Modern scholars often ascribe to Nabonidus
The two main sources which gave birth to the hypothesis about the “religious reform”–and especially the Verse Account–raise many questions in connection with the nature of the texts, with their historical value and with the methods used in their analysis. The present article attempts a re-examination of these documents and some of the associated modern views, trying to examine the predefined models in some studies. It considers three different sets of problems. In the first place, the Verse Account is analyzed as a literary text with its own purpose and meaning, and as main instrument in the creation of the standard image of Nabonidus
The text of the Verse Account is preserved on a tablet in the British Museum, BM 38299. Despite the impairments on the tablet, the narrative is comparatively well preserved, particularly in columns II and V, and somewhat worse in columns III and IV. The document has been investigated, translated and commented by many authors.1 The most authoritative analysis was made by S. Smith. With his translation and theoretical approach, Smith was the first to define many of the arguments common in the later treatment of the subject.
The most important question posed by this document is whether we can accept its historical value as a source of reliable information, comparable for example with the Chronicle of Nabonidus
The style of the document can be described as negatively polemic, it has a belletristic form. In this respect the Verse Account differs considerably from the Chronicle of Nabonidus
I.3. […] (lú)tam-kar ip-ta-ra-as a-lak-tam
[…] for the merchant, he blocked the road.2
Lines 22–30 of column I describe the rebuilding of the temple
II.4. lu-ub-ni bīt-su lu-ub-šim-ma šu-bat-su
I shall build his house, I shall construct his dwelling.3
II.18. ka-ra-aš ip-te-qid ana riš-tu-u bu-kur-šu
A camp he put into the charge of his eldest child.4
VI.6. […] ilāni(meš) i-la-ab-bi-in ap-pa.
[…] (before) the gods, he touched the nose.5
The literary accomplishments used in the realization of the narrative are undoubtedly intended to produce an expected effect. The style of the Verse Account and the poetic tone of the text suppose its public reading. The polemic purpose of the narrative is achieved by literary skills which have an old tradition in Mesopotamian literature but are used here in a very original manner. The specific literary form is only a device for the conveyance of the meaning of the document and the realization of its objectives.
If we want to establish the historical value of the Verse Account, its text should evidently be compared with other contemporary documents. The most relevant comparison would be that with the text of the Chronicle of Nabonidus
|BM 38 299: The Verse Account||Column, lines||BM 35382: The Chronicle of Nabonidus||Column, lines|
|1. Unjust rule||I. 1–16||Not mentioned|
|2. Creation of a false god called by the king “Sȋn”||I. 18–23||Not mentioned|
|3. Creation of an image and a crown for this god||I. 24–30||Not mentioned|
|4. The king declared his plan to build a temple in Harran||II. 4–10||Not mentioned|
|5. Suspension of the Akītu festival until the end of the building works in Harran.||II. 11||The festival was temporarily suspended because the king was in Taima.||II. 6–7, 11–12, 20–21, 24–25|
|6. The building of the temple in Harran.||II. 12–17||Not mentioned|
|7. The king entrusted the royal power to his son.||II. 18–20||Mentioned||II. 5, 10, 19, 23|
|8. Campaign across the country Amurru against Taima.||II. 21–24||Mentioned||I. 15–22|
|9. The capture of Taima.||II. 25–26||Mentioned||II. 5, 10, 19, 23|
|10. The royal building works in Taima.||II. 27–29||Not mentioned|
|11. Robbery and plundering committed there by the king.||III. 3–8||Not mentioned|
|BM 38 299: The Verse Account||Column, lines||BM 35 382: The Chronicle of Nabonidus||Column, lines|
|12. The vainglory of Nabonidus.||V. 2–13||Not mentioned|
|13. Confusion of rituals by Nabonidus.||V. 14||Not mentioned|
|14. Nabonidus pronounced blasphemy against Esagila.||V. 15–20||Not mentioned|
|15. The king changed the emblem of Esagila.||V. 21–22||Not mentioned|
|16. Two high administrators supported the king.||V. 23–28||Not mentioned|
|17. Cyrus proclaimed peace in Babylon.||VI. 2–3||Mentioned||III. 19|
|18. Cyrus returned images of gods to their shrines.||VI. 12–16||Mentioned||III. 21–22|
