Nabonidus

NABONIDUS nă’ bə nī’ dəs (Lat. form of Gr. Ναβουνάιδος, also Herodotus [i. 74], Ααβυνητος; Akkad. Nabū-Na’id [“the god Nabū is to be revered”]). The last king of Chaldaean Babylonia, 556-539 b.c.

Sources.

An eighty-four line Babylonian Chronicle (BM 35382), three steles from Harran and a libelous VS account of his reign by Cyrus are direct historical sources. These may be supplemented by numerous contemporary business and economic documents and by the later accounts of Gr. historians, Herodotus and Berossus (preserved in Jos. Apion I. 20-21 and Euseb. Prep. Evang. ix. 41). The Book of Daniel describes the fall of Babylon on which Jos. Antiq. X. xi. 2 relied.

Family.

Nabonidus was the only son of Nabu-balatṩu-iqbi, a “wise prince and governor,” at Harran and of Adda-guppi’, an influential votary of the gods Sin, Ningal, Nusgu and Sardarunna, who died in 547 b.c., aged 104, and was given a state funeral and public mourning. Both were prob. of royal blood, and Nabonidus may well have been related to Nebuchadrezzar through marriage so that his son and co-regent Bēl-shar-uṩur (Belshazzar) could claim to be a descendant of that illustrious monarch (so Dan 5:11, 18). He made a daughter, Bēl-shalti-Nannar, high-priestess of the moon-god Sin at Ur.

Reign.

If identical with the person of the same name in a contract of the eighth year of Nebuchadrezzar, he was then a chief official of a Babylonian city and could thus have been the Labynetus who acted as the Babylonian intermediary, with Syennesis of Cilicia, between Alyattes of Lydia and Astyages the Mede in 585 b.c. (see Nebuchadrezzar). Nebuchadrezzar was succeeded by a period of family strife in which his son Evil-Merodach (two years) and son-in-law Neriglissar (for four years) were followed by another son Labashi-Marduk who was recognized as king only for two months, May-June 556 b.c., in part of Babylonia, Nabonidus being supported by other cities to be accepted as sole ruler by the end of June. Two years later he entrusted the rule of Babylon to his son Belshazzar whom he had made coregent (BM 91125). He himself moved to Harran where restoration work on the temple of the moon-god Sin, Ehulhul, was begun after its ruin by the Medes as indicated to him in a dream. From there he moved S to attack Adummu (Edom) and the sheikh of Teima’ in NW Arabia, who was killed. Here Nabonidus settled with his Babylonian and Syro-Palestinian troops and gained control of an area S to Dedan and Yathrib (Medina). Various theories have been put forward to explain the ten years he spent in this area. It has been considered an act of madness (Dan 4) or an astute economic move to control the valuable spice routes from S Arabia to the N, to Babylonia and to Egypt. Commercial tablets show that the king kept in touch with his capital, Babylon, and it is clear that no such sojourn could have been possible without the peaceful relations with the Arabs he claimed. It is possible that the move was connected with the dire famine which was rife in Babylonia and attributed by Nabonidus to the impiety of the people. Prices there increased by fifty percent during the decade between 560 and 550 while in Teim a’ the rains never failed. It is unlikely that the voluntary exile was due to any desire to avoid close contact with the increasing power, since Astyages was not captured by Cyrus till 549 b.c. According to the Harran stela there was a change in the attitude of the kings of Egypt (Amasis II) and of the Medes (at this time Cyrus). The Arabs and other rulers were said to have also resumed good relations. On the seventeenth day of Teshrit in 545 Nabonidus therefore returned to Babylon where he carried out work on various shrines, including that of the sun-god Shamash at Sippar. The weakness of the state was evident in both its economy and defense. The Medes overran the zone E of the Tigris River, and the Elamites parts of southern Babylonia. In 547 he brought the gods of the principal cities into Babylon in an attempt to save them from the advancing enemies now aided by the defector Gobryas of Gutium. The Persians moved on Babylon in 539. The city was entered by a stratagem and without a battle on October 12. On that night Belshazzar was put to death (Dan 5:30). Nabonidus, who had fled to Borsippa, re-entered the city and was taken prisoner. According to one tradition, he died in exile in Carmania (Jos. Apion I. 20). Seventeen days later Cyrus himself entered the city and took over the throne. The political power at Babylon now passed from Sem. into Pers. hands.

Religion.

It has been customary to see in Nabonidus a reformer who aimed to replace Marduk and make the worship of the moon-god Sin paramount in Babylonia. On this view he was thwarted by a priestly party in the country which forced him into exile in Arabia where he was able to indulge in such worship unhindered. Against this, his inscrs. show that while interested in Sin shrines for family reasons he showed the customary piety in restoring the temples of other deities including that of Marduk at Babylon and Shamash at Sippar. Due regard is paid also to other deities in his building inscrs. His activity in the work of restoration has led him to be designated a “royal archeologist” but his interest in the past, exemplified by the copies of earlier texts found in the course of restoration work, esp. at Ur, only follows ancient Babylonian tradition. The v. account of Cyrus certainly aims to vilify Nabonidus, accusing him of injustice, lack of regard for property, and the failure to observe the correct rites of the New Year Festival. This may well be a later attempt to justify the Pers. conqueror in the eyes of the vanquished. Evaluation of the two points of view must await the discovery of further texts.

The prayer of Nabonidus.

An Aram. text Qumran dated to the second half of the 1st cent. b.c. relates a prayer of this king when he had been smitten by a severe skin disease for seven years while in Teima’. After confession of his sin a Jew tells the king to worship the God Most High. This has been compared with the account of the madness of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:23-33). Since Herodotus calls both Nebuchadrezzar and Nabonidus by the same name (Labynetus) it has been argued that the prayer in Daniel may refer to Nabonidus himself.

Bibliography

S. Smith, Babylonian Historical Texts Relating to the Capture and Downfall of Babylon (1924), 27-123; R. P. Dougherty, Nabonidus and Belshazzar (1929); J. Lewy, “The late Assyro-Babylonian Cult of the Moon and Its Culmination at the Time of Nabonidus,” HUCA XIX (1946), 405-489; A. L. Oppenheim, “Nabonidus,” ANET (1950), 308-314; J. T. Milik, “Prière de Nabonide et autres écrits d’un cycle de Daniel,” RB 62 (1956), 407ff.; C. J. Gadd, “The Harran inscriptions of Nabonidus,” Anatolian Studies VIII (1958), 35-92.