Nebuzaradan was the commander of Nebuchadnezzar's guard who was in charge of the destruction of the Temple and the deportation of the people of Judah. Acting on orders, Nebuzaradan set fire to the city of Jerusalem and leveled its walls (II Kings 25:9ff.). Certain of the ecclesiastical, military, and civil officers and leading citizens who were supporters of Zedekiah were brought before Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah and executed (25:20), and Gedaliah son of Ahikam was placed in charge of the remaining population. Five years later, Nebuzaradan deported another 745 people (Jer. 52:30).
The official title of Nebuzaradan is given as sar haṭabbaḥim, although such a designation of a court official is unknown in Mesopotamian literature. The Septuagint translates the term as "chief cook or butcher." In an inscription from the time of Nebuchadnezzar II, the chief court officer is referred to as Nabû-zēr-iddina, whose official Babylonian title is rab nuḥatimmê (cf., talmudic Heb. naḥtom, "baker"). Scholars have thus identified this officer with Nebuzaradan, and assume that the biblical title is a translation of the Babylonian one. The Aramaic translations render the term as "chief butcher" or "slaughterer," and it is probable that this official belonged to the king's guards whose duty was the infliction of capital punishment.
Nebuzaradan's loyalty to his king is praised. He attached Nebuchadnezzar's portrait to his chariot, so that he might always feel that he stood in his presence. For the same reason he accepted the assignment to conquer Jerusalem, even though he had personally witnessed Sennacherib's defeat there (Sanh. 95a–96b). His success was due to divine aid. According to one Midrash, after three and a half years he was about to abandon the task but was advised by God to measure the city walls. As soon as he did so they began to sink into the ground and ultimately disappeared (Lam. R., introd. 30). According to another account, he was on the point of returning home after all the axes but the one at his disposal had been broken in the attack on Jerusalem. At that moment a voice cried out: "The time has come for the Sanctuary to be destroyed and the Temple burnt," and with his last remaining ax he destroyed one of the city gates (Sanh. 96b).
When he led the exiles into captivity he commanded his soldiers not to touch married women captives, lest they provoke God's wrath (Lam. R. 5:11). He forbade the captives to pray, putting to death those who did so. When, however, they had crossed the Euphrates, he desisted since they were now beyond the territory under the dominion of Israel's God (ibid. 5:5). Nebuzaradan is identified with Arioch (Dan. 2: 14), since he roared like a lion (ari) at his captives. When he saw the blood of the murdered Zechariah boiling (of. II Chron. 24:22), he put to death in revenge the scholars, young priests, and 14,000 of the people, but still the blood did not rest. In despair he exclaimed: "I have destroyed the flower of them. Do you wish me to massacre them all?" The blood immediately subsided, but so stricken was Nebuzaradan with grief that he exclaimed: "If they who killed only one person have been so severely punished, what will be my fate?" He thereupon became a righteous proselyte (Sanh. 96b).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.