03. IN SEARCH OF THE HISTORIC NIMROD
by Bruce W. Warren
IN SEARCH OF THE HISTORIC NIMROD. By Bruce W. Warren, adjunct professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University, and John A. Tvedtnes, instructor at the BYUSalt Lake Center of Continuing Education and doctoral candidate in Egyptian and Semitic languages at Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
ONE OF THE MOST ENIGMATIC personages in the book of Genesis is Nimrod, son of Cush and grandson of Ham, the "mighty hunter before the Lord" (Gen. 10:89). He is said to have built the towns of Babel, Erech, and Accad in the land of Shinar (=Sumer) in southern Mesopotamia,' and also the northern Mesopotamian cities of Nineveh, RehobothIr, Calah,l and Resen (Gen. 10: 10 11).1
PLAIN OF SHINAR
The plain of Shinar is also the site of the building of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:24). Jewish tradition makes Nimrod the first king of Babel (= Babylon)4 and credits him with the building of the great tower for the purpose of avenging himself on God.' In this connection, we note that the Nimrod of Greek mythology built a tower for the use of the Titans in their attack on the gods atop Mount Olympus.'
Late traditions make Nimrod not only the first king and founder of Babylon, but also associate him with gaining power by magical means and of teaching men to kill and eat the flesh of animals. The same stories consider him to be a giant.' Indeed, the Syriac of Genesis 10:89 calls Nimrod a "warlike giant," while the LXX renders the Hebrew gibbbr (KJV "mighty") of Gen. 10:8 as gigas, "giant."
Nimrod's prowess as a hunter is a subject of discussion in Jewish traditions. It is said that he possessed a magic power that derived from the garments of Adam and Eve. These, Ham had stolen out of the ark and passed down to his son Cush and to Nimrod. Animals would voluntarily lie down before the great hunter when he was arrayed in these garments. His irresistible power also brought men to accept him as king.'
Numerous attempts have been made to identify Nimrod with historical or legendary figures from Mesopotamia.' Boscawen tied the biblical account to a Babylonian story of a wicked king who gathered his people atop a mound (the tower) and caused them to sin before the gods."' Other scholars, noting that Nimrod's father was Cush, speculated that Nimrod was the Bible's way of representing the Kassite (= Cushite) invaders of the Late Bronze era, who took Babylon and ruled for a period of four centuries.''
Still others have sought to identify Nimrod with one of the early rulers of Mesopotamia, such as the great Sargon of Akkad. Indeed, Akkad (Agade, the Accad of KJV) is one of the cities whose building is credited to Nimrod (Gen. 10:10). Sargon is known from later Mesopotamian history as the monarch who unified all of Mesopotamia and sedentarized the region of Subartu. 12 For his actions in settling the Domads, he suffered famine at the hands of the god Mardiuk.
That the purpose of the tower and city of Babel was to centralize power and to do away with noinadism is hinted at in the Bible (Gen. 11:4). The punishment inflicted upon the builders by God is also mentioned. Thus, there are superficial reasons to accept the identification of Nimrod with Sargon. This is reinforced by the fact that Sargon's name (Akkadian Shamikin) is a mere title, meaning "legitimate king." His real name is unknown to us.
Apollodorus identified Nimrod with the Nimis of the classical historians." just as Nimrod is said in Jewish tradition to have lived in the time of Abraham," so too Nintis is placed in the time of Abraham by Eusebius, 15 Paulus Orosius," and later by Syncellus. I T Orosius (5th century AD) makes Nimis the grandson of Nimrod and credits Ninus, not Nimrod, with the building of Babylon.
Ninus was the son of Belus (= Baal), king of Assyria. Like Nimrod, he is said to have founded various citiesnotably Nineveh (Assyrian Ninua, thus resembling Greek Ninus)and with the earliest conquest of Al the people of the East. His wife (sometimes called his mother, evidently confusing Ninus with his son Ninyas) was Semiramis, who reigned as queen after his death. Continuing Ninus' military conquests, she is said to have built or restored the city of Babylon, with its hanging gardens (elsewhere attributed to Nebuchadrezzar 11), and to have constructed, in its center, a great temple to Belus. This would have been a templetower or ziggurat, hence similar to the tower of Babel."
