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Dienstag, 16. Oktober 2018

Babylon- how we may learn from history when focussing on present times- by LAD ROSARY

The “Tower of Babel” was an ancient construction called a ziggurat—a step-pyramid building with a shrine at the top reserved for a divine being. The people built this construction in the plain of Shinar to make a great name for themselves and to avoid being scattered over the face of the earth (Gen 11:4). God, however, disapproved of their plans and judged the people by confusing their language in order to scatter them (Gen 11:6–8). The story explains the origin of languages and the nations, especially Babylon (Gen 11:9).

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word (מִגְדָּל, migdal) translated “tower” (Gen 11:4) refers to elevated structures designed for protection (Judg 9:51; 2 Kgs 9:17; 2 Chr 14:7). Geographical and cultural context, however, suggests this construction was a ziggurat—from the Akkadian word ziqqurratu meaning “temple-tower.”
According to the ancient concept of universe, the mountain functioned as a pillar of the sky. With its base planted in the earth and its peak reaching the sky, the structure was the meeting point of heaven and earth. Because of this, people viewed the mountain as the place of divine residence and activity. In places of lower elevation—such as the plain in Gen 11:2—people built ziggurats as substitutes for mountains. The famous ziggurat at Babylon is called Etemenanki, meaning “The House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth.” Other ziggurats also have similar names (Sarna, Genesis, 82)

“The House of the Mountain”
“The House of the Mountain of the Universe”
“The House of the Link between Heaven and Earth”

The land of Shinar (11:2)—where the people built their city and tower—is located in ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). Although Mesopotamia lacked stone, it had some of the highest concentrations of bitumen deposits in the ancient Near East (Negev, AEHL). Bitumen is a blackish mineral used in the ancient Near East as a binding element, similar to asphalt. An Akkadian proverb records the use of “asphalt and bricks” in a building project (ANET, 425)

The Narrative

Sin of Babel
Three interpretations regarding the sin of the people occur in Gen 11:1–9:

  1.      Disobedience. The people defied God’s command to fill the earth (Gen 1:28; 9:1, 7) by settling together in Shinar (Gen 11:2).
  2.      Discontentment. The people—dissatisfied with their creatureliness—built a tower-temple to ascend it and become “like the gods” (Gen 11:4).
  3.      Pride. The people decided to make much of themselves (Gen 11:4) instead of the Creator.

Theological Message
  •      God is sovereign; He brought about His own plans and desires. Though the people gathered in one place, He spread them out across the earth (Gen 10:5, 18, 20, 30–32).
  •      God is gracious. He judged the people for their actions, but He also called Abraham to bless them (Gen 12:1–3). The very things the people sought—a great name and land (Gen 11:4)—He promised to Abraham (Gen 12:2). In Revelation, God gathers people from every tribe, language, and nation to His city where He and the Lamb are the temple (Rev 5:9; 7:9; 21:22).

Placement within Genesis
The Tower of Babel narrative marks the transition from the origin of creation (Gen 1–11) to the origin of Israel (Gen 12–50).
Chronologically, this narrative should come before the “Table of Nations” (Gen 10:1–32). The sequence, however, is consistent with other stories in Genesis which are ordered thematically, not chronologically (Ross, Creation and Blessing, 243). Survey statements are given first followed by a detailed explanation.

Creation of Heaven and Earth
Gen 1:1–2
Gen 1:3–31
Creation of Adam and Eve
Gen 2:1–3
Gen 2:4–25
Wickedness from Adam to Noah
Gen 5:1–32
Gen 6:1–4
Judgment and Mercy
Gen 6:5–8
Gen 6:9–22

Genesis 10:1–32 is the survey of the various nations, and Gen 11:1–9 is the explanation about why the nations do not speak the same language even though they have the same origin.

Parallels to Other Literature
The “Tower of Babel” narrative has parallels to Enuma Elish, the Babylonian account of creation (Matthews, Genesis 1–11:26, 470–71). This document details the construction of a temple for Marduk, a chief deity:
“When Marduk heard this,
Brightly glowed his features, like the day:
“Construct Babylon, whose building you have requested,
Let its brickwork be fashioned. You shall name it ‘The Sanctuary’.
The Anunnaki applied the implement;
For one whole year they molded bricks.
When the second year arrived,
They raised high the head of Esagila equaling Apsu.
Having built a stage-tower as high as Apsu,
They set up in it an abode for Marduk, Enlil, [and] Ea.
In their presence he was seated in grandeur.”
(ANET, 68–69)

Enuma Elish
Tower of Babel
They raised high the head
its top in the heavens
Let its brickwork be fashioned
Come, let us make bricks
Habitation for Marduk
Place of God’s visitation

Both accounts share similar language about the height, material, and function of the tower-temple.

Literary Features
Genesis 11:1–9 features an alternating structure and a chiastic structure.
The alternating structure (Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis, 176) divides the narrative into two parts: The Words of the People (Gen 11:1–4) and the Words of the Lord (Gen 11:5–9). This emphasizes the shift from the human perspective to the divine perspective. It also demonstrates the futility of the creaturely plans over against those of the sovereign Creator.
Words of the people (Gen 11:1–4)
A One language and a common speech
B “Come, let us …” “… and let us …”
C “Let us build ourselves a city, with a tower”
D Let us “make a name”
E Lest we be scattered over the face of earth
Words of the Lord (Gen 11:5–9)
A’ One people and one language
B’ “Come, let us …” “… and let us …”
C’ Ceased to build
D’ Its “name” was Babel
E’ The Lord scattered them over the whole earth
Genesis 11:1–9 also has a chiastic structure (Kikwanda, “The Shape of Genesis 11:1–9,” 18–32). A chiasm is an ancient compositional technique in which words and themes are layered. In the outline below, layers A and A’ are parallel. They have similar wording and make a similar comment about language and the world. Layers B and B’ are parallel. “There” refers about the location of the people’s gathering and dispersion. Layers C and C’ are parallel and so on. The chiastic structure gives the narrative a sense of progression up to and down from the climax at letter G: “the Lord came down …” (Gen 11:5). God’s visitation is the turning point in the story.
A “the whole world had one language” (Gen 11:1)
B “there” (Gen 11:2)
C “each other” (Gen 11:3)
D “Come, let’s make bricks” (Gen 11:3)
E “Come, let us build ourselves” (Gen 11:4)
F “a city, with a tower” (Gen 11:4)
G “the Lord came down …” (Gen 11:5)
F’ “the city and the tower” (Gen 11:5)
E’ “that the men were building” (Gen 11:5)
D’ “Come, let us … confuse” (Gen 11:7)
C’ “each other” (Gen 11:7)
B’ “from there” (Gen 11:8)
A’ “the language of the whole world” (Gen 11:9)
The narrative also features irony—the mismatch between intentions and outcomes.

Humanity’s Intentions
God’s Outcomes
Build a tower and city (Gen 11:4)
God causes them to abandon the city (Gen 11:8)
Gather to avoid being scattered (Gen 11:4)
God scatters the people (Gen 11:8)
Tower will reach the heavens (Gen 11:4)
God must come down to see it (Gen 11:5)
Build a tower-temple so God will visit (Gen 11:4)
God visits in judgment (Gen 11:7)
Make a great name (Gen 11:4)
City is called Babel (sounds like the Hebrew word for “confusion”) (Gen 11:9)

The sounds of the words in Hebrew reinforce the structure and irony.

שֵׁם (shem) “name” (Gen 11:4, 9)
שָׁם (sham) “there” (Gen 11:2, 9)
נִלְבְּנָה (nilbenah) “let’s make bricks” (Gen 11:3)
נָבְלָה (novlah) “let us confuse” (Gen 11:7)
בַשָּׁמַיִם (vashshamayim) “heaven” (Gen 11:4)
מִשָּׁם (mishsham) “from there” (Gen 11:8)
בָּבֶל (bavel) “Babel” (Gen 11:9)
בָּלַל (balal) “confused” (Gen 11:9)
הֱפִיצָם (hephitsam) “scatter” (Gen 11:9)
פְּנֵי כָּל־הָאָרֶץ (peney kol-ha'arets) “face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:9)

Tower of Babel in the New Testament
The New Testament does not contain any direct reference to the tower-temple constructed at Babel. It does, however, record the reversal of God’s judgment. In his article “Pentecost and Glossolalia,” J. G. Davis observes several allusions between Gen 11:1–9 LXX and Acts 2:5–13.
God “confounds” (συγχέωμεν, syncheōmen) the people’s “languages” (γλῶσσαν, glōssan) so that they cannot understand each other’s “speech” (φωνὴν, phōnēn) (Gen 11:7 LXX). God breaks their unity, and as a result the people “scatter” (διέσπειρεν, diespeiren) (Gen 11:9). In Acts, the disciples speak in other “languages” (γλώσσαις, glōssais) (Acts 2:4). The crowd hears this “sound” (φωνῆς, phōnēs) but is “confounded” (συνεχύθη, synechythē) (Acts 2:6). God “scatters” (διεσπάρησαν, diesparēsan) the disciples to the nations to unify Jew and Gentiles under the Gospel (Acts 8:1, 4).

