THE ANCESTORS AND SUCCESSORS OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR.
To understand aright the history of these times, we must take a cursory glance at the period both preceding and following that of the great Chaldean chieftain. His ancestors were largely concerned in the overthrow of the Assyrian empire. The origin of this monarchy is involved in great obscurity, and we are at this moment in a transition state with respect to our knowledge of its history. The deciphering of those inscriptions which have lately been brought home is rapidly proceeding, and will lead to a more complete knowledge of the events of this obscure epoch. Early in the Book of Genesis we read of Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, as the founder of an extensive monarchy in the land of Shinar. Out of this land he went forth into Ashur, or perhaps it is Ashur who went forth and built Nineveh and other cities. The records of succeeding ages are too few to enable us to follow the stream of history: we have nothing to guide us but myths, and legends, and traditionary sovereigns, whose names are but the fictions of imagination. It must never be forgotten that many centuries elapsed between Noah and Solomon, and that the most ancient profane history is comparatively modern. The late discoveries in Egypt, and the high state of civilization attained by these |swarthy barbarians,| have led the learned to the conclusion that we have hitherto lost many centuries between the flood and Abraham; and since the long list of Egyptian dynasties, as given by Manetho, has been proved accurate, it may fairly be supposed that the Assyrian sculptures will rather add to the credit of Ctesias than detract from it. At all events, Nineveh was |no mean city| when Athens was a marsh, and Sardis a rock. Whether Ninus is a fabulous creation or not, monarchs as mighty as the eagle-headed worshipper of Nisroch his god, swayed the scepter for ages over a flourishing and highly civilized people. Herodotus gives us a hint of the antiquity and pre-eminence of Assyria when he says, |The Medes were the first who began to revolt from the Assyrians, who had possessed the supreme command over Upper Asia for five hundred and twenty years.| Whether we adopt the view of Bishop Lowth or not, that Ninus lived in the time of the Judges, we may correctly assume that some successful conqueror enlarged and beautified Babylon, five hundred years before the Chaldean era of Nabonassar, 747 A.C. Whatever the source of this wealth, whether derived from the spoils of conquered nations, according to Montesquieu, or from intercourse with India through Egypt, according to Bruce, the lately discovered remains imply a very high style of art at a very remote period in the history of Assyria. The |Pul| of 2 Kings 15:19, was by no means the founder of the monarchy, as Sir Isaac Newton and others have supposed; he was but one amidst those |servants of Bar,| whose names are now legible on the Nimroud obelisk in the British Museum. The next king mentioned in Scriptures is Tiglath-Pileser, whose name we have lately connected with Pul and Ashur; and after him follow Shalmaneser, Sennacherib, and Esarhaddon, the three kings who are thought to have built the palace at Khorsabad, founded Mespila, and constructed the lions in the south-west palace of Nimroud. As the Medes revolted first, so the Chaldeans rebelled afterwards, according to the usual law of separation from the parent stock, when the tribe or race grows strong enough to establish its independence. The first prince who is known to have lived after this revolt is Nabonassar, the founder of the era called by his name. In process of time, other kings arose and passed away, till in the thirty-first year of Manasseh, Esarhaddon died, after reigning thirteen years over Assyria and Babylon united. He was succeeded by his son Laosduchius, the Nabuchodonosor of the Book of Judith, whose successor commenced his reign in the fifty-first year of Manasseh, being the hundred and first of the above mentioned era. From this effeminate king his Chaldean general Nabopolassar wrested Babylon, and reigned over his native country twenty-one years. This revolt is said to have taken place in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, when the powers of Media uniting with the power of Babylonia, took and destroyed the great city of Nineveh, and reduced the people under the sway of the rising monarchy. His son Nebuchadnezzar is said to have married the daughter of Astyages, the king of the Medes, and thus brings down the history to the times of our Prophet.
