Description of two kings of this name who are known to have ruled over Babylon
Nabuchodonosor. The Babylonian form of the name is Nabu-kudurri-usur, the second part of which is variously interpreted (“O Nebo, defend my crown”, or “tiara”, “empire”, “landmark”, “work”). The original has been more or less defaced in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin transliterations, from which are derived the modern English forms, Nabuchodonosor, Nebuchadnezzar, and Nebuchadrezzar. On the whole, Nabuchodonosor appears to be nearer to the original Babylonian pronunciation than Nebuchadrezzar and especially Nebuchadnezzar (A. V., Ezra, ii, 1) taken from the Massoretic transliteration, and would be still nearer if the “r” were restored to the second element where “n” has crept in. Two kings of this name are known to have ruled over Babylon.
NABUCHODONOSOR I (c. 1152-1124), is the most famous monarch of the dynasty of Pashi or Isin. A prince of untiring energy, he led to victory the Chaldean armies east and west, against the Lulubi, Ilam, and Syria, and although twice defeated by the Assyrian king, Ashshur-resh-ishi, succeeded in arresting for a time the decay of the first Babylonian Empire.
NABUCHODONOSOR II is often mentioned in various parts of holy Writ, and will claim our especial attenttion here. He was the oldest son of Nabopolassar, the Chaldean restorer of Babylonian independence. His long reign of forty-three years (c. 605-562 B.C.) marks the zenith of the grandeur reached by the short lived second Babylonian Empire (625-538). Although we possess long inscriptions of Nabuchodonosor, yet as these deal chiefly with the account of his architectural undertakings, our knowledge of his history is incomplete, and we have to rely for information mostly on the Bible, Berosus, and Greek historians. Of the wars he waged either before or after his coming to his father’s throne, nothing need be said here: their recital can be read in this Encyclopedia, II, 183-84; only let it be remarked that after the Cimmerians and Scythians were definitively crushed, all his expeditions were directed westwards, although a powerful neighbor lay to the North; the cause of this was that a wise political marriage with Amuhia, the daughter of the Median king, had insured a lasting peace between the two empires.
Nabuchodonosor seems to have prided himself on his constructions more than on his victories. During the last century of Ninive’s existence Babylon had been greatly devastated, not only at the hands of Sennacherib and Assurbanipal, but also as a result of her ever renewed rebellions. Nabuchodonosor, continuing his father’s work of reconstruction, aimed at making his capital one of the world’s wonders. Old temples were restored; new edifices of incredible magnificence (Diodor. of Sicily, II, 95; Herodot., I, 183) were erected to the many gods of the Babylonian pantheon; to complete the royal palace begun by Nabopolassar, nothing was spared, neither “cedar wood, nor bronze, gold, silver, rare and precious stones”; an underground passage and a stone bridge connected the two parts of the city separated by the Euphrates; the city itself was rendered impregnable by the construction of a triple line of walls. Nor was Nabuchodonosor’s activity confined to the capital; he is credited with the restoration of the Lake of Sippar, the opening of a port on the Persian Gulf, and the building of the famous Median wall between the Tigris and the Euphrates to protect the country against incursions from the North: in fact, there is scarcely a place around Babylon where his name does not appear and where traces of his activity are not found. These gigantic undertakings required an innumerable host of workmen: from the inscription of the great temple of Marduk (Meissner, “Assyr. Studien”, II, in “Mitteil. der Vorderas. Ges.”, 1904, III), we may infer that most probably captives brought from various parts of Western Asia made up a large part of the laboring force used in all his public works.
From Nabuchodonosor’s inscriptions and from the taken from the number of temples erected or restored by this prince we gather that he was a very devout man. What we know of his history shows him to have been of a humane disposition, in striking contrast with the wanton cruelty of most of the iron souled Assyrian rulers. It was owing to this moderation that Jerusalem was spared repeatedly, and finally destroyed only when its destruction became a political necessity; rebel princes easily obtained pardon, and Sedecias himself, whose ungratefulness to the Babylonian king was particularly odious, would, had he manifested less stubbornness, have been treated with greater indulgence; Nabuchodonosor showed much consideration to Jeremias, leaving him free to accompany the exiles to Babylon or to remain in Jerusalem, and appointing one of the Prophet’s friends, Godolias, to the governorship of Jerusalem; he granted likewise such a share of freedom to the exiled Jews that some rose to a position of prominence at Court and Baruch thought it a duty to exhort his fellow countrymen to have the welfare of Babylon at heart and to pray for her king. Babylonian tradition has it that towards the end of his life, Nabuchodonosor, inspired from on high, prophesied the impending ruin to the Chaldean Empire (Berosus and Abydenus in Eusebius, “Prmp. Evang”, IX, xli). The Book of Daniel (iv) records how God punished the pride of the great monarch. On this mysterious chastisement, which some think consisted in an attack of the madness called lycanthropy, as well as on the interregnum which it must have caused, Babylonian annals are silent: clever hypotheses have been devised either to explain this silence, or in scanning documents in order to find in them traces of the wanted interregnum (see Oppert, “Expedit. en Mdsopot.” I, 186-187;; Vigouroux, “La Bible et les decouvertes modernes”, IV, 337). Nabuchodonosor died in Babylon between the second and sixth months of the forty-third year of his reign.
CHARLES L. SOUVAY