|19. Cyrus destroyed the symbols of the rule of Nabonidus.||VI. 17–24||Not mentioned|
|Group 1. Information only mentioned in the Verse Account of Nabonidus||Group 2. Information mentioned in both the Verse Account and the Chronicle of Nabonidus|
|1. Unjust rule||The king entrusted the royal power to his son Bēl-šaru-uṣur
|2. The king was abandoned by his šēdu||The king’s campaign in the country Amurru against Taima|
|3. Creation of a false god called by Nabonidus “Sȋn”||Cyrus entered the city and proclaimed peace in Babylon|
|4. The rebuilding of the temple in Harran by the king||Cyrus returned to their different shrines the images of gods collected by Nabonidus in Babylon|
|5. Suspension of the Akītu festival in Babylon until the end of the building works in Harran|
|6. The vainglory of the king and his blasphemy against Esagila|
|7. The king performed cruelties in Taima|
|8. Two high administrators supported the king|
|9. A confusion of rituals made by the king|
|10. The king undertook building works in Taima similar in their magnitude to those in Babylon|
|11. Cyrus destroyed the symbols of the rule of Nabonidus|
Group 1 demonstrates the propensities of the information in the Verse Account and Group 2 expresses the attitude of its text towards some well-known facts from the reign of Nabonidus
The text of the Verse Account explains this transfer of royal prerogatives as some kind of “royal madness” and an “evil deed.” In the logic of the narrative this is closely connected with the expedition of Nabonidus
The manner of presentation of the events of Group 2 in the Verse Account (Group 1) attests most clearly the manipulative character of the whole document. Instead of directly falsifying, denying or hiding publicly known facts, the text displays them in a premeditated misinterpretation. This artifice is used throughout the text of the Verse Account. Based on well known facts, these manipulative interpretations gain more weight, and their tendency is clear.
The same artifice is used in the presentation of well-known events in Group 1, and here the level of manipulation is even higher and more straightforward. We can clearly observe this at several places in the text. A notable example is offered by the account of the events connected with the restoration of the temple
Another example is offered by the account of the interruption of the New Year festival—Akītu
It is possible that after the year of a king’s accession his presence at the Akītu festival was not obligatory, as was observed by (Kuhrt 1990, 140). The importance of Akītu for Babylonian
|1. The Events||2. The Interpretations in the Verse Account|
|1. Nabonidus rebuilt the Eḫulḫul
||1. Nabonidus was abandoned by his Shedu
|2. The king was absent from the Akītu festival in Babylon, because he was in Taima||2. The king vowed not to celebrate Akītu until “the work” (the rebuilding of the temple in Harran) was finished|
|3. The king undertook a campaign against Taima and remained there for several years||3. The king set out on a far journey with his army to rob and plunder and to build a palace
It is evident that the text of the Verse Account contains a premeditated and detailed system of manipulative misinterpretations of the facts suitable to its main objective: to discredit king Nabonidus
The passages presented in the Verse Account as direct speech deserve special attention. These are to be found in col. II: 2–11 and col. V: 6–13, 19–22, 27.16 The text in column II refers to the rebuilding of the temple
The first question cannot be answered directly, and has three hypothetical solutions. The possibility that these words were really said by Nabonidus
The second main question is related to the understanding of the phrases in direct speech and the appraisal of their eventual meaning to the Mesopotamian audience for which they were intended, not withstanding whether authentic or falsified. We must recognize that we cannot understand fully and adequately their real meaning and possible connotations. Being able to conventionally translate them or analyze their grammar does not mean that we can really understand them in the way the ancient Mesopotamians did.19 The problem concerns the interpretation of any ancient texts, but is particularly evasive and delicate in the case of this short utterances in direct speech, with all the possible duplicity and hypocrisy involved in their use in the document as implied by its foregoing analysis.
