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Brueghel-tower-of-babel

Pieter Bruegel's The Tower of Babel depicts a traditional Nimrod inspecting stonemasons.

Nimrod (Hebrew: נִמְרוֹד, Modern Nimrod Tiberian נִמְרֹד ; Nimrōḏ Template:Lang-arc Arabic: نمرود‎) is a Mesopotamian monarch mentioned in the Book of Genesis, who also figures in many legends and folktales. He is depicted in the Bible as a mighty ruler and nation builder who founded many cities, including the great Babel or Babylon. Despite his stance as a powerful leader, his reputation was tarnished by his traditional association with the construction of the Tower of Babel. Outside of the Bible, several ruins preserve Nimrod's name,[1] and he is featured in the midrash.

Biblical accounts

Mention of Nimrod in the Bible is rather limited. According to the "documentary hypothesis" of the Bible's origin, the Jahwist writer(s) make the earliest mention of Nimrod.[1] He is described as the son of Cush, grandson of Ham, great-grandson of Noah; and as "a mighty one on the earth" and "a mighty hunter before the Lord". He also appears in the First Book of Chronicles and in the Book of Micah.

Nimrod is said to be the founder and king of the first empire after the Flood, and his realm is connected with the Mesopotamian towns Babylon (Babel), Uruk, Akkad and Calneh. He is mentioned in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10), where he is said to have founded many cities. Owing to an ambiguity in the original Hebrew text, it is unclear whether it is he or Asshur who additionally founded Nineveh, Resen, Rehoboth-Ir and Calah, and both of these interpretations are reflected in the various English versions.(Genesis 10:8–12)

Traditions and legends

Though not clearly stated in the Bible, Nimrod has since ancient times traditionally been considered the creator of the Tower of Babel. Since his kingdom included the towns in Shinar, it is usually further assumed that it was under his direction that the building began; this is the view adopted in the Targums and later texts such as the writings of Josephus. Some extrabiblical sources,[specify] however, assert to the contrary, that Nimrod left the district before the building of the tower.

According to Hebrew traditions, Nimrod was of Mizraim by his mother, but came from Cush son of Ham and expanded Asshur, which he inherited. His name has become proverbial as that of a "mighty hunter". His "kingdom" comprised Babel (Babylon), Erech (Uruk), Accad (Akkad), and Calneh, in the land of Shinar, otherwise known as the land of Nimrod (Genesis 10:8-12; 1 Chronicles 1:10, Micah 5:6).

Josephus wrote:

Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power…

Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high, sooner than any one could expect; but the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was. It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. When God saw that they acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they were not grown wiser by the destruction of the former sinners; but he caused a tumult among them, by producing in them diverse languages, and causing that, through the multitude of those languages, they should not be able to understand one another. The place wherein they built the tower is now called Babylon, because of the confusion of that language which they readily understood before; for the Hebrews mean by the word Babel, confusion…

The Book of Jubilees mentions the name of "Nebrod" (the Greek form of Nimrod) only as being the father of Azurad, the wife of Eber and mother of Peleg (8:7). This account would thus make him an ancestor of Abraham, and hence of all Hebrews.

One tradition[who?] suggests that Nimrod was killed by a wild animal. Another[who?] says that Shem killed him because he had led the people into the worship of Baal, then tore his body to pieces and had them sent them out as a warning to others not to indulge in the false worship. Later his mother or wife, Shemiramis, collected them, put them together and claimed he was still alive, but had become a god, similar to the legend of Isis and Osiris. Still another mention of Nimrod is in Book of Jasher Chapter 27:7, which ascribes his death to Esau (grandson of Abraham), who supposedly beheaded him. The Jewish Encyclopedia states that Nimrod was slain by Esau, with whom jealousy existed because they were both hunters (Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxv. 27; "Sefer ha-Yashar," section "Toledot," p. 40b; Pirḳe R. El. l.c.; comp. Gen. R. lxv. 12).

