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The Hebrew "Kasdim" (generally without the article) usually designates the Chaldeans as a people sometimes also their country (Jer. l. 10; li. 24, 35; Ezek. xi. 24, xvi. 29, xxiii. 15 et seq.) or the people together with the country (Gen. xi. 28, 31; xv. 7; Neh. ix. 7). The word is Assyrian, or rather Babylonian, yet the Hebrew is the earlier form; while the cuneiform inscriptions give the later or classical Babylonian sound of the word, namely,"Kalde." Probably the Hebrew pronunciation was learned indirectly from the Chaldean tribes themselves before the latter had changed the earlier pronunciation.
The "land of the Chaldeans" (Jer. xxiv. 5 et al.) is also a frequently occurring phrase. The Chaldean country, in the strict sense, lay in southern Babylonia, on the lower Euphrates and Tigris. But the name was extended by the Biblical writers to include the whole of Babylonia, after the Chaldean Nebuchadnezzar had established the new Babylonian empire and brought his people to world-wide fame. Indeed, it is doubtful whether the Biblical "Chaldea" and "Chaldeans" ever connoted the ancient country and people; these terms, until the eighth century B.C., were restricted to the region along the head of the Persian gulf (see Babylonia). The only doubtful passages are those in which "Ur of the Chaldees" is spoken of (Gen. xi. 28 et seq.). On the whole, therefore, the Bible agrees with the inscriptions in making the Chaldeans of history a comparatively modern race, and in excluding them from all association with the ancient dynasties of Babylonia.
The term "Chaldaic," for the language spoken by the Chaldeans, does not occur in the Bible. What has been popularly signified under that name is properly called "Aramean" in Dan. ii. 4. The Chaldeans of course spoke Babylonian in the days of the prophet Daniel; but when the Book of Daniel was composed (second century B.C.), Aramean had come to be used by all classes throughout Babylonia.
Chaldea as the name of a country is used in two different senses. In the early period it was the name of a small territory in southern Babylonia extending along the northern and probably also the western shores of the Persian gulf. It is called in Assyrian "mat Kaldi"—that is, "land of Chaldea"—but there is also used, apparently synonymously, the expression "mat Bit Yakin." It would appear that Bit Yakin was the chief or capital city of the land; and the king of Chaldea is also called the king of Bit Yakin, just as the kings of Babylonia are regularly styled simply king of Babylon, the capital city. In the same way, the Persian gulf was sometimes called "the Sea of Bit Yakin, instead of "the Sea of the Land of Chaldea."
It is impossible to define narrowly the boundaries of this early land of Chaldea, and one may only locate it generally in the low, marshy, alluvial land about the estuaries of the Tigris and Euphrates, which then discharged their waters through separate mouths into the sea. In a later time, when the Chaldean people had burst their narrow bonds and obtained the ascendency over all Babylonia, they gave their name to the whole land of Babylonia, which then was called Chaldea.
The Chaldeans were a Semitic people and apparently of very pure blood. Their original seat may have been Arabia, whence they migrated at an unknown period into the country of the sea-lands about the head of the Persian gulf. They seem to have appeared there at about the same time that the Arameans and the Sutu appeared in Babylonia. Though belonging to the same Semitic race, they are to be differentiated from the Aramean stock; and Sennacherib, for example, is careful in his inscriptions to distinguish them. When they came to possess the whole land their name became synonymous with Babylonian, and, though conquerors, they were speedily assimilated to Babylonian culture.
The language used by the Chaldeans was Semitic Babylonian, the same, save for slight peculiarities in sound and in characters, as Assyrian. In late periods the Babylonian language ceased to be spoken, and Aramaic took its place. One form of this widespread language is used in Daniel and Ezra, but the use of the name Chaldee for it, first introduced by Jerome, is a misnomer.
The Chaldeans, settled in the relatively poor country about the head of the Persian gulf, early coveted the rich cities and richly cultivated lands of the more favored Babylonians to the north of them. They began a running fire of efforts to possess themselves of the country. These efforts varied much. On the one hand, Chaldean communities were formed in several parts of Babylonia by the simple and peaceful process of immigration. On the other hand, Chaldean agitators were ever ready to participate in rebellions against Assyrian authority, hoping that the issue might make them the rulers of the independent kingdom. Such a man was Merodach-Baladan, who was king of Babylonia several times, being deposed by the Assyrians, but always succeeding in seizing the reins of power again.
Methods similar to those which he pursued triumphed in the end, and the new empire, which began with the reign of Nabopolassar in 625 B.C. (see Babylonia), was Chaldean, though there is no positive proof that its founder was himself of pure Chaldean blood.
When the Chaldean empire was absorbed into the Persian, the name Chaldean lost its meaning as the name of a race of men, and came to be applied to a class. The Persians found the Chaldeans masters of reading and writing, and especially versed in all forms of incantation, in sorcery, witchcraft, and the magical arts. They quite naturally spoke of astrologists and astronomers as Chaldeans. It therefore resulted that Chaldean came to mean astrologist. In this sense it is used in the Book of Daniel (Dan. i. 4, ii. 2 et seq.), and with the same meaning it is used by the classical writers (for example, by Strabo).