|Exploring Ancient History - The First 2500 Years
PART 2 — THE FOUR LOST CENTURIES
Prelude to Babel The people of early post-Flood times were not "primitive" even though, by modern standards, they had limited physical conveniences. Physically, these people were very advanced, far superior to present-day degenerate man. They were strong, healthy, robust, virile, long-lived. Their minds were alert and extremely intelligent. And think of it! The world they lived in was pure, clean, washed, fertile. No air pollution, no chemical fertilizers, no poison sprays, no water pollution, no population problem!
What could go wrong in such idyllic conditions? MUCH! Human nature was as powerful a force as ever — and the spirit world had not drowned in the Deluge.
Thus far we have traced the career of Noah in the centuries after the Flood. However, in limiting ourselves to the activities of the obedient Patriarch, we have purposely left out a detailed account of the deeds of those who were concerned with dominating the world apart from God's direction and guidance. In short, we have covered, generally speaking, what Noah and Shem were doing — but what of individuals such as Cush, Nimrod, and Semiramis? When, where and how did they go astray? When do they enter the picture in the first place?
Before answering these questions, another vital one should be considered: Does archaeology in any way reflect the earliest movements of people after the Flood?
Area of Earliest Post-Flood Settlement The Bible makes clear that the human family, after the Flood, moved down from the mountains of Armenia on to the Mesopotamian plain. Since this is true, we should expect the archaeological record to confirm this logical direction of migration. The earliest cultural phase in northern Mesopotamia is generally called "Hassuna". (This culture, as true of most ancient cultures, is named after the site where it was first found — see the map on page 67 of James Mellaart's "Civilizations of the Near East", New York, 1965. This and other meaningless archaeological names would really become interesting if they had been properly connected with contemporary leaders who molded the history of ancient times!) Remains of this culture reflect settlements that were extremely small, actually consisting of not much more than camp sites. They are of nomadic peoples and minor villages. Clearly, this culture existed in earliest post-Flood decades when the population was still very thin.
It should be noted here that although traces of a pre-Flood culture may have been found in this area, the bulk of remains from the society before the Flood in the Mesopotamian region have been too deeply buried to be unearthed, a situation untrue of Europe and other parts of the world.
Where did the Hassuna originate? In discussing this question, James Mellaart made these significant observations:
The origin of the Hassuna is by no means decided, but it is difficult to believe ... that this tradition originated at the remote village of Jarmo or thereabouts in Kurdistan. The (characteristics of this cultural tradition) point, in my opinion conclusively to a more western origin ... For what it is worth, the present writer should expect the origins of the Hassuna were to lie somewhere in the hill region halfway between Mosul (near Nineveh) and Aleppo (in northern Syria), in the region of 'Turkish Mesopotamia' .... Here too, lies the suspected homeland of the Halaf culture and numerous other problems in Mesopotamian and Syrian archaeology may be solved by exploration and excavation in this perhaps vitally important 'third region', halfway between the 'Zagros zone' (the mountains lying east of the Tigris) and 'Anatolian-Levant region' (eastern Asia Minor and Syria-Lebanon) .... Whatever its origins may be, the Hassuna culture as such is known only in north Iraq ("Earliest Civilizations of the Near East", pp. 63-64).
In other words, an archaeologist who for years has worked, lived, and thought in this area — who made it his life's work — feels strongly that this earliest of cultures originated in Turkish Mesopotamia,. The problem is that this region in eastern Turkey has seen very little archaeological excavation. Nevertheless, this authority says that every evidence points to the conclusion that whatever early new cultural discoveries appear in Upper Mesopotamia seem to originate in that unexplored area. Consultation of a recent map shows that 'Turkish Mesopotamia' extends well into the region of ancient Armenia with its eastern border taking in both Ararat and Lake Van — a large portion of uppermost Mesopotamia!
