Xerxes the Uncertain



 Damien F. Mackey



Part One:

‘Xerxes’ and Sennacherib


The mighty king, Xerxes, favoured by various commentators to represent “Ahasuerus”, the Great King of the Book of Esther, is most likely a composite character, a mix of real Assyrian and Medo-Persian kings. Here, for instance, we consider his likenesses to Sennacherib.




The name ‘Xerxes’ is thought by historians to accord extremely well linguistically with “Ahasuerus”, the name of the Great King of the Book of Esther.

There are several kings “Ahasuerus” in the (Catholic) Bible: in Tobit; in Esther; in Ezra; and in Daniel.


As Cyaxares


The one in Tobit is usually considered to refer to the Cyaxares who conquered Nineveh. See e.g. my:


“Ahasuerus” in Book of Tobit




But before [Tobias] died, he heard of the destruction of Nineveh, which was taken by Nebuchadnezzar and Ahasuerus; and before his death he rejoiced over Nineveh. (Tobit 14:15)



“Ahasuerus” in Book of Tobit. Part Two: The Name “Ahasuerus”




in which I discuss the name, “Ahasuerus”.

Cyaxares, again, is probably the “Ahasuerus” mentioned as the father of Darius the Mede in Daniel 9:1: “It was the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede, the son of Ahasuerus, who became king of the Babylonians”.


As Cyrus


The “Ahasuerus” in Esther I have identified as Darius the Mede/Cyrus:

“King Ahasuerus” of Book of Esther



and, likewise, the “Ahasuerus” in Ezra:


The Persian Kings in Ezra 4




The names, Xerxes, Ahasuerus, Cyaxares and Cyrus are all fairly compatible.


Comparisons with Sennacherib


Emmet Sweeney has done the work here, providing some striking parallels between the known historical Assyrian king, Sennacherib (C8th BC), and the historically far shakier, ‘Xerxes’. http://www.emmetsweeney.net/article-directory/item/58-xerxes-and-sennacherib.html


… In Ramessides, Medes and Persians I outlined detailed reasons for identifying Tiglath-Pileser III with Cyrus, Shalmaneser V with Cambyses, and Sargon II with Darius I. The striking correspondences in the lives of all of these, repeated generation for generation in parallel sequence, made it increasingly unlikely that the identifications could be mistaken. Yet even one striking mismatch could potentially invalidate the whole scheme. I then came to the next “pairing” – Sennacherib with Xerxes. Would these two also show clear-cut and convincing correspondences?

A random search of the internet produces the following for Xerxes and Sennacherib: “Like the Persian Xerxes, he [Sennacherib] was weak and vainglorious, cowardly under reverse, and cruel and boastful in success.” (WebBible Encyclopedia at www.christiananswers.net/dictionary/sennacherib.html). The writer of these words did not suspect any connection between the two kings, much less that they were the same person. Nevertheless, the similarities between them were so compelling that one apparently brought the other to mind.

The writer’s instincts, I shall argue, did not betray him. The lives and careers of Xerxes and Sennacherib were so similar that were the thesis presented in these pages not proffered, scholars must wonder at the astounding parallels between the two.

One of Xerxes’ first actions as king was an invasion of Egypt, which had thrown off the Persian yoke shortly after Darius’ defeat at the hands of the Greeks. This reconquest of Egypt was said to have taken place in Xerxes’ second year. Similarly, one of the first actions of Sennacherib was a campaign against Egypt and her Palestinian and Syrian allies. This war against Egypt took place in Sennacherib’s third year. The Assyrian inscriptions inform us how Hezekiah of Judah had rebelled and sought the assistance of

the kings of Egypt (and) the bowmen, the chariot (-corps) and the cavalry of the king of Ethiopia (Meluhha), an army beyond counting — and they (actually) had come to their assistance. In the plain of Eltekeh (Al-ta-qu-u), their battle lines were drawn up against me and they sharpened their weapons.… I fought with them and inflicted a defeat upon them. In the melee of the battle, I personally captured alive the Egyptian charioteers with the(ir) princes and (also) the charioteers of the king of Ethiopia. (J. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton, 1950) pp. 287-8).

Hezekiah was besieged, but not captured. Nevertheless, the outcome of this campaign was a complete victory for Sennacherib. Hezekiah sent tribute to the Great King:

Hezekiah himself, whom the terror-inspiring glamour of my lordship had overwhelmed and whose irregular and elite troops which he had brought into Jerusalem, his royal residence, in order to strengthen (it), had deserted him, did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, antimony, large cuts of red stone … all kinds of valuable treasures, his (own) daughters, concubines, male and female musicians. In order to deliver the tribute and to do obeisance as a slave he sent his (personal) messenger.

Hezekiah would scarcely have sent this tribute to Sennacherib had his Egyptian allies not been totally defeated, a circumstance which has made many scholars suspect that he actually entered Egypt after his defeat of its army on the plain of Eltekeh. (See eg. A. T. Olmstead, History of Assyria (1923) pp. 308-9). This supposition is supported by the fact that Sennacherib described himself as “King of the Four Quarters,” a term which, as stated above, traditionally implied authority over Magan and Meluhha (Egypt), regarded as the western-most “quarter” or edge of the world. It is also supported by both classical and Hebrew tradition. Thus Herodotus spoke of Sennacherib advancing against Egypt with a mighty army and camping at Pelusium, near the north-eastern frontier (Herodotus, iii, 141), whilst Berossus, who wrote a history of Chaldea, said that Sennacherib had conducted an expedition against “all Asia and Egypt.” (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities X, i,4). Jewish tradition goes further and tells of the conquest of Egypt by the king and of his march towards Ethiopia. “Sennacherib was forced to stop his campaign against Hezekiah for a short time, as he had to move hurriedly against Ethiopia. Having conquered this ‘pearl of all countries’ he returned to Judea.” (L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia, 1920) Vol. VI p. 365). Talmudic sources also relate that after conquering Egypt, Sennacherib carried away from there the throne of Solomon. (Ibid. Vol. IV, p. 160)

Sennacherib’s second campaign against Egypt, not recorded in the Assyrian inscriptions, had, as is well-known, a much less favorable outcome for the Great King.

The greatest event of Xerxes’ reign was of course his momentous defeat in Greece. The story of his invasion is recorded in detail by the Greek authors, most particularly by Herodotus, and it is clear that Xerxes’ failure to overcome the Hellenes represented the great watershed in Achaemenid history. From that point on the Persian Empire entered a period of prolonged decline.

Strange then that of all the wars waged by Sennacherib, the only opponents who are said to have come near to defeating him were the Ionian Greeks. In one well-known passage Berossus tells of a fierce battle between Sennacherib and the Ionians of Cilicia. (H. R. Hall, The Ancient History of the Near East (London, 1913) p. 487). The Greeks, he says, were routed after a hard-fought hand-to-hand struggle.

The most important event of Xerxes’ latter years was without doubt his defeat of yet another Babylonian rebellion. Although our sources are somewhat vague, it would appear that there were in fact two rebellions in Babylon during the time of Xerxes, the first of which occurred in his second year, and was led by Bel-shimanni, and the second some time later led by Shamash-eriba.

How peculiar then that Sennacherib too should face two major rebellions in Babylon, the first of which came within three years or so of his succession, and was led by Bel-ibni. (C. H. W. Johns, Ancient Babylonia (London, 1913) p. 120). Rebellion number two came some years later and was led by Mushezib-Marduk. This second rebellion, one might guess, was one of the consequences of the Persian defeat in Greece, and there seems little doubt that Mushezib-Marduk of the Assyrian records and monuments is Shamash-eriba of the Persian.

Both Xerxes and Sennacherib were relatively mild in their treatment of the Babylonians after the first rebellion. However, after the second insurrection both kings subjected the city to massive destruction. But the parallels do not end there. Xerxes’ terrible punishment of Babylon was partly in revenge for the Babylonians’ murder of his satrap. (Brian Dicks, The Ancient Persians: How they Lived and Worked (1979) p. 46).

Similarly, Sennacherib’s destruction of Babylon after the second insurrection was largely in vengeance for the Babylonians’ kidnap and murder of his brother Ashur-nadin-shum, whom he had made viceroy of the city. (C. H. W. Johns, op cit. pp. 121-2). Xerxes tore down the walls of Babylon, massacred its citizens, destroyed its temples, and seized the sacred golden statue of Bel. (Brian Dicks, op cit). In the same way, Sennacherib razed the city walls and temples, massacred the people, and carried off the sacred statue of Marduk. (C. H. W. Johns, op cit. p. 122). Bel and Marduk were one and the same; and the name was often written Bel-Marduk. In memory of the awful destruction wrought by Sennacherib, the Babylonian Chronicle and the Ptolemaic Canon define the eight years that followed as “kingless.” The city, it is held, suffered no such catastrophe again until the time of Xerxes, supposedly two centuries later.

