Nebuchadnezzar’s Insanity—What Was It?


The insanity of the great Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (reigned c. 605 – c. 562 BC) has been a mystery for thousands of years. It is first recorded in the 500’s BC in the Bible in the book of Daniel, chapter 4. Interestingly and not often recorded in the Bible is a pagan king like Nebuchadnezzar’s own words: 

5 “I, Nebuchadnezzar, had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. 6 So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. 7 When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. 8 Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him. 9 I said “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you… Here is my dream; interpret it for me. 10 These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. 11 The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth….13 In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. 14 He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches.’ 19 Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, ‘Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.’ Belteshazzar answered, My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries! 20 The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth…. 22 Your Majesty, you are that tree! You have become great and strong; your greatness has grown until it reaches the sky, and your dominion extends to distant parts of the earth. 23 Your Majesty saw a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump, bound with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field, while its roots remain in the ground. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven; let him live with the wild animals, until seven times pass by for him.’ 24 This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: 25 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. 26 The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.’ 28 All this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’ 31 Even as the words were on his lips, a voice came from heaven, ‘This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. 32 You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.’ 33 Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.”

                                    William Blake painting of Nebuchadnezzar – Tate Museum, London

34 ‘At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his honor say to him: “What have you done?”

37 ….Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.’” Daniel 4:5-37

All significant ancient cities and regimes kept impeccable records of their rulers, their trading partners, highways they built, the cost of all government businesses, etc.

A clay tablet with cuneiform inscription from Anatolia circa 1875-1840 B.C. Researchers have extracted numbers from thousands of tablets to create a database of trade in ancient Assyria.

There is no Babylonian record of any government activity in Babylon in the 7 years between 582—575 BC—“seven times will pass by you.” 

Several ancient writers  Megasthenes (c. 350 – c. 290 BC) and Abydenus (c.200’s BC), have mentioned the mystery.

The first Christian Historian, the invaluable Eusebius, ( 265—339 AD) over 1,00 years later in his Praeparatio 9.41, also, wrote of Nebuchadnezzar:

“It is moreover related by the Chaldeans (Babylonians), that as he (Nebuchadnezzar) went up into his palace he was possessed by some god; and he cried out and said:

“Oh Babylonians, I, Nabûcodrosorus, foretell to you a calamity which must shortly come to pass, which neither Belus my ancestor, nor Queen Beltis, have power to persuade the Fates to avert. A Persian mule shall come, and by the assistance of your gods shall impose upon you the yoke of slavery; the author of which shall be a Mede, in whom the Assyrians glory.

O would that before he gave up my citizens some Charybdis or sea might swallow him up utterly out of sight; or that, turning in other directions, he might be carried across the desert, where there are neither cities nor foot of man, but where wild beasts have pasture and birds their haunts, that he might wander alone among rocks and ravines; and that, before he took such thoughts into his mind, I myself had found a better end.” He after uttering this prediction had immediately disappeared, and his son Amil-marudokos became king.’”

There is in modern medicine and psychology an illness named zoanthropy:

“Clinical zoanthropy is a rare delusion in which a person believes himself or herself to be an animal (Blom, 2013). In the English translation of his review of the international scientific literature from 1850 onward, Blom (2014) found only 56 cases of clinical zoanthropy. Approximately 25% of the patients in these cases were diagnosed with schizophrenia, 23% with psychotic depression, and about 20% with bipolar disorder. The patients consisted of 34 men and 22 women, whose symptoms lasted anywhere from a single hour to decades.” William F. Doverspike, Ph.D.

Zooanthropy can be divided into two classes:

Boanthropy—thinking and acting like a cow or ox.

Lycanthropy—thinking and acting like a wolf which could be the origin of mythological vampires and werewolves.

This writer believes from internal sources in the Bible and external sources in history that Nebuchadnezzar’s strange behavior is now called “boanthropy, thinking and acting like a cow or ox.” 

The fact that from 1850 until the present day there have been only 56 cases of this form of zooanthropy is/was a unique and very rare disease. Nebuchadnezzar was in his time the Ruler of Rulers in the world and is still known as the the Great Builder of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, ranked one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world….But his pride took him down to his knees before the living God.—Sandra Sweeny Silver

                “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18