By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Old Testament Kings

  • Nebuchadnezzar was the ruler of Babylon from 605-562 BCE.
  • He was historically called “Nebuchadnezzar the Great” and is remembered as a great leader outside of Biblical circles. There are many cuneiform tablets that speak of his amazing achievements and prideful character.
  • Much information is available about his life and reign. There are about 500 tablets dated during his 43 year reign. There are roughly 30 buildings and inscriptions named in his honor. He is mentioned in the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Kings. He is also cited by Josephus and Eusebius, plus numerous other Greek historians.
  • Most of the ancient bricks excavated around Babylon have his name inscribed on them.
  • His name is derived from Akkadian words. Nabu refers to the Babylonian god of wisdom, who is the son of their main god, Marduk. Kudurru refers to a deed of property or a boundary marker. Used in a title, it usually means “firstborn son.” Most scholars translate his name as either “O God, Nabu, preserve/defend my firstborn son” or “O God, Nabu, defend my boundary.”
  • The name, Nebuchadnezzar, occurs more than ninety times in the Old Testament.
  • In references to himself, the King identified himself as “Nabu’s favorite.” ·
  • Nebuchadnezzar was the second son of Nabopolassar, who figured prominently in the defeat of Assyria by the Babylonians.
  • Nabopolassar also wanted to wrest the western province of Syria from the Egyptian pharaoh, Necho II. Nebuchadnezzar was sent to fight that battle, which occurred at Carchemish in 605 BCE. He was successful, and both Syria and Phoenicia became dependent on Babylon.
  • Nabopolassar died in August of that year, and Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon to accept the throne.
  • Nebuchadnezzar married Amyitis, the daughter of the king of the Medes, thereby uniting those dynasties and bringing peace to their nations.
  • It is very likely that on his way back from Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar stopped in Jerusalem and made Jehoiakim his subject.
  • Jehoiakim served him for three years before joining with other neighboring nations to try to rebel against Babylon.
  • Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem in 598 BCE. He took Jehoiakim off the throne and carried many captive Jews to Babylon. It is thought that Daniel and his three friends were part of this captivity.
  • With Jehoiakim dead, Nebuchadnezzar placed his son, Jehoiachin, on the throne.
  • But this lasted only a few months before he returned and removed Jehoiachin from the throne. Jehoiachin and 10,000 others were taken to Babylon. Jehoiachin was imprisoned for the rest of his life. The year was 597 BCE.
  • Nebuchadnezzar put Jehoiachin’s uncle in charge and changed his name to Zedekiah.
  • Egypt began to court Zedekiah and by the ninth year of his reign, he was ready to make an agreement with them. Together they rebelled against Babylon.
  • This was the final straw. Nebuchadnezzar returned and laid siege to Jerusalem. At the end of eighteen months to three years, the walls were breached and the army marched in. Zedekiah and his sons were taken in chains to Babylon. The sons were slain and the king was blinded.
  • Nebuchadnezzar completely destroyed the temple in Jerusalem as well as the city, deporting many of its citizens and many other Jews from Judea. The sacred vessels were also taken to Babylon. According to Josephus, Nebuchadnezzar also captured the Ark of the Covenant and carried it off to Babylon.
  • Gedaliah was given authority over the few Jews that remained in the land. · Afterwards, Nebuchadnezzar found time to enter Egypt and, although he did not conquer them, he dealt a severe blow to their might and supremacy.
  • After Jerusalem, he also focused on gaining dominance over Tyre. A thirteen year siege finally resulted in an agreement that Tyre would accept Babylonian rule.
  • There is no doubt that Nebuchadnezzar was a brilliant military leader. However, his architectural achievements were even more amazing.
  • Having conquered most of the Ancient Near East, Nebuchadnezzar returned home and began to rebuild the city of Babylon, which had been severely damaged during the Assyrian campaigns of Sennacherib and Assurbanipal.
  • During his time, Babylon was the largest known city. Scholars estimate it covered 2,500 acres and was roughly fourteen miles square. The Euphrates River flowed right through it.
  • Babylon means the “gate of god.” It was located approximately 50-55 miles south of modern day Baghdad.
  • Included in Nebuchadnezzar’s building program were canals, aqueducts, temples, and reservoirs.
  • The city was fortified by a series of three walls, which included a stone bridge over the Euphrates. It was virtually impregnable.
