Chapter 5 Nebuchadnezzar and Belteshazzar (Dan 3:31–4:34)

In: Aramaic Daniel
Benjamin D. Suchard
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With Dan 4, we have reached the part of Daniel where OG greatly diverges from the other witnesses. To complicate matters even further, the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, madness, and restoration appears to have been put together from various sources itself. A related tradition seems to be attested in the Qumran text 4QPrNab, the ‘Prayer of Nabonidus’. Given this highly complex textual history, the conclusions on this chapter must remain tentative at best.

1 Comparative Reconstruction

As with the previous chapter, the Qumran manuscripts do not attest any readings that seem more original, which may largely be due to the poor preservation of this section of 4QDana. The comparative reconstruction must thus rely primarily on comparison of MT to OG.

OG lacks the motif of all the wise men of Babylon other than Belteshazzar failing to explain the king’s dream. With Segal,1 we may identify this as a secondary harmonization in MT with the plotlines of Dan 2 and 5. Segal identifies all of vv. 3–7a and 15 as secondary. The textual and literary arguments receive linguistic confirmation from two features noted by Charles.2 The interpolation uses the king–name order for מלכא נבוכדנצר ‘King Nebuchadnezzar’ in v. 15,3 contrasting with the older name–king order attested in Imperial Aramaic, Ezra, most occurrences in Daniel, and indeed נבוכדנצר מלכא ‘King Nebuchadnezzar’ in Dan 4:25,28. And in v. 4, the preposition קדם ‘before’ is used instead of ל ‘to’, a usage which was originally restricted to kings and deities; the use with the wise men seen here is hypercorrect.

Besides eliminating the other sages, excluding vv. 3–7a and 15 changes the order of events. Now, the dream is narrated before the interpreter is present. This order is closer to the literary exemplar of this passage, Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream in Gen 41. The situation is complicated, however, by the similarities between MT v. 6 and OG v. 15. Both of these verses describe Daniel in similar terms: רב חרטמיא ‘the chief of the magicians’ in MT, τὸν ἡγούμενον τῶν κρινόντων τὰ ἐνύπνια ‘the leader of those who decide dreams’ in OG.4 OG’s καὶ ὑπέδειξέ μοι πᾶσαν τὴν σύγκρισιν αὐτοῦ ‘and he showed me its entire interpretation’ does not make sense in context, as Daniel’s interpretation of the dream does not start until v. 17. This phrase may reflect a misinterpretation of a Vorlage like MT’s ופשרה אמר ‘and tell its interpretation’, taking the imperative אמר *ʔmar ‘tell’ as a third-person masculine singular perfect *ʔamar ‘he told’. All in all, OG’s v. 15 reads as a telescoped version of MT’s vv. 5–6. In my reconstruction, I therefore retain some of the material from MT vv. 3–6, but move it to the position where it occurs in OG, which is probably more original. MT’s phrase די אנה ידעת די רוח אלהין קדישין בך וכל רז לא אנס לך ‘of whom I have learned that there is a spirit of holy gods in you and no mystery is too difficult for you’ is not only absent from OG but also anticipates MT v. 15. Hence, it is probably also secondary.

MT v. 2’s וחזוי ראשי ‘and the visions of my head’ does not occur in OG. The latter’s καὶ φόβος μοι ἐπέπεσεν ἐπὶ τῆς κοίτης μου ‘fear fell upon me on my bed’ is a reasonable equivalent to what is left of MT’s phrase without these words, והרהרין על משכבי יבהלנני ‘and disturbing thoughts on my bed terrified me’. While this is the form of the text reconstructed by Munnich, McLay notes that ἐπὶ τῆς κοίτης μου ‘on my bed’ is marked as an addition in Hexaplaric manuscript 88.5 If it was originally absent from OG altogether, the entire collocation על משכבי וחזוי ראשי ‘on my bed and the visions of my head’ finds no support there. It may have originated as an anticipatory dittograpy of the similar phrase וחזוי ראשי על משכבי ‘and the visions of my head on my bed’ in v. 7, which was perhaps included in v. 2 as a gloss of the hapax legomenon הרהרין ‘disturbing thoughts’.6 This leaves us with a set of opening lines that can be formally classified as poetry:

שלה הוית בביתי
ורענן בהיכלי
חלם חזית וידחלנני
והרהרין יבהלנני
I was at ease in my house,
flourishing in my palace;
I saw a dream and it frightened me,
and disturbing thoughts terrified me.

The rhythmic phrasing and parallelism of these lines closely matches the poetic style of much of the dream description, which immediately follows once vv. 3–6 are recognized as secondary. As we shall see below in both this section and the next, the elements that interrupt the dream’s poetic style can all be identified as interpolations on other grounds. The poetic nature of the resulting text thus supports this reconstruction.

