The British Museum: In the Third Place…

  There’s a small object in Room 55 of the British Museum that’s overlooked by many tourists who don’t understand its biblical significance. It’s the clay cylinder of Nabonidus.

In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar was terrified to see a hand, writing on the wall of his banquet hall in Babylon. In anguish, he called for Daniel and said, “If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom” (Daniel 5:16). Daniel didn’t care for the honor, but he did interpret the writing. In response, verse 29 says: “At Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”

But that night, the Persian King Cyrus defeated Babylon and the Babylonian Empire came crashing down.

Many scholars derided Daniel and used this story to attempt to disprove the Bible. Why third highest, they asked? Why not in second place? Furthermore the Persian inscriptions report that Cyrus defeated King Nabonidus. There was no mention in secular history of a king named Belshazzar. To top it off, there is no mention of a king named Nabonidus in the Bible. Critics claimed that Daniel was in error.

Then in 1854, J E. Taylor was excavating in Southern Iraq when he found a set of small clay cylinders – time capsules – that had been prepared at the request of the Babylonian King Nabonidus. On one of these cylinders, Nebonidus asked for a long life and for good health for himself and for “Belshazzar, my firstborn son, the offspring of my heart.”

Nabonidus spent most of the rest of his life on an oasis in northwest Arabia, and Belshazzar remained in charge of things in Babylon as co-regent and acting king. Thus there was a king named Belshazzar after all, the biblical and secular histories merged perfectly, and all Belshazzar could offer Daniel was third place in the kingdom.

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