Nebuchadnezzar

NEBUCHADNEZZAR, NEBUCHADREZZAR (nĕb'ū-kăd-nĕz'êr, nĕb'ū-kăd-rĕz'êr). The great king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire who reigned from 605 to 562 b.c. It was he who carried away Judah in the seventy-year Babylonian captivity. He figures prominently in the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the later chapters of Kings and Chronicles. Until recently, not many of Nebuchadnezzar’s historical records had been found, though his building inscriptions are numerous. Now the publication by Wiseman of Nebuchadnezzar’s chronicle fills in some of the gaps.

The name Nebuchadnezzar means “Nebo protect the boundary.” The form Nebuchadrezzar is probably a minor variant. Cf. the variations Tiglath-Pilneser (1Chr.5.26; 2Chr.28.20 kjv) and Tiglath-Pileser (2Kgs.15.29). The appearance of the “n” in Nebuchadnezzar may be an inner Hebrew phenomenon, perhaps a rendition of the name assuming a variant etymology, “Nebo protect the servant.”

Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nabopolassar, seems to have been a general appointed by the Assyrian king. However, in the later years of Assyria he rebelled and established himself as king of Babylon in 626 b.c. The rebellion increased and finally Nabopolassar with the Medes and Scythians conquered Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, in 612. The Medes and Babylonians divided the Assyrian Empire, and a treaty was probably sealed by the marriage of the Median princess to the Babylonian prince, Nebuchadnezzar. In 607 the crown prince Nebuchadnezzar joined his father in the battle against the remnants of the Assyrian power and their allies, the Egyptians. In 605, when his father was in his last illness, he decisively defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish. At this time Nebuchadnezzar took over all Syria and Palestine. Apparently Jehoiakim, king of Judah, who had been vassal to Egypt, quickly did homage to Babylon and gave hostages (Dan.1.1). Nebuchadnezzar at this time got news of his father’s death, and with a picked bodyguard he hastened home to secure his throne. On repeated occasions thereafter he struck toward the west. In about 602 Jehoiakim revolted (2Kgs.24.1), probably with promise of Egyptian help, but was forced to submit. In 601 Nebuchadnezzar attacked Egypt itself but was defeated, as he frankly admits. Later, Pharaoh Hophra submitted to him. In 597 Jehoiakim rebelled again, and Nebuchadnezzar called out his troops for another western expedition. Jehoiakim died either in a siege or by treachery (Jer.22.18-Jer.22.19), and his son Jehoiachin ascended the throne. But he lasted only three months until the campaign was over; he was taken as a hostage to Babylon, where he lived and finally was given relative freedom. Here the biblical account (2Kgs.25.27-2Kgs.25.30) is confirmed by discovery of the Weidner Tablets.

Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiachin’s uncle as puppet king, taking heavy tribute from Jerusalem. Ezekiel was among the captives of that expedition. Nebuchadnezzar’s chronicle agrees with the biblical account, telling how (in 597 b.c.) he “encamped against the city of Judah and on the second day of the month Adar [Mar. 15/16] he seized the city and captured the king. He appointed there a king of his own choice, received its heavy tribute and sent them to Babylon” (D. Wiseman, Chronicles of the Chaldean Kings, 1956, p. 73). This discovery gives about the best authenticated date in the OT.

In later years the Chronicle tells of repeated expeditions of Nebuchadnezzar toward the west to collect tribute and keep the satellite kingdoms in line. Unfortunately, the present tablets do not go beyond 593, so they give no record of the final and brutal devastation of Jerusalem in 586 when Zedekiah revolted. The historical gap extends to 556 except for a brief account of a campaign to southern Asia Minor by Neriglissar in 557.

Nebuchadnezzar is celebrated by the historians of antiquity for the splendor of his building operations as well as for the brilliance of his military exploits. Koldewey’s excavations in Babylon illustrate the histories. Still impressive are the remains of the Ishtar Gate and the processional street lined with façades of enameled brick bearing pictures of griffins (fabled monsters with eagle head and wings and lion body). The temple of Esagila was famous, as were also the ziggurat, or temple tower, and the hanging gardens. These were regarded by the Greeks as one of the wonders of the world, though nothing certain of them has been excavated. According to legend, they were built for Nebuchadnezzar’s wife, the Median princess Amytis, who was homesick for her mountains. Parrot, in a study of the ziggurat, reconstructs it as a pyramidal tower, 298 feet (93 m.) square and rising in seven stages to a height of 300 feet (94 m.).

