How archaeology vindicated the Bible

Nabonidus Cylinder from Ur

Belshazzar: The second most powerful man in Babylon

How archaeology vindicated the Bible’s curious claims about King Belshazzar

by Keaton Halley

With a thousand of his lords in attendance at the feast, Belshazzar, King of Babylon, dusted off the golden goblets that his predecessor Nebuchadnezzar had plundered from God’s temple in Jerusalem. Belshazzar and his party guests drank wine from the sanctified vessels “and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (Daniel 5:4). That’s when all heaven broke loose:

Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared to the wise men of Babylon,

“Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” (Daniel 5:5–7)

Doubts about Belshazzar

Is this story just a legend, or does the Bible preserve accurate history? Years ago, some skeptics denied that there ever was a king of Babylon named Belshazzar, claiming that his name and story were invented by someone unfamiliar with true Babylonian history.1

Daniel in the critics’ den

Because of the remarkable fulfilled prophecies in Daniel, critics have long tried to cast doubt on its historical reliability.3 Although Daniel lived in the 6th century BC, critics want to date the writing of the book to the time of the Maccabees—four centuries later. This allows them to say that Daniel’s prophecies were actually written after the events they ‘predicted’. So, it’s no wonder critics have commonly assumed Daniel contains significant historical errors, including its claims about Belshazzar.

End of an empire

The Bible presents the famous ‘writing on the wall’ episode as occurring on the same day that the city of Babylon, capital of Babylonia, fell to the Medo-Persian empire under King Cyrus the Great. Indeed, Daniel gave King Belshazzar this interpretation of the writing: “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end” (v. 26), and “your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (v. 28). The Bible claims that Belshazzar was killed “that very night” (v. 30), and with his death the Babylonian kingdom was now controlled by Medo-Persia.4

However, all other known historical records once disagreed. Ancient historians like Herodotus, Megasthenes, Berossus, and Alexander Polyhistor, not to mention a vast number of cuneiform documents, were united in claiming that the last king of the Neo-Babylonian empire was Nabonidus.5 Belshazzar was not even mentioned anywhere except in the book of Daniel and literature derived from it.6

Buried treasures

But just when it looked like all the evidence was stacked against Scripture, a series of archaeological discoveries showed that Belshazzar did exist after all, and the details given about him in the Bible are profoundly correct…

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image credit: Nabonidus Cylinder from Ur