Babylon the Golden City
What does the tourist see there today?
FIFTY miles south of Baghdad, Iraq, on the railroad that links Baghdad and Basra, the train stops. Tourists get off. At the side of the line a wooden board announces simply: “Babylon Halt. Trains stop here to pick up passengers.” Such is the tourist’s introduction to Babylon, an announcement that the glory of the ancient world, called the “golden city,” is now not even a station—merely a halt.
With camera and sunglasses the visitor has come to see what remains of the “golden city.” To appreciate what the guide is about to show him the tourist does well to know something about Babylon’s origin and what went on in “the golden city.” Then he will not have to ask: “How could so great a city come to this?”
Babylon was built while Noah was still alive. Nimrod, that “mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah,” laid the city’s foundation. Nimrod built it as the chief seat of his kingdom; he wanted it to be the world’s capital. But as the capital city of a world power Babylon did not become the world’s capital until many centuries later, toward the end of the seventh century B.C. During the more than forty-year reign of King Nebuchadnezzar Babylon reached the zenith of its glory and was “the beauty of kingdoms,” “the praise of the whole earth.”—Gen. 10:9; Isa. 13:19; Jer. 51:41, AT.
ITS IMPREGNABILITY AND SPLENDOR
Built in the form of a square, Babylon was a checkerboard of gigantic squares. The principal streets, beautifully laid out, crossed each other at right angles. The great river Euphrates divided the city into two portions. For protection a deep and broad moat, flooded from the river enclosed the city’s walls.
What stupendous walls Babylon had! The historian Herodotus visited Babylon in the fifth century B.C. He recorded that Babylon’s wall reached the tremendous height of 300 feet. Its thickness? An incredible seventy-five to eighty-five feet! And this was a 60-mile wall, fifteen miles on each side. On top of the wall were 250 towers with guard rooms for soldiers. So enemies could not tunnel under it the wall extended thirty-five feet below the ground. Nebuchadnezzar well boasted, as an inscription shows: “A great wall which like a mountain cannot be moved I made of mortar and brick. Its foundations upon the bosom of the underworld I placed down deeply, its top I raised mountain high.”
For convenient entrance and exit the city had a hundred bronze gates, twenty-five on each side. Each gate closed with double leaves of ponderous metal, swinging upon bronze posts built into the wall. Along each bank of the river was a continuous quay that was separated from the city by a huge wall. This wall was pierced by twenty-five gates, from each of which a sloping descent led to the water’s edge. Ferries plied continually across the water where streets abutted. One street, however, led to an arched bridge, and another, into a tunnel beneath the river bed.
The king spared neither money nor labor to make Babylon the most magnificent city the world had ever seen. Temples and palaces sparkled with gold. King Nebuchadnezzar boasted by way of an inscription: “Huge cedars from Lebanon with my hands I cut down, with radiant gold I covered them, with jewels I adorned them. . . . Thresholds, door-posts, cornices, wings of the doors of the shrine, I clothed with dazzling gold.” Babylon was truly “rich in treasures.”—Jer. 51:13, RS.
The king’s pride and joy was his palace. It was a quadrangular building, surrounded with threefold ramparts of masonry, the outermost being nearly seven miles in extent. The inner walls were faced with enameled brick, upon which were pictured a vast array of animals. Nebuchadnezzar called his palace “The Admiration of Mankind.”
And no wonder people admired it! Within the enclosure of the royal palace was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—the hanging gardens of Babylon. The king built these elevated gardens to please his wife. The queen, a Median princess, had come from a hilly country and, disgusted with the flatness of Babylonia, sighed for her native mountains.
So the king built four acres of arches seventy-five to 300 feet high. He overlaid this whole mountain of masonry with sufficient soil to nourish the largest trees. At the top the king built a reservoir fed from the Euphrates by a hydraulic screw—used here some centuries before it was invented by Archimedes! To prevent water from percolating to the masonry, floors of bricks laid in bitumen and sheets of lead were interposed between the earth and supporting arches beneath. This terraced garden rose to a height that overtopped the city walls. A profusion of the choicest flowers and shrubs nestled amid the roots of forest trees; brooks dashed down artificial crags. What matchless beauty! How impressive to a visitor from a foreign land! From a distance this wonder of the world had the appearance of woods overhanging mountains.
On the outside of the garden flights of steps led to the top. From here royal pleasure parties could banquet and view the whole panorama of Babylon’s glory that lay spread below as a picture. How dazzling the scene—the walls, the river, the quays, the boats, the magnificent streets through which swept the chariots of lords and princes, the bronze gates through which poured the captives of a hundred vanquished provinces! Walking on the roof of his royal palace and admiring it all, King Nebuchadnezzar glowed with pride and said: “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”—Dan. 4:30, RS.
