Chapter 3 - Historical Errors Continued: Belshazzar and Darius the Mede

Professor Driver acknowledges "the possibility that Nabunahid may have sought to strengthen his position by marrying a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, in which case the latter might be spoken of as Belshazzar's father (= grandfather, by Hebrew usage)." And the author of the Ancient Monarchies, our best historical authority here, tells us that Nabonidus (Nabunahid) "had associated with him in the government his son Belshazzar or Bel-shar-uzur, the grandson of the great Nebuchadnezzar," and "in his father's absence Belshazzar took the direction of affairs within the city." The only question, therefore, is whether Belshazzar, being thus left as regent at Babylon when his father was absent at Borsippa in command of the army, would be addressed as king. But Dr. Farrar settles the matter by asserting that "there was no King Belshazzar," and that Belshazzar was "conquered in Borsippa." This last statement is a mere blunder.

The accuracy of Daniel in this matter is confirmed in a manner which is all the more striking because it is wholly incidental. Why did Belshazzar purpose to make Daniel the third ruler in the kingdom? The natural explanation is, that he himself was but second. "Unhappily for their very precarious hypothesis," Dr. Farrar remarks, "the translation 'third ruler' appears to be entirely untenable. It means 'one of a board of three.' " As a test of the author's erudition and candour this deserves particular notice. Every scholar, of course, is aware that there is not a word about a "board of three" in the text. This is exegesis, not translation. But is it correct exegesis?

Under the Persian rule there was a cabinet of three, as the sixth chapter tells us; but there is no authority whatever for supposing such a body existed under the empire which it supplanted. As regards chapter v., it will satisfy most people to know that the rendering which Dr. Farrar declares to be "entirely untenable" has been adopted by the Old Testament company of Revisers. And I have been at the pains to ascertain that the passage was carefully considered, that they had no difficulty in deciding in favour of the reading of the A.V., and that it was not until their final revision that the alternative rendering "one of three" was admitted into the margin. In the distinguished Professor Kautzsch's recent work on the Old Testament, representing the latest and best German scholarship, he adheres to the rendering "third ruler in the kingdom," and his note is, "either as one of three over the whole kingdom, or as third by the side of the king and the king's mother." Behrmann, too, in his recent commentary, adopts the same reading - as third he was to have authority in the kingdom," and adds a note referring to the king and his mother as first and second.' This surely will suffice to silence the critic's objection, and to cast suspicion upon his fairness as a controversialist.
(In reply to an inquiry I addressed to him, the Chief Rabbi wrote to me as follows : "I have carefully considered the question you laid before me at our pleasant meeting on Sunday relative to the correct interpretation of the passages in Daniel, chapter v., verses 7 and x6. I cannot absolutely find fault with Archdeacon Farrar for translating the words 'the third part of the kingdom,' as he follows herein two of our Hebrew commentators of great repute, Rashi and Ibn Ezra. On the other hand, others of our commentators, such as Saadia, Jachja, etc., translate this passage as 'he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.' This rendering seems to be more strictly in accord with the literal meaning of the words as shown by Dr. Winer in his Grammatik des Chaldaismus. It also receives confirmation from Sir Henry Rawlinson's remarkable discovery, according to which Belshazzar was the eldest son of King Nabonidus, and associated with him in the government, so that the person next in honour would be the third."
This applies equally to Prof. Driver's note, which says "The rendering of A.V. is certainly untenable." And his reference to the LXX. is unfair, seeing that his view is refuted by the version of Theodotion, which is of higher authority than that to which he appeals.)

