The later name given to Babel. This city of renown was located along the Euphrates River on the Plains of Shinar, later called Babylonia, approximately 540 miles (869 kilometers) E of Jerusalem and some fifty miles (80 kilometers) S of modern Baghdad.—See BABYLONIA; SHINAR.
Nimrod, who lived in the latter part of the third millennium B.C.E., founded Babylon as the capital of man’s first political empire. Construction of this city, however, suddenly came to a halt when confusion in communications occurred. (Gen. 11:9) Later generations of rebuilders came and went. Hammurabi enlarged and strengthened the city and made it the capital of the Babylonian Empire under Semitic rule.
Under the control of the Assyrian World Power, Babylon figured in various struggles and revolts. Then with the decline of the second world empire, the Chaldean Nabopolassar founded a new dynasty in Babylon about 645 B.C.E. His son Nebuchadnezzar II, who completed the restoration and brought the city to its greatest glory, boasted, “Is not this Babylon the Great, that I myself have built?” (Dan. 4:30) In such glory it continued as the capital of the third world power under the successive reigns of Nebuchadnezzar’s son Evil-merodach (Amel-Marduk), his son-in-law Neriglissar and Neriglissar’s son Labashi-Marduk, and finally with Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law Nabonidus on the throne. The latter’s son, Belshazzar, was ruling with his father as coregent up until the night of October 5/6, 539 B.C.E. (Gregorian calendar), when Babylon fell before the invading armies of the Medes, Persians and Elamites under the command of Cyrus the Great.
That fateful night in the city of Babylon Belshazzar held a banquet with a thousand of his grandees. Nabonidus was not there to see the ominous writing on the plaster wall: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL and PARSIN.” (Dan. 5:5-28) Ancient historical records indicate what followed. After suffering defeat at the hands of the Persians, he had taken refuge in the city of Borsippa to the SW. Neither was Cyrus’ army sleeping in their encampment around Babylon’s impregnable walls that night of October 5/6. For them it was a night of great activity. In brilliant strategy Cyrus’ army engineers diverted the mighty Euphrates River from its course through the city of Babylon. Then down the riverbed the Persians moved, up over the riverbanks, to take the city by surprise through the gates along the quay. Quickly passing through the streets, killing all who resisted, they captured the palace and put Belshazzar to death. It was all over. In one night Babylon had fallen, ending centuries of Semitic supremacy; control of Babylon became Aryan, and Jehovah’s word of prophecy was fulfilled.—Isa. 44:27; 45:1, 2; Jer. 50:38; 51:30-32; see CYRUS.
From that memorable date, 539 B.C.E., Babylon’s glory began to fade as the city declined. Twice it revolted against the Persian Emperor Darius I (Hystapis), and on the second occasion was dismantled. A partially restored city rebelled against Xerxes I (c. 482 B.C.E.) and was plundered. Alexander the Great intended to make Babylon his capital, but he suddenly died in 323 B.C.E. Nicator conquered the city in 312 B.C.E. and transported much of its material to the banks of the Tigris for use in building his new capital of Seleucia. However, the city and a settlement of Jews remained in early Christian times, giving the apostle Peter reason to visit Babylon, as noted in his letter. (1 Pet. 5:13) Inscriptions found there show that Babylon’s temple of Bel existed as late as 75 C.E. About the fourth century C.E. the city appears to have passed out of existence. It became nothing more than “piles of stones.” (Jer. 51:37) Today, even those stones have moldered and nothing remains but mounds and ruins, a veritable wasteland on which nothing grows. As André Parrot, Curator-in-Chief or the French National Museums, who visited the ruins several times between 1930 and 1950, remarks, “The impression it always made on me was one of utter desolation.” (Foreword to Babylone et l’ancien testament, as translated into English by B. E. Hooke) Surely its desolate condition stands in stark fulfillment of such prophecies as Isaiah 13:19-22; 21:9; 47:1-3; 48:14; Jeremiah 50:13, 23; 51:41-44, 64.
From the testimony of historians and archaeologists it is possible to reconstruct a fair resemblance of their concept of the appearance of Babylon as it stood in Nebuchadnezzar’s day. A system of double walls surrounded the city, the outer wall buttressed by towers. Streets ran through the city from gates in the massive walls. Procession Street, the main boulevard, was paved and its walls alongside were decorated with lions, dragons and bulls in symbol of the honored gods. According to Herodotus, the great Euphrates River was flanked on either side with a continuous quay, which was separated from the city proper by walls having twenty-five gateways. The city’s great builder, Nebuchadnezzar II, repaired and enlarged the old palace and built a summer palace one and a half miles (2.41 kilometers) to the N. He also built a great structure of vaulted archways, tier upon tier, famed as a “wonder of the world,” the hanging gardens of Babylon.
The accompanying diagram, based on Eckhard Unger’s description (published in Babylon die heilige Stadt nach der Beschreibung der Babylonier, “Babylon the Holy City according to the Description of the Babylonians,” 1931, plate 2, based on excavations and ancient Babylonian texts), sharply differs from Herodotus’ description in several respects. Unger shows Babylon to be much smaller in size, with no quay wall lining the immediate western bank of the river.
