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Neo-Babylonian Dynasty

Neo-Babylonian Dynasty

Almost simultaneously with the death of Assurbanipal (626 BC) one of his former generals, Nabopolassar, a Chaldean by descent, secured the throne of Babylon for himself (625-605 BC). While he was developing and extending his influence and grasp over the territory that was naturally tributary to Babylon, momentous events were occurring in the north country, in and about Assyria. The growing Median power threatened its very life. One son of Assurbanipal, Assuretil-ilani and possibly a brother, Sin-sharishkun, occupied the Assyrian throne, the former about six and the latter about seven years. The waves of the Umman-Manda, peoples to the north and northeast of Nineveh, were rolling over the mountains of eastern Armenia and northern Media. According to an inscription of Nabonidus, written about 553 B.C., these mountaineers, in conjunction with the Medes, finally succeeded in overwhelming Nineveh, the last hiding-place of the Assyrian tyrant and oppressor, in 606 B.C.; this was done probably with the direct or indirect support of Nabopolassar of Babylon.

With Nabopolassar, the successor of Cinneladanes, and the father of Nebuchadnezzar, a new era in the history of Babylon commenced. According to Alydenus, who probably drew his information from Berosus, he was appointed to the government of Babylon by the last Assyrian king, at the moment when the Medes were about to make their final attack; whereupon, betraying the trust reposed in him, he went over to the enemy, arranged a marriage between his son Nebuchadnezzar and the daughter of the Median leader, and joined in the last siege of the city. On the success of the confederates (BC 625) Babylon became not only an independent kingdom, but an empire; the southern and western portions of the Assyrian territory were assigned to Nabopolassar in the partition of the spoils whic h followed on the conquest, and thereby the Babylonian dominion liecame extended over the whole valley of the Euphrates as far as the Taurus range, over Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, Idumaea, and (perhaps) a portion of Egypt. Thus, among others, the Jews passed quietly and almost without remark from one feudal head to another, exchanging dependency on Assyria for dependency on Babylon, and continuing to pay to Nabopolassar the same tribute and service which they had previously rendered to the Assyrians.

After the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC, the Assyrian claims to empire in Syria and the West naturally fell to Babylon, while the Medes took the Ninevite territory and the lands north and east of Tigris. Simultaneously with the fall of Nineveh an Egyptian army under Necho was encamped in northern Syria, in full possession of the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. In a crushing defeat Nebuchadrezzar II [604-561 BC] overthrew and pursued the Egyptian invaders, and secured that territory for the new Babylonian empire. Southern Assyria and Northern Mesopotamia were occupied by Nabopolassar, who ruled unchallenged to the bend of the Euphrates. Beyond the river, however, Pharaoh Necho, easily destroying Josiah and his army in the historic field of Megiddo, had seized the whole of Syria and Palestine, and a conflict was inevitable if Babylon intended to make good her claims to the inheritance of Asshur.

Two years after the fall of Nineveh the collision between Egypt and Babylon took place, at Carchemish, and the motley host of Necho, composed of all the strange African subjects of Egypt with a (probably untrustworthy) "stiffening" of Greek and Carian mercenaries, went down before the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadrezzar II, Nabopolassar's energetic son. Routed and disorganized, Pharaoh's host hurried back to Egypt, abandoning all the conquests of five years before, pursued by Nebuchadrezzar, who halted only on the borders of Egypt, where the news of his father's death reached him. This decided him to stop his advance, and return to Babylon to secure his succession to the throne, which, however, was undisputed.

The whole of Syria as far as the border of Egypt became Babylonian, and the rule of Nebuchadrezzar was accepted everywhere but in Judah, where Jehoiakim, the nominee of Necho, had been left undisturbed as king. He paid tribute at first, but then, carried away by the religious fanaticism which Josiah had called into being, king, priests, and people united in a mad defiance of Babylon, in spite of the vigorous warnings of the prophet Jeremiah. The first capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar followed (596), and Jeconiah or Jehoiachin, the young son and successor of Jehoiakim, was carried into captivity, with a portion of the population.

Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned in 2 Kings xxiv, and reigned 604-562 BC. The Bible account in 2nd Kings and that of 2 Chronicles xxxvi states that the King of Babylon Nebuchadnezzar [Nebuchadrezzar, as his name is now mostly spelled) came with his armies and took Jerusalem and Judah.

The Talmud mentions that: "Nebuchadnezzar laid waste the land of Israel. . . when the city had been captured, he marched with his princes and officers into the Temple ... on one of the walls he found the mark of an arrow's head, as though somebody had been killed or hit nearby, and he asked: 'Who was killed here?' 'Zachariah, the son of Yohoyadah, the high priest', answered the people. 'He rebuked us incessantly on account of our transgressions, and we tired of his words, and put him to death.'" (The Talmud Selections by H. Polano, London, Frederick Warne & Co.)

Nebuchadnezzar took the reigning king Jehoakim as a captive to Babylon; and finally after setting up Jehoakim and Zedekiah successively as kings of Judah's and they revolting against him, the King of Babylon utterly overthrew the Jewish kingdom and carried away many thousands of their people as captives to his own land with the ornaments and treasures of the temple. Here they remained until seventy years were passed in fulfilment of the prophecies of Jeremiah as a punishment for their obstinate idolatry and wickedness, until the advent of Cyrus, king of Persia, who had conquered Babylon.