  Anderson, B. W. “Unity and Diversity in God’s Creation: A Study of the Babel Story.” Currents in Theology and Mission 5 (1978): 69–81.
  Cassuto, U. A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Translated by I. Abrahams. Jerusalem: Magnus Press, 1964.
  Clines, D. J. A. The Theme of the Pentateuch. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.
  Childs, B. S. “The Etiological Tale Re-examined.” Vetus Testamentum 24 (1974): 387–97.
  Coats, George W. Genesis: With an Introduction to Narrative Literature. The Forms of the Old Testament Literature 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983.
  Davies, J. G. “Pentecost and Glossolalia.” Journal of Theological Studies N.S. 3 (1952): 228–31.
  DeWitt, D. S. “The Historical Background of Genesis 11:1–9: Babel or Ur?” Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 22 (1979): 15–26.
  Fokkelman, J. P. Narrative Art in Genesis. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1975.
  Grieve, Jerry. “The Origin of Languages.” Ashland Theological Journal 3 (1970): 14–20.
  Harland, P. J. “Vertical or Horizontal: The Sin of Babel.” Vetus Testamentum 48 (1998): 515–33.
  Jenkins, A. K. 1978. “A Great Name: Genesis 12:2 and the Editing of the Pentateuch.” Journal Supplement of Old Testament 10 (1978): 41–57.
  Kikawada, I. M. “The Shape of Genesis 11:1–9.” Pages 18–32 in Rhetorical Criticism: Essays in Honor of J. Muilenburg. Edited by J. J. Jackson and M. Kessler. Pittsburgh: Pickwick Press, 1974.
  Kramer, S. N. “Man’s Golden Age: A Sumerian Parallel to Genesis 11:1.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 63 (1943): 191–93.
  Kramer, S. N. “The ‘Babel of Tongues’: A Sumerian Version.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 88 (1968): 108–11.
  Laurin, Robert B. “The Tower of Babel Revisited.” Pages 142–45 in Biblical and Near Eastern Studies. Edited by G. A. Tuttle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.
  Mathews, K. A. Genesis 1–11:26. The New American Commentary 1a. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001.
  Merrill, Eugene. “The Table of Nations” Bibliotheca Sacra 154 (Jan 1997): 1–22.
  Oppenheim, A. L. “The Mesopotamian Temple.” Biblical Archaeologist 7 (1944): 54–63.
  Penley, Paul T. “A Historical Reading of Genesis 11:1–9: The Sumerian Demise and Dispersion under the Ur III Dynasty.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50 (2007): 650–714.
  Pritchard, James, ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 3rd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.
  Ross, Allen P. “The Dispersion of the Nations in Genesis 11:1–9.” Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981): 119–38.
  Ross, Allen P. Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.
  Sasson, J. M. “The ‘Tower of Babel’ as a Clue to the Redactional Structuring of the Primeval History.” Pages 211–19 in The Bible World: Essays in Honor of C. H. Gordon. Edited by G. Rendsburg, R. Adler, M. Arfa, and N. H. Winter. New York: Ktav, 1980.
  Skinner, J. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis. International Critical Commentary 1. New York: Scribner, 1910.
  Speiser, E. A. “Word Plays on the Creation Epic’s Version of the Founding of Babylon.” Orientalia N.S. 25 (1956): 317–23.
  Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 1–15. Word Biblical Commentary 1a. Dallas: Word, 2002.
  Westermann, C. Genesis 1–11. Continental Commentary Series 1a. Translated by J. J. Scullion. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994.
  Waltke, Bruce K., and Cathi J. Fredericks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.
  Walton, John H. “The Mesopotamian Background of the Tower of Babel Account and Its Implications.” Bible and Spade 9 (Summer 1996): 77–96.
  Wright, Ernest G. “The Archaeology of Solomon’s Temple.” Bible and Spade 7 (Spring 1994): 55–57.


BABEL, TOWER OF, CRITICAL ISSUES Examines hypotheses for the origin, date, and composition of the Tower of Babel story (Gen 11:1–9).

Overview of Source-Critical Issues
The biblical account of the Tower of Babel appears to reflect firsthand historical knowledge of Mesopotamia, although in a highly literary fashion. The text is enmeshed with historical points of reference, both physical and conceptual, yet it does not seem to be primarily concerned with providing a historical witness according to the modern conception of history.
Some aspects of Gen 11:1–9 exhibit reliable connections to the story’s Mesopotamian setting. For example, the descriptions of kiln-fired brick and bitumen accurately reflect the building materials of Mesopotamia, where stone was uncommon (Sarna, Genesis, 72). For Israelites in Palestine, the more usual building materials were sun-dried clay bricks and stone. In addition, most scholars connect the tower in Gen 11:1–9 with ancient ziggurat structures, the remains of which have been found throughout Mesopotamia. Ruins at the site of ancient Babylon include an impressive ziggurat called Etemenanki, part of the Esagila temple compound dedicated to the god Marduk. Two Babylonian rulers, Nabopolassar (626–605 BC) and Nebuchadnezzar (605–562 BC), are reported to have made improvements to Etemenanki during their reigns. In addition, there is literary evidence for a much earlier temple complex in Babylon that was destroyed by Sargon of Akkad in 2350 BC.
Despite the presence of features that seem to reinforce the text’s authenticity as a document of the ancient Near East in general, additional elements appear to support the account’s uniqueness as a composition of ancient Israel specifically.
The majority of scholars see the Tower of Babel story as a contribution to the Old Testament’s general theme concerning the city/empire of Babylon, which represents behaviors that Yahweh opposes and thus comes under His judgment. According to this view, Gen 11:1–9 is a polemic against Babylon both specifically and paradigmatically, and it is therefore no surprise to find in the text historically based Mesopotamian features. Beyond this point, however, the scholarly opinions diverge.

  •      Some scholars (e.g., van Seters, LaCocque) hold that the Tower of Babel account developed as a literary construct (in the Yahwist source, ca. sixth century BC) to encourage Babylonian captives.
  •      Another prominent view (advanced by Speiser) proposes that Gen 11:1–9 is dependent on Mesopotamian myths that have been adapted to an Israelite purpose (or, at least, that the story originated in Babylon and was carried to Israel). This second view also supports a Yahwist source, but with an earlier date of composition (ca. 10th century BC).
  •      A third approach affirms that Gen 11:1–9 portrays actual and historical events—or at least that this text cannot have originated in Babylon but is an authentic Israelite composition. Scholars who take this view (e.g., DeWitt, Garrett, Kitchen) generally recognize Moses as the author and support a date in the second millennium BC.

(For a survey of theories or origin, see Westermann, Genesis, 540–42.)

Yahwist Source
The Documentary Hypothesis—scholarship’s prevailing view of the Pentateuch’s composition—recognizes four sources underlying Genesis—Deuteronomy and generally attributes the Babel account to the Yahwist source. There is no consensus on how the Yahwist source developed, when it should be dated, or how it should be characterized (Römer, The Elusive Yahwist, 9–27).
Some scholars conclude that the Yahwist material could not have been authored before the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BC. Van Seters finds strong support for this view in the Babel account: “It [Gen 11:1–9] is the strongest indicator of the dating of J’s history to the late Babylonian exile period” (van Seters, Yahwist, 33). This conclusion is based partly on the idea that Gen 11:1–9 was inspired by the exiles’ encounter with the glories of Babylon, including the massive Etemenanki ziggurat (mentioned above). LaCocque, for instance, believes that the Tower of Babel story is “speaking of a situation dramatized by the exile in Babylon of the sixth century … when the Judean captives were filled with awe before the city of Babylon and its ziggurat” (LaCocque, Captivity, 4–5).
Alternatively, Speiser holds that the Yahwist source-material derives from around the 10th century BC. He considers the story behind Gen 11:1–9 to have been borrowed from the Enuma Elish (Speiser, Genesis, 75). Similarities between the texts include:

Enuma Elish
“For one whole year they molded bricks”
“Come, let us make bricks and burn them through” (Gen 11:3)
“They raised high the head of Esagila toward Apsu [heaven]”
“let us build a city and a tower with its head in the heavens” (Gen 11:4)

(Enuma Elish translations by Speiser; Pritchard, Ancient Near East, 34)
The extant copies of the Enuma Elish are from the first millennium BC (later than Genesis purports to have been written), though the work likely originated early in the second millennium BC (Speiser, cited in Pritchard, Ancient Near East, 28).

Mosaic Authorship
Scholars who reject the Documentary Hypothesis (and other source-critical theories for the Pentateuch’s composition) generally suggest that the Babel account is a legitimate report of actual events at some point in history. Supporters of this view argue that the Pentateuch demonstrates an intricate and coherent structure that belies the assumptions of the Documentary Hypothesis. In addition, they argue that the Pentateuch accurately evinces the world of the ancient Near East in the second millennium BC (Kitchen, Reliability).
Confessional readers of the Old Testament commonly view Moses as the human author of the Pentateuch (including the Babel account). However, many scholars who posit a compositional unity acknowledge that the process likely included various sources that are unavailable to us, similar to the sources mentioned in the historical books (e.g., Num 21:14; Josh 10:13; 2 Sam 1:18; 1 Kgs 11:41; 2 Chr 16:11; Ezra 4:11). These advocates conclude that it is reasonable to consider Moses to be the primary compiler, author, and editor of the Pentateuch, although there are clear indications that later editorial updates took place (e.g., the reference to “Dan” in Gen 14:14).
Within this view, the second-millennium BC time frame for the composition of Gen 11:1–9 corresponds with reports of the Babylon temple that Sargon destroyed in 2350 BC. DeWitt has proposed that the builders were from the Third Dynasty of Ur (Ur III), which preceded the Old Babylonian empire and occupied the same region (DeWitt, “Historical Background,” 16–21).
In a variation on Mosaic authorship, Garrett proposes that the Babel account provides the conclusion to an “ancestor epic core”—a literary pattern attested in the Atrahasis Epic. According to Garrett, Gen 11:1–9 probably existed in an early source that documented the fall of the Third Dynasty of Ur (making it a much older text than van Seters allows). As the primary author of the Pentateuch, Moses may have incorporated this narrative with other sources (such as the toledoth material and Gen 1:1–2:3) to form what Garrett calls “the original ancestor epic core” of Gen 1–11 (Garrett, Rethinking, 190). The pattern of an “ancestor epic core” consists of “a prologue, a triadic narrative which describes some threat to the central characters, and a conclusion, with transitional material between each major section” (Garrett, Rethinking, 120–21). As in the Atrahasis Epic, humanity’s survival is a major topic of concern in Gen 1–11. Both texts also provide a resolution to the problem of survival. In Genesis 1–11, the final threat to humans comes from their desire to coalesce at a city and a tower instead of filling the earth as God had commanded them (Gen 1:28; 9:1). The Babel account ends with a confusion of language and a dispersal of humanity—thus completing the threat/conclusion cycle in Gen 1–11 (Garrett, Rethinking, 125–26).
Garrett’s theory seeks to explain the placement and contribution of Gen 11:1–9 in a way that is consistent with nonbiblical writings from the ancient Near East. However, it differs from views that regard the Babel account to have been inspired by Mesopotamian texts (i.e., Speiser, Genesis) or to have arisen from the much later period of the Babylonian exile (i.e., van Seters, LaCocque).

  DeWitt, Dale S. “The Historical Background of Genesis 11:1–9: Babel or Ur?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 22, no. 1 (1979): 15–26.
  Di Vito, Robert A. “The Demarcation of Divine and Human Realms in Genesis 2–11.” In Creation in Biblical Traditions. Edited by Richard J. Clifford and John J. Collins. Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph 24. Washington: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1992.
  Fokkelman, Jan P. Narrative Art in Genesis: Specimens of Stylistic and Structural Analysis. Biblical Seminar 12. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991.
  Garrett, Duane A. Rethinking Genesis: The Sources and Authorship of the First Book of the Pentateuch. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991. Repr., Fearn, UK: Mentor, 2000.
  Hallo, William W., ed. The Context of Scripture. Vol. 1. Leiden: Brill, 1997.
  Kikiwada, Isaac M., and Arthur Quinn. Before Abraham Was: A Provocative Challenge to the Documentary Hypothesis. Nashville: Abingdon, 1985.
  Kitchen, Kenneth A. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.
  LaCoque, André. The Captivity of Innocence: Babel and the Yahwist. Eugene: Cascade, 2010.
  Römer, Thomas. “The Elusive Yahwist: A Short History of Research.” In A Farewell to the Yahwist?: The Composition of the Pentateuch in Recent European Interpretation. Edited by Thomas Dozeman and Konrad Schmid. SBL Symposium Series 34. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006.
  Pritchard, James B., ed. The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011.
  Sarna, Nahum M. Understanding Genesis. New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1996.
  Seters, John van. The Yahwist: A History of Israelite Origins. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns 2013.
  Speiser, E. A. Genesis. Anchor Bible 1. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964.
  Walton, John H. “The Mesopotamian Background of the Tower of Babel Account and Its Implications.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 5 (1995): 155–75.
  Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 1–15. Word Biblical Commentary 1. Dallas: Word, 1987.
  Westermann, Claus. Genesis 1–11. Continental Commentary. Translated by J. J. Scullion. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994.
  Whybray, R. N. The Making of the Pentateuch. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987.


