Middle Eastern and Mediterranean history before Abraham has richly come to light in recent years but still remains a mystery to most people. How can we organize and simplify the most interesting and critical epoque of our history, our origin, so that it becomes table talk for even our kids? Surprisingly, the answer lies in the one event that the Bible mentions for this period, the tower of Babel.
Evidence of Babel
The city/tower/language/dispersion event mentioned in Genesis 11:1-9 had global importance. It should be quite visible in archeology. Even those who deny the miraculous aspect of this event can see the physical evidence that remains. The first cities of Eridu and Uruk left cultural evidence of their global influence for hundreds of miles around. Pottery, architecture, and artifacts from these periods are so clear and widespread that they define strata in excavations that separate it from all that happened before Babel and all that happened after it. This was truly a spectacular event.
Eridu can be clearly identified as Babel because it was the first city. It had 18 strata, divided into 3 periods, and the top strata show a foundation that was laid for an unfinished temple. The city was then abruptly abandoned. The culture of Eridu is now known as the Ubaid Period, which aggressively expanded in all directions to “make a name” for itself.
The city of Uruk, forty miles from Eridu, became the new post-Babel home of the leaders of this movement (children of Ham). There, they regrouped and drew together remnants of people speaking diverse languages. Writing began at Uruk as simple cuneiform business receipts between tribes that could not communicate orally. The culture, known as the Uruk Period, eventually spread as far as Egypt and India. The Ubaid and Uruk Periods are the most visible and widespread phenomena of ancient history.
The Timing of Babel
Absolute dating before Abraham and the first historical records is nearly impossible. In this uncertainty, geology has imposed itself on archeology for dates. The naturalistic explanation for geology supposes that rocks were laid down slowly over millions of years all over the world. This assumes there was no Flood and stretches out the birth of civilization from hundreds of years to eight thousand years. If God caused a supernatural global flood, on the other hand, then the Pliocene stratum marks the end of the receding waters and Pleistocene and Holocene strata were laid down after the Flood. All human fossils are contained in the latter two post-flood layers, including paleolithic cavemen. The dates are simply wrong.
Naturalistic thinking assigns one thousand years to three building periods at Uruk, two thousand years to three building periods at Eridu, and millions of years back to fossils of the supposed first humans. The same events fit as well or better into a theistic time framework. We can delve deeper into this subject in later posts.
What if there was a global flood? A good Biblical date for the Flood is 2348 BC. This places God closer and makes man more responsible. The abandonment of Babel occurred during the days of Peleg, 100 to 130 years later. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for the Ubaid and Uruk periods to be more than 50 years each. Highly intelligent people who were “being fruitful and multiplying” could have easily filled the world and performed great feats in a short period of time. “Deep time” and “young earth” are opposing historical reconstructions affected by our faith in God and the Bible.
The Biblical model identifies human migrations outward from the Fertile Crescent. The first farmers raised wheat and barley in settlements such as Çayönü. The first ranchers raised cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs in the same area. The first strongly-typed pottery styles are also found in this area.
Civilization expanded in migration waves to the rest of the world. This is strongly supported by archeology when we understand that the first people were highly intelligent and highly skilled. John Osgood explains it with the pond ripple effect, like when you throw a rock into a pond. The expanding rings are succeeding migrations. The outer rings represent explorers who traveled light, while the inner rings represent farmers and ranchers who settled down and expanded much slower. In other words, the Neanderthal tribe began pursuing Mastodons into Europe at the same time that other tribes were building settlements in the Near East. This started before Babel.
Totalitarianism began at Babel. Settlements in the Fertile Crescent were egalitarian before this. The Ubaid Period showed mild class distinctions which became more pronounced in the Uruk Period. The Sumerian King List says that kingship began on earth in the city of Eridu and was passed to Uruk and other city-states. Eventually, more than a dozen city-states sprang up in Sumer with walls, palaces, temples, and new gods. Language divided them. This period when many kings ruled was called the Early Dynastic Period because it was the precursor to stronger dynasties such as Assyria and Babylon.
The Early Dynastic Period in Mesopotamia loosely corresponds to the Egyptian dynasties of the Old Kingdom, being linked by Cush, Mizarim, and Nimrod. The only historical dynasty of this time in Mesopotamia comes from the city-state of Lagash. It covers about a century and is not strongly confirmed. After many kings ruled over cities, Sargon the Great established the first empire, somewhere around the time of Abraham. While many people never lived in cities, the domination of kings and cities rose dramatically after Babel. We can understand Abraham as part of the pastoralist Aramaean culture that did not follow the way of the great cities.
Rethinking Ancient History
Most people are aware of the popular reconstruction of human origins based on a naturalistic interpretation of geology. Generations have grown up on Star Trek, the Flintstones, Planet of the Apes, and Jurassic Park. It takes a conscious effort to free ourselves from the social prejudices of human evolution and deep time. Archeology continually spawns terms, such as Epipaleolithic and PPN-A, that are intimidating to the novice. It’s a shame that Christians cannot be more encouraged to learn about our true heritage.
Civilization began in Southwest Asia, also called the Near East or Middle East, not in Africa or Europe. The most visible event of this time was the city of Babel, which is seen in artifacts from the Ubaid and Uruk periods. We can therefore simplify ancient history into the time before Babel, Babel, and the time after Babel.
More Information: Biblical Chronology