This sprawling metropolis astride the watercourse of the Euphrates was a commercial and industrial center of world trade. More than an important manufacturing center, it was a commercial depot for trade between the peoples of the East and the West, both by land and by sea. Babylon, it is said, had a fleet of three thousand galleys that plied not only the city’s canal system but also the great Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This means that her fleet had access to the Persian Gulf and the seas far beyond.
Babylon was a most religious place; remains of no less than fifty-three temples have been discovered. The god of the imperial city was Marduk. His temple was E-sagila, meaning “Lofty House”, its tower E-teme-nanki, meaning “House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth.” Marduk is called Merodach in the Bible, and various authorities identify Nimrod with the god Marduk; it was ancient custom for a city to deify its founder. Triads of deities were also prominent in the Babylonian religion. One of these, made up of two gods and a goddess, was Sin (the moon god), Shamash (the sun god) and Ishtar; these were said to be the rulers of the Zodiac. And still another triad was composed of the devils Labartu, Labasu and Akhkhazu. Idolatry was everywhere in evidence. Babylon was indeed “a land of graven images,” filthy “dungy idols.” (Jer. 50:1, 2, 38) The Babylonians believed in the immortality of the human soul. Nergal was their god of the underworld, the “land of no return,” and his wife Eresh-kigal its sovereign lady.
The Babylonians developed the pseudoscience or astrology in an effort to discover man’s future in the stars. (See ASTROLOGERS.) Magic, sorcery and astrology played a prominent Part in their religion. (Isa 47:12, 13; Dan. 2:27; 4:7) Many heavenly bodies, for example, planets, were named after Babylonian gods. In the fourth century C.E., Epiphanius opined that it was ‘Nimrod who established the sciences of magic and astronomy.’ Divination continued to be a basic component of Babylonian religion in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, who used it to reach decisions.—Ezek. 21:20-22.
ISRAEL’S AGE-OLD ENEMY
The Bible makes many references to Babylon, beginning with the Genesis account of the original city of Babel. (Gen. 10:10; 11:1-9) Included in the spoil taken by Achan from Jericho was “an official garment from Shinar.” (Josh. 7:21) After the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 740 B.C.E., people from Babylon were brought in to replace the captive Israelites. (2 Ki. 17:24, 30) Hezekiah made the mistake of showing messengers from Babylon the treasures of his house; these same treasures as well as some of Hezekiah’s “sons” were later taken to Babylon. (2 Ki. 20:12-18; 24:12; 25:6, 7) King Manasseh (716-661 B.C.E.) was also taken captive to Babylon, but because he humbled himself Jehovah restored him to his throne. (2 Chron. 33:11) Under Nebuchadnezzar Babylon was a “golden cup” in the hand of Jehovah to pour out indignation against unfaithful Judah and Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar took the precious utensils of Jehovah’s house to Babylon, along with thousands of captives.—2 Ki. 24:1–25:30; 2 Chron. 36:6-20; Jer. 25:17; 51:7.
In the book of Daniel are recounted the experiences of Daniel and his three companions in Babylonish captivity, including the interpreting of the king’s dreams and the receiving of visions. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell how nearly 50,000 came up out of captivity with Zerubbabel and Jeshua in 537 B.C.E., and about another 1,800 with Ezra in 468. The temple utensils were restored to Jerusalem. (Ezra 2:64-67; 8:1-36; Neh. 7:6, 66, 67) In 455, Persian King Artaxerxes I, also called “the king of Babylon,” commissioned Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem as governor and rebuild its walls. (Neh. 2:7, 8) Mordecai was a descendant of a Benjamite who was taken captive to Babylon.—Esther 2:5, 6.
The Christian Greek Scriptures tell how Jeconiah (Jehoiachin), taken prisoner to Babylon, was a link in the lineage to Jesus. (Matt. 1:11, 12, 17) The apostle Peter’s first canonical letter was written from Babylon. (1 Pet. 5:13) That “Babylon” was the city on the Euphrates, and not Rome as claimed by some.—See PETER, LETTERS OF.
“Babylon the Great” is included in the symbolisms of the book of Revelation. There she is described as “the mother of the harlots and of the disgusting things of the earth” (17:5) and as making “all the nations drink of the passion-arousing wine of her fornication.” (14:8) She is given the “cup of the wine of the anger” of God’s wrath (16:19); “in one hour” her judgment comes (18:10); the ten horns of the scarlet-colored wild beast unseat her as a rider on its back, make her naked, eat her fleshy parts and completely burn her with fire. (17:16) She is hurled down with a swift pitch, like a great millstone. (18:21) Thus the desolation of “Babylon the Great” becomes as complete as that of the iniquitous city on the banks of the Euphrates River.—See BABYLON THE GREAT.
See the book “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules!
[Map on page 176]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
COMPASS CARD for BABYLON
NEW YEAR’S FESTIVAL TEMPLE
SUBURB: LUGALGIRRA GATE
BELIT NINÂ TEMPLE(?)
CANAL OF NEW CITY
CEMETERY OF BABYLON
SUBURB NEW CANAL CITY
OUTER WALL OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR
GROVE OF LIFE
ISHTAR OF AKKAD (ACCAD) TEMPLE
GATE OF GOD
ZABABA (NINURTA) GATE
KASSIRI TEE KULLAB
MARDUK (NERGAL) STREET
GISHU (MARDUK) GATE
[Picture on page 177]
Ruins in area of Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon