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Two Assyro-Babylonian Parallels to Dan. v. 5 ff. 



EVERY noteworthy treatise on the book of Daniel has discussed 
the origin of the tradition regarding the mysterious writing on 
the wall, which, according to Dan. 5, appeared to Belshazzar, in the 
opinion of this author the last king of Babylon. In my own Com- 
mentary on Daniel (1899) I endeavored, of course without any 
idea of upholding the historical authority of Daniel, to bring forward 
every point which might demonstrate the existence of historical or 
at least original Babylonian elements as the basis of the Daniel 
legends. Thus, in chapter 5, the name Belshazzar, found only in 
Daniel in the O.T., was shown to be a true Babylonian survival,^ 
because this name has been found in the cuneiform documents as 
that of the son of Nabonidus, the last native king of Babylon. Fur- 
thermore, the statement in Daniel, that Belshazzar died in Babylon 
when the city fell, is evidently a distortion of the fact that Naboni- 
dus's son, who was in command of the native army, met his death in 
conflict with the invading Persian forces. The accounts of Herod- 
otus and Xenophon also agree with the statement in Dan. 5 that a 
feast actually took place on the eve of the capture of Babylon. 
According to Herod, i, 191, Babylon was taken while the besieged 
were enjoying a festival, and Xenophon likewise {Cyrop. v. 5'°) 
remarks that Cyrus, before he attacked the city, heard that a fes- 
tival was going on in Babylon. As already pointed out in my com- 
mentary (pp. 102 ff.), these three statements of the Maccabaean 
author of Daniel may be looked upon as more or less distorted 
echoes of genuine Babylonian tradition. 

It may now be shown also, I think, that the portent of the myste- 
rious writing itself was probably not, as many expositors have 
imagined, a mere invention, but a real Babylonian survival in Daniel. 

^ The Babylonian form of the name is Bel-iar-Ufur, ' Bel protect the king ' 
(Prince, Daniel, pp. 35 ff.). 


This point, so far as I am aware, has not been treated satisfactorily 
by previous commentators. 

In Dan. 5' we read : " In that same hour came forth fingers of a 
man's hand and wrote opposite the candelabra on the plaster of the 
wall of the king's palace, and the king saw the surface of the hand 
which wrote." The meaning of this text is not very clear. The 
fingers are said to have come forth 1pS3, so that we may conclude 
the author's idea to have been that they were generally visible. He 
adds with special emphasis mriD ^ Xl^ DS mn S37121, " and the 
king saw the surface {i.e., the outline Sl^ DS) of the hand which 
wrote," thereby implying, either that the outline of the hand was not 
visible to the rest of the assembly, or simply, that the king, for whom 
the warning was personally intended, saw the portent with startling 
distinctness. The latter supposition seems the more likely, and we 
may infer therefrom that the courtiers as well as the king saw the 
S*T^ BS. Of course, the writing which the hand left must have been 
visible to others besides the king, as is clear from 5* : " Then came 
in all the king's wise men, but they were not able to read the writing, 
nor to make known its interpretation to the king." It remained 
then for Daniel, the skilled seer, to explain the significance of the 
portentous inscription. 

1 desire in this paper to call attention to two striking parallels to 
this biblical tale in the Assyro-Babylonian literature, more than two 
thousand years apart from one another. One of these, and perhaps 
the more striking of the two, is mentioned in the Annals of the 
Assyrian king Asurbanipal (668-626 b.c), while the other dates 
from the reign of the ancient Sumerian Babylonian monarch Gudea 
{ca. 3000 B.C.). As will be seen from the following exposition, both 
are records of visions in which the dreamer sees a divine writing 
which conveys to him, in the one case, an important oracle ; and in 
the other instance, instructions from his god. 

The Asurbanipal inscription reads as follows : 

hin ijmesi'wia i'sten sabrti ina iat'^ mAsi uiubna inattal iuttu; umma ina 
in kigalli ''" Sin sath-ma ; md : " sa itti Asw-han-apli sar "^ Assur iqpudu 
liinuttu, eppuSu fihilum, muiu limnu aiarraqsunAti ; ina patri parzilli xanti, 
niiqit isdti, xusaxxu, lipit Gira uqatta napsatsun." Annate asmema ; atkit ana 
amdt "" Sin biliia. 

2 Sat rather than "Sad (ci. iad urri, 'daybreak') is a construct state of iattu, 
' duration of time, hour,' and is used here exactly lilce mudde in Egyptian Arabic; 
fl muddet el-leyl, ' during the night.' 