FOUNTAINHEAD OF FALSE RELIGION
Babylon’s founder, Nimrod, opposed the true God, Jehovah, and hence became a worshiper of Satan the Devil. Demon religion sprang up in Babylon. False gods of gold were praised. Almost every huge square had a religious temple in which golden gods abounded. One of the most remarkable of the more than fifty temples in Babylon was the large temple tower of Marduk or Bel, the national deity. Built in the form of a pyramid of eight square stages, with step-backs like modern skyscrapers, the temple soared to a height of 480 feet! A winding ascent led to the summit. Here stood a golden image of the god Bel—forty feet high! Two other colossal gold deities adorned the temple, along with a huge golden altar and two golden lions. With such gods of gold, Babylon was indeed “the golden city.”
Almost everything and everyone were contaminated with demon religion. The city’s most famous gate, Ishtar Gate, was named after the fertility goddess Ishtar, also called “queen of heaven” and “mother of the gods.” Through Ishtar Gate passed the famous Procession Street. Once a year in a colorful ceremony the pagan worshipers paraded their gods of silver and gold through this gate and down this street. Procession Street led to the temple of Ishtar. Ishtar altars were found not just in one temple; they were everywhere, there being at least 180 major altars to Ishtar. Oddly enough, this “queen of heaven” received more attention from the pagan worshipers than their chief god Bel.
On top of the temples Chaldean astrologers gazed at the stars and mapped out the heavens. These demon worshipers divided the heavens into certain mansions, with the view of tracing the course of planets through each of them, in the vain hope of being able to tell fortunes and predict future events. Thus Babylon’s astrologers originated the idea of the zodiac with its twelve signs—Virgo, Scorpio, etc. Long before Babylon became the world’s capital the eighth month was known as “the month of the star of the Scorpion.” Attributes of Babylonian deities influenced the choice of the symbol for the month. Thus Virgo (the virgin), the sixth sign of the zodiac, represents Ishtar, the ruling divinity of the sixth month.
From Nimrod’s wicked city of Babylon demon religion in all its forms—magic, fortunetelling, prediction, spells, king worship, image worship, sex worship, animal worship, etc.—spread to the ends of the earth to corrupt most of mankind to this day.
As is to be expected when a false religion is the national religion, moral conditions were unspeakably corrupt. The ancient historian Quintus Curtius wrote of Babylon that “nothing could be more corrupt than its morals, nothing more fitted to excite and allure to immoderate pleasures. . . . The Babylonians were very greatly given to wine and the enjoyments which accompany inebriety. Women were present at their convivialities, first with some degree of propriety, but, growing worse and worse by degrees, they ended by throwing off at once their modesty.”
And again false religion helped make it that way. A religious law enforced in Babylon was one of the most abominable in all history. It pandered to the grossest passions, attracting strangers in great numbers. Herodotus tells how every native female, once in her life, was obliged to visit the temple of Mylitta, the deity who was, as goddess of the moon, the female principle of generation. There a woman waited in the precinct of the goddess and received the embraces of the first stranger who threw a silver coin into her lap—prostitution practiced in the name of religion!
JEHOVAH DECREES BABYLON’S DOOM
Is it any wonder, then, that Babylon’s sins massed together clear up to heaven? “Her judgment,” said Jehovah through his prophet, “has reached up to heaven and has been lifted up even to the skies.” The God of heaven, Jehovah, decreed Babylon’s doom.—Jer. 51:9, RS.
Nearly 200 years before Babylon fell to Cyrus the Persian, Jehovah caused his prophet Isaiah to foretell Babylon’s doom: “These two things shall come to you in an instant, in a single day; loss of children and widowhood, in their full measure, shall come upon you—in spite of your many spells, and your numerous enchantments. You have wearied yourself with your many counselors, now let them stand up and save you—those who map out the heavens, and gaze at the stars, and tell you month by month what fortune will come to you.”—Isa. 47:9, 13, AT.
Whom would Jehovah use to destroy Babylon? How could an impregnable city fall? Again nearly 200 years before Babylon’s fall, Jehovah foretold who would take the city even his very name—and exactly how an impregnable city would fall: “Thus saith Jehovah to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him, and I will loose the loins of kings; to open the doors before him, and the gates shall not be shut.”—Isa. 45:1, AS.
Many cities are conquered and destroyed and yet are rebuilt. But not so with Babylon! Isaiah foretold that it would “never be inhabited or dwelt in for all generations,” that “wild beasts will lie down there, and its houses will be full of howling creatures,” that God would make it “a possession of the hedgehog, and pools of water,” and that “Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.”—Isa. 13:20, 21; 14:23; 13:19, RS.
