Introduction: Shifting the Goalposts
That is exactly what Creationist Anne Habermehl has done in her ground-breaking article,
“Where in the World Is the Tower of Babel?”
by shifting the geographical focus for the Tower of Babel incident away from southern Iraq (ancient “Sumer”), the customary “Cradle of Civilisation”, to the Khabur region of NE Syria. According to this new view, the biblical “land of Shinar” to whose plain men migrated after the Flood (Genesis 11:2):
“And it came to pass, as they journeyed east,
that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there”.
and thought to indicate “Sumer”, is roughly to be identified, instead, as the region of Sinjar (the scene of much fighting today). And the following is how Anne Habermehl has introduced (summarised) her article:
The biblical story of the Tower of Babel is believed by many to be the record of a real historical event that took place after the worldwide Flood, at a time when the earth’s population still lived together in one place. The enduring archaeological question, therefore, is where the Tower of Babel was built. It is widely considered that Shinar, where the Bible says the Babel event took place, was a territory in south Mesopotamia; and that Babel was located at Babylon. However, an analysis of history, geography, and geology, shows that Shinar cannot have been in the south, but rather was a territory in what is northeastern Syria today; and that the remnants of the Tower must be located in the Upper Khabur River triangle, not far from Tell Brak, which is the missing city of Akkad.
All very interesting!
But why should we necessarily give any credence to this entirely new proposal, when so many previously had located the biblical geography for this era in southern Iraq?
One point in Habermehl’s favour is that her article is scholarly and well-researched.
But, more significantly than that, she has been able to provide a fairly compelling identification (Tell Brak) for the lost city of Akkad (Accad), Nimrod’s city (Genesis 10:10), so famous in ancient times, but not found even to this day. Akkad is generally estimated to have been situated in the environs of modern Baghdad. But where exactly is it?
In fact, the location of other cities connected with Nimrod in this same Genesis verse (10:10): “The beginning of [Nimrod’s] kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar”, is also a matter of dispute. Some translations even get rid of “Calneh” altogether, by substituting “all of these [i.e., Babel, Erech and Accad] in the land of Shinar”.
Another point in her favour is that Habermehl’s choice of Sinjar (Shinjar) for “Shinar”is far more linguistically plausible than is “Sumer”.
Moreover, NE Syria is also more geographically proximate (than Sumer) for the descendants of Noah from our point of view (Habermehl is obviously a global Floodist), according to which Noah’s Ark landed upon the mountains of modern Kurdistan (ancient Urartu = Ararat).
There is yet another most useful upside to Habermehl’s reconstruction; one that she herself has pointed out: “One result of “moving” Babel from south Mesopotamia to the north of Syria is that secular historians will no longer be able to claim that the building of the Tower was merely a story inspired by the ziggurat at Babylon (for example, Parrot 1955, p. 17)”. In fact, with the early Genesis scene shifted right away from Babylonia, then those old arguments according to which the Book of Genesis borrowed from Mesopotamian lore will no longer carry any force.
Another intriguing possible indication that Nimrod’s “Babel” may actually have been in Syria, and not in Sumer, is the testimony of the Septuagint version of Isaiah 10:9, where the Great King of Assyria boasts, as he knocks over one strong Syro-Palestine city after another: “Isn’t Calneh like Carchemish? Isn’t Hamath like Arpad? Isn’t Samaria like Damascus?”.According to the LXX:
καὶ ἐρεῖ οὐκ ἔλαβον τὴν χώραν τὴν ἐπάνω Βαβυλῶνος καὶ Χαλαννη
οὗ ὁ πύργος ᾠκοδομήθη καὶ ἔλαβον Ἀραβίαν καὶ Δαμασκὸν καὶ Σαμάρειαν
Babylon (Βαβυλῶνος),not Carchemish, is here coupled with Calneh (Χαλαννη), “where the Tower was built” (οὗ ὁ πύργος ᾠκοδομήθη).
Athttp://biblehub.com/commentaries/isaiah/10-9.htmwe get this explanation:
The LXX. version, which instead of naming Carchemish, gives “Calanè, where the tower was built,” seems to imply a tradition identifying that city with the Tower of Babel of Genesis 11:4.
(2) Carchemish. Few cities of the ancient world occupied a more prominent position than this. Its name has been explained as meaning the Tower of Chemosh, and so bears witness to the widespread cultus of the deity whom we meet with in Biblical history as the “abomination of the Moabites” (1 Kings 11:7).
It is well known where ancient Babylon was. But – and as Habermehl – strongly argues, Babylon and the “Babel” of Genesis 10:10 are not necessarily synonymous. Habermehl herself does not actually identify the location of Babel. She presumes that it must lie at the approximate centre of the triangle of cities that she has associated with Genesis 10:10.
But might not the LXX be telling us, by substituting the name “Babylon” for“Carchemish”, that the impressive site of Carchemish (modern Jerablus) was itself a Babylon, a Babel? – perhaps in close association with Calneh – in the very region“where the Tower was built”?
Of further interest is that the Bible Hub article above finds “tower” in the name, Carchemish, which it translates as “Tower of Chemosh”. And some have even associated the god Chemosh with Ham himself, the son of Noah.
