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Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of 5 his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Belshazzar,
ing1) 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Gubaru 'during the night,' i.e. (apparently) in some assault made by night upon the fortress or palace to which he had withdrawn. Nabu-na'id was a quiet, unwarlike king; and Belshazzar, as general, may have distinguished himself, at the time when Cyrus took possession of Babylon, in such a manner as to eclipse his father, with the result that in imagination of later ages he was himself regarded as 'king' of Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar in ch. iv. was the personification of pride: Belshazzar is the personification of profanity as well; and his fall is all the more tragic and complete: in a single night the brilliant revel is changed, first into terror and bewilderment, and then into disaster and death. Herodotus (i. 191), and Xenophon (Cyrop. VII. v. 15—31), testify to the existence of a tradition that Babylon was taken by Cyrus during the night, while the inhabitants were all feasting. This tradition is shewn now by the inscriptions (p. xxxi) to be unhistorical, at least in the form in which these writers report it; but it is, of course, not impossible that Belshazzar was holding a feast in the night on which he was slain by Gubaru. Even, however, though this may have been the case, there are features in the representation of the present chapter which so conflict with history as to make it evident that we are not dealing with an account written by a contemporary hand, but with a narrative, constructed doubtless upon a basis supplied by tradition, but written, as a whole, for the purpose of impressing a moral lesson. Those who regard the Book as dating from the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes often think that the chapter may be intended indirectly to allude to him: his audacity and impiety are mentioned pointedly in viii. 10, 11, xi. 36-38; in i Macc. i. 21-24 we read that he entered proudly into the sanctuary' and robbed it of the golden altar, and most of the other sacred vessels; and so it is thought that the fate which is elsewhere (viii. 25, xi. 45) distinctly predicted for the impious Syrian prince, is here indirectly hinted at by the nemesis which overtakes the profanity of Belshazzar.
1. Belshazzar] Babyl. Bêl-shar-uşur, 'Bel, protect the king!' LXX. Theod. and Vulg. confuse this name with Belteshazzar (i. 7), representing both by Baλraoap, 'Baltassar.'
to a thousand of his lords] in accordance with the magnificence of Eastern monarchs.
and drank, &c.] and before the thousand was drinking wine. By 'before' is no doubt meant, facing the guests, at a separate table, on a raised dais at the end of the banqueting-hall. We have little or no information respecting the custom of the king at state-banquets in Babylon but something similar is reported, or may be inferred, of royal banquets among the Persians (Athen. iv. 26, p. 145 c, ll. 1-3; cf. Rawl. Anc. Mon. iii. 215), and Parthians (Athen. iv. 38, p. 153 a-b).
1 See above, p. xxx, ll. 22, 23.
whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, 4 and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
2. whiles] the genitive sing. of the subst. while (as in for a while'), used adverbially (cf. needs,' 'upwards'). It occurs in A.V. ix. 20, 21; Ez. xxi. 29 (twice), xliv. 17; Hos. vii. 6; Matt. v. 25; Acts v. 4; 2 Cor. ix. 13; and several times in Shakespeare, as Much Ado, iv. 1, 221, What we have we prize not to the worth, Whiles we enjoy it,' Meas. for Meas. iv. 3, 84; Jul. Caes. i. 2. 209.
whiles he tasted the wine] in the taste-i.e. enjoyment of the wine, when he began to feel the influence of the wine.
commanded, &c.] an act, under the circumstances, of wanton and defiant impiety.
the golden and silver vessels, &c.] see i. 2.
his father] Belshazzar is not known to have been related to Nebuchadnezzar his father was Nabu-na'id, a usurper, the son of one Nabo-balâtsu-ikbi, and expressly said (see Introd. pp. xxvii, li) to have been unconnected with Nebuchadnezzar's family.
.‘Father' may, however, by Hebrew usage, be understood to mean grandfather (Gen. xxviii. 13, xxxii. 10; cf. 1 Kings xv. 13 for greatgrandfather); and there remains the possibility that Nabu-na'id may have sought to strengthen his position by marrying a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, in which case, of course, Nebuchadnezzar would be Belshazzar's grandfather on his mother's side (see however, p. li, n.). So v. 3.
