- Museum number
Clay tablet with six and one and four lines of inscription; Late Babylonian; administrative. The tablet 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 himself.
- Production date
Length: 2.13 inches
Width: 1.38 inches
- Curator's comments
- The newly-translated tablet relates that the Babylonian officer (Nebuchadnezzar’s chief eunuch) had sent a certain quantity of gold, presumably as a gift, to Esangila, the temple of the chief god of Babylonia, Marduk.
The name and title
The Babylonian form of the chief eunuch’s name and title is:
Nabu-sharrussu-ukin rab sha-rēshi
All Babylonian names are meaningful; the chief eunuch’s name means ‘Nabu[a god]-has-established-his[the king’s]-rule.’ In his title, rab means ‘chief,’ and sha-rēshi means ‘eunuch.’
In the New English Bible, the name and title of this official look like this:
‘Nebusarsekim the chief eunuch’
The shortening of the name is due to the fact that the Hebrew text was originally written without all the vowels (as follows: N-b-w-sh-r-s-k-y-m). The vowels were filled in only much later, at a time when the full sound of the original name was no longer quite certain. The correspondence with the Babylonian form can therefore 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. The Hebrew scribe wrote –m at the end of the name instead of –n, perhaps because words ending in –ym were common in Hebrew.
Translators have often been puzzled by the Hebrew title r-b s-r-y-s, or rab-saris. It is an attempt to record the Babylonian term rab sha-rēshi, explained above.
The chief eunuch was one of the commanders of the Babylonian army and among the highest officials at the Babylonian court, as we know from contemporary cuneiform texts. Importantly, there was always only one man with this title at any given time. Nabu-sharrussu-ukin and Nebusarsekim are clearly one and the same person.
Significance of the discovery
This is only the second time that the name and title of a Babylonian officer appearing in Jeremiah 39 have been found in a cuneiform text. It has been known for many decades that the Babylonian official called Nergalsharezer in Jeremiah is identical to the Babylonian Nergal-sharru-usur. He was a powerful governor of an eastern province of Babylonia, and later became king of Babylon (560–556 B.C.). The discrepancy between the Biblical rendering of Nergalshareser’s name and the correct Babylonian pronunciation is to be explained in the same way as for Nebusarsekim above. The officials listed in this passage of the book of Jeremiah are without doubt historical. This gives us greater confidence that other details there may also be historical.
Overall, 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 our tablet and Jeremiah 39 all the more remarkable.
A more detailed explanation of the details of the tablet, and the name and title of the official in question, may be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebo-Sarsekim
- On display (G55/dc7)
- Exhibition history
2008-2009 13 Nov-15 Mar, BM, G35, 'Babylon: Myth and Reality'
2008 26 Jun-5 Oct, Berlin, Vorderasiatisches Museum-Pergamonmuseum, 'Babylon, Myth and Truth'
2008 14 Mar-2 Jun, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 'Babylon'
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number