BABYLON (בבל, bbl; Βαβυλων, Babylōn; Akkadian: Bab-iliu; “the gate of god[s]”). The cultural and political center of Mesopotamia during much of the second and first millennia BC. Located in modern-day Iraq along one branch of the Euphrates River, about 59 miles southwest of Baghdad and 6 miles northeast of Hillah.

Babylon rose to prominence in the early second millennium BC and continued its cultural influence through western Asia into the fourth century BC (Beaulieu, “Babylonia, Babylonian,” 111).

People began inhabiting the plains of Mesopotamia around 5000 BC. By the third millennium BC, Semitic groups were dwelling in the region (Kienast, “The Name of the City of Babylon,” 248). Ancient Near Eastern texts describe the original location of Babylon as a sacred site dedicated to Marduk. Sargon’s son, Sharkalisharri, provides the earliest literary reference to Babylon in 2250 BC using the Sumerian name Ka-dingirra. During the Ur III period, Babylon was small and limited in its influence, maintaining only a regional governor (Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 43). After the fall of Ur in 2004 BC, Mesopotamia became a patchwork of smaller city-states characterized by rivals and disputes (Oates, Babylon, 60–61).

Old Babylonian Period
The Old Babylonian Period (2003–1595 BC) witnessed the rise of the first Babylonian Dynasty and significant political and geographical expansion under the leadership of King Hammurabi (1792–1750 BC). Hammurabi, the sixth king of the Amorite Dynasty, enlarged the city and developed it into a prosperous center for religion and trade (Wiseman, “Babylon,” 475). He united much of the region surrounding Babylon and viewed his reign as the epitome of justice, commissioning a detailed legal code. Roughly 200 years after Hammurabi’s reign, the Hittite kingdom expanded south and razed Babylon as it progressed down the Euphrates River. This attack left the city vulnerable, and Kassite tribes from the East overtook the empire and ended the Dynasty (Sasson, “King Hammurabi of Babylon,” 913).

Kassite and Assyrian Domination
From 1595–626 BC (Middle Babylonian period or Early Neo-Babylonian period), Kassite and Assyrian Dynasties shaped the growing city of Babylon. During the Kassite Dynasty (1595–1155 BC), Babylon became the religious and ceremonial capital of the nation. Arnold writes, “Perhaps the single greatest accomplishment of the Kassite Dynasty was the formation of a national monarchy with clearly defined boarders similar to the geographical reach of Hammurapi’s brief empire” (Arnold, Who Were the Babylonians?, 66). Babylonian influence and culture spread throughout the ancient world during the Kassite reign. Its science was revered all over the world, and the Amarna Letters (1385–1355 BC) discovered in Egypt show that the Babylonian language was the lingua franca of the period (Arnold, Who Were the Babylonians?, 68). Sommerfeld attributes the Babylonian works Epic of Gilgamesh and Enuma Elish to the period of the Kassites (Sommerfeld, “The Kassites of Ancient Mesopotamia,” 927–29). The Enuma Elish records a creation narrative that elevates Marduk to the supreme position in the pantheon.
After the fall of the Kassite Dynasty, Babylon lost much of its splendor. The unstable governments of local dignitaries and Assyrian overlords characterized the end of the 2nd millennium (Wiseman, “Babylon,” 475). Assyrian king Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244–1208 BC) officially brought Babylon under Assyrian control and moved the statue of Marduk from Babylon to Ashur (Saggs, The Greatness that was Babylon, 85). Shalmaneser III (858–824 BC), grandson of Tukulti-Ninurta, claims: “I marched against Akkad [Babylonia] to avenge Mardukshumiddin … I entered Kutha, Babylon, and Borsippa, offered sacrifices to the gods of the sacred cities of Akkad. I went [further] downstream to Chaldea and received tribute from all kings of Chaldea” (ANET, 277). When the powerful Tiglath-Pileser III (744–727 BC), known as “Pul” in the Old Testament (2 Kgs 15:19; 1 Chr 5:26), ascended to the throne, Assyria became feared as an international power. Tiglath-Pileser took the name “King of Sumer and Akkad,” declaring all of Babylon his vassals (Oates, Babylon, 114).

Neo-Babylonian Rise and Fall
Babylon rose to international preeminence under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar II (604–562 BC), only to be conquered by Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great of Macedonia, and Seleucus the Greek. Even during the Assyrian period, Babylonian influence remained: “Babylonian cultural dominance persisted even at the peak of Assyrian power” (Oates, Babylon, 126). The Chaldean king Nabopolassar (625–605 BC) successfully pried Babylon from a weakening Assyrian grip, and with the help of the Medes and Scythians sacked Nineveh in 612 BC. Turning his gaze to the west, the king sent the royal prince Nebuchadnezzar to overthrow the Egyptian occupation of Palestine (2 Kgs 23:34–35). In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar defeated Egypt at Carchemish and made Judah into a Babylonian vassal (2 Kgs 24:1). In 597 BC, he besieged Jerusalem, raided the temple, and returned to Babylon with King Jehoiachin of Judah and thousands of Judaean nobles (2 Kgs 24:10–17). Characterized by power and opulence, Nebuchadnezzar’s boast in Dan 4:30 seems fitting: “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”
The splendor of the Neo-Babylonian Empire did not last. Nebuchadnezzar’s son reigned only two years before being overthrown, and subsequent leaders experienced severe challenges (Champdor, Babylon, 118). Trying to maintain the splendor of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire forced heavy taxes on the people (approximately 50 percent between 560–530 BC), with the result of famine and civil unrest (Wiseman, “Babylon,” 476). As Babylon weakened, its Persian neighbors to the east grew stronger. Beaulieu writes, “The conflict between the two states erupted in 539 BC when Cyrus the Great led the Persian armies on a swift conquest of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. His capture of Babylon put an end to the last independent political manifestation of Mesopotamian civilization” (Beaulieu, “Babylonia, Babylonians,” 111).
The Babylonians mounted two unsuccessful revolts against the Persian Empire in 522 BC and 482 BC. These revolts—especially the latter—were harshly suppressed, incurring much damage upon the city and the people. In 331 BC, Alexander the Great marched into Babylon amid cheers of the people after his defeat of the Medes (Wellard, Babylon, 189). He was declared king and planned extensive reconstructions in hopes of establishing the city as his eastern capital (Oates, Babylon, 140). After Alexander’s death, his general, Seleucus, was declared sovereign over the city. Babylon continued to decline under Seleucus and a new capital city, Seleucia, was erected on the banks of the Tigris River. Documents from the first century AD attest that Babylon remained a shrinking but active metropolis after its Hellenistic occupation (Wiseman, “Babylon,” 479).

Biblical Relevance
From Genesis to Revelation, Babylon maintains a significant presence as both a historical empire and a symbol of opposition to God and His people.

Babylon in the Old Testament
There are 287 references to Babylon in the Old Testament and 82 references to its Chaldean inhabitants. The first biblical references to Babylon (and the only ones in the Pentateuch) occur in Gen 10:10 and 11:9. The Tower of Babel narrative in Gen 11:1–9, often associated with ancient Mesopotamian ziggurats, demonstrates humanity’s increasing sin and Yahweh’s supremacy over all human nations. Disregarding the Akkadian etymology “the gate of god,” the author of Genesis highlights the Hebrew wordplay between babel (“the city”) and balal (“to mix or confuse”). Therefore, instead of understanding Babylon to be a divine city like those in Mesopotamia, the Israelites likely viewed it as the epitome of human pride and confusion in the relationship between God and humans (Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, 486).
The prophets frequently reference Babylon and the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Isaiah 39:1 and 2 Kings 20:12–13 describe Babylonian king Merodach-baladan’s (722–711 BC) solicitation of Israel’s help against Assyria. In 597 BC and 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and deported thousands of Palestinians to Babylonia (2 Kgs 24:1–25:22; 2 Chr 36:6–13; Ezra 5:12–6:5; Neh 7:6; Jer 21:2–52:28; Ezek 33:21). The following parallel accounts describe the events of 597 BC

The Babylonian Chronicle
2 Chronicles 36:10
Year 7: [I]n Kislev, the king of Babylonia called out his army and marched to Hattu [the West]. He set his camp against the city of Judah [Jerusalem] and on 2nd Adar he took the city and captured the king. He appointed a king of his choosing there, took heavy tribute and returned to Babylon (COS, 1.137, 468).
In the spring of the year, Nebuchadnezzar sent and brought him Jehoiachin to Babylon, with precious vessels of the house of the Lord, and made his brother Zedekiah king over Judah and Jerusalem (ESV)

Ezekiel and Daniel served as prophets during the years of exile. Both were taken to Babylon during the deportation described above. Isaiah foretold the collapse of the Neo-Babylonian Empire at the hand of Cyrus of Persia (Isa 13:7). Babylon’s fall in 539 BC ended the conflict between Babylon and Israel.
According to the prophets, Yahweh used Babylon to judge His people for their unfaithfulness. Habakkuk prophesies: “For behold I [Yahweh] am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwelling not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves” (Hab 1:6–7 ESV). However, Yahweh’s use of Babylon did not correct their national wickedness. Isaiah 13–14 captures the theological portrayal of pomp and arrogance that parallels other biblical references to Babylon. Isaiah’s prophecy indicts Babylon for her wickedness and pride: “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them” (Isa 13:19, ESV). Isaiah continues in chapter 14 with a taunt against the king of Babylon, declaring his eternal demise in the depths of Sheol (Isa 14:3–9). The power of Babylon could not stand before Yahweh. Even as Daniel portrays the ferocity and wealth of Nebuchadnezzar, the power of the Most High God is undeniable (Dan 4:1–3).

Babylon in the New Testament
The New Testament refers to Babylon 12 times. Friesen comments on these occurrences: “Matthew and Acts refer to Babylonian exile as a way of understanding Jesus in relation to Israel’s history, while 1 Peter and Revelation use Babylon as a symbol for Rome” (Friesen, “Babylon, NT,” 379). Matthew 1:17 highlights the importance of Israel’s time in Babylon by noting the generational symmetry between Abraham, David, Babylon, and Jesus; in this interpretation, Israel’s time in Babylon—cut off from the promised land—serves as a turning point in biblical salvation-history.
Some New Testament references to Babylon may be cryptic allusions to Rome (1 Pet 5:13; Rev 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2). Like Babylon, Rome was an oppressive, imperial power that had besieged Jerusalem and desecrated the temple (Friesen, “Babylon, NT,” 379). The book of Revelation portrays “Babylon the great city” as “the mother of prostitutes and the abominations of the earth” (Rev 17:5), which will be cast down in end-time judgment. Revelation is replete with Old Testament imagery: “The historic city and empire of Babylon were always depicted by the prophets as the ungodly power par excellence” (TDNT, s.v. “Βαβυλών, Babylōn,” 1:515). The extent to which Rome fulfills the characteristics of Babylon in Revelation is still debated. It would have been natural for Christians to see Rome as a contemporary version of the Old Testament Babylon from which God delivered his people (Wiseman, “Babylon,” 479).

