Ezekiel 14 – Call to Turn from Idols & Lost Cities of the Near and Middle-East: Babylon (4 of 8)

The Babylonian Empire sounds like it was awesome and Nebuchadnezzar’s Hanging Garden really sounds incredible.

Inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu
From an entrance just above the base of the Great Pyramid, a cramped Ascending Passage climbs for 36 meters up through the solid stone core to a towering Grand Gallery.

This climbs another 46 meters to reach the King’s Chamber and an empty sarcophagus in the heart of this colossal pyramid. The enormous weight that bears down on the King’s Chamber is dissipated by a series of ingenious stress-relieving chambers and massive granite beams built above it.

What I don’t understand is why some people don’t believe the Hanging Gardens existed?  Of course, I could understand that if they don’t believe in You, but if they do, how could they doubt it?

Nebuchadnezzar and You weren’t always friends because he was arrogant and pompous at one time (Dan 4:30).  But after living like the oxen for seven years (Dan 4:33) he realized what a fool he had been and got on Your highway.

You always do incredible things for people that walk with You, so why wouldn’t people believe that You would give Nebuchadnezzar the know how on creating the Hanging Gardens?

Like with King Solomon, You made him the smartest person on earth.  I suppose that since people have no evidence of the Hanging Gardens they figure it didn’t exist.  Does that mean that they don’t believe that King Solomon was that smart, I mean, since they can’t see his brain?

And most of all, we have no proof of Your existence, per se, but only an idiot can’t believe You exist (I used to be one of them idiots), and know that You are exactly who You say You are (Is 41:10, 42:8, 44:6, 24, 45:7, 18, 46:9-10,  55:11).

Now in regards to Queen Sheba, the Bible only talks about the one time she visited King Solomon.  Yet, some people think they had a long distance affair.  That’s believable since he had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

But then again, they lived like 1,500 miles apart and that’s a stretch in a car, let alone on a camel.  It has been suggested that King Solomon had a hot air balloon, but history tells us that the first hot air balloon ever seen was in Paris, France in 1783 A.D.

In its glory, Babylon was surrounded by thick masonry walls ornamented with images of the ancient God of Marduk.

Therefore, that just has to be wrong, right?  How did ancient man build these fabulous and huge empires, like the 328 feet high walls of Babylon?  How did they build the great Egyptian pyramids?  How did people do a lot of things back then that we can’t do today even with machines?

I want to step out of the Bible a bit, if You don’t mind?  I mean, it still involves You, everything involves You (Jn 1:3, Eph 3:9), so I want to look at…

Ezekiel 14
Call to Turn from Idols

1 Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me.

Agents of the Gods
During the Old Kingdom era, kings of Egypt began to emphasize their divine associations and their people believed them to be manifestations of the god Horus.

After the time of Khufu, kings were also proclaimed to be sons of the great sun god Re. After his death, the king became associated with Osiris, father of Horus and god of the underworld. The king’s sacred powers were passed on to the new ruler – usually his son.

2 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

3 Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?

4 Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;

5 That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.

6 Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.

7 For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me; I the LORD will answer him by myself:

8 And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

9 And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.

10 And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him;

The Sphinx and Great Pyramid of Khufu. The mysterious Great Sphinx, with human head and lion’s body, is a colossal sculpture cut from the Giza bedrock. It appears to preside over the Giza necropolis.

11 That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord GOD.

12 The word of the LORD came again to me, saying,

13 Son of man, when the land sinneth against me by trespassing grievously, then will I stretch out mine hand upon it, and will break the staff of the bread thereof, and will send famine upon it, and will cut off man and beast from it:

14 Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD.

15 If I cause noisome beasts to pass through the land, and they spoil it, so that it be desolate, that no man may pass through because of the beasts:

16 Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate.

One of several cedarwood boats buried close to the Great Pyramid of Khufu. They may have been used during Khufu’s funeral, or intended as solar boats to transport the king in the afterlife.

17 Or if I bring a sword upon that land, and say, Sword, go through the land; so that I cut off man and beast from it:

18 Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters, but they only shall be delivered themselves.

19 Or if I send a pestilence into that land, and pour out my fury upon it in blood, to cut off from it man and beast:

20 Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.

