as the Prayer of Nabonidas or 4Q242 relates a great difficulty for the king in which he is stricken with a severe inflammation for seven years and is assisted by an exile who is called an exorcist, possibly the biblical Daniel. The exorcist encourages the king to write down the story of his infirmity as well as his healing by God. Nabonidas eventually comes to the realization that there is no God of bronze, iron, wood and stone and acknowledges the true God of Daniel (Wise, 1996, 265-266). The Prayer of Nabonidas, which could be dated to about 400 B.C.E. is one of many confirmations of the historical Nabonidas but are there other inscriptions that refer to both Nabonidas and his son Belshazzar?
Five inscriptions have been recovered that refer to these gentlemen, one of whom (Belshazzar), was considered a work of fiction until 1924. The translator of most of these documents was the London Assyriologist Theopholis Pinches who discovered that the first document contained only the name Nabonidas. Document two referred to both Nabonidas and son, the third entry calls Belshazzar the "son of" Nabonidas, and the fourth mentions a loyalty oath which indicated that they were co-rulers (Free 1992, 201). The English Scholar, Sidney Smith, published the fifth inscription which read, "He intrusted the kingship to Belshazzar" (Shea Summer - Autumn 1983, 77).
The night of the Babylonian takeover, Belshazzar threw a drunken banquet for 1,000 of his nobles and their wives. After he requested the goblets from the Jerusalem Temple to be brought in to be used for the gathering, a hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall the words, "Mene Mene Tekel Parsin." This occurrence greatly disturbed Belshazzar, and he called in his astrologers and diviners to translate these words, but they could not. The queen then encouraged the king to call Daniel to interpret, whom his father appointed, because he was the leader of the wise men/astrologers. Daniel was called, he translated the words, and they foretold the king's death and that his kingdom would be given to the Medes and Persians. That very night Darius the Mede entered the city and Belshazzar was slain.
According to the Associates for Biblical Research publication Bible and Spade (Summer-Autumn 1983), Dr. William Shea has determined that Nitocris, the mother of Belshazzar, was probably the queen who insisted that Belshazzar call on Daniel for the translation of the writing on the wall. His source for such information is from Herodotus' Histories (I. 185-188), which says that she was the last great queen of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
The historian Herodotus also gives us an account (1.191) of the Medes and Persian invasion that took Belshazzar's life. He wrote that Darius and Cyrus came in control of the city while "they [Babylonians] were dancing and making merry" by the diverting of the Euphrates. Though some may disagree, this belief is supported by the findings of Koldeway, who states that the Euphrates was at its lowest point during that time of the year and that a water channel was probably used to enter the city. Xenophon also reports the story in his Cyropaedia (7.5.15) in which he wrote that the Persians chose to attack knowing that a certain festival was going to occur "when all Babylon was accustomed to drink and revel all night long" (Yamauchi, 1996, 86-87). During the invasion, Belshazzar was slain, but a firm timeline where this occurred is up for debate.
The Battle of Opis, the conflict in which Belshazzar may have died, has been stated by Georges Roux as the event that took his life (Roux 1992, 387), but Dr. Edwin Yamauchi disagrees with Roux because the Nabonidas Chronicle states that Cyrus defeated Akkad at the Battle of Opis in September prior to the October 12th date of Darius' move into the city (Yamauchi 1996, 86) unless two battles were within weeks of each other . The one factor that could make this event possible is the distance between Babylon and nearby Opis. To put a final cap on the death of Belshazzar, one needs to look at Xenophon's Cyropaedia 7.5.29-30 in which he states that a King did die in the palace the night of the fall of Babylon, but unfortunately the writer did not mention the Kings name. (Shea Summer - Autumn 1983, 87).
Babylon under New Leadership
After the death of Belshazzar, Gubaru (perhaps Darius) entered the city of Babylon on October 12, 539 B.C.E. not with a roar but a whimper as will be seen (some scholars claim that Cyrus is Darius – a common use of a “double name” from this time period though this is speculative). He was soon to be followed by his commander Cyrus. Cyrus the Great, a humane and wise administrator, captured Babylon on Oct. 29, 539 B.C.E. and his empire would last approximately 200 years until the rise of Alexander the Great around 331 B.C. This military man captured the Medes in the 550's B.C.E. and overran Lydia in 546 B.C., but what he may be best remembered for is his kindness to the exiles in Babylon. The Cyrus Cylinder, found by Hormuzd Rassam in the nineteenth century, records this generosity in allowing the exiles to return home, including the Jews to Palestine. The Cylinder states, "I also gathered all of their inhabitants and returned to them their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk….all the gods…in their former chapels." Another notable record asks the gods of the people "exiled" to acknowledge his good deed and perhaps the people will refrain from future ill will: "May all the gods of whom I have resettled in their sacred cities ask daily Bel and Nebo for a long life for me and may they recommend me to Marduk" (Free 1992, 203-204).