Stories of Babylon have continually led travelers back to what remains of the metropolis. Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela visited the city twice (AD 1160 and 1173) to investigate the site lauded as the Tower of Babel (Klengel-Brandt, “Babylon,” 251). In 1811, C. J. Rich of the East India Trading Company conducted the first systematic land survey of the ruins (Rollinger, “Babylon,” 414).
Extensive excavation of Babylon began when Sachau and Koldewey chose to study the area in 1897. Due to the high water level, the teams were unable to uncover the strata of the Old Babylonian Period, but the palace and city structures of the Neo-Babylonian, Persian, Macedonian, and Hellenistic periods are plainly visible. Significant excavated structures include: the Ishtar Gate, the “Hanging Gardens,” the outer city walls, and the temple.

  Arnold, Bill T. Who Were the Babylonians? Leiden: Brill, 2005.
  Beaulieu, Paul-Alain. “Babylonia, Babylonians.” Pages 106–13 in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books. Edited by Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2005.
  Champdor, Albert. Babylon. Translated and adapted by Elsa Coult. London: Elek, 1958.
  Friesen, Steven. “Babylon, NT.” Page 379 in The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 1. Edited by Katharine Doob Sakenfield, et. al. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2006.
  Hallo, William, ed. The Context of Scripture [COS]. Vol. 1: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World. Leiden: Brill, 1997.
  Kienast, Burkhart. “The Name of the City of Babylon.” Sumer 35 (1979): 246–48.
  Klengel-Brandt, Evelyn. “Babylon.” Translated by Susan I. Schiedel. Pages 251–56 in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East 1. Edited by Eric M. Meyers, et. al. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  Kittel, Gerhard, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [TDNT]. Translated by Geoffrey W. Bromily. 10 vols. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966–1976.
  Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 1–11:26. New American Commentary 1A. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 1996.
  Oates, Joan. Babylon. Rev. ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1986.
  Pritchard, James M., ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament [ANET]. 3d ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.
  Rollinger, Robert. “Babylon.” Pages 414–23 in Brill’s New Pauly Encyclopedia of the Ancient World. Edited by Manfred Landfester, Hubert Cancik, and Helmuth Schneider. Classical Tradition, Vol. 1. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
  Saggs, H. W. F. The Greatness that was Babylon: A Sketch of the Ancient Civilization of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. London: Sigwick and Jackson, 1962.
  Sasson, Jack M. “King Hammurabi of Babylon.” Pages 901–15 in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East 2. Edited by Jack M. Sasson, John Baines, Gary Beckman, and Karen S. Rubinson. New York: Scribner, 1995.
  Sommerfeld, Walter. “The Kassites of Ancient Mesopotamia: Origins, Politics, and Culture.” Pages 917–30 in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East 2. Edited by Jack M. Sasson, John Baines, Gary Beckman, and Karen S. Rubinson. New York: Scribner, 1995.
  Wellard, James. Babylon. New York: Schocken, 1972.
  Wiseman, D. J. “Babylon.” Pages 471–79 in The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible 1. Rev. ed. Edited by Merrill C. Tenney and Moisés Silva. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
  ———. Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.


BABYLON, CULTURE OF Explores the religion, social structures, and economy of Babylon, a center of power in ancient Mesopotamia.

The early Babylonians inherited much of their culture from the Sumerians of southern Mesopotamia. Likewise, these early Babylonians borrowed many aspects of their writing system, literature, and scribal traditions from the Akkadians (Liverani, Ancient Near East, 166–68, 202–06). For roughly two millennia, the city was home to a number of ethnic groups, including the Sumerians, Akkadians, Amorites and Kassites (second millennium BC), and Aramaeans and Chaldeans (first millennium BC; Roux, Ancient Iraq, 179–94, 241–52, 273–77, 389–404). The city grew more diverse in the Neo-Babylonian period as more people groups—including deportees like the Judaeans—migrated there. This increased diversity contributed further to the cosmopolitan nature of the city (Liverani, Ancient Near East, 549–53).

The Babylonian people’s thoughts, ideas, values, beliefs, and norms were profoundly influenced by their religion (Jacobsen, “Mesopotamian Gods”; Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia, 172–83). The patron deity of the city of Babylon and the royal family was Marduk, whom the Babylonians worshiped as king of the gods. At the start of the new year, the Babylonians observed the yearly akītu festival, which commemorated Marduk’s ascension to the head of the pantheon and his enthronement in his temple in the city (Abusch, “Marduk,” 548). Although we have little evidence of popular religion in Babylon, there was a strong connection between private religion and public institutions (Cohen, Cultic Calendars, 391–99, 427–53). Mesopotamian religion demonstrates the people’s concern with preventing or remedying disasters like death, famine, or defeat in war (Jacobsen, “Ancient Mesopotamian Religion,” 473–84).

Society and Daily Life
Babylonian society was divided into traditional social classes. Babylonian free citizens (Old Babylonian awīlu; Neo-Babylonian mār banî) could own property, livestock, and slaves. The institution of slavery existed mostly for debtors or captives of war, and often slaves had opportunities to be liberated (Greengus, “Legal and Social Institutions,” 469–84).
Babylonian culture was shaped by its urban environment. Although ancient Near Eastern cities were not sharply divided between rural and urban spheres, the walled city held a central role in economy and trade—meaning that the surrounding areas were integrated into the life of the city (Orlin, Life and Thought, 162–64). However, the city and its strength was a source of pride for its inhabitants, and cities were considered the roots of civilization (van de Mieroop, Ancient Mesopotamian City, 42–62).
Pastimes in which the Babylonian people engaged included music production, singing, and playing games (Saggs, Greatness that was Babylon, 157–95; Hoerth, “Games People Played,” 471–89). Babylonians also participated in athletic competitions involving running, boxing, and wrestling (Yamauchi, “Athletics in the Ancient Near East,” 491–500).

The Babylonian material culture, which provides insight into the economy of the city, generally aligns with that of other urban centers in ancient Mesopotamia. Agriculture and trade were cornerstones of the city’s economy. Important agricultural crops include date palms and grains, such as wheat and barley, that could be used for bread and beer (van de Mieroop, Ancient Mesopotamian City, 142–75). Babylonians also raised domestic animals, such as:

  •      cows and goats, whose milk could either be consumed directly or used in the production of other dairy products;
  •      sheep, whose wool and skin could be used for textiles and whose meat could be consumed on special occasions (Landsberger, “Über Farben im sumerisch-akkadischen,” 139–73);
  •      oxen, which were used for plowing; and
  •      mules and donkeys, which could be ridden or used as pack animals (san Nicolò, “Materialien zur Viehwirtschaft” [I—V]).

Other industries include the mining of iron, copper, and bronze; glass-making; and the production of pottery, clay tablets, and bricks (Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia, 74–142).

Central Institutions
Laws, legal education, judges, and courts were significant institutions in Babylon, as attested by the law codes of Hammurabi and Eshnunna. Greengus argues that these law collections functioned as textbooks for the training of scribes (Greengus, “Legal and Social Institutions,” 472). The Babylonians kept records of transactions, contracts, marriage and divorce, and loans, among other things, to settle any later disputes. While the king was the ultimate arbiter of the law, judges and courts would settle most matters in public trials (Westbrook, “Mesopotamia: Old Babylonian Period,” 361–430).
Babylonian temples functioned as administrative centers where records of crop yields and economic transactions were kept. In some ways, temples operated in a similar fashion to banks; they were central lending institutions as well as repositories for legal documents, such as contracts, deeds, and loan terms (van de Mieroop, Ancient Mesopotamian City, 197–214; Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia, 83–95).

  Abusch, Tzvi. “Marduk.” Pages 543–49 in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Edited by Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking and Pieter W. van der Horst. Leiden: Brill, 1999.
  Cohen, Mark E. The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East. Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press, 1993.
  Contenau, Georges. La vie quotidienne à Babylone et en Assyrie. Paris: Hachette, 1950.
  Edzard, Dietz O. Die zweite Zwischenziet Babyloniens. Wiesbaden: Harassowitz, 1957.
  Finkelstein, J. J. “The Ox that Gored.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 71, no. 2 (1981): 1–89.
  Greengus, Samuel. “Legal and Social Institutions of Ancient Mesopotamia.” Pages 469–84 in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. 4 vols. Edited by Jack M. Sasson. New York: Scribner, 1995.
  Hoerth, Alfred J. “Games People Played: Board Games in the Ancient Near East.” Pages 471–89 in Life and Culture in the Ancient Near East. Edited by R. A. Averbeck, M. W. Chavalas and D. B. Weisberg. Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press, 2003.
  Jacobsen, Thorkild. “Ancient Mesopotamian Religion: The Central Concerns.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 107, no. 6 (1963): 473–84.
  ———. “Mesopotamian Gods and Pantheons.” Pages 16–38 in Toward the Image of Tammuz and Other Essays on Mesopotamian History and Culture. Edited by W. L. Moran. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970.
  Landsberger, Benno. “Über Farben im sumerisch-akkadischen.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 21, special volume (1967): 139–73.
  Liverani, Mario. The Ancient Near East: History, Society, and Economy. New York: Routledge, 2014.
  van de Mieroop, Marc. The Ancient Mesopotamian City. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.
  san Nicolò, M. “Materialien zur Viehwirtschaft in den neubabylonischen Tempeln I.” Orientalia New Series 17 (1948): 273–93.
  ———. “Materialien zur Viehwirtschaft in den neubabylonischen Tempeln II.” Orientalia New Series 18 (1949): 288–306.
  ———. “Materialien zur Viehwirtschaft in den neubabylonischen Tempeln III.” Orientalia New Series 20 (1951): 129–50.
  ———. “Materialien zur Viehwirtschaft in den neubabylonischen Tempeln IV.” Orientalia New Series 23 (1954): 351–82.
  ———. “Materialien zur Viehwirtschaft in den neubabylonischen Tempeln V.” Orientalia New Series 25 (1956): 24–38.
  Oppenheim, A. Leo. “The Position of the Intellectual in Mesopotamian Society.” Daedalus 104 (1975): 37–46.
  ———. Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
  Orlin, Louis L. Life and Thought in the Ancient Near East. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007.
  Roux, Georges. Ancient Iraq. 3rd ed. London: Penguin, 1992.
  Saggs, H. W. F. The Greatness that was Babylon: A Sketch of the Ancient Civilization of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1962.
  Snell, Daniel C. Life in the Ancient Near East. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997.
  Steinert, Ulrike. Aspekte des Menschseins im Alten Mesopotamien. Eine Studie zu Person und Identität im 2. und 1. Jt. v. Chr. Cuneiform Monographs 44. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
  Weisberg, David B. “Everyday Life in the Neo-Babylonian Period: The Integration of Material and Non-Material Culture.” Pages 83–91 in Life and Culture in the Ancient Near East. Edited by R. A. Averbeck, M. W. Chavalas and D. B. Weisberg. Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press, 2003.
  Westbrook, Raymond. “Mesopotamia: Old Babylonian Period.” Pages 361–430 in A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law. 2 vols. Edited by R. Westbrook. Handbuch der Orientalistik 72.1–2. Leiden: Brill, 2003.
  Yamauchi, Edwin M. “Athletics in the Ancient Near East.” Pages 491–500 in Life and Culture in the Ancient Near East. Edited by R. A. Averbeck, M. W. Chavalas and D. B. Weisberg. Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press, 2003.