Historical records are brief and could hardly be expected to mention the incidents of Nebuchadnezzar’s life detailed by Daniel. But there is nothing false about the dream of the vision of 2Kgs.2.1-2Kgs.2.25 nor in the incident of the idol and the fiery furnace. A similar practice seems to be referred to in Jer.29.22. It has been pointed out that this incident is more suited to the Babylonian period than the later Persian time, for the Persians worshiped fire and would be less apt to use it for execution.

As to the madness of Nebuchadnezzar in Dan.4.1-Dan.4.37, there is no historical account remaining for us, but it must be remembered that much of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign is a historical blank. Anything could have happened. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls a fragment has been found, the Prayer of Nabonidus, that refers to an illness of the king for seven years that was healed by God after the testimony of a Jewish magician. Some now say that this is the source of the legend that in Daniel is misapplied to Nebuchadnezzar. This can hardly be proved or denied from historical evidence. It seems equally possible that the canonical record was duplicated and applied to the later king. Indeed, more than one king suffered from illness and from mental distress—Ashurbanipal and Cambyses may be mentioned. If truth is stranger than fiction, both Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus may have suffered in a somewhat similar way—the similarities being emphasized in the latter’s prayer. There is perhaps a bare possibility that the names are confused. Two rebels after the reign of Cambyses apparently took the name of Nebuchadnezzar. There is uncertainty as to the name of Labynetus, who mediated the Median-Lydian treaty of 585 b.c. Some think he was Nabonidus, some say Nebuchadnezzar. Is it out of the question that Nabonidus also on occasion adopted the name Nebuchadnezzar? He had abundant precedent, but we have no positive evidence.

Of the death of Nebuchadnezzar we have no knowledge. He was succeeded by his son Evil-Merodach (Amil-Marduk), then by his son-in-law Nergal-Sharezer (Neriglissar), for brief reigns. Nabonidus, who followed after the short reign of Labashi-Marduk, was perhaps related. There is some evidence that Nabonidus’s mother was the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar by a second wife, Nitocris. With the passing of the brilliant Nebuchadnezzar, however, the Neo-Babylonian Empire soon crumbled and fell an easy prey to the Persians under Cyrus.——RLH


NEBUCHADNEZZAR nĕb’ ə kəd nĕz ər (נְבֻכַדְנֶאצַּ֖ר, possibly Aram. [or dissimulated] form from Akkad. Nabū-kudurri-usūr—“[the god] Nabu has protected my inheritance.” So Gr. Ναβουχοδονοσόρ. The Akkad. is closely transliterated by Heb. נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּ֥ר as NEBUCHADREZZAR). King of Babylon, 605-562 b.c.

Sources.

In addition to 2 Kings 23-25, Jeremiah 22; 32-40; 2 Chronicles 36, Daniel and Ezra, a Babylonian Chronicle (BM 21946) outlines the events of his first eleven regnal years. Otherwise two brief historical inscrs., building texts and some 800 contracts are the only external contemporary sources for this reign.

Family.

Nebuchadnezzar was the eldest son of Nabopolassar, founder of the Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian dynasty of Babylon. He married Nitocris whose daughter may have married a son Nabonidus, who eventually succeeded him on the throne. He also married Amytis (Amuhia), daughter of Astyages, king of the Medes, possibly as part of the ratification of a political alliance. He had at least three sons, Amēl-Marduk (Evil-Merodach) who immediately succeeded him, Marduk-šum-uṩur and Marduk-šum-lišir. His brother was Nabu-šuma-lišir.

History.

Crown prince Nebuchadnezzar personally led the Babylonian army in the place of his aging father into the northeastern mountains in 607 b.c. and again, two years later, when the Babylonians revenged their defeat by the Egyptians at Kimuḫu through the capture of Carchemish after bloody hand-to-hand fighting in the city in late spring 605 b.c. He pursued the stragglers as far as Hamath so that “not a single man escaped to his own country.” “At that time,” he recorded, “he conquered the whole area of Hatti” (i.e. Syro-Pal.), and penetrated to the Egyp. border to prevent further encroachment from that source (2 Kings 24:7; Jos. Antiq. X. 6. 1, 2). At this time Daniel and his companions were prob. dispatched as hostages. The only evidence that the Babylonians entered Judah itself in this year is Daniel 1:1, which might equally be interpreted as applying to the events of the following year. Nebuchadnezzar established himself at Riblah or Kadesh where he learned of the death of his father on the eighth of Ab (15/16 August 605 b.c.). With a few close friends he rode directly across the desert in twenty-three days to take the throne of Babylon on the first day of Elul (6/7 September 605) and be recognized as king throughout the land. His position was strong enough for him to resume his campaign in Syria almost at once and to stay in the field until February of the following year. It was prob. during this campaign in which he claimed to have received tribute from “all the kings of Hatti” that Jehoiakim of Judah submitted to him and began a vassalage which was to last for three years (2 Kings 24:1). Ashkelon, which refused to bow to the Babylonians, was sacked, and taken as a dire warning by Jeremiah of the effect of rebellion (Jer 47:5-7). In the following years Nebuchadnezzar besieged an unnamed city in Syria and mastered some event at home which appears to have involved his younger brother Nabu-šuma-lišir.


