Nebuchadnezzar II, one of the greatest and longest-reigning monarchs of Mesopotamia, ruled Babylon from 605 to 562 B.C. He is mentioned some 90 times in the Old Testament, more than any other foreign king. The Bible records his campaigns against Jerusalem in 605, 597 and 586 B.C., culminating in the captivity of Judah.
The first four chapters of Daniel detail events in Babylon during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Outside the Bible we have many contemporary records from Babylon, as well as later writings extolling Nebuchadnezzar’s accomplishments: hundreds of contracts, several inscriptions, detail from classical historians and the Babylonian Chronicle, which documents Nebuchadnezzar’s accomplishments from his first through his eleventh year. However, there are still large gaps in our knowledge about his reign.
Nebuchadnezzar distinguished himself while still crown prince by defeating the Egyptians at Carchemish (southern Turkey) in 605 B.C. (see Jeremiah 46:2). He boasted that he had conquered all of Syria-Palestine at approximately the same time, significantly reducing the Egyptian sphere of influence. After returning briefly to Babylon to claim the throne upon receiving news of his father’s death, Nebuchadnezzar resumed the consolidation of his control over Syria-Palestine. Jehoiakim of Judah served as his vassal for the next three years (see 2 Kings 24:1), and Ashkelon, which would not submit to the Babylonian king, was attacked and left in ruins (see Jeremiah 47:5–7). Over the next few years Nebuchadnezzar also invaded Arabia, forcing its people to pay him yearly tribute.
In 601 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar once again routed the Egyptian forces. Pharaoh Neco II, however, imposed such heavy casualties on the Babylonian army that Jehoiakim took the opportunity to revolt against the weakened empire. Babylon and her allies retaliated against rebellious Judah during the following year (see 2 Kings 24:1–2). Then in 597 B.C. Jerusalem was conquered; the temple was looted; Jehoiakim’s son and successor, Jehoiachin, was deported to Babylon, along with thousands of other captives; and Zedekiah was appointed king (see 2 Kings 24:10–17). These events are mentioned in Nebuchadnezzar’s own records.
When Zedekiah himself rebelled in 589 B.C. the Babylonian army devastated the land of Judah. Jerusalem was ransacked and the temple destroyed in 586 B.C. (see 2 Kings 25:1–17). Another massive deportation was carried out at this time, with yet another in 581 (see Jeremiah 52:28–30). Outside of the Bible we lack records for years 11–43 of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, but later historians describe a siege of Tyre that lasted for 13 years, as well as another campaign against Egypt.
Apart from his military campaigns, during the course of which he consolidated control of virtually the entire ancient Near East, Nebuchadnezzar set about to transform Babylon into the greatest city in the world. Desiring to leave a lasting legacy, he erected his structures with kiln-fired bricks, as opposed to the sun-dried bricks normally used. The “blazing furnace” of Daniel 3 was undoubtedly one of the many brick kilns in Babylon that were needed for Nebuchadnezzar’s aggressive building program. Many of the bricks were stamped with the king’s name and titles. He constructed fortification walls, gates, palaces, temples, roads, bridges and a ziggurat (temple-tower) and is said to have designed the famous “hanging gardens” for his wife, Amytis, daughter of the Median king Astyages, to remind her of her mountainous homeland.
Through his military might and building enterprises, Nebuchadnezzar established Babylon as the most powerful empire of its day. Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C. and was succeeded by his son Awel-Marduk (Evil-Merodach in the Hebrew), who released Jehoiachin from prison and provided him with a regular allowance (see 2 Kings 25:27–30).
Adapted from the Archaeological Study Bible