But, we are told, the archeological discoveries of the last few years dispose of the whole question, and compel us entirely to reconstruct the traditional history of the Persian conquest of Babylon. "We now possess the actual records of Nabonidos and Cyrus," Professor Sayce tells us, and he adds, "They are records the truth of which cannot be doubted." What "simple child-like faith" these good men have in ancient records, Holy Scripture only excepted! The principal record here in question is "the Annalistic tablet of Cyrus," an inscription of which the transparent design is to represent his conquest of Babylon as the fulfilment of a divine mission, and the realisation of the wishes of the conquered. And any document of the kind, whether dated in the sixth century B.C. or the nineteenth century A.D., is open to grave suspicion, and should be received with caution. Even kings may pervert the truth, and State-papers may falsify facts! But even assuming its accuracy, it in no way supports the conclusions which are based upon it. No advance will be made towards a solution of these questions until our Christian scholars shake themselves free from the baneful influence of the sceptics, whose blind hostility to Holy Scripture unfits them for dealing with any controversy of the kind. The following is a typical instance of the effect of the influence I deprecate :- "But Belshazzar never became king in his father's place. No mention is made of him at the end of the Annalistic tablet, and it would therefore appear that he was no longer in command of the Babylonian army when the invasion of Cyrus took place. Owing to the unfortunate lacuna in the middle of the tablet we have no account of what became of him, but since we are told not only of the fate of Nabonidos, but also of the death of his wife, it seems probable that Belshazzar was dead. At any rate, when Cyrus entered Babylonia he had already disappeared from history. Here, then, the account given by the Book of Daniel is at variance with the testimony of the inscriptions. But the contradictions do not end here. The Biblical story implies that Babylon was taken by storm; at all events it expressly states that 'the king of the Chaldeans was slain.' Nabonidos, the Babylonian king, however, was not slain, and Cyrus entered Babylon 'in peace.' Nor was Belshazzar the son of Nebuchadrezzar, as we are repeatedly told in the fifth chapter of Daniel."

May I criticise the critic? Daniel nowhere avers that Belshazzar became king in his father's place. On the contrary, it clearly implies that he reigned as his father's viceroy. Daniel nowhere suggests that he was in command of the Babylonian army.
The Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments, pp. 525, 526. This last point is typical of the inaccuracy and pertinacity of the critics. We are nowhere told in Daniel that Belshazzar was the son of Nebuchadnezzar. We are told that he was so addressed at the Court of Babylon, which is a wholly different matter. He was probably a descendant of the great king, but it is certain that if, rightly or wrongly, he claimed relationship with him, no one at his court would dispute the claim. In a table of Babylonian kings I find mention of a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar who married the father of Nabonidus (Trans. Vict. Inst., vol. xviii. p. 99). This of course would dispose of the whole difficulty. She, perhaps, was "the king's mother," whose death eight years before was followed by national mourning (Anna. Tablet). To trade on the word "son "is a mere quibble, which has been exposed again and again. (See Pusey's Daniel, p. 405, and Rawlinson's Egyftt and Babylon, p. i)

The Annalistic tablet, on the other hand, tells us that Nabonidus was at the head of the army, and that he was at Sippara when the Persian invasion took place, and fled when that town opened its gates to the invaders. To the fact that more than half of the inscription is lost Professor Sayce attributes the absence of all mention of Belshazzar. And yet he goes on to assume, without a shadow of evidence, that he had died before the date of the expedition; and upon this utterly baseless conjecture he founds the equally baseless assertion that "Daniel is at variance with the testimony of the inscriptions"! As a matter of fact, however, the tablet is not silent about Belshazzar. On the contrary, it expressly refers to him, and records his death.

But to resume. Daniel nowhere avers that "Babylon was taken by storm." Neither is it said, "the king of the Chaldeans was slain"; the words are explicit that "Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was slain." How his death was brought about we are not told. He may have fallen in repelling an assault upon the palace, or his death may have been caused in furtherance of the priestly conspiracy in favour of Cyrus, or the "wise men" may have compassed it in revenge for the preferment of Daniel.

All this is mere conjecture. Scripture merely tells us that he was slain, and that Darius the Mede, aged about sixty-two, "received the kingdom." The same word occurs again in ii. 6 ("Ye shall receive of me gifts," etc.), and in vii. i8 (" The saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom "). No word could more fitly describe the enthronement of a vassal king or viceroy. No language could be more apt to record a peaceful change of dynasty, such as, according to some of the students of the inscrip-tions, took place when Nabonidus lost the throne.

