“Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. 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. Then they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:1-4
It was not long after the Flood that the families of Noah and his sons decided to leave the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4) and travel to a plain in the land of Shinar (present day Iraq). There they began building a city and a tower “whose top is in the heavens.” They wanted to make a name for themselves, “lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
This action was in direct disobedience to God’s commandment that they “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). Why would the families of Noah and his sons do that?
Something happened to the hearts and minds of these people that led them toward a new worldview; one that would have devastating effects on the human race to this day.
The insight we need is found in the previous chapter, Genesis 10. It’s the genealogy of Noah’s sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Most of the names of people born into Noah’s extended family are mentioned briefly, but one receives many words. His name is Nimrod.
“The sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush were Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabtechah; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan. Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before theLord; therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.’ And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city).” Genesis 10:6-12
I wrote extensively about this in my book, A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality, so just a brief summary here should help set the stage.
“Cush was father to six sons: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, Sabteca and Nimrod. Nimrod became a mighty warrior who was known as “a mighty hunter before the Lord.” In the Hebrew language the name Nimrod means “rebel.” It is apparent from his name and actions that Nimrod rebelled against God and the familial system of life and government and started his own personal kingdom. It may be that he wanted to be his own god. According to the Biblical record the first centers of Nimrod’s kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Akkad and Calenh, in the land of Shinar. The definition of the word Babylon gives us some insight into the possible purpose of the kingdom. Babylon means “gate of the god.” It was established as a physical kingdom, but also as a spiritual center for people searching for a connection to the immortal. It may also speak to Nimrod’s desire for godlike immortality.
There is a difference among Bible translations about what happened next. Some translations state that Nimrod continued to expand his kingdom and went to Assyria where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen. Other translations state Asshur founded those cities to the north of Babylon. Asshur is mentioned as being one of the sons of Shem. The prophet Micah mentions the land of Nimrod in the context of protection from Assyrians (Micah 5:6), so Nimrod’s desire to rule every part of the world he could reach could be the better understanding of the Biblical record.
All of these cities were located in ancient Mesopotamia (known as the cradle of civilization), which included the area along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers now part of eastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and much of Iraq. Nimrod began his kingdom in Babel which many archaeologists believe was near the modern city of Al Hillah, Iraq. Babel was located on the Euphrates River in the southern half of Mesopotamia (south of Iraq’s capital city of Baghdad). It later became the capital of many Mesopotamian civilizations and was a center for trade, religion and culture. Babylon (Babel) was an important city for many centuries. Civilizations that claimed Babylon as a capital or primary city included Sumeria, Babylonia, Assyria, Persia, and Macedonia. Sumeria, Babylonia, and Assyria were located in various parts of what is now Iraq. Ancient Persia was located in modern Iran. Ancient Macedonia was located north of Greece.
Nimrod expanded his kingdom from Babel to other cities, including Erech, Akkad and Calenh. Erech (also known as Uruk) was located south of Babylon and is now known as Warka, Iraq. Archeological artifacts from the area showed religion was an important aspect of culture in Erech. The city of Akkad was located close to modern Baghdad. Archeologists are not positive about where Calenh was located, but believe it may have been near Babylon.
Nimrod, or Asshur, went to the northern part of Mesopotamia and built the cities of Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen. This area is now part of northern Iraq. Nineveh became the capital of the Assyrian empire and was located on the Tigris River about 200 miles north of Baghdad. Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen were close to Nineveh.”
(A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality, Mark A. McGee, Fifth Estate Publishing, 2007, pp. 15-16)
Instead of being fruitful, multiplying and filling the earth, everyone stayed together and traveled to a large plain and began building a city and a tower. Building the city was in direct violation of God’s command to fill the earth and building the tower with a top that reached toward the heavens was so they could make a name for themselves – a reminder of what the serpent told Eve centuries earlier – “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).
God intervened again in the history of the human race, but instead of destroying the people with a Flood, He confused their language so families would not be able to understand the speech of other families. God knew that because the people were one in purpose and all had the same language and were intent on building the city and the tower, “now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them” (Genesis 11:6) “So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city” (Genesis 11:8).
Imagine the impact of people suddenly speaking in different languages. They couldn’t communicate with anyone outside of their own family. There’s also the theory that God also changed the genetic racial structure of human families at the same time He confused the languages. If that’s true, such changes would quickly move people of differing language and look away from each other.
