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Babylon and its History

Unknown author

The City of Babylon

Babylon was situated about fifty miles south of present day Baghdad in Iraq. During the time of Nabopolassar, Babylon became most important city in the world. It was a huge city on both sides of the Euphrates, with the river dividing the city into two almost equal parts. Both banks of the river were guarded by brick walls, with twenty-five gates connecting the streets with ferry boats. There was one bridge, built on stone piers, one kilometre long and ten metres wide. It had drawbridges which were removed at night. There was also a tunnel under the river five metres wide and four metres high. In Mesopotamia, there was no stone, only clay, so the walls were made with bricks. Houses had walls made of clay.

The walls of Babylon

The walls were described by historians Josephus and Herodotus. They were double walls 100 metres high, forming a wide rectangle nearly twenty kilometres around the city. The walls continued below ground to prevent tunnelling. They were built with thirty centimetre square bricks, which were ten centimetres thick.

The inner wall of the city, consisted of two parallel walls of brick twelve metres apart, about seven metres thick. The space between was filled with rubble, making the total thickness about twenty-five metres. Beyond the inner wall were wide deep moats, filled with water. The outer wall was built in the same manner. The walls contained one hundred brass gates.

250 high watch towers were built upon the wall, with guard rooms for the soldiers. There was a quarter mile of clear space between and city and the wall all the way round. They thought their city was totally impregnable.

The most famous gate was the Ishtar Gate with glazed bricks and carved reliefs, which was at the end of a processional avenue 250 metres long, and twenty metres wide.


There was a great temple adjoining the Tower of Babylon (Babel?) and fifty-five smaller altars to Marduk. The temple to Marduk (Bel) was 500 metres square. The golden image of Bel and a golden table stood in the temple, weighed at least 22,000 kg. At the top were golden images of Bel and Ishtar, two golden lions, a golden table ten metres long and five metres wide and a human figure of solid gold six metres high. Babylon was truly a "City of gold" (Is 14:4). The image of gold (Dan 3:1) may have been set up between the Tower of Babylon and the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar.

There were also 300 altars to other gods and 600 altars to other heavenly deities. There were also 180 altars to Ishtar (like Ashtoreth), the goddess of fertility. It was considered a duty for every woman in the empire to be a temple prostitute at one time or another in her life. You can imagine how Daniel functioned in the midst of this. It took great wisdom and tact. Babylon was a very religious empire. Nebuchadnezzar named himself after the god Nebo, the god of destiny. Both the Babylonians and the Persians felt they were destined to conquer the world.

Marduk was the storm god or child god (similar to Baal). Nebo was the god of science, leaning and destiny. Shamask was the god of the heavens. Other gods were Sin, Gala and Adad.

Nebuchadnezzar's Palace

This was one of the most magnificent buildings ever erected on the earth. Daniel often went into this. Its vast ruins were uncovered around 1900. The south walls of the throne room were six metres thick. The north side was protected by three walls. Just north of them were more walls twelve metres thick and more massive walls further away.

The Hanging Gardens

The hanging gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world described by the Greek Historian Herodotus. Nebuchadnezzar married a Median queen, the beautiful daughter of Cyaxeres, who had helped Nebuchadnezzar conquer Nineveh. She came from the mountains and so was accustomed to greenery. Nebuchadnezzar built the famous hanging gardens for her, a huge terraced garden, on the top of the palace, watered with water from a reservoir at the top. The water was lifted by a hydraulic pump from the River Euphrates, by slaves turning screws to raise the waters. There were several tiers of arches, above each other, each bearing a solid platform 120 metres square. The terraces on the top were covered with flowers, shrubs and trees. In the arches were luxurious apartments, the pleasure ground of the palace. The gardens were built while Daniel was chief governor of the wise men of Babylon.

The History of Babylon

Nimrod the mighty warrior founded Babylon and other cities around 2500 BC (Gen 10:9). The Tower of Babel (Gen 11) was probably a ziggurat, a temple to the moon god, a tower built with its top in the heavens. The people didn't want to be dispersed around the world. Babel was named because God confused the language (Gen 11:9). The word "Babel" means "gate of el" or "confusion". Babylon was founded on rebellion against God. Throughout the Bible, Babylon and Jerusalem are opposed: Babylon being the kingdom of Satan, and Jerusalem the kingdom of God.

The Early Babylonian Empire

Babylon became the centre of an earlier empire, which is not mentioned much in the Bible. One of the kings, Hammurabi is famous for his law code.

The Neo-Babylonian Empire (7th century BC)

The Neo-Babylonian empire was only short lived. It reached its zenith under Nebuchadnezzar (605 - 562) and came to an end only seventy years after its beginning when Cyrus of Persia took Babylon in 539 BC.

During the time of the Assyrian Empire, Babylonia was under their rule. It was destroyed and rebuilt a couple of times. At the death of Shalmaneser V (during the fall of Samaria 722), Merodach-Baladan proclaimed Babylon's independence. With Elamite support (people from east of River Tigris), he held out against the Assyrians for ten years.

