A Nebuchadnezzar Opera: Kanye's Problematic Brand of Old Testament Christianity

Nebuchadnezzar was a power hungry anti-Semite, who burned down Jerusalem and enslaved the Jewish people. Kanye wants to sing about him.

"I believe God is using me to show off," Kanye West recently told Zane Lowe.

"He's like, now let me take this Nebuchadnezzar type character...he looked at his kingdom and said 'I did this,' And God said, 'Oh for real, you did this?'" West goes on to describe that Nebuchadnezzar was supposedly bipolar and that when the king attempted to take credit for God's work, God made sure "he was driven away from people and ate grass like an ox. His body drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird." In summation, West believed his mental breakdown in 2017 was an act of God, and that it was God's way of humbling him and reminding him of who was in charge. West said, "Nebuchadnezzar was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and he was still king." Now, West announced he will premiere an opera based on the life of the biblical king at Hollywood Bowl this year.

Kanye West performs in Houston jail with his Sunday Service choir

After the king of Judah staged a failed rebellion against Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, the latter was enraged and vowed to punish King Zedekiah for his transgressions. In 588 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar's army marched to the walls of Jerusalem and surrounded the city, cutting off the Jewish people from the fields outside of the city, which they relied on for food. For a year and a half, the Babylonian army starved out the Jewish people. It's written in the Book of Jeremiah that the corpses began to pile up in the streets of Jerusalem and disease began to engulf the city. The Babylonians finally lay siege to the city in 586 BCE, when the Jewish people were far too weak to defend themselves. At the order of King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian army set Jerusalem ablaze in the 9th of Av (now known as Tisha B'Av in July), 586 BCE and burned the city to the ground, including the first Jewish temple. The army then forced the surviving Israelites to march back to Babylon, where they became enslaved to Nebuchadnezzar. In Judaism, the 9th of Av is recognized as a day of intense mourning, as it is marked as the beginning of what would become decades of enslavement.

West's respect and admiration for one of history's most recognized anti-Semites is problematic in its own right, but West does share an uncanny resemblance to Nebuchadnezzar in his approach to Christianity. His Sunday Service performances have dissolved into revival like affairs, with audience members kneeling and accepting Jesus as their one true savior. Similarly, Nebuchadnezzar, after a series of dreams, decreed that nobody in Babylon should speak against God and forced his subjects to accept the supremacy of a one true lord.

This kind of militant view of Christianity is something Kanye has in common with Nebuchadnezzar, who was famously dismissive of those who stood against him and retaliated against his perceived enemies with violence. "There will be a time where I am president of the United States, and I will remember, I will forgive, but I will remember, any founder that didn't have the capacity to understand what we were doing," West told Zane Lowe. "Interesting tone though," Lowe responded with a laugh, "it's sort of like a threatening hybrid." West's smile quickly turned into a grimace. "What? I'm supposed to forget?"

The opera is set to premiere at the Hollywood Bowl on November 24.