Here’s a quick look at what happened to each of the family lines from Noah’s sons. Notice that each group of families had their languages, their lands and their nations. All of that happened after God confused the language of man at Babel.
“The sons of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras … From these the coastland peoples of the Gentiles were separated into their lands, everyone according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.” Genesis 10:2, 5
“The sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan … These were the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands and in their nations.” Genesis 10:6, 20
“The sons of Shem were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram … These were the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands, according to their nations.” Genesis 10:22, 31
After the confusing of tongues at Babel, the families of man moved away from each other to make new lives for themselves. Some moved north, some south, some west and some east. We know that Nimrod was a leader within the clan of Ham and built many cities in what was later known as Mesopotamia. They included Babel, Erech, Accad, Calneh in the land of Shinar and Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen in the land of Assyria. We know that area today as including Iraq, Kuwait and areas of Turkey and Syria.
Archaeological discoveries have shown that the primary worldview of the ancient cities Nimrod built was polytheism: belief in and worship of many gods. In fact, polytheism was the primary worldview of those areas of the world for thousands of years. The people worshipped creator gods, heaven gods, sky gods, earth gods, mother earth gods, water gods, air gods, fire gods, weather gods, king gods, queen gods, gods of the north, gods of the south, gods of the east, gods of the west, wisdom gods, pleasure gods, sex gods, fertility/procreation gods, strife gods, arts and sciences gods, writing gods, agriculture gods, grain gods, harvest gods, shepherd gods, ghost gods, spirit gods, good gods, evil gods,submission gods, health gods, disease gods, planet gods, star gods, moon gods, sun gods, storm gods, love gods, war gods, plague gods, death gods, underworld gods, peace gods, hunting gods, pasture gods, mountain gods, craftsmen gods, carpenter gods, goldsmith gods, boatman gods and many other kinds of gods.
The people gave their gods and goddesses names: Nammu, Anu, Kingu, Utu, Mummu, Enki, Ashur, Abzu, Tiamat, Ki, Kishar, Ishtar, Nimrod, Ninsar, Enlil, Tutu, Aya, Nergal, Nanna, Sin, Tammuz, Gugalanna, Ningikuga, Shara, Ninsar, Marduk, Dagon, Ninlil, Ninshubur, Gilgamesh, Lahmt, Babbar, Nanshub, Baal, Adad, Zababa, El, Ea, Ninurta, Ninhursag, Siduri, Kakka, Zaltu, Hanish, Adad, Ninildu, Ninagal, Lamashtu, Irra, Birdu, Geshtuegod, Ningizzia, Kalkal, to name some of them.
Those early polytheists developed systems of sacrifices and rituals they believed were essential in getting the gods to behave favorably toward them; possibly based on what they knew about the sacrifices of Noah and his sons after the Flood. Some of the people acted as priests who carried out sacrifices and rituals to the gods; again, possibly based on how Noah carried out the work of sacrificing to God on behalf of his family. People carved images of their gods from wood, stone, metals, ivory and other materials.
Quoting from an article on the British Museum website:
“The people of Mesopotamia were polytheistic and believed that every aspect of their world was controlled by supernatural forces. The great gods dominated religion in ancient Mesopotamia and many gods maintained their importance throughout the region’s history. Cities and kingdoms were believed to be protected by individual gods and it was the duty of the ruler to act on the god’s behalf, building temples and performing ceremonies to gain their blessings. Each person had his or her own personal gods (male and female) and smaller shrines have been discovered, for example at Ur, where ordinary people worshipped. Personal gods or major deities and could withdraw their support, which would lead to misfortune for the individual or even the entire kingdom. Prayers and offerings were made to prevent this happening and divination was practised to discover the will of the gods.”
Monotheism –> Atheism –> Polytheism –> ???
So far we’ve seen the families of the earth go from Monotheism to Atheism, back to Monotheism, then to Polytheism. As best we can tell from both the Bible and archaeology the people of the world were polytheistic by the third millennium B.C. Was there anything God could do to lead people to believe solely in Him again? What would He do to re-introduce monotheism as a viable worldview? We’ll see next time as we continue our look at The Church Under Attack.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”