Tag Archives: Babylon

Repairing the ruins of ancient Babylon

The New York Times ran an article by Steven Lee Myers on the current efforts to save the ruins of Babylon.

On the hillside during one of his many visits to the ruins, Jeff Allen, a conservationist working with the World Monuments Fund, said: “All this is unexcavated. There is great potential at this site. You could excavate the street plan of the entire city.”

That is certainly years away given the realities of today’s Iraq. But for the first time since the American invasion in 2003, after years of neglect and violence, archaeologists and preservationists have once again begun working to protect and even restore parts of Babylon and other ancient ruins of Mesopotamia. And there are new sites being excavated for the first time, mostly in secret to avoid attracting the attention of looters, who remain a scourge here.

The entire article is available here. The article is accompanied by a nice 4:12 minute video of the restoration efforts here. According to the reports the reconstructions made by the Sadaam Hussein regime in the 1980s will probably be torn down.

Jim Davila adds this tip at Paleojudaica:

Related, also in the NYT: A Tour of Iraq’s Ancient Sites. Included are a video about the (traditional) tomb of Ezekiel … and a photo of Hebrew inscriptions at the (traditional) tomb of the prophet Nahum, as well as photos and videos of other sites of biblical and related interest.

The photo below was made Tuesday, May 12, 1970, and still looks fairly good considering the time lapse and my camera equipment at the time.

Ruins of Ancient Babylon, 1970. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ruins of Ancient Babylon, 1970. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke about the future of Babylon:

Babylon will become a heap of ruins. Jackals will make their home there. It will become an object of horror and of hissing scorn, a place where no one lives. (Jeremiah 51:37 NET)

We called attention to the UN report of US damage to ancient Babylon here.

HT: Ben Witherington III; Paleojudaica.

Prof. Donald Wiseman – 1918-2010

The passing of Professor Donald Wiseman is reported by Rob Bradshaw here.

Wiseman was well known as an Old Testament scholar. The bibliography of his writings is extensive. His Illustrations from Biblical Archaeology, published in 1958, has been one of the most practical and helpful books in my library. Wiseman read the small Babylonian Chronicle for 605-594 B.C. in the British Museum in 1955. He describes the document in these words:

The events described include the Battle of Carchemish and the accession of Nebuchadnezzar II in 605 BC. The fifth paragraph related the capture of Jerusalem on March 16th, 597 BC, the appointment of Zedekiah as king and the removal of Jehoiachin and other prisoners to exile in Babylonia. (Illustrations from Biblical Archaeology 69)

Babylonian Chronicle for 605-594 B.C.

Babylonian Chronicle for 605-594 B.C. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Biblical account of these events is recorded in 2 Kings 24:10-17.

HT: Bible Places Blog.

UN reports Babylon damaged by US troops

According to a report on CNN.com U.S. troops are accused by a United Nations report of damaging ancient Babylon. Well, surprise!, surprise! I think its called war.

The troops and their contractors caused “major damage” by digging, cutting, scraping and leveling while they were revamping the site to meet military standards, the U.N. cultural agency, UNESCO, said in a report.

“Key structures that were damaged include the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way,” the report added.

The Ishtar Gate, an entrance to the northern part of the city, is decorated with animals that portray the symbol of the god of the city of Babylon.

“Damage to the gate includes smashed bricks on nine of the bodies of the animals adorning the gate,” according to the report.

To those of us interested in the past this damage is to be regretted. Babylon is important in Biblical history. The report goes on to say that local residents had contributed to the damage through development. One could fill a book with accounts of this happening at important historic sites.

The report introduces another aspect.

During colonial times, archaeologists hauled off Babylon’s artifacts to Europe. Some of those artifacts can be seen in a museum in Berlin, Germany.

babylon-diagram-washingtonpostYes. Thankfully the German archaeologists excavated the Ishtar Gate and the Procession Street and took those things to Berlin for preservation and restoration. It is now possible to visit the Museum of the Ancient Near East (Vorderasiatisches Museum), also called the Pergamum Museum, and see the Ishtar Gate and the Procession Street. I note that the Museum site now has some small, but nice photos online here. You may also see panels from the Procession Street at other great museum of the world including several in the United States.

We have previously written about Babylon, with photos, here, here, and here.

We commented on those dreaded colonial archaeologists here.

Check these reports: The Irish Times; The Washington Post. I do not doubt damage, but the photos show the site much the same as it was in 1970 when I visited.

HT: Harriet; Biblical Paths.

More information on Judean exiles in Babylon

Abraham Rabinovich, a long time writer for the The Jerusalem Post, has compiled some fascinating information about the Judeans in Babylonian Exile during the time of Nebuchadnezzar.