The archaeological background is this: Turkey was the last country of the Middle East to tolerate archaeological investigation by foreigners. The Turks would have nothing to do with Europeans for a long, long time. Even the Germans were not allowed into the country until the early 1900's. Then World War I interrupted whatever projects might have been proposed. The period between the wars saw a little accomplished, World War II brought another major interruption, and only a small amount of work has occurred since. And today, there are military zones all through this problem region because that is where Turkey borders on Russia. Because of this fear of the Russian, very little digging can be done.
However, we should also consider that even if archaeology did have a free hand in this area, its spades would probably uncover little because the post-Flood population would have been so small as to leave very few material remains. Remember that this early culture was typified by small camps. Noah was living in a tent at this time — so says the Biblical record (Gen. 9:21). This unusual man had built a great ship and saved the human race — but was now obliged to live in a tent! This plainly shows that early pre-Flood people had much yet to develop and were generally living a nomadic form of existence.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to realize that archaeological scholars see strong indication that this very region where the family of Noah descended from the mountains of Ararat is also the very area where the earliest known culture began! Other findings show that the subsequent cultural movement was toward the south and east. So the strong archaeological indication is that the human family began to grow in this area and then gradually spread out — as the Bible describes!
The Human Family Continued to Spread The Bible, modern archaeology, and Josephus coincide in their presentation of the earliest post-Flood movements of the tiny human family. Read Josephus' brief account: Now the sons of Noah ..., Shem, Japheth, and Ham ... first of all descended from the mountains into the plains, and fixed their habitation there; and persuaded others who were greatly afraid of the lower grounds on account of the flood, and so were very slow to come down from the higher places, to venture to follow their examples." (Antiquities of the Jews I, IV, 1.)
James Mellaart, in archaeology terms, presents basically the same picture: "One wonders whether this Hassuna (ware) ..., also found in the uppermost levels at Jarmo (the cave site in Kurdistan) and which now has (been discovered to have) a distribution from Ras Shamra (in Syria) to Susa (in Persia), is not in fact the earliest pottery of this vast lowland area ... ("Earliest Civilizations", page 67.) What this modern archaeologist is actually describing (and as he illustrates on a map also on page 67) is the gradual spread of humanity in the hill regions of upper Mesopotamia in the century after the Deluge before those two pivotal events — Noah sending out colonies and the rebels moving to Shinar in the south. The evidence now is quite plain that the early human family was moving in all the hill area above, and adjacent to, the Mesopotamian plain for quite a few decades before they ventured further! Why did they not advance southward sooner? The answer is obvious. The lowland regions were too wet and flooded! It took years for the area to dry before it was ready to be farmed. After a flood so vast as to engulf the entire earth, there must have been large inland lakes which took a long time to fill in and to dry out. Meanwhile the small human population reflected by the distribution of the Hassuna pottery and related wares, remained largely in the higher lands where conditions were more favorable for hunting and grazing (as indicated in Josephus' account)
To summarize: The whole implication of Mellaart's work, and other archaeological reports (besides taking into account the radio carbon dating as far as sequence is concerned), places the area of first and limited settlement after the Flood in the mountain or hill region of the upper Tigris and Euphrates; and then the population eventually spread through the Syrian and Mesopotamian plain all the way down to what is now southern Iraq. It should be pointed out that the Hassuna — and its parallel, the Samarra culture — represent the period from the Flood till the building of Nineveh (Gen. 10:11), shortly after the Tower of Babel. The Elassuna and Samarra were followed by the 'Halaf' and 'Ubaid' cultures which are explained in the last chapter of (Volume one of the Compendium of World History — chapter 20, "The Proof of Archaeology" — and in chapter eight of Mellaart's Earliest Civilization of the Near East entitled "The Halaf and Later Cultures.")
Origins of Cush, Nimrod, and Semiramis With this archaeological background in mind, we may now pick up the story of the famous individuals who misguided much of the early post-Flood human population. The three key personalities were Cush, Semiramis, and Nimrod. When do they enter the picture of earliest pre-Flood ancient history?
Cush was the oldest son of Ham (Gen. 10:6). Cush in the Hebrew, means black! He is the original ancestor of the East Africans. The Greek name for Cush was Aethiops, from which the word Ethiopia comes (Jer. 13:23.) In the Moffatt translation the Hebrew word for Cush in Genesis 10:8 is translated Ethiopia"!