Segal convincingly argues that MT v. 13a is a harmonization with the description of the first animal of Dan 7 and that MT v. 14b of the dream narration is harmonized with the dream interpretation.7 Haag suggests that these sentences, neither of which is directly paralleled in OG, were written by the same scribe, who can be recognized by his spelling of ‘mankind’ as אנושא (vs. אנשא elsewhere).8 The phrase ושפל אנשים יקים עליה in v. 14b may be attributed to the same scribe. In that case, אנושא ‘mankind’ may betray the same Hebraizing tendency seen in the Hebrew code-switch שפל אנשים ‘the lowliest of men’, although אנוש is also attested in Aramaic varieties where Hebrew influence is unlikely, such as Nabataean.9

The king’s encouragement of Belteshazzar in MT v. 16 is missing from OG, but this may reflect homoiarcton, with ענה מלכא ואמר בלטשאצר חלמא ופשרא אל יבהלך ענה בלטשאצר ואמר ‘the king spoke, saying: “Belteshazzar, don’t let the dream and the interpretation terrify you!” Belteshazzar spoke, saying:’ becoming ענה בלטשאצר ואמר ‘Belteshazzar spoke, saying:’. It may also be that this sentence, which marks the switch to third-person narration in MT, was left out in OG in order to maintain the first-person narration for longer.

MT’s v. 18, recalling some of the tree’s characteristics, is syntactically awkward and not referred back to in the following interpretation. This verse contains a morphologically feminine form in the third person plural verb ישכנן ‘they would dwell’, whereas the third person plural normally uses the masculine form even for feminine subjects in Biblical Aramaic (cf. ידרון with the same meaning in v. 9); the only other form like this is להוין ‘let them (f.) be’ in Dan 5:17, which we will identify as an interpolation in the next chapter. The verse is not directly paralleled in OG. Instead, OG brings up these elements of the dream later on. The two traditions thus introduce them at different points in the dream interpretation, showing their original absence from this part of the text; these are independent harmonizations with the dream description. In the same way, much of MT’s vv. 20 and 22 is missing from OG and can be explained as harmonization with the dream description.

MT and OG diverge significantly in the final verses of this chapter. One element that is rather obviously secondary in MT is Nebuchadnezzar’s hymn of praise stretching from ולעליא ברכת ‘and I blessed the Highest’ in v. 31 to מנדעי יתוב עלי ‘my understanding returning to me’ in v. 33; the latter phrase forms a resumptive repetition of ומנדעי עלי יתוב in v. 31 while the hymn is redundant in the face of the following climactic doxology in v. 34.10 Within this interpolation, the second occurrence of דארי ארעא ‘those who dwell on earth’ has already been identified by other scholars as a later addition.11

A difficult point is the third-person narration in MT v. 30 vs. the first-person narration in OG vv. 30a–b. Has MT assimilated this verse to the preceding third-person narration, or has OG assimilated it to the following first-person narration? Wills sees the remains of an independent source in the closing of the OG account, which in his view is supported in its originality by its closer correspondence with 4QPrNab compared to MT.12 I agree that the OG’s formal introduction of the speaker as ‘I, Nabouchodonosor, king of Babylon’ is hard to explain in this context as a secondary development from MT’s third person.

Another element in MT that is completely absent from OG is the mention of the king’s ‘attendants and nobles’ in v. 33. These figures play no role in the rest of the story and may have been inserted to connect Dan 4 with the preceding and following stories, which do mention the king’s הדברין ‘attendants’ (Dan 3) and רברבנין ‘nobles’ (Dan 5).

The OG text contains many secondary elements which we have not discussed, on which see the thorough discussion by Segal.13 This leaves us with the following reconstructed archetype.

2 Internal Reconstruction

Our reconstructed archetype contains the following tensions and inconsistencies:

  • a) The dream’s meaning is partially already revealed in the dream narration (vv. 12b,14b), making the dream less mysterious and more incoherent.

  • b) The dream interpreter’s double name Daniel/Belteshazzar serves no function.

  • c) The dream interpreter plays no role in the story from v. 24 onwards.

  • d) The story starts and ends in the first person, but refers to the king in the third person in vv. 16–30. When the first person picks up again in our reconstructed archetype of MT v. 30, the introduction of the speaker as ‘I, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon’ is overly explicit.

  • e) In v. 23, the plural ‘they said’ is used to refer what was said by a singular speaker in the dream.

  • f) The dream interpreter’s advice in v. 24 is left hanging in the air, neither explicitly followed or rejected in the rest of the story.

  • g) The story seems to contain multiple conclusions before its definitive ending (v. 25, opening of v. 30a).

