Agnosticism, Atheism, Bible History, Bible Study, Christianity, God

Family Ties: Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, Belshazzar, and Nitocris

Regular readers of this blog may know that one of the first lines of evidence that caused me to begin questioning my Christian faith had to do with the Book of Daniel. There are a number of issues within the book that have led the majority of scholars to conclude that it was not written by a Jewish prophet living during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and Cyrus of Persia, but that it was written some 400 years later during the Maccabean period. Over the last several days, a few of us have been having an in-depth discussion about those issues at this thread. One of the items we discussed had to do with a woman named Nitocris.

In Daniel 5, we’re told that Belshazzar is now king, and we’re given the impression that he is the son of Nebuchadnezzar. However, from a number of primary sources (some that even date from the Babylonian empire itself) we know that Belshazzar’s father was actually Nabonidus — a king who was not related to Nebuchadnezzar. Christian apologists have suggested a couple of different ways to resolve this issue.

Succession

One is to say that when Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar are talked about as father and son, it simply means in the sense that Belshazzar is a ruler of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar was a former ruler of Babylon. It’s just talking about succession, in other words, not actual parentage. As an example, they point to the Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, which has a section that talks about “Jehu of the house of Omri.” That’s significant because Jehu was not related to Omri. Instead, he was a usurper that took the kingdom from Omri’s grandson. Presumably, Shalmaneser III’s court would have known that Jehu was not related to Omri; therefore, Daniel may not have been in error to refer to Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar as father and son.

However, the phrase “house of” is not quite the same as “father and son”. It’s important to note that it’s no accident Omri was still being referred to a couple of generations after his reign. As Omri’s Wikipedia entry states:

The short-lived dynasty founded by Omri constitutes a new chapter in the history of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It ended almost fifty years of constant civil war over the throne. There was peace with the Kingdom of Judah to the south, and even cooperation between the two rival states, while relations with neighboring Sidon to the north were bolstered by marriages negotiated between the two royal courts. This state of peace with two powerful neighbors enabled the Kingdom of Israel to expand its influence and even political control in Transjordan, and these factors combined brought economic prosperity to the kingdom.

Omri presided over a period of substantial growth for Israel, which caused many in the region to view Israel as Omri’s kingdom, even after he died. As the previous Wikipedia page goes on to say, even over 100 years after his death, Assyrian scribes were referring to Israel as “Omri-Land.” To me, that kind of situation seems rather different from the one we see in Daniel 5. “House of Omri” doesn’t sound as intimate as the words “father” and “son.” To help emphasize that a bit more, let’s look at how many times and in what ways the father-son connection is made in Daniel 5:

Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought — v. 2

There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father — your father the king — made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers — v. 11

The king answered and said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah” — v. 13

O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. — v. 18

And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this — v. 22

As you can see, the father-son connection was not just some throw away line that was barely mentioned. Within 20 verses, that connection is mentioned 9 times. If the writer of Daniel really did think Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s father, he couldn’t have said it any plainer. Belshazzar’s actual father, Nabonidus, is never mentioned in the Book of Daniel. What’s also striking is that the father-son connection is made by 4 different people in this chapter. Verse 2 is the voice of the narrator. The narrator had already written about Nebuchadnezzar in the first 4 chapters of the book, and he never wrote about Nabonidus. It seems strange to me that he would use the “father” description without more clarification, considering his audience wouldn’t likely know the actual relationships between these two individuals. In verse 11, Belshazzar’s mother (we presume) is speaking. She’s actually just referred to as “the queen,” so she could have been Belshazzar’s wife or Nabonidus’s. It’s possible that Nabonidus had more than one wife, so this queen might not even be Belshazzar’s mother. We really don’t know who she is, but she also makes the father-son connection, and she does so more emphatically than anyone else. In verse 13, we have Belshazzar refer to Nebuchadnezzar as “my father,” and in verses 18 and 22, we finally have Daniel make the reference as well. If the father-son connection weren’t real, but just a metaphor, it seems strange to me that all four individuals would use it.

Grandfather – Grandson

The other explanation is that Belshazzar’s mother is Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter. Initially, someone might object by pointing out that Daniel 5 says “father” not “grandfather.” But sadly, Hebrew apparently uses the same word for both. It’s a shame that God didn’t preserve his word in a language that would eliminate this kind of confusion, but there you go. It’s important to note that in the Bible this isn’t usually an issue, because lineage is either talked about in order (Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, etc), or a distant enough ancestor is named that it eliminates any confusion (like referring to “son of David” centuries after David’s death). I can’t think of another instance in the Bible where the words “father” and “son” are used for a grandparent relationship that are as ambivalent and misleading as what we see in Daniel 5, but perhaps there are some. Either way, the words here do technically allow for a grandfather-grandson relationship.