Xerxes’ despoliation of Babylon is generally believed to have been accompanied by his suppression of the Babylonian gods, and it is assumed that his famous inscription recording the outlawing of the daevas, or foreign gods, in favor of Ahura Mazda, was part of the general response to the second Babylonian uprising:

And among these countries (in rebellion) there was one where, previously, daevas had been worshipped. Afterward, through Ahura Mazda’s favor, I destroyed this sanctuary of daevas and proclaimed. “Let daevas not be worshipped!” There, where daevas had been worshipped before, I worshipped Ahura Mazda.

How peculiar then that Sennacherib too should be accused of outlawing the Babylonian gods, especially Marduk, in favor of Ashur as part of his response to a second Babylonian rebellion? “A political-theological propaganda campaign was launched to explain to the people that what had taken place [the destruction of Babylon and despoliation of Bel-Marduk’s shrine] was in accord with the wish of most of the gods. A story was written in which Marduk, because of a transgression, was captured and brought before a tribunal. Only a part of the commentary to this botched piece of literature is extant.” (http://www.chn-net.com/timeline/assyria_study.html). Nevertheless, it is clear that Sennacherib tried to “depose” or even “outlaw” Marduk. Thus we find that, “Even the great poem of the creation of the world, the Enuma elish, was altered: the god Marduk was replaced by the god Ashur.” (Ibid.)


To summarize, then, consider the following:


Made war on Egypt in his third year, and fought a bitter war against the Greeks shortly thereafter. Made war on Egypt in his second year, and fought a bitter war against the Greeks shortly thereafter.
Suppressed two major Babylonian rebellions. The first, in his second year, was led by Bel-Shimanni. The second, years later, was led by Shamash-eriba. Suppressed two major Babylonian rebellions. The first, in his third year, was led by Bel-ibni. The second, years later, was led by Mushezib-Marduk.
The Babylonians were well-treated after the first rebellion, but savagely repressed after the second, when they captured and murdered Sennacherib’s viceroy, his own brother Ashur-nadin-shum. The Babylonians were well-treated after the first rebellion, but savagely repressed after the second, when they captured and murdered Xerxes’ satrap.
After the second rebellion, Sennacherib massacred the inhabitants, razed the city walls and temples, and carried off the golden stature of Marduk. Thereafter the Babylonian gods were suppressed in favour of Ashur, who was made the supreme deity. After the second rebellion, Xerxes massacred the inhabitants, razed the city walls and temples, and carried off the golden stature of Bel-Marduk. Thereafter the Babylonian gods were suppressed in favour of Ahura-Mazda, who was made the supreme deity.


The parallels between Xerxes and Sennacherib are thus among the closest between an Achaemenid and a Neo-Assyrian. Yet even now we are not finished. There is yet one more striking comparison between the two monarchs, a comparison so compelling and so identical in the details that this one alone, even without the others, would be enough to demand an identification.

Xerxes died after a reign of 21 years (compare with Sennacherib’s 22) in dramatic circumstances, murdered in a palace conspiracy apparently involving at least one of his sons. Popular tradition has it that the real murderer of Xerxes was Artabanus, the captain of his guard, and that this man then put the blame on Darius, eldest son of the murdered king. Whatever the truth, it is clear that Artaxerxes, the crown prince, pointed the finger at Darius, who was immediately arrested and executed. (Percy Sykes, A History of Ancient Persia Vol. 1 (London, 1930) pp. 213-4). It is said that Artabanus then plotted to murder Artaxerxes, but that the conspiracy was uncovered by Megabyzus. No sooner had Artabanus been removed than Hystaspes, another elder brother of Artaxerxes, rose in rebellion. The young king then led his forces into Bactria and defeated the rebel in two battles. (Ibid., p. 124)

Of the above information, one feature is most unusual: the eldest son, Darius, who was not the crown prince, was accused of the murder by the crown prince Artaxerxes, who then had him hunted down and killed.

The death of Sennacherib compares very well with that of Xerxes. He too was murdered in a palace conspiracy involving some of his sons. But as with the death of Xerxes, there has always been much rumor and myth, though little solid fact, in evidence. The biblical Book of Kings names Adrammelech and Sharezer, two of Sennacherib’s sons, as the killers (2 Kings 19:37). An inscription of Esarhaddon, the crown prince at the time, clearly puts the blame on his eldest brother, whom he hunted down and killed. Two other brothers are also named in complicity. (A. T. Olmstead, A History of Assyria (1923) p. 338).

In spite of Esarhaddon’s clear statement, there has always been much confusion about the details — so much so that some have even implicated Esarhaddon himself in the deed. In view of such a level of confusion, the detailed discussion of the question by Professor Simo Parpola, in 1980, was sorely needed and long overdue. Employing commendable reasoning, Parpola demonstrated how a little-understood Babylonian text revealed the identity of the culprit, Arad-Ninlil. (R. Harper, Assyrian and Babylonian Letters, Vol. XI (Chicago, 1911) No. 1091). A sentence of the document reads, “Thy son Arad-Ninlil is going to kill thee.” The latter name should properly, according to Parpola, be read as Arda-Mulissi (identical to Adrammelech of 2 Kings). Motivation for the murder, said Parpola, was not difficult to find. After the capture and probable death at the hands of the Elamites of Sennacherib’s eldest son and heir-designate, Ashur-nadin-sumi, the “second-eldest son, Arda-Mulissi, now has every reason to expect to be the next crown prince; however, he is outmaneuvered from this position in favor of Esarhaddon, another son of Sennacherib. This one is younger than Arda-Mulissi but becomes the favourite son of Sennacherib thanks to his mother Naqia … Eventually, Esarhaddon is officially proclaimed crown prince.” (Prof. Simo Parpola, “Death in Mesopotamia” XXVIeme Rencontre Assyriologique International,e ed. Prof. Bendt Alster, (Akademisk Forlag, 1980)).

We need hardly go beyond that for a motive. It is not clear whether Arda-Mulissi personally delivered the death blow; it seems that one of his captains was responsible.

Of this death then we note the same unusual feature. The king was murdered by or on the orders of his eldest son, who was not however the crown prince. The eldest son was then pursued and executed by a younger son, who was the crown prince. The parallels with the death of Xerxes are precise. In both cases also a second brother is named in complicity, as well as various other conspirators. In both cases too the murder was not actually carried out by the prince but by a fellow conspirator; in the case of Xerxes by Artabanus, commander of the guard, and in the case of Sennacherib by a man named Ashur-aha-iddin — a namesake of Esarhaddon. And this calls attention to yet one more parallel. In both the murder of Xerxes and Sennacherib, the crown prince himself has repeatedly been named as a suspect. Thus the Encyclopedia Britannica has Artaxerxes I placed on the throne by Xerxes’ murderer, Artabanus, (Encyclopaedia Britannica Vol. 1 (15th ed.) p. 598) whilst Parpola refers to the common suspicion that Esarhaddon had a part in his father’s death.

Such striking similarities, when placed along with the multitude of other parallels between the two kings’ lives, leave little doubt that we are on the right track. ….


Part Two:

‘Xerxes’ and Ahasuerus


The mighty king, ‘Xerxes’, who I consider to be a conflation of various historical kings, is often the choice of biblical historians for “King Ahasuerus” of the Book of Esther.


It is common to read commentators identifying the “Ahasuerus” of the Book of Esther with Xerxes I, “the Great” (c. 486-465 BC, conventional dates).

For one, Xerxes is thought to have ruled an empire of the likes described in the Book of Esther. Hence, translations of Esther go so far as to substitute the name “Xerxes” for “Ahasuerus” (Esther 1:1-3):


This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.


According to what I have argued in Part One, though, the ‘Xerxes’ of text book ‘history’ was actually a mix of various powerful ancient kings, probably beginning with the C8th BC neo-Assyrian potentate, Sennacherib. The comparisons between these two are striking.

No doubt the reason that ‘Xerxes’ also so closely reflects, in various aspects, King Ahasuerus (var. Artaxerxes) of the Book of Esther, is because ‘he’ is also a reflection of that particular king. The latter I believe to have been Darius the Mede/Cyrus.

