Appendix 2 - The Death of Belshazzar

The following is Professor Sayce's rendering of the concluding (decipherable) portion of the Annalistic tablet of Cyrus "On the fourteenth day of the month Sippara was taken without fighting; Nabonidos fled. On the sixteenth day Gobryas (Ugbaru), the Governor of the country of Kurdistan (Gutium), and the soldiers of Cyrus, entered Babylon without fighting. Afterwards Nabonidos was captured, after being bound in Babylon. At the end of the month Tammuz the javelin-throwers of the country of Kurdistan guarded the gates of E-Saggil; no cessation of services took place in E-Saggil and the other temples, but no special festival was observed. The third day of the month Marchesvan (October) Cyrus entered Babylon. Dissensions were allayed before him. Peace to the city did Cyrus establish, peace to all the province of Babylon did Gobryas his governor proclaim. Governors in Babylon he appointed. From the month Chisleu to the month Adar (November to February) the gods of the country of Accad, whom Nabonidos had transferred to Babylon, returned to their own cities. The eleventh day of the month Marchesvan, during the night, Gobryas was on the bank of the river.

The wife of the king died. From the twenty- seventh day of Adar to the third day of Nisan there was lamentation in the country of Accad; all the people smote their heads. On the fourth day Kambyses the son of Cyrus conducted the burial at the temple of the Sceptre of the world. The priest of the temple of the Sceptre of Nebo, who upbears the sceptre [of Nebo in the temple of the god], in an Elamite robe took the hands of Nebo, . . . the son of the king (Kambyses) [offered] free-will offerings in full to ten times [the usual amount]. He confined to E-Saggil the [image] of Nebo. Victims before Bel to ten times [the usual amount he sacrificed]." The reader’s surprise will naturally be excited on learning that the tablet is so mutilated and defective that the text has here and there to be reconstructed, and that the above, while purporting to be merely a translation is, in fact, also a reconstruction. I will here confine myself, however, to one point of principal importance.
(1 wish to acknowledge my obligation to the Rev. John Uquhart, the author of The Inspiration and Accuracy of the Holy Scriptures, for placing this letter at my disposal.)

Mr. Theo. G. Pinches, by whom this very tablet was first brought to light, is perfectly clear that the reading "the wjfe of the king died" cannot be sustained. He writes as follows 1 (I omit the cuneiform characters) "Professor Sayce has adopted a suggestion of Professor Schrader. The characters cannot be . ‘and the wife of,’ but must be either . . . ‘and ‘(as I read it at first) or . . . ‘and the son of.’ This last improved reading I suggested about four years ago, and the Rev. C. J. Ball and Dr. Hagen, who examined the text with me, adopted this view. Dr. Hagen wrote upon the subject in Delitzsch’s Beitrage, vol. i. Of course, whether we read ‘and the king died,’ or ‘and the son of the king died,’ it comes to the same thing, as either expression could refer to Belshazzar, who, after his father’s flight, would naturally be at the head of affairs."

The following extract is from Mr. Pinches’s article "Belshazzar" in the new edition of Smith’s Bible Dictionary

"As is well known, Beishazzar was, according to Daniel v., killed in the night, and Xenophon (Cyrop., vii. 5, 3) tells us that Babylon was taken by Cyrus during the night, whilst the inhabitants were engaged in feasting and revelry, and that the king was killed. So in the Babylonian Chronicle, lines 22—24, we have the statement that ‘On the night of the 11th of Marchesvan, Ugbaru (Gobryas) [descended?] against [Babylon?] and the king died. From the 27th of Adar until the 3rd of Nisan there was weeping in Akkad. All the people bowed their head.’ The most doubtful character in the above extract is that which stands for the word ‘and,’ the character in question having been regarded as the large group which stands for that word. A close examination of the original, however, shows that it is possible that there are two characters instead of one—namely, the small character for ‘and,’ and the character tur, which in this connection would stand for u mar, ‘and the son of’ in which case the line would read, ‘ and the son of the king died.’ Weeping in Akkad for Belshazzar is just what would be expected, when we take into consideration that he was for many years with the army there, and that he must have made himself a favourite by his liberality to the Akkadian temples. Even supposing, however, that the old reading is the right one, it is nevertheless possible that the passage refers to Belshazzar; for Berosus relates that Nabonidos, on surrendering to Cyrus, had his life spared, and that a principality or estate was given to him in Carmania, where he died. It is therefore at least probable that Beishazzar was regarded even by the Babylonians as king, especially after his father’s surrender. With this improved reading of the Babylonian text, it is impossible to do otherwise than identify Gobryas with Darius the Mede (if we suppose that the last verse of the 5th chapter of Daniel really belongs to that chapter, and does not form part, as in the Hebrew text, of chap. vi.), he being mentioned, in the Babylonian Chronicle, in direct connection with the death of the king’s son (or the king, as the case may be). This identification, though not without its difficulties, receives a certain amount of support from Daniel vi. I, where it is stated that ‘it pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes,’ &c.—an act which finds parallel in the Babylonian Chronicle, which states ‘that, after Cyrus promised peace to Babylon, Gobryas, his governor, appointed governors in Babylon."