21 For thus saith the Lord GOD; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?

“Sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence” – cf. the “four horsemen of the Apocalypse” (see Rev 6:1-8, especially Rev 6.8).

22 Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings: and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it.

23 And they shall comfort you, when ye see their ways and their doings: and ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord GOD.

Lost Cities of the Near and Middle-East:
Babylon (4 of 8)
 

Location: Euphrates River, South of Baghdad, Iraq
Date of Construction: Before 2400 B.C.
Abandoned: c. 1st century B.C.
Built by: Babylonians
Key Features: City Walls; Ishtar Gate; Processional Way; Etemenanki Ziggurat; Esagil Temple; Hanging Gardens A city of such greatness and magnificence that its name and repute have far outlived its physical fabric, Babylon was by turns the capital of the world, the largest city in the world and the possible site of one of the wonders of the ancient world.

It was a place of magic and learning, exile and sadness, power and glory, which has left an indelible mark on global culture even as it crumbles into dust at an accelerating rate.

This drawing by Andrew George shows a remarkable stone stela commemorating the completion of Babylon’s ziggurat by Nebuchadnezzar around 590 B.C.
The monument’s relief depicts Nebuchadnezzar alongside the Etemenanki and its inscription records the king’s good works
No other contemporary depiction of the ziggurat or of Nebuchadnezzar has survived.
In about 1780 B.C., at the height of his power, Hammurabi codified 282 laws on an eight-foot-high stele made of black basalt.
Although the Code of Hammurabi is not the first legal code, it is the best preserved ancient law the world has today.

Using 51 columns of cuneiform script, Hammurabi’s stele is engraved in the Babylonian language of Akkadian. It originally stood in Babylon’s temple of Marduk.

Situated on the banks of the Euphrates about 50 miles south of modern Baghdad, Babylon was a great city for nearly two millennia, yet was effectively abandoned by the start of the Common Era.

Though probably not among the very oldest of the Mesopotamian city-states, Babylon already existed during the Akkadian period of Sumerian civilization and is first mentioned in a tablet from the reign of Shar-kali- sharri of Akkad (possibly as early as the 23th century B.C., depending on the chronology used).

City of the Law-giver

Babylon first rose to prominence and power under the Babylonian king Hammurabi, who ruled from 1792-1750 B.C., establishing what is now known as the Old Babylonian kingdom.

Under Hammurabi, Babylon grew to magnificence, becoming probably the largest city in the world. Temples, shrines and public buildings multiplied and the city acquired massive walls.

Hammurabi is best known today for his Code, among the oldest set of laws known to mankind, which were inscribed on large stele written in Akkadian, the day-to-day language of the Babylonians at this time, and displayed in public for all to see.

The Old Babylonian kingdom was short-lived and was soon conquered by first the Hittites and then the Kassites. However, the city itself remained the regional capital for several centuries until suffering declining fortunes during the early 1st millennium B.C., with climate fluctuations, famine, plague and the depreda­tions of nomadic raiders taking their toll.

Meanwhile, the Assyrians to the north grew in power until Babylon fell under their sway around 800 B.C.

Cylinder seal of Ibni-sharrum, a scribe of Shar-kali-sharri (left) and impression (right), ca. 2183–2159 B.C.; Akkadian, reign of Shar-kali-sharri. Mesopotamia. Cuneiform inscription in Old Akkadian.

The city both benefited and suffered from their attentions. On the one hand Babylon was of central religious, political and strategic importance, and the Assyrians were able to bolster their hegemony over the region by renewing and enlarging it, but on the other they struggled constantly to suppress the rebellious Babylonians.

In 689 B.C. the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, sacked the city and had it razed to the ground, but just a few decades later the Assyrian Empire collapsed and King Nabopolassar established a Neo-Babylonian dynasty that reached its apogee under his son, Nebuchadnezzar (reign 604-562 B.C.).

Nebuchadnezzar and the Hanging Gardens

Under Nebuchadnezzar the city reached its greatest magnificence, as its population climbed above the 200,000 mark – the first city in human history to do so.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.

