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In an inscription he styles himself “Nebo's favorite.” He was the son and successor of Nabopolassar, who delivered Babylon from its dependence on Assyria and laid Nineveh in ruins. He was the greatest and most powerful of all the Babylonian kings. He married the daughter of Cyaxares, and thus the Median and Babylonian dynasties were united.
Necho II., the king of Egypt, gained a victory over the Assyrians at Carchemish. (See JOSIAH; MEGIDDO.) This secured to Egypt the possession of the Syrian provinces of Assyria, including what later came to be known as Israel. The remaining provinces of the Assyrian empire were divided between Babylonia and Media. But Nabopolassar was ambitious of reconquering from Necho the western provinces of Syria, and for this purpose he sent his son with a powerful army westward (Dan. 1:1). The Egyptians met him at Carchemish, where a furious battle was fought, resulting in the complete rout of the Egyptians, who were driven back (Jer. 46:2-12), and Syria and Phoenicia brought under the sway of Babylon (B.C. 606). From that time “the king of Egypt came not again any more out of his land” (2 Kings 24:7). Nebuchadnezzar also subdued the whole of what much later became known as Israel, and took Jerusalem, carrying away captive a great multitude of the Jews, among whom were Daniel and his companions (Dan. 1:1, 2; Jer. 27:19; 40:1).
Three years after this, Jehoiakim, who had reigned in Jerusalem as a Babylonian vassal, rebelled against the oppressor, trusting to help from Egypt (2 Kings 24:1). This led Nebuchadnezzar to march an army again to the conquest of Jerusalem, which at once yielded to him (B.C. 598). A third time he came against it, and deposed Jehoiachin, whom he carried into Babylon, with a large portion of the population of the city, and the sacred vessels of the temple, placing Zedekiah on the throne of Judah in his stead. He also, heedless of the warnings of the prophet, entered into an alliance with Egypt, and rebelled against Babylon. This brought about the final siege of the city, which was at length taken and utterly destroyed (B.C. 586). Zedekiah was taken captive, and had his eyes put out by order of the king of Babylon, who made him a prisoner for the remainder of his life.
An onyx cameo, now in the museum of Florence, bears on it an arrow-headed inscription, which is certainly ancient and genuine. The helmeted profile is said (Schrader) to be genuine also, but it is more probable that it is the portrait of a usurper in the time of Darius (Hystaspes), called Nidinta-Bel, who took the name of “Nebuchadrezzar.” The inscription has been thus translated:, “In honor of Merodach, his lord, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in his lifetime had this made.”
A clay tablet, now in the British Museum, bears the following inscription, the only one as yet found which refers to his wars: “In the thirty-seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the country of Babylon, he went to Egypt [Misr] to make war. Amasis, king of Egypt, collected [his army], and marched and spread abroad.” Thus were fulfilled the words of the prophet (Jer. 46:13-26; Ezek. 29:2-20). Having completed the subjugation of Phoenicia, and inflicted chastisement on Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar now set himself to rebuild and adorn the city of Babylon (Dan. 4:30), and to add to the greatness and prosperity of his kingdom by constructing canals and aqueducts and reservoirs surpassing in grandeur and magnificence everything of the kind mentioned in history (Dan. 2:37). He is represented as a “king of kings,” ruling over a vast kingdom of many provinces, with a long list of officers and rulers under him, “princes, governors, captains,” etc. (3:2, 3, 27). He may, indeed, be said to have created the mighty empire over which he ruled.
“Modern research has shown that Nebuchadnezzar was the greatest monarch that Babylon, or perhaps the East generally, ever produced. He must have possessed an enormous command of human labor, nine-tenths of Babylon itself, and nineteen-twentieths of all the other ruins that in almost countless profusion cover the land, are composed of bricks stamped with his name. He appears to have built or restored almost every city and temple in the whole country. His inscriptions give an elaborate account of the immense works which he constructed in and about Babylon itself, abundantly illustrating the boast, ‘Is not this great Babylon which I have build?’” George Rawlinson, Historical Illustrations of the Old Testament, 1871.
After the incident of the “burning fiery furnace” (Dan. 3) into which the three Hebrew confessors were cast, Nebuchadnezzar was afflicted with some peculiar mental aberration as a punishment for his pride and vanity, probably the form of madness known as lycanthropy (i.e, “the change of a man into a wolf”). A remarkable confirmation of the Scripture narrative is afforded by the recent discovery of a bronze door-step, which bears an inscription to the effect that it was presented by Nebuchadnezzar to the great temple at Borsippa as a votive offering on account of his recovery from a terrible illness. (See DANIEL.)
He survived his recovery for some years, and died B.C. 562, in the eighty-third or eighty-fourth year of his age, after a reign of forty-three years, and was succeeded by his son Evil-merodach, who, after a reign of two years, was succeeded by Neriglissar (559-555), who was succeeded by Nabonadius (555-538), at the close of whose reign (less than a quarter of a century after the death of Nebuchadnezzar) Babylon fell under Cyrus at the head of the combined armies of Media and Persia.
Nine-tenths of all the bricks amid the ruins of Babylon are stamped with his name.