It would appear that Cush felt discriminated against when God through Noah, began to separate the different peoples in the days of Peleg! His feelings as we shall see momentarily, were reflected in the behavior of his son Nimrod.
The story is sad but clear: Men shortly after the Flood were determined to exercise the authority which belonged to the God of heaven. They put themselves in the place of God! And it was especially the Hamitic branch of the human family, under the original leadership of Cush, that determined to go contrary to God's orders,. Recall the prophecy God had given through Noah (Gen. 9:25), about the darker peoples of the human family. They were to be the servants and the followers, not the leaders! But, of course, rebellious human nature always wants to do just the opposite of what God directs. These rebels planned a separate society established in opposition to God's government and way of life. They were going to make a better world according to their own way of thinking.
Cush and his followers were actually not very original in their thinking, however. They were simply acting on a philosophy begun long before the Flood by Cain and Lamech. They too wanted to establish one race, one nation, one society one religion, one world!
The chronological perspective on Cush is this: He was born soon after the Flood — that is, soon after 2369 — and lived for a long period just about two decades short of two hundred years! Nevertheless, he still died prematurely — a part of the story that must wait till later.
But now, early in his life, Cush began to set the pattern for his "one race-one world" philosophy. He initiated the practice of racial intermarriage! He took for a wife the strikingly beautiful white Semiramis! She was destined to become the mother of Nimrod, the greatest rebel of all!
Now to establish the background of Semiramis. The ancient Saxon Chronicle plainly records that Semiramis or Ishtar was the lineage of Japheth. The Bible shows that both whites and yellows descended from Japheth, that not all of his offspring were of oriental type by any means. Dr. Hoeh has stated that Semiramis could be characterized as a "Latin" type. Notice carefully that she is described as being of the "lineage" of Japheth — not necessarily a daughter but a more distant descendent. Germanic tradition gives strong indication that she may actually have been the daughter of Ashkenaz, the oldest son of Gomer who, in turn, was the firstborn son of Japheth. The question then arises: could she be the great granddaughter of Japheth, be old enough to marry and also bear Nimrod several decades before the time of Babel?
We may logically deduce an answer as follows: After the Flood, men must normally have married and begun to raise families in their late twenties and early thirties, if not slightly earlier. On that basis, we may draw up figures which would indicate the approximate time of Semiramis' birth, marriage to Cush, and the birth of Nimrod in relation to the time of Babel. Bear in mind that the period in which we have to work is somewhat over a century in length. Gomer, was the first son of Japheth. He could have been born immediately after the Flood — for purposes here we will use the date 2367. Now how much time transpired before the birth of Gomer's first son, Ashkenaz? A period of some 27 years seems logical. This would place the birth of Ashkenaz around 2340. Then if Semiramis were his oldest child, or one of his oldest children, she would have been born about 2313 — still over a half-century before the time of Babel! Next, using the same general figure of 27 years, she could have married Cush in 2286. But remember that this union could have easily occurred some years earlier — Nimrod could have been born around 2290 B.C. Whatever the case, all of this preliminary figuring means that Nimrod, even if his mother were the daughter of Ashkenaz, would have been at least in his early thirties by the time of the erection of the city and tower of Babel.
Another matter should be pointed out in this connection. The Bible names six sons of Cush in all. Five of them are listed in Genesis 10:7. Then Nimrod is mentioned separately beginning in verse 8. Thus the Bible does not tell us when Nimrod was born in relation to the other sons of Cush. However, it is obvious that Semiramis could not have been the mother of all six of the sons of Cush, both from the point of view of time limitation and the racial characteristics of those sons. This means that Cush had more than one wife, that he was married and having children before the infamous Semiramis came along (because he was already around eighty years of age when Semiramis entered his life), and that the only son he had by Semiramis was Nimrod!
