The name “Babylon” (Babel) is derived from (balal), which
denotes “confusion (by mixing)” in Genesis 11:9. The city of
Babylon was one of great wealth and magnificence. It was the
center of a vast empire, which included all of Mesopotamia and
the highlands beyond, as
well as Syria and Palestine. The
city was built on the monotonous plains, along the banks of
the Euphrates River.
Ancient writers describe it as a
city surrounded by four walls, each fifteen miles in length.
Twenty-four streets ran north and south, and the same number
east and west. Each street terminated at one of the one
hundred gates in the inner walls. Hence, the city was made up
of more than six hundred square blocks. It is said that in the
center of each square
there was a garden.
lines of walls protected the city. A twenty-four-foot wide
roadway was between the walls. The inner walls were twelve
feet thick, reinforced with towers at sixty-foot intervals.
These walls ran three and one-half miles along the north, east
and south sides of the city, with the Euphrates River guarding
the west side. Similar walls enclosed the suburbs. The outer
walls measured twenty-five feet high and eleven feet thick.
They enclosed a triangular area occupied by suburbs and
another royal palace. Their length was slightly over five
miles. Outside the walls, a moat of 262 broad feet gave added
protection. The walls were decorated with images of magical
animals molded in relief in the brickwork. The animals were
glazed yellow and brown against a blue background. For
details, maps and pictures of Babylon see ISBE, 1:349-355;
According to the Esagil Tablet, the city walls enclosed
a huge, seven-stage ziggurat, which rose to the height of
650 feet. The city of Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar’s reign
reached the pinnacle of world power, displaying vulgar
materialism in its political and religious systems, which
were enlarged considerably through the king’s conquests.
Babylonian merchants controlled all the trade that
flowed across western Asia from the Persian Gulf to the
Mediterranean Sea. Nebuchadnezzar spent the tolls of this
trade, the tributes of these subjects, and the taxes of
his people, in beautifying his capital and assuaging the
hunger of the priests. “Is not this the great Babylon that
I built?” He resisted the temptation to be merely a
conqueror; he sallied forth occasionally to teach his
subjects the virtues of submission, but for the most part
he stayed at home, making Babylon the unrivaled capital of
the Near East, the largest and most magnificent metropolis
of the ancient world. Nabopolassar had laid plans for the
reconstruction of the city. Nebuchadnezzar used his long
reign of forty-three years to carry them to completion.
Herodotus, who saw Babylon a century and a half later,
described it as “standing in a spacious plain,“ and
surrounded by a wall fifty-six miles in length, so broad
that a four-horse chariot could be driven along the top,
and enclosing an area of some two hundred square miles.
Through the center of the town ran the palm-fringed
Euphrates, busy with commerce and spanned by a handsome
bridge. Practically all the better buildings were of
brick, for stone was rare in Mesopotamia; but the bricks
were often faced with enameled tiles of brilliant blue,
yellow or white, adorned with animal and other figures in
glazed relief, which remain to this day supreme in their
kind. Nearly all the bricks so far recovered from the site
of Babylon bear the proud inscription: “I am
Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon” (The Story of
Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage, 1:224).
grandiose assertion is echoed by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel
"He said, 'Is not this the great Babylon I
have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and
for the glory of my majesty?'"
The ruins of Babylon
reveal the grounds for the king’s boast. The city
contained many elaborate and expensive buildings. In
addition, to relieve the homesickness of his wife for her
native hills, Nebuchadnezzar constructed, at tremendous
expense, the famous hanging gardens.
In 539 B.C.,
the city of Babylon was captured without a battle by Medo-Persia.
Persia used the city as an administrative center. Desiring
independence, the Babylonians revolted against Persia in
522, 521 and 482 B.C. The last revolt, during the reign of
Xerxes, ended with the destruction and desolation of the
magnificent city. Yahweh had executed His promise. Because
of the LORD's anger she will not be inhabited but will be
completely desolate. All who pass Babylon will be
horrified and scoff because of all her wounds (Jeremiah
The Religious Crisis
Daniel was taken as a captive to this magnificent city
in the first deportation in 605 B.C. Some Israelites were
deported elsewhere. The elderly Jeremiah, along with
fellow citizens, were forced to go to Taphanhes (Daphnae),
Egypt (Jeremiah 43:7). The exiles that went to Egypt fared
well. They were hospitably received and apparently
prospered, though they probably lived in segregation
within its large cities. Interestingly, Yahweh advised the
exiles to make te best of their situation.
houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they
produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for
your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that
they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number
there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and
prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into
exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers,
you too will prosper." (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
to the Israelites’ poor little country of Palestine,
Babylonia was a big, rich and prosperous country. Here the
exiles found an advanced culture, big business and
materialistic splendor. For a long time, Babylon had been
a center of trade. Ezekiel referred to it as “a land of
merchants” and “a city of traders” (Ezekiel 17:4). The
agricultural people of Palestine were introduced to a new
way of life.