BABYLONIAN THEODICY A Mesopotamian wisdom poem consisting of a dialogue between a sufferer and his friend exploring the topic of theodicy or divine justice. Consists of 27 stanzas of 11 lines each.

Biblical Relevance
The Babylonian Theodicy is perhaps the closest ancient parallel to the biblical book of Job. Both texts use the dialogue format to discuss issues of theodicy and retribution. Like Job, the sufferer in The Babylonian Theodicy challenges the doctrine of retribution—the widespread notion that the world operates by some cosmic ordering principle that aligns actions and consequences so that good behavior brings good things in life and wicked behavior leads to suffering. Since the gods are held to be the arbiters of this cosmic justice, the dialogue explores the topic of theodicy: If the gods are just, where do suffering and evil come from? In another parallel with Job, the suffering experienced by one of the participants in the dialogue is the starting point for discussion.
The apparent civility of the way the men address one another throughout the dialogue is also reminiscent of the book of Job, where Job’s frustration with his friends sometimes manifests as thinly veiled sarcastic praise. For example, in The Babylonian Theodicy, the sufferer addresses his friend, saying, “I bow down before you, my comrade, I apprehend your wisdom”; in the Bible, Job exclaims to his companions, “Truly indeed you are the people, and wisdom will die with you” (Job 12:2).
Clifford suggests that the author of the book of Job may have been influenced by The Babylonian Theodicy (Clifford, Wisdom Literature, 71). He bases this conclusion on three broad parallels between the Akkadian text and Job (Clifford, Wisdom Literature, 72):

  1.      Both texts cast the problem of suffering and evil as the personal experience of one of the participants in the dialogue.
  2.      In both texts the sufferer seeks consolation as well as counsel from his dialogue partner(s).
  3.      In both texts the sufferer stubbornly refuses to abandon his claim that his suffering is unjust and without cause.

The estimated dates for the composition of Babylonian Theodicy range from 1000–750 BC, but the earliest existing copies come from the eighth and seventh centuries BC. Since there are copies and references to the text in the first century AD, Hoffman thinks it is logical “that it was known and attracted great interest during the period of composition of the book of Job” (Hoffman, Blemished Perfection, 66).
Another parallel between The Babylonian Theodicy and biblical poetry is the use of an acrostic structure. Biblical acrostic poems are alphabetic, where each stanza or section starts with the next letter of the alphabet (like Psa 119). Since Mesopotamian cuneiform is not alphabetic, the acrostic format can be used to spell out a message. The acrostic in the Babylonian Theodicy reads “I, Saggil-kinam-ubbib, the incantation priest, am adorant of the god and the king” (Sparks, Ancient Texts, 63). This explicit statement of the author’s devotion to god and king may be an attempt “to head off any criticism of the rather daring views expressed in his poem” (Foster, “The Babylonian Theodicy,” 492).
Below are a few examples demonstrating the thematic affinity between The Babylonian Theodicy and the book of Job (translation of The Babylonian Theodicy from COS 1.154):

The Babylonian Theodicy
Book of Job
A cripple rises above me, a fool is ahead of me, rogues are in the ascendant, I am demoted
Why do the wicked live, grow old, even grow mighty in power? (Job 21:7)
Those who seek not after a god can go the road of favor, those who pray to a goddess have grown poor and destitute.
And they say to God, ‘Turn away from us, for we do not desire to know your ways. Who is Shaddai that we should serve him, or what would we benefit when we plead with him?” (Job 21:14–15)

In The Babylonian Theodicy, the sufferer describes what has befallen him and insists that life is not ordered by some principle of justice. He offers his own life experiences as proof that the traditional doctrine that the righteous or pious will be blessed and the wicked cursed is incorrect: Contrary to popular opinion, pious living and proper ritual observance do not prevent human suffering. The following summary of the poem’s content is based on Foster’s translation in COS 1.154, and all quoted phrases come from his translation.
The poem opens with the sufferer seeking a confidant with whom he may share his story of suffering and woe. Unlike Job, this sufferer has only one dialogue partner, who is addressed as “sage” in the opening line. The sufferer’s first complaint is that he has been left an orphan—both his father and mother are dead, and he has no guardian. This wise friend replies that death comes to all, but that the poor man may become wealthy if he “looks to his god” and “reveres his goddess.” The sufferer then raises the issue of his physically weak state due to hunger and expresses disbelief that he has any chance of a “happy life.” The friend suggests that he makes “offerings without conviction” and that is why he still suffers.
The sufferer replies that wild animals like the wild donkey and the lion make no offerings to the gods yet fare better than he, and he insists that he has given the appropriate offerings and made the appropriate prayers. He then questions whether the nouveau riche gained his wealth by offering the right amount of gold to the goddess. The sage’s answer implies that the gods must have their reasons: “You are a mere child, the purpose of the gods is remote as the netherworld.” The sage then draws attention to the fate of the wild animals the sufferer referenced: The wild donkey will be killed by an arrow, and the lion will be trapped in a pit. He even claims the “well-heeled parvenu” (i.e., a newly rich man) would find himself put “to the flames before his time” by the king (though he does not explain why). He then asks the sufferer whether he desires this same fate.
The sufferer counters the sage’s argument by reasserting that some people prosper while ignoring the gods, while others, like himself, live in poverty despite their many pious prayers. Taken aback at this challenge to his wisdom, the friend exclaims, “Your logic is perverse! You have cast off justice! You have scorned divine design!” He insists the man’s suffering has induced an irrational emotional state that has led him to such disregard for the gods’ “sound rules” and “strategy.”
The next sections of the text are fragmentary, but it appears the sufferer decides he has nothing to lose and resolves to embark on a life of petty crime, disregarding divine rituals and rules. His friend thinks he has lost his mind. The sufferer appears to continue asserting the potential inequities of reality, where the rich become poor and the poor rich, the hungry find food and the well-fed go hungry, and the well-dressed are reduced to rags while the poor gain fine clothes. The sage still thinks the man has lost his mind, but he entreats him to turn back: “Follow in the way of a god, observe his rites, [and] be ready for good fortune!” The wise friend insists, “He who bears a god’s yoke shall never want for food, though it may be meager.” He appears to admit that a pious person could experience loss, but he insists that a year’s worth of losses could be recouped “in a moment” with divine favor. The sufferer challenges this idea based on his own experience: “I have looked around in society, indications are the contrary.” He then lists numerous examples of the immoral at ease and prosperous while the moral struggle. The sage then accuses the man of blasphemy and again retreats to the inscrutability of divine purpose.
In a final appeal, the sufferer lists the systemic inequities of humanity—especially those involving oppression of the weak and powerless. He maintains that people “esteem truthful the wicked to whom truth is abhorrent” and “reject the truthful man who heeds the will of god.” The stark reality of the oppression that underlies human society apparently inspires the sage to soften his stance, admitting that the gods who created humankind “gave twisted words to the human race” and “endowed them in perpetuity with lies and falsehood.” This capacity for lies has enabled people to flatter the rich and malign the poor. The sufferer takes this as sympathy for his plight, and the poem ends with him expressing his wish that the gods who abandoned him will have pity and help him.

  Clifford, Richard J. The Wisdom Literature: Interpreting Biblical Texts Series. Nashville: Abingdon, 1998.
  Foster, Benjamin R. “The Babylonian Theodicy.” Pages 492–95 in vol. 1 of The Context of Scripture. Edited by William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger Jr. Leiden: Brill, 1997.
  Hallo, William W., and K. Lawson Younger Jr., ed. The Context of Scripture. 3 vols. Leiden: Brill, 1997–2002.
  Hoffman, Yair. A Blemished Perfection: The Book of Job in Context. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.
  Sparks, Kenton L. Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2005.


Moore, D. E. (2016). Babel, Tower of, Critical Issues. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Hrsg.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.



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From the foot of Saddam Hussein's summer palace a Humvee is seen driving down a road towards the left. Palm trees grow near the road and the ruins of Babylon can be seen in the background.
A partial view of the ruins of Babylon from Saddam Hussein's Summer Palace
Babylon lies in the center of Iraq
Babylon lies in the center of Iraq
Shown within Iraq
Alternative name
LocationHillahBabil GovernorateIraq
Coordinates32°32′11″N 44°25′15″ECoordinates32°32′11″N 44°25′15″E
Part ofBabylonia
Area9 km2 (3.5 sq mi)
Foundedc. 2300 BC
Abandonedc. AD 1000
CulturesAkkadian, Amorite, Kassite, Assyrian, Chaldean, Achaemenid, Hellenistic, Parthian, Sasanian
Site notes
ArchaeologistsHormuzd RassamRobert Koldewey
Public accessYes
Babylon was a key kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia from the 18th to 6th centuries BC. The city was built on the Euphrates river and divided in equal parts along its left and right banks, with steep embankments to contain the river's seasonal floods. Babylon was originally a small Akkadian town dating from the period of the Akkadian Empire c. 2300 BC.
The town became part of a small independent city-state with the rise of the First Babylonian dynasty in the 19th century BC. After the Amorite king Hammurabi created a short-lived empire in the 18th century BC, he built Babylon up into a major city and declared himself its king, and southern Mesopotamia became known as Babylonia and Babylon eclipsed Nippuras its holy city. The empire waned under Hammurabi's son Samsu-iluna and Babylon spent long periods under AssyrianKassite and Elamite domination. After being destroyed and then rebuilt by the Assyrians, Babylon became the capital of the short lived Neo-Babylonian Empire from 609 to 539 BC. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, although a number of scholars believe these were actually in the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. After the fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the city came under the rule of the AchaemenidSeleucidParthianRoman, and Sassanid empires.
It has been estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world c. 1770 – c. 1670 BC, and again c. 612 – c. 320 BC. It was perhaps the first city to reach a population above 200,000.[2]Estimates for the maximum extent of its area range from 890[3] to 900 hectares (2,200 acres).[4]
The remains of the city are in present-day HillahBabil GovernorateIraq, about 85 kilometres (53 mi) south of Baghdad, comprising a large tell of broken mud-brick buildings and debris.
The main sources of information about Babylon—excavation of the site itself, references in cuneiform texts found elsewhere in Mesopotamia, references in the Bible, descriptions in classical writing (especially by Herodotus), and second-hand descriptions (citing the work of Ctesias and Berossus)—present an incomplete and sometimes contradictory picture of the ancient city even at its peak in the sixth century BC.[5]


