Nebuchadnezzar II (c. 634 BCE - 562 BCE)
Nebuchadnezzar was the second and best-known king of the Chaldean dynasty of Babylonia.
He began his military career as an administrator, then ascended the throne on his father's death, just after winning Syria from the Egyptians.
He attacked Judah, capturing Jerusalem in 597 and recapturing it in 587/586. He deported prominent citizens to Babylon. He devoted time and energy to restoring Babylon, by paving roads, rebuilding temples, and digging canals.
In folk tradition, he is credited with building the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
- Father: Nabopolassar
- Wife: Amytis (?)
- Sons: Nabû-šuma-ukîn (=Amel-Marduk), Eanna-arra-usur, Marduk-šuma-usur, Marduk-nâdin-ahi, Mušêzib-Marduk, :Marduk-nâdin-šumi
- Daughter: Kasšaya (married to Neriglissar)
- 23 November 626: Nabopolassar becomes king of Babylonia; he has fought a war against the Assyrian overlords, which is continued
- 614: Sack of Aššur; rendez-vous between Nabopolassar and the Median leader Cyaxares. According to Berossus, Nebuchadnezzar marries the Median princess Amytis.
- 612: Sack of Nineveh; continued war
- 605: Nebuchadnezzar, the crown prince, defeats the Egyptian king Necho at Karchemiš
- August 605: Death of Nabopolassar; Nebuchadnezzar becomes king
- Campaigns the west
- c.599: Repair of the Ebabbar temple, dedicated to, in Sippar (mentioned in the Nabonidus Cylinder, ii.47ff)
- 598: Beginning of the siege of Tyre?
- 597: First capture of Jerusalem; king Jehoiachin is replaced by king Zedekiah
- 596: Campaign against Elam
- 595: Renewed campaigning in the west
- 587 (or 586): Second capture of Jerusalem; deportation of the Judaean elite
- 585: Peace with Tyre, after a siege that had lasted thirteen years
- 582: annexation of Moab and Ammon (Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 10.181)
- 562: Death
- Succeeded by: his son Amel-Marduk
People have long used fear as a tool to entertain.
Tales of monsters have been with us since the dawn of time. They are part of every people’s traditions and folklore, whether told around a prehistoric campfire or projected on a wide screen with digital sound for 21st-century audiences.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, shown here in part of the 11th tablet, mentions several types of monsters, and an older Sumerian tale says Gilgamesh's father was a Lillu, or blood-sucking demon. In all the stories, the monsters take their shapes from our fears of the unknown—be it apprehensions about nocturnal noises from a forest, or worries over the ominous intentions of races in far-off lands described by returning sailors. Evidently, some monsters that first materialize on a remote continent find ways to migrate to one’s own land and take up residence in a nearby wilderness or wasteland.
In the Middle Ages, Europeans believed that most monsters originated on other continents, and they often illustrated their maps and sea charts with images of the fantastic creatures in these half-legendary lands. The 13th-century Hereford mappa mundi (world map) is an outstanding example: Pictures of fabulous races and animals are distributed all over the globe,with India and Ethiopia displaying the main share. In India live the single-legged beings called sciapodes; the pygmies and the giants; the mouthless people; the manticore, or man-lion; and the unicorn. North of India, in Scythia and bordering countries and islands, there are horse-hoofed men, people with long ears and grotesque cannibals called Anthropophagi; in the Arctic are giant Hyperboreans; and in the Carpathian foothills are the one-eyed Arimaspians, who were said to fight with the griffins. Ethiopia is inhabited by satyrs and fauns; by people with long lips and others with their heads in their chests; and by basilisks and gold-digging ants.
In the 21st-century entertainment world, we relish our own menagerie of monstrosity, from alien invaders to dinosaurs, dragons, ghosts, giants and robots running amok. Some, like Egypt’s mummies, Arabian Nights genies and their cousins, the ghouls, clearly originate in the Middle East, which is fitting, given that it’s the home of some of the earliest human civilizations.
But what about three of the most enduring and currently popular world-class monsters: the vampire, the werewolf and the zombie? These three particularly continue to terrify, thrill and intrigue us like no others. All three, it turns out, have traveled great distances to be with us. But in their modern forms, none has obvious family ties to the Middle East. The driven, blood-craving vampires and the vicious, shape-shifting werewolves originate in the folklore of Hungary, Romania and Greece—or so we are told. Zombies, classically viewed as resurrected corpses or “the undead,” derive from New World Voodoo traditions—or so we are told.
There is evidence, however, that all three in fact arose from the most ancient tales from the Middle East. As we shall also see, the closer we investigate, the more the Arabian ghul keeps leaping out from the shadows of history to drag us into its mythical lair.
