Daniel 5
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

While Belshazzar and his lords are at a feast, impiously drinking their wine from cups which had belonged once to the Temple at Jerusalem, the fingers of a man’s hand appear writing upon the wall. The king, in alarm, summons his wise men to interpret what was written; but they are unable to do so (Daniel 5:1-9). At the suggestion of the queen Daniel is called, who interprets the words to signify that the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom are numbered, and that it is about to be given to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:10-28). Daniel is invested with purple and a chain of gold, and made one of the three chief ministers of the kingdom (Daniel 5:29). The same night Belshazzar is slain, and “Darius the Mede” receives the kingdom (Daniel 5:30-31).

Nearly 70 years have elapsed since the events narrated in ch. 1.; so that Daniel must now be pictured as an aged man, at least 80 years old.

On Belshazzar, see the Introduction. Nebuchadnezzar reigned from b.c. 604 to 561; and Babylon fell into the hands of Cyrus 23 years after his death, b.c. 538. The inscriptions have made it clear that Belshazzar was not king of Babylon, as he is here represented as being: Nabu-na’id (who reigned for 17 years, from 555 to 538) was the last king of Babylon; Belshazzar is called regularly “the king’s son,” and he bore this title to the day of his death. For a series of years, during his father’s reign, he is mentioned as being with the army in the country of Akkad (N. Babylonia). After Gubaru and Cyrus had entered Babylon, and governors had been established by them in the city, he is said (according to the most probable reading[253]) to have been slain by Gubaru ‘during the night,’ i.e. (apparently) in some assault made by night upon the fortress or palace to which he had withdrawn. Nabu-na’id was a quiet, unwarlike king; and Belshazzar, as general, may have distinguished himself, at the time when Cyrus took possession of Babylon, in such a manner as to eclipse his father,—with the result that in the imagination of later ages he was himself regarded as ‘king’ of Babylon.

[253] See above, p. xxx, ll. 22, 23.

Nebuchadnezzar in ch. 4 was the personification of pride: Belshazzar is the personification of profanity as well; and his fall is all the more tragic and complete: in a single night the brilliant revel is changed, first into terror and bewilderment, and then into disaster and death. Herodotus (i. 191), and Xenophon (Cyrop. vii. Daniel 5:15-31), testify to the existence of a tradition that Babylon was taken by Cyrus during the night, while the inhabitants were all feasting. This tradition is shewn now by the inscriptions (p. xxxi) to be unhistorical, at least in the form in which these writers report it; but it is, of course, not impossible that Belshazzar was holding a feast in the night on which he was slain by Gubaru. Even, however, though this may have been the case, there are features in the representation of the present chapter which so conflict with history as to make it evident that we are not dealing with an account written by a contemporary hand, but with a narrative, constructed doubtless upon a basis supplied by tradition, but written, as a whole, for the purpose of impressing a moral lesson. Those who regard the Book as dating from the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes often think that the chapter may be intended indirectly to allude to him: his audacity and impiety are mentioned pointedly in Daniel 8:10-11, Daniel 11:36-38; in 1Ma 1:21-24 we read that he ‘entered proudly into the sanctuary’ and robbed it of the golden altar, and most of the other sacred vessels; and so it is thought that the fate which is elsewhere (Daniel 8:25, Daniel 11:45) distinctly predicted for the impious Syrian prince, is here indirectly hinted at by the nemesis which overtakes the profanity of Belshazzar.

Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand.
1. Belshazzar] Babyl. Bêl-shar-uṣur, ‘Bel, protect the king!’ LXX. Theod. and Vulg. confuse this name with Belteshazzar (Daniel 1:7), representing both by Βαλτασαρ, ‘Baltassar.’

to a thousand of his lords] in accordance with the magnificence of Eastern monarchs.

and drank, &c.] and before the thousand was drinking wine. By ‘before’ is no doubt meant, facing the guests, at a separate table, on a raised dais at the end of the banqueting-hall. We have little or no information respecting the custom of the king at state-banquets in Babylon: but something similar is reported, or may be inferred, of royal banquets among the Persians (Athen. iv. 26, p. 145 c, ll. 1–3; cf. Rawl. Anc. Mon.4 iii. 215), and Parthians (Athen. iv. 38, p. 153 a–b).

Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein.
2. whiles] the genitive sing. of the subst. while (as in ‘for a while’), used adverbially (cf. ‘needs,’ ‘upwards’). It occurs in A.V. Daniel 9:20-21; Ezekiel 21:29 (twice), Ezekiel 44:17; Hosea 7:6; Matthew 5:25; Acts 5:4; 2 Corinthians 9:13; and several times in Shakespeare, as Much Ado, iv. 1, 221, ‘What we have we prize not to the worth, Whiles we enjoy it, Meas. for Meas. iv. 3, 84; Jul. Caes. i. 2. 209.

whiles he tasted the wine] in the taste—i.e. enjoyment—of the wine, when he began to feel the influence of the wine.

commanded, &c.] an act, under the circumstances, of wanton and defiant impiety.

the golden and silver vessels, &c.] see Daniel 1:2.

his father] Belshazzar is not known to have been related to Nebuchadnezzar: his father was Nabu-na’id, a usurper, the son of one Nabo-balâṭsu-iḳbi, and expressly said (see Introd. pp. xxvii, li) to have been unconnected with Nebuchadnezzar’s family.

‘Father’ may, however, by Hebrew usage, be understood to mean grandfather (Genesis 28:13; Genesis 32:10; cf. 1 Kings 15:13 for great-grandfather); and there remains the possibility that Nabu-na’id may have sought to strengthen his position by marrying a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, in which case, of course, Nebuchadnezzar would be ‘Belshazzar’s grandfather on his mother’s side (see however, p. li, [254].).

[254] The supposition, sometimes made, that he was ‘co-regent’ with his father is also destitute of foundation in the inscriptions.

2. princes] lords, as Daniel 5:1. So Daniel 5:3.

his wives] his consorts: so Daniel 5:3; Daniel 5:23. The word is a rare one, being found otherwise in the O.T. only in Nehemiah 2:6 (of the queen of Artaxerxes), and Psalm 45:9[255].

[255] It is read by some scholars conjecturally in Jdg 5:30 (‘for the neck of the consort,’—שׁגל for שׁלל). The coguate verb means to ravish (Isaiah 13:16 al.)

concubines] so Daniel 5:3; Daniel 5:23. Not the usual Hebrew word, but one found also in the Aramaic of the Targums. Cf. Song of Solomon 6:8, where ‘queens’ and ‘concubines’ are mentioned side by side.

The presence of women at feasts was not usual in antiquity (cf., of Persia, Esther 1:10-12); but there is some evidence, though slight, that it was allowed in Babylon (Xen. Cyrop. v. ii. 28; and, in the age of Alexander, Curtius v. i. 38). The LXX. translator, feeling probably some difficulty in the statement, omits the clause relating to the ‘wives and concubines’ both here and Daniel 5:3; Daniel 5:23.

Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them.
They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.
In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
5. In the same hour] in the midst of their godless revelry (Daniel 5:4). Cf. for the expression Daniel 3:6; Daniel 3:15, Daniel 4:33.

over against] in front of, or opposite to, the candlestick; and hence a part of the wall where the light was particularly bright.

the plaister] lit. the chalk. The place was consequently white: and any dark object moving upon it would be immediately visible. In the great halls of Babylonian palaces the brick walls were probably, as in the palaces of Assyria, lined to a height of 10–12 ft. above the ground with slabs of a kind of alabaster, ornamented with elaborate bas-reliefs, and often brilliantly coloured (cf. Ezekiel 23:4): in their upper part, also, the walls seem to have been usually painted, but the plaster may sometimes have been left white. Comp. Layard, Nineveh and its Remains5, i. 254–7, 262 f., Nineveh and Babylon, p. 651, Rawl., Anc. Mon.4 ii. 283.

the part] the palm or hollow; the word (in the fem.) is used in the Targums and in Syriac in this sense (e.g. 1 Kings 18:44). “We must suppose the hand to have appeared above the place where the king was reclining” (Bevan).

Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.
6. countenance] lit. brightness (i.e. healthy freshness and colour): cf. Daniel 4:36. So Daniel 5:9-10; Daniel 7:28. Cf. the Targum (Onk.) of Deuteronomy 34:7, ‘And the glorious brightness of his face was not changed.’

was changed] i.e. grew pale through fear. If the text be correct, the word used can be rendered only ‘was changed for him’ (hence R.V. in him); but the construction which this rendering presupposes, though found occasionally in Hebrew[256], is doubtful in Aramaic. Probably was changed is right, though two letters in the Aram. should be omitted.

