Daniel interprets dreams and riddles

Dan 2:1-49   Daniel is so succesful at interpreting dreams and riddles that he becomes an important royal adviser to King Nebuchadnezzar.

Dan 3:1-30   Daniel’s fellow Jewish administrators - Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (known also by their Babylonian names as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego) - refuse to worship the gold image set up by King Nebuchadnezzar. They are thrown into a blazing furnace, but are protected from injury by God.

Dan 4:1-37   Daniel interprets a dream in which Nebuchadnezzar becomes insane and is driven from his kingdom until his sanity returns.

Dan 5:1-29   Nebuchadnezzar dies in 550BC and is succeeded by his son Nabonidus and his grandson Belshazzar, who reigns alongside Nabonibus as co-regent from 553BC.

During a state banquet, the fingers of a person's hand appear and begin writing on the plaster of the wall. Belshazzar, the co-regent, promises the third highest post in the kingdom to anyone who can interpret the writing. 

 

Speculum Humanae Salvationis, 1360, ULB Darmstadt Menetekel

The 'writing on the wall' from Speculum Humanae Salvationis, 1360.  (ULB Darmstadt)

 

Daniel interprets this mysterious ‘writing on the wall’. He prophesies that King Belshazzar will be overthrown by the Medes and Persians.

Dan 5:30   The prophesy is fulfilled about ten years later when the Babylonian empire is overthrown in October 539BC by the Persians under Cyrus, and Darius later becomes King of the Medes and the Persians in 522BC.

 

The Persians

The Persian Empire refers to the vast empire based on southern Iran, stretching from Asia Minor to the borders of India, ruled over by the Achaemenid dynasty for over two centuries from c.559BC to 330BC.

The empire was founded by King Cyrus II, ‘Cyrus the Great’ (c.559 – 530BC), who became King of Anshan (Anshan was the ancient capital of Elam) in c.559BC. His original kingdom consisted of Elam, Parsa (Persia) and the territory of the Medes (a separate ethnic group living to the north west of Parsa). He expanded this kingdom to include the former lands of Babylonia and Assyria when he conquered Babylon in 539 BC (see Isaiah 43:14 & 46:1-2). This victory is recorded in Babylonian cuneiform on the ‘Cyrus Cylinder’, a barrel-shaped clay tablet that can been seen at the British Museum in London.

 

The Cyrus Cylinder at the British Museum

The Cyrus Cylinder records the victory of the Persians over the Babylonians

 

The defeat of Babylon was probably assisted by the existence of disaffected groups within the Babylonian Empire, such as the people of Judah. The first act of Cyrus was to allow these exiles to return to their own homes and to worship their own gods, an act that would not only gain the support of the many diverse races making up the empire, but would also impart the blessing of their gods. As a result, groups of Jewish exiles were sent back to Judah to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem (see Ezra 1:1-5). This act prompted the prophet Isaiah to proclaim Cyrus as ‘the LORD’s anointed’ (see Isaiah 45:1-4) and to ascribe Cyrus’s military success to the blessing of Yahweh (see Isaiah 41:2-4). In Babylon, Cyrus likewise gained the favour of the Babylonians and their gods by restoring the ziggurat-temple now known as the Tower of Babylon and the Esagila, the neighbouring sanctuary of the city’s god Marduk.

Cyrus built a monumental new capital city at Pasargadae on the Murghab Plain in Parsa (Persia), and when he died in 530BC he was buried here. Cyrus’s tomb – a huge gabled stone monument on a four-stepped pyramidal base – can still be seen today on the floor of the Pulvar River valley near Tall-i Takht. A relief sculpture on the surviving wall of a monumental gateway among the ruins of Pasargadae shows Cyrus as the benevolent ruler of numerous diverse races, winged like an Assyrian god, crowned like an Egyptian pharoah and wearing an Elamite robe.

Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambyses II (530-522BC), who defeated the Egyptian Pharoah Psammetichus III and beseiged Memphis in 526BC, before dying on the way back to Pasargadae in 522BC. His brother, Bardiya, was soon deposed by Darius I (522-486BC) who spent the next three years in a bitter struggle consolidating his control over the empire before reigning more peacefully for a further 33 years (see Daniel 6:1-28).

 

Cylindrical seal with Darius in chariot shooting arrows at a lion (British Museum)

Cylindrical seal showing Darius in a chariot shooting arrows at a lion (British Museum)

 

A huge stone relief cut into the rocky mountainside can be seen today at Mount Behistun in the Zagros Mountains, on the ancient road from Babylon to Ecbatana. The sculpted relief shows Darius’s victory over his rivals and the dominating power of the Persians, with an accompanying text in three languages of the Achaemenid Empire – Elamite, Babylonian Akkadian and Old Persian. Bas-reliefs from Darius’s palace at Persepolis, together with gold armlets and Darius’s personal seal, can be seen on display at the British Museum in London.

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