Chapter 5

Studies In The Book Of Daniel: A Discussion of the Historical Questions by Robert Dick Wilson



  LET me but define the terms and I shall win in almost any argument. Let me use my terms in one sense while my opponent uses the same terms in another sense, and we shall probably never agree. The importance of closely defining the use of terms and using these terms in the sense defined is commonly recognized in the spheres of philosophy, theology, grammar, law, mathematics, in every department of natural science and in every kind of rational discussion. Is man immortal? That depends on how you define immortality. Certainly, his material body is not. Are there three persons in the Trinity? That depends on your definition of person. Is a corporation, an animal, or a plant, a person? That again depends on a definition.

  But the definition of a term in its present uses may differ from the definition of the term in its former, or original use. Thus the word person originally meant “a mask for actors.” Later, it meant a “part acted on the stage.” Then we have its theological, legal, grammatical, and biological uses, all strictly defined. Last of all, there are its common uses to denote an individual human being, or even “the body of a human being, or its characteristic appearance or condition.”

  From the present uses of the word person in English, we learn: First, that it is never used in the sense of its

Page 83

Latin etymon; secondly, that in the sense of “a part acted on the stage,” it has become obsolete; and thirdly, that it has several different uses in common speech and at least four different connotations in as many different sciences. It may be remarked, further, that in no other language, ancient or modern, do we find the word used in just these senses, nor any other single word exactly corresponding to it. To confirm this statement, it is only necessary to turn up an English–Latin, English–French, English–German, or English–what–you–will dictionary.

  It will thus be seen that before making assertions based upon the meanings of the word person in an English work that has been translated from some foreign tongue, it would be best to look up the uses of the term in the original, in order to see if the word there found connotes exactly what person connotes in English. The question of primary importance here is, whether the word translated by person meant the same in the original language that person means in ours. And to find this out, it is not enough to know merely the meaning of the word person in English at the time that the translation was made; but, also, the meaning of the corresponding word in the original document at the time when it was written. If, at the time when the translation is made, there is not in the language into which the translation is made, a word corresponding exactly to the meaning of the original, one of three things must be done: either a new word must be coined, or a new meaning must be given to an old word, or the word of the original must be adopted into the translation.

  Many of the ambiguities of the Scriptures arise from this almost insurmountable difficulty in making

Page 84

a correct translation from the original text. To coin new words, or to take over a word from the original, is often to make the version unintelligible to the ordinary reader for whom the version is primarily prepared; while, to use an old word in a new meaning is to lay the reader open to a misunderstanding of the true sense of a passage. This is the fundamental reason why all appeals in matters of biblical doctrine should be made to the original languages of the Scripture. This is the true and sufficient reason why all discussion among scholars as to the meaning of disputed passages should be based upon the ipsissima verba. This is a firm and ever existing ground for the insistence of the church, that her teachers shall be thoroughly conversant with the original languages of the Word of God. Translations must err, because no given language has terms for expressing thought which exactly correspond to the terminology of another.

  The above discussion will make plain to the lay mind, why it has been thought necessary to devote a large part of this volume to a consideration of the connotations of terms. It is because in the sphere of history as well as in that of theology, philosophy, and science, the divergencies of our authorities have arisen largely from difficulties and ambiguities arising from, and inherent in, the very nature of language, and especially from the inadequacy of one language to express with exactness the ideas involved in the vocables of another. This is a sufficient reason for devoting so much effort to the elucidation of the terms on whose correct definition depends in large measure the issue of the matters in debate.

  The first words to be considered are the words for “king,” because these words constitute the sub-

Page 85

stance of many of the objections against the historicity of the book of Daniel. What is the meaning of the word "king"? Can Nebuchadnezzar have been called “king of Babylon” before the decease of his father Nabopolassar, king of Babylon? May Darius have been king at the same time that Cyrus was king? What is the meaning of the word “kingdom”? May Nabunaid, Belshazzar, and Cyrus, may Darius the Mede and Cyrus, the Persian, have had “the kingdom” at the same time? Upon our answer to these questions will depend largely our attitude to the question of the historicity of the book of Daniel.

  That I may not seem to be beating a man of straw, I shall now revert in the discussion of this matter to my ordinary method of procedure, stating and discussing the various objections, and assumptions involved in them, in so far as they are connected with the definition of the words for king, deferring the discussion of the words for kingdom to the second volume which will be concerned solely with the language of Daniel. First of all I shall consider the case of Nebuchadnezzar.


