Babylon (Isaiah 13)

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Illustration: This is what they think ancient Babylon looked like

Babylon was one of the greatest cities of ancient Mesopotamia. Already a fairly important city by 2100 B.C., it became the hub of the Old Babylonian empire under Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.). Babylon soon declined after Hammurabi’s death, however, and was sacked by the Hittites around 1531 B.C. But it became powerful again under the Neo-Babylonian empire. This was Babylon’s most glorious period; it dominated the ancient Near East from 625 to 539 B.C. The most famous king of this period was Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 B.C.), who, using the vast riches he had accumulates from his conquests, transformed Babylon into perhaps the most magnificent capital in antiquity.

The ruins of ancient Babylon, 83 km south of Baghdad in modern Iraq, encompasses approximately 2,100 acres. Excavations have revealed the glory of the city constructed by Nebuchadnezzar II, particularly that of its fortification system. An inner city of around 1,140 acres was built up along both sides of the Euphrates River. This was surrounded by a wall 8,9 km long, incorporating an inner wall 6,5 m wide and another wall 3,7 m wide, with a 7,3 m space between them filled with earth – resulting in a total defence depth of 17,4 m. Outside the outer wall was a moat, fed by the Euphrates, ranging in width from 1,5 to 76,2 m. To the east of the inner city were two more double walls totalling 7,3 km in length. To provide additional protection against invasion from the north, Nebuchadnezzar constructed an enormous wall 32 km north of Babylon. It was 4,9 m thick and extended from the Euphrates to the Tigris River, a distance of approximately 49 km. Within the city Nebuchadnezzar’s magnificent palace occupied an area of about 50 acres. Along with this were over 500 temples, as well as numerous shrines and other buildings.

Babylon held a prominent place in the minds of the prophets. Isaiah and Jeremiah both predicted its downfall (Isaiah 13-14, Jeremiah 50-51). Jeremiah also prophesied that the city’s famous walls would be torn down (Jeremiah 50:15, 51;44, 58). In 539 B.C., after defeating the Babylonians at the northern defence wall, Cyrus the Great and his Medo-Persian army entered Babylon without a contest. The Babylonian Chronicle describes the fall of Babylon to Cyrus. In 482 B.C. Babylon’s revolt against the Persian king Xerxes led to the razing of its fortifications.

Therafter Babylon experienced a slow decline. Alexander the Great died there, and long after the exile the city was still home to a sizable Jewish population. In Revekation 18 Babylon represents godless human culture. Today little remains of the city’s former grandeur (see Isaiah 13:20-22, Jeremiah 50:3, 39-40, 51:29, 43).


 

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