" On that same day a certain scribe during the night fell asleep and saw a 
vision; namely, on the surface (i.e., the crescent) of the god Sin it stood written, 
thus : ' whosoever hath planned evil against Asur-bini-pal, the king of the land 
of Assyria, whosoever enacteth hostility against him, to them will I give a baleful 
death; by the swift dagger of iron, by casting into the fire,^ by famine, by the 
destruction of the god Gira will I cut off their lives.' These things I heard; I 
trusted in the word of the god Sin, my lord " (Asurb., Annals, iii. 118-127). 

The correct understanding of this passage depends wholly on the 
interpretation of the words ina Hi kigalli "" Sin, which I render ' on 
the surface of the god Sin.' Kigallu, which is a Sumerian loanword 
in Assyrian, means primarily ' the great place' {KI.GAL.), and is 
applied as an indeterminate but respectful word for an important 
' surface ' or ' place ' of any sort, thus, in the Descent of Istar to 
Hades, obv. 24, 48, it is used for ' the lower world ' ; cf. Nin-ki-gal 
' Lady of Hades.' In Nbk. viii. 60 also, the great Nebuchadrezzar 
is made to say concerning the laying of foundations : " I laid them, 
ina irat kigallu, on the very bosom of Hades ; " viz., the foundations 
were placed as deeply as possible. Kigallu is also explained in 
n. R. 44, nr. 7, 74-75, by the Semitic word berutu 'a deep place.' 
This is probably a meaning secondary to the idea ' Hades.' KI. GAL. 
has the phonetic value su-ur given in H. R. 44, nr. 7, 74-75, but 
also = Semitic ki-gal-la, IV. R. 13, 11 b, so that the Assyrian pho- 
netic rendering in our Asurbanipal text has full justification. Kigallu 
occurs in Assyrian in Sarg. Cyl. 36, meaning ' a waste (with the adj. 
Suxrubtu) territory ' or ' surface of ground,' and in Senn. Const. 83 
we find this sentence : " I made its (the palace dwelling-room's) 
kigallu of precious stones." In this passage kigallu would seem to 
mean some special part of the palace, possibly the royal bed- 
chamber. In Senn. Kuy. 4, 5, we read that certain images " stood 
firmly each on or in its own kigallu " ; ina kigalli ramnisunu Sdqis 
nanzuzii; possibly this denotes 'shrine,' as the translation that each 
image stood on its own surface or basis would be unsatisfactory, such 
an idea being self-evident. In short, I assume that kigallu means 
' place of any sort ' adapted to the subject which is under discussion. 
It is a word of much less scope than asru ' place, locality,' and appar- 
ently, being a Sumerian loanword, was treated as a more solemn 

^ Miqit iidti, ' casting into the fire,' suggests an interesting parallel with the 
fate of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in Dan. 3. Cf. in Jer. 29'^^ the 
account of the roasting of Zedekiah and Ahab by the king of Babylon (Prince, 
Dan. p. 79). 


A flood of light is shed on our passage in the annals of Asurbanipal 
by the variant to the regular text which, instead of reading ina eli 
kigalli "■" Sin Sattrma, gives the highly significant rendering : ''" Nabu 
dupSar gimri sipir ilutisu uiuzma * Utanasd maltfiru kigalli '''" Sin, 
" Nebo, the universal tablet writer (which is) the art of his godhead, 
stood reading aloud the inscription of the surface (or place) of the 
god Sin." In other words, according to this version, the sleeping 
scribe saw Nebo standing and reading aloud to him {i.e., interpreting 
to him) the words of the oracle written on the characteristic place of 
Sin, the moon-god ; viz., on that part of the moon which was always 
the emblem of Sin, i.e., the crescent. 

Jensen's rendering of ina eli kigalli ''" Sin by " auf der Scheibe{?) 
dcs Mondes," " on the disc of the moon " (followed by Jastrow, Reli- 
gion, p. 350), is impossible, because the moon-god is never repre- 
sented emblematically otherwise than by the crescent. The disc or 
circle (for a disc must always be circular), with four points and four 
streams, is the emblem of Samas, the sun-god, just as the star is the 
sign of the goddess Istar.'^ The regular word for crescent was agu, 
which denotes the crescent-crown of Sin with two homs ; cf. III. 
R. 5, no. iii. 40: Sin ina namurisu agd apir, "when Sin appears 
attired in the agil" or "crescent crown." In K. 3567 obv. 14-18 
the waxing of the moon-god from the crescent new moon {agu) to 
the full moon is mentioned. There can be little doubt that the word 
kigallu meant to Asurbanipal's scribe ' the place of the moon-god ' 
par excellence. The last words of the text of the Annals given above 
make it perfectly clear that the oracle emanated from Sin ; " I heard 
these things ; I trusted to the word of the god Sin, my lord." Sin, 
as the illuminator Nanndru, was essentially the god of wisdom, 
although his rdk was not so important as that of many other deities. 
Thus, Samas, the more popular sun-god, was a more frequent patron 
of oracles (see s.v. purussu, Delitzsch, Hdwb. pp. 543-544), but Sin is 
also called bel purusse, 'the lord of oracles.' His name in Sumerian 
was {Dingir) En-zu-na, ' the lord of wisdom,' probably a rebus for 
Zu-en-na ; cf zu-ab for ab-zu. 

