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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Babylon

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Although its boundaries varied from one era to the next, the land of Babylon was always centred on Mesopotamia, the region of the rivers Euphrates and Tigris. This was the region where the biblical story of early human history is centred and where the Garden of Eden was located (Genesis 2:10-14). In ancient times the northern part was often known as Akkad (or Accad; Genesis 10:10), and the southern part as Sumer, then Shinar, and later Chaldea (Genesis 10:10; Genesis 11:2; Genesis 11:28; Ezekiel 12:13; Ezekiel 23:15). The land was named after its chief city, Babylon, which earlier was known as Babel (Genesis 11:9; Jeremiah 51:31; see BABEL).

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Early history

The earliest known inhabitants of Babylon were the Sumerians, and the culture that developed through them provided the framework for the Babylonian civilization that followed. The Sumerians were later joined by Amorites and other Semites who migrated into the region. (The Semites were the descendants of Shem, one of the sons of Noah; Genesis 10:1; Genesis 10:21-31.) As a result of the intermingling of these peoples, the Sumerians eventually disappeared as a distinct race. Their culture, however, maintained its influence, lasting through the history of Babylon and surviving in part down to modern times.

By about 2000 BC the Amorites had become the dominant race among the Babylonian peoples. After overthrowing the powerful Sumerian dynasty that had reigned in Ur (chief Babylonian city of the time), they established their rule throughout Lower, Upper and Western Mesopotamia (see AMORITES). Abraham migrated from Ur to Canaan during this period (Genesis 11:31).

With the defeat of the Sumerian Babylonians, the Amorite Babylonians set up a new kingdom, centred on the city of Babylon. This marked the beginning of what has become known as the First Babylonian Dynasty. The greatest of its kings was Hummurabi, who reigned during the first half of the eighteenth century BC. He is chiefly remembered for writing a law-code that was far in advance of the law-codes out of which it grew. It dealt with civil, criminal, social and commercial affairs, and provided a standard of justice better than anything the people of Babylon had previously known.

The chief god of the Babylonians, from this time to the end of the nation’s history, was Marduk, or Merodach. The Sumerian god Bel was later identified with Marduk. Another god, Nebo, was considered to be Marduk’s son (Isaiah 46:1; Jeremiah 50:2; cf. Joshua 24:2).

Involvement with Judah

The period of Babylon’s involvement in Judah’s affairs began more than a thousand years after the establishment of the First Babylonian Dynasty. During the intervening years Babylon had declined in power and had remained weak for centuries. New hope arose in Babylon about 740 BC when the nation began to grow in power again. During the reign of the Judean king Hezekiah (716-687 BC), Babylon tried to persuade Judah to join it in overthrowing Assyria, the dominating power of that era. God’s prophet Isaiah opposed any such cooperation with an ungodly nation (2 Kings 20:12-19). Assyria at this stage was still too powerful for Babylon to conquer without help from other nations. For a time the Assyrian army even occupied the Babylonian capital (2 Chronicles 33:11).

Assyria’s domination of Babylon lasted several decades, but with Assyria’s gradual decline, Babylon began to reassert itself. In 626 BC Babylon began a new era when Nabopolassar established a new dynasty that spread its rule far and wide in what is now referred to as the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Nabopolassar gradually pushed back the Assyrians and finally overthrew them in 612 BC. This marked the end of the Assyrian Empire.

Babylonian power

Egypt, fearing the expanding power of Babylon, moved north to withstand it. After taking control of Judah and Syria, Egypt established a stronghold at Carchemish on the Euphrates River, in an effort to stop any further advances by Babylon. But in 605 BC the armies of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar, son of Nabopolassar, conquered Egypt in the Battle of Carchemish (2 Kings 24:7; Jeremiah 46:2-12). This meant that Judah now came under the control of Babylon. When the conquerors returned to Babylon they took with them captives from the conquered countries, including selected young men from the leading families of Jerusalem. Among these was the youth Daniel (Daniel 1:1-6).

After three years the Judean king rebelled against Babylon, hoping that Nebuchadnezzar (who had now become king of Babylon) would be too busy with wars elsewhere to deal with Judah. The Judean king depended on Egypt to support his rebellion, a policy that God’s prophet Jeremiah opposed (Jeremiah 2:18; Jeremiah 2:36). When Nebuchadnezzar had dealt with rebellions elsewhere, he sent his armies to besiege Jerusalem. After a siege of three months, Jerusalem surrendered (597 BC). When the armies of Babylon returned home, they carried off most of Judah’s wealth and took all its best people into captivity. Among these was the young man Ezekiel (2 Kings 24:1-17; Ezekiel 1:1-2).