Daniel, according to the book of Daniel, was a youth of noble descent and high physical and intellectual endowments, carried by Nebuchadnezzar in the third year of Jehoiakim from Jerusalem to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams; and his spirit was troubled, and his sleep went from him. Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the enchanters, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said unto them, "I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream."

In the second year of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel revealed and interpreted, on the failure of all the other wise men, the king's dream of the composite image. "Thou, O king, sawest, and, behold, a great image. This image, which was mighty, and whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the aspect thereof was terrible. As for this image, its head was of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of brass,1 its legs of iron, its feet part of iron, and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon its feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them in pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken in pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. ... after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee; and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things; and as iron that crusheth all these, shall it break in pieces and crush. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom..."

Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshiped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odors unto him, and Daniel was made ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief ruler over all the wise men.

Within the 43 years of his reign, Nebuchadrezzar II made Babylon the up-to-that-time greatest of empires. His authority extended, on biblical evidence, even into Egypt, and his activities were something phenomenal. In fact, the larger part of his inscriptions already found are devoted to his immense building projects, including temples, palaces, streets, embankments and walls. Babylon was built in great magnificence, and in every important aspect did credit to the enterprise and genius of Babylonia's greatest monarch. His own records do not give any account of his dealings with the Jews, either at Jerusalem or those in exile - described in the Old Testament.

The succession after the death of Nebuchadnezzar in 562 BC was a muddled affair. After a long and prosperous reign Nebuchadrezzar II was succeeded on the throne by his son, Amel-Marduk (called evil Merodach in the Bible). This king was assassinated after a reign of two years (561-559 B.C.), by Neriglissar, his brother-in-law. The usurper Nergal-shaw-usur (Neriglissar) ruled three or four years (559-556/555 BC), and spent most of his time, according to his inscriptions, in building operations. He married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar and was present at the destruction of Jerusalem. Neriglissar ruled for three years (559 BC) and was succeeded by his young son, Labashi-Marduk, who was murdered in June 556 BC after only two months on the throne [other accounts state nine months]. The conspirators selected a commoner called Nabonidus to be King of Babylon. Nabonidus [r 555-539), who appears to have been mentally unstable, went into a self imposed exile in the Oasis of Tema in the Arabian desert. During his absence from the city of Babylon, Nabonidus made his oldest son, Belshazzar, the co-regent of Babylon and put him in charge of his officials and army.

After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel seems to have lost his high office and gone into retirement; but when the handwriting appeared on the wall of the palace during Belshazzar's feast, again Daniel was, on the failure of the other magicians, summoned at the instigation of the queen. The fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's countenance was changed in him, and his thoughts troubled him; and the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. The king cried aloud to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. The king spake and said to the wise men of Babylon, "Whosoever shall read this writing, and show me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom." Then came in all the king's wise men; but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation.

Daniel interpreted the writing. And this is the writing that was inscribed: 'Mene, Mene, Tekel, Uphaesin.' This is the interpretation of the thing: 'Mene ; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and brought it to an end.' 'tekel; thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.' 'Uphaesin; thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.' " Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with purple, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

In that night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.

By some machinations of the priesthood, apparently, the new king, Nabonidus [r 555-538 BC], was a native Babylonian and not a Chaldean as was the dynasty of Nabopolassar. He was an enthusiastic religionist and antiquarian. He built and rebuilt many temples in the principal cities of his kingdom. He was the discoverer, in the foundations of a temple of an inscription of Sargon I, which had been placed there 3,200 years before his day, making the date of said Sargon, on his calculation, about 3750 BC or, as corrected, 2650 BC. Nabonidus' enthusiasm carried him too far, for he attempted to centralize in Babylon the religion of the kingdom. In doing this he alienated the priesthood, and even aroused their active opposition. For throughout the history of Babylonia each city had its own patron deity, to whom its temple was dedicated and its people devoted. The images and shrines of these various divinities were collected in Babylon. This act, with others of similar offense to the priests, paved the way for his downfall before a mightier power.

Cyrus, an Elamite and Persian by descent, began an active career as a conqueror in 558 BC. He conquered successively the Medes under Astyages (550 BC), Croesus and Asia Minor (547 BC), and then moved against Nabonidus, who had allied himself against this new conqueror. The Babylonian army was probably under the command of Nabonidus' son, Belshazzar. Suffering a defeat at Opis, the army of Babylon later scarcely offered resistance. Cyrus marched, almost without further opposition, to the gates of the capital city. The outraged priesthood and citizens, in open defiance of their own king, flung open the gates and welcomed the new and liberal conqueror to authority over them. Cyrus restored the gods to their cities and shrines, and permitted enforced exiles to return to their native places and lands. Besides, he became one of the ardent worshippers of the gods of the land and established himself as a liberty-loving, people-serving potentate.

The fall of Babylon before the advance of Cyrus meant the fall of Semitic sway in Babylonia, and the rise of Aryan power. The cuneiform tongue served the purpose of a language in Babylonia for long years after this revolution. In fact, throughout the Persian and Greek periods, this same language was used in Babylonia, particularly in writing contract tablets. There are some inscriptions dating from the Parthian era, due doubtless to the enthusiastic support of the priesthood of those times. Thus for nearly or quite 4,000 years the cuneiform language was the vehicle of expression for the peoples of Babylonia.

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Page last modified: 01-03-2016 20:15:59 ZULU