Mene, Mene, Tekel, U-Farsin

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MENE, MENE, TEKEL, U-FARSIN

MENE, MENE, TEKEL, U-FARSIN , enigmatic inscription referred to in *Daniel 5:25, which appeared on a wall, written by a detached hand. The narrative in Daniel 5:1ff. relates that King *Belshazzar of Babylonia made a feast for 1,000 of his lords, wives, and concubines. During the feast, wine was drunk from the vessels which had been taken out of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the guests at the feast praised (or perhaps sang to – the Aramaic shabbaḥ le- can mean either) the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. Suddenly, the fingers of a man's hand appeared and were seen writing something on the wall of the king's palace. The king became alarmed and summoned all his wise men, but they were unable to read or interpret the writing. The queen then suggested that Daniel, a sage whom Nebuchadnezzar used to consult and found matchless, be brought before the king. Daniel was summoned to Belshazzar. After rebuking the king for his arrogance toward the Lord, for drinking wine from the holy Temple's vessels, and for worshiping man-made gods, Daniel read and interpreted the writing as follows: mene, mene, tekel (teqel), and parsin. Mene: God has numbered (menah) the days of your kingdom and will bring it to an end; tekel: you have been weighed (teqilta) in the balance and found wanting; parsin: your kingdom has been divided (prisat) and given over to the Medes and Persians (Paras).

The narrative presents four basic problems. The first question concerns the actual designation of the words mene, mene, tekel, and parsin. C. Clermont-Ganneau was the first to suggest that the words refer to weights of monetary units. Thus, mene (Aramaic mene; Heb. maneh) is a mina; tekel (Aram. teqel; Heb. shekel) is the shekel; and u-farsin (of which the u is simply the copulative) is two half-minas. The word פרש has been found on half-mina weights in bilingual Aramaic-Akkadian inscriptions and also occurs in the Talmud (Aramaic peras) in the sense of a half-mina. Most scholars have accepted Clermont-Ganneau's explanation of the words and at most add that the first mene, unlike the second (5:15), is the Aramaic passive participle (equivalent to the Heb. manui, "counted") and is to be read as, "it was counted: mene, tekel and parsin."

The second question to be asked is why the characters of the inscription baffled the Chaldeans, who should have been able to read easily a few simple Aramaic words. The narrative clearly indicates that the wise men could not decipher the writing, as the king promised a great reward for the man who read the writing (5:7). Daniel solved the riddle by first reading the script; only afterward did he explain it (5:25ff.). Talmudic sages suggest that the letters of the inscription were written in reverse order or in accordance with the Atbash (see *Gematria) sequence (Sanh. 22a). A. Alt proposes that only the initials and not the whole words were written, and he bases his view on the premise that it can be corroborated from archaeological evidence that names of weights were often designated by initials only; Aramaic contracts from the fifth century b.c.e. attest to this practice. Alt, therefore, assumes that what was written were the initials mmtpp (ממתפ״פ). H.L. Ginsberg points out that in the Aramaic contracts the word tekel is generally written shkl and abbreviated as sh, and it is possible that even after the more modern spelling tkl was adopted, the abbreviation sh was retained. Therefore the legend on the wall may have been not mmtpp but mm Sh. pp, which made it harder for the king's regular sages to recognize it as a series of abbreviations. Daniel, however, realized that the letter shin was the initial of the obsolete spelling shkl, for tekel, and so he read for the two mem'smene mene, for the shintekel, and for the two pe'sparsin.

A third problem is the variance between the written version on the wall (5:25): mene, mene, tekel, and parsin and the words in Daniel's version: mene, mene, tekel and peras (5:26ff.). Most ancient versions (Vulg., Theod., and Jos., Ant., 10:239ff.) give the written version (verse 25) also as mene, tekel, peras. Since, however, Daniel interprets the last expression as meaning both perisat and paras, the Masoretic Text's version of verse 25 can be upheld, and the reading in verses 26 and 28 could be the result of haplography. The doubling of the word mene at the beginning, Ginsberg believes, was suggested by the doubling of nafelah, "fallen," in Isaiah 21:9, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon."

The fourth and last problem is concerned with what the words actually refer to. These words were probably used not only to indicate monetary values but also to express estimates of character. Thus, these words presumably referred to a situation of degeneration. God has weighed the kings of Babylon and has found them to be steadily decreasing in weight. P. Haupt and J.D. Prince hold that the phrase refers to Nebuchadnezzar (mene), Belshazzar (tekel), the Medes (peres, a half-mene, i.e., half the greatness of Nebuchadnezzar) and the Persians (peres, a half-mene, i.e.; half the greatness of Nebuchadnezzar). E.G. Kraeling believes that the phrase was applied to the occupants of the neo-Babylonian throne after Nebuchadnezzar: Awêl-Marduk (Evil-Merodach), Labâshi-Marduk, Nabonidus, and Belshazzar.

bibliography:

C. Clermont-Ganneau, in: ja, 8 (1886), 36ff.; idem, Recueil d'archéologie orientale, 1 (1888), 136–59; J.D. Prince, Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin (1893); A. Kamphausen, Daniel (Ger., 1896), 28; H. Bauer, Vierter deutscher Muenzforschertag zu Halle, Festgabe den Teilnehmern gewidmet (1925), 27–30; J.A. Montgomery, Daniel (icc, 1927), 262ff.; E.G. Kraeling, in: jbl, 63 (1944), 11–18; O. Eissfeldt, in: zaw, 63 (1951), 105; A. Alt, in: vt, 4 (1954), 303–5; H.L. Ginsberg, in: em, 5 (1968), 10–13.

[Daniel Boyarin and

Moshe Zeidner]