[256] Ges.-Kautzsch, § 117. 4, Rem. 3.

his thoughts alarmed him] Cf. Daniel 4:19. ‘Troubled’ is altogether too weak.

the joints of his loins were loosed, &c.] He trembled violently, and could not stand firm. Cf. Od. xviii. 341 λύθεν δʼ ὑπὸ γυῖα ἑκάστης Ταρβοσύνῃ.

The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.
7. aloud] lit. with might, as Daniel 3:4, Daniel 4:14. Not simply ‘commanded,’ but ‘cried aloud’: the king’s alarm was reflected in the tones of his voice.

the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the determiners (of fates)] Cf. Daniel 4:7; and see on Daniel 1:21, Daniel 2:2; Daniel 2:27.

spake] answered (Daniel 2:20). So Daniel 5:10.

the wise men of Babylon] Daniel 2:12; Daniel 2:14, &c.

shew me] declare to me (Daniel 2:4; Daniel 2:6, &c.).

scarlet] purple (R.V.), as Exodus 25:4; Jdg 8:26, &c. So Daniel 5:16; Daniel 5:29. Purple was a royal, or princely, colour among the Persians (Esther 8:15; Xen. Anab. i. Daniel 5:8), the Medes (Cyrop. i. iii. 2, ii. iv. 6), and also (it may be inferred) among the Seleucidae (1Ma 10:20; 1Ma 10:62; 1Ma 10:64; 1Ma 14:43 f.; cf. Daniel 8:14).

a chain of gold about his neck] Cf. Genesis 41:42, where Pharaoh decorates Joseph similarly. A golden necklace was worn also by Persians of rank (cf. Xen. Anab. i. Daniel 5:8, viii. 29); and was given sometimes by the Persian kings as a compliment or mark of distinction: in Hdt. iii. 20 Cambyses sends ‘a purple garment, a golden necklace, bracelets,’ with other presents, to the Ethiopians; and in Xen. Anab. I. ii. 27 the younger Cyrus gives one to Syennesis. (The word, hamnuk or hamnik, occurs in the O.T. only here and Daniel 5:16; Daniel 5:29. It is probably of Persian origin [hamyânak], a diminutive from hämyân ‘girdle.’ It is found in the Targums, in the form měnîk and in Syriac as hamnîk and hemnîk (see Genesis 41:42, Onk. and Pesh.); and it made its way into Greek as μανιάκης, LXX. Theod. here, Polyb., &c.).

and shall rule as one of three in the kingdom] So R.V. marg. The expression (which recurs Daniel 5:16; Daniel 5:29) is difficult. The rendering of A.V. is however certainly not tenable. The word rendered ‘third’ in A.V. is not that which is used anywhere else (either in the Targums or in Daniel) to denote the ordinal; but resembles most closely the word (tiltâ or tûltâ) which both in the Targums and in Syriac means. a third part (e.g. 2 Kings 11:5-6, ‘a third part of you’). Hence the literal rendering appears to be, ‘shall rule as a third part in the kingdom,’ i.e. have a third part of the supreme authority in the country, be one of the three chief ministers, ‘rule as one of three.’ Cf. LXX. δοθήσεται αὐτῷ ἐξουσία τοῦ τρίτου μέρους τῆς βασιλείας.

Then came in all the king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof.
8. The wise men, however, failed either to read or to explain the writing.

Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him, and his lords were astonied.
9. greatly troubled] greatly alarmed,—a climax upon Daniel 5:6.

and his brightness was changed upon him] ‘upon’ in accordance with the principle explained on Daniel 2:1.

were astonied] were confused or (R.V.) perplexed.

Now the queen, by reason of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:
10. the queen] probably, as most commentators assume,—partly because she is distinguished from the ‘wives’ or ‘consorts’ mentioned in Daniel 5:2, partly on account of the manner in which she speaks in Daniel 5:11 of what had happened in the days of Nebuchadnezzar,—the queen-mother, i.e. (in the view of the writer) Nebuchadnezzar’s widow[257]. In both Israel and Judah the mother of the reigning king is mentioned as an influential person, 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 10:13; 2 Kings 24:12; 2 Kings 24:15; Jeremiah 13:18; Jeremiah 29:2.

[257] Nabu-na’id’s actual mother died eight years previously, in his ninth year, as is expressly stated in the ‘Annalistic Tablet,’ ii. 13 (KB. iii. 2, p. 131; RP.2 v. 160).

O king, live for ever] Cf. on Daniel 2:4.

trouble] alarm, as Daniel 5:6.

