The bible tells how Belshassar, the king of Babylon asked for the sacred vessels from the Temple of Jerusalem to be used during a feast at his palace. In our painting a small hand starts writing a mysterious text in an unknown language on the wall to the astonishment of Belshassar who, at that point, is the only one to see it.
He finally asks Daniel what was written in this mysterious text. The Prophet told him his blasphemy will be punished by God. That very night the Persians and Medes took Babylon and killed the king.
About the prophet Daniel
Daniel is a biblical figure, hero of the Book of Daniel. He was one of the Jewish noblemen carried off to Babylon in 606 BC by the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II to be trained as an advisor to the Babylonian court.
According to the Book of Daniel he served under three foreign kings.
- He interpreted two nightmares of king Nebuchadnezzar II: about a huge statue made of four materials (standing for the fall of the king’s empire) and about a huge tree cut down (standing for the king’s insanity which will last for seven years). Daniel also witnessed how three of his Jewish friends survived their execution in the fiery furnace and how the king then acknowledged the power of the god of the Jews.
- Daniel interpreted the handwriting on the palace’s walls for “king” Belshazzar. Actually Belshazzar was never a king, nor was he the son of Nebuchadnezzar II. He was the son of Nabonidus, one of the successors of Nebuchadnezzar II.
- Finally under the new king, Darius the Mede, jealous officials had Daniel convicted to be thrown into the lion’s den for he was praying to his own god. Daniel was saved.
It is only at a late age that Daniel became a prophet, being given four important visions about four important empires that are to be replaced by God’s kingdom.
About the mysterious handwriting on the walls of Belshazzar’s palace
October 5th 539 BC “king” Belshazzar celebrated a great feast at the royal palace palace while his capital was being besieged by the Medes and the Persians. He ordered that the sacred golden and silver vessels from the Temple of Jerusalem should be brought so that his party could use them; they drunk from them while praising their own, Babylonian gods.
Suddenly a hand started writing words on the palace’s wall in Aramaic. While his own wise men, diviners and magicians, could not interpret the written message, Daniel could. He told Belshazzar his blasphemy would be punished and that Babylon would fall. That very night Belshazzar was killed by the Persian king Cyrus, the city fell and thus ended the Neo-Babylonian empire and the Babylonian captivity.
The Book of Daniel compares the attitude of both Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. While the first one was humbled by God, was driven mad and ultimately acknowledged the ultimate power of the Jewish god, the second one learned nothing from that example and was punished therefore.