One of the great mysteries to Bible scholars through the centuries has been the identity of Belshazzar. Until the 19th century, no mention in ancient records to him was available. The name Belshazzar was known only from the book of Daniel and from works that borrowed the name from Daniel like the Apocryphal Baruch and Josephus’ writings.
Numerous efforts were made to harmonize secular history with the Biblical records. The difficulty escalated by the fact that some ancient sources listed the kings of Babylon to the end of the history of that nation, all of which mentioned Nabonidus as the last king before Cyrus, who was the first king of Persia. But they didn’t mention this king.
Since Cyrus conquered Babylon and succeeded its last Babylonian king, there seemed to be no place for Belshazzar in the royal line. However, the book of Daniel presents the events immediately prior to the fall of Babylon in the reign of Belshazzar, a “son” of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 5:2), who was killed during the conquest of Babylon by the invading Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:30).
Archeological Discoveries Support the Bible
One of the great triumphs of Biblical archeology of the last century is the discovery of the identity and office of Belshazzar from contemporary sources, thus vindicating the reliability of Daniel 5.
In 1861 H. F. Talbot published specific texts found in the Moon Temple at Ur, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (vol. 19, p. 195). The texts confined a prayer of Nabonidus in favor of Bel–shar–uṣur, his eldest son. In addition, some writers, among them George Rawlinson, brother of the famous decipherer of the cuneiform script, related this Bel–shar–uṣur with the Biblical Belshazzar.
Seven years later (1882), Theophilus G. Pinches published a text which is now called the Nabonidus Chronicle. There, he described the siege of Babylon by Cyrus, and stated that Nabonidus stayed in Tema for several years while his son Belshazzar was in Babylonia. And Pinches made several accurate assumptions concerning this same king. He observed that Belshazzar “seems to have been commander-in-chief of the army, perhaps had greater power in the kingdom than his father, and so was regarded as king” (Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, vol. 7 , p. 150).
In the following years, more texts were found that revealed the various roles and important positions that Belshazzar, Nabonidus’ son, held before and during his father’s reign. Therefore, a number of scholars, on the basis of the accumulating evidence, confirmed that the two men may have been co-regents.
And in 1916, Pinches published a text in which Nabonidus and Belshazzar were jointly invoked in an oath. And he said that texts like this indicated that Bleshazzar’ must have held a “regal [viceregal] position,” although he stated that “we have yet to learn what was Belshazzar’s exact position in Babylonia” (Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, vol. 38 , p. 30).
In 1924, a confirmation of the conclusion that a co-regency between Nabonidus and Belshazzar was given when Sidney Smith published the so-called “Verse Account of Nabonidus” of the British Museum. In this publication, he stated that Nabonidus “entrusted the kingship” to his eldest son (Babylonian Historical Texts [London, 1924], p. 88; see translation by Oppenheim in Ancient Near Eastern Texts, ed. by Pritchard [Princeton, 1950], p. 313). This final text, erased all doubts about a kingship for Belshazzar. Thus, it was a strong blow to scholars of the higher-critical schools who claimed that Daniel was a product of the 2d century b.c.
Later, in 1929, the discovery of so many cuneiform texts that shed light on the reign of Nabonidus and Belshazzar led Raymond P. Dougherty of Yale University to collect all source material, cuneiform and classical, in one monograph, under the title Nabonidus and Belshazzar (New Haven, 1929, 216 pp.).
There, Dougherty identified the father of the ruler of Babylon at the time of its fall in 539 by the same name (i. 188). He stated that Nabonidus was king of Babylon in 546, also that he was Belshazzar’s father. And he added that, in 585, Nabonidus was selected to act as royal representative of Nebuchadnezzar and he showed that the young man must have been a preferred of the king at that time.
Cuneiform records have given abundant information on Belshazzar, his office and activities during the years he was co-regent with his father. After conferring the kingship upon Belshazzar in 553/552 b.c., or shortly thereafter (Daniel 5:1), Nabonidus led a fruitful mission against the Arabian Tema, and made it his residence for many years. During this time Belshazzar, his son, was the acting king in Babylon and served as commander in chief of the army. Thus, information from secular sources, has, in a clear and positive way vindicated the historical accuracy of the Bible in the book of Daniel.
In His service,