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Nebuchadnezzar II, a king with issues.

With Halloween upon us, I thought I’d write about Nebuchadnezzar II, the great king of Babylon, the one known for building one of the most elusive wonders of the ancient world.

Now, unless you’ve read up on this famous king, or are familiar with the bible, you’re probably wondering what Nebuchadnezzar has to do with Halloween, so I’ll get right down to it…

King Nebuchadnezzar was a werewolf!

King Nebuchadnezzar at kind of a bad moment.

Well, he thought he was, anyway. We think. It is believed that King Nebuchadnezzar II suffered from lycanthropy, what Merriam-Webster defines as “a delusion that one has become or has assumed the characteristics of a wolf.”

Conversely, Melissa Barrett writes in her article, “Real Werewolves: Three Cases of Lycanthropy,” that “…clinical lycanthropy is often offered as a secular explanation for the biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar.”

In my research to put this post together, I found all kinds of sources referring to Nebuchadnezzar as the first–and I assume only–biblical werewolf. It is through the bible that we are introduced to this part of Nebuchadnezzar’s eventful life and reign as the king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, also known as the Chaldean Empire.

Putting secular explanations aside, Nebuchadnezzar was a proud and boastful king, who had the bricks used to build the walls of Babylon inscribed with the statement, “I am Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.” (Source)

Who’s he?

Born around 634 BC, Nebuchadnezzar II was the son of Nabopolassar, the liberator king of Babylonia after three centuries under Assyrian rule. King Nabopolassar left his son plenty to work with when he died around 605 BC, including political stability and wealth with which to expand and strengthen the empire he built, and Nebuchadnezzar’s ambition helped him build upon his father’s accomplishments.

Nebuchadnezzar began his journey to greatness by marrying Amytis, the daughter of the Median king Cyaxerxes, securing an alliance with his father’s allies against the Assyrians, the Medes. He then went on to defeat the Assyrians as well as the Egyptians, and became the first Babylonian king to rule Egypt. He also brought the regions of Palestine and Syria under his rule, and in turn controlled all trade routes stretching across Mesopotamia, from the Arabian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.

A panoramic view of the reconstructed city of Babylon. Note the thickness of the walls.

Nebuchadnezzar II is also credited with building what the Greek historian Herodotus (484 BC-425 BC) felt should have been included in the list of Seven Wonders–the walls of Babylon, which were 56 miles long according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia (another source says 10 miles), and so thick that chariot races were performed on top of them, along with the most famous entrance, the Ishtar Gate.

The original Ishtar Gate, which you can visit at the Berlin Museum. (Source)

Under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule, Babylon flourished as the center of art and literacy. Mathematics and craftsmanship also flourished then, along with religious tolerance and interest in other faiths and gods. Nebuchadnezzar built schools, and built and restored temples.

Nebuchadnezzar’s accomplishments are undeniably impressive, including being responsible for modern-day Judaism, and he might’ve been a hopeless romantic who built the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon to help his wife deal with her homesickness, for example, but the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament focuses on Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and narcissism (not to mention that pesky business of destroying the temple of Solomon and exiling the Jews), which brings us back to the Halloween aspect–to the werewolf.

A performance of Nabucco, Giuseppe Verdi’s most famous opera, about the biblical exile of the Jews to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, Nabucco in Italian. (Source)

Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned in several parts of the Bible, but it is in the Book of Daniel that a nightmare and a curse equal something supernatural.

The author of the RevDanTheMan blog writes in the post “A Werewolf in the Bible?”:

“Upon reading the Book of Daniel, we see that Nebuchadnezzar respected the God of Daniel[,] but he did not worship Him; he was a classic narcissist who believed in many gods[,] but who ultimately truly worshiped only the one [whose] image appeared every time he looked in a mirror.”

Well, pride and narcissism are never characteristics that bring good things to their bearers, especially in the Bible, so it is these flaws that bring on what is conjectured by some scholars to be lycanthropy.

According to the biblical account, Nebuchadnezzar’s troubles begin when he has a nightmare brought onto him by God as punishment for his pride and narcissism. The nightmare features a statue made of various materials; a head of gold, a chest of silver, a midriff of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with pottery (Source).

The statue from Nebuchadnezar II’s nightmare with a head of gold, a chest of silver, midriff of bronze, legs of iron and feet of iron mixed with pottery. (Source)

Nebuchadnezzar is troubled enough by this dream that he consults with magicians, sorcerers and conjurers for an interpretation, all to no avail. And this is perhaps where religious tolerance and interest in other faiths is most apparent in Nebuchadnezzar’s world, because he (eventually) asks the prophet Daniel to interpret his dream.

Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. (Source)

“You shall be driven from men,” Daniel tells the troubled king, “and your dwelling will be with the beasts of the field, and you will eat grass as oxen, and will be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven years will pass over you, till you know that the most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever He will.”

I feel it important to mention at this point that lycanthropy is not exclusive to the form of a wolf. Harvey Rosenstock, M.D. and Kenneth R. Vincent, Ed.D., write in their article in The American Journal of Psychiatry: “The animals in the delusioned transformation include leopards, lions, elephants, crocodiles, sharks, buffalo, eagles, and serpents.”

And so, after refusing to repent, Nebuchadnezzar is struck by the curse of what is believed to be lycanthropy for the next seven years, and it was like there was a werewolf in Babylon.

The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’, and his nails like birds’.”

And after seven long years of living like a beast, Nebuchadnezzar finally repents and recognizes Daniel’s God, after which he returns to his former greatness.

Nebuchadnezzar II’s Legacy

Nebuchadnezzar II might’ve suffered from lycanthropy, he might’ve suffered from syphilis, we don’t know. Without archaeological evidence, we cannot be sure that he even suffered from anything other than a common cold here and there. We do know that Nebuchadnezzar II, who the historian Sir Henry Rawlinson labeled “the greatest monarch that Babylon, or perhaps the East generally, ever produced,” died an old man in 605 BC, in the city he made it his life’s mission to make one of the greatest the world would know. We might not have archaeological evidence of a werewolf in Babylon, or the legendary token of love he built for his wife, but we do have archaeological evidence of Nebuchadnezzar’s greatest achievement…Babylon.

Sources and further reading:

http://www.ancient.eu.com/Nebuchadnezzar_II/

http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/people/g/nebuchadnezzar.htm

http://www.primitivism.com/lycanthropy.htm

http://revdantheman.com/2009/07/13/a-werewolf-in-the-bible/

http://melissabarrett.hubpages.com/hub/Real-Werewolves-Three-Cases-of-Lycanthropy

http://www.ancient.eu.com/The_Seven_Wonders/

http://www.ancient.eu.com/Ishtar_Gate/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabucco

http://www.pbc.org/system/message_files/7826/4701.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabopolassar

http://books.google.com/books?id=u1By9tEjh6AC&pg=PA92&lpg=PA92&dq=nebuchadnezzar+lycanthropy&source=bl&ots=FaY3-Y2U5P&sig=sT3D2M9jXpOPZ6UeKx6Gr-qvdvE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=e8ZgUpihKZTCyAG6kIDYDQ&ved=0CE4Q6AEwBDgK#v=onepage&q=nebuchadnezzar%20lycanthropy&f=false

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Babylon, Holidays, Kings

 

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Mesopotamia’s gooey symbol of progress

Asphalt is not a very exciting subject. Between you and me, about the only fun I’ve ever had with asphalt before today was when I briefly thought The Clash were singing “Rock the Asphalt,” instead of “Rock the Casbah,” in their song of that title.

And yet here I am, writing about bitumen, better known to us modern people as asphalt, and let me tell you, the stuff is quite fascinating.

Though it’s a thick black substance that you could do anything with but see through, the bitumen and the role it played in Mesopotamia provides a window through which we can see how this gooey stuff helped the Mesopotamian civilization thrive.

Although Mesopotamians were not the first to use bitumen as an adhesive, it seems they had a monopoly on the substance as more than an adhesive for putting tools and weapons together. Sumerians called it esir, and Akkadians called it iddu.

Bitumen oozed out of the ground at various locations in the ancient Middle East, but it did not flow quite like it did in the land between the two rivers, and the needs of the Mesopotamian civilization were such that bitumen played a much bigger role in Mesopotamia than anywhere else in the ancient world.

The city of Hit in central Iraq was, and remains a hub of bitumen deposits, which have been utilized for thousands of years. The Akkadian name for bitumen, iddu, is synonymous with the ancient Mesopotamian name of the city, Id, and iddu translates into “the product from Id.” Though excavations have found that bitumen from Hit was only used in Babylon, Mesopotamians all across the land between the two rivers used bitumen from a number of different places. (Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries: Archaeological Evidence By Peter Roger Stuart Moorey)

Mutterings of the underworld gods

The Mesopotamians not only valued bitumen for its practical uses, but also because they thought the muffled noise they heard coming from around its source, the sound of gas escaping from crevices, was the muttering underworld gods.