An early Arabic work known as Kitab al-Magall or the Book of Rolls (part of Clementine literature) states that Nimrod built the towns of Hadâniûn, Ellasar, Seleucia, Ctesiphon, Rûhîn, Atrapatene, Telalôn, and others, that he began his reign as king over earth when Reu was 163, and that he reigned for 69 years, building Nisibis, Raha (Edessa) and Harran when Peleg was 50. It further adds that Nimrod "saw in the sky a piece of black cloth and a crown." He called upon Sasan the weaver and commanded him to make him a crown like it, which he set jewels on and wore. He was allegedly the first king to wear a crown. "For this reason people who knew nothing about it, said that a crown came down to him from heaven." Later, the book describes how Nimrod established fire worship and idolatry, then received instruction in divination for three years from Bouniter, the fourth son of Noah.[2]

In the Recognitions (R 4.29), one version of the Clementines, Nimrod is equated with the legendary Assyrian king Ninus, who first appears in the Greek historian Ctesias as the founder of Nineveh. However, in another version, the Homilies (H 9.4-6), Nimrod is made to be the same as Zoroaster.

The Syriac Cave of Treasures (ca. 350) contains an account of Nimrod very similar to that in the Kitab al-Magall, except that Nisibis, Edessa and Harran are said to be built by Nimrod when Reu was 50, and that he began his reign as the first king when Reu was 130. In this version, the weaver is called Sisan, and the fourth son of Noah is called Yonton.

Jerome, writing ca. 390, explains in Hebrew Questions on Genesis that after Nimrod reigned in Babel, "he also reigned in Arach [Erech], that is, in Edissa; and in Achad [Accad], which is now called Nisibis; and in Chalanne [Calneh], which was later called Seleucia after King Seleucus when its name had been changed, and which is now in actual fact called Ctesiphon." However, this traditional identification of the cities built by Nimrod in Genesis is no longer accepted by modern scholars, who consider them to be located in Sumer, not Syria.

The Ge'ez Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan (ca. 5th century) also contains a version similar to that in the Cave of Treasures, but the crown maker is called Santal, and the name of Noah's fourth son who instructs Nimrod is Barvin.

In the History of the Prophets and Kings by the 9th century Muslim historian al-Tabari, Nimrod has the tower built in Babil, Allah destroys it, and the language of mankind, formerly Syriac, is then confused into 72 languages. Another Muslim historian of the 13th century, Abu al-Fida, relates the same story, adding that the patriarch Eber (an ancestor of Abraham) was allowed to keep the original tongue, Hebrew in this case, because he would not partake in the building.

In Armenian legend, Haik, the founder of the Armenian people, defeated Nimrod in battle near Lake Van.

In the Hungarian legend of the Enchanted Stag, King Nimrud (Nimród/Ménrót), was the forefather of the Hungarians. Template:Simon Kézai in his Gesta Ungarorum (1282-85) The twin sons of King Nimrud, Hunor and Magor, each with 100 warriors, followed the White Stag, through the Meotis Marsh, and disappeared from their sight. Hunor and Magor found the two daughters of King Dul of the Alans, together with their handmaidens, whom they kidnapped. Their descendants became the Huns and the Magyars.

The evil Nimrod vs. the righteous Abraham

The Bible does not mention any meeting between Nimrod and Abraham. In fact, there is a gap of seven generations between them, Nimrod being Noah's great grandson while Abraham was ten generations removed from Noah.[3] Nevertheless, later Jewish tradition brings the two of them together in a cataclysmic collision, a potent symbol of the cosmic confrontation between Good and Evil, and specifically of monotheism against paganism and idolatry.

This tradition is first attested in the writings of Pseudo-Philo,[4] continues in the Talmud, goes through later rabbinical writings in the Middle Ages.[5]

In some versions (as in Josephus), Nimrod is a man who sets his will against that of God. In others, he proclaims himself a god and is worshipped as such by his subjects, sometimes with his consort Semiramis worshipped as a goddess at his side. (See also Ninus.)