A seeming downside to Habermehl’s reconstruction
How does Habermehl’s radical new theory affect previous conclusions of mine?
My view had been, in line with others, that the cities named after the Cain-ites (Enoch; Irad; Tubal-cain; etc.) are identifiable in the names of southern Mesopotamia cities. For instance (http://xenohistorian.wordpress.com/2008/03/31/the-babylonian-connection-redone/):
David Rohl has proposed that both Uruk and Ur were named after Enoch, because their actual Sumerian names were Unuk and Unuki, respectively. Rohl goes on to see a connection between Bad-tibira and Tubal-Cain, because Bad-tibira means “City of the Metal Worker.” Finally, Eridu, which archaeologists and Sumerian historians believe is the oldest city of all, could have been named after Irad (according to Rohl) or Jared (according to Zecharia Sitchin).
[End of quote]
Thus the Sumerian archaeology seemed to have conformed neatly to the desired pattern of:
- successive Cain-ite cities; followed by
- the Great Flood (as identified by Sir Leonard Woolley); and then
- the post-Flood return to these sites where the ancient cities were restored and other cities built. (The Babel era perhaps corresponding to the mighty Uruk III-IV phase).
Hence, a shifting of the early Genesis geography and archaeology away from Sumer, to Syria, as according to Habermehl’s article, might seem to spoil this happy arrangement. However I had, shortly before reading Habermehl’s article, begun to wonder (after many previous wonderings) how the very ancient site of Jericho must fit into this whole scheme of things. After all, it is situated much closer to Jerusalem – the site of Eden (see 1. below) – than is Sumer. And the name ‘Jericho’ seems to be not entirely unlike that of ‘Uruk’ (or Erech). Might not the nomadic Cain have built firstly at Jericho, before (presumably) visiting Sumer?
So I Googled Cain and Jericho and found, at http://www.churchofgoddiaspora.com/pre-flood_world.htmthe article, “Cain’s Famous Walled City”, there identified as Jericho. That led me to think that the Cain-ites did – what the Seth-ites no doubt were also doing – and that is they built cities right across Syro-Palestine, and only later in Mesopotamia since the latter is further removed from the centre, geographically. And they duplicated the names. Alexander the Great, several millennia later, would do likewise, creating at least 70 cities named after himself (“Alexandria” and variants) right across the world that he had conquered.
Apart from this useful article on Cain and Jericho, and Habermehl’s one, on Babel, there is a third article as well that has recently captured my interest and whose findings I shall be including in this present paper. It is – most relevant to the city of Akkad – Douglas Petrovich’s scholarly:
Identifying Nimrod of Genesis 10 with Sargon of Akkad
by Exegetical and Archaeological Means
Petrovich’s article is set, of course, very much in the traditional environment, with Genesis 10:10’s “Erech, Babel and Akkad” all still presumed to be located in ancient Sumer. And so it may be that his otherwise excellent article, whilst not losing its basic relevance, may need – if Habermehl’s geographical viewpoint is to be adopted – to have its geography reconstructed.
Let us now try putting all together this revised geographical and archaeological scenario.
The New Playing Field
- Paradise Rivers:
- Antediluvian Cities;
- Noachic Flood;
- Tower of Babel.
- Paradise Rivers
Many ancient traditions would have the site of Jerusalem at the centre of the ancient world (e.g. Ezekiel 5:5) and as the location for the biblical Garden of Eden. And I concur with this. The world of Adam, and that later of Noah (2 Peter 3:6), was the world that was bounded by the four great rivers, whose source was the one river of Paradise (Genesis 2:10). It is wrong to think of the antediluvians – and even those of later biblical eras – thinking according to our global view of things. P. Seely’s biblically attested outline of the extent of the ancient world is perfectly in accord with the same sort of dimensions that I have argued for Noah’s, and even as late as the Book of Acts (2:5), “every nation”. Thus Seely writes in an article on Babel (https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/01-genesis/text/articles-):
We should perhaps stop, however, to note just how large the earth was understood to be by the biblical writer. The extent of the earth in the understanding of the biblical writer is given in Gen 10. The northern boundary is marked by the peoples around the Black Sea (Gen 10:2; Ezek 38:6). The southern boundary is marked by peoples living in the extreme south of the Arabian peninsula (Gen 10:7: cf. Matt 12:42). The eastern boundary is marked by Elam (Gen 10:22). The western boundary is at Tarshish (Gen 10:4), but its location is not certain … in Gen 10 it probably refers to a location c. latitude ten degrees east, perhaps Sardinia, Tunis, or Carthage. “All the earth” in Gen 11:1 is then a circle or ellipse around 2400 miles in width and 1200 in height. …. Everyone in the ancient Near East understood this circular area to be the entire extent of the earth and that this earth was surrounded by a great ocean. ….
[End of quote]
In my article:
The Location of Paradise (Genesis 2:10-2:14)
Paradise occupies the region irrigated by the four rivers of Genesis 2:10, fed by that single stream (nahar) flowing out of Eden: “A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters”.