Gubaru and the Lions Den
Darius the Mede not to be confused with Darius I (Ezra 4:5 and Zech. 1:1) and Darius II (Neh. 12:2), may be the General Gubaru mentioned in the Nabonidas Chronicle who entered Babylon "without a battle" and conquered it for Cyrus on October 12, 539 B.C. (Shea Summer 1991, 69) Dr. Shea believes that Darius may be the throne name of Gubaru (Shea-ETS 1995), and this same general may have committed Daniel to the lion's den. On Column 3 lines 16B-18, the Nabonidas Chronicle states that guards were placed around "all temple sites," shortly after Persian control of the city and that the citizens' local gods were not permitted to go back to their places of worship until the edict was abolished. Why were the gods not permitted to return? The answer may lie in Daniel chapter 6. 6
So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: "O King Darius, live forever! 7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions' den. 8 Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered-in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed." 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing. (http://bible.com/bibles.html).
This part of the Chronicle may refer to Darius' decree. The reason why the gods were not permitted to return was that only Darius was to be worshipped; thus, guards were put around the temples to prevent worship (Shea – Evangelical Theological Society/Near East Archaeological Society 1995).
Another portion of this Chronicle that may be of interest to the biblical researcher is located on Column 3 lines 19 and 20B and will be referred to here. The Bible states that Daniel was one of three administrators that were put over 120 satraps and that he was the most prominent and well regarded. These satraps, as well as the rest of the administrators, tried to find fault with Daniel concerning governing affairs but were unable to find any flaws, so they devised a scheme in which Daniel would be killed. Knowing the egotism of the king, they developed an edict in which the king could only be worshipped. The king signed it, and Daniel was put under surveillance. Knowing full well Daniel's prayer habits, the satraps and other members of government caught him during prayer, brought him to the king and Darius, who was unable to rescind his edict and had no choice but to throw his friend into the den. The following morning, the king cried out to Daniel who was still amongst the lions. Daniel replied that he was safe due to the protection of an angel whom his God had sent. Angrily, the King threw the accusers and their families into the den, where they were instantly devoured. So how does this relate to the last portion of
Daniel 6?
Shea believes that lines 19 and 20B speak of Gubaru or Ugbaru making the first appointments to his administration and that the Governor of Gubaru or Ugbaru made the second appointments. Why make two appointments? Presumably, something happened to the first administration (Shea - ETS 1995).
The Black Basalt Lion of Babylon
Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land: "May you prosper greatly! "I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel, "For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions." So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus [1] the Persian. (Daniel chapter 6:25-28, http://bible.com/bibles.html).
In 1776 a black basalt Lion of Babylon statue was discovered by some local villagers in a museum area of Babylon to which Nebuchadnezzar and other kings had contributed throughout their reigns. This 9 foot long beast is not characteristic of Babylonian design but is perhaps Persian (stone, style by sculptor, subject matter). The lion depicted is standing over a man, looking straight forward, and it is not devouring its victim (unlike Nubian depictions of attack). The statue's lower jaw was not finished or was chipped away, and the mane and back contained an inscription (probably cuneiform) that was destroyed. But who would intentionally deface this sculpture? Dr. Shea believes that this lion may have been set up by Gubaru (Darius) to commemorate the event of Daniel's escape and was later disfigured by the enemies and remaining members of the administrators' families who set out to destroy the historical record. (Shea Summer 1991, 71-75).
It is safe to say that the Book of Daniel is a strong example of Neo-Babylonian history. Though archaeology has uncovered some evidence there is much that we don't know owing to either political or economic restraints and it is certain that the biblical critic will continue his attacks. Fortunately, individuals like Daugherty will also arrive on the scene and retract their beliefs for the benefit of science and faith when archaeology provides evidence. I just pray that those skeptics will have the strength to confess their errors and not repeat Daugherty's terrible end.
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Blaicklock, Edward M. The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983.
Free, Joseph P. Archaeology and Bible History. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992.
Marzahn, Joachim. The Ishtar Gate. Berlin, Germany: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preufisher Kulterbesitz, 1994.
Price, Randall. The Stones Cry Out. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1997.
Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq. London, England: Penguin Books, 1980.
Shea , William H. Daniel 3: Extra-Biblical Texts and the Convocation on the Plain of Dura. Berrien Springs/Dexter, Michigan: Thomas-Shore Inc., The Journal of the Seventh Day Adventist Theological Seminary -Vol. 20- Number 1- (Spring 1982) : 30-33, 37-39, 46-50.
Shea, William, H. Nabonidas, Belshazzar and the Book of Daniel: An Update. Ballston Spa, New York: Word of Truth Productions/Bible and Spade - The Associates for Biblical Research, (Summer- Autumn 1983): 77, 87.
Shea, William, H. Daniel and the Lions Den. Ephrata, Pennsylvania: The Associates for Biblical Research - Archaeology and Biblical Research, (Summer 1991): 69, 71-75.
Shea, William, H. New Readings for the Nabonidas Chronicle and their Implications for the Identification of Darius the Mede (cassette tape). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Evangelical Theological Society (ATS), 1995.
Wise, Michael O., Abegg, Martin G., Cook, Edward M. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. San Francisco, California: HarperCollins, 1996.
Yamauchi, Edwin M. Persia and the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Co., 1996.
http://bible.com/bibles.html, Christ Unlimited Ministries. Dewey, AZ: 2001.