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Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadrezzar

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