Among the ancient cities of the world, Nineveh is conspicuous for its grandeur. The phrase of Jonah, |that great city,| is amply confirmed by the historian, Diodorus Siculus, (lib.2 section.23.) who uses precisely the same expression, recording its circumference as four hundred and eighty stadia, with high and broad walls. The inference from the statement of the Book of Jonah is, that it was populous, civilized, and extensive. The language of both Jonah and Nahum imply exactly what the buried sculptures have exhibited to us, a state of society highly organized, with various ranks, from the sovereign to the soldier and the workman, yet effeminated by luxury and self-indulgence. The expressions of Scripture give us exalted ideas of its size and splendor, while they assign its wickedness as a reason for the complete destruction by which it was annihilated. Prophet after prophet recognizes its surpassing opulence, its commercial greatness, and its deep criminality. The voice of Zephaniah is soon followed by the sword of Arbaces, and Sennacherib and Sardanapalus are eclipsed by the rising greatness of Nabopolassar and Cyaxares. Its temples and its palaces had become so encrusted in the soil during eight centuries of men, that Strabo knows it only as a waste, and Tacitus treats it as a Castellum; and in the thirteenth century of our era, Abulfaragius confirms the prophecy of Nahum and the narrative of Tacitus, by recording nothing but the existence of a small fortification on the eastern bank of the Tigris.
The dates assigned to these events vary considerably; the following may be trusted as the result of careful comparison. In the year A.C.650, Nebuchodonosor is found on the throne of Assyria, |a date,| says Vaux, |which is determined by the coincidence with the forty-eighth year of Manasseh, and by the fact that his seventeenth year was the last of Phraortes, king of Media, A.C.634. The Book of Judith informs us of an important engagement at Ragau between this Assyrian king and Arphaxad the king of the Medes. This victory at Ragau, or Rhages, occurred A.C.634, just |fifty-seven years after the loss of Sennacherib's army.| After returning from Ecbatana, the capital of Media, the conqueror celebrated a banquet at Nineveh which lasted one hundred and twenty days. Cyaxares, the son of Phraortes, at length avenged his father's death at Rhages, and by the aid of Nabopolassar, threw off the yoke of Assyria, attacked and took Nineveh about 606 A.C., and thus, by fixing the seat of empire at Babylon, blotted out the name of Nineveh from the page of the world's history.
This renowned general is usually held to be the father of Nebuchadnezzar, on the authority of Berosus, as quoted by Josephus, and of the Astronomical Canon of Ptolemy. But the author of |The Times of Daniel| endeavors to identify him with either Sardanapalus or Esarhaddon; the arguments by which this supposition is supported will be found in detail in the work itself, while the original passages in Josephus and Eusebius are found at length in the notes to Grotius on |The truth of the Christian religion.| He died A.C.695.
His Successors. -- According to the Canon of Ptolemy, Evil-Merodach succeeded Nebuchadnezzar, reigned two years, and was slain by his brother-in-law Neri-Glissar, who reigned four years; his son, Laborosoarchod, reigned nine months, though quite a child, and was slain by Nabonadius, supposed to be Belshazzar, a grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned seventeen years. Evil-Merodach is mentioned in 2 Kings 25:27, and Jeremiah 52:31, but not by Daniel, and this gives some countenance to the supposition, that Belshazzar was the son and not the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. It is not easy to assign with certainty the correct dates to each of these kings, the reckoning of Josephus is here followed, which he derives from Berosus. The testimony of profane antiquity to the truth and historical accuracy of Daniel may be found in a convenient form in Kitto's Bibli. Cyclop., Art. Nebuchadnezzar, page 406. The authorities are quoted at length, and the whole subject is ably elucidated. The limited space necessarily allowed for illustrating these Lectures, must be our apology for merely indicating where valuable information is to be obtained.
In the New Monthly Magazine for August and September 1845, there are two articles very full of illustration of our subject, by W. F. Ainsworth, entitled, The Rivers and Cities of Babylonia.
