Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin

Her name was Ennigaldi. Not much is known of her [1], for though she was a powerful woman, the first known museum curator in the entire world, a high priestess of Nanna, with her home on in the temple on top of the “stairway to heaven” of the ziggurat of Ur of the Chaldees, one of the world’s oldest cities, and still a vibrant city during her time, an important defensive town near the coast of the Persian Gulf in Southern Babylonia. She was also a schoolmistress, in charge of the temple and museum school, where she taught her students a special dialect to use in their work as museum employees and learned scribes (learned in their own eyes and those of their contemporaries, at least) with a particular fondness for antiquarian studies, for even then the history of her city was as old as the time of Jesus Christ is to us.

Her father was a man of obscure origins who had the good fortune to marry a daughter of a great king, and so in an unstable time of leadership in an uncertain and fairly young kingdom (less than a century old) with fear of its borders, he sought to glorify the great past of his region, and rebuilt temples (something he was fond of doing), showing a great interest in the Arabian moon goddess worship of his own obscure family background but not neglecting the other gods and goddesses of his time. He rebuilt the ziggurat of Ur, one of the buildings that served as ancient Babylon’s attempt to climb the stairway to heaven on its own terms instead of the terms of God (see Genesis 11:1-9, 28:10-22, John 1:43-51). Little did he realize this was the last time that ziggurat would be rebuilt, as the city’s demise was approaching due to the inconsistency of the flow of the Euphrates, which would soon leave it behind, and due to the earthquakes of human affairs, which would render the location of Ur no longer strategically vital to its future rulers. And so the city fell into ruins as its civilization was toppled, never again in the next 2500 years to be a major power in its own right and under its own name–Babylon.

Among the achievements of this obscure Ennigaldi was to create the first known museum in history, where antiques and inscriptions in languages even then barely remembered only by scholarly types who glorified in classical allusions and references to the long-dead language that reminded them of their glorious past, and distracted them from their far more more uncertain future. This museum was uncovered by a fellow named Leonard Woolley, a self-taught but exceptionally able British archeologist whose work in Ur gave him a lasting and well-deserved fame, and also serves as an object lesson to us.

For while history barely remembers Ennigaldi, it does record a little more about her brother and her father. Her father’s name was Nabonidas, and her brother, Belshazzar. While she was lovingly and reverently taking part in the worship of a heathen god, and caring for idols and tyrants in a respectful fashion in her temple, school, and museum complex [2] (see how history, education, and religion all follow closely together under state control in the heathen model?), and while her father was busy showing royal patronage to heathen temples in both Ur and Arabia, her brother was showing less reverence for the temple goods of the one true God, whose displeasure would mark the final judgment and well-earned end of the family’s rule and the kingdom they ruled over.

For Belshazzar was a foolish monarch (see Daniel 5). He had a drunken party in which he sacreligiously used the gold vessels that had been taken from the Temple of Jerusalem nearly 50 years before, thinking them fit for a disorderly feast with his lords and concubines. God was not to be so mocked, and so a disembodied hand gave him a warning that put an end to all festivities, a hand that wrote four words: Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin. Belshazzar knew the words meant something important, and promised the third place in the kingdom to whoever could solve the mystery of the writing on the wall, and wise (and elderly) Daniel, who had given his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar such sage (if sometimes ignored) advice gave him the judgment of God on his unworthy self.

Daniel refused the blessings of the viceroy, reminded him of his grandfather’s pride and its cost (seven years of insanity), and of his and his family’s neglect to honor the true God despite their scrupulous honor of many false gods. He then interpreted the handwriting, showing that the ungodly kingdom he ruled over had been numbered and finished, weighed in the balance and found wanting, and divided and given the the Medes and the Persians, who took over the Babylonian Empire that very night, slaying Belshazzar but giving glory and honor to the wise Daniel.

Let us profit from the example, and consider that it is far from the only time where a kingdom in its dying days seeks against hope to recapture the glory of its ancient history in lieu of present glory or accomplishments. The last emperor of Western Rome was named Romulus Augustus, in honor of the founder of Rome and Rome’s first emperor. He was a little boy with an overly ambitious father who was overthrown by a mere barbarian chieftain of no particular world importance. The last Eastern Roman emperor, almost 1000 years later, was named Constantine, after the first Byzantine emperor, a much braver and wiser man than Belshazzar who in a doomed defense of his city bravely but unsuccessfully fought for the survival of his empire against cannons and soldiers who outnumbered his forces many times over. He was at least a worthy defender of his empire’s dying days, a man we may honor and mourn even as Turks still rule over his city as they did upon his demise.

And who can forget that in the last days of the noble Republic of Novgorod, that brave Russian city whose history shows itself a noble exemplar of indiginous Russian republican virtue, in opposition to the autocracy for which Russia is more famous, its city fathers sought to instill in a generation of callow youths a knowledge of the city’s brave and noble history in defending the honor of Russia against Swedes and Germans who sought to pick off the divided Russian principalities one by one but could not overcome Novgorod the Great. But the Russian czars overcome that great city because of its vulnerable food sources and the cowardice of its citizens.

When a realm becomes consumed by its nation’s brave history, and forgets the need to ensure its future, in the face of grave threats to its very survival and existence, that realm is eating the last of its seed corn of glory and is near unto destruction. To ignore the worship of the true God but to conscientiously rebuilt heathen temples, to name yourself after murderers and tyrants of bygone days, or to think that glorious historical chronicles can overcome the fear and cowardice of the unworthy heirs of a realm’s great and noble history is to invite judgment. When we spend our days talking up the virtue of our ancestors, and neglect to practice those virtues ourselves, or prepare for our own futures, we have little future left to our civilizations. But we can’t say we weren’t warned.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ennigaldi_(Ennigaldi-Nanna)

[2] http://io9.com/5805358/the-story-behind-the-worlds-oldest-museum-built-by-a-babylonian-princess-2500-years-ago?utm_source=io9+Newsletter&utm_campaign=42fc1a62bc-UA-142218-29&utm_medium=email

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Military History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin

  1. Pingback: The Handwriting’s On The Wall | Edge Induced Cohesion

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