Is There Any Proof of Nebuchadnezzar's Mental Illness?

    Beside Babylon's wall and gate, Daniel was also familiar with Nebuchadnezzar's palace. According to Nebuchadnezzar, he built his palace over his father's. He strengthened the foundation and rebuilt the walls with burnt brick. The roof was cedar and he covered the cedar doors with copper. Bronze, silver, gold and precious stones decked out the rest of the structure. It must have been quite a sight.


    Nebuchadnezzar was proud of his buildings. He said in Daniel 4:30, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?"


    But the words brought about the events from the dreams he had earlier. "I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me." (Daniel 4:5) Nebuchadnezzar called his spiritual leaders to tell him the meaning of the dream, but none of them could help him.


    Finally Daniel was summoned and Nebuchadnezzar told him,"O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof." (Daniel 4:9) Belteshazzar was the name given to Daniel upon his arrival in Babylon, but it was not Babylonian gods whom Daniel worshipped or relied upon to reveal truth. The other "magicians" had and they failed.


    Daniel revealed the insight God had given him about Nebuchadnezzar's dream. The news wasn't good. Daniel said, "This is the sense of it, O King, and it is the decision of the Most High which has come on my lord the king: That they will send you out from among men, to be with the beasts of the field; they will give you grass for your food like the oxen, and you will be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven times will go by you, till you are certain that the Most High is ruler in the kingdom of men." (Daniel 4:24-25)


     Daniel is describing a mental illness called boanthropy where a person thinks they are an ox. Nebuchadnezzar would experience this until he realized God is the true and only God and turn from his pagan deities and their oppression.


    Is there any proof of Nebuchadnezzar's seven year period of mental illness?


    Actually we can read Nebuchadnezzar's grandiose statements about himself in his well kept records written on tablets and in stone. But there is a period of silence beginning in the eleventh year of his reign. There is also a tablet in the British Museum which may be connected to Nebuchadnezzar's mental lapse. It describes royal officials informing Nebuchadnezzar's son, Evil Merodach , that the king was behaving oddly. 2Kings 25:27 mentions this son. Other interpretations of the inscription say Evil Merodach planned a takeover of the throne. Either way, something is not as it should be.


    You can read more about this in Babylonian Historical-Literary Texts. "Toronto Semitic Texts and Studies," No. 3 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975), pp. 87-92. You can also learn more about the translations of this text by researching the Babylonian inscription labeled BM 34113.


    The Bible says Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind for a time. At the end he gave glory to God. (Daniel 4:25-37) Unfortunately we don't know much about the latter years of Nebuchadnezzar's reign. Some scholars place his illness during this period.


    Nebuchadnezzar's early years, however, were busy building and expanding his empire. When you see recreations of the city and how close the buildings were to each other, you can imagine Daniel being watched as he prayed. In such a place Daniel made it his priority to worship God and God alone. God used Daniel for His glory in this pagan place, under Nebuchadnezzar's rule and after under Persian kings.


    Like Daniel, we need to make God our priority. Have you talked to Him today? Have you allowed Him to speak to you today? Working on our relationship with Him is the most important work we will ever do. It is the foundation for our ability to help others and walk through the open doors of influence.


    We can be thankful that a German man, a self-trained archaeologist named Robert Koldewey, spent eighteen years digging down into the Iraqi dirt to reveal Nebuchadnezzar's treasures. He has helped to give us insight into Daniel's world, and documented the descriptions of Babylon the great, Nebuchadnezzar's beloved city.

    Image by Skull Kat courtesy of Unsplash


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