What does: ‘Babylon’ stand for in the Bible?
First of all, it is of course a city on the lower course of the Euphrates and the Tigris. Babylon is the Greek name for the Hebrew Babel (= ‘Gate of the gods’ or ‘Confusion’) in the land of Shinar that the Babylonians themselves liked to call Sumer (and Akkad) – the Sumerians living in the south and the Akkadians in the north. Babel (Babylon) lies in Babylonia, a part of Mesopotamia, the ‘fertile crescent’ with the two great rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, and the little river Jordan that supplied the region of Israel with water. The city was already mentioned in the 23th century before Christ.
SUMER AND AKKAD
The civilisation of Sumer developed in the south eastern corner of the ‘fertile crescent’. Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, one of the sons of Noah, founded this civilisation. The Sumerians were not Semites, as were the Akkadians. The Sumerians were in the land prior to the Akkadians. The descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth all spoke one language according to the Bible, forasmuch as they migrated to the region of the Euphrates and Tigris. In that plain Nimrod united them as one nation. They built a tower and a city to keep everyone together. It was Nimrod’s conviction that this tower would confer power upon him – worldwide power. The construction of the city of Babylon stopped following the confusion that occurred when the people began speaking different languages. The people were unable to understand each other. There were apparently only a number of independent city-states after that.
As the first civilisation, after Shem, Ham and Japheth’s decendants had left Noah’s ark and spread out from Mount Ararat – Japheth towards the north and the west, Ham towards the south and east/west, Shem settled first in the north, along the Euphrates and the Tigris and later further towards the south – they made and developed all kinds of discoveries that were later adopted by other civilisations: the invention of the wheel and vehicles with wheels to carry burdens and chariots, and the use of baked clay for all kinds of purposes, including a written language that was written with pictograms. This cuneiform writing, with some 600 different syllables, developed arond 2800 B.C..
A stream of literature got under way: myths, legends, epics, wisdom literatuur, proverbs, fables, business contracts, wills, etc. The best known epic is the Gilgamesh epic, which shows great similarities to the story of the Flood we encounter in the Bible.
Each city was governed by priests, who, in the minds of the people, represented the gods on earth. Because of this the temple became the centre of life in the city states. The power of the priests continued to increase from 2800-2350 B.C. High taxes had to be paid, to finance the priests’ extravagant lifestyle and the wars between the different city states that drained the coffers. Even merchants were often in danger because of gangs of robbers, many of whom were often soldiers.
Priests and priestesses were educators. Many clay tablets witness to this fact. Mathematics, geometry, algebra, etc. were taught. The Sumerian system of numbers was based on sixtyfolds. That is where the 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour come from! School lasted from dawn to dusk! Sports such as wrestling, sprinting, tug-of-war and ball games were practiced, as was a board game, a kind of draughts.
The baked clay also served to make bricks. More than 3,000 years ago the Sumerians were already experts when it came to building. They knew how to make vaults, arches, arcades and domes. The ‘Ziggurats’ are well known – temple towers with steps and, as a result, with ever smaller squares piled on top of each other. The ‘Tower of Babel’ referred to in Genesis 11 will thus have been an observatory for star gazing – not so high that its top reached heaven – the Sumerians were not so stupid as to think so – but a tower with heaven on top: the signs of the Zodiac, astrological imagery, als the source of their own new religion. The ‘Tower of Babel’ we know from the Bible was probably first of many such observatoria. They also had also sewer system with sewer pipes of baked clay. Several migration movenments get under way
Historians sometimes divide the history of Mesopotamia into 3 phases: prehistory – protohistory – history.
This is not the place to describe protohistory (which follows the prehistory) of the civilisations of Babylonia, from 5000-2500 B.C. Historians sometimes distinguish 5 periods of Babylonian prehistory: 1. The primitive period. 2. The Obeid period. 3. The Uruk period. 4. The Jemdet Nasr period. 5. The early dynasty or Lagash period.
The Sumerians were initially the dominant force, so that the ruler Lualzaggisi could boast that he reigned from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. Sargon of Akkad brings his power and rule to an end. Sargon’s mother lays him in a wicker basket (does that sound familiar?) in the river Euphrates, arond 2400 B.C. A gardener finds him and brings him up to be a soldier. He ends up being the first ruler of Akkad and his dynasty dominates the region of the ‘fertile crescent’ for centuries. Sargon promulgated strong laws that also defended the people’s rights. And the power of the priests was broken.
Sargon expands his realm from Elam – in the north east of Babylonia – to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the Persian Gulf to Armenia. The Guti, a fierce mountain people, brought the power of the dynasty of Akkad to an end around 2230 B.C. and the Sumerians’ last golden age was during this Guti period. Kings and priests were the leaders and the most important city was the port city of Ur. The Sumerians were excellent architects and builders.
An independent kingdom developed in Ur, under the third dynasty of Ur (2044-1936 B.C., the time of Abraham!), and the rulers called themselves the “kings of Sumer and Akkad”. The Akkadians had great influence in this last kingdom of the Sumerians. The cuneiform script adopted by the Babylonians and the Assyriars originated with them.
