Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN (mē'nē, mē'nē, tē'kĕl, ū-par’sĭn). Four Aramaic words that suddenly appeared on the wall of Belshazzar’s banquet hall where the king “gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them” (
There has been much discussion about the original form of the inscription and about its interpretation. The words seem to refer to three weights in common use: the “mina,” the “shekel,” and the “half-mina.” Or they may be terms used in Mesopotamian counting houses: “numbered, numbered, weighed, and divisions.” Upharsin (kjv, mlb, nasb, neb; parsin niv, rsv) in the inscription (
What Daniel had to deliver as the message by the mysterious writer was the fact that “God had numbered” the days of the kingdom; the king had “been weighed on the scales and found wanting”; his “kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” There was not much time between interpretation and fulfillment, for “that very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain.”
See J. G. Baldwin, Daniel (TOTC), 1978.——JGJ
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN mē’ nĭ, mē’ nĭ, tek əl u fär sĭn (מְנֵ֥א מְנֵ֖א תְּקֵ֥ל וּפַרְסִֽין RSV. MENE MENE TEKEL and PARSIN mē’ nĭ mē’ nĭ tek əl and pär’ sĭn; LXX (5:1) μανή φαρες θεκελ; also Theodotion 5:28, Jos. Antiq. X. xi. 3). Inscription written on the wall of the palace of Belshazzar at Babylon (
The handwriting prob. employed the local unvocalized Aram. in cursive script. It is, however, possible that ideographs in Neo-Babylonian cuneiform script were used. Some vocalize the initial word as menâ, “he has weighed” or “weigh out”; others argue that the second mene is dittography and a later addition to the text. However, the interpretation given in
The fact that the king was disturbed as the hand wrote across the wall was almost certainly due to the unique manner and timing which would remind a Babylonian of the so-called šiṭir šame or “writing of heaven” which was an augury. That the leading scholars of Babylon failed to read and interpret was not due to its illegibility, or use of an unknown or esoteric script or language, since Daniel made an interpretation on the basis of Aram. The problem was one of both reading (vocalization) and interpretation and in both of these many variations were possible: a. “Mina, mina, shekel and half-shekels.” This series of weights was approximately equivalent to our “pound, pound, ounce, half-ounce” though at that time the mina weighed 1 lb. 1 oz. (= 60 shekels). This must have offered many speculative possibilities to the Babylonians versed in arithmetical, algebraic, and astronomical methods, esp. as numbers or words were sometimes used as symbols in certain types of omen texts. The peres is attested as a “half-shekel” both at Babylon and in the Alalah tablets from Syria in the 14th cent. b.c. Parsin could be pl. (or even a form of the dual) i.e. two half-shekels. The u- is the common copulative particle. b. “Counted, counted, weighed and assessed.” These words might be a popular proverbial saying involving wordplay on the above interpretation (a) or even a technical legal phrase denoting the completion of a contract and the final demand for fulfilling its terms.
Daniel’s successful interpretation accepted both readings and, by revocalization, added a third, menâ, “he numbered.” He had already stated his belief that it was the Most High God who gives kingship (
Daniel’s interpretation demands that the kingdom found wanting and to be superseded by the Medes and Persians was the Chaldaean Dynasty founded by Nabopolassar in 626 b.c. of which the last ruler was Nabonidus (“Nebuchadnezzar” of v. 22) and his son and coregent Belshazzar. A number of interpreters since Clermont-Gannean have therefore sought to equate each of the words in the writing “mina, mina, shekel and half-shekel” with kings of this dynasty. Various correspondences are suggested with Nabopolassar (626-605); Nebuchadrezzar II (605-562); Amel-Marduk (= Evil Merodach 562-560); Nergal-šaruṩur (= Neriglissar 560-556); Labashi-Marduk (556); Nabu-na’id (= Nabonidus, 556-539 b.c.). Thus the mina/mina/shekel/half-shekel(s) is interpreted by Clairmont-Ganneau as Nebuchadrezzar/-/Belshazzar/ Medes and Persians; by Kraeling as Evil-Merodach/ Neriglissar/Labashi-Marduk/Nabonidus and Belshazzar; by Freeman as Nebuchadrezzar/-/Evil-Merodach/Belshazzar. It would be equally possible to consider the two great rulers of the dynasty Nabopolassar and Nebuchadrezzar II as the minas and Nabonidus as the shekel with Belshazzar who only had part of the royal powers as the “half-shekel.” The important aspect of the interpretation must remain Daniel’s insistence on the termination of the power of Babylon at the hands of the Medo-Persians.
F. Clermont-Ganneau, “Mané, Thécel, Pharés,” Journale Asiatique (1886), 36-67; E. G. Kraeling, JBL LXIII (1944), 11-14; O. Eissfeldt, “Die Mene-Tekel Inschrift,” ZAW 63 (1951), 105; D. N. Freeman, “The Prayer of Nabonidus,” BASOR 145 (1957), 31, 32.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
me’-ne, me’-ne, te’-kel, u-far’-sin, men’-a, men’a, tek’-el, oo-far’-sin (mene’ ~mene’ ~teqel ~upharcin; Theodotion, Mane, thekel, phares): These are the words that, according to Daniel’s reading, were inscribed on the walls of Belshazzar’s palace and that caused the great commotion on the occasion of his last feast (
Mene’, which, however it is pointed, must be taken from the verb menah (Hebrew manah; Babylonian manu), is said to have indicated that God had numbered (the days of) Belshazzar’s kingdom and finished it (or delivered it up). Both of these meanings can be shown to be proper to the menah.
Teqel, on the contrary, is interpreted as coming from two roots: the first, teqal, "to weigh," and the second, qal, "to be light or wanting" (Hebrew qalal; Babylonian qalalu).
Perec (or parcin) also is interpreted as coming from two roots: first, perac, "to divide" (Hebrew paras or parash; Babylonian parasu), and the second as denoting the proper name Parac, "Persia." Thus interpreted, the whole story hangs together, makes good sense, and is fully justified by the context and by the language employed. If the original text was in Babylonian, the signs were ambiguous; if they were in Aramaic, the consonants alone were written, and hence, the reading would be doubtful. In either case, the inscription was apparent but not readable, except by Daniel with the aid of God, through whom also the seer was enabled to give the proper interpretation. That Daniel’s interpretation was accepted by Belshazzar and the rest shows that the interpretation of the signs was reasonable and convincing when once it had been made. We see, therefore, no good reason for departing from the interpretation that thegives as the true one.
As to the interpretation of the inscription, it makes no difference whether the signs represented a mina, a shekel, and two perases, as has been recently suggested by M. Clermont-Ganneau. In this case the meaning was not so apparent, but the puns, the play upon the sounds, were even better. We doubt, however, if it can be shown that teqel means sheqel. On the old Aramaic documents of Egypt and Assyria, it is with one exception spelled sheqel. In the Targum of Onkelos, sheqel is always rendered by cela`; in the Peshitta and Arabic VSS, by mathqal; in the Samaritan Targum, by mathqal (except only perhaps in
R. Dick Wilson