A portent in the stars tells Nimrod and his astrologers of the impending birth of Abraham, who would put an end to idolatry. Nimrod therefore orders the killing of all newborn babies. However, Abraham's mother escapes into the fields and gives birth secretly (in some accounts, the baby Abraham is placed in a manger). At a young age Abraham recognizes God and starts worshipping Him. He confronts Nimrod and tells him face-to-face to cease his idolatry, whereupon Nimrod orders him burned at the stake. In some versions, Nimrod has his subjects gather wood for four whole years, so as to burn Abraham in the biggest bonfire the world had seen (a story possibly inspired or confused with Nimrod's building of the Tower). Yet when the fire is lighted, Abraham walks out unscathed.

In some versions, Nimrod then challenges Abraham to battle. When Nimrod appears at the head of enormous armies, Abraham produces an army of gnats which destroys Nimrod's army. Some accounts have a gnat or mosquito enter Nimrod's brain and drive him out of his mind (a divine retribution which Jewish tradition also assigned to the Roman Emperor Titus, destroyer of the Temple in Jerusalem).

In some versions, Nimrod repents and accepts God, offering numerous sacrifices that God rejects (as with Cain). Other versions have Nimrod give to Abraham, as a reconciliatory gift, the slave Eliezer, whom some accounts describe as Nimrod's own son. (The Bible also mentions Eliezer, though not making any connection between him and Nimrod. He was Abraham's majordomo, entrusted with missions such as fetching a bride for Abraham's son, and he has entered Jewish tradition as the archetype of a loyal servant.)

Still other versions have Nimrod persisting in his rebellion against God, or resuming it. Indeed, Abraham's crucial act of leaving Mesopotamia and settling in Canaan, which effectively sets the stage for the rest of the Bible, is sometimes interpreted as an escape from Nimrod's revenge. Some accounts place the building of the Tower many generations before Abraham's birth (as in the Bible, also Jubilees). In others, it is a later rebellion after Nimrod failed in his confrontation with Abraham, and in still other versions, Nimrod does not give up after the Tower fails, but goes on to try storming Heaven in person, in a chariot driven by birds.

The story attributes to Abraham elements from the story of Moses' birth (the cruel king killing innocent babies, with the midwives ordered to kill them) and from the careers of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who emerged unscathed from the fire. Nimrod is thus made to conflate the role and attributes of two archetypal cruel and persecuting kings - Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh. Some Jewish traditions also identified him with Cyrus whose birth according to Herodotus was accompanied by portents which made his grandfather try to kill him.

A confrontation is also found in the Islamic Qur'an, between a king, not mentioned by name, and the Prophet Ibrahim (Arabic version of "Abraham"). Muslim commentators assign Nimrod as the king based on Jewish sources. In Ibrahim's confrontation with the king, the former argues that Allah is the one who gives life and gives death. The king responds by bringing out two people sentenced to death. He releases one and kills the other as a poor attempt at making a point that he also brings life and death. Ibrahim refutes by stating that Allah brings the Sun out from the East, and so he asks the king to bring it from the West. The king is then perplexed and angered.

Whether or not conceived as having ultimately repented, Nimrod remained in Jewish and Islamic tradition an emblematic evil person, an archetype of an idolater and a tyrannical king. In rabbinical writings up to the present, he is almost invariably referred to as "Nimrod the Evil" (Hebrew: נמרוד הרשע‎), and to Muslims he is "Nimrod al-Jabbar" (The Mighty one or powerful).

The story of Abraham's confrontation with Nimrod did not remain within the confines of learned writings and religious treatises, but also conspicuously influenced popular culture. A notable example is "Quando el Rey Nimrod" ("When King Nimrod"), one of the most well-known folksongs in Ladino (the Judeo-Spanish language), apparently written during the reign of King Alfonso X of Castile.