Babylon appointed Zedekiah as the new Judean king, but after a while he too tried to rebel against Babylon, again by looking to Egypt for support. Jeremiah continued to oppose this policy, advising Judah to accept its fate as God’s will and submit to Babylon (2 Kings 24:18-20; 2 Chronicles 36:11-14; Jeremiah 21:1-10; Jeremiah 27:12-22; Jeremiah 37:6-10). But Zedekiah persisted in his rebellion and the armies of Nebuchadnezzar returned. This time the Babylonians plundered and burnt Jerusalem, killed the leaders of the rebellion, and took captive to Babylon all except those who were of no use to them (2 Kings 25:1-21; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; Jeremiah 39:1-10).

Before returning to Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar appointed a Jewish official, Gedaliah, as governor over those who remained in Judah. When Gedaliah was treacherously murdered, the remaining Judeans, fearing a revenge attack by Nebuchadnezzar, fled for their lives to Egypt (2 Kings 25:22-26; Jeremiah 40:13-16; Jeremiah 41; Jeremiah 42; Jeremiah 43:1-7). The attack on Judah came in 582 BC (Jeremiah 52:30), but those who fled for safety to Egypt could not escape the Babylonians indefinitely (Jeremiah 42:15-17; Jeremiah 43:8-13).

Babylon was now at the height of its power, and Nebuchadnezzar accepted homage from nations near and far (Daniel 2:37-38; Daniel 4:20-22). His conquests, in the region covered by the biblical account alone, included Philistia, Sidon, Tyre, Moab, Ammon and Arabia (Jeremiah 27:3-6; Jeremiah 47:4-5; Jeremiah 48:1-2; Jeremiah 49:2; Jeremiah 49:17; Jeremiah 49:28; Jeremiah 49:30; Ezekiel 26:7; Ezekiel 28:2; Ezekiel 28:21). Then, in 568 BC, he made the devastating attack on Egypt that the prophets had foretold (Jeremiah 43:8-13; Jeremiah 46:13-19; Jeremiah 46:25-26; Ezekiel 29:17-20; Ezekiel 30:10; Ezekiel 30:24-26; Ezekiel 32:2; Ezekiel 32:11).

Decline and fall

In many cases Babylon’s victories over neighbouring nations were judgments on those nations by God. Babylon was merely the instrument of punishment God had used (Jeremiah 27:3-6; Ezekiel 29:19; Ezekiel 30:10). In particular he had used Babylon to destroy Jerusalem and take the people of Judah into captivity (Jeremiah 25:8-11; Habakkuk 1:6). But the Babylonians had acted with such hostility against the Judeans and with such arrogance against God, that they had gone far beyond the limits God had set. Therefore, God would punish them as he had punished others (Jeremiah 27:5-7; Jeremiah 50:23-25; Jeremiah 51:1-5; Jeremiah 51:7-10; Jeremiah 51:24; Habakkuk 2:16-17), and would release the captive Judeans to return to their land and rebuild their nation (Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 48:14; Jeremiah 25:12-14; Jeremiah 29:10).

A sign of hope that this expected release would occur came in 561 BC, when the new Babylonian king released the captive Judean king from prison and gave him a position of special honour (2 Kings 25:27-30; cf. 2 Kings 24:8-15). Meanwhile Persia was rising to power and, in 539 BC, under the leadership of Cyrus, it conquered Babylon and released the Jews (Ezra 1:1-4; Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 21:9; Isaiah 45:1-5; Isaiah 48:14; Isaiah 48:20; Jeremiah 50:1-5; Jeremiah 50:8-10; Jeremiah 51:34-37; Daniel 5:30-31). For further history of the Babylonian region after the Persian conquest see PERSIA.

The city of Babylon

One of Nebuchadnezzar’s greatest achievements in the early days of his reign was to rebuild the city of Babylon, so that it became one of the showpieces of the ancient world (Daniel 4:29-30). But in the eyes of God’s prophets the city was a symbol of Babylon’s pride, and that pride was embodied in the king. Both the king and the city were doomed to be destroyed (Isaiah 13:1-11; Isaiah 13:19; Isaiah 14:4-25; Isaiah 47:1-5; Jeremiah 50:13-16; Jeremiah 51:64; see also NEBUCHADNEZZAR).

Even though Babylon was destroyed, in the minds of God’s people it remained as a symbol of rebellious humanity. Proud and self-sufficient, it arrogantly defies God. In New Testament times Christians saw the Roman Empire, with its advanced civilization and organized opposition to God, as a first century expression of this spirit of Babylon (1 Peter 5:13; Revelation 17:1-14; Revelation 17:18). The book of Revelation pictures the overthrow of worldwide opposition to God as the overthrow of the great and proud city of Babylon (Revelation 16:19; Revelation 18). God again shows that his kingdom rules over all. He is the sovereign ruler over all the kingdoms that the people of the world may build (Revelation 19:1-5; cf. Daniel 2:44; Daniel 4:17).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Babylon'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/b/babylon.html. 2004.


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the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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