Belshaz'zar (Heb. and Chald. Belshatstsar' [on the signif. see below], בֵּלשִׁאצִּר; Sept. Βαλτάσαρ) is the name given in the book of Daniel to the last king of the Chaldees, under whom Babylon was taken by the Medes and Persians (chap. 5, 1; 7:1; 8, ). B.C. 538. Herodotus calls this king, and also his father, Labynetus, which is undoubtedly a corruption of Nabonnedus, the name by which he was known to Berosus, in Joseph. contr. Apion. 1, 20. Yet in Josephus (Ant. 10, 11, 2) it is stated that Baltasar was called Naboandel by the Babylonians. Nabonadius in the Canon of Ptolemy, Nabonedus in Euseb. Chron. Armen. 1, 60 (from Alexander Polyhistor), and Nabonnidochus in Euseb. Praep. Evang. 9, 41 (from Megasthenes), are evidently other varieties of his name. The only circumstances recorded of him in Scripture are his impious feast and violent death (Daniel 5). During the period that the Jews were in captivity at Babylon, a variety of singular events concurred to prove that the sins which brought desolation on their country, and subjected them for a while to the Babylonish yoke, had not dissolved that covenant relation which, as the God of Abraham, Jehovah had entered into with them; and that any act of indignity perpetrated against this afflicted people, or any insult cast upon the service of their temple, would be regarded as an affront to the Majesty of Heaven, and not suffered to pass with impunity. The fate of Belshazzar affords a remarkable instance of this. He had had an opportunity of seeing in the case of his ancestors how hateful pride is, even in royalty itself; how instantly God can blast the dignity of the brightest crown, and consequently, how much the prosperity of kings and the stability of their thrones depend upon acknowledging that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." But this solemn lesson was lost upon Belshazzar. According to the views of some, Isaiah, in representing the Babylonian dynasty as the scourge, of Palestine, styles Nebuchadnezzar a "serpent," Evil-Merodach a "cockatrice," and Belshazzar a "fiery flying serpent," the worst of all (Isa 14:4-29); but there is no reason for supposing the prophet in this passage to allude to any other event than the overthrow of the Philistines in the time of Hezekiah (see Henderson, Comment. in loc.).'
The Scriptural narrative states that Belshazzar was warned of his coming doom by the handwriting on the wall that was interpreted by Daniel, and was slain during a splendid feast in his palace. Similarly Xenophon (Cyrop. 7, 5, 3) tells us that Babylon was taken by Cyrus in the night, while the inhabitants were engaged in feasting and revelry, and that the king was killed. On the other hand, the narratives of Berosus in Josephus (Apion, 1, 20) and of Herodotus (1, 184 sq.) differ from the above account in some in important particulars. Berosus calls the last king of Babylon Nabonnedus or Nabonadius (Nabu-nit or Nabo-nahit, i.e. Nebo blesses or makes prosperous), and says that in the 17th year of his reign Cyrus took Babylon, the king having retired to the neighboring city of Borsippus or Borsippa (Birs-i-Nimrud), called by Niebuhr (Lect. on Anc. Hist. 12) "the Chaldaean Benares, the city in which the Chaldaeans had their most revered objects of religion, and where they cultivated their science." Being blockaded in that city, Nabonnedus surrendered, his life was spared, and a principality or estate given to him in Carmania, where he died. According to Herodotus, the last king was called Labynetus, a name easy to reconcile with the Nabonnedus of Berosus, and the Nabannidochus of Megasthenes (Euseb. Praep. Evang. 9, 41). Cyrus, after defeating Labynetus in the open field, appeared before Babylon, within which the besieged defied attack and even blockade, as they had walls 300 feet high and 75 feet thick, forming a square of 15 miles to a side, and had stored up previously several years' provision. But he took the city by drawing off for a time the waters of the Euphrates, and then marching in with his whole army along its bed, during a great Babylonian festival, while the people, feeling perfectly secure, were scattered over the whole city in reckless amusement. These discrepancies have lately been cleared up by the discoveries of Sir Henry Rawlinson; and the histories of profane writers, far from contradicting the scriptural narrative, are shown to explain and confirm it. In 1854 he deciphered the inscriptions on some cylinders found in the ruins of Um-Kir (the ancient Ur of the Chaldees), containing memorials of the works executed by Nabonnedus (Jour. Sac. Lit. 1854, p. 252; Jan. 1862). From these inscriptions it appears that the eldest son of Nabonnedus was called Bel-shar-ezar, and admitted by his father to a share in the government. This name is compounded of Bel (the Babylonian god), Shar (a king), and the same termination as in Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar, etc., and is contracted into Belshazzar, just as Neriglissar (again with the same termination) is formed from Nergal-sharezar. In a communication to the Athenaeum, No. 1377, Sir Henry Rawlinson says, "We can now understand how Belshazzar, as joint king with his father, may have been governor of Babylon when the city was attacked by the combined forces of the Medes and Persians, and may have perished in the assault which followed while Nabonnedus leading a force to the relief of the place was defeated, and obliged to take refuge in Borsippa, capitulating after a short resistance, and being subsequently assigned, according to Berosus, an honorable retirement in Carmania." In accordance with this view, we arrange the last Chaldaean kings as follows: Nebuchadnezzar, his son Evilmerodach, Neriglissar, Labrosoarchad (his son, a boy, killed in a conspiracy), Nabonnedus or Labynetus, and Belshazzar. Herodotus says that Labynetus was the son of Queen Nitocris; and Megasthenes (Euseb. Chr. Arm. p. 60) tells us that he succeeded Labrosoarchad, but was not of his family. In Daniel 5:2, Nebuchadnezzar is called the father of Belshazzar. This, of course, need only mean grandfather or ancestor. Now Neriglissar usurped the throne on the murder of Evilmerodach (Beros. ap. Joseph. Apion,1): we may therefore well suppose that on the death of his son Labrosoarchad, Nebuchadnezzar's family was restored in the person of Nabonnedus or Labynetus, possibly the son of that king and Nitocris, and father of Belshazzar. The chief objection to this supposition would be, that if Neriglissar married Nebuchadnezzar's daughter (Joseph. c. Ap. 1, 21), Nabonnedus would through her be connected with Labrosoarchad. This difficulty is met by the theory of Rawlinson (Herod. Essay 8, § 25), who connects Belshazzar with Nebuchadnezzar through his mother, thinking it probable that Nebu-nahit, whom he does not consider related to Nebuchadnezzar, would strengthen his position by marrying the daughter of that king, who would thus be Belshazzar's maternal grandfather. A
totally different view is taken by Marcus Niebuhr (Geschichte Assur's und Babel's seit Phul, p. 91), who considers Belshazzar to be another name for Evilmerodach, the son of Nebuchadnezzar. He identifies their characters by comparing Daniel v with the language of Berosus about Evilmerodach (προτὰς τῶν πραγμάτων ἀνόμως καὶ ἀσελγῶς). He considers that the capture of Babylon described in Daniel was not by the Persians, but by the Medes, under Astyages (i.e. Darius the Mede), and that between the reigns of Evilmerodach or Belshazzar, and Neriglissar, we must insert a brief period during-which Babylon was subject to the Medes. This solves a difficulty as to the age of Darius (Da 5:31; comp. Rawlinson, Essay 3, § 11), but most people will probably prefer the actual facts discovered by Sir Henry Rawlinson to the theory (though doubtless very ingenious) of Niebuhr. On Rawlinson's view, Belshazzar died B.C. 538, on Niebuhr's B.C. 559 (Gobel, De Belsasaro, Laub. 1757). SEE BABYLONIA.