by Wendy Wippel
What’s my favorite book of the Bible? No Contest. Daniel. Chock full of both history and prophecy, my all-time favorite topics. To me it is endlessly fascinating. It’s also a favorite of Bible skeptics. For sort of the same reasons: there’s lots of prophecy and history from which to manufacture supposed contradictions. Exhibit A: “The German School of Higher Criticism”; circa 1800’s.
The German School of Higher Criticism sought to apply a new, more intellectual form of interpretation to the Scriptures, one which was more in sync with the new world that existed at the end of the age of enlightenment. A world that had expanded tremendously through exploration of Africa, Asia, South America and the lands of the Bible, and one that took the rapidly increasing wealth of scientific discoveries into account as well.
Not such a bad goal.
It’s proponents, however, unfortunately-from the beginning—nurtured the viewpoint that was, according to a summary of the German movement, “deeply intertwined with rationalism and naturalism. They also carried a goal of divesting their adherents from belief in the historic accuracy of the Scriptures. Including the book of Genesis.
The concepts behind higher criticism were soon embraced in churches across Europe and the UK.
As Spurgeon himself once said, “A lie will travel around the world while truth is pulling its boots on”.
One of the lies that came out of the German School of Higher Criticism sought to discredit the historicity of the book of Daniel. And it originated by a guy named Georg Heinrich Ferdinand Hitzig (1811-1881).
His big beef was specific to one of the kings that Daniel names as ruling over Persia in the many, many years that Daniel was a slave.
Specifically, the one who Daniel says saw the hand writing on the wall. A king named Belshazzar.
Houston, we have a problem.
The problem—I have to admit there is one—is this: the Babylonian kingdom was the center of the world in the time that Daniel lived, and lots of ancient scholars wrote histories about its rise, its heyday, and its fall. Namely: Herodotus, Berosus, Abydenus, Ptolemy, Megasthenes, Alexander Polyhisthones, Josephus, and others.
And none of them mention Belshazzar. Nada. Nein. Not one.
And all of them– as well as Babylon’s own lists, say that the king when Babylon was conquered was a guy named Nabonidus. A boatload of cunieform documents agree.
Worse, they all present the same exact summary of Babylons’ rulers.
So for years—hundreds of years, in fact, earlier critics of Scripture and the German critics as well, got to call those of us who hold fast to the Book of Daniel’s accuracy, total idiots.
And they did. Ferdinand Hitzig, for example. In a commentary he wrote on Daniel, said this:
“Selbst den Fall gesetzt, dass der fragliche Koenig Mediens existiert habe, wurde der Name, unter welchen er bei Daniel auftritt, zu beanstanden sein. Jene zweiheit in Nabonned = Baltasar wiederholt sich in Cyaxares = Darius, und wieder zu Daniels nachteil.”
Translation? (He’s kind of wordy, isn’t he. I’ll give you the cliff notes):
“This passage in Daniel, even if he actually wrote it, proves that the Bible’s authors had no idea what they were talking about.”
Ferdinand’s buddies jumped at the opportunity to join in and slam Daniel for his lack of accuracy about Babylonian history. And accuse the book of Daniel as actually being written much later in time. Like 160 BC.
Which is only about four centuries off.
Little did they know that the days of whine and Moses were about to end for Ferd and friends.
It was 1853, and Sir Leonard Wooley, one of the earliest English Archaeologists in biblical lands had begun to excavate at a site that is in modern Iraq. (It was eventually determined to be Ur, the site of the the world’s first post-flood empire.) And in 1853, Wooley uncovered an inscription. That inscription was eventually translated, and it put an end to the critics’ centuries long kegger. The inscription was dictated by Nabonidus, and located on a stone cylinder now known as the Nabonidus cylinder, It read:
“May it be that I, Nabonidus, King of Babylon, never fail. And you may, my firstborn, Belshazzar, worship you with all your heart.” (Addressed to the Moon God Sin that he worshiped.) ~Nabonidus
A second stone inscription, discovered in 1882 and called the Nabonidus Chronicle, sealed the deal and pretty much fills the picture in for us. What happened was this.
Nabonidus, apparently, didn’t really like ruling the giant empire, and spent most of his time as king (ten years, actually) living in Tema, Arabia, about 450 miles away.
(Maybe, if you read much of ancient history, he just wanted to stay alive).
At any rate, the text of the Nabonidus Chonicle explains that Dad left Belshazzar in Babylon and made him “Crown prince” –meaning second in royal status but the man “Large and in Charge.” in the palace.
The Nabonidus Chronicle also tells us that Nabonidus was away from Babylon fighting the Persians when Babylon fell, so Belshazzar was definitely wearing the crown at the time.
Numerous inscriptions discovered since corroborate the Nabonidus inscriptions.
A Persian account states that since Nabonidus intended to be absent from the empire for a while, he entrusted the kingship to his oldest son. Another table from Erech describes father and son taking the oath of office jointly.
In fact, many, many confirmations of both Belshazar’s existence and his reign have been collected in the years that followed. Score at this point?
Something Like Belshazaar: 1000, Ferd and Friends: 0 (They have bigger worries now, of course. They’re dead.)
But their spirit lives on.
What is really interesting here is that the only chapter that mentions Belshazzar also contains a big ol’ hint that you should never, ever second- guess the Word of God.
It’s in Chapter 5 where Belshazzar was so troubled by an inscription, which became known as the famous phrase, “The handwriting is on the wall,” that he was willing to do anything to find the meaning.
Then Daniel was brought before the king. The king said to him, “Are you Daniel, one of the Judean exiles that my predecessor the king brought from Judah? 14 I’ve heard that you have the spirit of the gods in you, and that you have insight, intelligence, and extraordinary wisdom. 15 Now the wise men and mediums were brought before me to read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not give its interpretation. 16 However, I have heard about you that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Therefore, if you can read this inscription and give me its interpretation, you will be clothed in purple, have a gold chain around your neck, and have the third highest position in the kingdom.”
17 Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts, and give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription for the king and make the interpretation known to him.
Did you catch that? Belshazzar – the ruling King– says that he will give –to whoever can translate the writing on the wall—the third highest position in the Kingdom.
Why? Why Not the second? And who was the second?
Because there was his father Nabonidus, the real regent, though absent, above him, making Belshazzar second..
Wasn’t it Jesus himself that said every jot and tittle and stroke of the pen in His Word was significant?