Nebuchadnezzar II, also called King Nebuchadnezzar the Second (635 BC-vr. 607 BC-r. 605 BC-562 BC) (Nabu-Kudduri-Usur Nebo, Protect My Eldest Son or Nebo, Protect the Border), or "Nebuchadrezzar" as the Prophet Jeremiah spelled his name, was King of the Chaldeans and final conqueror of the Southern Kingdom of Israel, called "Judah." He was the first of many heads-of-state of foreign superpowers to come to a possibly salvific knowledge of God. Ancient and modern historians have traditionally nicknamed him "The Great." The Septuagint spells his name as Ναβουχοδονοσορ (Nabouchodonosor).
- Note: The chronology of James Ussher is assumed here. For details on how the alternative chronology of Edwin R. Thiele might affect the next series of dates, see the "Disputed chronology" section below.
Different sources variously report the year of Nebuchadnezzar's birth as 630 BC or 635 BC. He was married, or at least betrothed, in 626 BC, to Amyitis, daughter of Astyages, who was the son of Cyaxeres I, King of the Medes. This was part of a military treaty that his father Nabopolassar made with Astyages. This union produced at least one son, named Amal-Marduk or Evil-Merodach, and a daughter, whose name is unrecorded.
In that year, the two allies attacked the Assyrian capital of Nineveh and reduced it to a ruin, as the prophets Isaiah and Nahum had predicted. Afterward, Nabopolassar reigned in newly-independent Babylon for twenty-one years.
The Military Leader
In 610 BC, while still quite young, Nebuchadnezzar became a ranking staff officer, probably equivalent to a modern adjutant general. He also actively supervised the restoration of the temple of Marduk, king of the gods in the Babylonian pantheon.
In 607 BC, Nebuchadnezzar became viceroy of Babylonia. With that office came a major theater command. The Babylonian Chronicle clearly states that this occurred in the nineteenth year of the reign of Nabopolassar, and backs this with an astronomical reference.
Nabopolassar's first orders to his son was to head westward and recapture certain lands near Lebanon, including the western provinces of Syria, from the Egyptians. This occurred after Pharaoh Necho II had met and vanquished an Assyrian army at Carchemish three years earlier, thus establishing Egyptian hegemony in the region. (This was the campaign in which King Josiah of Judah unwisely tried to thwart Necho and was killed in action.)
Nebuchadnezzar moved swiftly, met Necho and his forces at Carchemish, and routed them. Nebuchadnezzar marched on into Judea, and accepted the surrender of Jerusalem and the pledge of vassalage of Jehoiakim. This happened in the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign. The prophet Daniel and three of his friends (Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego) were taken hostage and sent back to Babylon at this time. This is the beginning of the seventy-year exile, or "captivity," of Israel, also called the "desolation."
Nebuchadnezzar moved on and solidified his hold over the eastern Mediterranean lands, so that never again would Pharaoh Necho venture out of Egypt. In this year, on 8 Av (August 15, 605 BC by the Julian calendar), Nabopolassar died. Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon as swiftly as he could, to solidify his rule. With him he brought back a great many captives from Judah, Syria, Lebanon (Phoenicia), and Egypt. He left behind a token garrison in the region.
On 1 Elul (September 7, 605 BC) he laid undisputed claim to his throne. He was anywhere from twenty-five to thirty years old at this time, and he might at this time have ceremonially consummated his marriage to Amyitis, who now would carry the title of "queen." Persistent legend credits him with building a magnificent garden, called the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to this day, but this legend has no archaeological warrant nor even any contemporary record. The Hanging Gardens were supposed to be a present to Amyitis, who would at least have something to remind her of her girlhood in the hill country of the Medes.
In any event, Nebuchadnezzar could confidently ignore his northern frontier, because Amyitis' grandfather Cyaxeres I would prove not only a faithful ally but also a powerful one. Ussher says that Cyaxeres had hundreds of Scythians slaughtered at a banquet, an act that sent the rest of them fleeing northward and, apparently, not attempting another invasion of the Middle East. Centuries would pass before their apparent descendants the Russians would attempt to hold any sway at all in the region.