There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;
11. in whom is the spirit, &c.] As Daniel 4:8, where see the note.

thy father] see on Daniel 5:2.

like the wisdom of (the) gods] Cf. 2 Samuel 14:20. The queen, however, speaks as a polytheist.

made master of the magicians, &c.] See Daniel 2:48 and Daniel 4:9.

enchanters, Chaldeans, and determiners (of fates)] As Daniel 5:7.

Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.
12. an excellent spirit] a surpassing spirit, i.e. pre-eminent ability. Cf. Daniel 5:14, Daniel 6:3; and see on Daniel 2:31. The Aramaic word used stands often in the Syriac version of the N.T. for πλεῖον and περισσότερον, as Matthew 6:25; Matthew 11:9; Matthew 12:42.

interpreting … dissolving] These two English words are, of course, substantives. The meaning of the passage is, no doubt, given correctly, but it involves a change of punctuation: in the original, the two words, as actually pointed, are participles and out of construction with the context.

shewing of hard sentences] declaring of riddles. As Prof. Bevan remarks, the two Aramaic words here used correspond exactly to the two Hebrew words found in Jdg 14:14-15; Jdg 14:19, and there rendered ‘declare the riddle.’ ‘Hard’ or (R.V.) ‘dark sentences,’ or ‘sayings’ (Psalm 49:4; Psalm 78:2; Proverbs 1:6) is an obscure expression, the retention of which in the R.V. is to be regretted. The Hebrew word is the same as that which is used in 1 Kings 10:1 of the ‘hard questions’ with which the Queen of Sheba plied Solomon. It is also used of an allegory Ezekiel 17:2, of an ‘enigma’ of life, Psalm 49:4, of a truth taught indirectly Psalm 78:2, and of a satirical poem, containing indirect, taunting allusions, Habakkuk 2:6. Orientals love both actual riddles and also indirect, figurative modes of speech; and the power of explaining either the one or the other is highly esteemed by them.

dissolving of doubts] loosing of knots: i.e. either solving of difficulties (cf. the same word in the Talm., Jebamoth 61a (‘I see a knot [difficulty] here,’ 107b ‘they made two knots [raised two difficulties] against him’; it has also the same sense of perplexity in Syriac, P.S[258] col. 3591); or (Bevan) untying of magic knots or spells (cf. this sense of the word in Syriac, ‘tiers of knots,’ of a species of enchanters, ‘incantations and knots,’ P.S[259] l. c.), to accomplish which demanded special skill.

[258] .S. R. Payne Smith, Thesaurus Syriacus.

[259] .S. R. Payne Smith, Thesaurus Syriacus.

whom the king named Belteshazzar] See Daniel 1:7.

and he will shew] declare (Daniel 5:7).

Then was Daniel brought in before the king. And the king spake and said unto Daniel, Art thou that Daniel, which art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Jewry?
13. spake] answered.

Art thou that Daniel] Art thou Daniel. The pron. thou is emphatic; but ‘that’ implies a false view of the syntax of the sentence (cf. on Daniel 2:38 and Daniel 3:15).

who is of the children of the exile of Judah, &c.] See Daniel 2:25.

Jewry] Judah. ‘Jewry,’ i.e., the country of the Jews, is an old English expression for Judah (or Judæa): in A.V. it occurs besides in Luke 23:5 and John 7:1, as well as frequently in the Apocrypha. It is a standing expression in Coverdale’s version of the Bible (1535); and from him it passed into Psalm 76:1 in the P.B.V. Shakespeare uses it seven times; e.g. ‘Herod of Jewry,’ A. and Cl. i. 2, 28, iii. 3, 3.

I have even heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom is found in thee.
14. I have heard (R.V.), &c.] Daniel 5:11.

excellent wisdom] surpassing (Daniel 5:12) wisdom (Daniel 5:11).

And now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof: but they could not shew the interpretation of the thing:
15. the astrologers] the enchanters (Daniel 1:20).

shew] declare.

And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts: now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom.
16. make] better give (R.V.); lit. interpret.

dissolve doubts] loose knots. See on Daniel 5:12.

thou shalt be clothed with purple, &c.] As Daniel 5:7.

and rule as one of three in the kingdom] See on Daniel 5:7.

