CHALDAEA. The expressions "Chaldaea'" and "Chaldaeans" are frequently used in the Old Testament as equivalents for "Babylonia" and "Babylonians." Chaldaea was really the name of a country, used in two senses. It was first applied to the extreme southern district, whose ancient capital was the city of Bit Yakin, the chief seat of the renowned Chaldaean rebel Merodach-baladan, who harassed the Assyrian kings Sargon and Sennacherib. It is not as yet possible to fix the exact boundaries of the original home of the Chaldaeans, but it may be regarded as having been the long stretch of alluvial land situated at the then separate mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates, which rivers now combine to flow into the Persian Gulf in the waters of the majestic Shatt el 'Arab.
The name "Chaldaea," however, soon came to have a more extensive application. In the days of the Assyrian king Ramman-nirari III. (812-783 B.C.), the term mat Kaldu covered practically all Babylonia. Furthermore, Merodach-baladan was called by Sargon II. (722-705 B.C.) "king of the land of the Chaldaeans" and "king of the land of Bit Yakin" after the old capital city, but there is no satisfactory evidence that Merodach-baladan had the right to the title "Babylonian." The racial distinction between the Chaldaeans and the Babylonians proper seems to have existed until a much later date, although it is almost certain that the former were originally a Semitic people. That they differed from the Arabs and Aramaeans is also seen from the distinction made by Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) between the Chaldaeans and these races. Later, during the period covering the fall of Assyria and the rise of the Neo-Babylonian empire, the term mat Kaldu was not only applied to all Babylonia, but also embraced the territory of certain foreign nations who were later included by Ezekiel (xxiii. 23) under the expression "Chaldaeans."
As already indicated, the Chaldaeans were most probably a Semitic people. It is likely that they first came from Arabia, the supposed original home of the Semitic races, at a very early date along the coast of the Persian Gulf and settled in the neighbourhood of Ur ("Ur of the Chaldees," Gen. xi. 28), whence they began a series of encroachments, partly by warfare and partly by immigration, against the other Semitic Babylonians. These aggressions after many centuries ended in the Chaldaean supremacy of Nabopolassar and his successors (c. 626 ff.), although there is no positive proof that Nabopolassar was purely Chaldaean in blood. The sudden rise of the later Babylonian empire under Nebuchadrezzar, the son of Nabopolassar, must have tended to produce so thorough an amalgamation of the Chaldaeans and Babylonians, who had theretofore been considered as two kindred branches of the same original Semite stock, that in the course of time no perceptible differences existed between them. A similar amalgamation, although in this case of two peoples originally racially distinct, has taken place in modern times between the Manchu Tatars and the Chinese. It is quite evident, for example, from the Semitic character of the Chaldaean king-names, that the language of these Chaldaeans differed in no way from the ordinary Semitic Babylonian idiom which was practically identical with that of Assyria. Consequently, the term "Chaldaean" came quite naturally to be used in later days as synonymous with "Babylonian." When subsequently the Babylonian language went out of use and Aramaic took its place, the latter tongue was wrongly termed "Chaldee" by Jerome, because it was the only language known to him used in Babylonia. This error was followed until a very recent date by many scholars.
The derivation of the name "Chaldaean" is extremely uncertain. Peter Jensen has conjectured with slight probability that the Chaldaeans were Semitized Sumerians, i.e. a non-Semitic tribe which by contact with Semitic influences had lost its original character. There seems to be little or no evidence to support such a view. Friedrich Delitzsch derived the name "Chaldaean" = Kasdim from the non-Semitic Kaššites who held the supremacy over practically all Babylonia during an extended period (c. 1783-1200 B.C.). This theory seems also to be extremely improbable. It is much more likely that the name "Chaldaean" is connected with the Semitic stem kasadu (conquer), in which case Kaldi-Kašdi, with the well-known interchange of l and š, would mean "conquerors." It is also possible that Kašdu-Kaldu is connected with the proper name Chesed, who is represented as having been the nephew of Abraham (Gen. xxii. 22). There is no connexion whatever between the Black Sea peoples called "Chaldaeans" by Xenophon (Anab. vii. 25) and the Chaldaeans of Babylonia.
In Daniel, the term "Chaldaeans" is very commonly employed with the meaning "astrologers, astronomers," which sense also appears in the classical authors, notably in Herodotus, Strabo and Diodorus. In Daniel i. 4, by the expression "tongue of the Chaldaeans," the writer evidently meant the language in which the celebrated Babylonian works on astrology and divination were composed. It is now known that the literary idiom of the Babylonian wise men was the non-Semitic Sumerian; but it is not probable that the late author of Daniel (c. 168 B.C.) was aware of this fact.
The word "Chaldaean" is used in Daniel in two senses. It is applied as elsewhere in the Old Testament as a race-name to the Babylonians (Dan. iii. 8, v. 30, ix. 1); but the expression is used oftener, either as a name for some special class of magicians, or as a term for magicians in general (ix. 1). The transfer of the name of the people to a special class is perhaps to be explained in the following manner. As just shown, "Chaldaean" and "Babylonian" had become in later times practically synonymous, but the term "Chaldaean" had lived on in the secondary restricted sense of "wise men." The early Kaldi had seized and held from very ancient times the region of old Sumer, which was the centre of the primitive non-Semitic culture. It seems extremely probable that these Chaldaean Semites were so strongly influenced by the foreign civilization as to adopt it eventually as their own. Then, as the Chaldaeans soon became the dominant people, the priestly caste of that region developed into a Chaldaean institution. It is reasonable to conjecture that southern Babylonia, the home of the old culture, supplied Babylon and other important cities with priests, who from their descent were correctly called "Chaldaeans." This name in later times, owing to the racial amalgamation of the Chaldaeans and Babylonians, lost its former national force, and became, as it occurs in Daniel, a distinctive appellation of the Babylonian priestly class. It is possible, though not certain, that the occurrence of the word kalu (priest) in Babylonian, which has no etymological connexion with Kaldu, may have contributed paronomastically towards the popular use of the term "Chaldaeans" for the Babylonian Magi. (See also Astrology.)
Literature. - Delattre, Les Chaldéens jusqu'à la fond. de l'emp. de Nebuch. (1889); Winckler, Untersuchungen zur altor. Gesch. (1889), pp. 49 ff.; Gesch. Bab. u. Assyr. (1892), pp. 111 ff.; Prince, Commentary on Daniel (1899), pp. 59-61; see also Babylonia and Assyria and Sumer and Sumerian.
(J. D. Pr.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)