Beginning with the words: "When King Nimrod went out to the fields/ Looked at the heavens and at the stars/He saw a holy light in the Jewish quarter/A sign that Abraham, our father, was about to be born", the song gives a poetic account of the persecutions perpetrated by the cruel Nimrod and the miraculous birth and deeds of the savior Abraham.[6]

Text of the Midrash Raba version

The following version of the Abraham vs. Nimrod confrontation appears in the Midrash Raba, a major compilation of Jewish Scriptural exegesis. The part relating to Genesis, in which this appears (Chapter 38, 13), is considered to date from the sixth century.

"נטלו ומסרו לנמרוד. אמר לו: עבוד לאש. אמר לו אברהם: ואעבוד למים, שמכבים את האש? אמר לו נמרוד: עבוד למים! אמר לו: אם כך, אעבוד לענן, שנושא את המים? אמר לו: עבוד לענן! אמר לו: אם כך, אעבוד לרוח, שמפזרת עננים? אמר לו: עבוד לרוח! אמר לו: ונעבוד לבן אדם, שסובל הרוחות? אמר לו: מילים אתה מכביר, אני איני משתחוה אלא לאוּר - הרי אני משליכך בתוכו, ויבא אלוה שאתה משתחוה לו ויצילך הימנו! היה שם הרן עומד. אמר: מה נפשך, אם ינצח אברהם - אומַר 'משל אברהם אני', ואם ינצח נמרוד - אומַר 'משל נמרוד אני'. כיון שירד אברהם לכבשן האש וניצול, אמרו לו: משל מי אתה? אמר להם: משל אברהם אני! נטלוהו והשליכוהו לאור, ונחמרו בני מעיו ויצא ומת על פני תרח אביו. וכך נאמר: וימת הרן על פני תרח אביו." (בראשית רבה ל"ח, יג)

(...) He [Abraham] was given over to Nimrod. [Nimrod] told him: Worship the Fire! Abraham said to him: Shall I then worship the water, which puts off the fire! Nimrod told him: Worship the water! [Abraham] said to him: If so, shall I worship the cloud, which carries the water? [Nimrod] told him: Worship the cloud! [Abraham] said to him: If so, shall I worship the wind, which scatters the clouds? [Nimrod] said to him: Worship the wind! [Abraham] said to him: And shall we worship the human, who withstands the wind? Said [Nimrod] to him: You pile words upon words, I bow to none but the fire - in it shall I throw you, and let the God to whom you bow come and save you from it!
Haran [Abraham's brother] was standing there. He said [to himself]: what shall I do? If Abraham wins, I shall say: "I am of Abraham's [followers]", if Nimrod wins I shall say "I am of Nimrod's [followers]". When Abraham went into the furnace and survived, Haran was asked: "Whose [follower] are you?" and he answered: "I am Abraham's!". [Then] they took him and threw him into the furnace, and his belly opened and he died and predeceased Terach, his father.
[The Bible, Genesis 11:28, mentions Haran predeceasing Terach, but gives no details.]

Interpretations

It is often assumed that Nimrod's reign included war and terror, and that he was a hunter not only of animals, but also a person who used aggression against other humans. The Hebrew translated "before" in the phrase "Mighty hunter before the LORD" is commonly analysed as meaning literally "in the Face of" in this interpretation, to suggest a certain rebelliousness in the establishment of a human government. Since some of the towns mentioned were in the territory of Assyria, which is connected to Shem's son Asshur, Nimrod is sometimes speculated to have invaded territory that did not belong to him. However, various translations of the Hebrew text leave it ambiguous as to whether the towns in Assyria were founded by Nimrod or by Asshur.

