NEBUCHADNEZZAR (Nebuchadrezzar ; Heb. נְבוּכַדְנֶצַּר ,נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּר; Akk. Nabû-kudurri-uṣur , "O, Nabû, guard my border!"), son of Nabopolassar the Chaldean, ruler of Babylon (605–562 b.c.e.). Nebuchadnezzar succeeded to his father's throne at the time when the struggle between Babylon and Egypt for the territories that had been part of the Assyrian empire was at its height. According to the Babylonian Chronicle, Nebuchadnezzar waged his first war against Egypt in the region of the Euphrates, in the last year of his father's reign (605). In that year he defeated the Egyptian armies in a battle fought at *Carchemish on the Euphrates (cf. Jer. 46:2), thereby frustrating Pharaoh-Neco's attempt to gain control of Syria and Palestine, and at the same time paving the way for the rise of Babylon as a world power. In his pursuit of the Egyptian forces, Nebuchadnezzar reached the region of Hamath in central Syria but was obliged to return to Babylon in consequence of his father's death. In the same year he returned to the land of Hatti, i.e., Greater Syria, and according to the Babylonian Chronicle, "He marched unopposed through the Ḫatti-land; in the month of Šabāṭu (Shevat) he took the heavy tribute of the Ḫatti-territory to Babylon." It would seem that Nebuchadnezzar reached Palestine and subjected Judah to his rule one or two years later. At the end of 604 he conducted a military campaign against Palestine, besieging and capturing the city of Ashkelon. In the words of the Babylonian Chronicle, "All the kings of the Ḫatti-land came before him and he received their heavy tribute." One of these kings was apparently *Jehoiakim of Judah.
After consolidating his rule in Palestine and Syria, Nebuchadnezzar attempted the conquest of Egypt (end of 601). The stubbornly fought encounter between the Babylonian and Egyptian armies was indecisive. Nebuchadnezzar's failure to obtain a clear-cut victory over the Egyptians may have encouraged various states in Syria and Palestine, including Judah, to revolt against Babylon. In Kislev (December) 598 Nebuchadnezzar entered Palestine, and, according to the Babylonian Chronicle, "he encamped against the city of Judah [i.e., Jerusalem] and on the second day of the month of Adar [i.e., March 16, 597] he seized the city and captured the king [i.e., Jehoiachin]. He appointed there a king of his own choice [i.e., Zedekiah], received its heavy tribute and sent it to Babylon" (see *Zedekiah). In the following years the Babylonian king was occupied with wars against the Elamites to the east of the Tigris, and was also obliged to suppress a revolt in the country of Akkad (695/94). His absence from Syria, and the events in Babylon and Elam, apparently encouraged the kings of Syria and Palestine to plot a further revolt against their overlord. The Egyptian rulers no doubt lent their support to uprisings against Babylon, and Zedekiah's open revolt enjoyed their active aid (Jer. 37:5ff.). In 588 the siege of Jerusalem began, and in the summer of 586 Nebuchadnezzar captured the city, laid the Temple waste, carried off a large part of the population of Judah into captivity, and put Zedekiah and other Judean nobles to death. The land of Judah was turned into a province (see *Gedaliah son of Ahikam).
Some information about the fate of the exiles in Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar's day is found in Babylonian administrative documents, in which King Jehoiachin and his sons are mentioned as receiving a regular allowance of oil from the royal treasury. On the other hand, it is hard to draw any conclusions from the Book of Daniel about this subject because of the legendary character of the stories related there. Some scholars are of the opinion that the name Nebuchadnezzar in these stories is an error for Nabonidus, since in an Aramaic text from Qumran there is a story about Nabonidus which resembles the story about Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel. Of similarly doubtful authenticity is the mention of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of *Judith. In the years following the capture of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar waged a war in Phoenicia against Tyre, most probably in 585, which, according to Josephus, lasted for 13 years (Ezek. 29:18; cf. Jos., Ant., 10:220–2; Jos., Apion, 1:154–60). Three years later (582/81) he conducted a campaign against Ammon and Moab (Jos., Ant., 10:181–2), in the course of which he also took captives from Judah (Jer. 52:30). Nebuchadnezzar must have been aware of Egypt's part in inciting the vassal states to revolt against Babylon and of its desire to establish its own power in Palestine and Syria. He therefore attacked Egypt too, but the source material dealing with this war is fragmentary and unreliable.