Some, though, think that “King Ahasuerus” might be Darius “Hystaspes”, who is thought to have been married to one “Atossa” in which the Hebrew name of Queen Esther, “Hadassah”, is clearly visible.

We read of this suggestion regarding Darius “Hystaspes” at, for instance, http://www.forgottenbooks.com/readbook_text/The_Book_of_Esther_A_New_Translation_1000167196/15 where we find a conglomeration of ladies named, supposedly, “Atossa”:


…. Mr. Tyrwhitt in his elaborate endeavor to show that Ahasuerus is Darius Hystaspis, and Esther identical with Atossa, admits that “the name Hadassah or Atossa is applied by certain Greek writers, not only to princesses descended from Darius and his queen Atossa, but to persons of earlier Persian, and even of the Assyrian annals. We have the ‘Atossa, daughter of Ariaspes,’ mentioned by Hellanicus; and in the pedigree of Cappadocian kings given by Diodorus we have an ‘Atossa, wife of Pharnaces,’ who appears to have been father’s sister to the great Cyrus ; also Herodotus’s Atossa, daughter of Cyrus, who married Cambyses, and devolved as part of his goods and chattels to his successor, the pretended Smcrdis” (note p. 183). ….


Xerxes I is commonly thought to have been the eldest son of “Atossa” and Darius “Hystaspes”. “Atossa”, we are told, “lived to see Xerxes invade Greece. Being a direct descendent of Cyrus the Great, Atossa had a great authority within Achamenian royal house and court. Atossa’s special position enabled Xerxes, who was not the eldest son of Darius, to succeed his father”.


All of this, however, needs to be radically re-assessed.

Persian history has been – just like Assyro-Babylonian, Egyptian and Hittite history – greatly overstretched, with kings and eras duplicated/triplicated.

The text books present us with far too many Persian kings, with Egypt experiencing a “first”, and then, suspiciously, a “second” Persian era.

The “Ahasuerus” of the Book of Esther belongs, I believe, right at the beginning of the Medo-Persian era, and not about 50 years later than that.

I have in articles such as, e.g.,

Is the Book of Esther a Real History? Part Two



attempted to re-set the Book of Esther in some sort of realistic biblico-historical context. The following is a sample of what I wrote there:


Who Was “King Ahasuerus”?


At the commencement of my:

Is the Book of Esther a Real History? Part Two



I summed up as follows my reconstruction to that point:


So far I have concluded, based on some compelling Jewish legends, that Haman of the Book of Esther was actually a Jew, not an Amalekite (etc.), and that he was in fact King Jehoiachin. And that the opinion that he was an Agagite, or an Amalekite (Greek: Amali̱kíti̱s) may have arisen from Jehoiachin’s chief epithet, “Captive” (Greek: aichmálo̱tos), of similar phonetics.

With the evil king Jehoiachin as the wicked Haman, then the next logical step – as it had previously seemed to me – was that the exaltation of Jehoiachin by king Evil-Merodach (usually considered to have been the Chaldean son and successor of Nebuchednezzar II), as related in 2 Kings 25:27-28, must resonate with the exaltation of Haman by king “Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:1). And so I had concluded that Evil-Merodach was the long sought for king “Ahasuerus”. Hardly a good fit.

Better to conclude that, whereas Evil-Merodach had exalted Jehoiachin “in the year that he began to reign”, “Ahasuerus” appears to have raised up Haman some time after his wedding, in his 7th year (cf. Esther 2:16 and 3:1).

These are two separate incidents.

Clearly, now, “Ahasuerus” was a successor of Evil-Merodach’s.

[End of quote]


That “Ahasuerus” (var. “Artaxerxes”) must have, in my context, followed very soon after the death of Evil-Merodach would be a matter of biological necessity, for, as I had gone on to note: “The age of Haman now needs to be taken into consideration. Already about 55, as we calculated, in the 1st year of Evil-Merodach, he was probably close to 70 in the 12th year of Ahasuerus (the Esther drama focusses on this king’s 12th year)”.

That Haman was not a young man is apparent from the words of one of the Great King’s edicts (Esther 16:1), telling that Haman “was called our father”.













Cambyses Mad Yet Great


 Damien F. Mackey



Common factors here may include ‘divine’ madness; confounding the priests by messing with the Babylonian rites; and the conquest of Egypt and Ethiopia.





Since in articles such as:


“Nebuchednezzar” of the Book of Daniel



I have argued that the reason why biblical historians have discerned so much of Daniel’s “Nebuchednezzar” in the person of the neo-Babylonian king, Nabonidus, is because the latter was the same king as Nebuchednezzar II, I shall be including Nabonidus in this consideration of likenesses between Nebuchednezzar II and Cambyses.



Part One:

King’s Madness



Nebuchednezzar II/Nabonidus


One of the traits shared by Daniel’s “Nebuchednezzar” and King Nabonidus was madness, as discussed in the above-mentioned article.

Now, in my:


Neo-Babylonian Dynasty Needs ‘Hem Taken Up’. Part One (b): Evil-Merodach is Belshazzar



Siegfried H. Horn’s article, “New light on Nebuchadnezzar’s madness”, helpfully provided some possible evidence for madness in the case of Nebuchednezzar II. And, further quoting Horn, I argued for a parallel situation with Evil-Merodach son of Nebuchednezzar II, and Belshazzar son of Nabonidus, officiating in the place of a temporarily incapacitated king:


…. Since Daniel records that Nebuchadnezzar was “driven from men” (Dan. 4:33) but later reinstated as king by his officials (verse 36), Evilmerodach, Nebuchadnezzar’s eldest son, may have served as regent during his father’s incapacity. Official records, however, show Nebuchadnezzar as king during his lifetime.


Comment: Now this is the very same situation that we have found with King Nabonidus’ acting strangely, and defying the prognosticators, whilst the rule at Babylon – though not the kingship – lay in the hands of his eldest son, Belshazzar.


The inevitable (for me) conclusion now is that:

Evil-merodach (or Awel-Marduk) is Belshazzar!




Books, articles and classics have been written about the madness of King Cambyses, he conventionally considered to have been the second (II) king of that name, a Persian (c. 529-522 BC), and the son/successor of Cyrus the Great.

The tradition is thought to have begun with the C5th BC Greek historian, Herodotus, according to whom (The Histories) http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/herodotus/cambyses.htm


[3.29.1] When the priests led Apis in, Cambyses–for he was all but mad–drew his dagger and, meaning to stab the calf in the belly, stuck the thigh; then laughing he said to the priests: [3.29.2] “Simpletons, are these your gods, creatures of flesh and blood that can feel weapons of iron? That is a god worthy of the Egyptians. But for you, you shall suffer for making me your laughing-stock.” So saying he bade those, whose business it was, to scourge the priests well, and to kill any other Egyptian whom they found holiday-making. [3.29.3] So the Egyptian festival ended, and the priests were punished, and Apis lay in the temple and died of the wound in the thigh. When he was dead of the wound, the priests buried him without Cambyses’ knowledge.

[3.30.1] But Cambyses, the Egyptians say, owing to this wrongful act immediately went mad, although even before he had not been sensible. His first evil act was to destroy his full brother Smerdis, whom he had sent away from Egypt to Persia out of jealousy, because Smerdis alone could draw the bow brought from the Ethiopian by the Fish-eaters as far as two fingerbreadths, but no other Persian could draw it.

[3.30.2] Smerdis having gone to Persia, Cambyses saw in a dream a vision, in which it seemed to him that a messenger came from Persia and told him that Smerdis sitting on the royal throne touched heaven with his head.

[3.30.3] Fearing therefore for himself, lest his brother might slay him and so be king, he sent Prexaspes, the most trusted of his Persians, to Persia to kill him. Prexaspes went up to Susa and killed Smerdis; some say that he took Smerdis out hunting, others that he brought him to the Red Sea (the Persian Gulf) and there drowned him.


[End of quote]





Herodotus’ Comment on Cambyses’ Madness

[3.38] In view of all this, I have no doubt that Cambyses was completely out of his mind; it is the only possible explanation of his assault upon, and mockery of, everything which ancient law and custom have made sacred in Egypt.

[End of quote]


Scholarly articles have been written in an attempt to diagnose the illness of Cambyses, sometimes referred to – as in the case of Julius Caesar’s epilepsy – as a ‘divine’ or ‘sacred’ disease.

For example (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11594937):


Arch Neurol. 2001 Oct;58(10):1702-4.


The sacred disease of Cambyses II.


York GK1, Steinberg DA.




