Chaldea, Chaldeans

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CHALDEA, CHALDEANS , an ethnic group possibly related to the *Arameans. The Chaldeans penetrated southern *Mesopotamia toward the end of the second millennium b.c.e. In the course of time, they became the ruling class of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and southern Mesopotamia became known in classical sources as Chaldea. The biblical form of the name, Kasdim (כַּשְׂדִּים), represents an ethnic derivative from the name of the eponymous ancestor Kesed (Gen. 22:22). It appears with the gentilic suffix in Ezekiel 23:14 and ii Chronicles 36:17. The Aramaic form Kasdai (and Kasdaya) is also gentilic. The Septuagint and other Greek sources use the form Chaldaioi and rabbinic texts utilize Kaldiyyim (Pes. 113b) and Kalda'ei (Shab. 119a, et al). This phenomenon stems from a linguistic peculiarity of the Akkadian language, viz., a phonetic shift of the sibilants to lamed when followed by a dental, which appears in the second millennium b.c.e. and continues until the Neo-Babylonian period. The forms attested in Akkadian sources are Kaldu, Kald-, and Kaldaya, the first apparently being the name of the people and the latter two being gentilics. The Aramaic dialect of the Chaldeans no doubt preserved the original sibilant, and the biblical form evidently came from an Aramaic source, probably by direct contact with the Chaldeans.

In the Bible

The Chaldeans arrived relatively late on the horizon of ancient Israel, as can be seen in the fact that they do not appear in the venerated genealogies of Genesis. Kesed, their eponymous ancestor, was a son of Nahor, the brother of Abraham. Yet, the patriarch's family is said to have come from *Ur of the Chaldees (explanatory note to identify the ancient city for the contemporary biblical reader; Gen. 11:28, 31; 15:7; Neh. 9:7), indicating that the arrival of those West Semitic tribes in southern Babylonia was recognized. A memory of their nomadic state is preserved in Job 1:17, where they are depicted as marauders prone to attack settled populations. The incident took place in Uz, whose eponymous ancestor was also a son of Nahor (Gen. 22:21). Apart from these early references the Chaldeans appear in the late seventh–early sixth century as the dominant class in the land of Babylon. Their hegemony over Mesopotamia is taken for granted (Isa. 13:19). It is unlikely that Ezekiel meant to distinguish between the original Babylonians and the Chaldeans when he speaks of "the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans" (Ezek. 23:23). Indeed he, like Jeremiah (Jer. 24:5; 25:12; 50:1, 8, etc.), calls Babylonia "(the land of) Kasdim" (Ezek. 1:3; 12:13; 16:16). The Chaldean nature of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty is plainly recognized in such passages as Ezra 5:12, where Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as "king of Babylon, the Chaldean." Finally, in the book of Daniel, Kasdaʾe (כַּשְׂדָאֵי; "Chaldeans") appears as a technical term for astrologers (Dan. 2:5, 10; et al.). The same usage was apparently current outside of Israel, as is evidenced by the use of Kldyʾ ("Chaldeans") in this sense in Palmyrene Aramaic as well as by the various allusions to the Chaldeans in Greek sources (Herodotus 1:181, 5; Strabo 739; et al.).

Recorded History

The earliest reference to the Chaldeans is contained in a brief statement by Ashurnasipal ii or iii (883–859 b.c.e.): "The fear of my dominion extended to the land of Karduniash [Babylon], and the chilling fear of my weapons overwhelmed the land of Kaldu." The annals of *Shalmaneser iii (858–824 b.c.e.) reveal important details about their tribal divisions. They were originally organized into several tribes, of which the most important were Bit Dakkuri in the north and Bit Yakin in the south. By the time of Shalmaneser iii, these tribes had developed into small, independent states. Shalmaneser contented himself with forays into their territory and the exacting of tribute. He referred to the "sea of Chaldea, which they call the Bitter Sea." Sometime prior to 811 b.c.e., Shamshi-Adad V invaded Babylonia and was victorious in a confrontation with Marduk-balaṭsu-iḳbi, the king of Babylon, who was supported by an alliance of neighboring peoples, including Elam, the Aramean tribes east of the Tigris, and the Chaldeans. The latter had a firm grip on southern Babylonia and the important trade routes to the east. Adad-Nirari iii (810–783 b.c.e.) claims that they became his tributary vassals. Tiglath-Pileser iii (745–727 b.c.e.) apparently incorporated the territory of one Chaldean state, Bit Šilni, into the kingdom of Babylon, over which he had made himself king. The other Chaldean states apparently remained independent. During the successive reigns of Sargon ii (721–705 b.c.e.) and Sennacherib (704–681 b.c.e.), the Chaldean tribes were led by *Merodach-Baladan. The political machinations of this strong personality are reflected in the Bible (Isa. 39). His checkered fortunes exemplify the Chaldean animosity to Assyrian rule. At times he succeeded in gaining power in Babylon itself, only to be ousted by Assyrian military intervention, in the face of which he was forced to flee to Elam for asylum. After his death the Chaldean-Aramean banner was taken up by Mushezib-marduk, who also made himself ruler of Babylon, gained Elamite support in the field, and was only brought down by a nine-month siege of Babylon by the Assyrians (689 b.c.e.). In the mid-seventh century, while Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal ruled Assyria, the Chaldeans continued to be restive and troublesome. Only after the death of Ashurbanipal did a Chaldean leader, Nabopolassar, gain control of Babylon, this time with the support of the Babylonians, as well as the Chaldeans and Arameans. His alliance with the Medes led to the destruction of the Assyrian empire and the rise of the Neo-Babylonian monarchy. The best-known king of the new regime was *Nebuchadnezzer, Nabopolassar's son and successor. Chaldean eventually became a virtual synonym in the classical world for Babylonian. Since Daniel 2:5 states that the Chaldeans spoke Aramaic and since it was incorrectly inferred from Daniel 2:5 that "the language of the Chaldeans" is the proper name of the Aramean language, scholars said and wrote "Chaldean" for "Aramaic" until only a few decades ago.


E. Forrer, Die Provinzeinteilung des assyrischen Reiches (1920), 95–102; R.P. Dougherty, The Sealand of Ancient Arabia (1932); A. Dupont-Sommer, Les Araméens (1949), 73–76; H.W.F. Saggs, The Greatness That Was Babylon (1962); em, 4 (1962), s.v.Kasdim; D.D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia (1968), index, s.v.Chaldea, Kaldu; J.A. Brinkman, A Political History of Post-Kassite Babylonia (1968); M. Dietrich, Die Aramaer Sued-babyloniens in der Sargonidenzeit (1970). add. bibliography: R. Hess, in: abd i: 886–87.

[Anson Rainey]