What’s Fact & What’s Fiction?

In the research necessary for any historical novel, a myriad of fascinating tidbits surface. Many of these find their way into the story itself. Sadly, many do not, because to include them would be too much weight for a novel. But after finishing Garden of Madness, you may perhaps be interested in learning more – about events that occurred before and after the story’s setting, and about Babylon during the time of Nebuchadnezzar.

The idea for Garden of Madness started with simple curiosity on my part. I had studied Babylon for previous novels, and knew the city was heavily walled and thoroughly irrigated, with little but desert beyond its walls. Where, I wondered, would those in charge of the government during Nebuchadnezzar’s seven years of madness have stashed the mad king? Since the book of Daniel tells us that he regained his throne at the end of seven years, we must assume they kept track of him. Was it possible he was kept in the very Hanging Gardens he had built?

From there, other bits of the story formed themselves as I speculated that there must have been plots to take the throne during those seven years, and his family would have been fighting to retain power. I wanted to view the story from a Babylonian’s point of view, and thus Tia was born. But I also wanted to see the city and palace from a Jewish perspective. In a reading of genealogies I stumbled upon the apparent discrepancy between two accounts of the father of Zerubbabel: in one place Shealtiel and in another Pedaiah. Bible scholars assume that one of these men died before Zerubbabel was conceived, and that his brother married the widow to produce an heir in his brother’s name. For a novelist, that sort of fact sparks ideas! Zerubbabel did indeed lead the first wave of captives back to Israel, some thirty years after the end of my story, and he is part of the lineage of Jesus. We have no evidence that his mother was Babylonian – this is fiction of my creation – but certainly we see God grafting pagan nations into the line of David in other places.

I wish I could have explored all the wonderful events of the book of Daniel in Garden of Madness, but the story takes place in only a small window of that great book. Scholars and historians are never in complete agreement as to dates, but I offer these widely accepted dates in a sort of timeline for you, to help you place my story in the context of well-known biblical events:

The beginnings of Babylon can be found in Genesis 11, when man first began to build a tower to reach for the divine, and God confused their languages in judgment for their pride. That tower remained unfinished for years, but was most likely taken up again to become Etemenanki, the House of the Platform of Heaven and Earth, around which the capital city of the Babylonian empire flourished.

The empire became a world power around 1650 BC, during the reign of Hammurabi. Nebuchadnezzar ruled the “Neo-Babylonian Empire” some 1000 years later, in about 605 BC, right after the first siege against Jerusalem. The first deportation of captives from Israel to Babylon occurred at this time, and included Daniel and his three friends (whose Babylonian names were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Daniel was a “youth” at this time, and Nebuchadnezzar was about twenty-five years old. About two years later, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a huge statue and Daniel, still a very young man, interpreted the king’s dream with prophecies that would stretch hundreds of years into the future. Daniel became the king’s chief advisor.

About eight years later, in 597 BC, another round of captives was brought, including King Jeconiah (sometimes called Jehoiachin). Then in 586 BC, Jerusalem fell completely to Babylon, the Temple was destroyed, and another deportation of Jews occurred. It was probably about this time that Nebuchadnezzar built his own statue and required everyone to worship. Another fifteen or so years pass and Nebuchadnezzar dreams again, this time of a huge tree, cut down and stripped. Daniel sorrowfully interprets this dream as a prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar’s coming madness, and entreats him to humble himself before the Most High God. One year later, while the king is admiring his great city from his palace roof, the prophecy is fulfilled. Garden of Madness is set seven years after this, in the year 563 BC, about forty years after the beginning of the captivity and one year before the death of Nebuchadnezzar.

In emails from readers during the writing of this story, a few questions arose which I chose not to address specifically in the story, but will do so here. Was Daniel made a eunuch when he came to Babylon? The answer is that we do not know, but it is likely. Those in service in the palace often were. Where was Daniel when his three friends were refusing to bow to the king’s statue? Another mystery. We must assume from the rest of Daniel’s life that he did not submit. Perhaps he was not required to. What was the status of the exiles while in Babylon? For the most part they lived fairly comfortable lives, much like the rest of the common citizens, though with fewer rights. They worked on behalf of the city, so in some ways could be considered “slaves,” but they were able to build their own houses and gardens, to marry and have families. What were the Hanging Gardens like? How were they built, watered, and maintained? As I mentioned in the Author’s Note, we have very little information about the Hanging Gardens. I was deliberately vague within the story for this reason. But we are told that the Gardens consisted of seven tiers, and that they were watered by some sort of hydraulic system that brought water up from the Euphrates to the topmost level. Considering the wealth, beauty, and magnitude of the rest of the city, we can assume they were astounding!

The kingship did not experience much peace after Nebuchadnezzar’s death. His son Amel-Marduk took the throne for only two years. (His name is sometimes translated Evil-Merodach in the Bible, simply meaning “man of Marduk.”) Amel was assassinated by Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law, Nergal-shar-usur (Nergal in my story), who held the throne for four years, died of natural causes, and left the kingship to his very young son, Labashi. Labashi reigned for nine months before being murdered, and the priests chose Nebuchadnezzar’s other son-in-law, Nabonidus, as king. He ruled for some seventeen years. His son Belshazzar became co-regent with him and was on the throne when Babylon fell.

Daniel’s story does not end, of course, at the death of Nebuchadnezzar in 562 BC. He goes on to be an integral part of Babylonian politics for another thirty years, until the empire falls to the Medes and Persians in 539 BC, and Daniel becomes an advisor to the Median king Cyrus, and then the Persian king Darius. It is during this time that jealous advisors orchestrate Daniel’s sentence to the lions’ den. Daniel’s dreams and visions of the end times, found in Daniel 7 through 11, seem to stretch from the time of Belshazzar’s co-regency until perhaps the time of his own death.

All of this is fascinating to those of us who enjoy history, and who love the tales found in the book of Daniel. But we love them for a reason. There is more at work here than scheming politics, and even more than dreams and visions and miracles. There is truth for our own lives, as we line up our own personal stories with the One True Story. We have been accustomed to seeing Babylon as evil, and certainly it was filled with darkness. But we must remember that for most of us, we are Tiamat – children of chaos who have been welcomed and grafted in to God’s family, out of the darkness. Even before Jesus walked the earth, God was calling all nations to Himself, and using Israel as a blessing to those nations.

And what of Daniel and his three friends, who managed to remain unpolluted in the midst of all this spiritual darkness? How did they do it? We have scant details, but we can infer from their positions of prominence within the kingdom that they were faithful in a way that was not antagonistic, not condemning, not hate-filled. That a pagan king would keep a Jewish advisor close for forty years and then finally bow his knee to the Most High God at the end of his life speaks volumes about Daniel’s witness within that dark city. Centuries before Jesus’ words in Mark 12, Daniel had already learned what it meant to love God, and to love others.

May we all be grateful for our inclusion in the family of God through Christ, and may we be found faithful to love and bless those in the dark world around us.

© Copyright Tracy L. Higley