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‘The gods do not live among humans’

December 2015 | by Clive Anderson

‘What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans’ (Daniel 2:11).

King Nebuchadnezzar was an awesome and feared king, whose word and wishes had to be obeyed. Members of his court were terrified because they were unable to interpret the king’s troublesome dream and feared for their lives.         

But the glorious message of the Bible is that God did come to live among men for 33 years, 2000 years ago; ‘when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son’ (Galatians 4:4).

The British Museum in London has many objects that help in our understanding of the Bible. The newly refurbished Room 55, Mesopotamia, 1500–539 BC contains many fascinating artefacts from ancient Babylon. These artefacts show that the Bible is rooted in time and space. Let’s consider some examples here.

Room 55, Case 7

In Case 7 is the small clay Chronicle of Nabopollasar whose sudden death in 605 BC brought his son Nebuchadnezzar II to the throne. Nebuchadnezzar king of justice is a clay tablet extolling the greatness of Nebuchadnezzar.

Three Terracotta cylinders describing Nebuchadnezzar’s building works show how Nebuchadnezzar was renowned for his magnificent buildings that would have dazzled Ezekiel, Daniel and their friends when they entered Babylon as exiles from Jerusalem.

On the bottom row Babylon and the Bible, Nebuchadnezzar captures Jerusalem: this clay tablet lists the main events of the Babylonian kings. It is often known as a ‘Babylonian Chronicle’.

Jehu King of Israel on Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III c. 827BCOne side refers to the crucial Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC, in which the Assyrians and Egyptians were soundly defeated by Nebuchadnezzar. On the side facing you, it records that in the seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar (598/597), in the month of Kislimu (November/December), he marched into ‘Hatti-land’ (Syria-Palestine) and camped against ‘the city of Judah’ (Jerusalem).

The record continues to tell how, on the second day of the month Addaru (Adar), he captured the city and its king, received tribute and appointed his own king. The event is recorded in 2 Kings 24:8-17. The Chronicle’s careful dating means that we can fix the date for the first destruction of Jerusalem under Jehoiachin at 16 March 597 BC. Nebuchadnezzar II attacked Jerusalem three times: in 601, 597 and 586 BC.

Then there is ‘The wretched, weary person weeps’. Amel Marduk was a son of Nebuchadnezzar who was thrown into prison for some misdemeanour. Here is his lament of how unjustly he has been treated.

Amel Marduk is the Evil-Merodach of 2 Kings 25:27 and he probably met up with King Jehoiachin in prison (2 Kings 24:15), because, when he came to power in 562 BC, he treated Jehoiachin above all the other royal exiles (2 Kings 25:27-30).

Jeremiah

The small (5.5cm) clay tablet of Nebuchadnezzar’s right hand man records how an officer of Nebuchadnezzar lavished a gift of gold on a temple in Babylon. His name is Nabu-sharussu-ukin, and it is dated to the tenth year of Nebuchadnezzar in 595 BC.

He is identified with Nebo-Sarsekim of Jeremiah 39:3, who, eight years later, was one of the Babylonian officers in charge of Jerusalem when the city finally fell to the Babylonians in the time of Zedekiah, king of Judah, in 587 BC.

This is a significant identification of a name in the Bible and the tablet was only deciphered in 2007. The museum suggests that he probably met Jeremiah, the biblical prophet!

At the far left end is The Stele of Nabonidus. Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon. He is worshipping three of his gods. His absence from Babylon campaigning in Arabia explains why Daniel was third ruler in the kingdom (Daniel 5:29).

Nabonidus was very unpopular. This is why the Persian entry into Babylon in 539 BC was without bloodshed, and business continued as normal. The poem, ‘He looks at those effigies and utters blasphemies…’, ridicules Nabonidus in favour of Cyrus of Persia.

The fall of a dynasty records that Nabonidus was absent in Arabia for much of his reign. It was for this reason that his son Belshazzar was on the throne in Babylon when the Persians captured the city in the year 539 BC (Daniel 5).

The two clay tablets Belshazzar and the Bible both give significant meaning to the reference inDaniel 5:1 to ‘King Belshazzar’. Also, the mina weights, often in the form of a duck or a lion, illustrate the account in Daniel 5:27.

Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon, and Daniel lived through his reign. Nabonidus, who is not referred to by name in the Bible, restored two temples of the moon god Sin.

Belshazzar

Until 1854, the book of Daniel in the Old Testament contained the only known reference to Belshazzar, and some considered him to be a figment of the writer’s imagination. In that year, J. E. Taylor, the British Consul in Basra, discovered at the corners of a ziggurat four identical clay time capsules.

They had been placed there by Nabonidus and on each he records the history of the ziggurat together with a prayer for the long life and good health of himself and adds: ‘… as for Belshazzar, the eldest son, the offspring of my heart, the fear of thy great divinity cause thou to exist in his heart, and let not sin possess him, let him be satisfied with fullness of life’.

Daniel 5:1-29 records that Daniel was proclaimed ‘third highest ruler in the kingdom’. This dual reign of Nabonidus and Belshazzar also explains why, although the records of the Persian king Cyrus tell us that he took the king of Babylon (Nabonidus) prisoner, Daniel 5:30 records that the night on which the Persians broke into the city of Babylon, ‘Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain’.

The case in the centre of the room contains The Babylonian map of the world, one of the earliest known geographic maps. Here, Babylon is seen as the centre of the world. Notice the reference in the text board to the fact that one mountain is identified as the place where the ark landed in the Babylonian account — Uratu is the Ararat of the Bible (Genesis 8:4).

In the reverse side of this case is King Ashurbanipal’s Flood Table; this is the Gilgamesh Epic.

Substitute             

In Case 8 is a tablet describing the process for appointing a substitute king. If the empire’s wise men prophesied any harm to the king, a substitute was placed on the throne and removed by death when the danger was over — an illustration of Christ dying as our substitute to remove the penalty of sin (1 Peter 2:24).

This is why John 1:12 can state: ‘Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’. The Lord Jesus comes and lives in the hearts of all who put their trust in him today. For that we should all be profoundly grateful to God.

Clive Anderson is co-author with Brian Edwards of Through the British Museum with the Bible and Evidence for the Bible, both of which are sold in the British Museum.