Monday, February 03, 2020

Daniel 5

READING ACTS has two new installments in Phil Long's series on the Book of Daniel.

Daniel 5 – The Feast of Belshazzar
Apart from this chapter's reference to Belshazzar, all memory of him was lost until the modern decipherment of Akkadian cuneiform. Daniel 5 gets some details wrong: Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, not Nebuchadnezzar, and he was never actually the king. He acted as regent while his father was away in Teima. But he was a nominally ruling figure at the time of the fall of Babylon to Cyrus the Persian's army. That is a remarkable case of the preservation of an otherwise forgotten Babylonian figure in the Book of Daniel.

The story of the party at the time of the fall of Babylon is also found in the Greek Fantasy Babylon tradition. Herodotus (1.191) says that Cyrus had his men divert the Euphrates and enter the city by that route. The Babylonians were celebrating a holiday in the middle of the city and didn't even notice the entering army until it was too late.

That story doesn't appear in the cuneiform literature. Cyrus, in his propaganda piece, the Cyrus Cylinder, says that he entered Babylon without battle and his army was welcomed by the Babylonians. That is the earliest account we have. It is also an eyewitness account, but by a witness who was far from unbiased. It doesn't mention the river diversion or the party, but it isn't necessarily incompatible with them.

The Nabonidus Chronicle also says that Babylon was captured without a battle. And the very fragmentary text seems to say that various sacred celebrations continued uninterrupted during the year of the conquest.

Also, Berossus, the Babylonian priest, does not include the story in his Hellenistic Greek account of Babylonian history. He just says that Cyrus took the city and gave orders that its outer walls be dismantled to make it less secure. In fact he seems to refute the story indirectly when he says that Nebuchanezzar had built walls to prevent the river from being diverted.

I would class the account of the royal party in Daniel as another legendary element that Daniel shares with Greek Fantasy Babylon. But that may involve some memory of religious festivals that were going on around the same time as the capture of Babylon.

Daniel 5:5-12 – What was the Meaning of the Handwriting on the Wall?
The account of the Writing on the Wall is puzzling in a number of ways. Why is Mina repeated? The three words are names of weights. We would expect them in order of weight. Mina Peres and Tekel would be the correct descending order, and that, in fact, is the the text (Mina once) and order given in the Old Greek (prologue to the chapter - vv. 24-25 are missing in the OG). The nouns are interpreted as participles.

Because of these oddities, scholars have suggested that the original story involved an oracle about the descending value of the Babylonian rulers: Nebuchadnezzar, Nabonidus, and then the regent Belshazzar.

In that case, the Masoretic Text of Daniel 5 reinterprets the oracle, giving it a dual meaning: Babylon has been weighed and found wanting, and it is given to the Medes and the Persians. For the latter part to work, the word Peres has been moved to the end to correspond to the capture of the city by the Persians.

I should also note that the Aramaic of chapters 4-6 in the Masoretic Text (and the Dead Sea Scrolls) is rather different from the Greek version of those chapters in the Old Greek. I don't have time to go into all the differences. But one notable one is that most or all of the cross references to events in the rest of the book are missing in the OG. It is unlikely that some scribe would have gone through those chapters and deliberately deleted them. So this may mean that chapters 4-6 originally circulated as an independent unit. The OG preserves an earlier draft of them that had not yet been fully assimilated into the rest of the book.

I have noted, and sometimes commented on, previous posts in Phil Long's Daniel series here and links.

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