But this is not all; and the sequel may well excite the reader's astonishment. First, we are asked to draw inferences from the silence of this document, though we possess but mutilated fragments of it, and, for ought we know, the lost portions may have contained matter to refute these very inferences. And secondly, accepting the contents of the fragments which remain, the allegation that they contradict the Book of Daniel has no better foundation than Professor Sayce's heretical reading of them; and if we appeal to a more trustworthy guide, we shall find that, so far from being inconsistent with the sacred narrative, they afford the most striking confirmation of its truth.

According to this tablet, "Sippara was taken without fighting, and Nabonidus fled." This was on the i4th day of Tammuz;' and on the i6th, "Gobryas and the soldiers of Cyrus entered Babylon without fighting." On the 3rd day of Marchesvan, that is, four months later, Cyrus himself arrived. Following this comes the significant statement: "The 13th day of Marchesvan, during the night, Gobryas was on the bank of the river. The son of the king died"; or, as Professor Driver reads it, "Gubaru made an assaull, and slew the king's son." Then follows the mention of the national mourning and of the State burial conducted by Cambyses, the son of Cyrus, in person. But instead of "the son of the king," Professor Sayce here reads "the wife of the king," and upon this error rests the entire superstructure of his attack upon the accuracy of Daniel.'
 
Nor is this all, The main statements in the tablet may reasonably be accepted. We may assume that the Persian troops entered Sippara on the i4th Tammuz, and reached Babylon on the 16th. But the assertion that in both cases the entry was peaceful will, of course, be received with reserve. Professor Sayce, however, would have us believe it all implicitly, and he goes on to assert that Cyrus was King of Babylon from the 14th Tammuz, and therefore that Daniel's mention of the death of Belshazzar and the accession of Darius the Mede is purely mythical. He dismisses to a footnote the awkward fact that we have commercial tablets dated in the reign of Nabonidus throughout the year, and even after the arrival of Cyrus himself; and his gloss upon this fact is that it gives further proof that the change of dynasty was a peaceful one! It gives proof clear and conclusive that during this period Nabonidus was still recognised as king, and therefore that Cyrus was not yet master of the city. As a matter of fact we have not a single "Cyrus" tablet in this year dated from Babylon. All, with one exception, the source of which is not known, were made in Sippara.'

But who was this personage whose death was the occasion of a great national mourning and a State funeral? As the context shows clearly that "the king" referred to was not Cyrus, he can have been no other than Nabonidus; and as "the king's son," so frequently mentioned in the earlier fragments of the inscription and in the contract tablets, is admittedly Belshazzar, there is no reason whatever to doubt that it was he whose death and obsequies are here recorded.

What then does all this lead us to? The careful and impartial historian, repudiating the iconoclastic zeal of the controversialist, will set himself to consider how these facts can be harmonised with other records sacred and profane; and the task will not prove a difficult one. Accepting the fact that at the time of the Persian invasion Nabonidus was absent from Babylon, he will be prepared to find that "the king's son" held command in the capital as viceroy. Accepting the fact that the Persian army entered Babylon in the month Tammuz, and that Cyrus arrived four months later, but yet that Nabonidus was still recognised as king, he will explain the seeming paradox by inferring that the invaders were in possession only of a part of the vast city of Nebuchadnezzar, and that Belshazzar, surrounded by his court and the wealthy classes of the community, still refused to yield. Accepting the fact that Cyrus desired to represent his conquest as a bloodless one, he will be prepared to assume that force was resorted to only after a long delay and when diplomacy was exhausted. And he will not be surprised to find that when at last, either in an attack upon the palace, or by some act of treachery in furtherance of the cause of the invaders, "Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain," the fact was veiled by the euphemistic announcement that "the king's son died."