  Prof. Bertholdt makes the following objection to the possibility of Nebuchadnezzar’s having been called king as early as the third year of Jehoiakim, that is, a year before the death of his father Nabopolassar:

  Jeremiah 25:1 says, that Nebuchadnezzar ascended the throne in Babylon in the fourth year of Jehoiakim. How then is it possible, that according to the composer of this biographical sketch of Daniel, the King Nebuchadnezzar could already in the third year of Jehoiakim have besieged and taken Jerusalem?1

1 Bertholdt’s Daniel, p. 169.

Page 86

  That is, Nebuchadnezzar could not have been called “king of Babylon” in describing what he did in the third year of Jehoiakim, since he did not as a matter of fact become king until the latter’s fourth year. Hence, only someone ignorant of this fact could possibly have written Daniel 1:1. As a man carried away by Nebuchadnezzar and living at Nebuchadnezzar’s court cannot have been ignorant of such a simple matter, the mis–statement cannot possibly have been penned by the Daniel of tradition or by a contemporary of his, unless, forsooth, he had wished to misrepresent the facts.


  It will be noted, that this objection is valid only when we make one or more of the following assumptions in regard to the use of the word “king”:

  1. That one cannot truthfully refer to a man as king, unless he was reigning at the time referred to. 2. That a man related to a king may not have been called king for the sake of distinction or honor. 3. That the word for king as used by Daniel must have had the same meaning, the same connotation that we would assign to it to-day.


All of the assumptions just stated must be shown to be true, before we will admit that it is a valid objection to the book of Daniel that the author calls Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon before the decease of his father Nabopolassar. If, however, any one of these assumptions be false, the critics must admit that Nebuchadnezzar may have been called king before he actu-

Page 87

ally ascended the throne, either proleptically, or for distinction or honor, or in some sense different from that in which he was king after the decease of his father.

  Accordingly, we shall attempt to show the invalidity of these assumptions, following the order given above.

  I. (1) First, then, it is assumed, that it is a mistake of Daniel to have called Nebuchadnezzar “king of Babylon” when referring to an act which he performed before he had actually become king. We might dismiss the objection as puerile, were it not apparently made in all seriousness. Taking the matter up seriously, then, let us ask the question what would an author of the Book of Daniel writing in 535 B.C., or thereabout, have desired his readers to understand with regard to the man who in the third year of Jehoiakim led the expedition against Jerusalem. Obviously, only so much as he deemed necessary to the reader’s understanding, of the story of Daniel and his three companions, which it was his purpose to relate. He attains this end by telling us that this man besieged Jerusalem and secured, perhaps in order to insure his departure without capturing the city, a number of captives of the better sort, probably as hostages; and, as a ransom, a part of the vessels of the house of the Lord. Captives and vessels were both brought to Babylon, the former to serve as eunuchs in the palace, the latter to be used in the service of the gods.

  Notice, that all of these preliminary statements are necessary to an understanding of the story that follows. They introduce us to the dramatis personæ of the story. Now, it is certain, that the tale of dramatis personæ would not be complete if the author omitted the name of the hero or villain, who was none other than Nebu-

Page 88

chadnezzar, the King of Babylon. It is not Nebuchadnezzar, the man, nor the general, nor the son of the king of Babylon, nor the crown prince, that is the principal personage of the book, but Nebuchadnezzar the king, the king of great Babylon which he boasted to have built,—the king, proud, haughty, defiant, putting his claims before those of God and oppressing his true worshipers. Now, the writer might have said, to be sure, that in the third year of Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar, while acting as general for his father Nabopolassar, came up against Jerusalem and besieged it and was given hostages and a ransom to induce him to depart without capturing the city; that he did thus depart, having been informed about that time that his father was dead and that he had in consequence become king of Babylon de jure; that he returned to Babylon to assert his claims to be king de facto, bringing, or causing to be brought with him the hostages and vessels he had taken; and that he, as king, put the hostages in his palace and the vessels in his temple. This would have been explicit and detailed as to the acts of Nebuchadnezzar; but will anyone say that it is more illuminating as to who he was? Writing seventy years after the expedition recorded in Daniel 1:1, and twenty-five years after the death of the general in command of the expedition, the author would naturally suppose that his readers would know whom he meant when he calls him Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. Just as, to quote Sir Robert Anderson,1 the newspapers at the time of the unveiling of the statue of Queen Victoria at Kensington Gardens, spoke of the Queen's having once lived in Kensington Palace; whereas she lived there only before she became Queen. So we have lives

1 Daniel in the Critics Den, p. 20.

Page 89

of the Emperor Augustus, or of the Empress Catherine of Russia, or of President Grant, beginning in each case with an account of what they were and of what they did before they attained the highest titles by which they are now known.