Life for the Hebrew exiles was
comparatively pleasant—very different from their
ancestors’ life in Egypt. They maintained some of their
own institutions, enjoyed freedom of movement as well as
employment opportunities, and lived on fertile land. Still
the captivity was intended as a punishment from God. The
emotional trauma of being uprooted from their homes, and
the humiliation of being forced to endure captivity, would
have been felt most keenly at the beginning of the exile.
At the end, relatively few Israelites desired to return to
In spite of their comfortable life
in Babylon, the Israelites questioned God’s justice
(Ezekiel 18:2, 25). Through tears, they cried out for
mercy (Psalm 74), but could see no end to their fate
because their ears and hearts were shut to God’s prophets,
especially to Jeremiah.
This is what the LORD
says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I
will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring
you back to this place (Jeremiah 29:10).
loss of faith threatened the exiles. Compared to the
undreamed of wealth and power around them and the
magnificent temples of the pagan gods, what advantage did
the worship of Yahweh have to offer? Besides, had not
Yahweh failed to protect them from Nebuchadnezzar and his
gods? Israel’s faith was on trial for its life!
For many, life in Babylonia was not difficult; they grew
wealthy and amalgamated with society as evidenced by
archeological discoveries. Excavations at Nippur (a great
mercantile center) which was situated on the great canal (Kebar
River) unearthed a large number of tablets containing
business transactions, which included the names of many
The exile was a time, not only of
humiliation and sorrow, but also of radical changes in
nearly every area of life for the Israelites. Many were
from the southern kingdom of Judah and they adopted the
On the other hand, the hard core
exiles remained sojourners in a strange land. They were
filled with bitter hatred for those who had brought them
to Babylon and longed for faraway Zion (Psalm 137). Clans
and families lived together and the elders of Judah
continued to be recognized. Hence, a national sense of
pride was kept burning.
Daniel and his three
friends illustrated what it meant to be in the world, but
not of the world. They made the most of their situation,
never compromising their faith in Yahweh while under the
subtle and tenacious influences of Babylon. These four men
were shining lights in a dark world; they were living
examples that called for no compromise.
shining light was the prophet Ezekiel. He was God’s
messenger among the captives, rebuking them for sin and
comforting them with promises of deliverance. His
preaching made them realize their captivity was in no way
the result of any limitation in God’s power to protect
them, but it was solely a punishment permitted by Him for
The seventy years of humiliation during
their exile had some obviously beneficial results in the
life of the Jews.
- They were thoroughly cured of idolatry.
- The synagogue came into existence.
- They did a great deal of collecting of their
literature during this time.
- Religion became distinctly more spiritual and
personal for them since they could not observe the
elaborate ceremonies connected with the Temple.
- The Law of Moses took on new significance in the
fire of trials.
- They became a people more genuinely united in
ideals and purpose.
- They came to a new understanding and appreciation
of their destiny
as a nation.
Ironically, Yahweh’s people had been swallowed by a
great fish and they found themselves in the very belly of
idolatry. To cure the Israelites of idolatry, God gave
them a bellyful of it! And it worked! The Israelites, who
came to Babylon as idolaters, returned to their homeland
having been cleansed of idolatry.
Undoubtedly, the prophet’s great polemic (Isaiah 40-48)
against apostatizing offered comfort to the sojourners.
The people would not be spit out upon the land
until the Promised Land had enjoyed its Sabbath rests and
the remnant had a change of heart concerning who actually
rules history. That was the resounding message given by
the two exilic prophets Ezekiel and Daniel, and was
typified by the prophet Jonah.
Babylon was the
cradle of false religion, with Satan working behind the
scenes. False religion first appeared with the tower of
Babel, on the plain of Shinar (Babylonia). It was man’s
first attempt to establish a central, one-world government
without God as its king. The Chaldean Mysteries can be
traced to the days of Semiramis, the wife of Nimrod, who
lived a few centuries after the Flood. By the time of the
exile, these mysteries permeated most areas of life. See
Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons for the extent that
the Chaldean mysteries saturated the ancient world.
