DESCRIPTION: "Nebuchadnezzar, the King of the Jews Sold his wife for a pair of shoes. When the shoes began to wear, good lack, Nebuchadnezzar wanted her back."
EARLIEST DATE: 1976 (Palmer)
KEYWORDS: royalty wife clothes humorous
FOUND IN: Britain(England)
REFERENCES (1 citation):
ADDITIONAL: Roy Palmer, _The Folklore of Warwickshire_, Rowman and Littlefield, 1976, p. 97, (no title) (1 single-verse fragment)
cf. "Sale of a Wife" (theme) and references there
NOTES [692 words]: It's hard to know what to do with reports of skipping rhymes (are they songs, or just doggerel?), but this sounds to me very much like a folk song, so I'm including it here.
For the idea of selling a wife, see the notes to "Sale of a Wife."
The reference to Nebuchadnezzar is interesting. He is sort of the Standard Heathen King of the Old Testament, mentioned about 85 times, with the largest number of mentions being in the books of Jeremiah (whose prophesies cover much of Nebuchadnezzar's long reign) and Daniel (although the events in Daniel, insofar as they are non-fictional and not related to the Maccabean period, seem to be based on the historical Nabonidas, who was perhaps Nebuchadnezzar's son-in-law, rather than Nebuchadnezzar himself). He is also mentioned in Tobit 14:14, where he is credited, falsely, with conquering Ninevah, and in Judith 1:1 and following we find him falsely being called the Assyrian Emperor.
Nebuchadnezzar (or, as Jeremiah more correctly calls him, Nebuchadrezzar) is the Hebrew name for the Chaldean Emperor Nabo-kudurri-usur II. He couldn't really be called the King of the Jews -- he overthrew the Davidic dynasty and deported the people (these events are described in the last two chapters of 2 Kings), but the land was left desolate; there was no King of Judah. Indeed, several records in Babylon still call the deposed King Jehoiachin "King of Ya-u-du" (i.e. Judah; Noth, p. 282). But Nebuchadnezzar did rule almost all the Jews of the Dispersion -- the only ones not within his borders were the handful who had fled into Egypt.
And he was easy to remember, because he reigned for a very long time -- 43 years, according to the Uruk King List (PritchardII, p. 119). He assumed the throne of Babylon in 605, following the death of his father Nabopolassar (If you're wondering about all these names starting with "Nabo" or "Nebo," Nebo was a Chaldean god). This took place just after Nebuchadnezzar had won the great battle of Charchemish and destroyed the last remnant of the Assyrian empire and smashed a great Egyptian army (Bright, p. 326; compare Jeremiah 46:2-4). Had it not been for the death of his father, it is quite possible that Nebuchadnezzar would have gone on to destroy Egypt. As it was, Judah became a Babylonian vassal, but rebelled and was conquered in 598/597. The rebellious King Jehoiakim conveniently died (Bright, p. 327, speculates that he was assassinated), and Nebuchadnezzar did not entirely destroy Judah, although he did exile many of the best people and the new King Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24). A decade later, Jehoiachin's uncle Zedekiah rebelled, and Judah was conquered again in 587 (2 Kings 25). Judah was destroyed and its people exiled.
Many Jews probably expected divine revenge on Nebuchadnezzar. It didn't come. He remained King for another quarter century, and embarked in an ambitious rebuilding of Babylon, with much building of temples and monuments to his gods (Leick, p. 119). He finally died in 562.-- opening the door for chaos in Babylon. (And these dates are pretty firm -- according to Dougherty, p. 10, his date list for the Chaldean kings, which agrees with PritchardII, is said to be based on "more than two thousand dated cuneiform documents.") Three kings reigned before Nabonidas took the throne in 556 (Bright, pp. 352-353), and then Babylon fell to the Persians in 539.
Actual records of Nebuchadnezzar's private life are of course few; PritchardI, p. 203, records his brief account of his first capture in Jerusalem in 598 B.C.E., while p. 205 lists some of his household accounts. Goodspeed, p. 349, notes the "instability" of his dynasty -- but there is no mention of his wife, just of the weakness of his son and the brutality of his son-in-law. Still, based on all the sources I checked (not all of which are cited here, since they duplicated the material in the sources I have cited), there seem to have been no succession quarrels in the period before his death, nor is there any mention of a son other than Amel-Marduk (the Bible's Evil-Merodach), implying that there weren't a bunch of wives trying to advance the interests of their sons. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Bright: John Bright, A History of Israel, third edition, Westminster Press, 1981
- Dougherty: Raymond Philip Dougherty, Nabonidus and Belshazzar: A Study of the Closing Events of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Yale University Press, 1929
- Goodspeed: George Stephen Goodspeed, A History of the Babylonians and Assyrians, 1902, 1903 (I used the 1915 Scribners edition)
- Leick: Gwendolyn Leick, Who's Who in the Ancient Near East, Routledge, 1999
- Noth: Martin Noth, A History of Israel, translated from the second German edition of Geschichte Israels, 1959, by P. R. Ackroyd, Harper & Row, 1960
- PritchardI: James B. Pritchard, editor, The Ancient Near East, Volume I: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, a selection of materials from Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament (1950, 1955) and THe Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament (1954); Princeton University Press, 1958 (I use the undated but post-1973 13th printing of the paperback edition)
- PritchardII: James B. Pritchard, editor, The Ancient Near East, Volume II: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures, a selection of materials from Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament (1950, 1955) and THe Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament (1954, 1969); Princeton University Press, 1975 (I use the undated fourth printing of the paperback edition)
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