Evil, sinister, and dramatic things were taking place while the human family was still centered in upper Mesopotamia! The implications of the behavior of Cush and Semiramis are shocking enough — to say nothing of the deeds of Nimrod, Asshur, and others later! Very soon after the Flood people were already departing rapidly from the way of God, the zealous work of Noah notwithstanding.
Josephus' Account In proceeding with the story, notice Josephus' description of the period:
God commanded them to send COLONIES abroad, for the thorough peopling of the earth, that they might not raise seditions among themselves, but might cultivate a great part of the of Earth .... But they ... did not obey God. (Again later) when they flourished with a numerous youth, God admonished them again to send out colonies: but they, Imagining the prosperity they enjoyed was not derived from the favour of God, but supposing that their own power was the proper cause of the plentiful condition they were in, did not obey Him. Nay, they added to ... their disobedience ... the suspicion that (if they did) send out separate colonies ..., being (thus) divided assunder, they might the more easily be oppressed. (Antiquities I, IV, 1.)
Here is a general account of what was occurring in Armenia and northern Mesopotamia the area delineated earlier in this chapter on the basis of archaeology, in the years just prior to Babel. Notice that Josephus uses the term "colonies" three times! Here is added proof that Noah's God-given assignment after the Flood was indeed to distribute the human family in various designated areas, a matter discussed extensively in the previous chapter.
Josephus also emphasizes the negative attitude of the people — their almost total subservience to their own human nature, their selfish desires, and their disobedience toward, and distrust of, God! Thus he does imply that they were openly rebelling against God and endeavoring to carry out their own plans, completely independent of Noah's instructions. Now, as we know, all the people did not rebel. Some of them did go to the areas assigned — although probably with quite a bit of reluctance! Josephus does not deal with them in his account, except by implication, but speaks only of those who journeyed to Shinar. So there was a split in the human family. Splits, divisions, and party spirit are characteristics of human nature — behavior patterns which are condemned in the Bible.
Remember that the Babel project was not self-motivating. It arose as a reaction against God's plan of systematically colonizing the earth with the various segments of the human family — "Let us build us a city and a tower ... lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth!" This distrust of God's plan is clearly reflected in the record quoted from Josephus.
In the next paragraph, Josephus gets specific about what was going on: "Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God." Then the famous Jewish historian goes into enlightening detail describing the methods and tactics of the son of Cush and Semiramis, factors which will be presented shortly.
But first, let's notice what the Bible has to say about this man. The best place to begin learning about Nimrod is in the Book of Genesis. God gives special attention to him in the tenth chapter.
Bible Reveals Nimrod's True Character This chapter is mainly just a genealogical list of the descendants of Noah's three sons; there is little in the way of historical details. But, when Nimrod is introduced, God devotes five verses — a whole large section of this chapter — in calling our attention to him. Realizing what a compact summarization much of the early portion of the Bible is, this description of Nimrod is particularly noteworthy! God had a purpose in inspiring this section of Scripture!
The description begins in verse 8: "And Cush begat Nimrod" by Semiramis in an illegal and interracial relationship That is the real significance of this opening statement, history allowing us to read between the lines! So Nimrod, was in reality, an illegitimate child — he obviously got a wrong start in life.
Observe that God's name for this famous individual is Nimrod — a term which comes from the Hebrew word 'marad' meaning "to rebel"! God calls people and things what they are! He called this man precisely what he was — "The Rebel!"
In later history, it should be pointed out, Nimrod was given, or took to himself many names. We do not know what name his parents gave him at birth. Nevertheless, his true God-given name is the one recorded in the Bible — the only name that he fittingly deserved. Now read the remainder of this eighth verse: "he began to be a mighty one in the earth." The words "mighty one" come from the Hebrew 'gibbor,' meaning powerful man, warrior, tyrant. Moffatt translated this verse: "Ethiopia produced Nimrod, the first man on earth to be a DESPOT ..." This small verse of the Bible, when properly understood, reveals the basic character of Nimrod in one short sentence.
