(or "Chaldaeans," Hebrew Kasdim´, כִּשׂדַּים, Sept. Χαλδαῖοι, Chald. כִּשׂדָּאַין, or כִּשׂדָּיֵא) appear in Scripture, until the time of the Captivity, as the people of the country which has Babylon for its capital (2Ki 25; Isa 13:19; Isa 23:13; comp. Isa 48:14; Jer 21:4; Jer 32:2 sq.; Eze 22:15, etc.), and which is itself termed Shinar (שׁנעָר); but in the book of Daniel, while this meaning is still found (Da 5:30; Da 9:1), a new sense shows itself. The Chaldaeans are there classed with the magicians and astronomers, and evidently form a sort of priest class who have a peculiar "tongue" and "learning" (1:4) and are consulted by the king on religious subjects. The same variety appears in profane writers. Berosus, the native historian, himself a Chaldaean in the narrower sense (Tatian, Or. adv. Gr. 58), uses the term only in the wider sense, while Herodotus, Diodorus, Strabo, and the later writers almost universally employ it to signify a sect or portion of the people whom they regard either as priests or as philosophers. With this view, however, is joined another, namely, that the Chaldeans are the inhabitants of a particular part of Babylonia, viz. the country bordering on the Persian Gulf and on Arabia (Strab. 16:1, § 6; Ptol. 5:20, 3). SEE BABYLONIA.
1. It appears that the Chaldaeans (Kaldai or Kaldi) were in the earliest times merely one of the many Cushite tribes inhabiting the great alluvial plain known afterwards as Chaldaea or Babylonia. Their special seat was probably that southern portion of the country which is found to have so late retained the name of Chaldaea. Here was Ur "of the Chaldees," the modern Mugheir; which lies south of the Euphrates, near its junction with the Shat el-Hie. Hence would readily come those "three bands of Chaldseans" who were instruments, simultaneously with the Sabaeans, in the affliction of Job (Job 1:15-17). In process of time, as the Kuldi grew in power, their name gradually prevailed over that of the other tribes inhabiting the country, and by the era of the Jewish Captivity it had begun to be used generally for all the inhabitants of Babylonia. We may suspect that when the name is applied by Berosus to the dynasties which preceded the Assyrian, it is by way of prolepsis. The dynasty of Nabopolassar, however, was (it is probable) really Chaldaean, and this greatly helped to establish the wider use of the appellation. It had thus come by this time to have two senses, both ethnic; in the one it was the special appellative of a particular race, to whom it had belonged from the remotest times; in the other it designated the nation at large in which this race was predominant. — Smith, s.v. Probably it was a branch of the same people that are spoken of in Greek writers as an uncultivated tribe of mountaineers, on the Carduchian mountains, in the neighborhood of Armenia, whom Xenophon describes as brave and fond of freedom (Cyrop. 1:31; Anab. 4:3, 4, 7, 8, 25). In Hab 1:6-10, the Chaldaeans are spoken of in corresponding terms. The circumstance, moreover, that a Shemitic dialect is found to have prevailed in Babylon, corroborates the idea that the Chaldaeans were of a mixed character. SEE CHALDAEA.