In 710, Sargon II lead a successful attack on the south and was welcomed into Babylon. He allowed Merodach-Baladan to remain as sheikh of his tribe. In 703, Merodach-Baladan made another bid for power and this may be the time he visited Hezekiah (2 Kg 20:12, Is 39) seeking Hezekiah's help. Isaiah's opposition to such a pact was soon vindicated, Sennacherib's attack defeated the Babylonians. Babylon was again plundered and left with governors to rule it.

This was followed by various fights for power with different people, which resulted in a further attack and sacking of the city, during the reign of Manasseh in Judah. Esarhaddon followed Sennacherib and having governed the city and liking it, he rebuilt it. He made one of his sons king of Assyria and one king of Babylonia. This worked well for twelve years, until Assyria marched on Babylon and after three years, the king of Babylon burned the palace down around him and Assyria installed a governor.

During the last year of Ashurbanipal, 626 BC, the governor died and Nabopolassar, a Chaldean tribal leader, rallied the tribes and rebelled against the Assyrians. He cleared Babylon of the Assyrians for the last time. Six weeks later he was asked to be king. At this time the Assyrians were torn by internal strife and rebellion among their vassals and could not put down this rebellion. In 614, he allied with Cyaxeres, the King of the Medes, who joined with the Babylonian armies, led by his son, Nebuchadnezzar, to attack Assur and then Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, which fell in 612 BC. The remnant of the Assyrian army was driven west to Carchemish, a city situated on a ford on the Euphrates.

The Battle of Carchemish

Pharaoh Necho of Egypt, thinking that it was better to support the failing Assyrians against the Babylonians, who were seen as a greater threat, took his army up to Carchemish to fight against Nabopolassar. There was a significant battle at Carchemish in 605 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians (2 Kg 23:29), and destroyed the remnant of Assyria, giving the Babylonians control of the west, including Judah. It was when Pharaoh Necho was going up for this battle that King Josiah was defeated and killed in 609 BC, Judah then came under Egyptian dominance.

About this time, Nabopolassar died and his son Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon to claim the throne 605 BC. He then returned west, and after a siege Jehoiakim was made his vassal in 604 BC (2 Kg 24:1). Daniel and a small group of bright young men were taken to Babylon at this time. After 3 years Jehoiakim rebelled by forming an alliance with Necho of Egypt, and the Babylonians attacked again. By this time Jehoiakim had been succeeded by Jehoiachin, who was defeated after only 3 months reign (2 Kg 24:8). He surrendered and was deported with a number of people (including Ezekiel) and much spoil in 598 BC (2 Kg 24:10), and Nebuchadnezzar put Zedekiah on the throne.

The craftsmen were deported to help with Nebuchadnezzar's great building program in Babylon (2 Kg 24:14), leaving only the poorest people in the land. Zedekiah rebelled and in 586 BC, what was left of Jerusalem was taken. The city and temple were destroyed, Zedekiah was taken blinded to Babylon and Gedaliah left as governor (2 Kg 25). Some final captives were taken from Jerusalem in 581 BC.

Nebuchadnezzar was a very strong king, the only strong king of the Babylonians, those who followed him were not of his calibre. His destruction of cities was so fierce, the fires in Lachish were found to have been so hot that the limestone buildings were turned into lime.

After the death of Nebuchadnezzar, the empire was steadily weakened. Amel-Marduk (Evil-Meroach of 2 Kg 25:27) ruled 2 years and was replaced by Neriglessar (Nergal-Sharezur in Jer 39:3). He was ousted and Labashi-Marduk took his place, a weak king, who lasted only a few months.

After a coup d'etat in 556 BC, Nabonidus took the throne. In 553 BC, he led the army to Palestine and N. Arabia leaving Belshazzar as co-regent in charge of the city of Babylon. Some say he left for health reasons, being better suited to the region of Arabia, others suggest he was so unpopular that he just left the city. As Belshazzar was only the second in the kingdom, he offered Daniel the reward of third rank in the kingdom for interpreting the writing on the wall (Dan 5:7,16).

Because of Nabonidus's expensive military expenditure and extensive building programs begun by Nebuchadnezzar, inflation rose to fifty percent. This led to widespread famine and brought about much discontent. When Cyrus entered the city, there was much rejoicing.

The Persian conquest of Babylon

Babylon was conquered on Oct 13, 539 BC by Cyrus and the Persians. Cyrus realized after laying siege that it was impossible to scale the huge walls. But Cyrus had noticed that the Euphrates was running literally through the walled city, under the walls, with heavy gates in the river bed. Two deserters came out from the city and Cyrus sent them back into the city to find out how to take Babylon from the inside. The Babylonians were carousing at a feast (Belshazzar's Feast, Dan 5). They were drinking from the vessels which were to be used in the house of the Lord. Cyrus diverted the river Euphrates away from Babylon, so the armies could enter the city under the walls by the dried up river bed. The city was taken without a fight and Belshazzar was killed. The Persians were looked upon as conquering saviours and heros by the population.

