After the fall of Nineveh, a second Babylonian Empire rose on the ruins of its rival. The conqueror Nabopolassar maintained his friendship with the wild tribes of Scyths and Medes. He quarrelled with the Egyptians who had failed to aid him, and wrested from them their newly seized Asiatic possessions. From Media to the sea Babylon was again the queen of Western Asia.
It is here that the name Chaldaea came into history. You remember the land which the Euphrates kept building at its mouth. Through all these thousands of years that we have passed over in an easy half-hour, this land had been growing to the south of Sumer. An Arabian tribe, called kaldees, or Chaldees, had established themselves amid the sandbars and marshes of the new region, and their people gradually spread among the Babylonians. The new monarch, Nabopolassar, is reputed to have been a Chaldee; and as members of the race became more and more prominent in the new empire which he now built up, it was often called the Chaldaean empire. The name Chaldaea, especially with the Greek and Latin writers, gradually came to mean the same as Babylonia.
Nabopolassar was succeeded by that son who had married the Median princess, and who is known to us as the mighty Nebuchadnezzar of history and the Bible. He had already gained fame as a general in his father's lifetime; and that fame he increased by repeatedly defeating the Egyptians, by twice taking Jerusalem, and by subduing the hitherto invincible Phoenician city of Tyre, after a grim, unrelenting, thirteen-year siege.
His chief fame, however, is as a builder. He made Babylon a marvel whose fame will never die. It was for this labor of building that he tore the Jews and thousands of other poor captives from their homes. It was Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon that so impressed the unhappy prophet Jeremiah, when he compared its colossal structures with his own ruined Jerusalem. In addition to the famous walls, which were only partly his, Nebuchadnezzar built a stupendous palace, and greatly enlarged and improved the canal system. By means of locks he was able at will to turn the entire Euphrates into these canals; and he seems to have lined the whole bed of the river with brick, where it flowed through his city. Then he built for his Median queen Amyitis, perhaps because she longed for her native mountains, the famous hanging gardens, placed on arches seventy feet high, with all manner of strange plants and great trees growing on the summit.
The heart of the proud monarch was in his work; and when it was all finished he asked the prophet Daniel: "Is not this great Babylon that I have built . . . for the honor of my majesty." Then a strange madness overtook him, and for four gloomy years he took no active interest in his empire. The Bible tells us that during this period he was insane; "he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen."
Nebuchadnezzar was the last important King of Babylon. A few years after his death his line died out; and the priests raised a weak tool of their own, Nabonidos, to the throne. He caused all the idols from the other cities of his empire to be brought to Babylon, thinking, apparently, to make it the one great religious centre of the land. But the step proved unfortunate. Its real result was to produce heart-burnings, jealousies, and secret treasons which finally overthrew him.
The Persians under Cyrus captured the city in 538 B.C. Nabonidos had an army in the field against them under his son Belshazzar, but it was out-generaled and defeated. The impregnable city seems to have made no defense; its gates were opened, surely by treachery, to the conqueror. We have found Cyrus' own record of his entry, and we must accept its declaration that "without combat or battle" did he enter Babylon. Nabonidos was made prisoner, and soon died. The Babylonian Empire had vanished forever. Babylon sank again to the secondary position it had held under Assyrian rule.
Several times the city rebelled, under leaders who claimed to be descendants of Nebuchadnezzar or sons of Nabonidos; but in each instance the revolt was put down, with more or less injury to the city. Somewhere amid this confusion must be placed the Hebrew account of Belshazzar, though with our present uncertain knowledge it is difficult to say precisely where.
The Babylonian inscriptions tell us that this Belshazzar was the eldest son of Nabonidos and general of all his armies; very probably he had even been made king with his father and the two shared a united rule. Belshazzar was by far the more vigorous man of the two. Whatever there had been of brave resistance against the Persians was from him. Later, while he feasted and revelled with his comrades in Babylon, there came that supernatural hand-writing on the wall. You will find the account in the fifth chapter of the Book of Daniel.
Of Belshazzar and his feasting companions it says, "They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone." "In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote."
Belshazzar was terrified, and asked his soothsayers what this fiery writing meant: "MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN." Merely as words, these were probably plain to all present. Their sense in English seems to be, "a mina, a mina, a shekel, to the Persians," the mina being the most valuable gold coin of the times, and the shekel a comparatively worthless piece. But what did the words signify when thus placed together and flaming upon the wall? No man knew; or, if any guessed, they dared not tell the fierce king. Then Daniel, the Lord's prophet, was brought into the hall, and saw clearly the true meaning and menace of the words. Unflinchingly he denounced the haughty monarch and revealed the approaching doom. "This is the interpretation of the thing:
"MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
"TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
"PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians."
In that night, says the Bible, dramatically closing its account, was Belshazzar slain.
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