In 589 Zedekiah rebelled, once again trusting in Egyp. promises of aid. The countryside throughout Judah was ravaged, Lachish sacked, and Tyre besieged for what was to be thirteen years (c. 587-574 b.c.; Ezek 29:18). In 587 Jerusalem fell and the Temple was demolished. Further deportees were carried off to Babylon. Nevertheless, resistance was strong enough to require further operations against the Arabs and the remnant of Judah in 582 and yet another deportation (Jer 52:30). Historical sources are lacking for the last years of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, though one fragmentary text implies an invasion of Egypt in 568/7 b.c. (as Jer 43:8-13; Ezek 29:19). Since Herodotus calls both Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus by the same name of Labynetus, it is not yet clear which of them acted as mediator between the Lydians and Medes at the Halys River. That it was Nebuchadnezzar himself is possible, for he had marriage ties with Astyages and as yet the Medes were not in a position to dominate the W. Absence of contemporary texts means that there is no direct reference to his death in August-September 562 b.c. This might have been preceded by lycanthropy, the madness which lasted for seven months (or “times,” Dan 4:23-33). Nothing so far known of the retreat of Nabonidus to Teima’ supports the view that this episode is a confused account of events in the latter’s reign.

Religion.

In his inscrs. Nebuchadnezzar invokes the major Babylonian pantheon and recorded his devotion to the gods Marduk, Nabu, Shamash, Sin, Gula and Adad among others. At the principal shrines he furnished regular offerings of meat, fish, grain and drink. Like his predecessors he claims to have had an image of his royal figure set up in the “plain of Dura” as a reminder of his power and responsibilities (cf. Dan 3:1).

Building.

Nebuchadnezzar’s boast as a citybuilder and planner is not hollow (Dan 4:30). He extended Babylon by building a new quarter and palace for his own use. Within the citadel he rebuilt the sacred Procession Way decorated with 120 flanking lions passant leading from the Ishtar gate, itself adorned with enameled brickwork depicting 575 dragons and bulls, almost a mile to the temples of Esagila of Marduk and Ezida of Nabu. These lay at the foot of the ziggurat or temple-tower of Babylon called Etemenanki, “the House which is the foundation of Heaven and earth.” The base, constructed of kiln baked brickwork around a mud-brick core, measured c. 130 yards square rising with seven stories topped by a small temple to an estimated height of about 300 ft. Near the Ishtar Gate he built the Temple of Ninmah (recently reconstructed). Tradition also ascribes to him the “Hanging Gardens” said to have been created on terraces overlooking the palace to remind his wife of her native Media (Jos. Apion 1. 19; Jos. Antiq. X. 11. 1). The vast city was given a series of double defense walls covering seventeen m. and further safeguarded to the SW by an immense artificial lake. The city was supplied by canals bringing water from the River Tigris, while the River Euphrates, which bisected it, was spanned with bridges. All these building activities, which extended to other cities to the N and S, were marked by inscribed and stamped bricks. While the survival of these buildings at least until the time of Xerxes did much to insure the later fame of Nebuchadrezzar, it is noteworthy that he himself had prob. taken the throne-name from an illustrious predecessor who had successfully freed Babylonia from the domination of Assyria and Elam (1124-1103 b.c.). Two later usurpers, Nebuchadnezzar III (Nidintu-Bel) in the time of Darius I ruled October-December 522 and Nebuchadnezzar IV (Araka) from Augu st to October 521 b.c.