Predictions of the fall of Babylon

Isaiah lived during the time when the Assyrians were the reigning world power (200 years earlier), but he also prophesied about the time of the Babylonians. Isaiah predicted the fall of the Babylonian empire before it even existed and detailed how the fall would happen.

The main passages are: Is 13:1-14:23, 21:1-10, 43:10, 46:1-10, 47:1-15. 14:12-20 is often interpreted as describing the fall of Satan, but is in the context of the fall of Babylon.

God said that he was stirring up the Medes (Persians) against the Babylonians (13:17). Cyrus said in his diary that Marduk had called him by name. Cyrus thought it is Marduk that is stirring him up, feeling that such a power had taken hold of him. But God says it was really him that did it. "I call Cyrus by name" (Isaiah 45:4). In 46:1, Isaiah predicted that Bel bows, Nebo stoops, the gods of the Babylonians.

Isaiah predicted that the rivers would be dried up (44:27) and that the gates of bronze and iron would be open to Cyrus (45:1) (prophesied by name), describing the way Cyrus and his armies would enter the city.

The ruins of Babylon

Babylon was completely lost for centuries but has now been found by archaeologists who confirm the accounts of Herodotus. An archaeologist said, "Even the Euphrates has abandoned Babylon. The very trace of life has gone out from Babylon. Under my feet are the dens of jackals and foxes. Nothing breaks this deadly silence, a jackal is now sending forth his cry. A certain fascination holds me here, why should a flourishing city like this be utterly devastated? Why should a flourishing city the seat of an empire completely disappear? Was it the result of some curse or prophecy?"

Babylonian Kings

1 Nabopolassar 626 - 605
2 Nebuchadnezzar 605 - 562
3 Evil-Merodach 562 - 560
4 Neriglessar 560 - 556
5 Labashi-Marduk 556
6 Nabonidus 556 - 534
7 Belshazzar 553 - 539 (as regent)
Fall of Babylon 539

Family relationship of kings

1. Nabopolasser (626-605)
2. Nebuchadnezzar (605-562)
3. Evil-Merodach
(2 Kg 25:27, Jer 52:31)
daughter m. 4. Neriglissar
(Jer 39:3) (560-556)
5. Labashi-Marduk
(556 - 2 mts)
daughter Nitocris
m. 6. Nabonidus
7. Belshazzar (553-539)

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
OT 2: Exodus and Wilderness
OT 3: Conquest and Monarchy
OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
OT 5: Return from Exile
OT 6: 400 Silent Years

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

NT 1: Life and Ministry of Jesus
NT 2: Birth of the Church
NT 3: Paul's Missionary Journeys
NT 4: Paul's Imprisonment
NT 5: John and Later NT

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Genesis Exodus Leviticus
Numbers Deuteronomy

Joshua Judges Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel 1 & 2 Kings Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah Esther

Job Psalms Proverbs

Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel

Hosea Joel Amos
Obadiah Jonah Micah
Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah
Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Matthew's Gospel Mark's Gospel Luke's Gospel
John's Gospel

Book of Acts

Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians
Colossians 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon

Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 & 3 John


Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

Canaanite Religion
Israel's Enemies During the Conquest
Syria / Aram
The Assyrian Empire
Babylon and its History
The Persian Empire
The Greek Empire
The 400 Silent Years
The Ptolemies and Seleucids
Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Jewish Calendar
The Importance of Paradox
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
OT People Search
Ephah Converter (volumes)
Holy War in the Ancient World
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
King Jeroboam I of Israel
The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah

Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Kingdom of God / Heaven
Parousia (Coming of Christ)
The Importance of Paradox

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Unique Passages in the Synoptic Gospels
The SynopticProblem
Genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey. More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?
Paul and the Greek Games

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
The Millennium (1000 years)
The Rapture and the Tribulation
Different Approaches to Revelation
Predicted Dates of the Second Coming

Revelation Commentary (10 pages)

How to do Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

How to Study the Bible Inductively
I. The Inductive Study Method
II. Observation Questions
III. Interpretation Questions
IV. Structure of Books
V. Determining the Historical background
VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
Major Archaeological Sites in Israel
Archaeological Sites in Assyria, Babylon and Persia
Virtual Paul's Missionary Journeys
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
Photos of the City of Corinth
Photos of the City of Ephesus

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
Israel Museum Photos

Difficult Theological and Ethical Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

Christian Ethics
Never Heard the Gospel
Is there Ever a Just War?
Why Does God Allow Suffering
Handling Disappointment

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

What is Preaching?
I. Two Approaches to Preaching
II. Study a Passage for Preaching
III. Creating a Message Outline
IV. Making Preaching Relevant
V. Presentation and Public Speaking
VI. Preaching Feedback and Critique
Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.

Teaching on SBS Book Topics for SBS