Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin
me'-ne, me'-ne, te'-kel, u-far'-sin, men'-a, men'a, tek'-el, oo-far'-sin (mene' ~mene' ~teqel ~upharcin; Theodotion, Mane, thekel, phares): 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 (Da 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 (Da 5:26-28).
Mene', which, however it is pointed, must be taken from the verb menah (Hebrew manah; 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 menah.
Teqel, on the contrary, is interpreted as coming from two roots: the first, teqal, "to weigh," and the second, qal, "to be light or wanting" (Hebrew qalal; Babylonian qalalu).
Perec (or parcin) also is interpreted as coming from two roots: first, perac, "to divide" (Hebrew paras or parash; Babylonian parasu), and the second as denoting the proper name Parac, "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 teqel means sheqel. On the old Aramaic documents of Egypt and Assyria, it is with one exception spelled sheqel. In the Targum of Onkelos, sheqel is always rendered by cela`; in the Peshitta and Arabic VSS, by mathqal; in the Samaritan Targum, by mathqal (except only perhaps in Ge 23:16, where we have ethqel). In the Targum of Onkelos, wherever tiqla' occurs, it translates the Hebrew beqa` (Ge 24:22 and Ex 38:26 only). Mene', to be sure, may have meant the mina, and perec, 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.
R. Dick Wilson