Belshazzar’s Feast

I recently went to watch the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Chorus  performing the Hymn of Jesus by Gustave Holst, the Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein and an awesome and spectacularly noisy rendition of Belshazzar’s Feast by Sir William Walton, at the Birmongham Symphony hall. The concert featured John Stogards conducting and Mark Stone singing Baritone

Belshazzar, sometimes called Balthazar, was a tyrannous 6th-century BC prince of Babylon, who persecuted the Hebrews and was the son of Nabonidus and the last king of Babylon according to the Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible. In Daniel 5 and 8, Belshazzar is the King of Babylon before the advent of the Medes and Persians. Although there is evidence that Belshazzar existed, his famous narrative and its details are only recorded in the Book of Daniel, which tells the story of Belshazzar seeing the writing on the wall. In Daniel Chapter 5, the details start off by there being a banquet for a thousand of his lords. Belshazzar next orders the vessels of gold that were taken from the Temple in Jerusalem, to be brought so that everyone can drink wine from them. It is at this moment that a man’s hand appears and starts to write on a wall.

“You have been weighed in the balance and found Wanting”

Understandably Belshazzar gets extremely worried by this and brings in his astrologers, Chaldeans and Soothsayers and that whoever interprets the writing will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom. The queen comes in and suggests that he call for Daniel whom Nebuchadnezzar had made chief of the Magicians, Astrologers, Chaldeans, and Soothsayers. Belshazzar offers Daniel the position of third highest ruler in the kingdom if he can interpret the writing but Daniel doesn’t want to be rewarded. Daniel interprets the writing, what it means for Belshazzar and consequences for him. Belshazzar immediately makes Daniel the third highest ruler in the kingdom anyway.

On the night of Belshazzar’s death Cyrus and Darius were employed as doorkeepers of the royal palace. Belshazzar, being greatly alarmed at the mysterious handwriting on the wall, feared to hat someone in disguise might enter the palace and murder him, so he ordered his doorkeepers to behead every one who attempted to force an entrance that night, even though such person should claim to be the king himself. Later on Belshazzar, went to answer the call of nature and left the palace unobserved during the night through a rear exit. On his return the doorkeepers refused to admit him. In vain he said that he was the king. They said, “Has not the king ordered us to put to death any one who attempts to enter the palace, though he claim to be the king himself?” Suiting the action to the word, Cyrus and Darius grasped a heavy ornament forming part of a candelabrum, and with it shattered the skull of their royal master (Cant. R. iii. 4).

The very night Belshazzar was slain Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty two years old. Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, who after ruling only three years, went to the oasis of Tayma and devoted himself to the worship of the moon god Sin. He made Belshazzar co-regent in 553 BC, leaving him in charge of Babylon’s defense.In 540 BC, Nabonidus returned from Tayma, hoping to defend his kingdom from the Persians who were planning to advance on Babylon. Belshazzar was positioned in the city of Babylon to hold the capital, while Nabonidus marched his troops north to meet Cyrus. On October 10, 539 BC, Nabonidus surrendered and fled from Cyrus. Two days later the Persian armies overthrew the city of Babylon.

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