Herodotus’ account of the mad acts of the Persian king Cambyses II contains one of the two extant pre-Hippocratic Greek references to epilepsy. This reference helps to illuminate Greek thinking about epilepsy, and disease more generally, in the time immediately preceding the publication of the Hippocratic treatise on epilepsy, On the Sacred Disease. Herodotus attributed Cambyses’ erratic behavior as ruler of Egypt to either the retribution of an aggrieved god or to the fact that he had the sacred disease. Herodotus considered the possibility that the sacred disease was a somatic illness, agreeing with later Hippocratic authors that epilepsy has a natural rather than a divine cause.

[End of quote]


The character of Cambyses as presented in various ancient traditions is thoroughly treated in Herb Storck’s excellent monograph, History and Prophecy: A Study in the Post-Exilic Period (House of Nabu, 1989).


Part Two:

Messing with the rites




As was the case with King Nabonidus (= Nebuchednezzar II), so did Cambyses apparently fail properly to observe established protocol with the Babylonian rites.




Regarding the rebellious behaviour of King Nabonidus with regard to the rites, I wrote in:


“Nebuchednezzar” of the Book of Daniel




Confounding the Astrologers


Despite his superstitious nature the “Nebuchednezzar” of the Book of Daniel – and indeed his alter egos, Nebuchednezzar II/Nabonidus – did not hesitate at times to dictate terms to his wise men or astrologers (2:5-6):


The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble.  But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”


And so, in the Verse Account, we read too of Nabonidus’ interference in matters ritualistic in the presence of sycophantic officials:


Yet he continues to mix up the rites, he confuses the hepatoscopic oracles. To the most important ritual observances, he orders an end; as to the sacred representations in Esagila -representations which Eamumma himself had fashioned- he looks at the representations and utters blasphemies.

When he saw the usar-symbol of Esagila, he makes an [insulting?] gesture. He assembled the priestly scholars, he expounded to them as follows: ‘Is not this the sign of ownership indicating for whom the temple was built? If it belongs really to Bêl, it would have been marked with the spade. Therefore the Moon himself has marked already his own temple with the usar-symbol!’

And Zeriya, the šatammu who used to crouch as his secretary in front of him, and Rimut, the bookkeeper who used to have his court position near to him, do confirm the royal dictum, stand by his words, they even bare their heads to pronounce under oath: ‘Now only we understand this situation, after the king has explained about it!’

[End of quote]


Paul-Alain Beaulieu, in his book, The Reign of Nabonidus, King of Babylon, 556-539 B.C. (1989), gives another similar instance pertaining to an eclipse (Col. III 2), likening it also to the action of “Nebuchednezzar” in the Book of Daniel (pp. 128-129):


The scribes brought baskets from Babylon (containing) the tablets of the series enūma Anu Enlil to check (it, but since) he did not hearken to (what it said), he did not understand what it meant.


The passage is difficult, but its general implications are clear. Whether Nabonidus had already made up his mind as to the meaning of the eclipse and therefore refused to check the astrological series, or did check them but disagreed with the scribes on their interpretation, it seems that the consecration of En-nigaldi-Nanna [daughter of Nabonidus] was felt to be uncalled for. This alleged stubbornness of the king is perhaps reflected in the Book of Daniel, in the passage where Nebuchednezzar (i.e. Nabonidus), after having dismissed the plea of the “Chaldeans”, states that the matter is settled for him (Daniel II, 3-5) ….

But this does not imply that Nabonidus was necessarily wrong in his interpretation of the eclipse; on the contrary, all the evidence suggests that he was right. However, he may have “forced” things slightly ….

[End of quote]




According to Encyclopaedia Iranica on Cambyses II:



A badly damaged passage in the chronicle of Nabonidus contains a report that, in order to legitimize his appointment, Cambyses partici­pated in the ritual prescribed for the king at the traditional New Year festival on 27 March 538 B.C., accepting the royal scepter from the hands of Marduk in Esagila, the god’s temple in Babylon (III. 24-28; Gray­son, p. 111). A. L. Oppenheim attempted a reconstruc­tion of the damaged text (Survey of Persian Art XV, p. 3501); according to his version, Cambyses entered the temple in ordinary Elamite attire, fully armed. The priests persuaded him to lay down his arms, but he refused to change his clothes for those prescribed in the ritual. He then received the royal scepter. In Oppenheim’s view Cambyses thus deliberately demon­strated “a deep-seated religious conviction” hostile to this alien religion (Camb. Hist. Iran II, p. 557).

[End of quote]


Herb Storck gives an interesting discussion of this incident in his excellent monograph, History and Prophecy: A Study in the Post-Exilic Period (House of Nabu, 1989).




Part Three:

Egypt and Ethiopia




Of Nebuchednezzar II’s conquest of Egypt, well-attested in the Bible, it is extremely difficult to find substantial account in the historical records.

Not so with the conquest of Egypt and Ethiopia by Cambyses.




Nebuchednezzar II was, very early in his reign, militarily involved against Egypt – with greater or lesser success. http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Nebuchadnezzar.aspx


Early in 605 B.C. he met Necho, the king of Egypt, in battle and defeated him at Carchemish. A few months later Nabopolassar died, and Nebuchadnezzar hastened home to claim his throne. He soon returned to the west in order to secure the loyalty of Syria and Palestine and to collect tribute; among those who submitted were the rulers of Damascus, Tyre, Sidon, and Judah.


Nebuchadnezzar’s Conquests


In 601 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar attempted the invasion of Egypt but was repulsed with heavy losses. Judah rebelled, but Jerusalem fell in March 597 B.C., and the ruler, Jehoiakim, and his court were deported to Babylon. Eight years later another Jewish rebellion broke out; this time Jerusalem was razed and the population carried into captivity.


This article then follows with an intriguing piece of information: “Expeditions against the Arabs in 582 B.C. and another attempt at invading Egypt in 568 B.C. receive brief mention in Nebuchadnezzar’s later records”.

But sceptics say that Nebuchednezzar II never actually succeeded in conquering Egypt, hence the Bible is wrong, and that it was Cambyses instead who conquered Egypt http://www.sanityquestpublishing.com/essays/BabEgypt.html



The Bible never says Nebuchadnezzar the Second (hereafter Neb-2) conquered Egypt.  The idea Neb-2 conquered Egypt would never have been considered a serious historical possibility, but for 4 facts:

  1. Jeremiah & Ezekiel both predicted that Neb-2 would conquer Egypt.
  2. Jeremiah & Ezekiel are both considered true prophets.
  3. According to Deut. 18:22, true prophets are never wrong about a prediction.
  4. Jesus said (Mat 5:18) “One jot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law until all be fulfilled.” b.  Paul said (2Tim 3:16) “All scripture is given by inspiration of God,” Both of these verses are erroneously interpreted by many Christians as meaning the entire Bible contains no errors.

If you disagree with the preceding statement, the rest of this essay will be irrelevant to you, because you will be judging all historical evidence by its conformity to the Bible.  This makes you literally not worth talking to outside of the company of others who do the same.  Such Christians to try to muddy historical evidence that contradicts the Bible.  e.g.  One proposed that there were two Nebuchadnezzars, the second being Cambyses:  http://www.biblestudyguide.org/comment/calvin/comm_vol24/htm/xiii.ii.htm (Actually there were two Nebs, but the first ruled Babylon c.1124-1104BC.)  This essay is based on the assumption that the historical parts of the Bible should be judged for accuracy by the same rules as any other ancient historical document.


Unlike any supposed conquest by NEB-2, the conquest of Egypt by CAMBYSES-2 is well attested.



Cambyses in Egypt


The above article is correct at least in its final statement quoted here: “… the conquest of Egypt by CAMBYSES-2 is well attested”.


The article goes on to tell of the various ancient evidences for this great conquest:



We possess the autobiography of the admiral of the Egyptian fleet, Wedjahor-Resne.  It is written on a small statue now in the Vatican Museums in Rome.  After the conquest of Egypt, Wedjahor-Resne was Cambyses’ right-hand man.

“The great king of all foreign countries Cambyses came to Egypt, taking the foreigners of every foreign country with him. When he had taken possession of the entire country, they settled themselves down therein, and he was made great sovereign of Egypt and great king of all foreign countries.  His Majesty appointed me his chief physician and caused me to stay with him in my quality of companion and director of the palace, and ordered me to compose his titulary, his name as king of Upper and Lower Egypt.”