Naram-Sin inscription AO6782 stitched

Inscription of Naram Sin found at the city of Marad

Historians and mythographers have long tried to find links between Nimrod and figures from other traditions. Marduk (Merodach), has been suggested as a possible archetype for Nimrod, especially at the beginning of the 20th century. Nimrod's imperial ventures described in Genesis may be based on the conquests of the Assyrian king Tukulti-Ninurta I (Dalley et al., 1998, p. 67). Alexander Hislop, in his tract The Two Babylons (Chapter 2, Section II, Sub-Section I) decided that Nimrod was to be identified with Ninus, who according to Greek legend was a Mesopotamian king and husband of Semiramis (see below); with a whole host of deities throughout the Mediterranean world, and with the Persian Zoroaster. The identification with Ninus follows that of the Clementine Recognitions; the one with Zoroaster, that of the Clementine Homilies, both works part of Clementine literature.[7] Ninus (and Venus presumed to be his great mother Queen Semiramis) ruled Nineveh in 1269 BC, but Greeks placed Ninus as 52 years of 2060-2009 BC (Abram's birth being year 43 of 52) in Eusebius.

David Rohl, like Hislop, identified Nimrod with a complex of Mediterranean deities; among those he picked were Asar, Baal, Dumuzi and Osiris. In Rohl's theory, Enmerkar the founder of Uruk was the original inspiration for Nimrod, because the story of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (see:[8] ) bears a few similarities to the legend of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, and because the -KAR in Emmerkar means "hunter". Additionally, Emmerkar is said to have had ziggurats built in both Uruk and Eridu, which Rohl postulates was the site of the original Babel.

Because another of the cities said to have been built by Nimrod was Accad, an older theory connects him with Sargon the Great, grandfather of Naram-Sin, since, according to the Sumerian king list, that king first built Agade (Akkad). The assertion of the king list that it was Sargon who built Akkad has been called into question, however, with the discovery of inscriptions mentioning the place in the reigns of some of Sargon's predecessors, such as kings Enshakushanna and Lugal-Zage-Si of Uruk. Nimrod is the son of Kush (founder of the city Kish) who is the son of Ham in Ararat (thus Nimrod is grandson of Ham). Sargon is the grandson of Purzur-Sin being that he is the son of Ur-Zababa, who is the son of Puzur-Sin, the son of the woman Ku-Baba of Ararat (daughter of Noah's vineyard).

The Church of the Great God has also asserted that Nimrod is to be identified with the Egyptian god Osiris and was posthumously father of Gilgamesh.[9]

Nimrod figures in some very early versions of the history of Freemasonry, where he was said to have been one of the fraternity's founders. According to the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry: The legend of the Craft in the Old Constitutions refers to Nimrod as one of the founders of Masonry. Thus in the York MS., No. 1, we read: "At ye making of ye toure of Babell there was a Masonrie first much esteemed of, and the King of Babilon yt called Nimrod was a Mason himself and loved well Masons." However, he does not figure in the current rituals.

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
  2. the Kitab al-Magall
  3. Genesis 10,11
  4. van der Toorn and van der Horst 1990, p. 19
  5. Template:Daat enc
  6. Full original text and an English translation appear in the Ladino wikipedia article; see also [1], [2], [3]
  7. Homily IX
  8. "Enmerkar and the lord of Aratta: translation". Etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr1823.htm. Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  9. "Syncretismas!" by Martin G. Collins, Forerunner, December 1995.

References

  • The Legacy of Mesopotamia; Stephanie Dalley et al. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998)
  • Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery; Stephen R. Haynes (NY, Oxford University Press, 2002)
  • "Nimrod before and after the Bible" K. van der Toorn; P. W. van der Horst, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 83, No. 1. (Jan., 1990), pp. 1–29

External links

ang:Nebrond ar:نمرود بن كنعان ast:Nemrod ca:Nimrodeu:Nimrod fa:نمرودid:Namrudzka:ნებროთი hu:Nimród (király) ms:Raja Namrudja:ニムロド no:Nimrodpt:Nimrod (rei) ru:Нимрод simple:Nimrod sh:Nimrod fi:Nimrod (Mesopotamia) sv:Nimrod tl:Nemrod tr:Nemrut (kral) uk:Німрод

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