Dan 4 is unique in consistently referring to the protagonist as Belteshazzar (b).14 When this name occurs elsewhere in the book of Daniel, it is always in conjunction with the name Daniel and the name Daniel occurs without Belteshazzar in those stories as well. Only in Dan 4 does Belteshazzar occur independently and consistently. This suggests that Belteshazzar was the original name of the dream interpreter of Dan 4, Daniel was the original name of the protagonist of other stories like those in Dan 2, 5, 6, and that these characters were conflated when some of these stories were combined into a single literary work.15 The name Daniel is thus secondary to Dan 4. The explanation given for the name Belteshazzar probably marks the first occurrence of the combination of the two names in an earlier version of the book of Daniel, before Dan 1 was added and before the reference to the name Belteshazzar was included in Dan 2. It is likely also secondary here.

The expression מן די תנדע די שלטן שמיא ‘once you come to know that Heaven is authorized’ in v. 23 is difficult. The metonymic use of ‘Heaven’ for God, who is called ‘the King of Heaven’ later on in this chapter, is understandable, but the doubly defective spelling of *šallīṭīn as שלטן instead of expected שליטין** is exceptional. Originally, this word may have been intended as *šulṭān ‘authority’, which would regularly be spelled this way. די ‘that’ has then been added by accidental assimilation to תנדע די ‘you will know that’ in v. 29 (MT also has this phrase in v. 22, but I have argued above that this is secondary). As ידע can also mean ‘to know’ in the sense of ‘to be acquainted with’ (German kennen), מן די תנדע שלטן שמיא can be read as ‘until you come to know the authority of Heaven’.

The switch in person (d) is obviously problematic. Segal sees a literary progression from the first-person dream report to the second-person dream interpretation and third-person narration of its fulfilment, citing a number of authors who similarly identify the switch in person as a literary device.16 This does not explain, however, why the third-person narration already starts in v. 16, in between the dream report and the dream interpretation.17 Following authors like Haag and Wills,18 I prefer to see the switch in person as a trace of this chapter’s redaction history. Taking the two concluding sentences in vv. 25,30 (g) as the endings of what were originally separate stories , we are left with coherent narratives. The lack of an explicit narration of the fulfilment of a dream or prediction matches the pattern of Dan 2 and Dan 5 (as we shall see, the description of Belshazzar’s fate in Dan 5:30 is not only extremely brief, but also secondary). As other authors have noted, many elements from these hypothetical different sources have bled into one another. The element of Nebuchadnezzar living as a wild animal is markedly out of place in the dream narrative (a) and is formulaically distinct from the other elements of the dream interpretation:19 it is simply stated without explicit reference to anything that happened in the dream. It has probably been introduced from the final, first-person source, where it forms the core of the plot. This leaves the seven-year period as one of the few distinct elements of the punishment decreed by the heavenly voice heard on the top of the palace. The reference to this period in the dream is then also a harmonization.

In the dream narrative, the Watcher’s speech refers back to the parts of the tree that were introduced earlier, when it was first described. The command to leave the roots in the ground breaks this pattern, as the roots were not previously mentioned. As noted, the interpretation of this element is also phraseologically distinct from the preceding interpretations (e). It is therefore attractive to follow Wills in identifying the root motif and the anticipated restoration of Nebuchadnezzar as secondary.20

The dream interpreter’s advice to the king to atone for his sins in v. 24 (f) also seems out of place in our reconstructed archetype. Its poetic diction matches that of the rest of the preceding passage, so perhaps it formed an original part of the story that has turned into a dead end because a redactor eliminated the narration of Nebuchadnezzar’s good deeds (or lack thereof) that it anticipates. The originality of this element receives stylistic support from the inclusio formed by שלה ‘at ease’ in v. 1 and שלותך ‘your ease’ in v. 24. V. 25’s ominous כלא מטא על נבוכדנצר מלכא ‘all this came over King Nebuchadnezzar’ is then a redactional note, truncating the original story.

A minor, textual emendation is suggested by Hartman and Di Lella in v. 7.21 They suggest that וחזוי ‘and the visions of’ is a mistake for בחזוי ‘in the visions of’, introducing the dream narration. This makes more sense and parallels v. 13. The expression וחזוי ראשי ‘and the visions of my head’ is fairly common in Daniel, which could account for this scribal error.

Finally, the letter form of the whole story can easily be explained as a later development. The letter’s opening has obvious links to King Darius’ letter in Dan 6:26–28. As suggested by Haag,22 if Dan 4–6 once circulated as a separate collection, turning Dan 4 into a letter provided the text with a ring composition, starting and ending with letters from world leaders acknowledging God’s sovereignty. The framework of a letter, with first-person narration, accounts for the extension of the first person to the beginning of the dream account, which was not carried through into the dialogue between the king and Belteshazzar.23 The letter’s closing in Dan 4:34 mainly refers back to the scene on top of the royal palace, now the core of the combined story.

