Skip to main content

Reliability of the Bible: Who was King Belshazzar?

Marco is a lay preacher of an Evangelical Church (Brethren Assemblies) in Northern Italy with a keen interest in Apologetics.

Is the Bible Historically Reliable?

The Bible is undoubtedly the most scrutinized book in history. No other book has been so widely read, studied and discussed. The origin of no other writing has been as thoroughly examined and documented. Given the Bible's claim to be the infallible Word of God, many of its critics have been quick to find faults to demolish its authority. The great truths it reveals belong, admittedly, to the spiritual realm, yet its accounts are set in history and their historical reliability is pivotal to its cause. For long critical scholars have tried to relegate the Holy Book to the spiritual sphere, labeling its stories as myths and legends. Yet time and again the Bible has surprised the critics with its historical accuracy. One stunning example is from a famous episode recorded in the book of the prophet Daniel (chapter 5).

King Belshazzar is alarmed by the mysterious handwriting on the wall (Daniel 5:5-9)

King Belshazzar is alarmed by the mysterious handwriting on the wall (Daniel 5:5-9)

A Lavish Feast and a Message for King Belshazzar

During a lavish feast at the royal palace in ancient Babylon suddenly the fingers of a human hand appear writing mysterious words on the wall. King Belshazzar is greatly alarmed calling in his wise men, but they are unable to interpret the message. Upon the suggestion of the king's mother, the prophet Daniel, an exile from Judah, is brought before the king. Daniel is indeed able to explain the mysterious message, but it is not of good tidings. The handwriting on the wall is a message of judgment announcing the end of Belshazzar's kingdom which will be divided and taken over by the Medes and Persians. This due to the king's pride and idolatry against the Most High God. In fact, that very night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, is killed and the Babylonian kingdom comes to an end.

But, who was king Belshazzar? For over two thousand years his name had entirely disappeared from any of the known historical records, except for the book of Daniel in the Old Testament. On the other hand even the book of Daniel, while narrating events of the 6th century BCE, was believed to be written as late as the 2nd century BCE by most liberal scholars. The occurrence of the name Belshazzar was mostly believed to be an error or invention of the Biblical writer. Secular history knew nothing of Belshazzar. The famous Greek historian Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BCE, just 100 years after the end of the Babylonian empire, listed Nabonidus as the last Babylonian king without even mentioning Belshazzar. And so did other listings of Babylonian kings.

Nabonidus Cylinder from Ur (555-539 BCE)

Nabonidus Cylinder from Ur (555-539 BCE)

Belshazzar Identified

As far as concerns Belshazzar's special status as co-regent further evidence comes from clay tablets found in Erech. Since the time of Hammurabi it had been customary to swear by the name of the reigning king. The tablets from Erech show contracts in which the two parties took their oath in both the name of Nabonidus as king and Belshazzar as king's son. Belshazzar is thereby associated with his father as being in the same class as the king.

In light of this co-regency the promise by Belshazzar to elevate whomever interprets the mysterious writing to the third position in his kingdom makes sense, as the first place is occupied by his father Nabonidus and the second position already by Belshazzar himself. (Daniel chapter 5 verse 29)

Research into the identity of king Belshazzar has shown that the Bible is historically far more reliable than many would like to admit. Underestimating the significance of the Holy Book for one's own life would be an even greater error.

The Bible is...

The Bible: unlike any other book...

  • 10 Amazing Facts about the Bible
    In light of its humble beginnings the Bible made it a long way. Find out what makes the Bible stand out and why it is called the book of books.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Marco Pompili

Related Articles