In legend, lycanthropy is a condition in which a human being is magically transformed into a wolf. In medical and psychological terms, lycanthropy describes a delusional state during which sufferers believe they have taken on lupine characteristics while retaining vestiges of human consciousness. Some believe that King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Mesopotamian capital Babylon suffered from lycanthropy.

King Nebuchadnezzar II

King Nebuchadnezzar II was the second king in the Chaldean dynasty of Babylonian kings founded by his father, Nabopolassar. As a young man, Nebuchadnezzar II served his father, leading military conquests against Egypt.

Nebuchadnezzar II's Accomplishments

Nebuchadnezzar II's most notable military achievement came at the Battle of Carchemish, which brought Syria under Babylonian rule. While king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar conquered Judah and Jerusalem, taking many of Judah's people into captivity in Babylon. He spent much of his reign rebuilding Babylon and restoring temples to the Babylonian gods. Public works constructed under Nebuchadnezzar's reign – which allegedly include the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon – led to the city's recognition among the ancient wonders of the world. He is noted for erecting large ziggurats to honor Marduk, the chief Babylonian deity.

Accounts of Lycanthropy

In the Old Testament, the Book of Daniel describes a period in which God sent judgment on Nebuchadnezzar for his pride, declaring that Nebuchadnezzar "was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird." Some biblical scholars have interpreted this passage to mean that Nebuchadnezzar suffered from lycanthropy, either in reality or as a psychosis. In the biblical account, Nebuchadnezzar humbles himself before God and is restored to sanity.

Alternate Explanations

Other biblical scholars suggest that the imagery in the Book of Daniel refers to demonic torment and extreme sickness and suffering. These scholars note that the animals mentioned in this passage – oxen and eagles – are used in ancient Mesopotamian, Sumerian and Babylonian myths to denote demonic beings and death and that both ancient Hebrew and ancient Babylonian beliefs equated illness with demonic torment. Those who accept this interpretation believe that Nebuchadnezzar II did not suffer from lycanthropy but from an agonizing illness which took him near to death. Regardless of which biblical interpretation is preferred, the story is seen by Jewish and Christian scholars as of one of divine affliction, which leads to repentance and restoration and ultimately to humble thanksgiving.