3 Conclusion

Like some other authors, most notably Haag and Wills, I have reconstructed three different source texts which have been combined to form the bulk of Dan 4. These originally consisted of Belteshazzar’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream predicting his demise; a heavenly voice announcing Nebuchadnezzar’s loss of the kingship for seven years; and a first-person account of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness followed by his restoration. Like other stories about the demise of Nebuchadnezzar and the madness or at least absence of Nabonidus,24 these may well have circulated independently. In their reconstructed form, especially the latter two sources are quite terse. It is likely, however, that they originally contained more material which has not reached us. In the case of the first story, we have reconstructed a continuous stretch of poetry at the outset, with poetic diction predominating throughout.

By combining these three sources into one narrative, a redactor shaped them into a story of the king’s presaged downfall, repentance, and restoration. The use of the first person in the last of these sources may have suggested the recasting of the combined narrative as a letter, which shares features with the letter in Dan 6. The combination of these three different sources and a fourth textual layer at the beginning and the end gave rise to many thematic inconsistencies, leading to the great number of harmonizing additions visible in MT, OG, and their reconstructed archetype.


Segal, Dreams, Riddles, and Visions, 102–4.


Charles, Daniel, viii–ix.


Cf. Chapter 3, Note 10.


OG also contains another title, τὸν ἄρχοντα τῶν σοφιστῶν ‘the ruler of the savants’, which may be a harmonization with Dan 2, where Daniel is given the title of רב סגנין על כל חכימי בבל ‘chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon’.


McLay, “Old Greek Translation,” 313.


The phrase in v. 7 is instead identified as a resumptive repetition by Olivier Munnich, “Texte Massorétique et Septante dans le Livre de Daniel,” in The Earliest Text of the Hebrew Bible: The Relationship between the Masoretic Text and the Hebrew Base of the Septuagint Reconsidered, ed. Adrian Schenker, SCSt 52 (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 104; McLay, “Old Greek Translation,” 312. It is then connected to the secondary insertion of MT Dan 3:3–6. But it is unclear to me how this resumptive repetition would have arisen. OG attests a parallel to the phrase in v. 7, ἐκάθευδον ‘I was sleeping’, but not in v. 2, suggesting that the archetype of MT and OG contained וחזוי ראשי על משכבי ‘and the visions of my head on my bed’ in v. 7 but not the similar phrase in v. 2; in that case, it would not make sense to insert it in v. 2, where it does not do anything to ease over the insertion of vv. 3–6.


Segal, Dreams, Riddles, and Visions, 104–8.


Haag, Errettung Daniels, 18.


Jean Cantineau, Le Nabatéen, vol. 1: Notions générales, écriture, grammaire (Paris: Leroux, 1930), 47.


The secondary nature of this hymn is considered but rejected by Albertz, Der Gott des Daniel, 44–45. Albertz notes the resumptive repetition, but considers the hymn too integral to the plotline to be secondary. This mainly depends on the repeated anticipation of Nebuchadnezzar’s acknowledgment of God’s authority. As we have seen, however, most of these anticipatory statements are secondary themselves.


Hartman and Di Lella, Daniel, 170; Newsom, Daniel, 127.


Wills, Jew in the Court, 90–98.


Segal, Dreams, Riddles, and Visions, 109–24.


Cf. Kratz, Translatio imperii, 86. OG does not use Βαλτασαρ ‘Baltasar’ in this chapter, probably to avoid confusion with the name Belshazzar in Dan 5, which is transcribed in the same way.


Cf. the similar case of Gideon/Jerubbaal discussed by Sara J. Milstein, Tracking the Master Scribe: Revision through Introduction in Biblical and Mesopotamian Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 160–66. Similarly, Wills, Jew in the Court, 76 suggests that the character of Daniel is secondary to the story of Susanna, which originally featured an anonymous protagonist.


Segal, Dreams, Riddles, and Visions, 101.


Cf. Newsom, Daniel, 133.


Haag, Errettung Daniels; Wills, Jew in the Court; see also Kratz, Translatio imperii, 93.


Cf. Collins, Daniel, 219.


Wills, Jew in the Court, 108.


Hartman and Di Lella, Daniel, 168.


Haag, Errettung Daniels, 14.


Cf. J. Lust, “The Septuagint Version of Daniel 4–5,” in The Book of Daniel in the Light of New Findings, ed. A. S. van der Woude, BETL 106 (Leuven: Leuven University Press/Peeters, 1993), 42.


See, for instance, Klaus Koch, “Gottes Herrschaft über das Reich des Menschen. Daniel 4 im Licht neuer Funde,” in The Book of Daniel in the Light of New Findings, ed. A. S. van der Woude, BETL 106 (Leuven: Leuven University Press/Peeters, 1993), 77–119; Collins, Daniel, 217–19; Holm, Courtiers and Kings, 448–60.

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