THE RELIGION OF SUMER AND AKKAD
The Sumerians knew many gods. They practiced polytheism, the prediction of the future by the flight of birds, many different sacrifices, omens and rites to predict and to influence and to control the future, to ensure the priests held on to their power. They did have some idea of a life after this life, but not of a heaven and/or a hell. Astrology occupied an important place too. They followed the movements of the sun, moon and stars carefully, and associated their gods and goddesses with planets and stars.
The basis of their view of the world was order, systematic and regular arrangement, and symmetry. They sought peace and safety. Heavenly things have their mirror image in earthly things. What is above, in the heavenly firmament, is also below, on earth. The earth is regarded as a female deity, which is fertilised by heaven as a male deity. They believed in a rite that was a kind of divine marriage. This was consummated at certain times between a god or his human representative and a woman, his divine bride.
The ancient Sumerians also practiced human sacrifice. Corpses have been found of courtiers, women, soldiers and charioteers with their ass-drawn chariots. The women wore jewellery – a king and his queen to whom this was bequeathed in death, or the sacrifice of a divine bride who was killed together with her manservants and maidservants after the consummation of the holy marriage? Who can tell?
The gods Enlil (airspace) and Enki or Ea, the god of the ocean depths, originated from the joining together of heaven and earth. Enlil became the lord of the earth, Anum was the god of heaven; Nanna the god(dess) of the moon, who is sometimes called: the fruit that renews itself, with centres of worship in Ur and in Haran. Ur and Haran are places that are familiar from the story of Abraham!
The Babylonians called Nanna ‘Sin’, also encountered in the Bible. Sin is the father (or mother?) of Shamash, the sun god; Utu the sun god, whom the Babylonians call Shamash. It is also known (from the Mari clay tablets – 1700 B.C.) that there were temples for Sin in Haran as well, just like in Ur. Abraham is therefore certainly tested on his journey to the Promised Land. Should he return to the ancient gods? Or should he follow the voice of the God Who called him to leave all that behind him! Leave Ur and stay in Haran? Or continue on to the Promised Land?
Is Sin, the moon god(dess), also the origin of Allah? Is that what the crescent moon on mosques and flags indicates? Whatever the case may be: the Bible expressly forbids the worship of creation or elements of creation such as heavenly bodies, animals or anything else instead of the Creator. That is an abomination to the Lord. Deuteronomy 4:19 says: “…And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars – all the heavenly array – do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven… and Deuteronomy 17:2-5: …If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the LORD gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God in violation of his covenant, and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky, and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death…”
This cannot be clearer! But Israel did not listen sometimes. 2 Kings 21:3; 23:4 et seq.; Jeremiah 8:1-3; comp. Job 31:26 et seq.; Isaiah 47:13 testify to the fact.
Tammuz is the god of plant growth. Ezechiel 8:14-15 says: “…Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the LORD, and I saw women sitting there, mourning the god Tammuz. He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this…”
He is very well known around the Mediterranean Sea as Adoni (his Semitic name) or Adonis (his Greek name) and he ressembles Osiris of the Egyptians as two peas in a pod. The name Tammuz is still known to the Hebrews even today – as the name for the fourth month after Nissan.
Sumer is overthrown after 2000 B.C.. After 200 years of chaos, the city of Babylon arises once again and it quickly goes on to dominate the whole of the Middle East. Sumerian culture remains influential nevertheless, even though their political power is over.
Since we are now talking about religion anyway, it can be said of the Babylonians and the Assyrians that it is striking that they have a great multitude of gods. Neither the Sumerians, nor the Babylonians, nor the Assyrians never came to worship just ONE god, even though one god was always considered to be the most important –Marduk in Babel and Assur in Assyria for example, whereas Nabu or Nebo also occupied centre stage for a while. None of these gods ever became the god however, to the exclusion of all other gods. This is known as henotheism, as opposed to polytheism and monotheism. This would have been impossible, because the Assyrian-Babylonian religion is a nature religion, worshipping deified natural forces. This goes completely against the concept of the One true God, the Creator of heaven and earth. Enough said about this.
THE BIBLE AND SCIENCE
In the above historical excursion you have encountered a mixture of historical reconstruction and Biblical data. We have woven Biblical data here and there in the account and the reconstruction of history. Just like sciencetists who write the reconstruction of history with the help of their scientific work. To do so they make use of archeological data, and, as soon as possible, written data as well. Written sources are lacking before the emergence of writing and recorded written sources, etched onto rocks or on clay tablets and later on parchment and paper that can be used to reconstruct ancient history.
It is my personal conviction that where the Bible refers to matters of a historical or natural scientific nature, this information is reliable. The Bible is not a history book, however, and it does not teach history in the scientific sense of the word. The Bible is about something else: the history of salvation. This is why the Bible sometimes makes a tremendous masterly grab at history and then, out of the blue, describes historical matters in a way that directly explains the spiritual background of these historical developments – what they have to tell us about God – the Almighty God – and mankind.