The English Babylon comes from Greek Babylṓn (Βαβυλών), a transliteration of the Akkadian Bābilim (cuneiform𒆍𒀭𒊏𒆠 KA2.DIĜIR.RAKI).[6][not in citation given]
Archibald Sayce, writing in the 1870s, considered Bab-ilu or Bab-ili to be the translation of an earlier Sumerian (formerly thought to be in the obsolete "Turanian" language-family) name Ca-dimirra, meaning "gate of god",[7][8] based on the characters KAN4 DIĜIR.RAKI (corresponding to the Sumerian phrase kan diĝirak "god's gate") or perhaps based on other characters.[9]
According to Professor Dietz-Otto Edzard, the city was originally called Babilla, but by the time of the Third Dynasty of Ur, through a process of etymological speculation, had becomeBāb-ili(m) meaning "gate of god" or "god's gate"[10] (Bab-Il). The "gate of god" translation is increasingly viewed as a folk etymology to explain an unknown original non-Semitic placename.[11] Linguist I.J. Gelb suggested in 1955 that Babil/Babilla is the basis of the city name, of unknown meaning and origin, as there were other similarly-named places in Sumer, and there are no other examples of Sumerian place-names being replaced with Akkadian translations. He deduced that it later transformed into Akkadian Bāb-ili(m), and that the Sumerian Ka-dingirra was a later translation of that, rather than vice versa.[12][13] Joan Oates states in her book Babylon that the rendering "Gateway of the gods" is no longer accepted by modern scholars.[citation needed]
In the Bible, the name appears as Babel (Hebrewבָּבֶל‎ BavelTib. בָּבֶל BāḇelClassical Syriacܒܒܠ‎ BāwēlAramaicבבל‎ Babel; in Arabicبَابِل‎ Bābil), interpreted in the Hebrew ScripturesBook of Genesis to mean "confusion",[14] from the verb bilbél (בלבל, "to confuse").[15] The modern English verb, to babble ("to speak meaningless words"), is popularly thought to derive from this name, but there is no direct connection.[16]
Ancient records in some situations use "Babylon" as a name for other cities, including cities like Borsippa within Babylon's sphere of influence, and Nineveh for a short period after the Assyrian sack of Babylon.[17][18]


Schematic showing Babylon on the Euphrates River with major areas within inner and outer walls
Babylon in 1932
Brick structures in Babylon, photographed in 2016
The remains of the city are in present-day Hillah,[8] Babil Governorate, Iraq, about 85 kilometers (53 mi) south of Baghdad, comprising a large tell of broken mud-brick buildings and debris. The site at Babylon consists of a number of mounds covering an area of about 2 by 1 kilometer (1.24 mi × 0.62 mi), oriented north to south,[citation needed] along the Euphrates to the west. Originally, the river roughly bisected the city, but the course of the river has since shifted so that most of the remains of the former western part of the city are now inundated. Some portions of the city wall to the west of the river also remain.
Only a small portion of the ancient city (3% of the area within the inner walls; 1.5% of the area within the outer walls; 0.1% at the depth of Middle and Old Babylon) has been excavated.[19]Known remains include:
  • Kasr – also called Palace or Castle, it is the location of the Neo-Babylonian ziggurat Etemenanki and lies in the center of the site.[citation needed]
  • Amran Ibn Ali – the highest of the mounds at 25 meters, to the south. It is the site of Esagila, a temple of Marduk which also contained shrines to Ea and Nabu.[citation needed]
  • Homera – a reddish-colored mound on the west side. Most of the Hellenistic remains are here.[citation needed]
  • Babil – a mound about 22 meters high at the northern end of the site. Its bricks have been subject to looting since ancient times. It held a palace built by Nebuchadnezzar.[citation needed]
Archaeologists have recovered few artifacts predating the Neo-Babylonian period. The water table in the region has risen greatly over the centuries, and artifacts from the time before the Neo-Babylonian Empire are unavailable to current standard archaeological methods. Additionally, the Neo-Babylonians conducted significant rebuilding projects in the city, which destroyed or obscured much of the earlier record. Babylon was pillaged numerous times after revolting against foreign rule, most notably by the Hittites and Elamites in the 2nd millennium, then by the Neo-Assyrian Empire and the Achaemenid Empire in the 1st millennium. Much of the western half of the city is now beneath the river, and other parts of the site have been mined for commercial building materials.
Only the Koldewey expedition recovered artifacts from the Old Babylonian period. These included 967 clay tablets, stored in private houses, with Sumerian literature and lexical documents.[19]
Nearby ancient settlements are KishBorsippaDilbat, and KuthaMarad and Sippar were 60 km in either direction along the Euphrates.[19]


Illustration by Leonard William Kingof fragment K. 8532, a part of the Dynastic Chronicle listing rulers of Babylon grouped by dynasty.
Historical knowledge of early Babylon must be pieced together from epigraphic remains found elsewhere, such as at UrukNippur, and Haradum.
Information on the Neo-Babylonian city is available from archaeological excavations and from classical sources. Babylon was described, perhaps even visited, by a number of classical historians including CtesiasHerodotusQuintus Curtius RufusStrabo, and Cleitarchus. These reports are of variable accuracy and some of the content was politically motivated, but these still provide useful information.[20]

Early references[edit]

References to the city of Babylon can be found in Akkadian and Sumerian literature from the late third millennium BC. One of the earliest is a tablet describing the Akkadian king Šar-kali-šarri laying the foundations in Babylon of new temples for Annūnı̄tum and Ilaba. Babylon also appears in the administrative records of the Third Dynasty of Ur, which collected in-kind tax payments and appointed an ensi as local governor.[13][21]
The so-called Weidner Chronicle (also known as ABC 19) states that Sargon of Akkad (c. 23d century BC in the short chronology) had built Babylon "in front of Akkad" (ABC 19:51). A later chronicle states that Sargon "dug up the dirt of the pit of Babylon, and made a counterpart of Babylon next to Akkad". (ABC 20:18–19). Van de Mieroop has suggested that those sources may refer to the much later Assyrian king Sargon II of the Neo-Assyrian Empire rather than Sargon of Akkad.[18]

Classical dating[edit]

Ctesias, quoted by Diodorus Siculus and in George Syncellus's Chronographia, claimed to have access to manuscripts from Babylonian archives, which date the founding of Babylon to 2286 BC, under the reign of its first king, Belus.[22] A similar figure is found in the writings of Berossus, who according to Pliny,[23] stated that astronomical observations commenced at Babylon 490 years before the Greek era of Phoroneus, indicating 2243 BC. Stephanus of Byzantium wrote that Babylon was built 1002 years before the date given by Hellanicus of Lesbos for the siege of Troy (1229 BC), which would date Babylon's foundation to 2231 BC.[24] All of these dates place Babylon's foundation in the 23rd century BC; however, cuneiform records have not been found to correspond with these classical (post-cuneiform) accounts.


The Queen of the Night relief. The figure could be an aspect of the goddess Ishtar, Babylonian goddess of sex and love.
By around the 19th century BC, much of southern Mesopotamia was occupied by Amorites, nomadic tribes from the northern Levant who were Northwest Semitic speakers, unlike the native Akkadians of southern Mesopotamia and Assyria, who spoke East Semitic. The Amorites at first did not practice agriculture like more advanced Mesopotamians, preferring a semi-nomadic lifestyle, herding sheep. Over time, Amorite grain merchants rose to prominence and established their own independent dynasties in several south Mesopotamian city-states, most notably IsinLarsaEshnunnaLagash, and later, founding Babylon as a state.

Old Babylonian period[edit]

Map showing the Babylonian territory upon Hammurabi's ascension in 1792 BC and upon his death in 1750 BC
Old Babylonian cylinder sealhematite. This seal was probably made in a workshop at Sippar (about 40 miles north of Babylon on the map above) either during, or shortly before, the reign of Hammurabi.[25] It depicts the king making an animal offering to the sun god Shamash.
Linescan camera image of the cylinder seal above (reversed to resemble an impression).
According to a Babylonian date list, Amorite[a] rule in Babylon began (c. 19th or 18th century BC) with a chieftain named Sumu-abum, who declared independence from the neighboring city-state of KazalluSumu-la-El, whose dates may be concurrent with those of Sumu-abum, is usually given as the progenitor of the First Babylonian Dynasty. Both are credited with building the walls of Babylon. In any case, the records describe Sumu-la-El's military successes establishing a regional sphere of influence for Babylon.[26]
Babylon was initially a minor city-state, and controlled little surrounding territory; its first four Amorite rulers did not assume the title of king. The older and more powerful states of AssyriaElamIsin, and Larsa overshadowed Babylon until it became the capital of Hammurabi's short lived empire about a century later. Hammurabi (r. 1792–1750 BC) is famous for codifying the laws of Babylonia into the Code of Hammurabi. He conquered all of the cities and city states of southern Mesopotamia, including IsinLarsaUrUrukNippurLagashEriduKishAdabEshnunnaAkshakAkkadShuruppakBad-tibiraSippar, and Girsu, coalescing them into one kingdom, ruled from Babylon. Hammurabi also invaded and conquered Elam to the east, and the kingdoms of Mari and Ebla to the northwest. After a protracted struggle with the powerful Assyrian king Ishme-Dagan of the Old Assyrian Empire, he forced his successor to pay tribute late in his reign, spreading Babylonian power to Assyria's Hattian and Hurrian colonies in Asia Minor.
After the reign of Hammurabi, the whole of southern Mesopotamia came to be known as Babylonia, whereas the north had already coalesced centuries before into Assyria. From this time, Babylon supplanted Nippur and Eridu as the major religious centers of southern Mesopotamia. Hammurabi's empire destabilized after his death. Assyrians defeated and drove out the Babylonians and Amorites. The far south of Mesopotamia broke away, forming the native Sealand Dynasty, and the Elamites appropriated territory in eastern Mesopotamia. The Amorite dynasty remained in power in Babylon, which again became a small city state.
Texts from Old Babylon often include references to Shamash, the sun-god of Sippar, treated as a supreme deity, and Marduk, considered as his son. Marduk was later elevated to a higher status and Shamash lowered, perhaps reflecting Babylon's rising political power[13]

Middle Babylon[edit]

In 1595 BC[b] the city was overthrown by the Hittite Empire from Asia Minor. Thereafter, Kassites from the Zagros Mountains of north western Ancient Iran captured Babylon, ushering in a dynasty that lasted for 435 years, until 1160 BC. The city was renamed Karanduniash during this period. Kassite Babylon eventually became subject to the Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1053 BC) to the north, and Elam to the east, with both powers vying for control of the city. The Assyrian king Tukulti-Ninurta I took the throne of Babylon in 1235 BC.
By 1155 BC, after continued attacks and annexing of territory by the Assyrians and Elamites, the Kassites were deposed in Babylon. An Akkadian south Mesopotamian dynasty then ruled for the first time. However, Babylon remained weak and subject to domination by Assyria. Its ineffectual native kings were unable to prevent new waves of foreign West Semitic settlers from the deserts of the Levant, including the Arameans and Suteans in the 11th century BC, and finally the Chaldeans in the 9th century BC, entering and appropriating areas of Babylonia for themselves. The Arameans briefly ruled in Babylon during the late 11th century BC.

