The Insanity of Nebuchadnezzar

The insanity of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4)

"The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar; and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles' feathers, and his nails like birds' claws" (Dan. 4:33).

The king's insanity is corroborated by history. Josephus quotes from a Babylonian historian named Berasus who mentions a strange malady suffered by Nebuchadnezzar. There is also the testimony of Abydenus, the Greek historian of 268 B.C.

It is possible that Nebuchadnezzar himself gives testimony concerning this. Archaeologist Sir Henry Rawlinson has translated an excavated inscription of the king. It reads:

"For four years the seat of my kingdom in the city ... did not rejoice my heart. In all my dominions I did not build a high place of power; the precious treasures of my kingdom I did not lay out in the worship of Merodach, my lord, the joy of my heart. In Babylon the city of my sovereignty and the seat of my empire I did not sing his praises, and I did not furnish his altars; nor did I clear out the canals."

The form of insanity in which men think of themselves as beasts and imitate the behavior of a beast is not without precedent. It is known as "Insania zoanthropica".

Raymond Harrison recites a personal experience with a modern case similar to that of Nebuchadnezzar, which he observed in a British mental institution in 1946. Harrison writes,

"A great many doctors spend an entire, busy professional career without once encountering an instance of the kind of monomania described in the book of Daniel. The present writer, therefore, considers himself particularly fortunate to have actually observed a clinical case of zoanthropy in a British mental institution in 1946.

The patient was in his early 20's, who reportedly had been hospitalized for about five years. His symptoms were well developed on admission, and diagnosis was immediate and conclusive. He was of average height and weight with good physique, and was in excellent bodily health. His mental symptoms included pronounced anti-social tendencies, and because of this he spent the entire day from dawn to dusk outdoors, in the grounds of the institution .... His daily routine consisted of wandering around the magnificent lawns with which the otherwise dingy hospital situation was graced, and it was his custom to pluck up and eat handfuls of the grass as he went along.

On observation he was seen to discriminate carefully between grass and weeds, and on inquiry from the attendant the writer was told the diet of this patient consisted exclusively of grass from the hospital lawns. He never ate institutional food with the other inmates, and his only drink was water ... the writer was able to examine him cursorily, and the only physical abnormality noted consisted of a lengthening of the hair and a coarse, thickened condition of the finger-nails.

Without institutional care, the patient would have manifested precisely the same physical conditions as those mentioned in Daniel 4:33 ... from the forgoing it seems that the author of the fourth chapter of Daniel was describing accurately an attestable, if rather rare, mental affliction."

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