A Mesopotamian city situated slightly southwest of the convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Babylon (Babel in Hebrew) is well known from textual and archaeological evidence. Babylon first rose to political prominence under King Hammurabi (1792–1750 bce). It remained the dominant city in southern Mesopotamia (Babylonia) for about two hundred years until the invasion of the Hittite King Mursilis I in the early sixteenth century BCE. Its next rise to greatness came under Nebuchadnezzar I (ca. 1124–1103 bce) when, after his defeat of Hultaludish-Inshushinak of Elam, it became the major power in southern Mesopotamia. Babylon's dominance faded again with the rise of Assyria. Babylon and Assyria remained rival forces until 609 bce when Assyria and its capital Nineveh fell to Babylon, which had long since come under Chaldean (Aramean) domination. Babylon itself fell to the Persians under Cyrus the Great in 538 bce, an event recorded in the prophecies of “Second Isaiah.” The city of Babylon continued to exist for hundreds of years thereafter, finally disappearing with the advent of Islam.
Babylon first appears in the Bible as a city of Nimrod (Gn. 10.10). The legend about building the Tower of Babel explains the divine dispersal of humankind over the face of the earth and the proliferation of languages (Gn. 11). Babylon became a political factor in Judah under the reign of Merodach-baladan II (see 2 Kgs. 20.12–21), but its real influence came under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (2 Kgs. 24), who destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple and sent the king, the nobility, and most of the populace of Judea into exile in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The prophecies of Jeremiah were spoken under the ascendancy and victory of Babylonia in the Levant, while Ezekiel was exiled and flourished in Babylonia itself. Babylonia and its kings form the backdrop of the Book of Daniel. The prophet Habakkuk complains that wicked Chaldean (Babylonian) dominance in the world is an affront to divine rule and a grave injustice. Babylon is mentioned occasionally in the books of Isaiah, Micah, Zechariah, Psalms, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles, most of these books being postexilic.
Apart from the biblical attestations of Babel, the city is mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls some seven times. In the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen 21.23) Babel is used rather than Shinar to describe the kingdom of Amraphel (cf. Targum Onkelos to Gn. 14.1). The Damascus Document (CD i.6) records the defeat of Israel by King Nebuchadnezzar.
In the Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242 1–3.1) the healed and penitent last king of Babylon describes himself in ways reminiscent of Nebuchadnezzar as described in Daniel 3.31–4.34, thus confirming the suggestion that the author of Daniel, never having heard of Nabonidus, substituted the name of the well-known king for the unknown one.
Babel occurs in two pesharim to Isaiah in broken contexts. Whereas Pesher Isaiahc (4Q163 8.1) and Pesher Isaiahe (4Q165 8.1) speak of historical Babylon on the basis of Isaiah 14 and 39, Pesher Isaiahc (4Q163 6.ii.4) and Pesher Isaiahe (4Q165 8.1) seem to substitute the king of Babylon for the king of Assyria mentioned in Isaiah 10.13–19 and 30.31.
The Chaldeans mentioned in the Book of Habakkuk are identified in Pesher Habakkuk (1QpHab ii.11) as the Kittim, a code word for Rome. In this way a prophecy about an enemy world power from the time of the prophet is made applicable to the major foe contemporary with the writer of the pesher.
It has been suggested that the Land of Damascus where the exiles from Judah lived according to Damascus Document (CD vi.5) was actually Babylonia (see also CD viii.21, xix.33–34, xx.10–12). Since the covenanters claim that they organized in Damascus, they place their origin in the context of the exile. [See Damascus.]
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Victor Avigdor Hurowitz