When appraising the degree of reliability of the statements attributed to Na- bonidus in the Verse Account, the main consideration should be the purpose of the text. This was evidently of a propagandistic character, aiming to discredit the former king and to glorify his successor, the invader Cyrus
|The Verse Account||Column, Lines||The Cyrus Cylinder||Lines|
|1. Nabonidus rebuilt the temple in Harran as part of his adoration of a fake god, called by him “Sȋn”||I. 18–30, II. 4–10||No information about the king’s religious activities in Harran or the rebuilding of the local temple|
|2. The king was abandoned by his Shedu||I. 17||No information on the subject|
|3. The king cancelled the festival of Akītu in Babylon||II. 11||No information about the cancellation of the festival|
|4. Description of the campaign against Taima||II. 25–29||No information about the campaign|
|5. Statements of Nabonidus in direct speech||II. 2–11, V. 5–7, 9–13, 16, 20||No information about any statements of the king|
|6. Nabonidus entrusted the kingship to his eldest son.||II. 18–20||No information about a transfer of the kingship|
|7. Nabonidus committed blasphemous acts against Esagila||V. 16–22||Nabonidus committed blasphemies against Marduk||7–9, 15, 33–34|
|8. No information about tributes received by Cyrus.||Cyrus received tribute from different kings||29–31|
|9. Cyrus returned to their various shrines the statues of different gods which Nabonidus had collected in Babylon.||VI. 13–16||Nabonidus collected in Babylon statues of gods as a blasphemous act, Cyrus returned them to their various shrines.||9–10, 33–34|
Some modern works have noted both the propagandistic purposes of the text of the Cyrus Cylinder
All that has been said so far can be summed up in several conclusions about the Verse Account and its value as a historical source. It is a well-composed text, with consistent logic and intent in the pursuit of its concrete purposes. It differs from the Chronicle of Nabonidus
But although the historical value of the Verse Account seems thus to be insignificant or controversial, it has exerted an extremely strong influence on the shaping of the vision of the age of Nabonidus
The theory about the “religious reforms”
Further in his exposition, Jastrow brings his considerations to a logical end with the suggestion that “in the closing days of the Babylonian
The views of Morris Jastrow represent a stage in the development of Assyriology, and from this early stage some problems connected with the methods of research are clearly outlined. The first and foremost among these is the over-interpretation of the ancient sources. The earlier discovery of the Cyrus Cylinder
The development of Assyriology in the early twentieth century was stimulated by the publication and analysis of a number of new source documents. Among these there were some of specific interest for the study of the reign of Nabonidus
One of the assertions of Smith is that Nabonidus was unpopular among the Babylonian
Commenting on the one of the Sippar Cylinders of Nabonidus
The position taken by S. Smith is evidently dominated by his trust in the information of his preferred sources—the Verse Account and the Cyrus Cylinder
The question of the New Year festival—Akītu also takes an important place in the theory of Smith. In accordance with the information of the Verse Account that Nabonidus failed to participate in the festival and accepting its explanation of the king’s reasons, Smith concludes that “Nabonidus
We will point out two details. The first is the exact manner in which the main historical source—the Chronicle of Nabonidus—mentions
It is another problem why the Chronicle of Nabonidus is so insistent on remarking scrupulously every absence of the king from the Akītu festival, but it is doubtful that the answer would come from the Verse Account. The reason for the absence of Nabonidus from Babylon is adequately explained in the Chronicle of Nabonidus with his stay in Taima, but Smith ignores this fact in order to offer as his alternative explanation: the king’s cult for Sȋn and the rebuilding of Eḫulḫul
Two other texts mention a public mourning during the reign of Nabonidus
A similar procedure is used by S. Smith in his treatment of the question of the “confused rituals.” This is another hostile allegation of the Verse Account, namely that Nabonidus
The accusations in the Verse Account and the Cyrus Cylinder
The methodological fault of Smith’s attitude is demonstrated in his treatment of one other problem. This is the information that before the attack of Cyrus
We should be fully aware that the action of Nabonidus
The predisposition of S. Smith to the Verse Account and its prejudiced account is exemplified most clearly if compared to his treatment of the Chronicle of Nabonidus
It would be interesting lastly to analyze the use S. Smith has made of Biblical and Greek sources in support of his hypothesis. The existing evidence on the age of Nabonidus
The attitude of S. Smith to the Biblical texts is however somewhat different.47 In his examination of the Verse Account he puts forward the hypothesis that in the Book of Daniel
The hypothesis of Smith is objectionable in several ways. He starts his comparisons from that image of Nabonidus which he has taken uncritically from the Verse Account and the Cyrus Cylinder
The last three of these conclusions are particularly questionable. The restoration of the temple
[…] which nobody had ever seen in the land […] he placed it on a pedestal, he called its name Sin.50
These phrases describing the activities of Nabonidus
In his concluding remarks about the Verse Account, Smith states that it is one of the main historical sources for the age (Smith 1924, 82–83). He has no hesitations about the great historical value of the text. After all that has been said above, we feel justified to reiterate the scepticism of A. Kuhrt: “There can be no doubting the propagandistic nature of the text, nor the fact that it was composed and circulated after Cyrus’
The main problem is one of method, not of detail. The analyses of Sidney Smith are usually restricted to passages of source text taken by themselves and not checked systematically against all other existing evidence; other texts are introduced very selectively only when they can offer the desired support to the elaborated speculation. The method is potentially unsafe because it can easily lead to haphazard and over-interpretative results.