God lets us know immediately what kind of man this was! Move on to 9 He is described as a "mighty hunter". After the Flood the wild animals multiplied much more rapidly than did human beings. Nimrod first gained his fame by hunting them — and he used this fame to influence the people to oppose God's plan. Thus, as the last part of the verse states, he made popular the expression "Even as Nimrod, the mighty hunter before the Lord". In other words, from Nimrod's time onward all famous strong leaders were compared to him.
However, Nimrod hunted more than just animals, something already indicated in verse 8. He also wanted to dominate men. In his comments on this section of scripture, Adam Clarke notes that "the word 'tsayid,' which we render hunter, signifies prey; and is applied in the Scriptures to the hunting; often by persecution, oppression, and tyranny!" But there is yet more in this ninth verse. We have still to discuss what is probably the most significant phrase of all, a phrase used twice: Nimrod was a mighty hunter "before the Eternal". This expression, when properly translated, means "in place of the Eternal", or "against the Eternal," or "OPPOSED TO the Eternal!" This is the true significance of the Hebrew word 'paniym' weakly translated "before" in the King James Version. See Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. This verse is actually telling us that Nimrod put himself in the place of God! The Bible says Nimrod was against God. He wanted his own way. He was not willing to follow God's way. He encouraged the people to break God's law, to repudiate the teachings of Noah, and to follow what they thought was right. The story that follows will show that Nimrod was actually a master psychologist. He knew how to appeal to human nature! That is why he was able to pursued a large portion of the human family to cooperate with him and Cush in undertaking the Babel project.
Jewish scholars who properly understood this portion of scripture have preserved knowledge about it in their Targums (Paraphrases of the Old Testament scriptures based on traditional Jewish teachings. See the article "Targum" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.) Adam Clarke quotes three versions: "From the foundation of the world none was ever found like Nimrod, powerful in hunting, and in rebellions against the Lord" A second, on I Chronicles 1:10, says: "Nimrod began to be a mighty man in sin, a murderer of innocent men, and a rebel before the Lord." The third is probably the most meaningful of all: "He was mighty in hunting (or in prey) and in sin before God, for he was a hunter of the children of men in their languages; and he said unto them, Depart from the religion of Shem and cleave to the institutes of Nimrod."
By the way of summary then, here is a paraphrase of Genesis 10:8-9 showing the full meaning and impact of this vital passage:
And Ethiopia (Cush) produced Nimrod who was the first man on earth to be a tyrant (or despot). He was a hunter of animals, an oppressor of men, and in hostile opposition to the Eternal: hence the proverb, 'Like Nimrod, the powerful tyrant against the Eternal.' We have just seen that Nimrod was a mighty hunter — but in more than one sense. Actually he was a hunter of animals first; then later , as a result of his growing prestige, he became a "hunter" of men! Often did the initial animal-hunting stage of his career transpire? Obviously he must have gained a reputation for killing wild animals while a very young man in his twenties, when the human family was still concentrated on the upper edges of the drying Mesopotamian valley. Yes, Nimrod was already active BEFORE any colonies were sent out by Noah, Before the disobedient rebels ever made their move to Shinar. This is the picture derived from the foregoing archaeological and historical information. But there is yet more to learn about "The Great Rebel!"
Nimrod's Tactics Once more it is Josephus who fills in the story. He tells in specific terms the dramatic influence Nimrod had on these crucial events in the very beginning of human civilization. Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, Chapter IV, part 3 states:
"Now it was Nimrod who excited them to ... contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham ..., a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them to believe that it was their own courage which procured (their physical) happiness. He gradually changed the government into TYRANNY (remember Gen. 10:3 — "he began to be a tyrant in the earth!"), seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power."
Nimrod, the descendent of Ham and Cush, had an impressive and imposing appearance, a factor to which Josephus briefly alludes. He was a tall, powerfully built black, one source describing him as a "warlike giant". His size and strength impressed people. His physical attributes gathered people together and organized them to fight the wild ferocious beasts, Thus, at a very early time, before God's colonization plan ever went into effect, Nimrod developed his reputation as a mighty hunter in all the regions of limited human population after the Flood, the name of Nimrod was associated with might and courage. He emancipated the people from their fear of the wild animals. His prestige grew — people began to look to him as a leader in worldly affairs instead of Noah! As his prestige grew, so did his ambition. It did not take him long to develop an exaggerated self-image replete with visions of grandeur!