In an inscription on the statue of Udjadhorresnet, a Saite priest and doctor, as well as a former naval officer, we learn that Cambyses II was prepared to work with and promote native Egyptians to assist in government, and that he showed at least some respect for Egyptian religion:

“I let His Majesty know the greatness of Sais, that it is the seat of Neith-the-Great, mother who bore Re and inaugurated birth when birth had not yet been…I made a petition to the majesty of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Cambyses, about all the foreigners who dwelled in the temple of Neith, in order to have them expelled from it., so as to let the temple of Neith be in all its splendor, as it had been before.  His Majesty commanded to expel all the foreigners who dwelled in the temple of Neith, to demolish all their houses and all their unclean things that were in the temple. When they had carried all their personal belongings outside the wall of the temple, His Majesty commanded to cleanse the temple of Neith and to return all its personnel to it…and the hour-priests of the temple.  His Majesty commanded to give divine offerings to Neith-the-Great, the mother of god, and to the great gods of Sais, as it had been before.  His Majesty knew the greatness of Sais, that it is a city of all the gods, who dwell there on their seats forever.”


Herodotus (who, to my knowledge, never mentions Nebuchadnezzar by name) describes his Hanging Gardens, but never mentions him in relation to Egypt, though Herodotus does talk about pharaohs Necho, Hophra, Ahmose, & Psamtik.  [Necos, Apries, Amasis, & Psammis] and of course, Cambyses.

Herodotus notes how the Persians easily entered Egypt across the desert.  They were advised by the defecting mercenary general, Phanes of Halicarnassus, to employ the Bedouins as guides.  However, Phanes had left his two sons in Egypt.  We are told that for his treachery, as the armies of the Persians and the mercenary army of the Egyptians met, his sons were bought out in front of the Egyptian army where they could be seen by their father, and there throats were slit over a large bowl.  Afterwards, Herodotus tells us that water and wine were added to the contents of the bowl and drunk by every man in the Egyptian force.

“When Cambyses had entered the palace of Amasis, he gave command to take the corpse of Amasis out of his burial-place. When this had been done, he ordered [his courtiers] to scourge it and pluck out the hair and stab it, and to dishonor it in every other possible way.  When they had done this too, they were wearied out, for the corpse was embalmed and held out against the violence and did not fall to pieces.  Cambyses gave command to consume it with fire, a thing that was not permitted by his own religion.  The Persians hold fire to be a god and to consume corpses with fire is by no means according to the Persian or Egyptian custom.” [Histories 3.16]

MANETHO lists the pharaohs of the 26th dynasty, then cites the Persians as the 27th dynasty.

“Cambyses reigned over his own kingdom, Persia, five years, and then over Egypt one year.”


According to king, Darius I’s BEHISTUN INSCRIPTION, Cambyses, before going to Egypt, had secretly killed his brother, Bardiya, whom Herodotus called Smerdis.  The murdered prince was, however, impersonated by Gaumata the Magian, who in March 522 seized the Achaemenid throne.  Cambyses, on his return from Egypt, heard of the revolt in Syria, where he died in the summer of 522, either by his own hand or as the result of an accident.

(10) King Darius says: The following is what was done by me after I became king.  A son of Cyrus, named Cambyses, one of our dynasty, was king here before me. That Cambyses had a brother, Smerdis by name, of the same mother and the same father as Cambyses.  Afterwards, Cambyses slew this Smerdis.  When Cambyses slew Smerdis, it was not known unto the people that Smerdis was slain.  Thereupon Cambyses went to Egypt.  When Cambyses had departed into Egypt, the people became hostile, and the lie multiplied in the land, even in Persia and Media, and in the other provinces.


A Jewish document from 407 BC known as ‘The Demotic Chronicle’ speaks of Cambyses destroying all the temples of the Egyptian gods.

Greek geographer STRABO of Amasia visited Thebes in 24 BC and saw the ruins of several temples said (by local priests) to have been destroyed by Cambyses.


Part Three: Dreams and Visions



Our Babylonian king, Nabonidus, true to form, was, as we learned in


“Nebuchednezzar” of the Book of Daniel




a frequent recipient of dreams and visions. For example, I wrote:


Nabonidus was, like “Nebuchednezzar”, an excessively pious man, and highly superstitious. The secret knowledge of which he boasted was what he had acquired through his dreams. Another characteristic that Nabonidus shared with “Nebuchednezzar”. Nabonidus announced (loc. cit.): “The god Ilteri has made me see (dreams), he has made everything kno[wn to me]. I surpass in all (kinds of) wisdom (even the series) uskar-Anum-Enlilla, which Adap[a] composed”.


In Beaulieu’s book … we read further of King Nabonidus:


“I did not stop going to the diviner and the dream interpreter”.


And of King Nebuchednezzar II – with whom I am also equating Nabonidus – the prophet Ezekiel writes similarly of that king’s omen seeking (21:21): “The king of Babylon now stands at the fork, uncertain whether to attack Jerusalem or Rabbah. He calls his magicians to look for omens. They cast lots by shaking arrows from the quiver. They inspect the livers of animal sacrifices”.

[End of quote]


Now, what of Cambyses in this regard?

According to Herodotus (http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/herodotus/cambyses.htm)


[3.30.1] But Cambyses, the Egyptians say, owing to this wrongful act immediately went mad, although even before he had not been sensible. His first evil act was to destroy his full brother Smerdis, whom he had sent away from Egypt to Persia out of jealousy, because Smerdis alone could draw the bow brought from the Ethiopian by the Fish-eaters as far as two fingerbreadths, but no other Persian could draw it. [3.30.2] Smerdis having gone to Persia, Cambyses saw in a dream a vision, in which it seemed to him that a messenger came from Persia and told him that Smerdis sitting on the royal throne touched heaven with his head. [3.30.3] Fearing therefore for himself, lest his brother might slay him and so be king, he sent Prexaspes, the most trusted of his Persians, to Persia to kill him. Prexaspes went up to Susa and killed Smerdis; some say that he took Smerdis out hunting, others that he brought him to the Red Sea (the Persian Gulf) and there drowned him.

[End of quote]


This is actually, as we shall now find, quite Danielic.

Cambyses has a “Nebuchednezzar” like dream-vision of a king whose head touched heaven. Likewise, “Nebuchednezzar” had a dream of a “tree … which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky” (Daniel 4:20).

Now, given that this “tree” symbolised “Nebuchednezzar” himself, who was also according to an earlier dream a “head of gold (Daniel 2:38), then one might say that, as in the case of Cambyses dream-vision of a king whose head touched heaven, so did “Nebuchednezzar” touch the sky (heaven) with his head (of gold).


Dante ‘resembles a Hebrew prophet’

Canto 26.04. Dante uses the metaphor of the prophet Elijah carried to Heaven in a firry chariot to characterize the sinners in Hell consumed by flames. [Second Kings, chapter 2, verse 11: “behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into Heaven.”] If Dante can play with the firry metaphor, then I can too—this is version # 1. And just as he who avenged himself with bears Beheld Elijah’s chariot departing With the rearing horses rising up to heaven, But never could have followed it with his eyes Except for the one flame that he kept watching Just like a little cloud sailing skyward: In this way each flame moved through the throat Of that deep ditch, none showing what it stole, Though every flame secreted its own sinner. [Canto 26, lines 34-42, translated by James Finn Cotter.]


 Damien F. Mackey


‘The immediate parallelism of Dante’s “old man” is to King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the second book of Daniel. Here, the man is similarly fashioned, with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, a waist of bronze, and legs of iron. However, both the feet in the Biblical passage are of iron mixed with clay, while in Dante one foot is iron and the other is of clay’.


Some Similarities


When reading through the life of Dante Alighieri (dated to C13th-14th’s AD) one may find some likenesses to the Jewish prophet, Daniel (c. 600 BC).

Using for Dante, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04628a.htm we find (emphasis in red):


Possibly of nobility, like Daniel (1:3).

[Dante] was the son of Alighiero di Bellincione Alighieri, a notary belonging to an ancient but decadent Guelph family, by his first wife, Bella, who was possibly a daughter of Durante di Scolaio Abati, a Ghibelline noble.


Kingdom [Italian empire] fell and was succeeded by foreign power (Daniel 1:1-2).

A few months after the poet’s birth, the victory of Charles of Anjou over King Manfred at Benevento (26 February, 1266) ended the power of the empire in Italy, placed a French dynasty upon the throne of Naples, and secured the predominance of the Guelphs in Tuscany.


Good Education (Daniel 1:4, 20).

To take any part in public life, it was necessary to be enrolled in one or other of the “Arts” (the guilds in which the burghers and artisans were banded together), and accordingly Dante matriculated in the guild of physicians and apothecaries.


