Belshazzar’s Feast And The Cult Of The Moon God Sîn -- By: Al Wolters

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 05:1 (NA 1995)
Article: Belshazzar’s Feast And The Cult Of The Moon God Sîn
Author: Al Wolters

Belshazzar’s Feast And The Cult Of The Moon God Sîn*

Al Wolters

Redeemer College

Beaulieu has recently suggested that the festival which ancient sources connect with the fall of Babylon in 539 BC may have been an akītu festival in honor of the moon god Sîn. This proposal can be supported by two additional arguments. First, the dates of the festival (the 16th and 17th of Tašritu) would always have come immediately after the Harvest Moon or Hunter’s Moon. Second, a Mesopotamian akītu festival celebrated in Tašritu and dedicated to the moon god appears to be the background of the Aramaic liturgy preserved in Papyrus Amherst 63. Given the religious politics of Nabonidus’ last years, in which Sîn was promoted at the expense of Marduk, it is likely that a similar akītu festival took place in Babylon at the time of its fall.

Key Words: Belshazzar, Sîn, Nabonidus, akītu, Dan 5

*I would like to thank the following scholars for reading an earlier version of this paper: K. van der Toorn (University of Leiden), R. Steiner (Yeshiva University), and P.-A. Beaulieu (Yale University).

According to Daniel 5, the Neo-Babylonian king Belshazzar was celebrating a great feast in the night when Babylon fell and he himself met his death. Although the Greek writers Herodotus and Xenophon also mention a feast at the time of Babylon’s fall, many biblical scholars have been reluctant to give the story much credence.1 On the other hand, Assyriologists like Paul Garelli and archaeologists like David Stronach are prepared to accept the historicity of Belshazzar’s feast.2

An intriguing attempt to give the story some historical plausibility was undertaken some years ago by William Shea, who argues that the feast in question might have been a celebration of Belshazzar’s coronation as sole ruler, after the defeat of his father Nabonidus.3 Although this proposal would explain a number of historical difficulties in the story of Belshazzar, it is not supported by any explicit contemporary records and remains quite speculative.4

The purpose of the present essay i...

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