Despite his many foreign wars, Nebuchadnezzar did not neglect Babylon itself. From various inscriptions and archaeological finds he emerges as a dynamic and able monarch in the administrative and architectural no less than in the military field. He adorned and fortified his capital city, Babylon, with the booty and tribute that poured in from all over the Near East. He restored and renovated ancient temples in the cities of Babylonia in order to gain the support of the Babylonian priests. He also made provision for the regular irrigation of the lands of Babylonia by means of a whole network of canals connected with the Euphrates. In his reign the neo-Babylonian empire attained the pinnacle of its greatness.
In the Aggadah
The description of Nebuchadnezzar in the aggadah seems largely to be a veiled reference to Titus. He is frequently referred to as "the wicked one" (Ber. 57b; Shab. 149b; et al.) as well as "a wicked slave," and "hater and adversary" of God (Lam. R., Proem 23); Titus is depicted in similar terms (Git. 56b). The "wicked slave" charge may be connected with the notoriously humble origin of the Flavian dynasty (Suetonius, Vespasian, 1:1; 3:1).
Despite the relatively favorable attitude to Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, the rabbis, for the most part, depict him as a cruel, merciless conqueror who, among other things, tore the flesh off a hare and ate it while it was still alive (Ned. 65a; Lam. R. 2: 10, no. 14), and forced his client kings to enter into homosexual relations with him (Shab. 149b). Several Roman emperors, including Titus (cf. Suetonius, Divus Titus 7:1), were said to have indulged in pederasty. Nebuchadnezzar was also reported to have cast Jehoiakim's body to the dogs (Lev. R. 19:6) and to have killed large numbers of Judean exiles in Babylonia (Sanh. 92b; pdre 33). Likewise, he is frequently accused of having made himself into a god (Gen. R. 9:5; Ex. R. 8:2)–a transparent criticism of the Roman emperors who claimed divine honors.
Nebuchadnezzar's treatment of Zedekiah was at first favorable, and he even placed five kings under his rule; but when it seemed that they were prepared to plot against Nebuchadnezzar, Zedekiah reviled him in their presence, whereupon they betrayed Zedekiah to his suzerain (Lam. R. 2: 10, no. 14). Although ostensibly based on Jeremiah 27:3, the story is remarkably similar to Josephus' account of the congress of five kings held by Agrippa i at Tiberias and rudely dispersed by the Roman governor of Syria (Ant., 19:338–41). There, too, it seems that some anti-Roman plot was being hatched, with the result that henceforth the Roman authorities became hostile to Agrippa.
Nebuchadnezzar charged the Sanhedrin with absolving Zedekiah from his vow of loyalty, and he had them punished by having their hair tied to tails of horses and being made to run from Jerusalem to Lydda (Lam. R. 2: 10, no. 14). Since, according to ii Kings 25: 18–21, 72 leading citizens of Jerusalem–a number almost equivalent to the traditional great Sanhedrin–were executed at Riblah in Syria, the punishment mentioned in the Midrash undoubtedly alludes to some incident in the Roman period, probably to the execution of Jewish rebels at Lydda by order of Ummidius *Quadratus, governor of Syria; the dispatch from Lydda of a number of Jewish leaders to Rome where their fate was to be decided; and the subsequent beheading of a Roman tribune after being dragged round Jerusalem (Jos., Ant., 20: 130–6; Jos., Wars, 2:242–6).
According to the Midrash, Nebuchadnezzar hesitated to attack Jerusalem and destroy the Temple (Lam. R. Proems 23, 30)–which is precisely what Vespasian did in 68–69 c.e., though his motives were political, not religious. Interpreting Ezekiel 21: 26, the rabbis depict Nebuchadnezzar as practicing belomancy and studying various auguries before deciding whether to proceed against Jerusalem (ibid. 23). The same is reported in the Talmud concerning Nero (Git. 56a).