The vampire is usually a revived corpse or quasi-living being that maintains its existence by drinking human blood. Some experts assert that the vampire originated in ancient Egypt or India, but those connections are tenuous. The first creatures that actually fit the modern description of vampires appear in the surviving writings from the Fertile Crescent, in texts from Assyria in the north and the Akkadian and Babylonian empires in the south, as well as in documents of the earliest known Mesopotamian civilization, Sumeria.
Assyria, on the upper Tigris River, in what is now northern Iraq and parts of Syria, endured from about 2400 to 600 bce and was ruled from Assur (or Ashur). The Assyrians adopted beliefs from their Sumerian predecessors, including belief in two classes of demons with vampire-like tendencies: the ekimmu and the utukku. The ekimmu were the angry spirits of persons dead but unburied, prowling the earth until they found rest beneath the ground—a characteristic phase of the traditional vampire.
An utukku was sometimes hard to distinguish from the ekimmu, but generally it was the spirit of a deceased person who had been buried but forgotten, not honored with offerings at its tomb by family or loved ones. As a result, the utukku returns from the underworld to haunt whomever it encounters, seeking sustenance from its victims. Like the vampire of Eastern Europe, this creature is a persistent haunter that is very difficult to dislodge. Sometimes the utukku are blood-drinkers, while at other times they are said to imbibe the human life-force. While they are most often malevolent, on occasion they can be allies, and such an utukku appears as Ea-Bani, friend of Gilgamesh.
A particularly vivid description of a group of thoroughly evil, vampire-like utukku known as the Seven Spirits appears in a 3000-year-old Assyrian cuneiform incantation:
- Seven are they!
- Knowing no care,
- They grind the land like corn;
- Knowing no mercy,
- They rage against mankind;
- They spill their blood like rain,
- Devouring their flesh [and] sucking their veins....
- They are demons full of violence,
- Ceaselessly devouring blood.
Translator R. Campbell Thompson, in his authoritative Semitic Magic, says the Seven Spirits’“predilection for human blood â€¦ is in keeping with all the traditions of the grisly mediaeval Vampires.” Thompson notes that these Seven Spirits reappear later in both Palestinian and Syriac magic spells. A Syriac charm from Christian times quotes the Seven as saying: “We go on our hands, so that we may eat flesh, and we crawl along upon our hands, so that we may drink blood.” But the Assyrian incantations and their successors make it clear that vampirism was but one characteristic of these demons that also traveled with storms, like wind demons, and that ate flesh, like Arabian ghouls.
Earlier than the Seven Spirits were the blood-sucking vampire-demons of Sumeria. A manuscript recording the kings and dynasties of Sumer, dating from about 2400 bce, asserts that the father of the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh was in fact a Lillu-demon. This Lillu was one of four demons in a class of vampires: The other three were Lilitu (manifested in later Hebrew tradition as Lilith), the female version of the vampire demon; Ardat Lilli (or Lilitu’s handmaid), who visited men at night and bore them ghostly children; and Irdu Lilli (Ardat Lilli’s male counterpart), who would visit women at night and make them pregnant. Lilitu was believed to be a beautiful, promiscuous vampire, similar to some 21st-century literary versions, partial to the blood of children, infants and young men. From Sumer, Babylonians and eventually Hebrews adopted versions of these legends, and similar traditions developed in northern Mesopotamia.
Many of the traditions in early Hebrew literature, including monster folklore, derived similarly from the beliefs of Mesopotamia. Although some scholars have claimed that there is no trace of vampires in early Jewish literature, this is not accurate. The book of Proverbs (30:15) refers to a “horse leech” or bloodsucker (Hebrew ‘alukah): “The horse-leech hath two daughters, crying: Give, give.” Old Testament scholar T. Witton Davies says this creature is not a common leech but instead “probably a vampire or blood-sucking demon,” and he notes that several other prominent scholars support this interpretation. One biblical translation, the Revised Version, offers a marginal note for “horseleech” that states, “Or, vampire.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia agrees that something similar to a vampire is intended in light of the similarity between the Hebrew word ‘alukah and the Arabic ‘aluqah, which means female ghoul. Indeed, the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906 declares that the ‘alukah is “none other than the flesh-devouring ghoul of the Arabs…. She has been rendered in Jewish mythology as the demon of the nether world … and the names of her two daughters have in all probability, as familiar names of dreaded diseases, been dropped.”
Another popular vampire-demon of the Hebrews—borrowed, as we have seen, from the Mesopotamians—is Lilith. Early Jewish legends say Lilith was the first wife of the first human, Adam, created from clay rather than from Adam’s rib, as Eve later was. According to some accounts, Lilith refused to be subservient to Adam, and she abandoned him along the Red Sea coast, where she consorted with demons and bore vast numbers of demon (or jinn) children. She herself evolved into a night demon with an abiding hatred for human children, and she would come in the night to suck the blood of infants. She was also sometimes portrayed as a bird, often an owl.