The divinity Gira (read Ura by Pinches in Bab. Rec. i. 208) is 
identical with Dibbara, ' destruction ' (cf. Scheil's Rectieil de Tra- 
vaux, xix. no. 3, and Jensen, Cosm. pp. 145 ; 480; 483 ; 487). 

* Usuzma is apparently a shortened form of ushhma from nazazu, ' to stand.' 

^ Thus, Dilbat = nab&, ' tell, announce ' (II R. 7, 37, g, k), was the Babylonian 

name of Istar as the morning-star (Prince, Van. p. 226). Dr. W. Hayes Ward, 

whose authority on Babylonian emblems is unquestioned, confirms me in this view. 


Here then we have an instance of a vision, in which the divine 
decree is given, not as in Daniel to the king himself, but to a pro- 
fessional seer by means of mysterious writing, not indeed on the wall 
or on any part of the temple (as Tiele thought, Gesch. p. 379, n. i), 
but on the crescent of the moon. The god Nebo, the patron of all 
letters, most appropriately acts, according to one version, as the inter- 
preter, reading the inscription aloud. The vision in the Assyrian 
parallel is one favorable to the king while the portent in Daniel is, 
of course, highly unfavorable. 

Another curious instance of a dream wherein divine instructions 
are given by means of writing is seen in Price's text of the Gudea A 
Cylinder (pt. i, 1899, pp. yff.). The text of the passage, which is 
in the non-Semitic Sumerian, is transhterated and translated by Thu- 
reau-Dangin in ZA. xvi. pp. 344-362. I give the passage as follows, 
with some emendations of the rendering of Thureau-Dangin. 

Col. iv. 13. Nin-kur-kur-ra . . . -ia mu-ud-du ma(J')-mu-da 

The Queen of Lands my . . . appeared (lit. came forth) in a vision. 

14. Sd-ma-mu-da-ka gal-li-dm an-gim ri-ba-ni 

In the midst of my dream there was a man shining like the heaven; 

15. Ki-gim ri-ba-ni 
Shining like the earth. 

16. A-ge sag-gd-ni-Su dingir-ra-dm 

(By) the crown of his head he was a god. 

17. A-ni-iu {dingir) Im-gi{g)-{xu)-dam 

At his side was the divine bird Im-gi, the night wind. 

18. Sig (= sib')-ba-ni-a-iu a-ma-ru-kam 
Beneath him there was a hurricane (?) 

19. zi(^d)-da gub-na ug ni-nd-nd 

On his right hand and on his left a storm lay couched. 

20. E-a-ni ru-da ma-an-gu{ka) 

He commanded me to make his house. 

21. Sd{g)-gd-ni nu-mu-zu 
Himself I did not recognize. 

22. Babbar ki-'sar-ra ma-ta-e 

The luminary from the earth went forth. 

23. Sal-dm a-ba-me-a-nu a-ba-me-a-ni 

There was a woman. Who was she not? Who was she? 

24. (illegible.) 

25. Gi-dub-ba azag-gi-a iu im-mi-du 

A pure pen (stylus) she held in her hand. 

26. Dub mul-an-dug-ga im-mi-gdl 

The tablet of the good star of heaven she bore. 


Col. V. I. Ad-im-td-gi-gi 

She took counsel with herself. 

2. Min-kam ur-sag-gd-dm 
A second hero there was. 

3. A-mu {gis)-li-um zdgin ill im-mi-du 

Beside me a tablet of lapis lazuli he held in his hand. 

4. E-a {gif)-xar-bi im-gd-gd. 

The temple's plan he giveth (me). 

As this is a unilingual Sumerian inscription I have touched upon 
its most salient grammatical points as being of interest to the student 
of early Babylonian literature. 