Bibliography

S. H. Langdon, Die neubabylonischen Königsinschriften (1912), 18-45; D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (626-556 b.c.) in the British Museum (1956), 18, 37; 64-75; A. Malamat, “A New Record of Nebuchadrezzar’s Palestinian Campaigns,” IEJ, VI (1956), 246-256.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

neb-u-kad-nez’-ar, -rez’-ar: Nebuchadnezzar, the second king of Babylon of that name, is best known as the king who conquered Judah, destroyed Jerusalem, and carried the people of the Jews captive to Babylon. Of all the heathen monarchs mentioned by name in the Scriptures, Nebuchadnezzar is the most prominent and the most important. The prophecies of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, and the last chapters of Kings and Chronicles centered about his life, and he stands preeminent, along with the Pharaohs of the oppression and the exodus, among the foes of the kingdom of God. The documents which have been discovered in Babylon and elsewhere within the last 75 years have added much to our knowledge of this monarch, and have in general confirmed the Biblical accounts concerning him.

1. His Name:

His name is found in two forms in the Bible, Nebuchadnezzar and Nebuchadrezzar. In the Septuagint he is called Nabouchodonosor, and in the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) Nabuchodonosor. This latter form is found also in the King James Version Apocrypha throughout and in the Revised Version (British and American) 1 Esdras, Ad Esther and Baruch, but not Judith or Tobit. This change from "r" to "n" which is found in the two writings of the name in the Hebrew and the Aramaic of the Scriptures is a not uncommon one in the Semitic languages, as in Burnaburiyash and Burraburiyash, Ben-hadad and Bar-hadad (see Brockelmann’s Comparative Grammar, 136, 173, 220). It is possible, however, that the form Nebuchadnezzar is the Aramaic translation of the Babylonian Nebuchadrezzar. If we take the name to be compounded of Nabu-kudurri-usur in the sense "O Nebo, protect thy servant," then Nabu-kedina-usur would be the best translation possible in Aramaic. Such translations of proper names are common in the old versions of the Scriptures and elsewhere. For example, in WAI, V, 44, we find 4 columns of proper names of persons giving the Sumerian originals and the Semitic translations of the same; compare Bar-hadad in Aramaic for Hebrew Ben-hadad. In early Aramaic the "S" had not yet become "T" (see Cooke, Text-Book of North-Sem Inscriptions, 188 f); so that for anyone who thought that kudurru meant "servant," Nebuchadnezzar would be a perfect translation into Aramaic of Nebuchadrezzar.

2. Family:

The father of Nebuchadnezzar was Nabopolassar, probably a Chaldean prince. His mother is not known by name. The classical historians mention two wives: Amytis, the daughter of Astyages, and Nitocris, the mother of Nabunaid. The monuments mention three sons: Evil-merodach who succeeded him, Marduk-shum-utsur, and Marduk-nadin-achi. A younger brother of Nebuchadnezzar, called Nabu-shum-lishir, is mentioned on a building-inscription tablet from the time of Nabopolassar.

3. Sources of Information:

The sources of our information as to the life of Nebuchadnezzar are about 500 contract tablets dated according to the days, months and years of his reign of 43 years; about 30 building and honorific inscriptions; one historical inscription; and in the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Kings. Later sources are Chronicles, Ezra, and the fragments of Berosus, Menander, Megasthenes, Abydenus, and Alexander Polyhistor, largely as cited by Josephus and Eusebius.

4. Political History:

From these sources we learn that Nebuchadnezzar succeeded his father on the throne of Babylon in 604 BC, and reigned till 561 BC. He probably commanded the armies of Babylon from 609. BC. At any rate, he was at the head of the army which defeated Pharaoh-necoh at Carchemish on the Euphrates in 605 BC (see 2Ki 23:31; 2Ch 35:20 ff). After having driven Necoh out of Asia and settled the affairs of Syria and Palestine, he was suddenly recalled to Babylon by the death of his father. There he seems quietly to have ascended the throne. In the 4th year of Jehoiakim (or 3rd according to the Babylonian manner of reckoning (Da 1:1)), he came up first against Jerusalem and carried away part of the vessels of the temple and a few captives of noble lineage. Again, in Jehoiakim’s 11th year, he captured Jerusalem, put Jehoiakim, its king, into chains, and probably killed him. His successor, Jehoiachin, after a three months’ reign, was besieged in Jerusalem, captured, deposed, and carried captive to Babylon, where he remained in captivity 37 years until he was set free by Evil-merodach. In the 9th year of Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar made a 4th expedition against Jerusalem which he besieged, captured, and destroyed (see Jer 52). In addition to these wars with Judah, Nebuchadnezzar carried on a long siege of Tyre, lasting 13 years, from his 7th to his 20th year. He had at least three wars with Egypt. The first culminated in the defeat of Necoh at Carchemish; the second in the withdrawal of Hophra (Apries) from Palestine in the 1st year of the siege of Jerusalem under Zedekiah; and the third saw the armies of Nebuchadnezzar entering Egypt in triumph and defeating Amasis in Nebuchadnezzar’s 37th year. In the numerous building and honorific inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar he makes no mention by name of his foes or of his battles; but he frequently speaks of foes that he had conquered and of many peoples whom he ruled. Of these peoples he mentions by name the Hittites and others (see Langdon, 148-51). In the Wady-Brissa inscription, he speaks of a special conquest of Lebanon from some foreign foe who had seized it; but the name of the enemy is not given.

