617 Lines from God’s Servant for Sale

Need a paving/foundation stone for your house? Got $80,000? As long as you don’t mind it being inscribed by one of the most famous kings in the history of the world, June 8th 2012 might be your lucky day!

Christie’s will be auctioning one in New York, & here are the details (Sale 2565, Lot 48):

A NEO-BABYLONIAN INSCRIBED LIMESTONE BLOCK, REIGN OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR II, 605-562 B.C. (21.5 in. x 21.625 in.; 54.7 cm. x 55 cm.) Likely a paving or foundation stone, the slightly bevelled block inscribed with 617 lines of archaizing Old Babylonian cuneiform in four columns on the obverse and continuing down to the side panel, and along two additional side panels, with a royal inscription for Nebuchadnezzar II recording his extensive building projects in glorification of his principal patron deities Marduk and Nabu, the contents as follows: Introduction; Statement of the King’s piety; prayer to Marduk and Nabu; Statement of the King’s conquests; Summary of (re)building activities in E-sagil and E-zida; Summary of other temples and chapels (re)built in Babylon and Borsippa; Review of Nabopolassar’s unfinished building activities at Babylon completed by the King; Construction of the eastern outer defensive wall at Babylon; Construction of an encircling moat at Babylon; Reconstruction of a city wall at Borsippa; Praise for completion of work at Babylon and Borsippa; Restoration of Nabopolassar’s palace at Babylon; Construction of a new royal palace at Babylon; Praise for Babylon’s defensive works; a Concluding prayer to Marduk. Provenance: with Dr. Nasser David Khalili, London, circa early 1980s.

This stone preserves a version of the East India House (EIH) inscription, known from the famous slab, now in the British Museum, that was found in the ruins of Babylon before 1801 and was presented at that time to the representative of the East India Company in Baghdad. According to Wallenfels, op. cit., p. 273, ‘the overall size and shape of EIH/Sackler Nbk, especially the beveled edges, suggest their form, if not their function, was that of a paving stone. A score of limestone and breccia pavers with beveled edges, each inscribed with a brief proprietary legend of more or less a half dozen lines written lengthwise on one edge, were excavated from the main processional street of Babylon.’ Acknowledging that the Sackler and EIH paving stones have extensive inscriptions, Wallenfels suggests that these, as well as examples from Nineveh inscribed for Ashurbanipal, were likely set with the inscriptions facing downward.

Nebuchadnezzar II was the second king of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty of Babylon, following his father Nabopolasser. Nebuchadnezzar expanded the empire to that comparable to the Assyrian kings’ a generation earlier. And, like his Assyrian predecessors, he used much of his new resources in ambitious and lavish building programs. As Oates describes (Babylon, p. 128), Nebuchadnezzar ‘needs no introduction as one of the most famous figures in ancient history. A statesman and a general of exceptional talents, he was also a builder of ambition and imagination whose surviving monuments are without rival in Mesopotamia.’ Among his great building projects, he is credited with building the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which he is said to have commissioned for his Median wife to remind her of home in Persia. Nebuchadnezzar’s exploits are most colorfully attested in several books of the Old Testament, for his invasion of Judah and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

For thus saith the LORD … I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 20:4).

And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant” (Jeremiah 27:6).

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will set his throne upon these stones that I have hid; and he shall spread his royal pavilion over them” (Jeremiah 43:10).

My guess is that the listing is incorrect, & that the stone bears 617 characters, not lines, but the photo only shows one side with about 400 (100 per column). Another 100 on each of the sides? Alternately, they could be referring to the number of lines on the EIH Inscription. In any event, this would be a neat addition to my front porch, under my 43-foot Shema.

G.M. Grena

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