The progression that ensued was logical, simple — and tragic! Where he originally emancipated people from the fear of the wild beasts, eventually he began to emancipate them from the fear of God! He came to be regarded as the "mighty one," the acknowledged leader of the great ones or giants, who, in the original post-Flood apostasy, rebelled against heaven. Nimrod, then, established a strong reputation before Babel and continued to enhance it more and more during the time the city and tower were being built. This is clearly indicated in Josephus' history as quoted above.
It is obvious that Nimrod knew how to appeal to human nature. He knew how to play on the carnal fears, ideas, and impulses of the people. He undoubtedly told them repeatedly, as his reputation grew, that they should look to him and not God for protection from the wild animals. He found ways to give them exaggerated notions of his great physical strength and prowess — he wanted them to look to his human attributes, not the invisible power of the Eternal! And, as people always do, they trusted in what they could see instead of trying to build faith.
In an earlier quote from Josephus, we saw one of the tactics Nimrod used in misguiding the people — this in relation to God's colonization plan. He told them if they did go out in separate colonies, they would be divided, spread thin, and extremely vulnerable to oppression. Of course he did not mention who these imagined oppressors might be. If they had analyzed the situation a little, they would have realized that if the whole population were spread out in colonies, no one could have gathered an army strong enough to conquer any group. Also the population was too small to give any cause for such a likelihood. They should have realized that the only one interested in oppression was Nimrod himself.
As his prestige grew in the years after the Flood, Nimrod became more bold in his proclamations. He resorted to propaganda techniques that were shockingly blasphemous. Read Josephus' words: "He also said he would be revenged on God, if He should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach. And that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!"
Yes, believe it or not, in the days of Noah and only about a century after the Flood, Nimrod dared to make statements such as this. And the only reason he could get away with it was that people believed and accepted what he said.
Notice how he turned the people against God. He told them; "Think of what God did! The pre-Flood world was full of people trying to work out their affairs as best they could. The population was growing nicely. An advanced culture was soon to become a reality. But what happened? He drowned all those poor innocent people like rats! The poor creatures didn't have a chance!! How can anyone trust a God like that? You have a logical mind!
Use your reason!" He used the same approach Cain did — he said God wasn't fair! He portrayed God as a harsh monster who was grossly cruel and untrustworthy.
The people should have realized that the untrustworthy monster was Nimrod himself. The people should have known that God had promised never to drown the world again. Noah, in the early years, had told them this many times. (read Gen. 9:8-17.) Nimrod knew this. He knew he was lying! The rainbow should have reminded everyone of God's promise. But they forgot — they wanted to believe Nimrod! And so he succeeded in persuading them to build a high and waterproof tower in case God ever sent another Flood. So, instead of the Flood serving as a warning to them not to sin and disobey God as the Pre-Flood populace had, in their minds it became a motivation to do what Nimrod wanted. He had turned their thinking upside down! His method was nothing short of diabolical and ingenious beyond human capability.
Notice, then, what Josephus says next: "Now the multitude was very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it ... cowardice to submit to God, and they built a tower bitumen, that it might not be able to admit water." (Antiquities I, IV, 2.) They fell for Nimrod's story hook, line, and sinker!
The Bible Account of Babel The next step in constructing the story of Babel is to analyze, closely what the Bible has to say on this subject in the eleventh chapter of Genesis. The account here is comparatively extensive covering nine verses. Our intention here is to comment on the first four verses of this section, leaving the last five for later. When reading the Bible account of Babel in Genesis 11, it should be observed that 'the specific personalities who directed the rebels' project are not mentioned. The Bible, here, simply speaks of the group as a whole. Only back in the tenth chapter, verses 9 and 10, is Nimrod briefly mentioned in relation to Babel. Notice verse one: "And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech." The whole world — all mankind — had the same language and articulated the same words in the same way. There were no dialects. (Moffatt renders it "One language and one vocabulary.") Each segment of the human family could understand all the others perfectly. There was absolutely no problem in communication.