An example of such a masterly exercise is what the Bible tells us about Babel-Babylon-Nimrod, the building of the tower of Babel, the confusion of the language and the dispersion of the nations in Genesis 10 and 11. Even though these historical events have to be set somewhere within a scientific historical model of the history of the Middle East, there is more to it than simply describing a few historical facts. What the Bible wants to do is to reveal matters that are much deeper. The Bible wants to expose the ‘inside’ meaning of these facts of history – not just to provide knowledge of history, but insight as well. The Bible reveals the ‘spirit’ of those historical events.
THE RELIGION OF BABEL/BABYLON
Let us now listen to what the Bible has to say ‘spiritually’ about ‘Babel-Babylon’. To make the character of ‘Babylon’ clear from the outset: Jeremiah 51:7 says: “…Babylon was a gold cup in the LORD’s hand; she made the whole earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore they have now gone mad…”
I read in Rev. Alexander Hislop’s book ‘The Two Babylons’:
The quotation from Jeremiah [in the Bible] referred to makes it clear that Babel/Babylon was the source from which all the systems of idolatry stemmed. Learned historians reach the same conclusion on purely historical grounds. In the works of Zonaras we find that the general feeling of historians in ancient times concurred with this point of view even then. Moreover, talking of arithmetic and astrology for example, he says: ‘It is said that both came from the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to the Egyptians and from there to the Greeks.’ Well, if the Egyptians and Greeks got their arithmetic and astrology from Chaldea [Babylonia], and they saw that they were sacred sciences in Chaldea, dominated by the priests there, that is surely sufficient reason to suppose that they must have also derived their religion from the same quarter.
Bunsen and Layard come to the same conclusion. Bunsen says that the religious system of Egypt came from Asia, and from the ancient Babylonian Empire. Layard says he is convinced of the very old origin of this primitive Chaldean [Babylonian] religion, and that there is convincing evidence from profane and religious history that the [religious system of Egypt] originated with the inhabitants of the Assyrian plains. It bore the title ‘perfect’ and was considered to be the oldest of all religious systems, preceding that of the Egyptians.
Porphyries and Clemens postulate that the identity of the Assyrian religious doctrines corresponds with those of Egypt, and he ends by saying that Birch – on the basis of Babylonian clay cylinders and monuments – has established that the signs of the zodiac unambiguously show that the Greeks had adopted their explanations and arrangement of the zodiac (star symbols) from the Chaldeans and mixed them with their own mythology afterwards. (Extract from Alexander Hislop’s book).
Babel as the source of all religions and all scientific activity is quite something!
What typifies Babel/Babylon? When do we come across Babel in the Bible for the first time? We read in Genesis 10:8: “…Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth …” The Luther Translation says: “…der war der erste, der Macht gewann auf Erden…“ Might typify Babel – human might, a kingdom in the name of mankind and his natural capabilities.
And there is also an inherent form of religion alongside ‘might’. In Genesis 11:4 we read: “…Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth…”
The tower was probably therefore a ziggurat – a Babylonian astronomical observatory. Its top did not reach heaven (the Babylonians were not that stupid!), but it was a square tower with heaven on top. It had steps according to the number of planets then known, and, on the square top, the signs of the zodiac, the firmament mapped out so that the future could be predicted by reading the stars. There was also a cult of the mother goddess, the primeval cult of all the mother goddess worship that came later. Nimrod and Semiramis are the origin and the symbol of all the idolatry on earth. Nature/creation is deified and man turns his back on the Creator.
Babel is the city of man, with its own religion of man. Man is fallen man, however, with sin in his blood. And he is a puppet of the forces of darkness. He has chosen for Satan – the liar from the beginning and the murderer from the beginning. We read more about Nimrod in Genesis 10: that the beginning of his kingdom was Babel…Akkad…in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh…
Nineveh is the city of godlessness, upon which the prophet Jonah later pronounces judgement. And indeed, although Nineveh was initially converted under Jonah’s preaching, and the Lord postponed judgement, the city was later totally destroyed. Later on, under king Tiglath-Pileser III 745-727 B.C. and king Sargon II 721-705 B.C., Assyria and the Assyrians, carried off the 10-tribe kingdom of Israel into exile – see 2 Kings 15:29, 1 Chronicles 5:6 and 6:26 and Isaiah 8:23; also 2 Kings 17:6 and 18:11. And Babel and the Babylonians, under king Nebuchadnezzar II, carried off the 2-tribe kingdom of Judah into exile after completely destroying Jerusalem and the Temple – see 2 Kings 24:10-16, Jeremiah 52:28 and 2 Kings 25:11, Jeremiah 52:29. Before that, King Sennacherib – on his own admission – had already carried off 200,150 people from the large and small cities of Judah during his campaign against King Hezekiah in 701 B.C.
In short, godlessness originates from the descendents of Nimrod-Semiramis, who were full of hatred of God’s people Israel and turned against God’s city, Jerusalem. ‘Babylon’ will finally be destroyed, however, and ‘Jerusalem’ will be victorious, Revelation 14:8 and chapter 17-19!
A genealogy and a list of nations can be found in Genesis 10. There, in verses 8-12, it is said of Nimrod: “…Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD.” The first centres of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah – which is the great city…”