Rebellion in Judea
Jehoiakim, against the advice of the prophet Jeremiah, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar in the second year of his, Nebuchadnezzar's, lone reign. Nebuchadnezzar dealt decisively with this upstart. His campaign did not proceed completely without problems; various sources say that he suffered a setback in his campaign against the Egyptians in 600 BC (or perhaps two years earlier). In any case, in 599 BC, his army recaptured Jerusalem, and his theater commander took Jehoiakim off to prison and apparently executed him and denied him a proper burial. Three months later, Nebuchadnezzar had to come back personally to Jerusalem to deal with the rebellion of Jehoiakim's son Jehoiachin. Nebuchadnezzar took this man and all his family hostage to Babylon and placed his uncle Zedekiah on the throne in Judah.
Destruction of Jerusalem
- Main Article: Fall of Jerusalem
Again, against the advice of the Prophet Jeremiah, Zedekiah himself rebelled after "reigning" for eleven years. Zedekiah had drawn a moral from the actions of Pharaoh Hophra, or Apries, who had attempted another invasion of Lebanon in 594 BC, in which he captured Sidon. Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem again at the head of an army and laid siege to Jerusalem in 590 BC. Aphris tried to raise the siege, but Nebuchadnezzar crushed his army and then returned to Jerusalem, which he eventually captured. Nebuchadnezzar executed Zedekiah's offspring, blinded Zedekiah, tossed him into prison, and sent his chief of staff to burn the city and the Temple, exactly as Jeremiah predicted. James Ussher reckons this as happening in 588 BC, while Edwin R. Thiele believes it happened in 586 BC.
Nebuchadnezzar then laid siege to Tyre beginning in 585 BC. Thirteen years later (572 BC) his troops took the city and sacked it. Nebuchadnezzar also, as he had done earlier at Jerusalem, removed the regnant king and placed a vassal king on the throne instead. A year later, in 570 BC (which was his thirty-seventh regnal year), Nebuchadnezzar completed the conquest of all of Egypt with a successful campaign against Pharaoh Amasis.
He then returned to Babylon and set about building it into the greatest capital city he could imagine. He might have built the famed Ishtar Gate at this time. The image at the right shows lions, which Nebuchadnezzar had adopted as his symbol.
But at about this time he dreamed of the tree destined to be cut down, and then suffered his seven-years of lycanthropy (see below) before finally being restored to his throne toward the end of his life.
He died in 562 BC (possibly in October), after reigning forty-five years altogether, including his two-year viceroyship under his father. This date is universally accepted and attested, and remains the sole reliable benchmark for the synchrony of Biblical and secular chronology. His son Evil-Merodach reigned in his stead.
Nebuchadnezzar's experiences with God and His servants
Nebuchadnezzar is highly regarded both in the Bible and by secular historians who "rate" the ancient superpower emperors. By all accounts he carved out and built up one of the largest, happiest, wealthiest, most advanced, and most powerful civilizations of his day. But the most remarkable thing about him is that he actually came to profess a belief in God.
Prior to Nebuchadnezzar, God had never seen fit to remove the Davidic dynasty completely from the throne of Judah—though the Northern Kingdom of "Israel" had gone through several different dynasties before Shalmaneser V of Assyria finally conquered Samaria and essentially replaced its population. But Nebuchadnezzar was the first king essentially to replace a Judaean dynasty as its governors—and ironically, Gentile though he was, was the first among them to "measure up" to God's desires.
The Dietary Incident
Nebuchadnezzar had no idea what sort of hostages Daniel and his friends would prove to be. The first hint probably came when Daniel and his friends refused the rich foods that were the standard Royal diet. (This happened in the fourth year of Jehoiakim.) Daniel laid something of a wager with the chamberlains: that he and his three friends would do better on a diet following Levitican precepts than on the Royal diet. The nutritional value of the "Kosher diet" is well-known even today, and it must have served Daniel well enough, because when Daniel and his friends appeared at court, they proved more intelligent and better able than anyone else present. Nebuchadnezzar rewarded them with some very senior ministries in his kingdom.
The Statuary Dream
- Main Article: Nebuchadnezzar's Statuary Dream
Early in his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had a strange and troubling dream. Ussher dates this event in 604 BC, which is the second year of Nebuchadnezzar's lone reign; this is more likely because Nebuchadnezzar was definitely in Babylon at the time. This dream took place before Jehoiakim's rebellion (see above).
In this dream, Nebuchadnezzar saw a great statue that had a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, loins and thighs of bronze, lower legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. As he was watching this, a great rock struck the statue, ground it into dust, and remained as a tall mountain.
