I would love to call this period “The Rise of Babel”, but not many people, even Christians scholars, recognize this as Babel. That’s such a shame, since we could have a much stronger witness if Christians could agree on what seems like an obvious conclusion. Archeologists gave the awkward Arabic name to this period in 1931, at a conference in Baghdad, Iraq, at the same time that they chose the name Uruk for the following period, along with four other period names. It might help to notice that Ubaid comes before Uruk when placed in alphabetic order. You might also want to remember Ubaid as BEFORE the fall of Babel and Uruk as AFTER the fall of Babel. We now have the exciting opportunity to put the facts together and see why God was so disappointed with the Ubaid culture.
The first test for our historical reconstruction is population. Our mathematical model for population growth, starting with three couples, provides an optimistic possibility of one hundred thousand people in the world by the end of the sixth generation and five hundred thousand at the time of the abandonment of Babel. Then we compare this to Eridu, which was the first city, which was located in Sumer (Biblical Shinar), and which was the only large settlement in the world at that time. The main mound of Eridu measured 100 acres, which would have supported 8,000 to 50,000 people within the city limits, based upon a range of population densities. This would have been ten per cent of the world population at the time it was abandoned. These figures are both Biblically and archeologically realistic, so our model passes the test.
[Abu Sharein, the main mound of Eridu as seen today]
As a side note, I want to dispel the current popular misconception that 100% of the world’s population was located in Babel until the moment that God divided the languages. This careless thinking is one of the main reasons that academia does not take the Bible seriously on this subject. The Bible says in Genesis 11:1 that “the whole earth” spoke one language, but the next verse does not specifically say that “they”, that is, the people who settled in Sumer, were the same world population mentioned in verse 1. “They” in verse two starts a new thought and could be understood as “some of the people settled on the plain”. Archeologically, it is indisputable that the Natufians, Halafians, and many other cultures were established before people settled in southern Mesopotamia. It is also unrealistic to think that thousands of people would have lived in one place for a hundred years in direct defiance of God’s command to fill the earth. Theologians in the pulpit need to paint a picture that is consistent with reality.
Another critical question is where the people came from who built Babel. In Article 6, I explained how the founders came from the East, but population growth alone could not account for the extraordinary size of the city. Archeologists have wasted a lot of ink speculating about the migration of people to Eridu. Climate change and irrigation are the most popular motivations offered for the incredible growth of Eridu, but this is highly speculative. I would point to the fact that almost all of the non-pottery settlements previously discussed were abandoned without evolving into more permanent cultures. While many tribes may have picked up stakes and moved further away, some evidently migrated to Eridu in order to join the cultural revolution there. Something was happening that attracted people to Eridu. What was it?
That brings us to the question of WHY Eridu became the first city. The most recent research surprisingly shows us that gathering in a congested city to work on irrigated wheat farms was not at all a natural move. James Scott puts it this way, “farming was far more onerous than hunting and gathering… there is no reason why a forager in most environments would shift to agriculture unless forced to by population pressure or some form of coercion.”(1) Archeology is at a loss to explain this migration without the Bible. Genesis 11:4, however, says that the people on the plain of Shinar decided to “make a name for themselves” to keep people together rather than following their natural tendency to spread to new regions. This idea of making a name is filled with significance. People migrated to Babel to follow an ideology rather than to seek an easier life. Life in the city was characterized of disease, abuse, and a loss of freedom.
Whatever this ideology was is the key to understanding all of history, and we’ll expand on that soon enough. We still need to get an appreciation for the direction and scope of human movements during the Ubaid Period. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Most people lived in Fertile Crescent close to mountains, benefitting from sufficient rainfall. Few people lived on the dry, flat plain of Sumer. The Ubaid Period is broken down between three cultural phases, corresponding in my opinion to three generations, which extend through the lifetime of the city of Eridu.(2) During the first phase, which we have already seen, the Ubaid culture grew locally. Eridu’s social experiment was a success and became famous throughout the world. During the second phase, people began moving to Eridu to get hired as workers in the fields and in trade shops. The third phase, covered in the next article, saw an outward spread of the new culture that was even more influential than the Halaf culture. Babel changed the world’s attitude toward life and toward God.
During the time when Eridu was growing in size and drawing people in, those living on the periphery of human expansion continued to move outward. There is good reason to believe that much of the Mediterranean coast was being explored. Greece, Crete, and Bulgaria became the focus of new settlements. Tilki Tepe on Lake Van was established as mining grew in the mountains. The Kura-Araxes culture grew in the Caucasus region, which would have opened up the shores of the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, and the Crimean. Jaitun was established in northern Iran, which was probably the jumping off point for those who first reached the Yellow River in China. Southern Iran had settlements all the way to the pre-Harappan culture of the Indus Valley. The Faiyum A farming culture spread from the Levant to Egypt. All these settlements on the periphery were small and sparse.
Nine verses in the Bible provide a brief description of the most significant event that took place in history since the Flood. Ubaid II saw the rise of the first city, Eridu, which was obviously Babel. The social experiment was so attractive that entire tribes seem to have migrated from the more densely populated North to get jobs there. Many of the family groups that were the farthest away from where they started were not affected by the frenzy of building Babel and continued to move farther away. Those who were closest found it difficult to escape the seduction of prosperity and power that was being sold by the great city at the mouth of the great river.
(1) Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott 2017