They were built in the ancient city-state of Babylon, about 50 miles from present day Bagdad, Iraq around 600 B.C. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is the least well documented of all the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

This is perhaps because it is one of the oldest wonders, with the exception of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The Hanging Gardens only survived for about 100 years before they were destroyed by war (or earthquakes, it is debatable). Although they no longer exist, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are still considered to be one of the most beautiful and magnificent feats of engineering today.

Nebuchadnezzar enlarged the empire as far as the shores of the Mediterranean, conquering Israel and Judah and deporting the Jews to his capital, where they joined nations and peoples from every corner of the Earth.

He engaged in an extensive series of works, enlarging the city, strengthening its walls, rebuilding its temples and ziggurat, and building vast palaces, citadels, ornate gates and magnificent processional ways.

For his wife, homesick for the lush vegetation of her homeland, he reputedly built a series of hanging gardens (i.e. gardens arrayed on stepped balconies or terraces) that sat atop a great hall and were watered by a ceaseless cascade mechanically extracted from the river.

This Neo-Babylonian Empire was also short-lived, falling to the Achaemenid Persians under Cyrus in 539 B.C. According to the account of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, Cyrus breached the city’s mighty walls with a brilliant stratagem.

The only weak spots in the fortifications were where the Euphrates flowed through them, so Cyrus stationed troops at these spots and diverted the river into the basin for long enough for his armies to march up the dry bed and into the city.

Supposedly the city was so huge that those in the center had no idea the Persians had breached the walls and were surprised in the middle of celebrating a festival.

Under the Achaemenids the city continued to be a religious, administrative and cultural center, and when Alexander the Great conquered it in 331 B.C. he seemed intent on preserving its role.

Cyrus II of Persia
c. 600 BC or 576 BC–530 BC
Commonly known as Cyrus the Great, also known as Cyrus the Elder, was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. Under his rule, the empire embraced all the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East.

He renovated parts of the city, added buildings, including a theatre, and encour­aged commerce, arts and the sciences, but his death not long after – in Nebuchadnezzar’s own palace – spelt doom for Babylon.

The fragile empire he had so quickly forged fell apart just as rapidly, as his generals fought for control of the different regions. As the effective capital of the world, Babylon found itself at the center of a series of wars that steadily depleted its material and human resources.

Mass deportations, such as one recorded in a tablet of 275 B.C., further diminished the failing city’s population and the city finally died with a whimper at some point during the hegemony of the Parthian Empire, which ruled Mesopotamia until the 3rd century B.C.

Rediscovering Babylon

By the dawn of the Common Era Babylon was largely deserted, its lavish monuments and edifices reduced to piles of crumbling bricks or buried beneath dust. Although its location was not forgotten and its name retained legendary and biblical connotations, there was little evidence of its former glories.

Without constant maintenance of the system of irrigation canals that made the area agriculturally viable, even the ecosystem changed and the area became a dusty, arid plain.

German Oriental Society
Hattusa, two deities from the netherworld, carved in the rock sanctuary of Yazilikaya.

When European travelers once again began to frequent the region, all that remained were a number of tells – mounds built up as generations occupied the same site for millennia. One of the tells was even called the “Babil.”

Armed with copies of Herodotus and other ancient writers, gentlemen adventurers sought to relate the barren mounds to the classical accounts, but not until the methodical excavations of the Deutsche-Orient Gesellschaft (German-Orient Society), led by Dr. Robert Koldewey and carried out from 1899-1917, was the ancient city properly rediscovered.

The city that Koldewey’s team painstakingly uncovered was essentially Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. They traced its walls, palaces and temples, and even identified the possible inspirations for the legendary Tower of Babel and Hanging Gardens.

Rough Guide to Babylon

Ancient Babylon was roughly rectangular in shape, oriented on a SW-NE angle, split in two by the Euphrates about a third of the way in from the west. The most significant locations were on the eastern side. A huge wall ran around the entire city.

Herodotus famously claimed that it was so wide that there was room enough on top for “a four-horse chariot to run.”

In fact Koldewey discovered that it was even wider than this – between the outer face of burned brick and the inner one of crude, dried mud bricks, and atop the layer of rubble that filled the space between, ran a broad roadway up to 98½  feet wide – room enough for two chariots to pass.