The Neo-Babylonian age may be properly designated as a
religious age. In our culture, we cannot begin to fathom
the intensity, depth, and importance that religion played
in the lives of the people in the Ancient Near East. There
were four-thousand gods in the Babylonian pantheon. These
gods went through many changes in name, function and
prominence through wars and mystical events.
city of Babylon was a scene of idolatry. Inscriptions tell
us there were 58 temples, 55 shrines dedicated to Marduk,
300 shrines for celestial divinities, 180 altars for the
goddess Ishtar, 180 altars to the gods Negral and Adad,
and 12 other altars to various deities (Babylon and the
Entrance into the city of Babylon was
through eight gates, each named for a deity. The Ishtar
gate opened onto the Procession Way, which led to the
great temple of Marduk. The gate’s walls were decorated
with enameled bricks portraying 120 lions, representing
Ishtar, and 575
dragons, representing Marduk, and
numerous bulls, representing Bel or Enlil (Wycliffe
Historical Geography of the Bible Lands, 31). The cover
photo of a winged-lion from the Ishtar Gate is an example
of the enameled bricks.
A diagram, appearing in
Alan Millard’s Treasures from Bible Times (Lion Publishing
Corp, 1985), shows nine gates passing through three sets
of walls that open into the city. These gates are the
Ishtar, Sin, Marduk, Zababa, Enlil, Urash, Shamash, Adad,
and Lugalgirra. Each gate was named for a deity.
Archeologists have excavated four of the gates. It should
be noted that descriptions of the city sometimes disagree.
During the exile, the most important gods and
goddesses in the Babylonian pantheon were:
- Marduk, the patron deity of the city of Babylon
- Ishtar, the goddess of fertility and battle
- Sin, the moon god
- Nimurta, the god of hunting and warfare
- Shamash, the sun god
- Adad, a storm god
- Enlil, the god of the wind and sky.
- Urash, the god of the city of Dilbat
The thousands of gods in the pantheon were not
worshiped in the same way, nor did they possess the same
power. Marduk reigned as the supreme god in the pantheon,
making Babylon’s polytheism somewhat monotheistic as gods
were identified as Marduk. This hypothesis is apparent
from the following extract from the “Monotheist Tablet.”
- Ninib is Marduk of the garden (or strength).
- Nergal is Marduk of war.
- Zagag is Marduk of battle.
- Enlil is Marduk of lordship and dominion.
- Nebo is Marduk of trading.
- Sin is Marduk the illuminator of the night.
- Shamash is Marduk of righteousness.
- Rimmon is Marduk of rain.
(In and Around the
Book of Daniel, 96).
Nebuchadnezzar rebuilt the temple, known as Esagila,
for Marduk. It was the most important building in the
city. In addition, the king’s palace was a palace of
heaven and earth, a palace of the lordship, a palace that
was built to honor Marduk, where all deities came and paid
The most important religious and political
celebration in Babylon was Akitu, the New Year Festival.
The chief figure in these rites was Marduk. Akitu provided
an occasion for the annual re-investiture of the king as
well as the symbolic reenactment of the creation of the
world and the fixing of destinies for the coming year.
An excavated prayer of Nebuchadnezzar reveals the
king’s faith in Marduk prior to his encountering the Most
To Merodach (Marduk) my lord I prayed, I
lifted up my hands: ‘O lord merodach (Marduk), wisest of
the gods, mighty prince, thou it was that createst me,
with sovereignty over multitudes of people that didst
Like dear life I love thy exalted
lodging place: in no place have I made a town more
glorious than thy city of Babylon.
According as I
love the fear of thy divinity, and seek after thy
lordship, favourably regard the lifting up of my hands,
hear my supplication!
I verily am the maintaining
king, that maketh glad thine heart, the energetic servant,
that maintaineth all thy town. (In and Around the Book of
Other excavated inscriptions by
Nebuchadnezzar, however, show that he saw himself as
totally controlling his god Marduk. He believed that he
could change the mind of his god by offering sacrifices of
meat, fruit and vegetables to Marduk. Hence, his own fate
was self-determined. Yet, the king said he organized his
armies because “he trusted in the power of Nebo and Marduk.”
He neglected no opportunity to exalt Marduk above all
other gods (ANET, 307). Consequently, Nebuchadnezzar
should be viewed as having monotheistic tendencies when
interpreting the events surrounding him in the book of
From birth to death, the life of the
Babylonian citizen was governed by religious conceptions
and practices. Babylonians believed the future could be
controlled and predicted. Everything that happened was a
result of cause-and-effect relationships. Many things
relating to life could be ascertained by observing the
course of events, though the courses of events were in the
hands of the gods. To the contrary, the very events and
prophecies of the book of Daniel are a polemic against
Babylon, the great prostitute of religion. Consequently,
his book clarifies Yahweh’s sovereignty in the affairs of
humanity, not the pantheon of Babylon.