Because the grandfather-grandson connection is a cleaner fit for what we find in Daniel 5, this claim is made quite often in apologetics circles. It’s not uncommon to see it referenced as though it’s fact, without even giving a reference to the original source of the information (like here). But what evidence do we have for this view? Is it just speculation in an effort to rationalize Daniel 5, or are there real reasons for thinking that Belshazzar was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar?

It turns out that the Greek historian Herodotus records information about a Babylonian queen named Nitocris. According to him, she completed a number of construction projects in and around Babylon. She was married to a ruler of Babylon named Labynetos, and her son (also named Labynetos) ruled Babylon when Cyrus came against it (Histories I, v. 185-188). For many years, the general consensus was that the younger Labynetos must have been Nabonidus, since he was king when Cyrus took Babylon, and that the older Labynetos must have been Nebuchadnezzar. However, we’ve since discovered that Nabonidus’s mother was not Nitocris, but Addagoppe of Harran. We also know that Nebuchadnezzar was not the father of Nabonidus, and we’ve discovered that Belshazzar was a real individual and the son of Nabonidus. Therefore, it’s much more likely that Nitocris was the wife of Nabonidus and the mother of Belshazzar. That means Herodotus’s older Labynetos is most likely Nabonidus, and the younger Labynetos is Belshazzar.

But what makes us think that Nitocris was related to Nebuchadnezzar? I finally found that most articles that make this claim refer to a book by Raymond Philip Dougherty called Nabonidus and Belshazzar, published in 1929. Luckily, a university in my area has a copy of this book in their library, so I was able to read portions of it for myself. On pages 46-51 of the book, Dougherty establishes that Babylon and Egypt had occasional trade, diplomacy, and military cooperation during Nebuchadnezzar’s lifetime. It’s also known that there was a Nitocris of Egypt who lived around that time as well. It is not believed that she’s the same individual as Belshazzar’s mother. However, both her father and brother served as Pharaoh, and she was a fairly influential person during her time. Perhaps the Babylonian Nitocris was named after her. Dougherty suggests 3 possibilities for the identity of Babylon’s Nitocris (pg 52). Nabonidus might have married:

  1. an Egyptian woman not of royal rank.
  2. an Egyptian princess from Pharaoh’s court.
  3. a descendant of an Egyptian princess who had become the wife of a Babylonian king.

Dougherty thinks the first option is unlikely, because Nabonidus was so ambitious. While he wasn’t royal, he was of noble descent and held a prominent place in the Babylonian government. I don’t know why he couldn’t have married an Egyptian noble, like himself, but that’s not an option that Dougherty addresses. He feels that the second option is also unlikely for the exact opposite reason that he dismissed the first: Nabonidus wasn’t of high enough station to marry an Egyptian princess.

Dougherty spends most of his time discussing the third option. He points to the conflict that Nebuchadnezzar had with Babylon in 605 BCE. A treaty of some kind was agreed upon, because the two nations seem to have had peaceful relations for decades after that incident. Dougherty suggests that Nebuchadnezzar may have picked up an Egyptian wife to solidify that treaty (pg 57). Belshazzar began serving as co-regent with his father around 560 BCE, roughly 45 years after the treaty with Egypt. Conceivably, that’s enough time for a grandchild from this supposed union between Nebuchadnezzar and an Egyptian princess to be old enough to help rule. Dougherty also refers to the descriptions of all the construction and defense projects that Nitocris performed, according to Herodotus, and suggests that her active leadership aligns with the fact that Nabonidus spent time away from Babylon toward the end of his rule. He also argues that a Babylonian princess would have incentive to conduct such projects. I didn’t find that particular point very convincing, though. Regardless of where she came from, a wife of the Babylonian king and mother of the future king would be very invested in the kingdom.

