Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

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Morrish Bible Dictionary [1]

The words written on the wall at Belshazzar's feast.  Daniel 5:25 . There are two things said of the king's wise men: they could not read the writing, nor make known to the king its interpretation.  Daniel 5:8 . Various suggestions have been made as to why the wise men could not read the writing. It may have been because the letters were the ancient Hebrew characters, which, though known to Daniel, would be unknown to them. The words and their meanings stand thus ( peres is the singular of upharsin which is plural):

Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin

numbered numbered weighed divided.

It will readily be seen that even if such a sentence had been read, its signification could not have been known apart from the teaching of God. Each word appears to have had a hidden meaning which was revealed to Daniel. Thus the kingdom was 'numbered' and finished. As we say of a person, 'his days are numbered.' The king had been 'weighed' in the balances, and was found wanting, as none can come up to God's standard. The kingdom was 'divided,' and given to the Medes and Persians (Peres). Thus, as always, God alone can interpret what He has caused to be written. The prediction was fulfilled by the city and kingdom being taken that same night.

Holman Bible Dictionary [2]

 Daniel 5:1-29

Scholars have proposed a number of translations, the best of which probably is “mina, shekel, and halves.” Daniel interpreted the inscription with a wordplay using Hebrew words which sound similar to each word of the inscription, taking it to mean, “numbered, weighed, and—divided.”

Daniel's interpretation was that Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. The kingdom would be divided and given to his enemies, the Medes and Persians.  Daniel 5:30 records that the overthrow occurred that very night. Thus God worked through Daniel to show His wisdom was greater than that of Persia's wise counselors and magicians and that only the God of Israel controlled history and human destiny.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [3]

mē´nē , mē´nē , tē´kel , ū - far´sin , men´ā , men´ā , tek´el , ōō - far´sin ( וּפרסין תּקל מנא מנא , menē' menē' teḳēl ūpharṣı̄n  ; Theodotion, Μανή , θεκέλ , φαρές , Manḗ , thekél , pharés ): These are the words that, according to Daniel's reading, were inscribed on the walls of Belshazzar's palace and that caused the great commotion on the occasion of his last feast (  Daniel 5:25 ). As the only authority that we have for the reading is that of Daniel, it seems but fair that the interpretation of the terms be left to the person who gave us the text. According to his interpretation, there is a double sense to be found in the three different words of the inscription ( Daniel 5:26-28 ).

Menē' , which, however it is pointed, must be taken from the verb menāh (Hebrew mānāh  ; Babylonian manu ), is said to have indicated that God had numbered (the days of) Belshazzar's kingdom and finished it (or delivered it up). Both of these meanings can be shown to be proper to the translation, menāh .

Teḳēl , on the contrary, is interpreted as coming from two roots: the first, teḳal , "to weigh," and the second, ḳal , "to be light or wanting" (Hebrew ḳālal  ; Babylonian ḳalâlu ).

Perēṣ (or parṣı̄n ) also is interpreted as coming from two roots: first, peraṣ , "to divide" (Hebrew pāras or pārash  ; Babylonian pârasu ), and the second as denoting the proper name Pāraṣ , "Persia." Thus interpreted, the whole story hangs together, makes good sense, and is fully justified by the context and by the language employed. If the original text was in Babylonian, the signs were ambiguous; if they were in Aramaic, the consonants alone were written, and hence, the reading would be doubtful. In either case, the inscription was apparent but not readable, except by Daniel with the aid of God, through whom also the seer was enabled to give the proper interpretation. That Daniel's interpretation was accepted by Belshazzar and the rest shows that the interpretation of the signs was reasonable and convincing when once it had been made. We see, therefore, no good reason for departing from the interpretation that the Book of Daniel gives as the true one.

As to the interpretation of the inscription, it makes no difference whether the signs represented a mina, a shekel, and two perases, as has been recently suggested by M. Clermont-Ganneau. In this case the meaning was not so apparent, but the puns, the play upon the sounds, were even better. We doubt, however, if it can be shown that teḳel means sheḳel . On the old Aramaic documents of Egypt and Assyria, it is with one exception spelled sheḳel . In the Targum of Onkelos, sheḳel is always rendered by ṣela‛  ; in the Peshitta and Arabic Vss , by mathḳal  ; in the Samaritan Targum, by mathḳal (except only perhaps in   Genesis 23:16 , where we have ethḳel ). In the Targum of Onkelos, wherever tiḳlā' occurs, it translates the Hebrew beḳa‛ ( Genesis 24:22 and   Exodus 38:26 only). Menē , to be sure, may have meant the mina, and perēṣ , the half-mina. The parash is mentioned in the inscription of Panammu and in an Aramaic inscription on an Assyrian weight. Besides this, it is found in the New Hebrew of the Mishna It is not found, however, in the Targum of Onkelos, nor in Syriac, nor in the Old Testament Hebrew; nor in the sense of half-shekel in the Aramaic papyri. While, then, it may be admitted that Daniel may have read, "A mina, a mina, a shekel, and two half-minas," it is altogether unlikely, and there is certainly no proof that he did. Yet, if he did, his punning interpretations were justified by the usage of ancient oracles and interpreters of signs, and also by the event.