Are these early Middle Eastern vampire creatures related to the more human-like European vampire, the folkloric creature popularized in 1897 by Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula? Could such beliefs have found their way into Eastern Europe? If we consider that ancient Greece may have been the gateway for the migration of a wealth of Mesopotamian ideas and legends, it may be so. There is growing evidence that Greece experienced a rich infusion of mythology and folklore from the Middle East between the 12th and ninth centuries bce. Charles Penglase, author of Greek Myths and Mesopotamia, argues that the Homeric hymns and the poems of Hesiod, written in the seventh century bce, show influences from the myths and religious beliefs of ancient Mesopotamia: “Mesopotamian religious and mythological material could have reached Greece at earlier periods, but the influence apparent in these works seems to be a result of contacts in the period of intensive interaction in the first millennium bce, beginning in the middle of the ninth century bce. The late Mycenaean time before the end of the twelfth century bce has also been suggested by some as a time of influence, owing to the extensive contacts between Mycenaean Greece and the Near East at this time.”
The Greeks developed their own version of the Mesopotamian vampire-demon Lilitu, which they called the lamia. Named for a demon born in Libya who terrorized Europe, the lamia had the face and upper body of a woman and the tail of a serpent. Lamias could disguise themselves as human women. They devoured children and sapped the life-force from men. Lamias became a staple of Greek folklore and spread to other European lands, including France, where a lamia named Melusine magically concealed her blue-and-white serpent’s tail, married a French nobleman and, repurposed as a “water fairy,” became part of Europe’s colorful legendary tradition.
Romania has some of the richest vampire lore in Eastern Europe. Its scenic central region, Transylvania, bounded by the Carpathian Mountains in the east and south, was the setting for Stoker’s Dracula. Count Dracula, played in the 1931 movie version by Bela Lugosi, was Stoker’s vampirized rendition of an actual person: Vlad iii Dracula of Transylvania, who lived from 1431 to 1476. A Wallachian noble who waged war against the Ottoman Turks, he became known as “Vlad the Impaler” for his reputed execution, many by impalement, of 20,000 or more Turkish soldiers—but no one has ever suggested he drank blood.
Romania may have absorbed some of its vampire traditions from Greco-Roman sources, which in turn had taken them from the Middle East. Romania and its heartland, Transylvania, were part of the Greek-influenced Thracian kingdom of Dacia from 86 bce and then part of the Roman Empire from 106 to 271 ce.
It makes sense that the Romanian name for vampire is strigoi, derived from strix, the Roman and Greek word for “owl.” In Greek and Roman folklore, the strix was an evil bird, capable of shape-shifting, that fed on human flesh and drank human blood. Its exact nature remained something of a mystery, even to natural history experts like Pliny the Elder, but it appears to be another example of Mesopotamian influence, given that Lilitu-Lilith was a vampire and at times portrayed as an owl. In the British Museum, on a bas-relief known as the Burney Relief, an image of Lilitu from ancient Babylon appears, often dubbed “The Queen of the Night”: a human female figure with feathered bird wings and bird claws for feet.
Some vampire lore may also have entered Eastern Europe through the Turks. In Hungary, for example, the belief in vampires is said to date back to accounts from the 12th century that cite a demon called izcacus, or blood drinker. This word’s origin dates back before the Hungarians’ arrival in Europe from Central Asia in 895. Turkic culture expert Wilhelm Radloff says the word has its roots in ancient Turkish, which the Hungarians encountered during the late eighth century in regions between Asia and Europe. Migrating Turkic tribes may have acquired vampire lore from settled populations in western and Central Asia that had been influenced by the Assyrians and their successors.
The earliest known literary account of a human transformed into a wolf appears in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, probably the oldest written story on Earth, dating back more than four millennia. Originally written in cuneiform script on 12 clay tablets, it is the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk in what is now Iraq. In the tale, Gilgamesh is courted by the goddess Ishtar, but he rejects her and reminds her of the tragic fate of her previous lovers:
- You loved the Shepherd, the Master Herder,
- Who continually presented you with bread baked in embers,
- And who daily slaughtered for you a kid.
- Yet you struck him, and turned him into a wolf,
- So his own shepherds now chase him
- And his own dogs snap at his shins.
Assyriologist Julius Oppert asserts that belief in the werewolf was a part of the ancient Assyrian worldview. Later, widespread belief in werewolves may have contributed to a psychiatric disorder in King Nebuchadnezzar ii, who ruled from about 605 to 562 bce, in which time he destroyed Jerusalem’s First Temple and built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the original “seven wonders of the world.” It also appears, from the Biblical Book of Daniel, that Nebuchadnezzar suffered from what psychiatric experts Harvey Rosenstock, md, and Kenneth R. Vincent, ed.d., have described as “depression that deteriorated over a seven-year period into a frank psychosis, at which time he imagined himself a wolf.”
