Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream: An Inversion Of Gilgamesh Imagery -- By: Jason A. Garrison
BSac 169:674 (April-June 2012) p. 172
An Inversion Of Gilgamesh Imagery
Jason A. Garrison is adjunct professor of Bible at Mid-Continent University in Mayfield, Kentucky.
Because of the biblical and extrabiblical records of his life, Nebuchadnezzar II has influenced later cultures on several levels. For example William Blake’s famous engraving “Nebuchadnezzar,” created in the seventeenth century, provided a haunting semblance of the Babylonian king in his animal-like state.1 More recently the infamous Iraqi Prime Minister Saddam Hussein idolized Nebuchadnezzar and attended a cultural festival where he was celebrated as a new Nebuchadnezzar.2 The name even appears in popular media. In the motion picture series The Matrix, a kind of hovercraft called the Nebuchadnezzar provided transport for the main characters.3
Interestingly each of these examples accentuates some form of tragedy. Blake’s artwork memorialized the king’s bovine characteristics when he was driven from society (Dan. 4). When Saddam Hussein fell from his position of power during America’s war with Iraq and went into hiding, soldiers found him in a “rudimentary” hole in the earth.4 In the second film enemies crippled and then
BSac 169:674 (April-June 2012) p. 173
destroyed the vehicle in The Matrix. As these examples suggest, the name Nebuchadnezzar represents both power and tragedy, even more than two thousand years after his death.
In the Neo-Babylonian era the name Gilgamesh represented the power and tragedy of another king who had reigned two millennia earlier.5 The Gilgamesh Epic was one of the most popular cuneiform texts of the ancient Near East. The standard version of the epic, which existed during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, emphasized both the power and tragedy of Uruk’s king.6 This article argues that key images in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 4 were similar to those in the Gilgamesh Epic, thus having special significance to the literate King Nebuchadnezzar and to his servant Daniel. After describing the significance of the Gilgamesh Epic in the ancient Near East, the article gives an overview of Daniel 4 with attention to similarities with the G...
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