Dougherty’s arguments are interesting, but they don’t change the fact that the argument for Nitocris being Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter is shear speculation. No historical document tells us that Nebuchadnezzar ever had an Egyptian wife, nor is there a document telling us that he had a daughter named Nitocris. Furthermore, despite considering Dougherty’s three possibilities, we have no idea how Nabonidus got his wife. She could have been an Egyptian noble, an Egyptian commoner, or even a Babylonian or Canaanite woman whose family had some ties to Egypt. The possibilities are nearly endless. As one reviewer said, only a year after Dougherty’s book was published:

Anyone who likes arguments will follow with interest the process by which the author, after presenting a hypothesis which is at best merely possible, immediately proceeds to assure us that he knows his case is not proved and that a probability only remains a probability. Practically nowhere in the book does the author use a doubtful argument without warning the reader that the case is not proved. Thus a single section of the book might carry conviction. But the real trouble comes when all these probabilities are finally linked together. To one assumed conclusion is added another which is also more or less doubtful. The first two serve as the basis for a third assumption which in itself is not their necessary corollary; and so the house of cards goes up, ready to come down at the first little touch. (Chiera, pg 401)

And the apologists’ claim that Belshazzar was Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson through Nitocris rests solely on this “house of cards.”

It also occurred to me that Nitocris might create an additional issue within Daniel. Christians often point to the fact that Belshazzar offers Daniel the third place in the kingdom as evidence that the writer of Daniel knew that Belshazzar was only co-regent, since his father Nabonidus was still living. But if the queen in Daniel 5 is Nitocris, it’s evident from Herodotus that she carried a great deal of authority in the kingdom. So how could Belshazzar have offered Daniel third place? The top three spots in the kingdom would have already been filled by Nabonidus, Nitocris, and Belshazzar.

In the end, there’s no good, substantial reason to think that the father-son connection that Daniel creates for Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar can be resolved in this way. We have no evidence linking Nitocris to Nebuchadnezzar. And considering how often and in what ways the father-son connection is spoken of in Daniel 5, the most likely explanation still seems to be that the writer was incorrect and actually did think they were father and son.


Sources:

217 thoughts on “Family Ties: Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, Belshazzar, and Nitocris”

  1. “the arrogance I was referring to is saying that you are right, and the majority of christians are wrong”

    Hi Powell, um, where did I say anyone else was “wrong” (apart from a couple of comments of Nate’s)?

    “What if I told you that perhaps it’s the fundamentalist people who are right and actually the minority such as yourself (and of course the rest of us) are wrong? “

    If you are talking about this matter, I would be interested in your view, I would probably ask you about it, I would probably disagree with you and we might have an interesting discussion. I can’t see anything wrong with any of that. My side of the discussion would centre on evidence and the conclusions of most scholars, but I would respect your differing view.

    “perhaps you are right, and perhaps you are right all the way, which is also why Jesus said not all who call me Lord Lord, I will know them”

    🙂 I feel sure I’m sometimes right, but I’m equally sure I’m not always right! But I do agree with Jesus on that one (I bet he feels good having me agree with him!) 🙂

    “No worries about the Exodus bit. Was a cheap shot from me. I apologize.”

    Thanks. I didn’t see it as a cheap shot, but I appreciate your thoughtfulness. I just didn’t want to enlarge the discussion too much. But it was good because the reference I gave you is very illuminating.

    Thanks again. I think you may have misunderstood where I’m coming from a bit, but internet discussions are a bit like that. 😦

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  2. @Unklee

    I’d love to see you write about thoughtful christianity. I’d love to see you start with the consensus of scholarship and try to build a case from that. I think you’d find it a lot harder.

    Thoughtful Christianity?
    Are you serious?
    Sadly I suspect you believe you are.

    And what a condescending comment from such a thoroughly biased presuppositional indoctrinated believer.

    You and your disgusting so-called reasonableness is what, in times past decreed what Christianity was to become based solely on theological consensus and then went on to exterminate so-called heretics such as the Cathars etc eventually clearing the playing fields for the establishment of secular democracy so you and your ilk are free to practice their reasonable Christianity.
    Of course, in your case,(Australian) this would have meant wiping out a fair amount of indigenous people as did your American counterparts back in the day, right?

    And your smarmy, insipid brand of rationalization is no different than those that that allowed ”witches” to be hunted and burned at the stake.
    And yet you insist that a man walking on water, feeding thousands and rising from the dead is reasonable while Creationists are extreme?

    Your brand of Christianity is insidious, because you want to make every one believe it is respectable.

    Someone pass me some water, please. I have a foul taste in my mouth, and it’s because of the words unklee and thoughtful Christianity.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. unkleE and I disagree about a number of things, but I prefer to not let those get in the way of all the things we have in common. We’re both decent guys who care about people, we share an interest in discussing religion, and we both have bitching beards. We don’t have to agree on Jesus for me to like him. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. unkleE and I disagree about a number of things, but I prefer to not let those get in the way of all the things we have in common.

    I have a similar relationship with a number of Manchester United supporters.
    And even though they consider not supporting United is a heinous sin they don’t consider I will be going to Hell for my lack of belief in their team.