This is more broadly known as lycanthropy (“wolfman-ism”), or delusions of being a wild animal (usually a wolf), and it is a disorder that has been recorded since antiquity. Among the earliest medical descriptions of it is one from the Byzantine Greek Paul of Aegina, a highly regarded physician of the late seventh century, who describes it with reference to the Greek myth in which Zeus turned King Lycaon of Arcadia into a raging wolf.
Like the vampire, the werewolf appears to be a migrant from the Middle East to Greece, where it surfaced in this legend. According to the most popular version, repeated by Ovid and other Greco-Roman authors, Zeus visited Arcadia in human form and dined with King Lycaon. The king doubted his visitor was Zeus and tried to test his divinity by serving him a dinner of human flesh. Zeus punished Lycaon by transforming him into a wolf.
Pliny, in his Natural History, relates another old Greek story about a man of the family of Antaeus, who was selected by lot and brought to a lake in Arcadia. There, he hung his clothing on a tree and swam across. When he reached the other side, he was transformed into a wolf, and he wandered in this shape for nine years, living with wolf packs. After the nine years had elapsed, if he had attacked no human being, he was free to swim back and resume his human shape. Set in Arcadia as it is, this tale may contain echoes of the Lycaon story.
Herodotus wrote of werewolf legends in his Histories, telling about such a tradition among the Neuri, a possibly Slavic people northeast of Scythia who had adopted Scythian customs. “It appears that these people practice magic,” he wrote, “for there is a story current amongst the Scythians and the Greeks that once a year every Neurian turns into a wolf for a few days, and then turns back into a man again.” Herodotus comments: “I do not believe this tale; but all the same, they tell it, and even swear to the truth of it.”
This too may have roots to the east. The 18th-century Swedish historian Olof von Dalin wrote that the Neuri were a composite of Scythians, Greeks and Hebrews who accompanied the Budiner or “Shepherd Scythians” to the Swedish islands around 400 bce, in an exodus said to have been driven by the Macedonians.
By the Middle Ages, werewolves became no less accepted in the European worldview. They were seen as a threat to established order, and they were often described as sorcerers and heretics. “An accursed college,” Swedish Catholic ecclesiastic Olaus Magnus called them in the 16th century, “desirous of innovations contrary to the divine law.”
Werewolves, it turns out, have ancient kinship with vampires, and sometimes the legends overlap. In medieval Eastern Europe, particularly during the “plague centuries” (1300–1700), the bodies of persons executed for being werewolves were often cremated to prevent them from returning as vampires. In Hungary, Slovenia, Serbia and Bulgaria, the vampire has been linked to the werewolf, and in Serbia, the werewolf and vampire are known collectively as a single creature, the vulkodlak.
Victorian folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould highlights this close relationship, too, and in so doing leads us toward more ancient ghouls. Baring-Gould describes a French historian’s account: “Marcassus relates that after a long war in Syria, during the night, troops of lamias, female evil spirits, appeared upon the field of battle, unearthing the hastily buried bodies of the soldiers, and devouring the flesh off their bones. They were pursued and fired upon, and some young men succeeded in killing a considerable number; but during the day they had all of them the forms of wolves or hyenas.” Baring-Gould felt there was “a foundation of truth in these horrible stories.” The devouring of human flesh is a particularly ghoul-like characteristic, as we shall soon see.
The Arabs, too, have a werewolf in their folklore: the qutrub. The word is a corruption of the Greek lykanthropos, or wolf-man. Edward Lane, a translator of the One Thousand and One Nights, says the male ghoul is called by this name. In popular belief, the qutrub is either a man or a woman who is transformed into a wolf-like beast by night and who feeds upon corpses, but it is not a wolf per se.
Qutrub was furthermore the Arabic term for lycanthropy. In the early 10th century, in his classic medical encyclopedia Liber Continens (Al-Hawi al-Kabir, often called The Virtuous Life in English), physician Abu Bakr Muhammad Al-Razi followed the tradition of Paul of Aegina and other classical authors, describing lycanthropy as a brain disorder or a psychosis rather than a physical transformation. He saw it as a kind of madness that compels a person to behave like a wolf. To treat the ailment, he prescribed opium to induce sleep, and baths and topicals to “humidify” the brain.
The classic zombie is a corpse revived by a sorcerer or magician, usually in the context of Haitian, Louisianan or West African Voodoo. The zombie then becomes entirely subject to the power of its master. In literature, zombies have been known to guard treasure, terrorize neighborhoods and, more generally, commit murder. The term “zombie” was popularized in the United States in 1929 in The Magic Island, a book about Haitian Voodoo by reporter and occultist William Seabrook.
In the 1980’s, Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis asserted a pharmacological basis for the Voodoo-based zombie of Haiti. He claimed that if two toxic substances entered the bloodstream simultaneously—pufferfish powder and a dissociative drug like datura—the effect could be a deathlike state in which the victim’s will would be subject to that of the Voodoo sorcerer. Other scientists, however, called this “overly credulous.”