2. princes] lords, as v. 1.
his wives] his consorts: so vv. 3, 23. found otherwise in the O.T. only in Artaxerxes), and Ps. xlv. 91.
concubines] so vv. 3, 23. Not the usual Hebrew word, but one found also in the Aramaic of the Targums. Cf. Cant. vi. 8, where
queens' and 'concubines' are mentioned side by side.
The word is a rare one, being
The presence of women at feasts was not usual in antiquity (cf., of Persia, Est. i. 10-12); but there is some evidence, though slight, that it was allowed in Babylon (Xen. Cyrop. v. ii. 28; and, in the age of Alexander, Curtius v. i. 38). The LXX. translator, feeling probably some difficulty in the statement, omits the clause relating to the 'wives and concubines' both here and vv. 3, 23.
1 It is read by some scholars conjecturally in Jud. v. 30 (ʻfor the neck of the confor b). The cognate verb means to ravish (Is. xiii. 16 al.).
In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, 5 and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister 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 6 changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, 7 the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake,
5. In the same hour] in the midst of their godless revelry (v. 4). Cf. for the expression iii. 6, 15, iv. 33.
over against] in front of, or opposite to, the candlestick; and hence a part of the wall where the light was particularly bright.
the plaister] lit. the chalk. The place was consequently white : and any dark object moving upon it would be immediately visible. In the great halls of Babylonian palaces the brick walls were probably, as in the palaces of Assyria, lined to a height of 10-12 ft. above the ground with slabs of a kind of alabaster, ornamented with elaborate basreliefs, and often brilliantly coloured (cf. Ez. xxiii. 4): in their upper part, also, the walls seem to have been usually painted, but the plaster may sometimes have been left white. Comp. Layard, Nineveh and its Remains, i. 254–7, 262 f., Nineveh and Babylon, p. 651, Rawl., Anc. Mon. ii. 283.
the part] the palm or hollow; the word (in the fem.) is used in the Targums and in Syriac in this sense (e.g. 1 Kings xviii. 44). "We must suppose the hand to have appeared above the place where the king was reclining" (Bevan).
6. countenance] lit. brightness (i.e. healthy freshness and colour) : cf. iv. 36. So vv. 9, 10, vii. 28. Cf. the Targum (Onk.) of Deut. xxxiv. 7, And the glorious brightness of his face was not changed.'
was changed] i.e. grew pale through fear. If the text be correct, the word used can be rendered only was changed for him' (hence R.V. in him); but the construction which this rendering presupposes, though found occasionally in Hebrew1, is doubtful in Aramaic. Probably was changed is right, though two letters in the Aram. should be omitted. his thoughts alarmed him] Ċf. iv. 19. 'Troubled ' is altogether too weak.
the joints of his loins were loosed, &c.] could not stand firm. Cf. Od. xviii. 341 Ταρβοσύνη.
He trembled violently, and λύθεν δ ̓ ὑπὸ γυῖα ἑκάστης
7. aloud] lit. with might, as iii. 4, iv. 14. Not simply 'commanded,' but cried aloud': the king's alarm was reflected in the tones of his voice.
the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the determiners (of fates)] Cf. iv. 7; and see on i. 21, ii. 2, 27.
spake] answered (ii. 20). So v. 10.
and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. 8 Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the inter9 pretation thereof. Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.
Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king and
the wise men of Babylon] ii. 12, 14, &c.
shew me] declare to me (ii. 4, 6, &c.).
scarlet] purple (R.V.), as Ex. xxv. 4; Jud. viii. 26, &c. So vv. 16, 29. Purple was a royal, or princely, colour among the Persians (Est. viii. 15; Xen. Anab. I. v. 8), the Medes (Cyrop. 1. iii. 2, II. iv. 6), and also (it may be inferred) among the Seleucidae (1 Macc. x. 20, 62, 64, xiv. 43 f.; cf. viii. 14).