    When Yahweh has the decency to speak to me personally and confirms that Unklee is right and the majority of the population of the planet is wrong, then maybe I will afford him the respect you consider is due.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. OK – I have an announcement, and I want Ark, Neuronuts and Nan to all get together, and give out a big ‘Nelson Muntz’ “HA! HA!” —

    I have contracted this day for a new website, which it will likely take weeks to get ready, but the kicker is (fanfare please —): it is a WordPress product!

    Go ahead, knock your selves out!
    (PLEASE!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. @Unklee

    “where did I say anyone else was “wrong””

    It’s implied.

    Unless you are saying that non-thoughtful christians are right, despite having totally different views from you with regards to the nuance of the bible.

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  7. “It’s implied.

    Unless you are saying that non-thoughtful christians are right, despite having totally different views from you with regards to the nuance of the bible.”

    Hi Powell, I don’t there is any need to get into a wrangle about this. Of course I think I’m right about what I believe, just as I guess everyone else here does, including you – otherwise we’d change to what we do think is right. Is that not so?

    But in this case, I wasn’t thinking about being right so I didn’t make any statement to that effect. I was simply pointing out that Nate was hitting one easy target when there was a harder target that he wasn’t (IMO) hitting. There is no claim to rightness there, just to incompleteness.

    Do you think we can maybe leave it at that? Thanks.

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  8. @Unklee

    I was just addressing the point with regards to arrogance. The assumption that you know you’re the minority who know better vs the rest of the world.

    But yes, let’s just drop it.

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  9. Happy to drop it, but note I didn’t say I knew better than the rest of the world, that’s your assumption, I simply said it was a view point held by nonconservative christians and most scholars that Nate hadn’t addressed.

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  10. @Unklee

    I simply said it was a view point held by non-conservative christians and most scholars that Nate hadn’t addressed.

    Non-conservative Christians?
    This is perhaps those thoughtful Christians to whom you refer – such as yourself, I suspect,yes?

    The same thoughtful Christians who consider that even with all the acknowledged myth, forgery and outright lies contained in the bible; the same bible that is the sole (soul? sic) source of your belief in a smelly little first-century itinerant rabbi for whom there is absolutely no contemporary evidence whatsoever is some sort of man-god and the creator of the universe who will supposedly forgive all your naughtiness if you simply confess your ”sins” – whatever the Gehenna that means and acknowledge this individual as a saviour? The individual who is patently a narrative construct.
    These thoughtful Christians who still consider this ignorant religion and fallacious, disgusting rag of a ”book” is worth believing in?

    As one of your fellow countryman, comedian, Jim Jefferies once said:
    “Please know that you are wrong.”

    I think this just about covers why it would be a fools errand to address these particular scholars and christians.
    It isn’t that you are all following a worldview based on lies – this goes without saying -, but merely the degree of nonsense you allow yourself to be suckered into. And the more pertinent point; the degree of crap you inculcate children with.

    In an effort to gain respectability or control (or both) Christians have been moving the goalposts regarding their theology since the time someone yelled, ”Lake Tiberius Pedestrian!’ .

    Eventually, science and common sense will dismantle the goalposts entirely and take away your ball for good measure and tell you all:
    ”Sorry, game over. Now, grow up!”

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  11. Some other thoughts on the Book of Daniel:

    The text contains a number of Greek words; yet the Greek occupation of the area did not occur until the 4th century BCE.

    One of the musical instruments mentioned in Daniel 3:5 and in subsequent passages did not exist until developed in 2nd century BCE Greece.

    Daniel 1:4 refers to the “Chaldeans” as a priestly class in Babylon. This term did not attain this meaning until much later than the 6th century.

    About 180 BCE, Jeshua ben Sira listed the heroes of the Jewish faith, including “Enoch, Noah and Abraham through to Nehemiah;” Daniel is not mentioned – presumably because Jeshua is unaware of him. This would indicate that the book of Daniel was written after that time.

    Chapter 12 discusses the dead being resurrected, judged, and taken to either heaven and hell. At the time of Daniel, the Jews believed that all persons went to Sheol (http://www.religioustolerance.org/aft_bibl.htm) after death. The concept of heaven and hell (http://www.religioustolerance.org/heav_hel.htm) was introduced centuries later by the Greeks. It did not appear in Israel until the time of the Maccabean revolt.