Spoke out on justice matter and hence became famed (Daniel, “Susanna”).

On 6 July, 1295, he spoke in the General Council of the Commune in favour of some modification in the Ordinances of Justice after which his name is frequently found recorded as speaking or voting in the various councils of the republic.


Famous Woman (Susanna again, but also Wisdom).

Already Dante had written his first book, the “Vita Nuova”, or “New Life”, an exquisite medley of lyrical verse and poetic prose, telling the story of his love for Beatrice, whom he had first seen at the end of his ninth year. Beatrice, who was probably the daughter of Folco Portinari, and wife of Simone de’ Bardi, died in June, 1290, and the “Vita Nuova” was completed about the year 1294. Dante’s love for her was purely spiritual and mystical, the amor amicitiae defined by St. Thomas Aquinas: “That which is loved in love of friendship is loved simply and for its own sake”. Its resemblance to the chivalrous worship that the troubadours offered to married women is merely superficial.

The book is dedicated to the Florentine poet, Guido Cavalcanti, whom Dante calls “the first of my friends”, and ends with the promise of writing concerning Beatrice “what has never before been written of any woman“.


Ruling interdict (Daniel 6:9: Wherefore king Darius signed the writing and the interdict”.)

At the beginning of 1300 the papal jubilee was proclaimed by Boniface VIII. It is doubtful whether Dante was among the pilgrims who flocked to Rome. Florence was in a disastrous condition, the ruling Guelph party having split into two factions, known as Bianchi and Neri, “Whites” and “Blacks”, which were led by Vieri de’ Cerchi and Corso Donati, respectively. On 7 May Dante was sent on an unimportant embassy to San Gemignano. Shortly after his return he was elected one of the six priors who for two months, together with the gonfaloniere, formed the Signoria, the chief magistracy of the republic. His term of office was from 15 June to 15 August. Together with his colleagues. he confirmed the anti-Papal measures of his predecessors, banished the leaders of both factions, and offered such opposition to the papal legate, Cardinal Matteo d’Acquasparta, that the latter returned to Rome and laid Florence under an interdict.


To be burned at stake (Daniel 3: Blazing Furnace – Three Young Men).

On 1 November Charles of Valois entered Florence with his troops, and restored the Neri to power. Corso Donati and his friends returned in triumph, and were fully revenged on their opponents. Dante was one of the first victims. On a trumped-up charge of hostility to the Church and corrupt practices, he was sentenced (27 January, 1302), together with four others, to a heavy fine and perpetual exclusion from office. On 10 March, together with fifteen others, he was further condemned, as contumacious, to be burned to death, should he ever come into the power of the Commune.


Exile honour. Justice (Daniel was an exile).

A few years before his exile Dante had married Gemma di Manetto Donati, a distant kinswoman of Corso, by whom he had four children.

Dante now withdrew from all active participation in politics. In one of his odes written at this time, the “Canzone of the Three Ladies” (Canz. xx), he finds himself visited in his banishment by Justice and her spiritual children, outcasts even as he, and declares that, since such are his companions in misfortune, he counts his exile an honour.


Writer on Matters Divine (Daniel 5: ‘Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means’).  

His literary work at this epoch centres round his rime, or lyrical poems, more particularly round a series of fourteen canzoni or odes, amatory in form, but partly allegorical and didactic in meaning, a splendid group of poems which connect the “Vita Nuova” with the “Divina Commedia”.


Lover of philosophy (Daniel 1:20: “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom”).

About this time (1306-08) he began the “Convivio”, or “Banquet” in Italian prose, a kind of popularization of Scholastic philosophy in the form of a commentary upon his fourteen odes already mentioned. Only four of the fifteen projected treatises were actually written, an introduction and three commentaries. In allegorical fashion they tell us how Dante became the lover of Philosophy, that mystical lady whose soul is love and whose body is wisdom, she “whose true abode is in the most secret place of the Divine Mind”.


Disappears from scene (Nothing hear of Daniel from early reign of Nebuchednezzar until reign of Belshazzar).

All certain traces of Dante are now lost for some years.


On Monarchy (Daniel 4:27: ‘Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue’).

It was probably in 1309, in anticipation of the emperor’s coming to Italy, that Dante wrote his famous work on the monarchy, “De Monarchiâ”, in three books. Fearing lest he “should one day be convicted of the charge of the buried talent”, and desirous of “keeping vigil for the good of the world”, he proceeds successively to show that such a single supreme temporal monarchy as the empire is necessary for the well-being of the world, that the Roman people acquired universal sovereign sway by Divine right, and that the authority of the emperor is not dependent upon the pope, but descends upon him directly from the fountain of universal authority which is God.

It is therefore the special duty of the emperor to establish freedom and peace “on this threshing floor of mortality”. Mr. Wicksteed (whose translation is quoted) aptly notes that in the, “De Monarchiâ” “we first find in its full maturity the general conception of the nature of man, of government, and of human destiny, which was afterwards transfigured, without being transformed, into the framework of the Sacred Poem”.


Most wicked. (Daniel 4:17: ‘… the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men’.)

Thence, on 31 March, he wrote to the Florentine Government (Epist. vi), “the most wicked Florentines within”, denouncing them in unmeasured language for their opposition to the emperor, and, on 16 April, to Henry (Epist. vii), rebuking him for his delay, urging him to proceed at once against the rebellious city, “this dire plague which is named Florence”.


Bad Decree (Daniel 6:8: ‘Now, Your Majesty, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered–in accordance with the law of the Medes and Persians’).

By a decree of 2 September (the reform of Baldo d’Aguglione), Dante is included in the list of those who are permanently excepted from all amnesty and grace by the commune of Florence.


Joined emperor Pisa (Daniel 8:2: ‘In this vision I was at the fortress of Susa …’).

In the spring of 1312 he seems to have gone with the other exiles to join the emperor at Pisa, and it was there that Petrarch, then a child in his eighth year, saw his great predecessor for the only time.


And Jeremiah/Jeremias (Daniel 9:2: ‘I, Daniel, learned from reading the word of the LORD, as revealed to Jeremiah the prophet …’).

Reverence for his fatherland, Leonardo Bruni tells us, kept Dante from accompanying the imperial army that vainly besieged Florence in September and October; nor do we know what became of him in the disintegration of his party on the emperor’s death in the following August, 1313. A vague tradition makes him take refuge in the convent of Santa Croce di Fonte Avellana near Gubbio. It was possibly from thence that, after the death of Clement V, in 1314, he wrote his noble letter to the Italian cardinals (Epist. viii), crying aloud with the voice of Jeremias, urging them to restore the papacy to Rome.



Part Two: Some More Comparisons



We continue with the New Advent life of Dante http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04628a.htm (emphasis in red):



Condemned to death. Pardoned (Daniel 2:24, also Fiery Furnace incident).

A little later, Dante was at Lucca under the protection of Uguccione della Faggiuola, a Ghibelline soldier who had temporarily made himself lord of that city. Probably in consequence of his association with Uguccione the Florentines renewed the sentence of death against the poet (6 Nov. 1315), his two sons being included in the condemnation. In 1316 several decrees of amnesty were passed, and (although Dante was undoubtedly excluded under a provision of 2 June) some attempt was made to get it extended to him.


Ideal ruler (Daniel 2:36-38, “Head of Gold”)

The poet’s answer was his famous letter to an unnamed Florentine friend (Epist. ix), absolutely refusing to return to his country under shameful conditions. He now went again to Verona, where he found his ideal of knightly manhood realized in Can Grande della Scala, who was ruling a large portion of Eastern Lombardy as imperial vicar, and in whom he doubtless saw a possible future deliverer of Italy. It is a plausible theory, dating from the fifteenth century, that identifies Can Grande with the “Veltro”, or greyhound, the hero whose advent is prophesied at the beginning of the “Inferno”, who is to effectuate the imperial ideals of the “De Monarchiâ”, and succeed where Henry of Luxemburg had failed.


Paradiso and its Explanation (Daniel’s Heavenly Vision, 7:9-10, 13-14 and Interpretation, 15-28).

In 1317 (according to the more probable chronology) Dante settled at Ravenna, at the invitation of Guido Novello da Polenta. Here he completed the “Divina Commedia”. From Ravenna he wrote the striking letter to Can Grande (Epist. x), dedicating the “Paradiso” to him, commenting upon its first canto, and explaining the intention and allegorical meaning of the whole poem.


Laurel crown of Bologna turned down (Daniel 5:17 turns down King Belshazzar’s honours: “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else”).