Then Daniel answered and said before the king, Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
17. Daniel rejects the proffered honours: he will read the writing; but he will do so quite irrespectively of any promises made to him by the heathen king.

before the king] cf. on Daniel 2:8.

rewards] See the note on Daniel 2:6.

yet] nevertheless (R.V.) brings out the force of the adverb used more distinctly (cf. Daniel 4:15; Daniel 4:23 [R.V.]).

O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour:
18–24. Before interpreting the writing Daniel reads the king a lesson. Nebuchadnezzar’s pride, combined with his refusal to recognize the sovereignty of the true God, had brought upon him a bitter humiliation: Belshazzar has exhibited the same faults yet more conspicuously: and the present sign has been sent in order to warn him of the impending punishment.

18 the kingdom, and greatness, and glory, and majesty] Cf. Daniel 4:22; Daniel 4:36.

And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down.
19. and because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages, &c.] Cf. Daniel 3:4.

trembled and feared before him] dreading what he might do next.

whom he would he slew, &c.] he acted as though he possessed the attributes of Deity, and was accountable to no superior. Similar expressions are used elsewhere of the action of God: e.g. Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6-7; Psalm 75:7.

set up] lifted up (or exalted): the word used in Psalm 75:7; Psalm 89:19; Psalm 113:7, &c.

But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him:
20. was lifted up] Cf. Deuteronomy 8:14; Deuteronomy 17:20; Ezekiel 31:10, &c.

and his spirit was hardened that he dealt proudly (R.V.)] ‘was hardened’ is literally was strong (i.e. stiff, unyielding): the same word (teḳaph) is used in the Targums for the Hebrew ḥâzaḳ, ḥizzçḳ ‘to be or make strong (hard)’ in Exodus 7:13; Exodus 7:22; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 9:35, &c. (of Pharaoh’s heart). Cf. Deuteronomy 2:30.

they took his glory] or, his glory was taken, according to the principle explained on Daniel 4:25.

And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.
21. See Daniel 4:25; Daniel 4:32-33.

the wild asses] An untamable animal, which roamed in the open plains (see Job 39:5-8; and cf. Genesis 16:12): to dwell with the wild asses would thus be a special mark of wildness and savagery.

they fed him] or he was fed (R.V.): Daniel 4:25; Daniel 4:32 (‘make to eat’).

till he knew, &c.] Daniel 4:25; Daniel 4:32.

appointeth] setteth up (R.V.), as Daniel 4:17 (A.V.) for the same word. ‘Appointeth’ is not strong enough.

And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this;
22–23. But Belshazzar, in spite of the warning afforded by Nebuchadnezzar’s fate, has sinned still more deeply, and by wanton sacrilege has deliberately defied the God of heaven.

But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified:
23. and they have brought, &c.] See Daniel 5:2-4.

which see not, nor hear, nor know] Cf. Deuteronomy 4:28; Psalm 115:5-6; Psalm 135:16-17.

in whose hand thy breath is] who is the author of thy life and being. Cf. Genesis 2:7; Job 12:10.

thy ways] i.e. thy destinies. Cf. Jeremiah 10:23.

Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.
24. Then was the palm (Daniel 5:5) of the hand sent forth from before him; and this writing was inscribed] Daniel 5:5. Then is here equivalent, virtually, to hence, therefore.

And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
25. written] inscribed (R.V.). The word is not the one that ordinarily means to write, but one that means rather to print or stamp.

Mene (pron. měnê, to rhyme with bewray), Mene, Tekel (pron. těkêl, to rhyme with bewail), Upharsin] in the explanation (Daniel 5:28), we have, for upharsîn, pĕrês (to rhyme with deface), which is just the singular of parsîn (or, where a vowel, as here u, precedes, pharsîn), u being ‘and.’ Měnê as the pass. part, of Měnâ, to number, might mean ‘numbered’; but if the present vocalization is correct, těḳêl cannot mean ‘weighed,’ nor pĕrês ‘divided.’ These two words, as they stand, must be substantives. The true explanation of the four words is probably that which was first suggested by Clermont-Ganneau[260], and which has since been adopted by Nöldeke and others. They are really the names of three weights, měnê being the correct Aramaic form of the Hebrew mâneh, the m’na (μνᾶ), těḳêl being the Aramaic form of the Hebrew sheḳel, and pĕrês (or more correctly pěrâs), properly division, being a late Jewish word for a half-m’na. Thus the four words are really a m’na, a m’na, a shekel, and half-m’nas. The puzzle consisted partly in the character or manner in which they were supposed to have been written—an unfamiliar form of the Aramaic character, for instance, or, as the mediaeval Jews suggested, a vertical instead of a horizontal arrangement of the letters; partly in the difficulty of attaching any meaning to them, even when they were read: what could the names of three weights signify?[261] Here Daniel’s skill in the ‘declaring of riddles’ (Daniel 5:12) comes in. Měnê itself means ‘numbered,’ as well as ‘a m’na’: it is accordingly interpreted at once as signifying that the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom are ‘numbered,’ and approaching their end. Těḳêl, ‘shekel,’ suggests těḳîl, ‘weighed’: ‘Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.’ Parsin, ‘half-m’nas,’ or pěrês (pěrâs), ‘a half-shekel,’ points allusively to a double interpretation: ‘Thy kingdom is divided (pěrîs)[262], and given to the Medes and Persians’ (Aramaic pâras).