a chain of gold about his neck] Cf. Gen. xli. 42, where Pharaoh decorates eph similarly. A golden necklace was worn also by Persians of rank (cf. Xen. Anab. I. v. 8, viii. 29); and was given sometimes by the Persian kings as a compliment or mark of distinction in Hdt. iii. 20 Cambyses sends a purple garment, a golden necklace, bracelets,' with other presents, to the Ethiopians; and in Xen. Anab. I. ii. 27 the younger Cyrus gives one to Syennesis. (The word, hamnuk or hamnik, occurs in the O.T. only here and vv. 16, 29. It is probably of Persian origin [hamyanak], a diminutive from hämyān 'girdle. It is found in the Targums, in the form měnīk, and in Syriac as hamnik and hemnik (see Gen. xli. 42, Onk. and Pesh.); and it made its way into Greek as paviáкηs, LXX. Theod. here, Polyb., &c.).
and shall rule as one of three in the kingdom] So R.V. marg. The expression (which recurs vv. 16, 29) is difficult. The rendering of A.V. is however certainly not tenable. The word rendered 'third' in A.V. is not that which is used anywhere else (either in the Targums or in Daniel) to denote the ordinal; but resembles most closely the word (tilta or tūltä) which both in the Targums and in Syriac means a third part (e.g. 2 Kings xi. 5, 6, a third part of you'). Hence the literal rendering appears to be, shall rule as a third part in the kingdom,' i.e. have a third part of the supreme authority in the country, be one of the three chief ministers, 'rule as one of three.' Cf. LXX. δοθήσεται αὐτῷ ἐξουσία τοῦ τρίτου μέρους τῆς βασιλείας.
The wise men, however, failed either to read or to explain the
9. greatly troubled] greatly alarmed,- -a climax upon v. 6.
and his brightness was changed upon him] 'upon' in accordance with the principle explained on ii. 1.
were astonied] were confused or (R.V.) perplexed.
10. the queen] probably, as most commentators assume,-partly
his lords, came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed. There i is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers; forasmuch as an excellent spirit, 12 and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts,
because she is distinguished from the 'wives' or 'consorts' mentioned in v. 2, partly on account of the manner in which she speaks in v. 11 of what had happened in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, the queenmother, i.e. (in the view of the writer) Nebuchadnezzar's widow1. In both Israel and Judah the mother of the reigning king is mentioned as an influential person, I Ki. xv. 13; 2 Ki. x. 13, xxiv. 12, 15; Jer. xiii. 18, xxix. 2.
O king, live for ever] trouble] alarm, as v. 6.
11. in whom is the spirit, &c.] As iv. 8, where see the note.
thy father] see on v. 2.
like the wisdom of (the) gods] Cf. 2 Sam. xiv. 20. The queen, however, speaks as a polytheist.
made master of the magicians, &c.] See ii. 48 and iv. 9. enchanters, Chaldeans, and determiners (of fates)] Ás v. 7.
12. an excellent spirit] a surpassing spirit, i.e. pre-eminent ability. Cf. v. 14, vi. 3; and see on ii. 31. The Aramaic word used stands often in the Syriac version of the Ν.Τ. for πλεῖον and περισσÓTEρov, as Matth. vi. 25, xi. 9, xii. 42.
interpreting...dissolving] These two English words are, of course, substantives. The meaning of the passage is, no doubt, given correctly, but it involves a change of punctuation: in the original, the two words, as actually pointed, are participles and out of construction with the context.
shewing of hard sentences] declaring of riddles. As Prof. Bevan remarks, the two Aramaic words here used correspond exactly to the two Hebrew words found in Judg. xiv. 14, 15, 19, and there rendered ' declare the riddle.' 'Hard'or (R. V.) 'dark sentences,' or 'sayings' (Ps. xlix. 4, lxxviii. 2; Prov. i. 6) is an obscure expression, the retention of which in the R.V. is to be regretted. The Hebrew word is the same as that which is used in 1 Ki. x. 1 of the 'hard questions' with which the Queen of Sheba plied Solomon. It is also used of an allegory Ez. xvii. 2, of an ' enigma' of life, Ps. xlix. 4, of a truth taught
1 Nabu-na'id's actual mother died eight years previously, in his ninth year, as is expressly stated in the 'Annalistic Tablet,' ii. 13 (KB. iii. 2, p. 131; RP.2 v. 160).