Col. iv. 13. Nin-kur-kur-t-a is Nina whom the patesi Gudea in 
col. V. 1 1 ff. calls ama-ni, ' his mother.' Mu-ud-du seems to mean 
' she comes forth ' ; it might be read mu-e, as in col. iv. 22 ma-ia-e. 
Ma-mu is MA.SAR. SAR = mu, V R. 21, 9 e. Cf. Ma-mu-gim, 
' like a vision,' IV R. 24, 47 ; ma-mu-da-ta, ' in a dream,' with con- 
flation of the postpositions ; da + ta both = ' in,' IV R. 22, 39 b. 

Col. iv. 14. Sd = libbu, 'midst,' and the ending -ka = ma, with 
vocaUc harmonization for the usual -mu, ' my ' ; for the interchange 
of nasal and palatal sounds in Sumerian, cf. gal-mal, ' great,' gir-ner, 
'foot,' and others, ASKT. p. 134. In gal-la-am the la is status 
prolong. ; not gi with Thureau-Dangin. Am is the phonetic render- 
ing of A-AN, the preterite of the verb 'to be ' ; cf me in col. iv. 23. 
This -dm ending appears four times in 14, 16; 17, dam; 18, kam ; 
undoubtedly for poetical assonance ; cf. me in col. iv. 23. Ri-ba-ni 
has ri with postpositive conjugation ; ri = sarttru in II R. 48, 24 c. 
' shining,' not ' great ' with Thureau-Dangin. 

Col. iv. 16. A-ge 'crown' original of the Semitic form agA, the 
crescent-crown of Sin. The usual ideogram is MIR, Sb. i, ii. 15 ; 
MIR = aga = agii. 

Col. iv. 17. Im-gi{g) means the night wind, represented as a 
bird (see the postpositive determinative -xu which was probably not 
pronounced). The ending -dam seems to contain the local infix 
-da- + the verb -dm {A-AN), i.e., ' he was in it ' or ' there.' Prob- 
ably ^'(.f) was reaAgid here, as in line i8 sig-ba was probably sib-ba 
with assimilation of the final root-consonant.* Winds were naturally re- 
garded as birds, an idea which no doubt arose from wind-driven clouds.' 

* This phenomenon of the alteration of consonants is seen also in Finnish ; 
cf. vest, ' water,' but gen. veden from ve(e ; Idpi, ' a hole,' gen. I'dven ; reki, ' a 
sledge,' gen. reen, etc. (Eliot's Finnish Grammar, pp. 32 ff.). 

' See also Jastrow, Religion, p. 537. 


Col. iv. 1 8. Sig-ba was probably read sib-ba as gig-dam = gid-dani 
in line 17. Sib-ba-ni would be in Assyrian ina Saplisu ' beneath him ' ; 
cf. IV R. 3, 3 a, sig mm = elis u saplis ' above and below.' Thureau- 
Dangin translates ' at his feet,' but this would be gir-ra-ni-su. A-ma- 
ru-kam, which I render ' there was a hurricane,' must be a variant of 
im-mir-ra — mexii ' storm ' ; cf. V. 11, 46 e ; ASKT. 76, 39. 

Col. iv. 19. Ug probably does not mean 'a lion' (Thureau-Dan- 
gin), but Hmu 'a storm ' j cf. Sb. 13; IV R. 5, 29 ff., where ud-gal 
= umu rabbutum. In Sb. 81, udgallum = ugallum ; cf. also Crea- 
tion iii. 32 and V R. 33 col. iv. 52. The sign ug must be a phonetic 
variant here of this ud = umu, root DIX. Ug = sarru, II R. 27, 
5 a, but this can have no bearing on our passage. Nd-nd means 
rabdqii ' lie down,' II R. 36, 24-5 ab. 

Col. iv. 21. Sd-ga-ni 'his heart,' i.e., 'himself.' In nu-mu-zu we 
have the i p. prefix in mu-. 

Col. iv. 22. Ki-Sar-ra is the familiar 'host of earth' seen in the 
Creation Tablet. It means simply ' earth,' and indicates that the 
luminary or star rose from the earth as it seemed to them. 

Col. iv. 23. A-ba-me-a-nu may be analyzed as follows : aba 
' who ? ' ; me is the verb 'to be ' (see above) ; a is status prolong. ; 
nu = the negation. In a-ba-me-a-ni, the -ni is suffix 3 p. 

Col. iv. 25. Gi-dub-ba, lit. ' the reed of the tablet,' i.e., the stylus. 
In im-mi-du, cf. gab = du II R. 25, 36 e. 

