BELSHAZZAR AND THE FEAST.
Daniel 5:1, 2.
This monarch is here said to be the son of Nebuchadnezzar. The Duke of Manchester takes this literally, while the usual opinion is that he was his grandson. |No king,| says he, |in Berosus, Megasthenes, or Polyhistor, corresponds with him. The Scripture says that Nebuchadnezzar was his father, which most people say means grandfather, and it is not to be denied, that by son, grandson may be intended; but in this case it is contrary to all the evidence we have on the subject. The author of the Scholastical History reports that Belshazzar was son of the daughter of Darius. Nebuchadnezzar the Second did, as I conceive, marry the daughter of Darius, which would make Belshazzar his son. But admitting that Belshazzar was paternal grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, none of the successors of Nebuchadnezzar could have been in that relation to him.| The Persian writer Merkhond is the next quoted, by whose help the duke identifies Ka'oos with Nebuchadnezzar the First, Afrasiab with Astyages, and Siyawesh, the son of Ka'oos, with Belshazzar. It is then conjectured that this king never reigned except during his father's lifetime: if he was |the king| during his father's madness, the omission of his name by profane historians is thus accounted for. An Oxford MS. is quoted to shew |that Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar were reigning at Babylon when Darius and Coresch were reigning over Persia.
This hypothesis interferes so much with the ordinary deductions from ancient historians, that we must not pass it over without special notice.
The received hypothesis has been so clearly stated by Wells, that reference to it is all that is needed. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 27:6) had predicted that Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom was to be prolonged through the life of his son and his son's son. Ptolemy's Astronomical Canon is the best known authority for the history of Nebuchadnezzar's successors, as we have detailed them in a former Dissertation, and they are also found in a readable form in Stackhouse's History of the Bible. The last of these kings is Nabonadius, and he is supposed to be the same as the Nabonnedus of Berosus, the Labynetus of Herodotus, and the Belshazzar of Daniel. During his reign, says Berosus, the walls of the city near the river were strengthened by brick-work and bitumen; and in its seventeenth year Cyrus advanced against Babylon, the king met him with a large army, but was defeated, and then enclosed himself within Borsippa. Cyrus then took Babylon, and having determined to pull down its outer fortifications, he returned to Borsippa and besieged it. Nabonnedus then gave himself up, and Cyrus permitted him to close his life peaceably in Carmania, where he remained till his death. The narrative of Herodotus is slightly at variance with this. Cyrus made war against Labynetus, the son of Nitocris, a very spirited and powerful queen, and succeeded to the kingdom of Assyria |from his fathers.| Having turned the stream of the river Euphrates, he entered the city through its bed, and when the center was captured, those who dwelt at the extremities were ignorant of their disaster, for they |were celebrating a festival that day with dancing and all manner of rejoicing, till they received certain information of the general fate. And thus Babylon was the first time taken.| Herodotus also records its second capture through the treachery of Zopyrus, in the reign of Darius Hystaspes, (lib.3 section.159;) and with this second capture the noble duke supposes the scriptural narrative to be co-incident.
The Cyropaedia of Xenophon affords its testimony to a similar event, and as its historic value has been altogether denied, we cannot certainly pronounce the event the same. Vitringa has vindicated its historical truth, and Gesenius and Bertholdt have admitted it. Hengstenberg quotes lib.7 section.5, combines it with Herod., lib.1 section.191, and remarks, |This testimony of Xenophon, too, is so much the more in our favor, as it confirms the particular circumstance that the nobles were at the feast assembled at the table of the king.| He adds, |The precise agreement of Daniel with Herodotus and Xenophon is acknowledged by Munter, 50 100 page 67, to be astonishing, and even Gesenius, Z. Jes.1, page 655, cannot help calling it very astonishing.| For a fuller discussion of all details, we refer at length to his conclusive work, merely giving our vote in his favor, and against the ingenious hypothesis which it has become necessary to state and explain.
The Great Feast. -- The original word for feast is |bread,| and this being united with |wine,| becomes the usual mode of describing an eastern feast, where the people are all great eaters of bread. |To eat bread,| and to |set on bread,| is the scriptural method of indicating a feast. The number of the guests may not have amounted to a thousand, as this is an eastern expression for a large and surprising number, yet it is not incredible, since Harmer has informed us that |a quadrangular court, within the first or outer gate of the palace, was made use of for this purpose.| Willet reminds us of this eastern way of multiplying numbers by alluding to the 10,000 guests said to be present at Alexander's feast, and each of whom received a golden cup. Ptolemy, the father of Cleopatra, made a similar banquet for Pompey. It is supposed to have been an annual solemnity in honor of some deity, and the art of |tasting of the wine| (verse 2) alludes to the custom of tasting the libation previous to the sacrifice. Wintle very appositely quotes Virgil, AEn. lib. i.741, --
|Primaque libato summo tenus attigit ore.|
This view is rendered highly probable by the Chaldean custom recorded by Athenaeus, of sacrificing to small images, of various metals, in human shape, an idolatry described in Baruch, Daniel 6: 3. Willet quotes Junius as stating that this feast occurred on the 16th day of the month Loon, when it approached in character the Saturnalia and Bacchanalia of the Greeks. |Tasting the wine| is rendered by the Vulgate and the Alexandrine version as if its sense were |drunken,| and thus the general idea of licentious revelry is carried out.