Assyrian period[edit]

Sennacherib of Assyria during his Babylonian war, relief from his palace in Nineveh
During the rule of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–609 BC), Babylonia was under constant Assyrian domination or direct control. During the reign of Sennacherib of Assyria, Babylonia was in a constant state of revolt, led by a chieftain named Merodach-Baladan, in alliance with the Elamites, and suppressed only by the complete destruction of the city of Babylon. In 689 BC, its walls, temples and palaces were razed, and the rubble was thrown into the Arakhtu, the sea bordering the earlier Babylon on the south. Destruction of the religious center shocked many, and the subsequent murder of Sennacherib by two of his own sons while praying to the god Nisroch was considered an act of atonement. Consequently, his successor Esarhaddon hastened to rebuild the old city and make it his residence during part of the year. After his death, Babylonia was governed by his elder son, the Assyrian prince Shamash-shum-ukin, who eventually started a civil war in 652 BC against his own brother, Ashurbanipal, who ruled in Nineveh. Shamash-shum-ukin enlisted the help of other peoples subject to Assyria, including ElamPersiaChaldeans, and Suteans of southern Mesopotamia, and the Canaanites and Arabs dwelling in the deserts south of Mesopotamia.
Once again, Babylon was besieged by the Assyrians, starved into surrender and its allies were defeated. Ashurbanipal celebrated a "service of reconciliation", but did not venture to "take the hands" of Bel. An Assyrian governor named Kandalanu was appointed as ruler of the city. Ashurbanipal did collect texts from Babylon for inclusion in his extensive library at Ninevah.[19]
After the death of Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian empire destabilized due to a series of internal civil wars throughout the reigns of Assyrian kings Ashur-etil-ilaniSin-shumu-lishir and Sinsharishkun. Eventually Babylon, like many other parts of the near east, took advantage of the anarchy within Assyria to free itself from Assyrian rule. In the subsequent overthrow of the Assyrian Empire by an alliance of peoples, the Babylonians saw another example of divine vengeance.[27]

Neo-Babylonian Empire[edit]

Cuneiform cylinder from reign of Nebuchadnezzar II honoring the exorcism and reconstruction of the ziggurat Etemenanki by Nabopolassar.[28]
Detail of a relief from the reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate
A reconstruction of the blue-tiled Ishtar Gate which was the northern entrance to Babylon. It was named for the goddess of love and war. Bulls and dragons, symbols of the god Marduk, decorated the gate.
Under Nabopolassar, a previously unknown Chaldean chieftain, Babylon escaped Assyrian rule, and in an alliance with Cyaxares, king of the Medes and Persians together with the Scythiansand Cimmerians, finally destroyed the Assyrian Empire between 612 BC and 605 BC. Babylon thus became the capital of the Neo-Babylonian (sometimes and possibly erroneously called the Chaldean) Empire.[29][30][31]
With the recovery of Babylonian independence, a new era of architectural activity ensued, particularly during the reign of his son Nebuchadnezzar II (604–561 BC).[32] Nebuchadnezzar ordered the complete reconstruction of the imperial grounds, including the Etemenanki ziggurat, and the construction of the Ishtar Gate—the most prominent of eight gates around Babylon. A reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate is located in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
Nebuchadnezzar is also credited with the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—said to have been built for his homesick wife Amyitis. Whether the gardens actually existed is a matter of dispute. German archaeologist Robert Koldewey speculated that he had discovered its foundations, but many historians disagree about the location. Stephanie Dalley has argued that the hanging gardens were actually located in the Assyrian capital, Nineveh.[33]
Nebuchandnezzar is also notoriously associated with the Babylonian exile of the Jews, the result of an imperial technique of pacification, used also by the Assyrians, in which ethnic groups in conquered areas were deported en masse to the capital.[34]

Persian conquest[edit]

In 539 BC, the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, with a military engagement known as the Battle of Opis. Babylon's walls were considered impenetrable. The only way into the city was through one of its many gates or through the Euphrates River. Metal grates were installed underwater, allowing the river to flow through the city walls while preventing intrusion. The Persians devised a plan to enter the city via the river. During a Babylonian national feast, Cyrus' troops diverted the Euphrates River upstream, allowing Cyrus' soldiers to enter the city through the lowered water. The Persian army conquered the outlying areas of the city while the majority of Babylonians at the city center were unaware of the breach. The account was elaborated upon by Herodotus[35][20] and is also mentioned in parts of the Hebrew Bible.[36][37] (Herodotus also described a moat, an enormously tall and broad wall cemented with bitumen and with buildings on top, and a hundred gates to the city. He also writes that the Babylonians wear turbans and perfume and bury their dead in honey, that they practice ritual prostitution, and that three tribes among them eat nothing but fish. The hundred gates can be considered a reference to Homer, and following the pronouncement of Archibald Henry Sayce in 1883, Herodotus's account of Babylon has largely been considered to represent Greek folklore rather than an authentic voyage to Babylon. However, recently, Dalley and others have suggested taking Herodotus's account seriously.)[35][38]
According to 2 Chronicles 36 of the Hebrew Bible, Cyrus later issued a decree permitting captive people, including the Jews, to return to their own lands. Text found on the Cyrus Cylinder has traditionally been seen by biblical scholars as corroborative evidence of this policy, although the interpretation is disputed because the text only identifies Mesopotamian sanctuaries but makes no mention of Jews, Jerusalem, or Judea.
Under Cyrus and the subsequent Persian king Darius I, Babylon became the capital city of the 9th Satrap (Babylonia in the south and Athura in the north), as well as a center of learning and scientific advancement. In Achaemenid Persia, the ancient Babylonian arts of astronomy and mathematics were revitalized, and Babylonian scholars completed maps of constellations. The city became the administrative capital of the Persian Empire and remained prominent for over two centuries. Many important archaeological discoveries have been made that can provide a better understanding of that era.[39][40]
The early Persian kings had attempted to maintain the religious ceremonies of Marduk, but by the reign of Darius III, over-taxation and the strain of numerous wars led to a deterioration of Babylon's main shrines and canals, and the destabilization of the surrounding region. There were numerous attempts at rebellion and in 522 BC (Nebuchadnezzar III), 521 BC (Nebuchadnezzar IV) and 482 BC (Bel-shimani and Shamash-eriba) native Babylonian kings briefly regained independence. However these revolts were quickly repressed and Babylon remained under Persian rule for two centuries, until Alexander the Great's entry in 331 BC.

Hellenistic period[edit]

"Entry of Alexander into Babylon", a 1665 painting by Charles LeBrun, depicts Alexander the Great's uncontested entry into the city of Babylon, envisioned with pre-existing Hellenistic architecture.
In October of 331 BC, Darius III, the last Achaemenid king of the Persian Empire, was defeated by the forces of the Ancient Macedonian Greek ruler Alexander the Great at the Battle of Gaugamela. A native account of this invasion notes a ruling by Alexander not to enter the homes of its inhabitants.[41]
Under Alexander, Babylon again flourished as a center of learning and commerce. However, following Alexander's death in 323 BC in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, his empire was divided amongst his generals, the Diadochi, and decades of fighting soon began. The constant turmoil virtually emptied the city of Babylon. A tablet dated 275 BC states that the inhabitants of Babylon were transported to Seleucia, where a palace and a temple (Esagila) were built. With this deportation, Babylon became insignificant as a city, although more than a century later, sacrifices were still performed in its old sanctuary.[42]

Renewed Persian rule[edit]

Under the Parthian and Sassanid Empires, Babylon (like Assyria) became a province of these Persian Empires for nine centuries, until after AD 650. It maintained its own culture and people, who spoke varieties of Aramaic, and who continued to refer to their homeland as Babylon. Examples of their culture are found in the Babylonian Talmud, the Gnostic Mandaean religion, Eastern Rite Christianity and the religion of the prophet Mani. Christianity was introduced to Mesopotamia in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, and Babylon was the seat of a Bishop of the Church of the East until well after the Arab/Islamic conquest.

Muslim conquest[edit]

In the mid-7th century, Mesopotamia was invaded and settled by the expanding Muslim Empire, and a period of Islamization followed. Babylon was dissolved as a province and Aramaic and Church of the East Christianity eventually became marginalized. Ibn Hauqal mentions a small village called Babel in the tenth century; subsequent travelers describe only ruins.[43]
Babylon is mentioned in medieval Arabic writings as a source of bricks,[19] said to have been used in cities from Baghdad to Basra.[44]
European travelers in many cases could not discover the city's location, or mistook Fallujah for it. Twelfth-century traveler Benjamin of Tudela mentions Babylon but it is not clear if he really went there. Others referred to Baghdad as Babylon or New Babylon and described various structures encountered in the region as the Tower of Babel.[45] Pietro della Valle found the ancient site in the seventeenth century and noted the existence of both baked and dried mudbricks cemented with bitumen.[44]

Modern era[edit]

From the accounts of modern travellers, I had expected to have found on the site of Babylon more, and less, than I actually did. Less, because I could have formed no conception of the prodigious extent of the whole ruins, or of the size, solidity, and perfect state, of some of the parts of them; and more, because I thought that I should have distinguished some traces, however imperfect, of many of the principle structures of Babylon. I imagined, I should have said: "Here were the walls, and such must have been the extent of the area. There stood the palace, and this most assuredly was the tower of Belus." – I was completely deceived: instead of a few insulated mounds, I found the whole face of the country covered with vestiges of building, in some places consisting of brick walls surprisingly fresh, in others merely of a vast succession of mounds of rubbish of such indeterminate figures, variety and extent, as to involve the person who should have formed any theory in inextricable confusion.
Claudius J. RichMemoir on the Ruins of Babylon (1815), pp. 1–2.[46]
The eighteenth century saw an increasing flow of travelers to Babylon, including Carsten Niebuhr and Pierre-Joseph de Beauchamp, as well as measurements of its latitude. Beauchamp's memoir, published in English translation in 1792, provoked the British East India Company to direct its agents in Baghdad and Basra to acquire Mesopotamian relics for shipment to London.[47]

Excavation and research[edit]