It is important to note at this point that the classic Voodoo zombie is not one able to turn others into zombies, nor is it an eater of human flesh.
The modern articulation of the zombie, so popular today in tv shows, movies and video games, is thus quite a different creature. This new zombie, popularized in director George A. Romero’s 1968 cult-classic movie, “Night of the Living Dead,” is a revived corpse that relishes human flesh and, of that, the brain most especially. This zombie’s condition is caused originally by an outside agent—a virus from space, atomic radiation, mutagenic gas or other uniquely 20th-century malady—and from there it can usually be transmitted to living humans with a simple chomp of the fangs. In zombie tales of the early 21st century—film, video, print or computer game—the undead contagion spreads virally worldwide, bringing on a “zombie apocalypse.” Yet all is not lost, because to overcome today’s zombie, beheading or violent destruction of its brain usually suffices.
This new zombie is proving vastly more popular—and lucrative to its entertainment-media sorcerers—than even its most monstrous rivals. A recent Google search showed the word “zombie” garnering 318 million Web pages, while “vampire” collected a mere 80 million, with “werewolf” loping in third at 44.5 million.
The zombiemania has reached the point where even a serious institution such as the us Centers for Disease Control (cdc) has taken advantage of the pop-culture phenomenon to promote emergency preparedness. The cdc’s Atlanta headquarters plays a role in the first season of the tv series “The Walking Dead,” and last year, the cdc posted a real article on its blog called “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” that told readers how to prepare for a fictional zombie invasion and, in the process, “maybe … even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.”
Curiously, when he filmed “Night of the Living Dead,” George Romero says he did not have zombies in mind at all. His creatures were envisioned as ghouls, he has recalled in interviews, the flesh-eating creatures of Arabian lore. His undead attackers are even called that in the film. But somehow the word “zombie” was the one that caught on, and before long, Romero himself was using it, including in the dialogue of his 1978 sequel “Dawn of the Dead.” (He went on to make four more zombie movies. Controversial in its day, in part for its graphic violence, “Night of the Living Dead” was recently selected by the us Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a work of “cultural, historical or aesthetic significance”—lest it die an untimely death.
It is this ghoul-zombie that has the long history, and, like the werewolf, it goes back to the Epic of Gilgamesh and the king’s tensions with the goddess Ishtar, who thus describes her passage down to the underworld:
- If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,
- I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
- I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
- I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
- And the dead will outnumber the living.
Horror novelist Jonathan Maberry has pointed out that, in “Dawn of the Dead,” Romero in fact echoed Ishtar with the line: “When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth.”
Many ghouls are portrayed in Arab lore as lurking in caves in remote deserts, waiting to snare and devour innocent travelers who may be passing by. The female ghoul, or ghulah, is very popular in folktales; she sometimes shape-shifts into a beautiful woman who marries an unsuspecting man and has children by him.
Matthias de Giraldo and M. Fornari, in their 1846 Histoire des Sorciers (History of Sorcerers), tell of a legend about a ghoul in 15th-century Iraq: A Baghdad merchant’s son married a beautiful young woman against the advice of his father. The young man soon discovered his bride was making mysterious nocturnal visits to a nearby cemetery. One night, he secretly followed her into a mausoleum, where he found to his horror a party of ghouls assembled with the spoils of graves they had violated, feasting on the flesh of long-buried corpses. Among them was his own wife, and this explained why, at home, she never touched her supper. The next day, the husband confronted her and, vampire-like, she tried to open his jugular vein to drink his blood, but he succeeded in throwing her down and, with a single blow, killing her. She was buried next day, but three days later, at midnight, she reappeared, attacked her husband again and once more attempted to suck his blood. This time he fled, and the following day he found her in her tomb, where he cremated her body, cast the ashes into the Tigris River and was free of her.
Such imaginative tales and romances from and about the Middle East, dating back to the Middle Ages and beyond, have often featured ghouls as grave-violators. Says Baring-Gould:
Of a moonlight night weird forms are seen stealing among the tombs, and burrowing into them with their long nails, desiring to reach the bodies of the dead ere the first streak of dawn compels them to retire. These ghouls, as they are called, are supposed generally to require the flesh of the dead for incantations or magical compositions, but very often they are actuated by the sole desire of rending the sleeping corpse, and disturbing its repose.
Not all ghouls disguise their hideous countenance. Palestinian–American folklorist Inea Bushnaq describes ghouls as the wildest and most repulsive-looking of the jinn, hairy, filthy and long of tooth with a sharp nose for the scent of human flesh. Unlike most of the eerily mute modern zombies, these ghouls talk: In the tales, they have a set entrance speech, which comes as the human hero stammers his “salamu alaikum” (“peace be with you”):
- Lawla salaamak
- Sabaq kalaamak
- Had not your greeting
- Come first before your speaking,
- I would have torn your muscles each from each
- And used your bones to pick my teeth.