Cush and Nimrod had no difficulty whatsoever with language in influencing people to join the Babel project!
Now verse two: "And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there." As we have seen by now, "they" does not refer to the entire human family. Rather, it refers to the rebels under the self-seeking leadership of Cush and Nimrod who had rejected the leadership of Noah and were splitting off to start their own society! Noah and Shem were not a part of this group, we can be sure of that!
Thus this verse tells us the time of this event, at least in general terms: It was approximately a little over a century after the Flood, or around the year 2261 when Noah was first dispatching colonies to assigned areas of the world. These rebels were defying God's plan for humanity! It occurred in the days when the earth was being divided among the branches of the human family (Gen. 10:25).
The expression "they journeyed from the east" may cause some confusion. The margin notes that this may also be rendered "eastward?" However, we should bear in mind that the term "the east" can refer to a general area. That is, in the bible Assyria, Mesopotamia, and the region on the borders of, and beyond, the Tigris and Euphrates are called the east. See Adam Clarke's detailed discussion. So this verse, instead of telling us the direction in which they were moving, is showing the area in which they came. As far as directions are concerned, these misguided people were migrating southeasterly toward Shinar. Also notice the opposite here: Those who remained obedient to God and Noah tended to move principally toward the west around the edges of the Mediterranean — toward Europe and North Africa. But here were people who, typical of human nature, were doing just the reverse of what God wanted! The last part of the verse tells us that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. We now see that the rebels had come down to the lower portion of the Mesopotamian valley. But what was their specific location? It was not Babel — construction had not yet begun. Ancient historical sources reveal the answer. The Sumerian King List opens the story of post-Flood civilization — human civilization now cut off from God — with the following account: "After the Flood has swept over the earth and when kingship was lowered again from heaven, kingship was first in KISH." (Pritchard's "Ancient Near Eastern Texts", p. 265.)
"Kish is simply another spelling of Kush or Cush, the son of Ham and father of Nimrod! Here is further proof that it was the Cushite branch of the human family which first usurped authority over men. This original place of settlement was situated near the site of ancient Babylon. Because this was where people first dwelt in the land of Shinar after the Flood, it eventually came to be regarded as sacred! Using Kish as their headquarters, Cush and his followers commenced the building of Babel nearby.
Now verse 3: "And they said one to another, Go to (Come on), let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter." Since there was a scarcity of rock or stones in that area, the people had to make bricks out of clay. For morter they used "slime" — that is, bitumen or asphalt. As we have already seen in Josephus, the rebels had a special reason for using bitumen as a sealant. At this point we might also observe that the ancient Babylonian account of this event (to be quoted shortly) says they spent a whole year molding bricks before they started the actual building.
The Rebels' Aspirations Now, finally read verse four. These self-seeking insubordinates made four significant observations about their massive project:
1) "Come on, let us build us a city and a tower." Their goal was actually to erect two things — a CITY as well as the Tower. To attain a truer picture of all the circumstances involved, we should keep both these factors in mind. Undoubtedly their goal was to create "the Eternal City."
Still, the great Tower was to be the focal point of their entire operation. This gigantic structure was to serve more than one purpose. The ancient Babylon account of this records that it was to be a "shrine" and a "sanctuary." In other words, this was to be a temple, a place of religious worship! It was to be a massive symbol of idolatry!
2) In describing their Tower, they used the words "whose top may reach unto heaven." The King James rendering could lead to misconceptions about the intended height of their central structure. They were not actually trying to reach beyond the atmosphere. The words "may reach" are italicized because in the Hebrew there really is no term such as this. The Jewish translation has "with its top in heaven." and Moffatt "whose top reaches to heaven." The Hebrew word for "heaven" may just as correctly be rendered "sky". Their goal was to erect what we might term a "skyscraper," but not a structure that would reach outer space! Thus they were really saying, "we propose to build a tower with its top in the sky" — no small feat in itself. In other words though they were realistic enough to realize that they could not reach the stars, they were attempting to challenge the heights of mountains!
