Religion’s Future in View of Its Past
Part 2—2369-1943 B.C.E.—A Hunter, a Tower, and You!
“There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.”—George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright (1856-1950)
AT MAN’S creation, as well as after the Flood of Noah’s day, it was true that there was only one religion. ‘Then why,’ you may wonder, ‘are there a hundred—and even more—versions of it today?’
To find out, we turn our attention to Nimrod, one of Noah’s great-grandsons. Of him the Bible says: “He made the start in becoming a mighty one in the earth. He displayed himself a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah. . . . The beginning of his kingdom came to be Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land he went forth into Assyria and set himself to building Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah.”—Genesis 10:8-11.
Since Nimrod “made the start in becoming a mighty one in the earth,” he obviously started something new. But what? The words “the beginning of his kingdom” give us a clue. If Nimrod had a kingdom, then he must have been a king, a ruler. So the German Bible commentary by Dr. August Knobel correctly calls him “the first post-Flood ruler,” explaining that no one like him had existed before. Accordingly, The Bible in Living English renders Genesis 10:8: “He was the first to become a potentate on earth.”
Nimrod set himself up in opposition to the Creator, who had never intended that humans rule themselves. And when “he went forth into Assyria,” Nimrod proceeded to expand his political realm, possibly by force of arms. If so, this made him “a mighty hunter” not only of animals but of humans as well.
Was There Really a Nimrod, Really a Tower?
“Scholars have attempted, without real success,” says Collier’s Encyclopedia, “to identify Nimrod with a number of ancient kings, heroes, or deities, among them Merodach (Marduk), an Assyrian-Babylonian god; Gilgamesh, a Babylonian hero noted as a hunter; and Orion, a hunter in Classical mythology.” So a German reference work admits that in reality “we know nothing more about him than what is offered by the Bible account.”
Nevertheless, Nimrod did exist. Arabic tradition mentions him. His name, as Nimrud or Nimroud, occurs in the names of places in the Near East. Sumerian-Akkadian didactic poems report his heroic deeds. And Jewish historian Josephus refers to him by name.
Nimrod’s political system, designed as it was to supplant God’s rightful rulership over mankind, thereby took on religious overtones. People began building “a tower with its top in the heavens” to “make a celebrated name for [themselves],” not for God.—Genesis 11:4.
Although archaeologists have been unable to identify ancient ruins as definitely being Nimrod’s Tower of Babel, they have found over two dozen apparently similar structures in Mesopotamia. In fact, this type of tower was characteristic of temple architecture there. The book Paths of Faith says that Babylonian temples “centered in a ziggurat, which was a pyramid-shaped structure with a shrine at the top.” It adds: “Similar to religious edifices from the pyramids of Egypt to the stupas of India or pagodas of the Buddhist world, the ziggurat . . . was probably a remote ancestor of the steepled church.”
German archaeologist Walter Andrae did extensive digging in this area at the beginning of the 20th century. The shrine at the top of the ziggurat, he wrote, was thought to be “the gate . . . through which the God of heaven descends the ziggurat staircase to reach his earthly dwelling place.” No wonder inhabitants of Babel claimed that the name of their city meant “Gate of God,” derived from Bab (gate) and ilu (God).
But there are additional reasons for not doubting the Bible’s account about Nimrod and his tower, as we shall see.
Consequences Reaching Out to Touch You
Nimrod, the first to merge religion with politics, set the pattern for all like subsequent alliances. Would it have divine approval? The principle later set out in the Bible that “a good tree cannot bear worthless fruit, neither can a rotten tree produce fine fruit” was about to be applied.—Matthew 7:18.
Originally, all earth’s inhabitants spoke the same language.a But when Nimrod and his supporters undertook to build this tower in Babel, God manifested His displeasure. We read: “Accordingly Jehovah scattered them from there over all the surface of the earth, and they gradually left off building the city. That is why its name was called Babel [from ba-lalʹ, meaning “to confuse”], because there Jehovah had confused the language of all the earth.” (Genesis 11:1, 5, 7-9) How frustrated the builders must have been when suddenly they were unable to discuss what had happened, much less reach a consensus as to why it happened! No doubt many theories were advanced, their diversity augmented by the inability of the language groups to communicate.
When these groups scattered into different parts of the earth, they naturally took along their religious theories. As time passed, these ideas, although basically the same, became colored by local tradition and events. From “only one religion” there soon arose “a hundred versions of it.” Clearly, this first experiment in religious-political activity had turned out badly.
Its consequences have spanned the centuries to touch you, a fact you can appreciate if you have ever tried to discuss religion with someone of another faith. Even common religious words like “God,” “sin,” “soul,” and “death” mean different things to different people. Apt are the words of English scholar John Selden, who 300 years ago said: “If the matter were well examined, you would scarce find three [persons] anywhere of the same religion in all points.” This is mankind’s heritage, all because of that mighty hunter of long ago who, being without the blessing of the Creator, was unable to complete his tower.