Then about fifty years before Babylon fell Jehovah caused another prophet to speak out his decree: “I set a snare for you, O Babylon, and you have been taken unawares.” Its end would come with shocking surprise: “Suddenly Babylon falls.” Its soldiers would be massacred: “Her young men shall fall in the squares.” “The warriors of Babylon have ceased to fight” and “they are turned into women.” And Babylon’s great wall? Decreed Jehovah: “The broad wall of Babylon shall be razed to the ground, and her lofty gates shall be burned.”—Jer. 50:24; 51:8; 50:30; 51:30, 58, AT.
A few hours before Babylon fell Jehovah again foretold Babylon’s doom. King Belshazzar saw the handwriting on the wall; he did not understand it. Jehovah’s prophet Daniel interpreted it for the king. Doom was imminent! “Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”—Dan. 5:28, RS.
That very night Babylon fell in a manner Isaiah had foretold around two centuries before. The Babylonians held a great religious festival; the city was drunk. At this apt time Cyrus turned the Euphrates from its course into canals and gigantic reservoirs that had been made by the Babylonians themselves. The river began to sink but it made no moan. The din came from inside Belshazzar’s palace, where the king had “made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in front of the thousand.” (Dan. 5:1, RS) While the bacchanalian orgies were going on, Cyrus’ soldiers hurried along the now almost-dry bed of the river. But the river gates? Contrary to custom the gates had been left open! But the gates leading from the river to the streets? They too, contrary to custom, had been left open. But certainly the massive doors to the king’s palace would be shut. No, they too were open. Bursting into the palace, a band of Persians made their way to the king and slew him; his body fell to the floor amid spilled wine cups. Drunken Babylonians fled in terror in every direction and were killed as if they were unresisting women. It was no battle; it was a massacre.
Thus in 539 B.C. the impregnable city of Babylon fell in a single night without a battle. In an inscription Cyrus said: “I am Cyrus, king of the world. Without a battle my troops entered Babylon.”
Babylon did not immediately become a ruin. The Persians in time destroyed the large temple tower where Satan was worshiped under the name Bel. After Alexander the Great had conquered Medo-Persia he planned on making Babylon the capital of his eastern empire. In fact, Alexander put 10,000 workmen to work for two months to clear away the rubbish of the ruined temple of Bel. But his plans to rebuild the temple and bring Babylon back to its glory were frustrated by his sudden death. And so with the death of Alexander in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, Babylon slowly fell into decay.
From earliest times visitors to Babylon have reported the city a desolate ruin. Benjamin of Tudela, a Jewish traveler of the twelfth century, found only the ruins of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. Tumbled down, the palace was, he said, “inaccessible on account of the various and malignant kinds of serpents and scorpions living there.” Layard, the English archaeologist, visited Babylon in the nineteenth century and reported: “The site of Babylon is a naked and hideous waste.”
WHAT THE TOURIST SEES TODAY
At the beginning of the twentieth century German archaeologists began systematic excavation at Babylon. What, then, does the tourist see? Before his eyes are huge dilapidated heaps of disemboweled buildings and palaces. Hardly a trace of the great wall remains. There is a pond, a swamp of green-scummed water bubbling with frogs. Owls fly out of crevices; scorpions and jackals are the only couriers in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. Instead of feeling beauty the tourist feels that no city could be a more complete ruin. Compared to Babylon, the Roman Forum is a model of tidiness.
The walls of Ishtar Gate have been uncovered. Inside it are huge stone slabs, three feet square. On each is the inscription: “Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, am I. The Babel street I paved with blocks of stone for the procession of the great Lord, Marduk.” The blocks are still there, just as they were when Daniel walked over them.
As the tourist tarries amid the ruins he cannot help but reflect on the past: Here Nebuchadnezzar, after he destroyed Jerusalem in 607 B.C., brought the captives of Judah. Here, still fondled by willow trees, is the Euphrates, calling to mind the psalm: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst thereof we hanged up our harps.” (Ps. 137:1, 2, AS) Here Daniel, undazzled by the splendor around him, remained faithful to the God of heaven, Jehovah. Here the finger of God wrote on the wall of Belshazzar’s palace a prophecy of doom, fulfilled in a matter of hours.
Absorbed in thought, the tourist strolls to the place to get his train. That sign intrigues him: “Babylon Halt. Trains stop here to pick up passengers.” How apt, he thinks! How appropriate a comment on the fate of Babylon—just a halt now. As he prepares to board the train he muses on the thought that there could well be another sign put up alongside the present one. On it could be emblazoned the prophetic words of Isaiah and Jeremiah, spoken while Babylon’s splendor was undimmed: “Because of the wrath of Jehovah she shall not be inhabited, but she shall be wholly desolate: every one that goeth by Babylon shall be astonished.” “How is Babylon become a desolation among the nations!” “How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!”—Jer. 50:13; 51:41; Isa. 14:4, AS.
As regards the wicked, they will be cut off from the very earth.—Prov. 2:22.