Semiramis, however, appears to be Sammuramat, the Babylonian consort of the Assyrian king ShamshiAdad V. After her husband's death, she was regent for her son, the boyking Adadnirari 111. He reigned c.810783 BC, late enough in the historical development of Israel to preclude identifying him with the Nimrod of great antiquity. It is possible, however, that Adadnirari was denominated Ninus bv the Greeks because of his capital, Nineveh (Ninua).
Some scholars, while continuing to identify Semiramis with Sammuramat, have looked to the Assyrian king, TukultiNinurta I (c.12441208 BC) as the source of the Ninus legend. Speiser was the first to do so." It seems more likely, however, that it was this king's namesake, the god Ninurta (tinder the form Nimurda), who was the prototype for Nimrod."' Ninurta was the Babylonian and Assyrian war god credited with teaching the people arts, crafts, and sciences, just as Nimrod is said by Epiphanius to have established the sciences of magic and astronomy."
In the Ashur text of the famous battle wit t e enemy demon Zu, it is Ninurta who prevails. The hero, however, goes tinder other names in different versions. The Susa text has Ningirsti. In a hymn of Ashurbanipal of Assyria, it is Marduk (chief god at Babylon), while in the Sumerian version, it is LugalBanda who defeats Zu (ANET 113). The latter two names represent individuals who could be readily identified with Nimrod.
The Akkadian name Marduk derives front the Sumerian MAR.UTU, a huntergod. He is said to have led a revolt of the gods against his parents, after which he was enthroned as king of the gods. In Babylonian tradition, it was he who founded Babylon (Babilu, "gate of the gods"). His temple at Babylon bore the name E.SAGILA, "house that lifts up the head", and the tower associated with it was called, in Sumerian Etemenanki, "house of the foundation of heaven and earth." The similarity to the tower of Babel is evident.
The theme of the rebellious hunter who wanted to ascend to the top of heaven fits the Nimrod story
quite well. Moreover, it would have been very natural for the Jews to call Marduk (who was also the Babylonian god of war) by the name Nimrod. Both would probably have been perceived as containing the Hebrew root MRD, meaning "to rebel. `22
Other ancient Near Eastern traditions would seem to connect Nimrod with the rebellious huntergod. For example, we have the Hittite Kumarbi, who had a stone giant named Ullikummi, from whose head he intended to launch an attack on the seventy gods of heaven, much like the Greek Nimrod.:' In Jewish tradition, the angel Shemhazai, one of the leaders in the rebellion against God, repented of his misdeed and hung himself upsidedown in the sky as the constellation called Orion by the Greeks .21 Orion, it will be recalled, being both a giant and hunter, thus fits the description of Nimrod. Indeed, the 7th century AD Chronicon Paschale indicates that Nintrod, after his death, was deified in the coDstellation called Orion by the Greeks but Nimrod by the Persians .25 (See illustration, 1). 1, above.)
The Babylonian war/hunter god Marduk also went tinder the name Bel, which recalls the Greek tradition that Nintis was the son of Belus. Marduk, was, in effect, the real king of Babylon, and all properties were, in early times, subject to control by his priests. Even foreign conquerors such as the Assyrian and Persian kings had to be recognized by Marduk as his earthly representatives by "grasping the horns of Bel."
It is in this light that we must read the words of Isaiah, chapter 14, addressed to the "king of Babylon" (vs. 4), who "ruled the nations" (vs. 6). Fallen from heaven, he is identified with the planet Ventis (vs. 12). His goal had been to ascend to heaven, to exalt his throne above the stars, to sit on the holy mountain (the tower?) and to be like God (vss. 1314). During the course of his reign, be had brought fear and destruction to the nations (vss. 1617). The picture painted by Isaiah fits both the story of Marduk and the Nintrod traditions.
As noted above, both Marduk and Nintirta have been depicted as the godbero who defeated the demon Zu. Another heroking credited with the defeat of Zu is "the god LugalBanda, a shepherd," who "ruled 1200 years" in the city of Uruk, according to the Sumerian king list (ANET 266). Uruk is the Erech of the Bible, one of the cities built by Nimrod. Its most famous king was the son of LugalBanda, one Gilgarnesb, who considered his father to be divine (see ANET 49, 80, 85, 504). LugalBanda's reign of c.2800
BC would place him in the right time period for identification with Nimrod.
LugalBanda is the first king on the Sumerian king list to have the element LU.GAL in his name. The meaning "great man" recalls Nimrod's title of GIBBOB, "great/mighty one." Deimel and Poplicka identified Nimrod with LugalBanda .215
Of interest is the fact that Poplicka also renders the name LugalBanda as LugalMarda '27 with which Carlton found agreement." The element LU.GAL ("great man, king") often alternates in Surherian titles with EN ("lord, governor"). Consequently, LugalMarda is likely to be the same as EnMarda, the god of Marda (ANET 611). The name Nimrod could derive from EnMarad or even from its alternate reading, NinMarad, with assimilation of the second N, as would occur in Hebrew before a consonant. In anv event, none of these appear to be personal names but rather are titles of royalty or divinity.
Before expanding his political power, LugalBanda bore the title of EnAratta, "Lord of Aratta," a citystate in the north, under the name of Ensukusbsiranna .2' Aratta is evidently the sante as Urartu, the land called Ararat in the Bible. Indeed, Kramer renders the name LugalBanda as LtigalAratta."') Taking this one step further, Deimel and Poplicka identify LugalBanda with the god Nin Ninurta." The divine name, as Jakeman points out, probably derives front NinUrartu (= EnAratta)."
It is interesting that the element KUSH should appear in the earlier name borne by LugalBanda (i.e., Ensukushsiranna), since Cush is the name of Nimrod's father in the Bible. The name evidently ties in with the city Kish, just as the city Marad appears to tie to the name Nimrod. In the Nabonidus Chronicle, the gods of the cities of Marad and Kish are listed together (ANET 306). In the Sunterian literature, we read that the city of Kish was built by a king named EXANA (ANET 517).
In view of the fact that the names Ninurta (= Niinurda), Marduk and LugalBanda (= En.Marad) alternate in the story of the battle with Zu, these names may possibly denote a single individual. The existence of the element MRD in all three riames adds to the identification and to the tie with Nimrod. One wonders if lie may not have borne different throne names in the various cities under his suzerainty. Chart 1, which follows, illustrates this possibility and presents Nimrod/ LugalBanda in his deified forms in Sumer, as well as in the stories found in the Bible and in the Greek accounts. The Mesopotamian kings involved in the above reconstruction are listed and dated in Chart Ii.
In conclusion, we believe it safe to conclude that there is sufficient evidence to place the biblical Nimrod in ancient Sumer, where he was noted for his kingship, his conquests, and his building enterprises.
ANET James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.
JAOS Journal of the American Oriental Society.
JNES Journal of Near Eastern Studies.
KJV King James Version of the Bible.
LXX Septuagint, third century BC, Greek translation of the Bible.
1. Tbe KJV Bible also lists Calneh, which was shown by Albright to mean "all of them" and hence not to be a proper name. See William Foxwell Albright, "The End of Calneh in Sbinar," JNES 111 (1944), p. 254.
2. Birs Nimrud, southwest of Babylon, was once thought to be the ruins of Babel because of the tower found there. The site of ancient Calah, in Assyria (northern Mesopotamia), has long been known by the name of Nimrod, evidently from the biblical hunter. Micah 5:6 (7th century BC) refers to "the land of Nimrod" at the entrance to Assyria, while Ether 2:1 in the Book of Mormon says that a valley named Nimrod lay to the north of the area where the great tower was built.
3. A preferred rendition of the Hebrew in this verse (assuming loss of the directional HEH) is, "From that land he went forth to Ashur (Assyria) and built." Hence, Nimrod is also credited with building other cities in northern Mesopotamia.
4.Jasher 12:45; 27:2.
5.Jasher 9:26, 35. Perhaps the earliest reference is in Flavius Josepbus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1, iv, 23; vi, 3.
6. J. E. Zimmerman, Dictionary of Classical Mythology (NewYork City: Bantam Matrix, 1966), p. 175.
7. Clemens Romanus, Homilia ix, 35; Chronicon Paschale xxxiv.
8. Jasher 7:2332; 27:122. See also Lewis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, Vol. 1, p. 177.
9. For lengthy discussions concerning Nimrod, see the following: Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1952), pp. 154164, with footnotes; Robert Graves and Raphael Patai, Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis (New York City: McGrawHill, 1966), pp. 125129; and E. A. Speiser, "In Search of Nimrod," EretzIsrael V (Mazar vol., 1958), pp. 32*36*.