Modern Holdovers From Babel
“None of the religions we know can come up with so many gods as the Sumerian-Assyrian-Babylonian,” claims authoress Petra Eisele. She speaks of 500 gods, saying that some of the more extensive lists contain up to 2,500 names. Finally, in course of time, “the official theologians of Babylon fixed the hierarchy of the gods more or less definitely, dividing them into triads,” says the New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. One prominent triad of gods was composed of Anu, Enlil, and Ea. Another was made up of the astral gods Sin, Shamash, and Ishtar, also known as Astarte, the mother-goddess, consort of Tammuz.
Marduk, Babylon’s most prominent god, later called Enlil or Bel, was a war god. Paths of Faith says that this “constituted a religious recognition of the historic fact that war was becoming an increasing preoccupation of the Babylonian servants of the gods.” A mighty hunter like Nimrod, who preyed upon man and beast, would logically worship a god of war, not “the God of love and of peace” of whom the Bible speaks.—2 Corinthians 13:11.
Babylonian and Assyrian gods were amazingly “human,” having the same needs and passions as mortals. This led to the development of religious rituals and practices, such as temple prostitution, that could hardly be considered of divine origin.
Witchcraft, exorcism, and astrology were also components of Babylon’s religion. Petra Eisele claims that “it is quite possible that Western obsession with witches . . . is of Chaldean origin.” And the Babylonians made amazing progress in the study of astronomy while trying to read the future in the stars.
The Mesopotamians also believed in the immortality of the human soul. This they indicated by burying objects with the dead for their use in the afterlife.
Now, consider for a moment some of the major religions of today. Do you know of any that teach that the human soul is immortal, that teach that God is a trinity of three gods in one, that allow immorality among its members to go unchallenged, that meddle in politics, or that have members who are more willing to sacrifice their lives to a god of war than to the God of peace? If so, then you have recognized modern daughterlike organizations of Babel, still propagating religious holdovers from the days of Nimrod’s tower. Appropriately, the name “Babylon” is used in the Bible to designate the entire world empire of false religion.—See Revelation, chapters 17 and 18.
Of course, not all post-Flood peoples fell into Babylonish religious confusion. For example, Abraham, born ten generations removed from Noah, maintained true worship. God made a covenant with this descendant of Shem, promising him at Genesis 22:15-18 that in association with the one true religion, all families of the earth would be blessed. This covenant evidently went into effect in 1943 B.C.E., which meant that the lines of conflict between the “only one [true] religion” and the “hundred versions” of false religion were now due to become more sharply drawn. A momentous confrontation between the two would soon take place. Read about it in part three in the next issue of Awake!: “Egypt—Battlefield of the Gods.”
a The New Encyclopædia Britannica says: “The earliest records of written language, the only linguistic fossils man can hope to have, go back no more than about 4,000 or 5,000 years.” This time span fits in well with what Bible chronology allows.
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Legends That Reflect the Bible Account
People in northern Burma believe that everyone originally “lived in one large village and spoke one tongue.” Then they set out to build a tower to the moon, which required that they work on separate levels of the tower, thus losing touch with one another. They “gradually acquired different manners, customs, and ways of speech.” The Yenisei-Ostyaks of northern Siberia say that people saved themselves during a flood by floating on logs and rafters. But a strong north wind scattered them so that “they began, after the flood, to speak different languages and to form different peoples.”—“The Mythology of All Races.”
The early Aztecs taught that “after the Flood a giant built an artificial hill reaching into the clouds, thereby angering the gods, who cast fire or a stone down from heaven.” According to the Maya, Votan, the first human, helped build a huge house reaching into the heavens, which turned out to be “the place where God gave every tribe its particular language.” And the Maidu Indians of California claimed that “during a funeral ceremony, [all the people] suddenly began speaking in different languages.”—“Der Turmbau von Babel” (The Building of the Tower of Babel).
Legends like these give credence to author Dr. Ernst Böklen’s contention that “the greatest likelihood exists that Genesis 11 and related tales stemming from other peoples are based on actual historical recollections.”
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Did the Cross Come From Babylon?
“Babylonia,” “Chaldea,” and “Mesopotamia” all refer to the same general area of what today is Iraq. Julien Ries of the Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium writes: ‘The cross is present in the ancient cultures of Asia, Europe, North Africa, and America [including] in Mesopotamia [where] the cross with four equal arms is the sign for heaven and the god Anu.’ The “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words” is more specific, saying that the cross “had its origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name).” So the cross is clearly of pre-Christian origin. Some have suggested that Tammuz, also called Dumuzi, was originally a king and was deified after his death. For example, O. R. Gurney writes in the “Journal of Semitic Studies”: “Dumuzi was originally a man, a king of Erech.” Could this be a possible reference to Nimrod, of whom the Bible says, “The beginning of his kingdom came to be Babel and Erech”? (Genesis 10:10) At present, there is no way of knowing for sure.
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Remains of Mesopotamian ziggurats support the Bible account about the Tower of Babel