Archive Links Search Contact Us


The articles in this issue have been divided upinto the following categories







The Destruction of Babylon

American troops, stationed in Iraq at the site of ancient Babylon, may prove to be the instrument of biblical prophesy.
"So shall Babylon, the great city, be thrown down by violence and shall be found no more" (Revelation 18)

Where is ancient Babylon located?

On the balks of the Euphrates, 60 miles south of Baghdad, just outside the modern city of Hilla. Established in the 24th BC and a ruin by the time Christ was born, the site was "restored'' by Saddam Hussein, who built a palace there. Then, in April 2003, US marines under Colonel John Coleman stormed up the Euphrates valley on their way to Bghdad and turned Saddam's palace into a camp and supply depot for some 2,000 troops. Six months later the base was passed to a Polish-led force, which held it until the start of the last year, when it was handed over to the Iraqi culture ministry.

Why is Babylon so renowned?

Because for at least two periods of antiquity, it was the world's most exciting and largest city, with 200,000 residents. It flourished under King Hammurabi (1792-1750BC), credited with handing down one of the first sets of codified law. And it reached even greater glory under Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562BC) who restored Babylon's power and prosperity after a century under thrall to the Assyrian Empire, and extended the rule of his Chaldean dynasty across Egypt and the Levant. In the process he locked horns with the rebellious kings of Judah: three separate invasions of their land culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews to Babylon. Deportation of this sort was a feature of both Assyrian and Babylonian policy and it wasn't until the Chaldean dynasty fell to the Persian, Cyrus the Great, in 53BC that lithe Babylonian "captivity'' came to an end.

What did Nebuchadnezzar do?

He doubled its size and ordered the complete reconstruction of the imperial grounds and the building of the Ishtar Gate, the most spectacular of eight gates ringing the city perimeter. The ancient Greek scholar Herodotus claimed the city was ornamented with solid gold statues and protected by walls 56 miles long, 300ft high and wide enough for two four-horse chariots, to pass along.
(But Herodotus had never actually been there.) Nebuchadnezzar is also credited with building the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (one of the seven wonders of the ancient worlds) allegedly to cheer up his homesick wife, Amyitis.

What happened thereafter?

Under Cyrus and his heir Darius I, Babylon became the administrative capital of the Persian Empire and a centre of learning. In 331BC, the city fell to the young Alexander the Great, under whom it flourished once again. But after Alexander's mysterious death in 323BC in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon went into decline, and by 141BC, when the Parthian Empire took over, it had fallen into desolation, though its reputation as a centre of sorcery and depravity remained.

How much of the city remained?

It was largely built from mud bricks so, unlike the Egyptian pyramids or the Roman Forum, its monuments did not last. As years passed and the Euphrates flooded and desert enriched, it crumbled. Many precious artifacts that did survive were carted off by colonial powers. Nebuchadnezzar's Ishtar Gate was excavated by the German Archeologist Robert Koldewey and reconstructed in the Pergamon museum in Berlin. The French grabbed ceramics, the Turks used the bricks, some still bearing Nebuchadnezzar's name, to build damns on the Euphrates. Yet Babylon is still one of the great archeological sites. Huge amounts of material lie underground, perhaps including the fabled Hanging gardens.

Did Saddam leave the ruins intact?

Saddam Hussein saw himself as a latter-day Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon as a propaganda tool. To "restore'' the site, he imported thousands of Sudanese laborers (Iraqis were at that time tied up in the Iran-Iraq war) to build a palace atop Nebuchadnezzar's original. Yellow brick wails 40ft high, stamped with the dictator's name, replaced mounds of biblical-age mud.
Lest anyone missed the point, he added a huge portrait of himself and Nebuchadnezzar. After the Persian Gulf War in 1991, he commissioned a modern palace in the style of a ziggurat and carved out an underground car park among archaeological deposits. Yet he also did some genuine restoring (e.g. shoring up Processional Way, a wide boulevard of ancient stones). He was about to build a cable car line over the site, when the Americans invaded.

What damage did they do to the site?

A report last year by the British Museum's John Curtis painted a devastating picture. Curtis found that large areas had been covered in gravel brought in from outside, compacted and often chemically treated to provide helipads, car perks and storage areas. US military vehicles had crushed 2600-year-old brick pavements, scattering fragments across the site. More than 12 trenches had been dug into ancient deposits. Vast amounts of sand and earth, mixed with archaeological fragments, including bricks inscribed with Nebuchadnezzar's name, were gouged from the site to fill sandbags. But the most serious damage has been the contamination of areas which have never been excavated: it means that many secrets of Babylon, including the Hanging Gardens, may never be solved. (Troops also took precious objects home as souvenirs. By the summer of 2003, Babylonian cuneiform tablets, the oldest examples of writing, were being sold on bay.)

What next for Babylon?

Iraqi leaders and UN officials hope to restore it, turning it into a cultural centre or possibly an Iraqi theme park. But no major excavation will occur until the security situation in Iraq improves. Meanwhile the sandbags filled by the US military with earth rich in archaeological material are falling apart. In time, they will form yet another layer of occupation at the site, a layer that will come to be known, as likely as not, as the "American stratum''.

The Scribe:
One of the main reasons why Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem was to take all the leading Jewish engineers and architects back to Babylon to plan a city more beautiful then Nineveh. The Jewish engineers quickly found the weak point in the city's location and by diverting the Euphrates River from flowing inside Baghdad; they managed to engineer the surrender of the capitol to the army of Cyrus the Great without a shot being fired.




If you would like to make any comments or contribute to The Scribe please contact us.