Since Nebuchadnezzar left the task of subduing Jerusalem and burning the Temple to Nebuzaradan, he is assailed mainly for trying to force image worship on the Jewish exiles. Interpreting Daniel 3: 16, the Midrash depicts Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego as saying to Nebuchadnezzar, "You are our king only as regards taxes, annonae, fines, and poll taxes; but in this matter of which you speak to us you are just Nebuchadnezzar … You and a dog are alike to us. O Nebuchadnezzar, bark like a dog, swell like a pitcher, chirp like a cricket"–a curse which was duly fulfilled (Lev. R. 33:6). The Roman taxes enumerated indicate an allusion to the Roman period, probably to Caligula who insisted that his statue be placed in the Temple and who was a madman just like Nebuchadnezzar (Jos., Ant., 18:261ff.; Jos., Wars, 21:184ff.; Tacitus, Historiae, 5:9; Philo, In Flaccum, 31).
Occasionally, however, Nebuchadnezzar is viewed in a more favorable light, mainly in later rabbinic sources composed at a time when hostility to the Romans had subsided. Thus, he is said to have taken pity on the Jews after the exile of Jehoiachin, and, indeed, on Jehoiachin himself, whom he provided with a wife during his long imprisonment (Lev. R. 19:6; PR 26:129). Nebuchadnezzar was one of the five persons saved from the army of Sennacherib, and from that time he was inspired by the fear of God (Sanh. 95b). He was the scribe of Merodach Baladan and corrected him for writing the name of Hezekiah before that of God (Sanh. 96a). For this act he was rewarded by ruling over the whole world (Song R. 3:4, no. 2), including the world of animals, and by sitting on Solomon's throne (Est. R. 1:12).
A historically significant Midrash reports that when the "exiles of Zedekiah" were brought to Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzar, they were met by the earlier deportees (of 597 b.c.e.), wearing "black underneath but white outside" and hailing Nebuchadnezzar as "conqueror of the barbarians" (Lam. R., Proem 23). This story evidently alludes to the Jews of the Hellenistic and Roman Diaspora, as well as to individuals such as Josephus and Agrippa ii, who had to conceal their mourning for Jerusalem and proclaim their loyalty to the Roman conquerors.
In the *Koran (Sura 17:4–7) it is related that the people of Israel sinned twice and were therefore punished twice. The description of these events in the Koran is very vague, and the traditional Muslim commentators therefore found it difficult to present a clear and crystallized explanation of these verses. According to them, the two sins were the murder of *Isaiah or the imprisonment of *Jeremiah or the murder of *Zechariah son of Iddo; and the murder of John the Baptist. However, some elements from the aggadah on the murder of Zechariah have also been introduced into this story (cf. Targum Lam. 2:20). In any case, the Koran clearly hints at two destructions of the Temple.
According to Muslim legend, the punishment was meted out either by *Goliath, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar (Bukhtanaṣar), one of the Nabatean kings, or Persian invaders. Among the intermediaries whom Allah used to punish the people of Israel, the figure of Bukhtanaṣar stands out; folklorists make frequent references to him, even adding a beautiful story about his youth to his biography. According to them, one of the people of Israel dreamed that a poor, orphaned youth would destroy the Temple and exterminate the people. He set out in search of this youth, traveled as far as Babylonia, and almost gave up the hope of finding him. Some people finally pointed out a poor orphan who carried a bundle of twigs on his head. The Israelite gave him three dirhams with which to buy meat, bread, and wine. He repeated this act the next day and for several more days. When his time came to leave, the youth was saddened by the fact that he was unable to repay the generosity of his Israelite benefactor. The latter told the youth that his reward would be the youth's written promise that when he ascended the throne he would spare his life and the lives of all those with him. The youth answered that his benefactor and friend was mocking him. Upon the entreaties of his mother he finally granted the request of the Israelite and gave him the written promise; a sign was even convened upon by which Bukhtanaṣar would recognize the Israelite among the great crowd. The story of Yahya ibn Zakariyyā (i.e., John the Baptist) has been added to some versions of this story. The continuation of the story relates that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple as a punishment for the murder of John the Baptist and that he ordered the bodies of those who had been killed to be thrown among the ruins. Everyone who obeyed his command was exempted from the payment of the jizya (poll tax) for that year. The Israelite, the benefactor of Nebuchadnezzar, was not in Jerusalem on that day and was therefore unable to make use of the written promise which he had received years ago; thus, no one was saved by it. As usual, there are several versions of this story. It does not appear to have any Jewish origin, except for a weak echo of the story of the encounter between Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai and Vespasian, when Rabban Johanan announced to Vespasian that he would become king and destroy Jerusalem (Git. 56a–b).