A letter in verse (1319) from Giovanni del Virgilio, a lecturer in Latin at the University of Bologna, remonstrating with him for treating such lofty themes in the vernacular, inviting him to come and receive the laurel crown in that City, led Dante to compose his first “Eclogue” a delightful poem in pastoral Latin hexameters, full of human kindness and gentle humour. In it Dante expresses his unalterable resolution to receive the laurel from Florence alone, and proposes to win his correspondent to an appreciation of vernacular poetry by the gift of ten cantos of the “Paradiso”.


Divina Commedia relates a vision (Daniel is a man of dreams and visions).

The “Divina Commedia” is an allegory of human life, in the form of a vision of the world beyond the grave, written avowedly with the object of converting a corrupt society to righteousness: “to remove those living in this life from the state of misery, and lead them to the state of felicity“. It is composed of a hundred cantos, written in the measure known as terza rima, with its normally hendecasyllabic lines and closely linked rhymes, which Dante so modified from the popular poetry of his day that it may be regarded as his own invention. He is relating, nearly twenty years after the event, a vision which was granted to him (for his own salvation when leading a sinful life) during the year of jubilee, 1300, in which for seven days (beginning on the morning of Good Friday) he passed through hell, purgatory, and paradise, spoke with the souls in each realm, and heard what the Providence of God had in store for himself and to world. The framework of the poem presents the dual scheme of the “De Monarchiâ” transfigured.


Beasts, Mountain (Daniel 7, Dream of Four Beasts, and 2:34 Mountain).

Virgil, representing human philosophy acting in accordance with the moral and intellectual virtues, guides Dante by the light of natural reason from the dark wood of alienation from God (where the beasts of lust pride, and avarice drive man back from ascending the Mountain of the Lord), through hell and purgatory to the earthly paradise, the state of temporal felicity, when spiritual liberty has been regained by the purgatorial pains.


Sight of God (Daniel’s Heavenly Vision, 7:9-10, 13-14).

Beatrice, representing Divine philosophy illuminated by revelation, leads him thence, up through the nine moving heavens of intellectual preparation, into the true paradise, the spaceless and timeless empyrean, in which the blessedness of eternal life is found in the fruition of the sight of God.


Sun and stars (Daniel 12:3).

There her place is taken by St. Bernard, type of the loving contemplation in which the eternal life of the soul consists, who commends him to the Blessed Virgin, at whose intercession he obtains a foretaste of the Beatific Vision, the poem closing with all powers of knowing and loving fulfilled and consumed in the union of the understanding with the Divine Essence, the will made one with the Divine Will, “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars”.


Victim persecution and injustice, burning with zeal (Daniel 6, Den of Lions).

Himself the victim of persecution and injustice, burning with zeal for the reformation and renovation of the world, Dante’s impartiality is, in the main, sublime. He is the man (to adopt his own phrase) to whom Truth appeals from her immutable throne ….


Lofty mountain (Daniel 2:34), rising out of ocean (Daniel 7:2).

The “Purgatorio”, perhaps the most artistically perfect of the three canticles, owes less to the beauty of the separate episodes. Dante’s conception of purgatory as a lofty mountain, rising out of the ocean in the southern hemisphere, and leading up to the Garden of Eden, the necessary preparation for winning back the earthly paradise, and with it all the prerogatives lost by man at the fall of Adam, seems peculiar to him; nor do we find elsewhere the purifying process carried on beneath the sun and stars, with the beauty of transfigured nature only eclipsed by the splendour of the angelic custodians of the seven terraces.


Beatrice on banks of Lethe (Daniel 8:16 Angel on banks of river Ulai).

The meeting with Beatrice on the banks of Lethe, with Dante’s personal confession of an unworthy past, completes the story of the “Vita Nuova” after the bitter experiences and disillusions of a lifetime.


Works of Dante considered spurious (Many sceptics of Book of Daniel).

The title of father of modern Dante scholarship unquestionably belongs to Karl Witte (1800-83), whose labours set students of the nineteenth century on the right path both in interpretation and in textual research. More recently, mainly through the influence of G.A. Scartazzini (d. 1901), a wave of excessive scepticism swept over the field, by which the traditional events of Dante’s life were regarded as little better than fables and the majority of his letters and even some of his minor works were declared to be spurious.


Hebrew prophet (Daniel was indeed that).

Never, perhaps, has Dante’s fame stood so high as at the present day, when he is universally recognized as ranking with Homer, Æschylus, Sophocles, and Shakespeare, among the few supreme poets of the world. It has been well observed that his inspiration resembles that of the Hebrew prophet more than that of the poet as ordinarily understood.



Part Three:

Dante ‘Becomes’ Nebuchednezzar



Dante’s “inspiration resembles that of the Hebrew prophet more than that of the poet as ordinarily understood”. So we read in Part Two. But it has also been said (see below): “Dante is to Nebuchadnezzar as Beatrice is to Daniel”.





“Why should Dante have cast himself as the tyrannical Babylonian ruler?”





For some incredible likenesses to the Book of Daniel in Dante’s writings it may suffice to quote from the following two intriguing articles:



Robert Hollander (Princeton University) 17 May 2005 Paradiso 4.14: Dante as Nebuchadnezzar?
The following passage, a simile, apparently establishes a four-way typological analogy, three terms of which are disclosed, and one of which is not expressed, but is understood easily and by all who have dealt with this text. At the same time, it has always caused displeasure or avoidance in its readers:


Fé sì Beatrice qual fé Danïello, Nabuccodonosor levando d’ira, che l’avea fatto ingiustamente fello; (Par. 4.13-15)


The cast of characters of this passage also (and obviously) includes the protagonist, even if he is not named in it. And indeed, all readily agree that, in this “equation,” Dante is to Nebuchadnezzar as Beatrice is to Daniel. The problem only begins once we have come that far.

Dante has accustomed his readers to understanding his typological analogies readily. One such that usefully comes to mind with reference to our passage is found farther along in Paradiso, the allusion to the figurally related pair Ananias/Beatrice and its unexpressed but pellucidly clear companion duo, in similar relation, Saul of Tarsus/Dante:


“perché la donna che per questa dia regïon ti conduce, ha ne lo sguardo la virtù ch’ebbe la man d’ Anania .” (Par. 26.10-12)


While not all aspects of this quadripartite relation have proven to be easily assimilated (for instance, what exactly Beatrice’s gaze represents), it is probably fair to say that its basic business has escaped no one: Dante, blinded by the presence of St. John, is assured by him that he will soon regain his sight by the ministrations of Beatrice, who will serve as the new Ananias to his Saul (Acts 9:8-18), blinded on the road to Damascus.