But while the record is thus shown to be entirely consistent with Daniel, so far as the mention of Belshazzar is concerned, what room does it leave for Darius the Mede? The answer is that the inscription fails us at this precise point. "The rest of the text is destroyed, but the fragments of it which remain indicate that it described the various attempts made by Cyrus and his son Kambyses, after the overthrow of Nabonidus, to settle the affairs of Babylonia and conciliate the priesthood." Such is Professor Sayce's own testimony. In a word, it is doubtful whether the tablet mentions Darius or not, but it is certain that any such mention would be purely incidental, and wholly outside the purpose with which the inscription was framed. While its mention of him, therefore, would be conclusive, its silence respecting him would prove nothing.
(When the fall of the Empire scattered the Secret Service staff of the French Prefecture of Police, many strange things came to my knowledge. I then learned that Count D'Orsay's death was caused by a pistol-bullet aimed at the Emperor, with whom he was walking arm-in-arm. But it was publicly announced, and universally believed, that he died of a carbuncle in the back. If, even in these days of newspapers, facts can be thus disguised for reasons of State, who will pretend that the circumstances of Belshazzar's death may not have been thus concealed in Chaldea twenty-five centuries ago? Moreover, Professor Driver's reading of the tablet (see p. 32, ante) renders even this suggestion unnecessary.)

Nor will the omission of his name from the commercial tablets decide the matter either way. If, as Daniel indicates, Darius was but a viceroy or vassal king, his suzerain's name would, in the ordinary course, be used for this purpose, just as the name of Nabonidus was used during the regency of Belshazzar.
( The language of the Cyrus inscription is very striking, as indicating that Gobryas was no mere subordinate; e.g., "Peace to the city did Cyrus establish. Peace to all the princes of Babylon did Gobryas his governor proclaim. Governors in Babylon he (Gobryas) appointed.")

But who was this Darius? Various hypotheses are maintained by scholars of eminence. By some he is identified with Gobryas, and this suggestion commends itself on many grounds. Others, again, follow the view adopted by Josephus, according to which Darius was "the son and successor of Astyages "- namely, Cyaxares II. Xenophon is the only authority for the existence of such a king, but his testimony has been rejected too lightly on the plea that his Cyropadia is but a romance. The writers of historical romances, however, do not invent kings. Yet another suggestion remains, that Darius was the personal name of "Astyages," the last king of the Medes. "This," says Bishop Westcott, "appears to satisfy all the conditions of the problem." Although I myself adopt the first of these rival hypotheses, my task is merely to show that the question is still open, and that the grounds on which it is now sought to prove it closed are such as would satisfy no one who is competent to form an opinion upon the evidence. Though Professor Driver here remarks that "mere seems to be no room for such a ruler," he is careful to add that the circumstances are not inconsistent with either his existence or his office, "and a cautious criticism will not build too much on the silence of the inscriptions, where many certainly remain yet to be brought to light."

The identity of Darius the Mede is one of the most interesting problems in the Daniel controversy, and it is a problem which cannot be ignored. The critics do not dispose of it by declaring the Book of Daniel to be a "pseudepigraph" of Maccabean days. Accepting that hypothesis for the sake of argument, the mention of Darius remains to be accounted for. Some writers reject it as "pure fiction"; others denounce it as a "sheer blunder." Though these are wholly inconsistent hypotheses, Dr. Farrar adopts both. Both, however, are alike untenable; and the "avowed fiction" theory may be dismissed as unworthy of notice. The writer would have had no possible motive for inventing a "Darius," for the events of Daniel vi. might just as well have been assigned to some other reign, and a figment of the kind would have marred his book. The suggestion is preposterous.

And the author must have been a man of extraordinary genius and of great erudition. He would have had before him historical records now lost, such as the history of Berosus. He would have had access to the authorities upon which the book of the Antiquities is based; for the student of Josephus cannot fail to see that his history is partly derived from sources other than the Book of Daniel. And besides all this, he would have had the Book of Ezra, which records how Darius the Persian issued an edict to give effect to the decree of Cyrus for the rebuilding of the Temple, and also the prophecies of Haggal and Zechariah, which bring this fact into still greater prominence. It may safely be averred, therefore, that no intelligent schoolboy, no devout peasant, in all Judah could have been guilty of a blunder so gross and stupid as that which is attributed to this "holy and gifted Jew," the author of the most famous and successful literary fraud the world has ever seen! The "sheer blunder" theory may be rejected as sheer nonsense.

Accepting, then, for the sake of argument, the pseudepigraph theory of Daniel, the book gives proof of a definite and well-established historical tradition that when Cyrus conquered Babylon, "Darius the Mede received the kingdom." How, then, is that tradition to be accounted for? The question demands an answer, but the critics have none to offer.