On this same subject I am indebted to Mr. St. Chad Boscawen for the following note :— "Owing to the mutilated state of the latter part of the tablet, it is extremely difficult to arrange the events, and also in some cases to clearly understand the exact meanings of the sentences. As far as I can see, the course of events seems to have been as follows. Sippara was taken on the 14th of Tammuz, and two days later Babylon. Nabonidos had fled, but he was still recognised as king by the majority of the people, especially by rich trading communities such as the Egibi firm, who continued to date their contracts in his regnal years. At Sippara the people seem to have recognised Cyrus as king earlier than at Babylon, as the tablets of his accession year are all, with one exception, the source of which is not known, from Sippara. On the 3rd of Marchesvan Cyrus entered Babylon and appointed Gobryas (the prefect of Gutium) ‘prefect of the prefects’ (pikhat-pikhate) of Babylon; and he (Gobryas) appointed the other prefects. That reading of the sentence is perfectly legitimate. Cyrus seems only to have occupied himself with the restoration of religious order, and on restoring the gods to their temples who had been transported to Babylon. We have then a remarkable passage. Sayce reads ‘the wife of the king died’; but Hagen reads the son of the king, and I have examined this tablet, and find that although the tablet is here broken, the most probable reading is the son, not the wife."

"In Dan. v. we read, and ‘Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years.’ In a second passage, however, this is modified. We read, ‘In the first year of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans, (ix. I); and again, ‘It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom a hundred and twenty princes’ (vi. I). Here we have an exact parallel to the case of Gobryas. Gobryas was a Manda—among whom were embraced the Medes, for Astyages, an undoubted Median king, ruler of the Median capital of Ecbatana, is called . . . a soldier of the Manda, or barbarians. He is appointed on the 3rd Marchesvan B.C. 538— after taking the kingdom on 16th Tammuz—'prefect of the prefects’; and he appoints other prefects over the kingdom. His reign did not last more than one year, terminating in either Adar 538 or early in B.C. 537. The end is rendered obscure by the fractures in the tablet. .
"If, then, Gubaru or Gobryas was prefect of Gutium before his conquest of Babylon in B.C. 538, there is nothing whatever against his being a Mede; and as Astyages was deposed by a revolt, when ‘he was taken by the hands of the rebels and given to Cyrus’ (Chronicle Inscr.), it is very probable that Gobryas was the leader of the conspiracy. Indeed he seems to me to fulfil in every way the required conditions to be Darius the Mede. . . . The appointment of the satraps does not seem exorbitantly large, nor are these to be confounded with the satrapies of the Persian empire."

And finally, in his Book of Daniel (p. xxx) Professor Driver, in citing the foregoing extract from the tablet, reads the crucial sentence thus :—" On the 11th day of Marchesvan, during the night, Gubaru made an assault and slew the king’s son." And at pp. 60, 6i he writes: "After Gubaru and Cyrus had entered Babylon he (Belshazzar) is said (according to the most probable reading) to have been slain by Gubaru ‘during the night,’ i.e. (apparently) in some assault made by night upon the fortress or palace to which he had withdrawn."

I will only add that, in view of the testimony of these witnesses, so thoroughly competent and impartial, it is not easy to restrain a feeling of indignation at the effrontery (not to use a stronger word) of Professor Sayce’s language in pp. 525, 526 of his book.