Here is another vivid ghoul, this time from a Yemeni folk epic about sixth-century Himyarite King Sayf ben Dhi Yazan. Most unregally, he is treed by approaching ghouls. The monsters are closing in:
And as he gazed, he saw an old man approaching … hideous of countenance, his face round as a shield, his jaws and nose as great as a buffalo’s, with fangs jutting out like pincers, and his ears as large as catapults; he had nails like daggers, the hair on his body was like the spines of the porcupine, and his eyes were like slits of red flame. Hideous and evil-smelling he was, his face smoldering with evil….
This is not exactly the shambling, blood-smeared, undead corpse of the modern zombie movie, but the effect is close enough. Interestingly, as the story unfolds, the no-less-hideous Queen of the Ghouls arrives, but she displays a rare sympathy and helps the king escape an impending ghoul apocalypse caused by her own people.
So we see that, throughout the imaginative visions of vampires, werewolves and zombies that haunt western pop and literary culture, there are deep echoes that reverberate all the way back to the earliest Mesopotamian civilizations. Up they came through those ages, into Arabia, Greece and Europe, vampires blending and morphing into werewolves, werewolves into zombies and so on in endless combinations—yet all three hark back no less to the oldest Arabian ghouls. While they have walked among the nightmares of far too many lands to claim purity in their Middle Eastern origins, it’s nice—and perhaps prudent—to better know their lineage. Facts can be handy defenses, armor for the mind, when next sitting in a dark theater, gripping the armrests, about to be horrified.
The above article was written by:
- Robert Lebling (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer/editor and communications specialist. He is author of Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar, and
- June Brigman (www.artwanted.com/juneart) has worked for Marvel and DC Comics, as well as National Geographic World magazine. For 15 years, she was the artist for "Brenda Starr, Reporter," a nationally syndicated comic strip. She currently works as a character designer for Teshkeel Comics on the "The 99" comic book series.
In Rabbinical Literature
Nebuchadnezzar, the "wicked one" ("ha-rasha'"; Meg. 11a; Ḥag. 13b; Pes. 118a), was a son—or descendant?—of the Queen of Sheba by her marriage with Solomon ("Alphabet Ben Sira," ed. Venice, 21b; comp. Brüll's "Jahrb." ix. 9), and a son-in-law of Sennacherib (Targ. to Isa. x. 32; Lam. R., Introduction, 23, says "a grandson"), with whom he took part in the expedition of the Assyrians against Hezekiah, being one of the few who were not destroyed by the angels before Jerusalem (Sanh. 95b). He came to the throne in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim of Judah, whom he subjugated and, seven years later, killed after that king had rebelled. Nebuchadnezzar did not on this occasion go to Jerusalem, but received the Great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem at Daphne, a suburb of Antioch, informing that body that it was not his intention to destroy the Temple, but that the rebellious Jehoiakim must be delivered to him, which in fact was done (Seder 'Olam R. xxv.; Midr. 'Eser Galuyyot, ed. Grünhut, "Sefer ha-Liḳḳuṭim," iii.; Lev. R. xix.; comp. Jehoiakim in Rabbinical Literature).
Holds No Oath Sacred. According to Josephus ("Ant." x. 6, § 3), the King of Judah voluntarily received Nebuchadnezzar and his army in the city; but Nebuchadnezzar treacherously broke the compact between them, and massacred the king together with the strongest and most beautiful inhabitants of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar then carried away into captivity 5,000 Judeans and 7,000 of the other tribes, including all the nobles and scholars of the city (Josephus, l.c.; Seder 'Olam R. l.c.; Midr. 'Eser Galuyyot, l.c.).
When he celebrated his triumph in Babylon and told his subjects how he had made Jehoiachin king in the place of his rebellious father Jehoiakim, they reminded him of the proverb: "A poor dog has no good progeny." Nebuchadnezzar then returned to Daphne, where he received the Great Sanhedrin and told it that he desired to take King Jehoiachin to Babylon. When it delivered the king to him, Jehoiachin was cast into prison for life (Lev. R. xix. 6; comp. Seder 'Olam R. l.c.; Yer. Sheḳ. vi. 49a; and Jehoiachin in Rabbinical Literature). The King of Babylon again showed how little sacred an oath was to him; for, although he had pledged his word that he would not harm the city, he carried captive to Babylon a large number of the inhabitants (Josephus, l.c. x. 7, § 1) together with the Ark of the Covenant (Seder 'Olam R. l.c.). Although a voice from heaven uttered for eighteen years these words in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, "O wicked servant; go and destroy the house of your master, since his children no longer obey him," yet the king was afraid to obey the command, remembering the defeat which Sennacherib had suffered in a similar attempt. Nebuchadnezzar asked the advice of different oracles, all of which warned him not to undertake the expedition against Jerusalem (Lam. R. l.c.). Furthermore the Ammonitesand the Moabites, Israel's "wicked neighbors," gave inducements to Nebuchadnezzar to come by saying that the Prophets announced Judah's downfall. They allayed the king's fear lest God might send the same fate upon him that He had upon Sennacherib, by saying that God had now abandoned Israel, and that there were left among the people no pious ones able to turn away God's anger (Sanh. 96b). Nebuchadnezzar decided on his expedition against Jerusalem only after God showed him how He had bound the hands of Michael, Israel's guardian angel (Midr. Ekah Zuṭa, p. 70); and even then Nebuchadnezzar did not lead the expedition himself, but gave it into the hands of Nebuzar-adan (Pesiḳ. R. 26 [ed. Friedmann, p. 130b]; Sanh. 96b, above; comp. Eccl. R. on Eccl. x. 7, to the effect that Nebuchadnezzar, seated on a horse which was led by Michael, entered the Holy of Holies.