[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]
In the Arts
Although few of the literary, artistic, or musical works associated with Nebuchadnezzar are of the first rank, they are rather numerous; and the Babylonian king also figures in works dealing with the notable Jews who have contact with him in the Bible. Two of the earliest literary treatments were an old English play, Nebuchadnezzar's Fierie Furnace (re-edited by M. Roesler, 1936), and an Italian miracle play in verse, La Rapresentatione di Nabucdonosor Re di Babillonia (c. 1530; Florence, 15582). A second English play on the theme is known to have been staged in London in 1596. Nebuchadnezzar's treatment of Zedekiah and the royal house of Judah forms the subject of Sédécie, ou les Juives (1583), one of the most important works of the French dramatist Robert Garnier. Later, the German playwright Christian Weise added Nebukadnezar (1684) to his series of biblical dramas. In the 18th century, Christian Friedrich Hunold wrote a "Singspiel," Der gestuerzte und wieder erhoehte Nebucadnezar, Koenig zu Babylon, unter dem grossen Propheten Daniel, which was staged at Hamburg in 1728; and the Russian writer and publisher Nikolai Ivanovich Novikov published a Komediya Navukhodonosor (1791; in Drevnyaya Rossiyskaya Biblioteka, Moscow, 1788–91). Works on the subject that appeared in the 19th century include Nabucco (1819), a five-act verse tragedy by the Italian writer Giovanni Battista Niccolini; Nabuco in Gerusalemme (1829), an Italian azione sacra in verse; and Nebuchodonoser (1836), a four-act French drama by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois written in collaboration with Francis Cornu and staged in Paris. The tragic end of the Judean monarchy also inspired Ludwig *Philippson's German dramas Jojachin (1858) and Die Entthronten (1868). On the whole, 20th-century writers have avoided the subject, an exception being the German author Heinz Welten, whose novel Nebukadnezar: der Koenig der Koenige appeared in 1924.
In art, the main subjects treated are the king's dreams and visions and their eventual realization. There are several works illustrating Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the metal statue with feet of clay (Dan. 2:31–35). The stone hewn without hands which topples the statue was thought by the Church Fathers and later Christian symbolists to represent the Virgin Birth (i.e., Jesus conceived without human agency). The dream is depicted in medieval manuscripts and in carvings from the Gothic cathedrals of Amiens and Laon. Nebuchadnezzar's vision of the tree (Dan. 4) appears in medieval illuminated manuscripts and on the front of Laon Cathedral, as well as in stained glass and paintings of the Middle Ages. The pitiful figure of the king reduced to grazing with the beasts (Dan. 4:32) appealed particularly to the artistic imagination of the Romanesque period (11th–12th centuries) with its feeling for the awesome and the grotesque. This scene appeared in illuminated manuscripts of the commentary on the New Testament Book of Revelations by the eighth-century Spanish monk Beatus and on the capitals of French Romanesque churches. A more recent treatment of the episode is the English visionary poet and artist William *Blake's striking depiction of the shaggy, wild-eyed monarch walking on all fours (1795). The image also occurs in Blake's prophetic work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790) with the caption "One Law for the Lion and the Ox is Oppression." Nebuchadnezzar occasionally figures in medieval manuscript illustrations of the Three Hebrews in the Fiery Furnace (Dan. 3). In the early 15th-century Très Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry (Musée Condé, Chantilly), he is shown complacently stoking the furnace which encloses Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego.
Musical compositions involving Nebuchadnezzar largely deal with episodes drawn from the Book of Daniel, notably that of the Three Hebrews. They include an opera by Caldara (1731), Darius *Milhaud's Les Miracles de la Foi (1951), and Benjamin Britten's The Burning Fiery Furnace (1966). To mark the coronation of the Austrian emperor Ferdinand i as king of Lombardy and Venice, a ballet entitled Nabucodonoser was performed at La Scala, Milan, on September 6, 1838. The Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi was in Milan at the time and subsequently found inspiring reading in T. Solera's libretto Nabucodnosor, which described the Babylonian king's enslavement of the Jews and the plight of the latter in their distant exile. Va, pensiero…, the chorus of the Hebrew captives in Solera's text, fired Verdi's dormant patriotism and the opera which he wrote, Nabucco, had its premiere at La Scala in 1842. Its performance created widespread enthusiasm in Italy, where the Hebrew captives' prayer for deliverance was seen as a comment on the country's state of subjugation to Austria, or as the lament of exiled Italian patriots. When Nabucco was staged at Her Majesty's Theater, London, in 1846, it was retitled Nino and the biblical characters renamed, since the stage performance of biblical subjects was then still taboo in England. Nabucco, translated into Hebrew by Aharon *Ashman, has often been performed by the Israel Opera since its foundation in 1958.