He then summoned his wise men—and at this point, some troublemakers in his administration suggested that he should execute any who presumed to interpret his dream, unless that person could repeat the dream back to the king without his telling him, and then interpret it! Daniel was up to the challenge. Daniel tells his side of the story, and Nebuchadnezzar himself backs the story up. The Second Chapter of Daniel tells the details of the statue with the head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belt and thighs of bronze, shins of iron, and feet of iron-mixed-with-clay—these are the original "feet of clay" that remain today a metaphor for a fatal failing in an ostensibly great hero or leader. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar with conviction that he was the antitype for the head of gold, and proceeded to give Nebuchadnezzar a summary of the future history of the world until what most evangelicals would describe as the Second Coming of Christ.
Nebuchadnezzar rewarded Daniel with a high council seat, and with similar high office for Daniel's three friends.
The Fiery Furnace Incident
- Main Article: The Burning Fiery Furnace
Nebuchadnezzar was not convinced so easily. A number of years later (Ussher gives no firm date for this) he set up a golden statue. This was either of the god Marduk (which we may infer from his earlier activity in rebuilding Marduk's temple), or it was an all-gold replica of the statue he had seen in his earlier dream. He then commanded that whosoever would not worship that image would be thrown into a brick kiln—literally, "burning fiery furnace." Daniel was away from the city at the time, but Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego fell neatly into the trap. Nebuchadnezzar had them thrown in—and they walked out alive. Witnesses, furthermore, described a fourth man in the furnace with him—probably the Angel of the Lord Himself.
In 570 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, having completed his wars of conquest, returned to Babylon to concentrate on making it his showcase. At this time he dreamed of a tree destined to be cut down. Daniel tried to tell him that Nebuchadnezzar himself was that tree, but the king did not listen. Very soon thereafter, Nebuchadnezzar came to suffer the delusion that he was an animal, and to eat grass. (Some secular sources claim that this actually happened to Nabonidus, his second son-in-law.) This extreme humbling was the final lesson Nebuchadnezzar needed to convince him of the LORD's Truth. He held Daniel in the highest esteem until the day of his death, and trusted him implicitly. Daniel includes, as the fourth chapter of his work, Nebuchadnezzar's testimony to his people about his experiences as a lycanthrope.
This incident has very little extra-Biblical corroboration, unless one can cite a fragmentary cuneiform inscription in which an anonymous court official, possibly the king's own physician, testifies to symptoms in Nebuchadnezzar that seem remarkably like those of major depressive disorder.
Disputed chronology of Nebuchadnezzar's early career
The dating of the events in Nebuchadnezzar's career up to and a year after the Fall of Jerusalem is in some dispute. This dispute arises from the same source as does the ongoing Biblical chronology dispute between the opposing followers of James Ussher and Edwin R. Thiele. The probable source of the confusion concerns exactly what one means by the phrase "first year of Nebuchadnezzar." By tradition, the "first year" is the year that a king was granted the office of viceroy. But if, as seems likely, Thiele interpreted "first year of Nebuchadnezzar" as the year that Nebuchadnezzar reigned alone, then he could be forgiven for surmising that a key intersection of Nebuchadnezzar's career with the history of the Southern Kingdom occurred in 605 BC, which was in fact the year that Nabopolassar died.
Nebuchadnezzar in modern culture
In the news
Beginning in 1979, Saddam Hussein, the long-time dictator of the Republic of Iraq, began to propagate the notion that he was a direct lineal descendant of Nebuchadnezzar. He went so far as to call himself "Nebuchadrezzar III" and to have coins struck showing his likeness and that of the actual Babylonian king. These coins showed the two likenesses to be uncannily similar, though that might have resulted from slight alteration in the two likenesses to make them similar, at Hussein's orders.
In 1982 Saddam Hussein began to "restore" the ancient capital of Babylon. He did this in part by rebuilding Nebuchadnezzar's palace directly over the site of the old one, using bricks glorifying Saddam himself as the "heir" to Nebuchadnezzar. Archaeologists were aghast, but also powerless to stop him. By one account, the bricks began to crack within ten years.
In addition to rebuilding the palace, Saddam sought to restore the entire city as a tourist attraction. He even created a special unit of his army and outfitted it with the same ancient weapons and uniforms that Nebuchadnezzar's soldiers might have borne and worn.