The wall was studded with great towers at regular intervals and stretched for 11¼ miles, while the city covered an area of 3¼ square miles, making it the largest of the ancient Mesopotamian cities.

The Ishtar Gate was the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon. It was constructed in about 575 BC by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II on the north side of the city.

According to Herodotus, the walls were nearly 328 feet high, and on the eastern side of the city they were further enhanced by a deep moat. Straddling the wall just to the east of the Euphrates, where it entered the city’s northern precincts, the Tell Babil marked the site of Nebuchadnezzar’s summer palace/fortress.

Perhaps the most impressive find was the Ishtar Gate, a ceremonial entrance to the city created by Nebuchadnezzar to strike awe into the hearts of visitors. They were presented with a high arch spanning the gap between two mighty 82-feet high towers decorated with brightly colored glazed tiles and reliefs of fearsome dragons, lions and bulls, all raised on a platform 49¼  feet above ground level.

The gate now resides in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. Leading from the Ishtar Gate into the heart of the city, Koldewey traced the course of a processional way 65½  feet wide, also lined with glazed tiles and reliefs of lions.

This formed the main axis of the city, and ran parallel to the river, past palaces and temples, until reaching a street that ran off to the left, towards the river, and which passed between the two central structures of Babylon – the Etemenanki and the Esagil.

The Axis Mundi

The Pyramids of Giza are the most famous monuments of ancient Egypt. These massive stone structures were built around 4500 years ago on a rocky desert plateau close to the Nile.

But the intriguing Egyptian pyramids were more than just tombs for kings. The mysteries surrounding their symbolism, design and purpose have inspired passionate debate. It is likely that many of these mysteries will never be solved.

The Etemenanki (meaning “the house that is the founda­tion of heaven and Earth”) was a ziggurat, or stepped tower, which represented – in a very literal fashion for the Babylonians – the axis mundi or axis of the world.

This was the place where the different parts of the Babylonian cosmos, including the heavens, the earthly plane and the palace of the gods, came together, and where creation itself had begun.

The Etemenanki ziggurat may well have been the basis for the legend of the Tower of Babel. At its base it was 295 feet square, with a broad staircase ascending its seven stages, but it cannot be said for sure how tall it was (although the ancient tradition was that it stood as tall as its base was wide).

The Esagil was the temple of Marduk, the tutelary deity of Babylon and the leader of the Babylonian pantheon. Here dwelt the idol of Marduk – a golden statue that represented the actual presence of the god in ceremonies – together with the idols of deities from other city-states within Babylon’s sphere of influence.

Other features discovered by Koldewey included the throne room of Nebuchadnezzar, a 164 feet long room magnificently decorated with colored glazed bricks and reliefs showing lions and trees of life, and a series of underground chambers with barrel-vaulted roofs, asphalt waterproofing and a system of wells.

Koldewey was convinced that “a mechanic hydraulic machine stood there, which worked on the same principle as our chain pump”, and that he had discovered the site of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

He supposed that the gardens had been laid out on the terraced roof of the building and watered via the mechanical hydraulic system, with the running water and shading vegetation cooling the hall below, where the business of the court took place.

Modern archaeological opinion is divided, however, and the city of Nineveh is said by some to be a more likely location for the legendary gardens, if they existed at all.

Modern Babylon

The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza is regarded as the most massive building ever erected in the world – a remarkable statistic for a construction feat achieved 4500 years ago.

More recently Babylon has become a figurative and literal battleground in the Gulf conflicts.

Following on from Nebuchadnezzar, whose rebuilding of Babylon was a statement of power and a tool for legitimizing his rule, and who had the millions of bricks used stamped with his name and a proclamation of his glory, Saddam Hussein attempted something similar.

In 1985 he started recon­structing the city with bricks stamped “This was built by Saddam Hussein, son of Nebuchadnezzar, to glorify Iraq.” More recently, United States forces have occupied and landscaped the area and their helicopters, trucks, earthmovers and troops have been blamed for significant damage to the ruins and the archaeological record.

 

…how did people do things way back when?