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  • Writer's pictureBeth S.

Daniel & Belshazzar - Archaeological Proof

There has never been an archaeological discovery that disproves the Bible. The Bible was not written as strictly a history book, but it does contain history, and very accurate history. There are small details sprinkled throughout the Bible that appear to have no significance, but God has a purpose for them. These small, insignificant details are often at the heart of new discoveries. One example is in the book of Daniel.

The book of Daniel was criticized for hundreds of years because of the account in chapter 5 of a king named Belshazzar and the fall of the city of Babylon in just one night. Critics pointed out that no one named Belshazzar had ever been found in any of the king lists and ancient histories of Babylon. All ancient records said that a king named Nabonidus was the last king when Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians. They also found it laughable that the city of Babylon could have been taken in just one night because of its impregnable walls. The City of Babylon had walls over 50 miles long, 75 feet thick and 300 feet high, surrounded by a moat. Legends say that chariot races were held on top of the walls. The river Euphrates which ran through the city, was the main source of water. To protect it from siege, the river was walled off and heavily fortified.

In 586 B.C., the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the gold and silver implements were carried off as spoil. Four teenagers named Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were taken captive. (The Babylonians renamed them Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego). They were gifted and educated young men who rose to the top of service in Babylonian government administration. All four remained faithful to God, even to the point of being willing to die. (Remember the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion’s den?) Daniel was recognized and promoted by Nebuchadnezzar for his intellect and his ability to interpret dreams and visions.

The fifth chapter of Daniel contains the account that was disputed by skeptics. The king of Babylon, named Belshazzar, held a feast and invited 1000 of his lords, his wives and concubines. There was heavy drinking and the whole crowd was worshipping the Babylonian gods. Belshazzar decided it would be funny to send for the gold and silver serving vessels from the Temple in Jerusalem, so they could drink from them. Within an hour of beginning this blasphemy, a strange event occurred. A disembodied hand appeared and wrote an inscription on the wall.

Belshazzar was so terrified that “the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.” vs. 6 (KJV).

Apparently, the words written on the wall remained in place, because Belshazzar summoned his astrologers and soothsayers to interpret them, but they were unable to do it.

Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonished. vs. 9 (KJV)

This must have been a very dramatic reaction to have caused astonishment in the witnesses. His joints gave out, his knees knocked together, and his face appeared to change from the trauma of it. (Makes you wonder if, since his “loins were loosed” he was also having trouble controlling his bodily functions).

The Queen advised him to consult Daniel. He had once been overseer of all the magicians and soothsayers during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. She refers to “your father” Nebuchadnezzar. Belshazzar sent for Daniel and promised to heap honor and glory on him if he could interpret the message.

“… Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” -- Daniel 5:16b (ESV)

(Here is the seemingly insignificant detail - “the third ruler in the kingdom”. More about that later).

Daniel tells Belshazzar to keep his gifts. He is not impressed. Daniel goes on to recount the story of Nebuchadnezzar and how his pride eventually destroyed him. Nebuchadnezzar did learn from his mistakes and acknowledged God, but Belshazzar had not learned anything. Belshazzar had dishonored God:

And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored. -- Daniel 5:23b (ESV)

Daniel reveals the meaning of the inscription:

“Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” -- Daniel 5:24-28 (ESV)

That same night, Belshazzar was killed, and the kingdom fell to the Medes. (v. 30)

Archaeological discoveries of ancient texts revealed the explanation for the discrepancies between the historical record and the Biblical account. In ancient times and in Bible genealogies, the “father” of a specific family line could refer to a grandfather or other ancestor. Nebuchadnezzar was called Belshazzar’s “father” several times in this passage. This was not an unusual practice for the time. Nebuchadnezzar was Belshazzar’s grandfather. Nebuchadnezzar had a daughter who married Nabonidus. The royal line passed through him to Belshazzar.

Nabonidus was the rightful king but had installed Belshazzar as his regent. Nabonidus was obsessed with the worship of the moon god Sin. He spent ten years of his reign traveling throughout his territories restoring temples to his god. At the time of the events in Daniel chapter 5, Nabonidus was in modern Saudi Arabia excavating temple ruins and restoring them.

In 539 B.C., on the night of Belshazzar’s big party, he was aware that there were enemies nearby, but he wasn’t concerned because he believed the city was impregnable. The city had several years of provisions and they were not worried about a siege. Some ancient texts describe his guards laughing at the enemy army of the Medes and the Persians. They were so confident that they joined in the partying and were drunk on duty.

Cyrus commanded the armies of the Medes and the Persians. He consulted his officers about possible ways to take the city and they agreed that it would be impossible to storm it or take it by siege.

The Euphrates river ran through the city, was well fortified and very deep. Cyrus decide to invade the city by diverting the course of the river. He commanded his army to dig a channel north of the city and divert the water, so his soldiers were able to wade under the city walls. Everyone inside was drunk and it was easy to overtake the palace and kill Belshazzar. One of Cyrus’ generals, a man named Darius the Mede, took the palace and killed Belshazzar. This all occurred in one night.

Belshazzar was not able to make Daniel the second ruler of the kingdom because he was already in that position. This seemingly insignificant detail provided the answer to the supposed discrepancy.


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