5. Buildings, etc.:

The monuments justify the boast of Nebuchadnezzar "Is not this great Babylon that I have built?" (Da 4:30). Among these buildings special emphasis is placed by Nebuchadnezzar upon his temples and shrines to the gods, particularly to Marduk, Nebo and Zarpinat, but also to Shamash, Sin, Gula, Ramman, Mah, and others. He constructed, also, a great new palace and rebuilt an old one of his father’s. Besides, he laid out and paved with bricks a great street for the procession of Marduk, and built a number of great walls with moats and moat-walls and gates. He dug several broad, deep canals, and made dams for flooding the country to the North and South of Babylon, so as to protect it against the attack of its enemies. He made, also, great bronze bulls and serpents, and adorned his temples and palaces with cedars and gold. Not merely in Babylon itself, but in many of the cities of Babylonia as well, his building operations were carried on, especially in the line of temples to the gods.

6. Religion, etc.:

The inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar show that he was a very religious man, probably excelling all who had preceded him in the building of temples, in the institution of offerings, and the observance of all the ceremonies connected with the worship of the gods. His larger inscriptions usually contain two hymns and always close with a prayer. Mention is frequently made of the offerings of precious metals, stones and woods, of game, fish, wine, fruit, grain, and other objects acceptable to the gods. It is worthy of note that these offerings differ in character and apparently in purpose from those in use among the Jews. For example, no mention is made in any one of Nebuchadnezzar’s inscriptions of the pouring out or sprinkling of blood, nor is any reference made to atonement, or to sin.

7. Madness:

No reference is made in any of these inscriptions to Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity. But aside from the fact that we could scarcely expect a man to publish his own calamity, especially madness, it should be noted that according to Langdon we have but three inscriptions of his written in the period from 580 to 561 BC. If his madness lasted for 7 years, it may have occurred between 580 and 567 BC, or it may have occurred between the Egyptian campaign of 567 BC and his death in 561 BC. But, as it is more likely that the "7 times" mentioned in Da may have been months, the illness may have been in any year after 580 BC, or even before that for all we know.

8. Miracles, etc.:

No mention is made on the monuments

(1) of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar recorded in Da 2, or

(2) of the image of gold that he set up, or

(3) of the fiery furnace from which the three children were delivered (Da 3).

As to (1), it may be said, however, that a belief in dreams was so universal among all the ancient peoples, that a single instance of this kind may not have been considered as worthy of special mention. The annals of Ashur-banipal and Nubu-naid and Xerxes give a number of instances of the importance attached to dreams and their interpretation. It is almost certain that Nebuchadnezzar also believed in them. That the dream recorded in Da is not mentioned on the monuments seems less remarkable than that no dream of his is recorded.

As to (2) we know that Nebuchadnezzar made an image of his royal person (salam sharrutiya, Langdon, XIX, B, col. x, 6; compare the image of the royal person of Nabopolassar, id, p. 51), and it is certain that the images of the gods were made of wood (id, p. 155), that the images of Nebo and Marduk were conveyed in a bark in the New Year’s procession (id, pp. 157, 159, 163, 165) and that there were images of the gods in all the temples (id, passim); and that Nebuchadnezzar worshipped before these images. That Nebuchadnezzar should have made an image of gold and put it up in the Plain of Dura is entirely in harmony with what we know of his other "pious deeds."

(3) As to "the fiery furnace," it is known that Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria, says that his own brother, Shamash-shumukin, was burned in a similar furnace.

The failure of Nebuchadnezzar to mention any of the particular persons or events recorded in Da does not disprove their historicity, any more than his failure to mention the battle of Carchemish, or the siege of Tyre and Jerusalem, disproves them. The fact is, we have no real historical inscription of Nebuchadnezzar, except one fragment of a few broken lines found in Egypt.

LITERATURE.

T.G. Pinches, The New Testament in the Light of the Historical Records and Legends of Assyria and Babylonia; Stephen Langdon, Building Inscriptions of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. See also, Rogers, History of Babylonia and Assyria; and McCurdy, History, Prophecy and the Monuments, III.

R. Dick Wilson