Claudius Rich, working for the East India Company in Baghdad, excavated Babylon in 1811–12 and again in 1817.[48][49] Robert Mignan excavated at the site briefly in 1827.[50] William Loftus visited there in 1849.[51]
Austen Henry Layard made some soundings during a brief visit in 1850 before abandoning the site.[52] Fulgence Fresnel and Julius Oppert heavily excavated Babylon from 1852 to 1854. However, many of the fruits of their work were lost when a raft containing over forty crates of artifacts sank into the Tigris river.[53][54]
Original tiles of the processional street. Ancient Babylon, Mesopotamia, Iraq.
Sir Henry Rawlinson, 1st Baronet and George Smith worked there briefly in 1854. The next excavation was conducted by Hormuzd Rassam on behalf of the British Museum. Work began in 1879, continuing until 1882, and was prompted by widespread looting of the site. Using industrial scale digging in search of artifacts, Rassam recovered a large quantity of cuneiform tablets and other finds. The zealous excavation methods, common at the time, caused significant damage to the archaeological context.[55][56] Many tablets had appeared on the market in 1876 before Rassam's excavation began.[19]
Mušḫuššu (sirrush) and aurochs on either side of the processional street. Ancient Babylon, Mesopotamia, Iraq
A team from the German Oriental Society led by Robert Koldewey conducted the first scientific archaeological excavations at Babylon. The work was conducted daily from 1899 until 1917. Primary efforts of the dig involved the temple of Marduk and the processional way leading up to it, as well as the city wall.[57][58][59][60][61][62] Artifacts including pieces of the Ishtar Gate and hundreds of recovered tablets were sent back to Germany, where Koldewey's colleague Walter Andrae reconstructed them into displays at Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin.,[63][64] The German archaeologists fled before oncoming British troops in 1917 and again many objects went missing in the following years.[19]
Further work by the German Archaeological Institute was conducted by Heinrich J. Lenzen in 1956 and Hansjörg Schmid in 1962. Lenzen's work dealt primarily with the Hellenistic theatre, and Schmid focused on the temple ziggurat Etemenanki.[65]
The site was excavated in 1974 on behalf of the Turin Centre for Archaeological Research and Excavations in the Middle East and Asia and the Iraqi-Italian Institute of Archaeological Sciences.[66][67] The focus was on clearing up issues raised by re-examination of the old German data. Additional work in 1987–1989 concentrated on the area surrounding the Ishara and Ninurta temples in the Shu-Anna city-quarter of Babylon.[68][69]
During the restoration efforts in Babylon, the Iraqi State Organization for Antiquities and Heritage conducted extensive research, excavation and clearing, but wider publication of these archaeological activities has been limited.[70][71] Indeed, most of the known tablets from all modern excavation remain unpublished.[19]

Iraq government[edit]

The site of Babylon has been a cultural asset to Iraq since the creation of the modern Iraqi government in 1920. Babylonian images periodically appear on Iraqi postcards and stamps. In the 1960s a replica of the Ishtar gate and a reconstruction of Ninmakh temple were built on site.[72]
On 14 February 1978, the Baathist government of Iraq under Saddam Hussein began the "Archaeological Restoration of Babylon Project": reconstructing features of the ancient city atop its ruins. These features included the Southern Palace of Nebuchandnezzar, with 250 rooms, five courtyards, and a 30-meter entrance arch. The project also reinforced the Processional Way, the Lion of Babylon, and an amphitheater constructed in the city's Hellenistic era. In 1982 the government minted a set of seven coins displaying iconic features of Babylon. A Babylon International Festival was held in September 1987, and annually thereafter until 2002 (excepting 1990 and 1991), to showcase this work. Proposed reconstruction of the Hanging Gardens and the great ziggurat never took place.[73][72][74]
Hussein installed a portrait of himself and Nebuchadnezzar at the entrance to the ruins and inscribed his name on many of the bricks, in imitation of Nebuchadnezzar. One frequent inscription reads: "This was built by Saddam Hussein, son of Nebuchadnezzar, to glorify Iraq". These bricks became sought after as collectors' items after Hussein's downfall.[75] Similar projects were conducted at NinevehNimrudAssur and Hatra, to demonstrate the magnificence of Arab achievement.[76]
When the 1991 Gulf War ended, Hussein wanted to build a modern palace called Saddam Hill over some of the old ruins, in the pyramidal style of a ziggurat. In 2003, he intended the construction of a cable car line over Babylon, but plans were halted by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

US and Polish occupation[edit]

US Marines in front of the rebuilt ruins of Babylon, 2003
File:WMF Future of Babylon.ogv
World Monuments Fund video on conservation of Babylon
Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the area around Babylon came under the control of US troops, before being handed over to Polish forces in September 2003.[77] US forces under the command of General James T. Conway of the I Marine Expeditionary Force were criticized for building the military base "Camp Alpha", with a helipad and other facilities on ancient Babylonian ruins during the Iraq War. US forces have occupied the site for some time and have caused irreparable damage to the archaeological record. In a report of the British Museum's Near East department, Dr. John Curtis described how parts of the archaeological site were levelled to create a landing area for helicopters, and parking lots for heavy vehicles. Curtis wrote of the occupation forces:
They caused substantial damage to the Ishtar Gate, one of the most famous monuments from antiquity [...] US military vehicles crushed 2,600-year-old brick pavements, archaeological fragments were scattered across the site, more than 12 trenches were driven into ancient deposits and military earth-moving projects contaminated the site for future generations of scientists.[78]
A US Military spokesman claimed that engineering operations were discussed with the "head of the Babylon museum".[79] The head of the Iraqi State Board for Heritage and Antiquities, Donny George, said that the "mess will take decades to sort out" and criticised Polish troops for causing "terrible damage" to the site.[80][81] Poland resolved in 2004 to place the city under Iraq control, and commissioned a report titled Report Concerning the Condition of the Preservation of the Babylon Archaeological Site, which it presented at a meeting on 11–13 December 2004.[73] In 2005 the site was handed over to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture.[77]
In April 2006, Colonel John Coleman, former Chief of Staff for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, offered to issue an apology for the damage done by military personnel under his command. However, he also claimed that the US presence had deterred far greater damage by other looters.[82] An article published in April 2006 stated that UN officials and Iraqi leaders have plans to restore Babylon, making it into a cultural center.[83][84]
Two museums and a library, containing replicas of artifacts and local maps and reports, were raided and destroyed.[85]

Present day[edit]

In May 2009, the provincial government of Babil reopened the site to tourists, but not many have come. An oil pipeline runs through an outer wall of the city.[86][87]
Panoramic view of ruins in Babylon photographed in 2005 during a tour for U.S. soldiers.
Panoramic view of ruins in Babylon photographed in 2005 during a tour for U.S. soldiers.

Cultural importance[edit]

Woodcut in 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle depicting the fall of Babylon.
"The Walls of Babylon and the Temple of Bel (Or Babel)", by 19th-century illustrator William Simpson – influenced by early archaeological investigations.
Before modern archaeological excavations in Mesopotamia, the appearance of Babylon was largely a mystery, and typically envisioned by Western artists as a hybrid between ancient Egyptian, classical Greek, and contemporary Ottoman culture.[88]
Due to Babylon's historical significance as well as references to it in the Bible, the word "Babylon" in various languages has acquired a generic meaning of a large, bustling diverse city. Examples include:

Biblical narrative[edit]

In Genesis 10:10, Babel (Babylon) is described as founded by Nimrod along with UrukAkkad and perhaps Calneh—all of them in Shinar ("Calneh" is now sometimes translated not as a proper name but as the phrase "all of them"). Another story is given in Genesis 11, which describes a united human race, speaking one language, migrating to Shinar to establish a city and tower—the Tower of Babel. God halts construction of the tower by scattering humanity across the earth and confusing their communication so they are unable to understand each other in the same language.
Babylon appears throughout the Hebrew Bible, including several prophecies and in descriptions of the destruction of Jerusalem and subsequent Babylonian captivity. Consequently, in Jewishtradition, Babylon symbolizes an oppressor against which righteous believers must struggle[citation needed]. In Christianity, Babylon symbolizes worldliness and evil.[90] Prophecies sometimes symbolically link the kings of Babylon with Lucifer. Nebuchadnezzar, sometimes conflated with Nabonidus, appears as the foremost ruler in this narrative.[91]
The Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible refers to Babylon many centuries after it ceased to be a major political center. The city is personified by the "Whore of Babylon", riding on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns, and drunk on the blood of the righteous. Some scholars of apocalyptic literature believe this New Testament "Babylon" to be a dysphemism for the Roman Empire.[92]

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up^ The Amorites were not native to Mesopotamia, but were semi-nomadic Canaanite Northwest Semitic invaders from the northern Levant. They (together with the Elamites to the east) had originally been prevented from taking control of the Akkadian states of southern Mesopotamia by the intervention of powerful Assyrian kings of the Old Assyrian Empire during the 21st and 20th centuries BC, intervening from northern Mesopotamia. However, when the Assyrians turned their attention to expanding their colonies in Asia Minor, the Amorites eventually began to supplant native rulers across the region.
  2. Jump up^ Please see Chronology of the ancient Near East for more discussion on dating events in the 2nd millennium BC, including the Sack of Babylon.


  • Cancik-Kirschbaum, Eva, Margarete van Ess, & Joachim Marzahn, eds. (2011). Babylon: Wissenskultur in Orient und Okzident. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-022212-8.
  • Finkel, I. L. and M. J. Seymour, eds. Babylon. Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN 0-19-538540-3 . Exhibition organized by British Museum, Musée du Louvre & Réunion des Musées Nationaux, and Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
  • Liverani, MarioImagining Babylon: The Modern Story of an Ancient City. Translated from Italian to English by Ailsa Campbell. Boston: De Gruyter, 2016. ISBN 978-1-61451-602-6. Originally published as Immaginare Babele in 2013.
  • Wikisource Sayce, Archibald Henry (1878). "Babel". In Baynes, T.S. Encyclopædia BritannicaIII (9th ed.). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 178.
  • Wikisource Sayce, Archibald Henry (1911). "Babylon". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 98–99.
  • Seymour, Michael John. The Idea of Babylon: Archaeology and Representation in Mesopotamia. Volume I: Text. PhD dissertation accepted at University College, London, 2006.
  • Vedeler, Harold Torger. A Social and Economic Survey of the Reign of Samsuiluna of Babylon (1794–1712 BC). PhD dissertation accepted at Yale, May 2006.

Further reading[edit]

  • Wikisource "Babel". Encyclopædia Britannica3 (11th ed.). 1911. p. 91.
  • Oates, Joan (1986). Babylon. Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-02095-7. and ISBN 0-500-27384-7 (paperback)
  • published in German "Die altorientalische Hauptstadt – Abbild und Nabel der Wel". Die Orientalische Stadt: kontinuitat. Wandel. Bruch. 1 Internationale Colloquium der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft. 9–10. Mai 1996 in Halle/Saale. Saarbrücker Druckerei und Verlag: 109–124. 1997.

External links[edit]