Biblical Paleoarcheology

A Tale of Two Cities

article #39

The cities of Eridu (Babel) and Uruk (Ereck) have a significant place in (1) the Bible, (2) archeology, and (3) cuneiform literature. These are two real cities from ancient history. We will briefly consider them in each of the three contexts just mentioned.

(1) Babel and Ereck in the Bible
Let’s begin with the Bible. Four cities are mentioned as being the beginning of the kingdom of Nimrod, who was the great grandson of Noah.
“The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.” Genesis 10:10
Nimrod was king over these four cities. The Bible locates these cities in the land of Shinar, which has been identified with the region of southern Mesopotamia, which called itself Sumer. Hebrew had no vowels, so Sh-n-r is essentially the same as S-m-r. Accad and Calneh have not been found or identified, but the first two were probably more important. Note that Babylon was further north than Sumer and had was founded much later, so it could not have been Babel.

So Nimrod was the first king. He ruled over multiple cities. It was therefore a new concept and a dramatic change for power to be exerted over so many by so few. We should be able to identify the first kingdom and the first king in history. It is not necessary for the names to match, although that would be nice.

This first city of Babel is mentioned again in Genesis 11:1-9 as an undertaking that displeased God to the point that He miraculously caused people to speak different languages. Its name was only given as an afterthought, in response to the confusion that resulted in people not being able to understand one another. In other words, the city’s name was changed to Babel, because it means “confusion”.
“Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth:” (Genesis 11:9a)
The city probably had another name by which is was known before the fateful event. Eridu or NUN.KI is the Sumerian name they used for it. Babel means confusion, so it would not have been called “confusion” before the confusion of languages. It would have been called Eridu.

The second city, Erech, is identified with Uruk. The consonants are essentially the same when you take out the vowels, R-CH versus R-K. Nimrod was king over both Babel and Erech, according to Genesis 10:10. He seems to have ruled over them all at the same time, even though Babel was the location of the “tower”. Note carefully, that there is no reason to think that Nimrod’s reigned ended when Babel was abandoned. He was not killed. It seems to have continued to grow by relocating its center at Uruk and finding ways to regroup the factions and learn to communicate between different languages. This is what we learn from the Bible.

(2) Eridu and Uruk in archeology
Eridu was excavated four different times between 1855 and 1949, and again more recently. Seven mounds are spread over an area of 100 acres, as the people seem to have favored different areas of the larger city at different times. No wall surrounded the city, which identifies it with the earlier settlements in the north rather than the later walled cities. Only Tel Brak in the Khabur River region was larger, at 136 acres, but most settlements were one to five acres. Such a large area as Eridu can only be partially excavated by selectively choosing the most promising locations, like drilling for oil. Mound One was chosen because it was the raised platform upon which a succession of temple structures were built. This was the “migdol” or the “tower of Babel” that was associated with the city. Most of the city has not been excavated.

Uruk, known today as Warka, was excavated in the 1850’s by Sir Henry Rawlinson, who immediately recognized it as biblical Erech of Genesis 10. Uruk was smaller than Eridu at the time that the latter was abandoned, but Uruk later grew to an enormous 530 acres. It quickly became the largest city in the world, and the first city to be surrounded by a defensive wall, except maybe for Jericho. As seen in the drawing above, Uruk was larger than Jerusalem and Athens, and almost as large as Rome, more than two thousand years before these other cities existed. If cities grew from a few acres to over 500 acres in just a couple of generations, as we believe, then this certainly was a revolution that deserved mention in the Bible. Even more interesting is the fact that people abandoned the smaller villages to congregate in one particular location in the world. First it was Eridu, then it was Uruk. How many times has that happened?

(3) Eridu and Uruk in cuneiform literature

The Sumerian King List gives the names of kings who reigned in various cities from the time of the first king and kingdom to the kings of Isin, at the time of the Patriarchs. Several versions exist, but the earliest one dates from centuries after the first king, and they are all fraught with exaggeration and errors. They do describe a world-wide flood and kings who lived extremely long lives before the flood. Would this not be a badly distorted version of the correct history recorded in Genesis? In any case, one version of the tablets begins with, “After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridu.” One of the oldest historical documents therefore affirms that the first king, which would have to be Nimrod, ruled from Eridu.

A second document, sometimes called Inanna and Enki, describes the transfer of power from Eridu to Uruk. Most of the document is a worthless fable, written centuries after the true events, but a basic idea comes through. A rich and powerful culture existed at Eridu and was moved to Uruk. Not just the government, but the entire culture transplanted itself in another city. We will examine it more closely next week, in order to distill some important facts from it.

A third document, the list of occupations, lists about a hundred positions for work under the king. This class system was radically new and permeated the city-state dynastic systems that sprang up throughout the region and the civilized world. Eridu and Uruk changed society and the world.

Summary
The Bible, archeology, and ancient literature agree there was a sudden shift in society toward a highly structured class system under perpetual kingship and priesthood, and this began at Eridu and Uruk. The damage done there still persists in tyrannical governments around the world. Even though academic scholars pass it off as another historical event, either without consequence or demonstrating remarkable progress, Christians see it as the wicked rebellion of Babel. Next week, we will drill own into the details of the changes that took place at Babel.

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