It matters how cities began. Strangely enough, the US is strongly divided between the politics of urban areas and that of rural areas. The moral values of New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and Miami affect the rest of the nation. And don’t forget Hollywood. The first city of history had moral problems, just as modern cities do. Why did cities suddenly spring up in southern Mesopotamia and what can they teach us?
Those who begin from a biblical starting point see Babel as the first city and identify it with historical Babylon. This is understandable because Babylon was Israel’s nemesis in the Old Testament. Archeologists quickly identified the ziggurat at Babylon with the tower of Babylon, which seemed to seal the deal. Moreover, the same Hebrew word is translated both Babel and Babylon. While this identification has encouraged the faith of many people, the down side is that Babylon does not have any known early archeological presence that can shed light on the biblical narrative. It’s as if Babylon didn’t exist at the time of Babel. The only thing linking Babylon to Babel is its name, which was probably given to it at a much later time than Babel.
In his book The Tower of Babel, Bodie Hodge discusses every imaginable aspect of Babel except where it was located. He simply assumes it was Babylon. Dr. Floyd Nolan Jones, in The Chronology of the Old Testament, quotes Simplicius of Cilicia and Berosus to calculate 2233 BC as the date of the founding of Babylon. Although there is a slim chance that Babylon might have existed at that time, there is no archeological evidence to support it. The more likely explanation is that Babylon inherited its name from Eridu sometime after the original Babel was abandoned. In fact, archeological evidence supports a transfer of authority between the two cities.
Those who begin from the perspective of archeology have discovered that the oldest cities are Eridu and Uruk in southern Mesopotamia. A city is defined as having at least ten thousand inhabitants, even though population size can only be arrived at by guessing. Eridu was the first city. It was responsible for the Ubaid culture that spread to other settlements throughout the Near East. For unknown reasons, the people suddenly stopped building Eridu and abandoned it. The city of Uruk, 40 miles away, continued to grow. Uruk was responsible for the Uruk culture that also strongly influenced the world around it. Pottery and building styles from Eridu and Uruk have been found in settlements for hundred of miles around them. Babylon had no pottery style, no early existence, and no influence on other settlements.
It seems obvious that ancient Eridu was Babel and that its story has been overlooked. By allowing the Bible to be the guide and archeology to fill in the details, we can learn more about our past than from only one without the other. Sign up, if you have not already, to receive short and informative articles regarding life before Abraham. What else can we learn from the first cities?