At Daphne, from which place Nebuchadnezzar followed the operations before the walls of Jerusalem, he received the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem with great honors, asking the members to read and explain to him the Torah. Sitting on seats of honor, they began their explanations. When, however, they came to the section on the dispensation from vows (Num. xxx. 2 et seq.), the king cried out in anger: "I believe it was you who released King Zedekiah from his oath to me." He then commanded that the scholars leave their seats and sit on the ground (Lam. R. ii. 10; Ned. 65a; comp. Zedekiah in Rabbinical Literature; "Chronicles of Jerahmeel," x. 10: "the great Sanhedrin . . . who were slain by Nebuchadnezzar"). Zedekiah, the captive king, was also brought to Daphne, where Nebuchadnezzar took him to task, saying that, according to divine and human law, Zedekiah had merited death, since he had sworn falsely by the name of God, and had rebelled against his suzerain (Pesiḳ. R. l.c. [ed. Friedmann, p. 131a]).
Nebuchadnezzar's Cruelty. Nebuchadnezzar was most merciless toward the conquered people. By his command the exiles on their way to Babylon were not allowed to stop even for a moment, as the king feared that they would pray during the respite granted them and that God would be willing to help them as soon as they repented (Lam. R. to v. 6; Pesiḳ. R. 28 [ed. Friedmann, p. 135a]). Nebuchadnezzar did not feel safe until the exiles reached the Euphrates, the boundary-line of Babylon. Then he made a great feast on board his ship, while the princes of Judah lay chained and naked by the river. In order to increase their misery he had rolls of the Torah torn and made into sacks, which, filled with sand, he gave to the captive princes to carry (Pesiḳ. R. l.c. [ed. Friedmann, p. 135a]; Midr. Teh. cxxxvii.; comp. Buber's remark ad loc. and Lam. R. v. 13).
On this occasion Nebuchadnezzar ordered the singers of the Temple to add their music to his feast; but they preferred to bite off their fingers, or even to be killed, rather than to play their sacred music in honor of the Babylonian idols (Pesiḳ. R. 31 [ed. Friedmann, p. 144a], 28 [136a]; comp. Moses, Children of). He heartlessly drove the captives before him, entirely without clothing, until the inhabitants of Bari induced him to clothe them (Pesiḳ. R. l.c. [ed. Friedmann, p. 135b]). But even after the heavily burdened Jews finally reached Babylonia they had no rest from the tyrant, who massacred thousands of youths whose beauty had inflamed the passion of the Babylonian women—a passion which did not subside until the corpses were stamped upon and mutilated (Sanh. 92b; comp. Ezekiel in Rabbinical Literature). Nebuchadnezzar carried to Babylon, together with the Jews, cedar-trees which he had taken from Lebanon (Lam. R. i. 4), and millstones which he made the captive youths bear (l.c. v. 13). Even the Jews who had sought refuge from the Babylonians in Ammon and Moab or in Egypt did not escape Nebuchadnezzar, who, on conquering Egypt, carried all the Jews in that country, including Baruch and Jeremiah, to Babylonia (Midr. 'Eser Galuyyot, ed. Grünhut, l.c. iii. 14; Seder 'Olam R. xxvi.). Nebuchadnezzar was equally victorious in his expedition against Tyre, whose king, Hiram, his stepfather, he dethroned and put to a painful death (Lev. R. xviii. 2; Yalḳ., Ezek. 367).
