March 15, 2007

Today in Jewish History - Adar 25

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This date marks the death of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia in 561 BCE. Nebuchadnezzar built the most powerful nation in the world by ruthlessly attacking and annexing neighboring countries. He is sometimes called "Nebuchadnezzar the Great," but he is reviled by Jews for having destroyed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and exiling the Jews from Israel. The biblical Book of Daniel tells how Nebuchadnezzar erected a large idol for public worship; three Jews refused to take part and Nebuchadnezzar ordered them cast into a roaring furnace. (They miraculously emerged unscathed.) Nebuchadnezzar was a megalomaniac who built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; in testimony to his grandeur, each brick was inscribed with his name.

Amazingly, in our time, Saddam Hussein pronounced himself as the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar, and dreamed of restoring the Babylonian empire to its former size and glory. Saddam commissioned archaeologists to restore the ancient Hanging Gardens, and each new
brick was inscribed with Saddam's name. The Book of Daniel (4:30) describes the downfall of Nebuchadnezzar: "He loses his sanity and lives in the wild like an animal." And so it was with Saddam -- driven into a grimy hole, disheveled and deposed. (Nebuchadnezzar later regained his sanity and returned to rule.)

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