Thursday, October 15, 2009

2) Belshazzar’s banquet

Before this background, with Cyrus' army arrayed, we may see Belshazzar's famous banquet4 recorded in Daniel chapter5. There, Belshazzar had ordered to bring in vessels taken from the Temple in Jerusalem, and to drink from them. While doing so, an ominous writing appeared on the wall of the palace, a writing which the wise of Babel could neither read nor understand. Daniel, whom they brought in, and who was apparently fully aware of Baylonia's gloomy situation, deciphered it as "mene, mene, teqel u'pharsin", meaning Babel, being taken now to account, was found wanting, and would be given to the Persians. Odd as it sounds, Belshazzar and his men rewarded Daniel: they made him to the third man in the state (i.e. after the absent King Nabunaides; and Belshazzar), and adorned him with the due insignia.

We may ask, was the banquet in that situation, and the (mis)use of the Temple vessels, an act of sheer pride; or of utter despair; or of a kind of hope that these vessels would help magically; or played all these three motifs together? What was Belshazzar's motif to appoint Daniel to that office, after he and his retinue were rebuked by him, and the impending danger was made clear to them? Was it an attempt to bribe Daniel and acquiesce him over the misuse of the holy Temple vessels; and, perhaps, to win him over to intercede for them in case the Persians should enter the city? Whatever their reasons might have been, their tactics did not work out: Belshazzar was slain the same night, the Babylonians opened the gates of their city, and the Persian army could enter in summer 538 without actual fight. The citizens of Babel, apparently wearied of all the corruptions and cruelties, were ready for a salvation. Preferring the rule of a humane and just king, they subdued to Cyrus, as many other peoples had done so before them.

After Belshazzar slain, it must have been upon Daniel as the highest ranking official in Babylonia to negotiate her surrender to the entering Persians. Their commander, Gobryas, must have been surprised to have before him one of the captive Jews who had just been elevated to this new position of his. Gobryas consulted Cyrus the king, and it was decided that he would come personally to receive formally Babel's surrender. Meantime, Gobryas left Daniel in charge of Babel's affairs. One of his tasks was to prepare for Cyrus' arrival.

Cyrus arrived in autumn - a few days after the Jewish exiles had celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles once more in the country of their captivity. This time, however, they must have celebrated it already in the hope that Cyrus would liberate them as he had liberated other displaced peoples.

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