Nebuchadnezzar, moreover, not only was a cosmocrat, ruling all the earth (Meg. 11a et passim), but he subdued the world of animals also, his charger being a lion, on whose neck a snake hung quietly (Shab. 150a, above). His godlessness was commensurate with his power; he was given, among other vices, to pederasty, which he, as with the other kings, also tried to commit with the pious Zedekiah, but was prevented by a miracle from doing so (Shab. 149b; see also Jerome on Hab. ii. 16). He was so greatly feared that as long as he was alive no one dared laugh; and when he went down to hell the inmates trembled, asking themselves whether he would rule them also (Shab. l.c.). In his arrogance he considered himself to be a god, and spoke of making a cloud in order to enthrone himself like God on high (Mek., Beshallaḥ, Shirah, 6 [ed. Weiss, p. 47a, b]); but a heavenly voice cried to him: "O thou miscreant, son of a miscreant, and grandson of the miscreant Nimrod! Man lives seventy years, or at most eighty (Ps. xc. 10). The distance from the earth to heaven measures 500 years; the thickness of heaven measures as much; and not less the distance from one heaven to the other" (Pes. 94a, below; Ḥag. 13a et passim).
Behavior Toward Israelites. The lot of the Jews was naturally a very sad one during Nebuchadnezzar's reign; and even Daniel, as well as his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who were pages at court, were often in peril of their lives. This was especially the case when the king tried to force the three pages to worship the idol at Durah, and they, upon their refusal to do so, were thrown into the fiery furnace. However, the miracle performed in their behalf (comp. Azariah in Rabbinical Literature; Ezekiel in Rabbinical Literature) induced Nebuchadnezzar to join in praising God; and he was so carried away by his songs that had he continued he would have surpassed David, but an angel forced him to desist (Sanh. 92b). Yet this did not prevent him from massacring all the 600,000 Jews who had obeyed his command and worshipedthe idol, and whom he reproached for not having followed the example of the three pious men and trusted in God (Pirḳe R. El. xxxiii.).
He finally received his well-merited punishment; for God changed him into an animal, as far as his appearance, intellect, and language were concerned. He appeared to the people with his upper half as an ox and the lower half as a lion, and as such he killed many villains. Through Daniel's prayers the seven years of punishment decreed for Nebuchadnezzar were changed to seven months; and after the king had lamented his sins for forty days, had lived in the caves for another period of forty days, and had herded for the same length of time with the beasts of the forest, God took mercy upon him and allowed him to return to his throne. He repented and did penance for the next seven years, subsisting, on the advice of Daniel, on vegetable food. The affairs of the government he gave into the hands of seven judges, who held office for one year each. At the expiration of this period he wished to make Daniel one of his heirs; but the latter refused with the words: "Far be it from me to exchange the heritage of my fathers for that of one uncircumcised" ("The Chronicles of Jerahmeel," ed. Gaster, lxvi. 1-2; see also the passage quoted in the introduction, p. 106).
Among the Animals. According to another version, Nebuchadnezzar really spent seven years among the animals, during which time his son Evil-merodach ruled as king (see, however, Josephus, l.c. x. 10, § 6); but when he returned he cast this son into prison for life. Therefore after Nebuchadnezzar had died and the nobles of the realm came to the son to swear fealty to him as their king, he did not dare listen to them until they brought the corpse of his father, so that he could convince himself that the latter really was dead (Lev. R. xviii. 12). Others say that Evilmerodach himself exhumed the body of his father, because the people believed that Nebuchadnezzar was not really dead—that he had simply disappeared as he had once before, and that they would be severely punished by him if at his return he found that they had invested another king. The body of the dead monarch was therefore dragged through the city so that the people might see it (Targ. Sheni, beginning; Jerome on Isa. xiv. 19; see also "The Chronicles of Jerahmeel," lxvi. 6; a shorter version is given in Seder 'Olam R. xxviii.). This was the shameful end of Nebuchadnezzar, after a reign of forty years (Seder 'Olam R. l.c. 45; Pesiḳ. R., ed. Buber, xxvii. [ed. Friedmann, p. 168b, 40]; Josephus, l.c. x. 11, §§ 1, 43).
That Nebuchadnezzar, in spite of all his wickedness, was chosen by God to rule over Israel and all the earth, was due, according to some, to the fact that he was a descendant of Merodach-baladan, to whom God granted, as a reward for a pious deed, that three of his descendants, namely, Nebuchadnezzar, his son Evil-merodach, and Belshazzar, should become world-rulers (Pesiḳ. R., ed. Buber, ii. 14a; comp. Merodach-Baladan. According to another rabbinical legend, Nebuchadnezzar was the secretary of Baladan. The latter wrote a letter to Hezekiah (II Kings xx. 12) in Nebuchadnezzar's absence, who, on his return, was informed of its contents, which began as follows: "Greetings to the king Hezekiah, to the city of Jerusalem, and to the great God." "What!" exclaimed Nebuchadnezzar, "you call Him the great God, and yet you mention His name at the end, whereas it should be at the beginning!" Nebuchadnezzar then ran after the messenger, to take the letter and rewrite it. God, therefore, rewarded him with the rulership of the world; and if the angel Gabriel had not kept Nebuchadnezzar from overtaking the messenger, his power would have become still greater, and the Jews would in consequence have suffered still more at his hands.
Compare Ahab, Son of Kolaiah, in Rabbinical Literature.