Sidney Smith was the first modern investigator to elaborate theoretically the hypothesis of the “religious reform” of Nabonidus
Among the authors who have worked on the reign of Nabonidus
This piece of evidence is important. But Gadd underestimated two important factors—the characteristic features of the royal inscriptions
If we concentrate our attention on the analysis of the text in which the inscription describe the event, we will easily conclude that it creates the definite impression of substantial organized resistance in most of the bigger cities of Babylonia
At first glance the complaints of Nabonidus in the text of H2 A and B that “the priests
Another relevant question raised by this singular passage of the Harran inscriptions is about the eventual participants in the supposed “mutiny” against the king. If there were really some mass disturbances during the reign of Nabonidus, these would not have been caused by the personal devotion of the king for Sȋn, but rather by interests beyond the theology of Mesopotamian cults
Some authors have advanced the idea that the “religious reforms” of Naboni- dus were intended to consolidate the West-Semitic Aramean tribes in Mesopotamia and the whole of the Near East under Neo-Babylonian
The hypothesis asserted by Saggs and Dandamaev seems however to ignore these processes of cultural and religious (cultic) integration among the local traditions. After the Aramean migration, the traditional cults of the previous population in the areas where Arameans
Other recent studies bearing on the “religious reform” theory have focussed on the analysis of the divine epithets used for Sȋn in the inscriptions of Nabonidus
It is true that these texts use extremely reverential epithets of Sȋn. The authors however analyze their specific content without reference to the Mesopotamian literary environment in this age, and their approach warrants several objections both of general and specific character. This theory underestimates the power of the local Mesopotamian cult tradition and its reflection in written texts. Inscription No. 13 is the one on the Harran
None of the epithets of Sȋn used in the three inscriptions discussed was specially invented by Nabonidus
Among the specific objections to the arguments of Tadmor and Beaulieu one concerns the date of the mentioned cylinder from Ur, inscription No. 17. Tadmor has suggested (and Beaulieu has accepted) a date after the return of Nabonidus
Objections can be raised also to the treatment by Beaulieu of inscription No. 14 (Beaulieu 1989, 32–34). Almost the entire text of the inscription is lost with the exception of one small portion, in which Sȋn is mentioned as “the One who governs the growth of prosperity in Akkad.” The inscription is a fragment of a stela and only its sculptured top is well preserved.65 The similarity between this paragraph and a similar paragraph in the inscriptions H2 A and B was the main argument of Tadmor and Beaulieu to date it after the 13th year of Nabonidus
Thus, of the three inscriptions presented in support of the hypothesis for a “gradual religious reform” of Nabonidus
The hypothesis of Tadmor and Beaulieu is influenced by the ideas of Sidney Smith. While Smith was mainly dependent on the propagandistic information of the Verse Account, Tadmor and Beaulieu have used more precise and reliable methods of research involving the constructive and critical analyses of a number of sources, the detailed study of many aspects of sixth century Babylonian
The first summary hypothesis about the “religious reforms” of
Another common problem is the regular use of selective positive parallels and analogies for the “verification” of one or another proposition, creating an easy appearance of certainty through the accumulation of “matching” instances, to the expense of the often much more important information to be gained from the negative comparisons with other texts where the relevant facts are either missing or denied. One of the obvious results has been the persistence of the “religious reform” theory, which such one-sided analyses could not bring under consistent critic.