They did have, however, what they thought was a practical reason for building high into the air. With this much altitude they could do as they wished — disobey God and still be safe from His punishment which had drowned the inhabitants of the earth before! They actually were led to believe they could place themselves out of God's reach!
3) They also said "let us make us a Name." They wanted to be famous. They wanted to establish authority of their own. This city and tower were to be the central headquarters of mankind's authority! It was to be the focal point of human government. The necessity of their obedience to God was not going to be recognized. This was to be a glorification of man's initiative and ingenuity and a repudiation of God's prerogative to direct the affairs of man!
4) Their object, among other factors, was to prevent being scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." As we already know, God had a plan for the systematic settlement of the earth through an organized arrangement of colonies — a project under the direction of Noah. This was the God-given plan these rebels were reacting against! They used carnal reasoning in coming to the conclusion that God did not know what He was doing — that He was working against their best interests.
The Ancient Babylonian Account The most complete secular record about Babel is found in the ancient Akkadian Creation Epic. (See pages 68-69 of James Pritchard's "Ancient Near Eastern Texts".) This account, like most from ancient pagan sources, is encrusted with myth. But that does not nullify the basic historical evidence contained in it. Following are extracts, freely translated, from the "Epic of Creation" (emphasis added) concerning the building of the city and tower of Babel."
'NOW, O Lord, thou who hast caused our deliverance, what shall be our homage to thee? Let us build a shrine ...' Brightly glowed his features, like the day: 'Like that of lofty Babylon, whose building you have requested, Let its brickwork be fashioned. you shall name it "The Sanctuary."' For one whole year they molded the bricks. When the second year arrived, They raised high the shrine equaling a great height. Having built a stage-tower a great height, They set up in it an abode for Marduk, Enlil, and Ea. 'This is Babylon, the place that is your home! ...'
The account in Genesis describes exactly what is given here in this "Epic of Creation" — the building of a city and a tower. Both describe the same event.
It becomes apparent, as our collection of factors continues, that Cush and Nimrod had a variety of motives in carrying out this great project. They had reasons that were economic, racial, political, and religious. The religious motive is clearly reflected in the Akkadian Creation Epic.
Read the account above again. This great edifice being erected was not referred to as a tower but as a shrine and sanctuary. Seemingly, in the minds of the people, the main purpose for this great structure was religious! Apparently this was nothing less than a great pagan temple, something they regarded, or came to regard, as a holy place.
Notice what they placed inside their sanctuary — images or statues of Marduk, Enlil, and Ea. Now we should realize that this story, for centuries, was probably just recited over and over again before it was finally inscribed in clay and that the names of these pagan gods could thus have been added later. Perhaps originally the people at Babel did not regard these statues as idols but simply as representatives of the heroes who were guiding the Babel project. Nevertheless, the leaders of the project must have been instrumental in causing them to do this and were thinking ahead to future uses of the sanctuary.
At the risk of getting ahead of our story, it is advantageous at this point to quote on this topic from Satan's Great Deception by Dr. C. Paul Meredith, chapter 2: "Nimrod kept growing in power but the inborn desire of the people to worship must be satisfied. Nimrod and his followers had turned against the true God. They wanted to glorify God in their own way! ... With the civil power he wielded, Nimrod set himself up as the priest of the things worshipped by the people, to obtain a stronger hold on them and gradually put himself in place of the true God!"
The famous commentator, Adam Clarke, under Genesis 11:4 states that two of the Jewish Targums "assert that the tower was for idolatrous worship: and that they intended to place an image on the top of the tower with a sword in its hand, probably to act as a talisman against their enemies. Whatever their design might have been (originally, at the outset of the project), it is certain that this temple or tower was afterwards devoted to idolatrous purposes."
This completes the background material for Babel. Now, what about the factors and events that led up to, and brought about, God's intervention in the rebel's expanding plans? The next chapter continues the story of human experience in early post-Flood times and shows how history was miraculously altered!