Col. iv. 26. "She bore a propitious tablet." Im-mi-gdl ; IK 
= nasfc 'lift, carry,' II R. 17, 18 a. 

Col. v. I. Ad in ad-im-td-gi-gi means milku 'counsel,' perhaps a 
secondary idea from Sb. 93 ad = abu ' father,' hence ' counsellor.' Cf. 
ad-ba-ni-ib-gi-gi = imtalikma, IV R. 5, 5 7 a. Td must be the correct 
reading here for the reflexive infix. This sign is doubtful in the text. 

Col. V. 2. Min-kam. For min ' two,' cf. Lehmann's SamaUum- 
uk'in, pp. 1 78 ff. for the Sumerian numerals. 

Col. V. 3. I read this line quite differently from Thureau-Dangin's 
version : d-mu ' at my side.' Instead of the untranslatable com- 
pound d-mu-gur, which the text seems to present, I read {giS)' the 
det. for li-um ; cf. K. 4378 i. 2 {gis)-lu-xu-si-um =^ liu 'a tablet.' 
Zdgin = ZA-KUR occurs rarely without the determinative aban 
' stone.' Here it might simply mean ebbu, II R. 24, 47 a, or ellu, 
IV R. 18, 25 a, 'shining' or 'pure.' ZA-KUR also means uknu 
' lapis lazuli,' however, and as one would expect to find mention of 
the material of the tablet in our passage, I see no reason to reject 
Thureau-Dangin's reading. 


Col. V. 4. {GiS)-xar-bi 'its plan.' {GiS)-xar = Ufurtum 'any 
defined limit,' i.e., 'a plan of a building,' V R. ii, 17 e, IV R. 21, 6 a. 
Note the construction here, " the temple its plan," instead of the 
usual {gis)-xar e-a-kit with the nota genitivi. Im-gd-gd 'he giveth 
me' with the present indicated by reduplication; cf. II R. 11, 25 c, 
isarraq. The prefix im- in im-gd-gd denotes the i p. element. 

Dreams played a most important rdk in the ancient life of Baby- 
lonia and Assyria. In the Gilgames Epic they were the regular 
means of communication between the gods and men, and appear as 
a universally accepted form of divine advice. Asurbanipal was 
especially favored by the gods in the matter of dreams. He states 
for example that the goddess Istar of Arbela appeared in a dream to 
his troops, apparently to his entire army( !) while on an Elamitic 
campaign, and said to them : " I go before Asurbanipal." On hear- 
ing these encouraging words, the soldiers, who up to that time had 
feared to cross the stream Idide, at once proceeded successfully 
on their march {Annals, v, 97-102). Asurbanipal also records 
that Giigu (Gyges), king of Lydia, saw the Assyrian god Asur in a 
dream, and was divinely advised : " Seize the feet of Asurbanipal, 
the king of Assyria, and by his name conquer thine enemies." After 
Gyges had obeyed the god's advice, he was at once successful 
against the Indo-European Cimmerians, who at that period had 
begun to invest Asia Minor. It was apparently a matter of little 
moment by whom a dream or vision was seen. The gods might 
reveal themselves to a professional seer, or to the person, usually a 
monarch, for whom their admonition was especially intended, or to 
an entire army, as in the case just cited. 

It is evident from the two inscriptions translated in this paper that 
a message might be delivered in dreams by the Assyro-Babylonian 
gods not only orally, but by means of writing. There is really only 
one point of deviation between the Daniel tale and these Assyro- 
Babylonian records of writing being seen in visions, viz., the implica- 
tion in Daniel that the writing was seen by the observers in a waking 
state, i.e., that it did not appear as a vision. The number of people 
who saw the portent of Dan. 5 is quite unimportant, as we have 
already noticed that an entire army received the admonition of the 
goddess Istar of Arbela. 

In view then of the striking similarity of the story of Daniel with 
Asurbanipal's record of the moon-god's mysterious writing, and in 
view of Gudea's inscription confirming the delivery of divine dream- 
communications in writing, it seems probable that in the narrative 


of Dan. 5 we have a later distortion of an original Babylonian tale. 
It is possible tliat the author of Daniel knew a story, according to 
which the last king of Babylon was vouchsafed a vision in writing of 
his impending downfall. In the course of centuries this story must 
have been altered into a narrative of an event which took place in 
"waking" life, as we have it in Daniel. The Maccabsean biblical 
author then no doubt changed the account according to his theology 
and incorporated it into his work as a tale bearing an instructive 
moral for Antiochus Epiphanes, against whose persecutions the entire 
book of Daniel was directed.