King Jehoiachin was only 18 years old and had occupied the throne of Judah barely three months when he was led off into Babylonian captivity in 598 BCE together with his wives, his mother, his servants, his eunuchs and thousands of “the chief men of the land.”

But what happened to them when they reached Babylon? And what happened there to the tens of thousands of others who joined them in exile when the First Temple was destroyed a decade later? The Bible tells us of the return to Judah half a century later but virtually nothing of what the expellees experienced in Babylon itself…

However, scholars have been able to gain a measure of access to these missing years from cuneiform documents unearthed in Iraq in the last century, including a trove illicitly dug up in the final years of Saddam Hussein’s regime and only now nearing publication. The documents are innocuous – business records, land deeds, tax accounts – but together are able to shed light, feeble but suggestive, on this central period in Jewish history.

Rabinovich comments specifically on the fate of Jehoiachin, the young Judean king.

“We have been able to make history out of dry documents,” says Prof. Israel Eph’al of the Hebrew University, an epigrapher and historian of the ancient Near East.

Early last century, archeologists digging in Babylon, the capital of Babylonia, uncovered cuneiform tablets in a vaulted chamber beneath the ruins of an ancient structure believed by some to have been the base of the fabled “Hanging Gardens” of Babylon. These tablets, deciphered in the 1930s by German Assyriologist Ernst Weidner, detailed the storage of oil and other commodities and their distribution. Four of the badly damaged tablets concerned the supply of oil to “Jehoiachin, king of Judah” and his five sons. The date is five years after he was taken captive. The fact that he was being provisioned by the Babylonian authorities and that he retained his royal title suggests that he was being treated with deference even though he had been taken captive because his father, Jehoiakim, had rebelled against Babylon. Favorable treatment is also suggested by the fact that at 23 he already has five sons, indicating that the young royal was not deprived of the wives who had accompanied him.

Read the entire article here.

Because German archaeologists worked at Babylon for more than a decade in the early part of the 20th century, the best collection of archaeological artifacts are in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin. Here is a photo of one of the ration tablets mentioned in the article.

Ration tablet from Babylon, now in Berlin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ration tablet from Babylon mentioning Jehoiachin, the exiled king of Judah. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This information harmonizes with what we are told in the Bible, under  (2 Kings 25:27-30). This text describes an event some years later under the reign of Evil-merodach. Verse 30 says of Jehoiachin,

He was given daily provisions by the king for the rest of his life until the day he died. (2 Kings 25:30 NET)

Here are the dates I normally follow in the study of this part of Bible history:

  • Nebuchadnezzar takes Daniel and other royal youths to Babylon (605 BC).
  • Jerusalem captured by the Babylonians. Jehoiachin taken to Babylon (597 BC). Zedekiah was made king. Ezekiel was among the prophets taken to Babylon.
  • Zedekiah was blinded and taken to Babylon (586 BC). Jerusalem destroyed. Many exiles taken to Babylon. Jeremiah was left in the land of Judah.
  • Babylon captured by the Medes and Persians (539 BC).
  • Judean exiles allowed to return to Judah (536 BC).
  • A second group of exiles returned in the days of Ezra (458 BC). Some remained in Babylon.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Colonial archaeologists and the Ishtar Gate

Recently we called attention to an article in The New York Times about Babylon. Writer Steven Lee Myers says,

Colonial archaeologists packed off its treasures to Europe a century ago.

This statement seemed significant enough to be repeated under the photo of the miniaturized Ishtar Gate at the site. My immediate reaction to the statement is, “Well, aren’t we glad!” Anyone who has visited the Pergamum Museum in Berlin has seen the reconstructed Ishtar Gate. It looks like this.

Ishtar Gate in the Pergamum Museum of Berlin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ishtar Gate in the Pergamum Museum of Berlin. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Now, it’s not that the German archaeologists, under the direction of Robert Koldewey, “packed off” what you see here. All of these lions, bulls, and dragons were excavated from the mound of ancient Babylon between 1899 and 1912. Eventually they were taken to Berlin in 1926. Even under the Communist government of East Germany this gate was preserved. I saw it a few times before the Berlin Wall came down. Anyone able to travel to Berlin may see the Ishtar Gate as well as the reconstructed Procession Street. Can one say as much for the ruins of Babylon and the museum in Baghdad?

Babylon was once the greatest city of the world when the Neo-Babylonian Empire reigned supreme in the Ancient Near East (626-539 B.C.). The prophet Daniel was active in Babylon from 605 B.C. until after the fall of the city to the Persians (Daniel).  I can not imagine that he failed to see this gate.