Pritchard, Texts, 307–8; D.J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (626–556 b.c.)… (1956); Freedman, in: basor, 145 (1951), 31–32; A. Malamat, in: iej, 18 (1968), 137–55; idem, in: J. Abiram (ed.), Yerushalayim le-Doroteha (1969), 27–48 (Eng. section, 59). in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index. in islam: Ṭabarī, 15 (1328 a.h.), 17, 22, 23; Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, 1 (1357 a.h.), 385 (according to the Bible); C. Shwarzbaum, Adam-Noah Memorial Volumefor A.N. Braun (1960), 239–63. in the arts: L. Réau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien, 2 (1956), 406–9; Metropolitan Opera News (Dec. 3, 1960); G. Martin, Verdi, his Music, Life and Times (1963), 97–120.
Nebuchadnezzar (reigned 605-562 B.C.) was a king of Babylon during whose long and eventful reign the Neo-Babylonian Empire attained its peak and the city of Babylon its greatest glory.
Nebuchadnezzar—more properly Nebuchadrezzar—is the biblical form of the name Nabukudur-utsur (Nabu has set the boundary). He was the son of Nabopolassar, a Chaldean chief who in 626 B.C. led a revolt against Assyrian rule, proclaimed himself king of Babylon, and, in alliance with the Medes and Scythians, succeeded in overthrowing the vast Assyrian Empire and destroying Nineveh in 612 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, as crown prince, was given command of the Babylonian army harrying the remainder of the Assyrians in northern Syria. Early in 605 B.C. he met Necho, the king of Egypt, in battle and defeated him at Carchemish. A few months later Nabopolassar died, and Nebuchadnezzar hastened home to claim his throne. He soon returned to the west in order to secure the loyalty of Syria and Palestine and to collect tribute; among those who submitted were the rulers of Damascus, Tyre, Sidon, and Judah.
In 601 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar attempted the invasion of Egypt but was repulsed with heavy losses. Judah rebelled, but Jerusalem fell in March 597 B.C., and the ruler, Jehoiakim, and his court were deported to Babylon. Eight years later another Jewish rebellion broke out; this time Jerusalem was razed and the population carried into captivity. Expeditions against the Arabs in 582 B.C. and another attempt at invading Egypt in 568 B.C. receive brief mention in Nebuchadnezzar's later records.
Nebuchadnezzar built temples in many of the cities of his kingdom, but the main achievement of his reign was the rebuilding of Babylon, on a scale and with a magnificence never before envisaged. The city covered some 500 acres and was protected by massive double fortifications. The Euphrates River, which bisected it, was spanned by a bridge. In the great palace, built to replace Nabopolassar's, he created the terraced cloister known to the Greeks as the Hanging Gardens and reckoned among the Seven Wonders of the World. It was said that he built it to please his mountain-born wife, Amytis, daughter of Cyaxares, the Median king.
The last years of Nebuchadnezzar's life were clouded by family strife, and he left no strong successor: his son was overthrown by a usurper after reigning only 2 years. Babylon, however, survived and was seen by the Greek historian Herodotus, who described its marvels.
Tablets containing new information about Nebuchadnezzar's military activities were translated by D. J. Wiseman in Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (1956). These texts supplement the account of R. Campbell Thompson in J. B. Bury and others, eds., The Cambridge Ancient History (12 vols., 1923-1939). For a description of Babylon in Nebuchadnezzar's time see James G. Macqueen, Babylon (1964), based on Robert Koldewey's excavations before World War I. □
Allusive uses of his name often refer to the biblical story in Daniel 4, which recounts how Nebuchadnezzar's pride and wickedness were punished by his being driven mad ‘and he was driven from men, and did eat the grass as oxen.’
The name Nebuchadnezzar is given to a very large wine bottle, equivalent in capacity to about twenty regular bottles.