Tablet recording a gold delivery by the chief eunuch of Nebuchadnezzar II
Neo-Babylonian, 594 BC
The Babylonian cuneiform inscription on this clay tablet sheds new light on Chapter 39 of the Biblical Book of Jeremiah. It gives the name and title of a high-ranking Babylonian officer who, according to Jeremiah, was present at the historic siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC with King Nebuchadnezzar II. It therefore confirms the historical existence of this Biblical figure.
The tablet was translated in 2007 by Dr Michael Jursa, working in the Department of the Middle East study room. The text relates that the Babylonian officer had sent a quantity of gold, presumably as a gift, to Esangila, the temple of the chief god of Babylonia, Marduk:
(Regarding) 1.5 minas (0.75 kg) of gold, the property of Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the chief eunuch, which he sent via Arad-Banitu the eunuch to [the temple] Esangila: Arad-Banitu has delivered [it] to Esangila.
In the presence of Bel-usat, son of Aplaya, the royal bodyguard, [and of] Nadin, son of Marduk-zer-ibni.
Month XI, day 18, year 10 [of] Nebuchadnezzar, king ofBabylon.
The chief eunuch’s name (Nabu-sharrussu-ukin in its Babylonian form) becomes Nebusarsekim in the New English Bible. It has been shortened because the Hebrew text was originally written without vowels (as follows: N-b-w-sh-r-s-k-y-m). The vowels were added later, at a time when the full sound of the original name was no longer certain. The correspondence with the Babylonian form can best be seen by comparing it with the Hebrew consonants only. The name represents an attempt to record a strange Babylonian name, where the details of the words were unfamiliar.
We know from contemporary cuneiform texts that the chief eunuch was one of the commanders of the Babylonian army and among the highest officials at the Babylonian court. There was always only one man with this title at any given time. Nabu-sharrussu-ukin and Nebusarsekim are clearly the same person.
There are very few instances of Biblical figures (apart from kings) clearly identified in contemporary, extra-Biblical sources. This makes the case of the correspondence between this tablet and Jeremiah 39 all the more remarkable.