Nebuchadnezzar was a megalomaniac. His pride is evident in the statement recorded by the prophet Daniel.

The king uttered these words: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” (Daniel 4:30 NET Bible)

Babylon ruins reopen to tourists

The New York Times recently carried an article about the reopening of Babylon to tourists. Most of the attention is given to locals getting a chance to see Saddam Husein’s former palace built to overlook the ruins of the ancient city. Some of the photos are nice. (HT: Todd Bolen, BiblePlaces Blog)

Here is an article I published in Biblical Insights several years back.

– – – – – –

The site of Babylon is located about 55 miles southwest of Baghdad near Hillah in Iraq. The city was located on the River Euphrates, but is now a few miles east of the river on one of the canals. The rivers of Mesopotamia have frequently changed their course.

The earliest ancient name for Babylon, given in the table of nations, was Babel (Gen. 10:10). Babylon was ruled by Hammurabi, best known for his law code, in the 18th century B.C.

The city reached its peak during the Neo-Babylonian empire (626-539 B.C.). The Bible refers to Babylon as “the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride” (Isaiah 13:19).

The greatest king of the Neo-Babylonian empire was Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 B.C.). There is abundant evidence of the activities of his reign. The best collections of artifacts are to be found in the British Museum in London and the Museum of the Near East (part of the Pergamon Museum) in Berlin. In Berlin one may see the reconstructed Procession Street, the Ishtar Gate, and the decorated facade of the Throne Room of Nebuchadnezzar from Babylon.

The photo below shows my first view of the site of ancient Babylon in 1970. Jeremiah 51:37 provides a wonderful caption: “And Babylon will become a heap of ruins.”

My first view of Babylon in 1970. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

My first view of Babylon in 1970. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The kingdom of Judea had much contact with the Babylonians. Daniel was in the first group of Judean royal youths taken into Babylonian exile in 605 B.C., and was educated in the literature and language of Babylon (Daniel 1:1-6). Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar’s army March 15/16, 597 B.C. At that time Jehoiachin and 10,000 captives were taken as prisoners to Babylon (2 Kings 24:8-16). The prophet Ezekiel was among that group of captives. His prophetic call came in the fifth year of his exile by the river Chebar, a tributary of the Euphrates (Ezekiel 1:1-3).

The Judean captives remained in Babylon until the time of the Medes and Persians (Jeremiah 25:11-12). Cyrus, according to a clay cylinder now in the British Museum, allowed captives to return to their home land, build their temples and serve their own gods. This is in harmony with the biblical account in 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1.

Excavations were conducted at Babylon by German archaeologists between 1899 and 1917. Discoveries included the main palace of Nebuchadnezzar, the procession street, some temples, and the Ishtar gate. The most fabulous of the items to be found have been reconstructed in the Museum of the Near East in Berlin. I have been able to visit Babylon only once in 1970.

Riblah in the land of Hamath

Riblah served as a base of operation for the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho and the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The city is located on a broad plain about 20 miles south of Hamath (modern Hama in Syria), on the main road between Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Orontes River flows past the site on the west side. On a modern map you will locate Riblah in Syria immediately north of the border with Lebanon.

There is little more than a “country store” at the site today, but the name Riblah is preserved as Ribleh, Syria.

Riblah in the land of Hamath. Courtesy BibleAtlas.org.

Riblah in the land of Hamath. Courtesy BibleAtlas.org.

  • Pharaoh Necho imprisoned Jehoahaz, king of Judah, at Riblah. He later took him to Egypt where he died. The date was about 609 B.C. (2 Kings 23:31-34).
  • Zedekiah, puppet king of Judah, tried to escape capture by the Babylonians. He fled Jerusalem but was captured on the plains of Jericho and brought to Riblah. There Nebuchadnezzar passed sentence on him. His sons were slaughtered in his sight and he was bound with brass fetters and taken to Babylon. The date was 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:5-7; see also Jeremiah 39:5-6; 52:9-10).
  • The officials of Zedekiah were taken to Riblah where they were put to death (2 Kings 25:19-21; see also Jeremiah 52:26-27).

In 2002 a colleague and I spent several days visiting sites in Syria. Riblah was the most difficult to locate. Most folks, after seeing the site, would probably say, “What’s the big deal?”  Even though Riblah is mentioned only these few times in the Old Testament, it’s location makes it important in all movement between the south (Egypt and Israel) and Mesopotamia.

Riblah in the land of Hamath. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Riblah in the land of Hamath. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The slopes of this tell are now used as a cemetery. We know that this would make it difficult to negotiate rights to excavate.