To determine the question which was raised in our last Dissertation, we must investigate the origin of the Chaldeans, as it was the tribe whence Nebuchadnezzar sprung. |The question,| says Heeren, |what the Chaldeans really were, and whether they ever properly existed as a nation, is one of the most difficult which history presents.| They are first mentioned in Genesis (Genesis 11:28,) as Casdim, (Lecture 5;) they were situated north of Judea, and are identical with the people who should, according to Jeremiah, destroy the temple from the north. (Jeremiah 1:13, 14, etc.) They are not mentioned by name again in the books of Scripture till many centuries afterwards they had become a mighty nation. The word Chasdim in the Hebrew and Chasdaim in the Chaldee dialects, is clearly the same as the Greek Chaldaioi; and Gesenius supposing the root to have been originally card, refers them to the race inhabiting the mountains called by Xenophon Carduchi. Forster, indeed, has argued at considerable length in favor of their Arabian origin, and supposes them the well known Beni Khaled, a horde of Bedouin Arabs. From this opinion we entirely dissent. The view of Gesenius in his Lectures at Halle in 1839, quoted in |The Times of Daniel,| appears preferable, -- |The Chaldeans had their original seat on the east of the Tigris, south of Armenia, which we now call Koordistan; and, like the Koords in our day, they were warlike mountaineers, without agriculture, shepherds and robbers, and also mercenaries in the Assyrian army; so Xenophon found them.| Vaux quotes Dicaearchus, a Greek historian of the time of Alexander the Great, as alluding to a certain Chaldean, a king of Assyria, who is supposed to have built Babylon; and in later times, Chaldea implied the whole of Mesopotamia around Babylon, which had also the name of Shiner.
Their religion and their language are also of importance. The former consisted in the worship of the heavenly bodies. They are supposed to have brought with them to Babylon a knowledge of astronomy superior to any then known, since they reduced their observations on the sun, moon, five planets, signs of the zodiac, and the rising and setting of the sun, to a regular system; and the Greeks are said by Herodotus to have derived from them the division of the day into twelve equal parts. The lunar year was in common use, but the solar year, with its division of months similar to the Egyptian, was employed for astronomical purposes. The learned class gradually acquired the reputation and position of |priests,| and thus became astrologers and soothsayers, and |wise men| in their day and generation. Michaelis and Sehlozer consider their origin to be Sclavonic, and, consequently, distinct from the Babylonians, who were descendants of Shem.
Their Language. -- The original language of this people is a point of great interest to the biblical critic. If the people were of old northern mountaineers, they spoke a language connected with the Indo-Persic and Indo-Germanic stem rather than the Semitic. In treating this question, we should always allow for the length of time which elapsed between the original outbreak of those hordes from their native hills; and their conquest of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar. Gesenius, in his Lectures on Biblical Archaeology, reminds us of their being first tributary to the Assyrians, of their subsequent occupation of the plains of Mesopotamia for some centuries previously to their becoming the conquerors of Asia under successful leaders.
From the fourth verse of chapter 2 (Daniel 2:4) we learn that they spoke the Aramaic dialect, which the Alexandrine Version, as well as Theodotion's, denominates the Syriac. From the Cyropaedia (Book 7:24) we ascertain that the Syriac was the ordinary language of Babylon. Strabo also informs us that the same language was used throughout all the regions on the banks of the Euphrates. Diodorus Siculus calls the Chaldeans the most ancient inhabitants of Babylonia, and assigns to their astrologers a similar position to that of the Egyptian priests. Their devotion to philosophy and their practice of astronomy gained them great credit with the powerful, which they turned to account by professing to predict the future and to interpret the visions of the imaginative and the distressed. The testimony of Cicero is precisely similar. Hengstenberg has tested the historical truthfulness of the author of this book, by comparing his account of the Chaldean priest-caste with those of profane history. According to chapter.2:48, the president of this caste was also a prince of the province of Babylon. Thus, according to Diodorus Siculus, Belesys was the chief president of the priests, |whom the Babylonians call Chaldeans,| and governor of Babylon. In Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 39:3-13,) the president of the priests belonged to the highest class in the kingdom, and is called rvmg, rab-mag, a word of Persian origin, and clearly applicable to the office as described by Daniel. The views of Hengstenberg are usually so correct, that the student may generally adopt them at once as his own.