  • And, of course, he rebuilt the palace, sparing nothing of value.
  • This is also when he built the “hanging gardens” of Babylon, which were known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. He created these gardens for his wife so that she would be reminded of her homeland.
  • Medea was noted for its green, mountainous countryside. Mesopotamia was sun-baked. The king tried to make his wife feel better by recreating an artificial mountain with rooftop gardens.
  • The water for maintaining the gardens was pumped out of the Euphrates through a system of hydraulic pumps. The water had to be raised to the very top so it could trickle down.
  • The gardens didn’t really “hang,” but were a series of terraces upon which the greens “overhung.” From a distance, they appeared to create a mountain of green and have been described extensively by historians.
  • Some scholars question whether these gardens were real or a figment of someone’s imagination, but most opt for some historicity of the gardens.
  • The Ishtar gate was another great work. Located near the hanging gardens, it was decorated with incredible reliefs of dragons and bulls.
  • He also built the famed Ziggurat, which is a pyramid temple, and restored many other shrines and temples.
  • All these projects required a huge workforce, which was most likely comprised of conquered peoples. And some scholars think they also brought much of the wood and precious stones that were subsequently used in these projects.
  • Nebuchadnezzar died in the 43rd year of his reign in Babylon and was succeeded by his son, Evil-merodach. He also had two other sons.
  • Babylonian tradition claims that he prophesied the eventual destruction of Babylon. This occurred in 539 BCE when the Persians marched into Babylon and captured it without any resistance.
  • Various inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar suggest that he was a very religious person. For this reason, he spent a lot of time and money building temples to multiple gods. He also diligently observed all the ceremonies associated with the worship of those gods.
  • The larger inscriptions always have a hymn or a prayer on them.
  • They also mention the offering of precious metals, fruit, grain, and animals that were acceptable to the gods. But there is no mention of “blood” for atonement or sin.
  • Astrology was big in Babylonian society. Records have been found tracking the movement of the stars.
  • They also had a 12 month calendar and a 24 hour day.
  • Nebuchadnezzar figures prominently in the book of Daniel.
  • In chapter two, he dreams of a large image made up of various metals. After threatening to kill all his dream-interpreters, Daniel tells him God’s interpretation. The figure represents the rise and fall of world powers (though scholars do not agree on which world powers are represented).
  • In the third chapter, he erected a large idol – 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. Whenever music was played, he wanted people to bow down and worship the statue. If they didn’t, he threatened to throw them into a fiery furnace.
  • Three Hebrew men refused to do so. He called them to himself to give them a chance to change their minds. When they ignored his command, he had them thrown into the fiery furnace, but they were protected by an angel and came out “without even the smell of fire” upon them.
  • In chapter four of the book of Daniel, the king was humbled by God after boasting about all his achievements. According to the story, he lost his mind for seven years and lived with the animals. Only after he “looked to heaven” was he given his mind back. Then he praised and glorified “the God who lives forever.”
  • Apparently the British Museum has a clay tablet that describes his behavior at this time. It is noteworthy that there are no records of any activity for a seven-year period from 582-575BCE.
  • It should also be mentioned that nothing like this is recorded in any of the Babylonian Chronicles. Yet, that is not too surprising. Most kings would not record a period of insanity.
  • The Chronicles do mention a time when his successor, Nabonidus, was temporarily unfit for leadership and his son, Balshazzar, was put in charge. So it is possible that the two incidents have been conflated in history.
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls support the story about Nabonidus but nothing about Nebuchadnezzar being out of commission for any length of time.
  • Jeremiah contains a prophesy about a “destroyer of nations,” which scholars think refers to Nebuchadnezzar.
  • Jeremiah also describes the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, including the temple.
  • Nonetheless, both Jeremiah and Ezekiel present him as “the instrument of God,” who was chosen to punish Israel for its sins.
  • In Rabbinic literature, Nebuchadnezzar is called “the wicked one.” He was known for his cruelty. He refused to allow the people to rest along their march to Babylon because he was afraid they would stop and pray and then their God would rescue them.
  • It was only after they reached the Euphrates that he was able to enjoy his victory.
  • Legend has it that he was a descendant of the Queen of Sheba from her marriage to Solomon. He might also have been a son-in-law of Sennacherib.
  • Nothing is known about the circumstances of his death.


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