Saddam Hussein also built his grandest palace directly adjacent to his "restored" palace of Nebuchadnezzar. In the ensuing invasion of Iraq by the United States, United States Marines used the sprawling palace as a barracks.
On July 10, 2007, Prof. Michael Jursa (University of Vienna), while working at the British Museum, succeeded in translating a cuneiform tablet, dating to the tenth reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, that makes a direct reference to one Nabu-sharrussu-ukin. This Nabu-sharrussu-ukin made a payment of 1.5 minas of gold (an amount that would weigh 0.75 kg today), to the temple of Esangila in Babylon. Nabu-sharrussu-ukin is also none other than the man named by the prophet Jeremiah and variously identified as Nebo-Sarsekim and Sarsechim, one of three ranking generals who were present at the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.
In popular fiction, drama, and cinema
The most popular reference to Nebuchadnezzar today is in a motion picture titled The Matrix. In it, a rebel force builds a hovercraft that they use as a pirate television station. They name their craft after Nebuchadnezzar, on the theory that Nebuchadnezzar had a "great awakening," which they hope to achieve.
Nebuchadnezzar also figures often in Christian fiction, usually in reference to his "statuary dream," the place of Babylon in ancient prophecy, and the alleged place of Babylon in prophecies said to be yet-unfulfilled.
- Nisbett, Michael John. "Entry for Nebuchadnezzar." The Christian Resource Centre (Bermuda). Retrieved July 15, 2007.
- Authors unknown. "Entry for Nebuchadnezzar." WebBible Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 15, 2007.
- James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Larry Pierce, ed., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003 (ISBN 0890513600), pghh. 740, 755, 770, 775, 782, 787, 832, 881-2, 886, 890-1.
- Wayne Blank, "Entry for King Nebuchadnezzar," Church of God Daily Bible Study, retrieved July 15, 2007.
- Author unknown. "Entry for Nebuchadnezzar." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., 2007. Retrieved July 15, 2007, from the Highbeam Encyclopedia.
- Gill, N. S. "Entry for Nebuchadnezzar." About.com. Retrieved July 15, 2007.
- Kjeilen, Tore. "Entry for 'Nebuchadnezzar 2'." Encyclopedia of the Orient, 2007. Retrieved July 15, 2007.
- Nystrom, Nathaniel. "Babylon and the Ishtar Gate." All About Archaeology, 2005. Retrieved July 15, 2007.
- Daniel 1:1-2 , II_Chronicles 36:6
- II_Kings 24:7
- Jeremiah 22:18-19 , Genesis 36:30
- Daniel 4
- Daniel 1
- Ussher, op. cit., pgh. 787
- Daniel 2
- Daniel 3
- Knish, Sultan. "Nebuchadnezzar-Saddam." Sultan Knish Blog, January 1, 2007. Retrieved July 15, 2007.
- Craven, Jackie. "Saddam's Babylonian Palace." About.com, retrieved July 15, 2007.
- O'Connell, Daniel, Gun. Sgt., USMC. "Ancient Architecture of Babylon: A Photo Tour." About.com, retrieved July 15, 2007.
- Alberge, Dalya. "Museum’s tablet lends new weight to Biblical truth." The Times (London, England, United Kingdom), July 11, 2007. Retrieved July 13, 2007.
- Reynolds, Nigel. "Tiny tablet provides proof for Old Testament." The Daily Telegraph (London, England, United Kingdom), July 13, 2007. Retrieved July 13, 2007.
- Fendel, Hillel. "Babylonian King's Eunuch Really Existed!" Arutz-Sheva Israel National News, July 11, 2007. Retrieved July 15, 2007.
- Barney, Kevin. "Evidence for the Historical Existence of Nebo-Sarsekim." By Common Consent, July 11, 2007. Retrieved July 13, 2007.
- Jeremiah 3:3 (NIV)
- Jeremiah 3:3 (KJV)
- Mariottini, Claude. "The Book of Jeremiah and A New Archaeological Discovery." Dr. Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament, July 10, 2007. Retrieved July 13, 2007.
- Authors unknown. "Entry for a ship named Nebuchadnezzar." The Matrix, November 21, 1999. Retrieved July 15, 2007. This is an unofficial fan site devoted to the motion picture of that title.