A record was set April 9, though it didn’t make many headlines. A clay cylinder marking Nebuchadnezzar II’s reconstruction of a temple to Shamash (the sun God) in Sippar (modern Tell Abu Habbah, in Iraq) was auctioned by Doyle’s of New York for a cool $605,000.

Neb-cylinderThe cylinder was purchased by an anonymous person whose bids came by phone. Let’s hope he or she will put the cylinder in a museum, where such treasures belong.

Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BCE) was the most powerful and famous of the Neo-Babylonian kings. Historically, he’s best known for defeating an allied force of Egyptian and Assyrian armies at Carchemish around 605 BCE, making Babylon the sole “superpower” of its day.

Biblically, he’s known for being the guy who conquered the kingdom of Judah in 597 BCE, carrying many exiles to Babylon, including King Jehoiachin. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah to rule as a vassal king, but when Zedekiah later refused to pay tribute, Nebuchadnezzar sent his armies back to Jerusalem in 587, razing and burning the city, including the temple. Those who weren’t killed, other than the poorest of the land, were force-marched to Babylon, beginning the exile proper.

The king who destroyed the temple of Yahweh sought favor with the Babylonian gods by remodeling their various temples. Following custom, he took full credit by describing his generous and loyal acts (while lavishing praise upon himself) in writing on clay cylinders that were preserved in foundation stones and other places.

Amazing, isn’t it, that more than 2500 years later, Nebuchadnezzar’s paean to himself, though recorded on nothing more than a shaped lump of clay, could sell for a half a million dollars, not counting premiums and fees.

That’s not a bad segue to asking what our words are worth. They may never sell for thousands of dollars. In fact, most of us will never have our words sold at auction for any price.

The words we speak, however, when voiced with compassion and care, can be priceless in their own time.

And they don’t cost us a penny.

Is there any good reason not to speak words of encouragement today?

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