Other flaws of method and approach have often been added to these. Having both accepted a priori the “religious reforms” theory, Saggs and Dandamaev for example have tried to adapt the explanation of its causes to their general views and conceptions on the expansion of the Arameans
Today the historical sources available for research on the Neo-Babylonian period are much more adequate than they were in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, and their investigation has advanced considerably. As a result we are much better placed now to judge not only the historical processes in sixth century Mesopotamia, but also the source texts themselves with their inherent problems as well as the points of view and hypotheses of our predecessors in their investigation. The hypothesis that Nabonidus
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Berger, P.-R. (1973). Die neubabylonischen Königsinschriften. Königsinschriften des ausgehenden babylonischen Reiches (626–539 a. Chr.). Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker Kevelaer.
Caplice, R., D. Snell (1988). Introduction to Akkadian. Third Revised Edition. Rome: Biblical Institute Press.
d ' Agostino, F. (1995). Nabonid i cylinder Kira. In: Vestnik Drevney Istorii 2 169-195
Dandamayev, M. (1974). Rabstvo vo Vavilonii VII–IV v. d. n. e. (626–331g.). Moscow: Izd.-vo `Nauka'.
- (1997). Novovavilonskaya derjava. In: Istoria Vostoka. I. Vostok v drevnosti Ed. by V. Jakobson. Moscow: Russian Academy of Sciences 246-290
Gadd, C. (1958). The Harran Inscriptions of Nabonidus. An. St. 8: 35-92
Grayson, A.K. (1975a). Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. Locust Valley, New York: J.J. Augustin Publisher.
- (1975b). Babylonian Historical—Literary Texts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Harmatta, J. (1971). The Literary Patterns of the Babylonian Edict of Cyrus. Acta Antiqua Accademiae Scientarium Hungaricae 19: 217-231
Jacobsen, T. (1995). Sokrovishta temi. Istoria mesopotamskoi religii. Moscow: Russian Academy of Sciences.
Jastrow, M. (1898). The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria. In: Handbooks of the History of Religions, Volume II Oxford: Ginn & Company
Kuhrt, A. (1983). The Cyrus Cylinder and the Achaemenid Imperial Policy. JSOT 25: 83-97
- (1990). Nabonidus and Babylonian Priesthood. In: Pagan Priests. Religion and Power in the Ancient World Ed. by M. Beard, J. North. Ithaca: Cornell University Press 119-155
Lambert, W.G. (1968). A New Source for the Reign of Nabonidus. AfO 22: 1-8
Langdon, S. (1912). Die Neubabylonischen Königsinschriften. Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs.
Moscati, S. (1960). Ancient Semitic Civilizations. Oakville: Capricorn Books.
Olmstead, A.T. (1925). The Chaldaean Dynasty. Hebrew Union College Annual 2: 29-55
Oppenheim, A.L. (1969). Babylonian and Assyrian Historical Texts. In: Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Third Edition with Supplement Ed. by J.B. Pritchard. 265-317
- (1980). Drevnaya Mesopotamia. Portret pogibshey zivilizatsii. Moscow: Izdatelstvo Nauka Moskva.
Pitard, W. (1998). Arameans. In: Peoples of the Old Testament World Ed. by E. Yamauchi, A. Hoerth. Ada: Baker Academic 207-230
Saggs, H. (1998). Velichieto na Vavilon. Sofia: Riva Publishing.
Sayce, A. (1892). The Inscriptions Relating to the Rise of Cyrus and His Conquest of Babylonia. Records of the Past, New Series V: 144-176
Schaudig, H. (2001). Die Inschriften Nabonids von Babylon und Kyros' des Großen. Textausgabe und Grammatik. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.
Smith, S. (1924). Babylonian Historical Texts Relating to the Capture and Downfall of Babylon. York: Methuen.
- (1940). Isiah Chapters XL–LV. London: The Schweich Lectures of the British Academy.