  (2) It is assumed, that the phrase “king of X” can be used only of a man who was de facto king, when some deed said to have been done by him or to him was accomplished. But who can see any impropriety in the phrase “Jesse begat David the king” in Matthew 1:6? Everyone knows it means “David who afterwards became king.” Or who would pronounce it a mistake in 2 Kings 25:27, when it is said that Evil-Merodach “did lift up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah”? Obviously, it means “Jehoiachin who thirty-seven years before had been king of Judah.” So, if the writer of the book of Daniel composed his book about 535 B.C., he may very well have called Nebuchadnezzar “king of Babylon” when referring to a time before he had become king, meaning “that Nebuchadnezzar who some time after became king of Babylon,” or “whom you, my readers, know as having been king of Babylon.”

  II. It is assumed that the phrase may not have been used simply for the sake of distinction or honor. But (1) as a title of distinction the phrase “the king” is used in Matthew 1:6, to distinguish the particular David meant. In Daniel 1:2, Jehoiakim is called “king of Judah” to show clearly the particular Jehoiakim that was meant. So, also, Nebuchadnezzar is called, or may be called “king of Babylon” in Daniel 1:1, to distinguish him from any other possible Nebuchadnezzar. In the second century B.C. everyone in Palestine may well have known but one Nebuchadnezzar and the title

Page 90

would scarcely have been necessary. But at Babylon in the sixth century B.C., there may have been many Nebuchadnezzars. Certainly, in the seventh century there were two Nebuchadnezzars.1 Besides, a son of Nabunaid was almost certainly so called; for if not, why did the two usurpers, the rebels against Darius Hystaspis mentioned on the Behistun Inscription, assume that name?2

  (2) The word “king” may have been used to denote the son of the king. It is so used in the Arabic of the Arabian Nights in the story of Taj-el-Molouk, where the prince is twice called “a king, the son of a king,” although his father Suleiman was still reigning.3 In like manner “queen” is frequently. used to denote the unmarried daughter of a king, although she was not reigning; just as in England they would say “the Princess Victoria”4 Antiochus Soter, calls himself “king of the lands,” Seleacus his son “king” and Stratonike his wife “queen.”5 In Greek, also, the word for king is used of the son of the king or of anyone sharing in the government.6

  (3) The word “king” may also have been used to denote the father of a king, although this father may never have actually reigned. How else can we account for the fact, that Nergal-shar-usur on the Cylinder inscription at Cambridge calls his father Bel-shum-ishkun “king of Babylon,”7 whereas on the Ripley

1 Johns, Assyrian Deeds and Documents, iii, 230.

2 There are several tablets from Babylon assigned to Nebuchadnezzar III who claimed to be the son of Nabunaid. See Peiser in KB iv, 298–303.

3 Lane, ii, 336.

4 Compare the use of “queen” in the Arabian Nights stories of Badoura and Marouf, Lane, ii, 542.

5 Weissbach, Die Keilinschriften der Achæmeniden, p. 135.

6 Od., iii, 394; viii, 290; Xen., OEc., iv, 16.

7 KB iii, 72.

Page 91

Cylinder, he calls his father simply “the wise prince, the perfect lord, guardian (keeper) of the guards, or watch towers, of E–sag–il and Babylon.”1 Of course, Bet–shum–ishkun may have been a sub-king of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar, or Evil–Merodach, or even under his own son Nergal–shar–usur. Or the title “king” applied to him may have been simply an honorific title of respect. In either case, it illustrates the fact that the title "king" was not confined to the reigning monarch, to the king of kings; and thus, the use of the title as applied to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 1:1, to Belshazzar in Daniel 7:1, and to Darius in Daniel 9:1, is fully justified by analogy.

  It is possible, too, that Darius in the Behistun Inscription uses the word king in this broader sense of his father Hystaspis, and of other ancestors (Col. i, 8); for in the other places where Hystaspis is mentioned he is called simply the father of Darius,2 -or merely Hystaspis without any further designation.3 Moreover, Herodotus speaks of Hystaspis as having been in the time of Smerdis the Magian simply the hyparch, or governor, of Persia.4

  III. Finally, it may be remarked that the Hebrew melek and the Aramaic malka, the words uniformly translated by “king” in the English versions, by rex in the Latin Vulgate, by basileus in Greek, and by corresponding words in the modern European versions of the Scriptures, are almost certain to be misunderstood by us, because of the arbitrary manner in which we have fixed their connotation. When we think of a king, there comes up before us the image of King