To return to our less well understood simile, we find that it puts into parallel Beatrice (placating Dante’s anxiety) and Daniel (stilling Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath). It thus also necessarily puts into parallel Dante and Nebuchadnezzar, a relation that at first makes no sense at all[1]. The poet has earlier in the Commedia visited this biblical text (found in the second book of the prophet Daniel), the account of the king’s dream and Daniel’s interpretation of it (see Inf. 14.94-111 for Dante’s version of that dream, embodied in the representation of the veglio di Creta ). Here he fastens on its perhaps strangest aspect: the new king’s desire to kill all the wise men in his kingdom of Babylon who could neither bring his forgotten dream back to mind nor then interpret it � about as untoward a royal prerogative as anyone has ever sought to enjoy. Thus it seems natural to wonder in what way Dante may possibly be conceived of as being similar to the wrathful king of Babylon . The entire commentary tradition observes only a single link: Nebuchadnezzar’s displeasure and Dante’s puzzlement are both finally relieved by (divinely inspired � see Trucchi on these verses [2]) external intervention on the part of Daniel, in the first case, and then of Beatrice. However, saying that is akin to associating Joseph Stalin and Mother Teresa on the nearly meaningless grounds that both were among the most famous people of their time. Why should Dante have cast himself as the tyrannical Babylonian ruler? That is a question that has only stirred the edges of the ponds in the commentaries and has never had a sufficient answer. If we turn to the work of my friend Lino Pertile, we find that he, after correctly noting the verbal playfulness of the tercet (“Fé… fé… l’avea fatto… fello” [we might want to compare Par. 7.10-12: “Io dubitava e dicea ‘Dille, dille! / fra me, ‘dille’ dicea, ‘a la mia donna / che mi diseta con le dolci stille’,” an even more notably–and playfully–overwrought tercet]), characterizes this simile as being “hyperbolic and distracting rather than illuminating.”[3] That is because Pertile, like almost everyone else (and perhaps understandably), believes that “Beatrice might reasonably be compared to Daniel, but the analogy between Dante’s tongue-tying intellectual anxiety and Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath is hardly fitting.”[4] That, this writer must confess, was until very recently his own view of the matter.[5] However, if one looks in the Epistle to Cangrande (77-82), one finds a gloss to Par. 1.4-9 that is entirely germane here. And apparently, in the centuries of discussion of this passage, only G.R. Sarolli, in his entry “Nabuccodonosor” in the Enciclopedia dantesca[6], has noted the striking similarity in the two texts, going on to argue that such similarity serves as a further proof of the authenticity of the epistle.[7] In that passage Dante explains that his forgetting of his experience of the Empyrean (because he was lifted beyond normal human experience and could not retain his vision) has some egregious precursors: St. Paul, three of Jesus’s disciples, Ezekiel (such visionary capacity certified by the testimony of Richard of St. Victor, St. Bernard, and St. Augustine); and then he turns to his own unworthiness to be included in such company (if not hesitating to insist on the fact that he had been the recipient of exactly the same sort of exalted vision): “Si vero in dispositionem elevationis tante propter peccatum loquentis oblatrarent, legant Danielem, ubi et Nabuchodonosor invenient contra peccatores aliqua vidisse divinitus, oblivionique mandasse” [But if on account of the sinfulness of the speaker (Dante himself, we want to remember) they should cry out against his claim to have reached such a height of exaltation, let them read Daniel, where they will find that even Nebuchadnezzar by divine permission beheld certain things as a warning to sinners, and straightway forgot them].[8] Dante, like the Babylonian king, has had a vision that was God-given, only to forget it. And now he is, Nebuchadnezzar-like, distraught; Beatrice, like the Hebrew prophet, restores his calm. It is worth observing that Dante’s way of stating what Daniel accomplished is set forth in negative terms: He helped the king put off the wrath that had made him unjustly cruel; the poet does not say Daniel restored the dream, the loss of which caused the king to become angry with his wise men in the first place. But that is precisely what we are meant to conclude, as the text of the epistle makes still clearer. Thus the typological equation here is not otiose; Dante is the new Nebuchadnezzar in that both of them, if far from being holy men (indeed both were sinners), were nonetheless permitted access to visionary experience of God, only to be unable to retain their visions in memory. The king enters this perhaps unusual history, that of those who, less than morally worthy, forgot the divine revelation charitably extended to them, as the first forgetter; Dante, as the second. This is exactly the sort of spirited, self-conscious playfulness that we expect from this greatest of poets, who doubled as his own commentator. And that commentator, in the Epistle to Cangrande, was not only the first to deal with this passage but the only one to have got it right.[9]

[1] If one also considers Dante’s other typological reference to the book of Daniel (6:22; see Mon. III.i.1), where Dante compares himself to the prophet in the lions’ den, one quickly understands the non-binding nature of any particular identity in his series of self-definitions. See note 5 for his drawing attention to himself as David or as Uzzah, depending on the context in which he is working.

[2] Ernesto Trucchi, comm. to Par. 4.13-15, DDP.

[3] Lino Pertile, “Paradiso IV,” in Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” Introductory Readings III: “Paradiso,” ed. Tibor Wlassics ( Lectura Dantis [virginiana], 16-17, supplement, 1995), p. 50.

[4] Ibid.

[5] But see an earlier study of another figural construction in which Dante is observed connecting himself as antitype to an entirely negative precursor in surprisingly positive terms: Robert Hollander, “Dante as Uzzah? (Purg. X.57 and Epistle XI.9-12),” in Sotto il segno di Dante: Scritti in onore di Francesco Mazzoni, ed. L. Coglievina & D. De Robertis (Florence: Le Lettere, 1999), pp. 143-51. In that instance also the meaning of a passage in the poem is deepened by one in an epistle, if in that case the Latin text may have preceded the vernacular one, as is almost certainly not true in this.

[6] ED IV, 1973, p. 1a.  For an independent and similar argument (without reference to Sarolli’s voce), see Albert Ascoli, “Dante after Dante,” in Dante for the New Millennium, ed. T. Barolini and H.W. Storey (New York: Fordham University Press, 2003), pp. 358-59 & nn.

[7] Sarolli continues, brushing aside the traditional commentator’s explanation, which focuses on the Daniel/Beatrice typology by simply avoiding the Nebuchadnezzar/Dante one, to speculate that what is really at stake is the parallelism Babylonian wise men/Plato, a pairing that simply doesn’t compute. (The wise men are not wrong; Plato is–or at least his ideas, in their raw form, are deeply culpable.)

[8] Epistola XIII.81, ed. E. Pistelli (SDI, 1960); tr. P. Toynbee (both cited from the Princeton Dante Project).

[9] Whatever doubt remains concerning the authenticity of the epistle has been effectively and considerably challenged by a recent study: Luca Azzetta, “Le chiose alla Commedia di Andrea Lancia, l’Epistola a Cangrande e altre questioni dantesche,” L’Alighieri 21 (2003): 5-76.



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An Image of Man

Dante’s Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto XIV, Lines 103-116

What makes a man? According to nursery rhymes the ingredients include snips and snails and puppy dog tails; according to modern times the ingredients are dollars and bills, gold and silver. According to Dante, the image of every man is revealed in the fourteenth canto of the Inferno with the allegory of the “old man” beneath Mount Ida from whom the three mythological rivers spring, and who is made of gold, silver, bronze, iron and clay. But is this a man, this concoction of various elements? And is this everyman? Dante’s answer would be ‘yes,’ followed by an injunction to ‘look deeper.’

Taking Dante’s command to heart, the immediate parallelism of this “old man” is to King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the second book of Daniel. Here, the man is similarly fashioned, with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, a waist of bronze, and legs of iron. However, both the feet in the Biblical passage are of iron mixed with clay, while in Dante one foot is iron and the other is of clay. Daniel explains the various metals as the succession of empires after the “golden age” of Nebuchadnezzar. In the dream, a stone “cut out by no human hand (Daniel 2:34)” smites the base, cracking every layer of the statue. The image crumbles, blown away by the wind, and the stone becomes a mountain. Dante’s man is likewise fissured, but no reason is given for the disfigurement. Here the golden head remains intact, and no mountain takes the place of the statue in the Inferno, but “from the splay/of that great rift run tears (Canto XIV, ln. 112-113)” which form three of the four mythological rivers: Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon.

The similarity between the two images is striking, and one must assume that Dante expected his Medieval audience to draw such an obvious connection. It remains to the reader to probe the deeper meanings. Biblical scholars have long held that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was not merely a prophecy about the King’s own reign and the empires after him, but a foreshadowing of the Reign of God, as symbolized by the victorious mountain. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Christ has already come through Hell (Canto IV, ln. 52-63) and liberated the righteous – the stone has already cracked the statue and become a mountain. The Reign of God proclaimed by the Gospels and symbolized by the mountain has come to pass. In Dante’s geography, the “great old man stands under the mountain’s mass (Canto XIV, ln. 159).” This mountain may be either Calvary or Purgatory, both “ladders” to the Heavenly Kingdom.

Daniel explains that the feet of the King’s statue that are made of iron mixed with clay represents an ill-made empire that shall be a “divided kingdom” with “some of the firmness of iron…in it,” that is “partly strong and partly brittle,” “mix[ed] with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together (Daniel 2:41-43).” By separating the two substances so that one leg is iron and the other clay, Dante shows a more completely “divided kingdom.” Some scholars have argued that this may represent or prefigure our own modern separation of church and state. Secular critics have made the case that the “right foot…baked of the earthen clay,/…the foot upon which he chiefly stands (Canto XIV, ln. 110-111)” is the Church herself, “weakened and corrupted by temporal concerns and political power struggles (Musa, 77).” This may certainly have been one of Dante’s multilayered meanings, but is not necessarily the only allegory.

The old man is mentioned as Virgil and Dante enter the Burning Sands after the Wood of the Suicides in Hell. These two rings are reserved for those violent against the Self (suicides), God (blasphemers), Nature (Sodomites) and Art (usurers). The iron foot is described in Daniel as that metal that “breaks to pieces and shatters all things…it crushes (Daniel 2:40).” Iron is the element associated with weaponry and war – a violent element appropriate to the circle of the violent. Clay, often used as a symbol for man’s human frailty, may be one answer to the riddle of the right foot. The people in Hell fell because they relied on their own flawed humanity rather than the divine providence or intellect, which the unshattered golden head may symbolize.