Soden, W. von (1983). Kyros und Nabonid. Propaganda und Gegenpropaganda. Archaologische Mitteilungen aus Iran 10: 61-68
Tadmor, H. (1965). The Inscriptions of Nabunaid: Historical Arrangement. Assyriological Studies 16 (Studies in Honor of Benno Landsberger)(Chicago University Press): 351-364
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For the text of the Verse Account, see (Smith 1924, 27–97, plates V–X). More recent translations were made by (Oppenheim 1969, 312–315) and (Schaudig 2001, 565–572, Propagandetexte, P.1. Stropchengedicht). Schaudig (2001, 563) also provides a full bibliography about the source.
See (Smith 1924, 83, 87 and plate V). For recent transliteration and translation see (Schaudig 2001, 565, 572).
See (Smith 1924, 84, 88 and plate V). I think that a better normalization would be “lubni bīssu lubšim-ma šubassu.” Cf.(Caplice and Snell 1988, 89–91). For recent transliteration and translation see (Schaudig 2001, 567, 574).
See (Smith 1924, 84, 88). For recent transliteration and translation see (Schaudig 2001, 568, 574).
See (Smith 1924, 86, 90, plate X). For recent transliteration and translation see (Schaudig 2001, 569, 571, 576–577).
The Verse Account, col. II: 25–26, col. III: 3–5.
The Verse Account, col. VI: 2–28.
The Verse Account, col. II: 4–17.
The Verse Account, col. II: 17.
The Verse Account, col. I: 19, 21, 23.
The Verse Account, col. II: 11.
The Chronicle of Nabonidus, col. II: 6–8, 10–12, 19–21, 23–25.
See (Smith 1924, 111, 115) and the Chronicle of Nabonidus II: 7–8, 11–12, 20–21, 24–25.
See (Smith 1924, 83). For recent transliteration and translation see (Schaudig 2001, 566, 573).
In the sentence we have this construction: ittekir–3 p. sing. masc. Perfect (or Preterite in Gt Stem), from nakāru in the sense of “be in enmity” “be estranged from” see (Caplice and Snell 1988, 71, 51–52), šu—pronominal suffix 3 p. sing. masc. acc.; šēdu—the noun. Smith’s translation of the verb in the sense of “altered” is disputable.
See the passages in transliteration and translation in (Schaudig 2001, 567, 569–570, 574, 576–577).
This passage is of crucial importance about the theory for “religious reform” of the king, the Verse Account (V: 18–22) “u4.sakar é.sag.il iṭ-ṭul-ma i-šal-lal šu.min-šú, ú-paḫ-ḫi-ir mārē(meš) [um]-man-nu i-ta-mi it-ti-šú-un, bīta e-pu-uš a-na man-nu an-nu-ú ši-mi-is-su, lu-ú ša (d.)Bēl šu-ú mar-ri še-mi-it-ma, (d.)30 u4.sakar-šú il-te-mi-it bīt-su”—“At the crescent of Esagila he looked and with his two hands he carried it off, he assembled the sons of the scholars, he argued with them: The temple was built by that whose sign is this. If it belong to god Bel, then the spade is his sign. God Sȋn has his crescent marked (on) his temple” (Schaudig 2001, 570, 577).
See (Langdon 1912, 282–285, Nabonid Nr. 8, col. X: 1–31) and the Verse Account col. II: 2–11.
For instance the passage in direct speech in the Verse Account col. V: 18–22, where is stated that Nabonidus changes some emblem on Esagila, which is named “crescent”—u4.sakar (uškāru). He did this because according to the source, the king accepted the crescent as symbol of god Sȋn. See the passage in (Schaudig 2001, 579, 577). It is known that the crescent was symbol of Sȋn, but it remains obscure regarding his symbolic and functional role over the temple of Marduk. If the temple had a crescent over it, then what was the difference between this crescent and the crescent of the god Sȋn?
See the text of the source in transliteration and translation in (Schaudig 2001, 550–556, K2.1. Kyros-Zylinder), also the translation in (Oppenheim 1969, 315–316). For the main elements regarding the text’s narrative, see (Kuhrt 1983, 85–87).
See (Harmatta 1971, 217–231;