In the article titled “Bitumen – A History,” published in Saudi Aramco World Magazine, Zayn Bilkadi wrote:

So important were the bitumen deposits of Hit to the Babylonian and Assyrian kingdoms that the city itself acquired a sacred character. A passage in the annals of King Tukulti Ninurta II (890-884 B.C.) reads: “In front of Hit, by the bitumen springs, the place of the Usmeta stones, in which the gods speak, I spent the night.”

Bilkadi also writes that although bitumen was in use even in prehistoric times, the first people to use it on a large and dependent scale were the settlers of the marshy land in southern Mesopotamia, who occupied the region as early as 4500 BC.

Known as the Ubaids, the settlers of the marshy lands lived in houses made of marsh reeds, which they would bundle together with bulrush fiber. Before bitumen, the Ubaids only coated their walls with mud, leaving them vulnerable to frequent flooding and other elements. Once they discovered bitumen deposits and observed the substance’s behavior as an adhesive and sealant, however, they ditched mud and began coating their homes with bitumen.

A Sumerian reed house impression.

A floating village in Iraq's marsh lands, which features the same type of homes the Ubaids built. (http://www.laputanlogic.com/articles/2004/01/24-0001.html)

The Ubaids didn’t stop with their homes. They also used bitumen to seal their paddle boats, also made of marsh reeds. The Ubaids became the first seafarers to be documented in history, thanks to waterproofed boats allowing them to venture further out to sea.

Moving away from the marsh lands, Mesopotamians were building structures with bricks made out of clay up north, which were not much better than marsh reeds when faced with flooding. With the discovery of bitumen came the ability to build more durable bricks and structures, including the Ziggurat, and the Tower of Babel.

Bitumen in art

According to an entry on the website, PavementInteractive.org, an “online community for all things pavement,” asphalt was also used by the Sumerians to inlay shell, precious stone and pearls on statues and other decorative art, including the sound box of the Golden Lyre of Ur, which featured bitumen as back fill for shell art.

Bitumen acts as back fill and adhesive for shell art on the sound box of the Golden Lyre of Ur.

Finally, we get to a more familiar use for such a substance: the paving of roads.

The first recording of roads being paved with iddu was not until 625 BC, during the 20-year reign of King Naboppolassar (625 BC – 605 BC). The Babylonian king had the road that leads from his palace all the way to the north wall of the city of Babylon paved with asphalt (Source here). His son, Nebuchadnezzar (605 BC-562 BC) also followed suit, and had roads leading from his palace paved in honor of Babylonian gods, driving further the idea that the resource was highly valued. (Source here.)

Procession Street is a wide, walled roadway through the ancient city of Babylon. It is quite fascinating to see the patches of asphalt left over after the wear and tear of centuries. (http://architecture.about.com/od/themiddleeast/ig/Iraq-Photos/Procession-Street-in-Babylon.htm)

Bitumen is Mesopotamia’s symbol of progress

Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II was especially fond of bitumen and is credited with the construction of many amenities throughout the ancient city of Babylon, including a bridge over the Euphrates River held up by piers featuring bitumen, a large sewer system lined with bitumen, and he also laid down the first paved streets with bitumen-mortar.

Bilkadi writes:

To Nebuchadnezzar, bitumen was a daily symbol of progress and prosperity, visible not only in the tower that he cherished, but in every paved street, wall, bath, bridge and drain pipe his workers touched.

I guess King Nebuchadnezzar knew what I might deduce thousands of years later, when I read about how bitumen helped the Mesopotamian civilization thrive.

I will never look at asphalt the same way ever again, and hope you won’t either.

Sources:

http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/198406/bitumen.-.a.history.htm

http://www.laputanlogic.com/articles/2004/01/24-0001.html

http://www.all-art.org/Architecture/3.htm

http://books.google.com/books?id=P_Ixuott4doC&pg=PA334&lpg=PA334&dq=bitumen+in+ancient+mesopotamia&source=bl&ots=bwAwJaC_SC&sig=AlHp-aPz9yHkFcRCy2EpLH3QqEA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=j2oGT_WsAse1gwf824mjAg&sqi=2&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=bitumen%20in%20ancient%20mesopotamia&f=false

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2012 in Babylon, Uncategorized

 

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