2. The kingdom of the Chaldees is found among the four "thrones" spoken of by Daniel (Da 7:3 sq.), and is set forth under the symbol of a lion having eagles' wings. The government was despotic, and the will of the monarch, who bore the title of "king of kings" (Da 2:37), was supreme law, as may be seen in Daniel 3:12; 14:28. The kings lived inaccessible to their subjects in a well-guarded palace, denominated, as with the ancient Persians (Xenoph. Cyrop. 1), "the gate of the king" (Da 2:49, compared with Es 2:19,21; Es 3:2). The number of court and state servants was not small; in Da 6:1, Darius is said to have set over the whole kingdom no fewer than "a hundred and twenty princes." The chief officers appear to have been a sort of "mayor of the palace," or prime minister, to which high office Daniel was appointed (Da 2:49), "a master of the eunuchs" (Da 1:3), " a captain of the king's guard" (Da 2:14), and "a master of the magicians," or president of the magi (Da 4:9). Distinct, probably, from the foregoing, was the class termed (Da 3:24,27) "the king's counsellors," who seem to have formed a kind of "privy council," or even "cabinet," for advising the monarch and governing the kingdom. The entire empire was divided into several provinces (Da 2:48; Da 3:1), presided over by officers of various ranks. An enumeration of several kinds may be found in Da 3:2-3. The head officers, who united in themselves the highest civil and military power, were denominated סַגַנַים, "rulers" (Jer 51:23,28,57), or אֲחִשׁדִּרַפּנין, "presidents" (Da 6:2); those who presided over single provinces or districts bore the title of פִּחוֹת, "governors" (Hag 1:1; Hag 2:2; in Chald. פֵּחֲוָתָא). The administration of criminal justice was rigorous and cruel, will being substituted for law, and human life and human suffering being totally disregarded. Nebuchadnezzar (Da 2:5) declares to the college of the magi: "If ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dung-hill" (see also Da 3:19; Da 6:8; Jer 29:22). The religion of the Chaldees was, as with the ancient Arabians and Syrians, the worship of the heavenly bodies; the planets Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus were honored as Bel, Nebo, and Meni, besides Saturn and Mars (Gesenius, Jesa. 2:332 sq.). The language spoken in Babylon was what is designated Chaldee, which is Sheinitic in is origin, belonging to the Aramaic branch. SEE CHALDEE LANGUAGE.
3. That the Kaldi proper, however, were a Cushite race, is proved by the remains of their language, which closely resembles the Galla or ancient language of Ethiopia. Now it appears by the inscriptions that while both in Assyria and in later Babylonia the Shemitic type of speech prevailed for civil purposes, the ancient Cushite dialect was retained, as a learned language, for scientific and religious literature. This is no doubt the "learning" and the "tongue" to which reference is made in the book of Daniel (Da 1:4). It became gradually inaccessible to the great mass of the people, who were Shemitized by means (chiefly) of Assyrian influence. But it was the Chaldean learning, in the old Chaldaean or Cushite language. Hence all who studied it, whatever their origin or race, were, on account of their knowledge, termed Chaldaeans. In this sense Daniel himself, the "master of the Chaldaeans" (Da 5:11), would no doubt have been reckoned among them; and so we find Seleucus, a Greek, called a Chaldean by Strabo (16:1, § 6). It may be doubted whether the Chaldeans at any time were all priests, though no doubt priests were required to be Chaldeans. They were really the learned class, who by their acquaintance with the language of science had become its depositaries. They were priests, magicians, or astronomers, as their preference for one or other of those occupations inclined them; and in the last of the three capacities they probably effected discoveries of great importance.
According to Strabo, who well distinguishes (16:1, § 6) between the learned Chaldaeans and the mere race descended from the ancient Kaldi, which continued to predominate in the country bordering upon Arabia and the Gulf, there were two chief seats of Chaldean learning, Borsippa, and Ur or Orchoe. To these we may add from Pliny (H. N. 6:26) two others, Babylon, and Sippara or Sepharvaim. The Chaldeans (it would appear) congregated into bodies, forming what we may perhaps call universities, and pursuing the studies in which they engaged together. They probably mixed up to some extent astrology with their astronomy, even in the earlier times, but they certainly made great advances in astronomical science, to which their serene sky, transparent atmosphere, and regular horizon specially invited them. The observations, covering a space of 1903 years, which Callisthenes sent to Aristotle from Babylon (Simplic. ad Arist. de Cel. 2, p. 123), indicate at once the antiquity of such knowledge in the country, and the care with which it had been preserved by the learned class. In later times they seem certainly to have degenerated into mere fortunetellers (Cicero, de Div. 1:1; Aul. Gell. 1:9; Juv. 6:552; 10:94, etc.); but this reproach is not justly levelled against the Chaldaeans of the empire, and indeed it was but partially deserved so late as the reign of Augustus (see Strabo, 16:1, § 6). Josephus, however, uses the word in this sense (War, 2:7, 38).
Upon the walls of the Assyrian palaces are representations of various magi, all distinguished by a peculiarity of dress. It may be difficult to determine the class to which they respectively belong, but there is one (Botta, pl. 43) who may be particularized as a diviner, and probably of the Chaldean race, for his person is much thinner, and his features are more delicate than are those of the other attendants of the court, I indicating a different order of occupations, and an exemption from the ruler and more active employments of life. SEE DIIVINE.