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Dissertation 15.

THE MADNESS OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR.

Daniel 4:25

THE narrative of this chapter has met with much disbelief among the skeptical school of theology. The want of corresponding profane history is a subject of complaint. Origen found himself deserted by all ancient historians, and Jerome searched them in vain for any confirmation of the sacred text. We must remember, however, that the historians whom we reckon ancient, are very modern with reference to these early times. Megasthenes, for instance, wrote rather earlier than Berosus, about 280 A.C., at the court of Seleucus Nicator, king of Babylon, and we have only portions of their writings second hand. Diocles, the author of a Persian history, and Abydenus, of an Assyrian and Median, obtained their materials from Chaldee traditions, many ages after the events recorded. The Chaldee chroniclers, Hengstenberg assures us, were, notorious for their national vanity and boasting, 358358     P. 86. See also as there quoted, Niebuhr His. Gew., p. 189. Schlosser, Geshichte, etc., p. 172; and Volney, Recherches, etc., p. 150. and were not likely to record anything derogatory to their earliest hero. But even Bertholdt is compelled to confess that Abydenus has preserved a legend similar to the narrative of this chapter. “On ascending the roof of his palace, he became inspired by some god, and delivered himself as follows: — Babylonians! I Nebuchadnezzar foretell you a calamity that is to happen, which neither my ancestor Bel nor queen Beltis can persuade the Fates to avert. There shall come a Persian mule, (one having parents of different countries,) having your own gods in alliance with him, and shall impose servitude upon you, with the head of a Mede, the boast of the Assyrians.” 359359     Euseb. Praep. Evan., l. 9. Section 41, p. 456, Edit Colon., and Chron. Armen., p. 59. Now madness and inspiration were usually connected by the ancients; the time and place too, correspond with Daniel’s narrative; the extasis occurred after the completion of his conquests, and the phrase, “by some god,” refers to a foreign deity, whom we know to be the Jehovah of the Hebrews. The narrative of the frenzy which rendered him unfit for government, is allowed to be credible by the chief skeptics of the continent. Michaelis allows “that this calamity more frequently attacks great and extraordinary minds than ordinary men.” Our physicians can now explain the reason through their improved knowledge of the brain and its functions. Pathological and psychological science is here more useful than all the conjectures of disbelieving theologians. In the early days of the Church, the greatest difficulty was found in taking this narrative literally: hence expositors treated it as an allegory. The king was held to represent Satan falling from heaven, and the whole account of his dwelling with the beasts of the field was taken figuratively, and rejected historically. Jerome, however, while he records this view at great length, adheres to the literal account. 360360     See Rosenmuller’s extract from his Commentary on this chapter, Dan., p. 171, where the original Greek of Abydenus is also given at length.

The disbelief of the narrative above referred to may have arisen from an erroneous interpretation of the sacred text. For some writers have affirmed a complete metamorphosis of the man into the beast; a conclusion by no means warranted by the language of the passage. Tertullian has correctly explained the clause, “his hair became like eagle’s feathers,” by capilli incuria horrorem aquilinum præferente, since it was a natural consequence of his wild mode of life, and a usual mark of the sensualizing effect of prolonged insanity. And with reference to the time of this affliction, Hengstenberg quotes Calvin with approbation, for agreeing with the idea of an indefinite period implied by the word “seven.” Calvin, however, inclines too much towards the theory of the indefinite use of definite numbers. There seems no good reason why the number “seven” should not be taken strictly and literally, nor why the word “times” עדנון, gni-danin, should not mean years. Even Hengstenberg gives way too much to the plausible conceits of his wily antagonists. Rosenmuller correctly limits the expression to seven years, a period by no means unnatural for the continuance of a highly excited state of the brain, producing mania, accompanied by all the symptoms mentioned in this chapter. Oecolampadius views it as a case of mental disease, and quotes many similar narratives from Aben-Ezra, Pausanias, and Augustine, bringing forward the fables of the heathen poets, as illustrating the passage. For the opinion of Tertullian, and various Jewish and continental writers, Kittos Bibl. Cyclop. may be consulted, especially as the view there set forth by Dr. Wright is sound, judicious, and practical.


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