    Prior to Daniel 11:40, the author(s) has been recording past events under the Babylonian, Median, Persian and Greek empires. In Daniel 11:40-45, he really attempts to predict the future. He prophesizes that a king of the south (of the Ptolemaic dynasty) will attack the Greeks in Judea, under Antiochus. The Greeks will win, will lay spoil to all of northeast Africa, and return to Judea where Antiochus will die. The end of history will then occur. The author(s) appeared to be a poor psychic because none of these events actually happened. Antiochus did die in 164 BCE, but it was in Persia.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I think it’s been shown that those words weren’t anachronisms after all. And Tom has noted that Sirach omitted some other names as well that aren’t disputed historically. However, Sirach 49 (I think) says that there’s no one like Joseph, when Daniel is actually remarkably similar.

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  13. I found a good summary of those points at this site, which is by no means scholarly. But he does provide references. It’s not an angle I’ve ever looked at very deeply, so I don’t have a strong opinion. Here’s the quote:

    There are also Persian loan-words and genre in Daniel. All of these words have been determined to be of the Old Persian, or Achaemedian tongue (539-332 BC; Vasholz, pg. 316ff; Wiseman, pg. 117). Some would wonder why this Israelite would be using Persian in his book, and how he would know it. The answer is -that Cyrus was a Persian, and Daniel being the gifted statesman and fast learner that he was (Dan 1:4, 6:28), he would have to had learn Persian to retain his position (Waltke, pg. 323-324). Also, the word Chaldean is contested, as it is used in a dual manner that is not used anywhere else in the Old Testament. It is commonly used in the ethnic sense of a Chaldean, but in Daniel it is used in an ethnic sense, and also in a restricted sense of one who is a magician or sorcerer. This apparent anachronism is no longer a problem, as we have discovered that Herodotus (c. 450 BC) in Persian Wars, uses Chaldean in both senses, and accepted that their religious practices went back at least as far as Cyrus (Harrison, pg. 1113).

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  14. I meant to include the next paragraph as well:

    As for the Aramaic words, 90% of them are found in texts of the fifth century BC or earlier (Vasholz, pg. 315). Rosenthal’s studies have led him to conclude that the “Aramaic employed in Daniel was that which grew up in the courts and chancellors from the seventh century BC, and subsequently became widespread in the Near East” (Waltke, pg. 322-323). Robert Vasholz says: ” Many morphological forms were deemed ‘ late’ …have been established as early as the eighth to the fifth centuries BC [by the Elephantine papyri of the sixth century and Old Aramaic treaty texts from Sefire],” (Vasholz, pg. 316). Further, some syntactical forms found in Daniel did not survive past the fifth century BC, for example the preposition Ie before a king’s name, and the “Assur Ostracon (seventh century BC) which agrees with the word order in Daniel .”

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  15. Here’s one for you, Nate – as any apologist will readily tell you, the sins of Adam and Eve have followed mankind down through the ages – “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all” – else, what possible reason did Jesus have for volunteering to be the expiating sin offering?

    Yet Ezekiel 18:20 RSV tells us:

    “THE SON SHALL NOT SUFFER FOR THE INIQUITY OF THE FATHER. NOR THE FATHER SUFFER FOR THE INIQUITY OF THE SON; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”

    I’ll bet that if someone had mentioned that to Jesus while he was on the cross, he would have said, “WTF??! NOW they tell me!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. It’s going to sound crazy, but that’s another area where the Church of Christ differs from other denominations — we didn’t hold to the original sin doctrine. That passage in Ezekiel was one of the reasons.

    But yeah, the whole blood atonement thing makes no sense anyway.

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  17. Just screwin’ with you, Son – see you in three days —

    OK, OK – rewrite – better line yet:
    Just screwin’ with you, Son – have a nice weekend —

    Isn’t that better?

    Liked by 2 people

  18. “the Church of Christ differs from other denominations — we didn’t hold to the original sin doctrine”

    That’s surprising to me, Nate, and very interesting. I’ve tended to think your former denomination was pretty unappealing, but that is one matter on which I agree with them.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Obviously, they differ from you in their conservatism and their hold to inerrancy, but in most other respects they probably have a similar outlook. They have many faults, but to their credit, most of them have a very solid knowledge of the Bible, both testaments. So you don’t run into the kind of confusion you often see from other Christians who don’t know when the Sabbath is, don’t know the difference between Israel and Judah or between Elijah and Elisha, etc. They get the nuances of books like Galatians and Hebrews. It was an interesting way to grow up.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. For those with a spare 15 minutes this talk from the Yale University Old Testament course provides a good summary of the reality (in my view) of Daniel and its composition. I have tried to cue it at the 35:21 minute part of the 50 minute lecture where the discussion on Daniel starts:

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