Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

See also Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin

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 (Dan 5:25-28).

I. The text. 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 Daniel 5:27, 28, presupposes the MT (so Eissfeldt). Most revocalizations of the text and discussions, as that which considers the second mene has been added to bring a parallel with the four kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7, are in effect questions of interpretation.

II. The reading. 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.

III. Interpretation. 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 (v. 18) and removes it (v. 19). He alone rules in the kingdom of men as of heaven and sets over an earthly realm whom He will (v. 21). So he interpreted mn’ to include both the numbering of the days of a reign as of life (Ps 90:12) and thus the inevitable end of it. Təqal, “he weighed,” was taken by Daniel as Pi’el təquiltâ, “thou hast been weighed.” The verb commonly is used in Babylonian to denote what is owed, and must be paid, in a debt. Peres (here sing.) is equated with the Akkad. parāsu meaning to “divide” and thus “decide, pass judgment.” So he sees the kingdom as about to be divided up and given to the combined Medes (Madai) and Persians (Parsai). The latter is a word-play on parsin. Daniel’s interpretation followed common Jewish exegetical practice and won immediate acceptance as credible. The advance of the combined Medo-Persian army was already common knowledge since at least two weeks earlier they had breached the Babylonian defenses at Opis.

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.

Bibliography 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.

Article 2

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 (Da 5:25). As the only authority that we have for the reading is that of Daniel, it seems but fair that the interpretation of the terms be left to the person who gave us the text. According to his interpretation, there is a double sense to be found in the three different words of the inscription (Da 5:26-28).

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 the Book of Daniel gives 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 Ge 23:16, where we have ethqel). In the Targum of Onkelos, wherever tiqla’ occurs, it translates the Hebrew beqa` (Ge 24:22 and Ex 38:26 only). Mene’, to be sure, may have meant the mina, and perec, the half-mina. The parash is mentioned in the inscription of Panammu and in an Aramaic inscription on an Assyrian weight. Besides this, it is found in the New Hebrew of the Mishna It is not found, however, in the Targum of Onkelos, nor in Syriac, nor in the Old Testament Hebrew; nor in the sense of half-shekel in the Aramaic papyri. While, then, it may be admitted that Daniel may have read, "A mina, a mina, a shekel, and two half-minas," it is altogether unlikely, and there is certainly no proof that he did. Yet, if he did, his punning interpretations were justified by the usage of ancient oracles and interpreters of signs, and also by the event.

R. Dick Wilson