[260] Journal Asiatique, Juillet-Août, 1886, p. 36 ff. Reprinted in Recueil d’ Archéol. Orientate, i. (1888), p. 136 ff.

[261] For the names of common objects interpreted significantly, see Jeremiah 1:11-12; Jeremiah 19:1; Jeremiah 19:7 (Heb.), Amos 8:1.

[262] The word occurs in Heb. in this sense, e.g. Leviticus 11:3-5; and of dividing bread, Isaiah 57:7 (‘deal’), Jeremiah 16:7 (R.V. ‘break’).

25–28. The reading and interpretation of the writing.

This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
26. finished it] completed it, given it its full and complete measure of time. Cp. the cognate adj. in Genesis 15:16 (‘full,’ ‘complete’).

TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.
PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.
28. the Medes and Persians] See on Daniel 5:31.

Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
29. Belshazzar fulfils the promise given in Daniel 5:16. The unconcern exhibited by the king at Daniel’s interpretation, especially in presence of what (as Daniel 5:30 shews) could hardly have been a distant or unsuspected danger, is scarcely consistent with historical probability.

scarlet] purple, as Daniel 5:7; Daniel 5:16.

that he should be ruler as one of three in the kingdom] See on Daniel 5:7.

In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain.
And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.
31. And Darius the Median (or the Mede, as Daniel 11:1) received the kingdom] The idea of the writer appears to be that the Medes and Persians were acting in concert at the time of the capture of Babylon (Daniel 5:28); but that when the city was taken, ‘Darius the Mede,’ by a joint arrangement between the two peoples (or their rulers), ‘received’ the kingdom, or (Daniel 9:1) ‘was made king,’ and (ch. 6) took up his residence in Babylon as his capital. Darius, though bound by the laws of the two allied peoples, the ‘Medes and Persians’ (Daniel 6:8; Daniel 6:12; Daniel 6:15), clearly, in ch. 6, acts not as viceroy for another but as an independent king, organising his kingdom into satrapies (Daniel 6:1), otherwise both acting as king and receiving the title of ‘king’ (Daniel 6:3; Daniel 6:7-8, &c., 25): his reign, moreover, precedes, and is distinct from, that of Cyrus (Daniel 6:28 : see also Daniel 11:1-2, Daniel 11:1, as compared with Daniel 10:1; and cp. on Daniel 8:3). It is true, this representation does not agree with what is known from history, for though the Medes (see on Daniel 2:39) joined Cyrus in b.c. 549, and formed afterwards an important and influential element in the Persian empire[263], there is no trace of their exercising afterwards any independent rule; in the Inscriptions, Cyrus begins his reign in Babylon immediately after the close of that of Nabu-na’id. Contemporary monuments allow no room for a king, ‘Darius the Mede,’ between the entry of Babylon by Cyrus and the reign of Cyrus himself. The figure, it seems, must be the result of some historical confusion,—perhaps (see the Introd. p. liv) a combination of Gubaru, the ‘governor’ (peḥâh), who first entered Babylon, and took command in it, at the time of Cyrus’ conquest, with (cf. Sayce, Monuments, pp. 528–30) Darius Hystaspis, father (not son) of ’Ăḥashwçrôsh = Xerxes (Daniel 9:1).

[263] Under the Persian kings, Medes are repeatedly mentioned as holding high and responsible positions (Rawl. Herod. App. to Bk. i, Essay iii, § 2). On the large amount contributed by Media to the Persian revenue see Rawl., Anc. Mon.4 ii. 428.

about threescore and two years old] We do not know upon what tradition, or chronological calculation, the age assigned to ‘Darius the Mede’ depends.

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