10. Boscawen, "The Legend of the Tower of Babel," Bibl. Archaeological Society Transactions V (1876), 303ff.
11. Cf. William Smith, Smith's Bible Dictionary (New York City: Pyramid Edition, 1967), p. 451. Haupt identified Nimrod the son of Cush with the Kassite king Nazimarattas (Graves and Patai, supra, p. 127, fn. 2).
12. For the story of Sargon, see ANET 119, 266268. Though Sargon began his career at Kish, in which some see the biblical Cush, nevertheless, there are reasons to doubt his identification with Nimrod. For example, it was Sargon who removed dirt from the site of Babylon and built another Babylon beside his capital, Akkad (ANET 266). He is, therefore, more a destroyer of the original Babylon than its builder.
13. Fragment 68 in Midleri Fragmenta (Paris, 18461851), Vol. i, p. 440.
14. Jasher 27:2, etc. Nibley deals at length with the subject in his Abraham in Egypt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981), pp. 6165.
15. Eusebius, Chronicle 1.
16. Paulus Orosius, The Seven Books of History Against the Pagans VIII, 2. In 1, 4, he says that Nimrod lived 1300 years before the founding of Rome. In 11, 3, he notes that Semiramis founded Babylon nearly 1164 years before it was despoiled by the Medes (which occurred in 539 BC).
17. Syncellus (Paris ed., 1652), p. 170, also p. 96.
18. Regarding the Ninus legend, see Ovid, Metamorphoses IV; Justin, Historia Rom. Script. Il (Trogus Pompeius); Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca 11; St. Augustine, City of God 21.14; Paulus Orosius, The Seven Books of History Against the Pagans 1, 4; 11, 23; VII, 2.
19. See E. A. Speiser, supra, fii. 9.
20. Nimrod was identified with Ninurta by Albert T. Clay, H. V. Hilprecht, Peter Jensen, and A. Ungnad. See S. A. Pallis, Chronology of the Shubad Culture (Copenhagen: PovI Bramer, Nooregade, 1941), p. xiii ff.
21. Epiphanius, Adv. Haereses, 1, i.
22. In later Jewish lore, Nimrod's son is called Mardon, deriving from the same root (jasher 7:4748; 11:7). Similar in form is the name of the Kassite god Murudash, who was identified with Ninurta. (See Graves and Patai, supra, p. 127, fn. 2.)
23. Graves and Patai, supra, p. 128, In. 4.
24. Yalqut Shimom Gen. 44; Bereshit Rabbati 2930, cited in ibid., pp. 100101.
25. Chronicon Paschale (Bonn ed., 1832), Vol. 1, p. 64. See also Layard, Nineveh and Its Remains (London, 1849), Vol. II, pp.439440, citing Birch.
26. See Joseph Poplicka, "The Biblical Nimrod and the Kingdom of Eanna," JAOS, XLIX (1929), pp. 303, 311.
27. Ibid., p. 312.
28. P. Carlton, Buried Empires: The Earliest Civilizations of the Middle East (New York City: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1939), pp. 237,287.
29. Samuel Noah Kramer, Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (Philadelphia: University Museum, Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1952), pp. 1, 33.
30. Samuel Noah Kramer, "Man's Golden Age: A Sumerian Parallel to Gen. 11: 1, JAOS, LXIII (1943), p. 193.
31. Poplicka, op. cit.
32. We are indebted to M. Wells Jakeman, who first pointed out this correspondence in a private communication to Bruce W.. Warren at Brigham Young University.
Editor's Note. At the SEHA Annual Fall Round Table held in Salt Lake City on November 20, 1953, cash awards were given to winners of the Society's Prize Papers Contest. The firstplace prize went to Bruce W. Warren for his paper, "Nimrod and His Times."
The above paper, "ID Search of the Historic Nimrod," incorporates most of Dr. Warren's 1953 paper and also reports additional research he has carried out over the ensuing 30 years. To this, John A. Tvedtnes has added his findings of recent years, largely in classical and in biblical and noncanonical Jewish sources.
Dr. Warren's 1953 paper, "Nimrod and His Times," is summarized in Progress in Archaeology, pp. 1617. Nimrod is also mentioned in ibid., p. 15.