Why do we say "The writing is on the wall"?

Well-Known Expressions

The writing is on the wall

Meaning:

Danger is imminent/doom is predicted

Background:

This expression originates from the Book of Daniel 5:1-31 which tells stories from the time of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

During a drunken feast, King Belshazzar of Babylon ordered that silver and golden goblets that had been removed from the Temple in Jerusalem by his father Nebuchadnezzar, be brought into the feast so that everyone could drink from them. As they drank their wine they "praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone."

No sooner had they done so than a disembodied hand appeared and wrote on the wall, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin". The shaken king called for all the usual enchanters, diviners and astrologers but none could fathom the meaning of the words despite being offered the position of third highest ruler in the kingdom if they could do so.

Eventually, the queen suggested the exiled Jew, Daniel, who Nebuchadnezzar had appointed as "chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners."

Daniel rejected all offers of rewards and warned the King of the folly of his arrogant blasphemy, and then translated the words as follows:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres (the singular of parsin): Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

At the King's command, Daniel was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. Later that night Belshazzar was slain, and Darius the Mede became King.

(Quotations from the NIV Bible).

Alphabetical list of expressions

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