1 KB, iii, ii, 76, Col. i, 1. 11–13. "Rubu emga idlum gitmalum nasir massartim E-sag-it u Babili.”

2 So i, 2, 4; ii, 93 et al.3 So ii, 94; iii. 2, 3, 4, 7 et al.4 Book III, 70

Page 92

Edward, or King Alfred, of Henry the Fourth, or Louis XIV of France, of Alexander of Macedon, or Rameses king of the Egyptians. Or we think of the king of Greece, or Denmark, or Portugal, in modern times, or of the kings of Israel, Judah, and Moab in ancient times. That is, we think of a ruler of an independent people, or country. Where we have subject peoples, or subordinate countries, we usually call the supreme ruler emperor. Or we call him Kaiser as in Germany, the kings of Saxony, Bavaria, and Wüttemberg being second in authority to him. Some times the same man is emperor and king at the same time, as in the cases of George V, king of England and emperor of India; or William II, king of Prussia and German Kaiser. As emperor of India, King George his many subject and allied rajahs or kings, of whom he may be called the king of kings, or the lord paramount. As German Kaiser, William II has associated with him kings, grand dukes, dukes, princes, and lesser potentates.

  Now, among the ancient Greeks and Romans, and among most of the Semitic races, there was in each case but a single term which might be employed indiscriminately to denote the ruler of a city, of a kingdom, or of an empire. In Greek the word basileus was employed to denote the ruler of a city such as the kings of Sparta, Argos, and other cities; of countries, great or small, such as Macedon, and Cilicia, and Lydia, and Media, and Egypt; or of the great empires of Esarhaddon, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, and Alexander. Thus Adrastus was king of the city of Sicyon;l Syennesis was king of the subject-state of Cilicia,2 and Darius was the king of the empire of Persia.3 In Latin, Rom-

l Herod., v, 67.     2 Xen., Anab., i, 2.     3 Id., i, I.

Page 93

ulus was king (rex) of the city of Rome;1 Herod was subject-king of Judea;2 and Pacorus was king of the independent empire of Persia.3 In Hebrew, the word melek, was used to denote the ruler of a city, as in Joshua 12:9-24, where thirty-one kings of cities are mentioned; or of a small country, such as the kings of Aram, Judah, and Israel; or of the kings of kings, such as, Esarhaddon, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, and Darius. In Arabic, a malik, or king, ruled over a single city,4 or over a province, or over an empire.5

  In Aramaic, the malka ruled over a city,6 or a small country, as the kings of Samal7 or a subject nation, as the king of Urha;8 or an empire, as the rulers of the Greek Empire and of Persia.9 Finally, in Assyrian, the word for king was used to denote the kings of cities, as “Luli king of the city of Sidon”;10 the kings of subject provinces, as in the long list of subject kings, governors, and prefects, of the land of Egypt in the Rassam Cylinder of Ashurbanipal;11 and the king of kings, as in the oft-recurring phrase “so and so, king of nations, king of Assyria, etc.” From the above, it will be seen that a “king” might

1 Livy, Bk. 1.    2 Tacitus, History, v, 9.    3 Id.

4 E.g., there was a king of the city of Balsora while Haroun Al Raslid was sultan of Bagdad. See the Arabian Nights in Lane's translation, i, 254. Compare also the story of the Second Royal Memdicant, id., i, 73, and the story of Marouf, id., ii, 537.

5 For examples of the last two uses see Ibn Hisham’s Life of Muhammed, vol. ii, p. 971, where the Kaiser at Constantinople is called King, of the Romans, and the Mukaukas king of Alexandria (i.e., Egypt), the latter being a province of the Græco–Roman empire.

6 Aramaic Targum and Syriac versions of Joshua 12.    7 Sendshirli Inscriptions.    8 Addai the Apostle.

9 Joshua the Stylite, passim, and the Egyptian Papyri.    10 KB ii, 90.    11 Id. ii, 160-162.

Page 94

rule over any extent of territory from a single city to an empire.


  The above discussion has, we think, made it clear that a man who was not actually reigning at the time to which some event in his life is afterwards referred might rightly be called king, by a writer who was describing that event after the man had really been clothed with the royal dignity. It has shown, also, that a man who was never king in the sense of having himself reigned de facto, or de jure, might be called king by way of distinction or honor, because he was in some way related to the reigning king. Lastly, it has shown that the word used for king by the ancient writers is to be defined not by the modern usus loquendi, nor by the conception which one may have formed from present-day usage, but in harmony with the manner in which the word was employed in antiquity and in the particular language to which the term, by us translated “king,” belonged. Judged by these three rules there is no good reason why the author of Daniel may not properly and justly have called Nebuchadnezzar “the king of Babylon,” when referring to an event in his life that happened before he had actually ascended the throne of his father.

Page 95

Home Up Chapter 6

Studies In The Book Of Daniel: A Discussion Of The Historical Questions by Robert Dick Wilson. New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, 1917.

E-Text transcribed by hand from the 1917 edition.

Please do not take my material without permission! You are welcome to link to these pages.

[Display Problems?]