That simple (primeval) statement occurs in Adam’s own toledôt (‘family history’), concluding with 5:1: “This is the book of the generations of Adam”.
That Genesis 2:11-14 is a geographically helpful later (Mosaïc) addition to Adam’s pristine family record, so lacking in names, I have argued in:
Tracing the Hand of Moses in Genesis
Thus Moses expands upon the original Adamic document by adding geographical names with which Adam himself would have been totally unfamiliar. Thus (Genesis 2:11-14):
The name of the first [river] is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The Tigris (Hiddekel) and Euphrates (Perath) rivers are known to this day.
The Gihon has been well identified by Professor A. Yahuda as the Blue Nile of Ethiopia (Cush). Whilst the more difficult Pishon seems to be a now dried-up river of Saudi Arabia. Most commentators amongst those who actually believe that the location of Paradise is still discoverable – global Floodists don’t even bother to look – tend to locate Eden in, once again, the region of Mesopotamia. This is another case, however, where a more easterly geography/ archaeology (and, in this case, also hydrography) may be preferable. For an article that wonderfully co-ordinates (Jerusalem-centrically) these four ancient rivers, showing how they emanate from the same approximate region of Palestine, and how the Great Rift Valley has, quite significantly, affected their original formation, see the article:
The Lost Rivers of the Garden of Eden
- Antediluvian Cities
As noted above, we should be expecting a geographico-archaeological pattern something like this:
(i) successive Cain-ite cities (2.); followed by
(ii) the Great Flood (3. below); and then
(iii) the post-Flood return to these sites, including the Tower of Babel (4. below).
But this time around the geographico-archaeological focal point will be, thanks to Habermehl, Syro-Palestinian, rather than southern Mesopotamian.
We might expect that humankind had, both before and after the Flood, passed through the series of Stone Age phases, such as the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Chalcolithic, with Jericho beginning in a pre-flood Neolithic phase (see Cain’s Famous Walled City below).
The Sumerian civilisation, however, is said to have sprung up fully grown. Thus:
Scholars and historians have been totally confounded by the abrupt rise of the Sumerian culture nearly 6,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. This “sudden civilisation” seemed to appear out of thin air and refused to conform to the popular historical theory of linear development in cultural evolution.
Historian Professor Charles Hapgood squarely faces the issue when he writes that “today we find primitive cultures co-existing with advanced modern society on all continents… We shall now assume that 20,000 years ago while paleolithic peoples held out in Europe, more advanced cultures existed elsewhere on earth.”
Likewise the rise of Sumeria has been a major puzzle. Joseph Campbell in The Masks of God writes, “With stunning abruptness… there appears in this little Sumerian mud garden… the whole cultural syndrome that has since constituted the germinal unit of all high civilisations of the world.”
William Irwin Thompson puts it even more succinctly. “Sumer is a poor stoneless place for a neolithic culture to evolve from a peasant community into a full-blown civilisation,” he writes, “but it is a very good place to turn the plains and marshes into irrigated farmlands… In short, Sumer is an ideal place to locate a culture already having the technology necessary for urban life and irrigation agriculture.”
[End of quotes]
That incredible situation would have occurred only, however, because civilisation had painstakingly developed further to the west, before it had arrived “fully grown” in Sumer. And Jericho, seemingly the oldest site in the world, may be the place to start looking. For it may be there that we find (http://www.churchofgoddiaspora.com/pre-flood_world.htm):
Cain’s Famous Walled City
At this point Josephus’ words about Cain need to be emphasized: Cain “built a city, and fortified it with walls …” The Bible speaks of this same city: Cain “builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.” (Gen. 4:17) Though in a sense this is getting ahead of the story, it is appropriate at this point to tell of the significance of the famous walled city, Enoch.
In recent years, archaeologists made a startling discovery. In their excavations at the site of ancient Jericho (which is adjacent to present day Jericho in Palestine) they were amazed to uncover a big town in an early “pre-pottery Neolithic” state thousands of years — as they measure time — before any city of this type should have existed. This vast town existed at a time when only villages of tents or huts should have been in use — but there it was. It was of large proportion, of great duration — and had a huge wall around it. When the archaeological findings are correctly interpreted … it is evident this city must have existed before the flood.
In short, when the statements of the Bible and Josephus are correlated with the findings of archaeology, there is one logical conclusion: Pre-flood Jericho was the walled city of Enoch which Cain built. Here are some details concerning this city. It occupied an area of not less than ten acres — large dimensions for that early time, and especially since it was completely surrounded by a great wall. Many thousands of people lived in and around this heavily fortified town — and it is these fortifications that form the most astonishing feature of this remarkable discovery. These defences are described as “astounding for any period.” They consisted of a ditch, wall, and tower. The ditch or moat was some 28 feet wide and six to seven feet deep. Inside this protective ditch the wall itself was built. A remarkable structure over five feet thick and some thirteen feet high. Finally, adjoining the wall was a great circular stone tower (which is still standing to this day) reaching a height of over 26 feet. James Mellaart makes this significant observation: “the prodigious labour involved in the erection of these defences implies an ample labour force, a central authority to plan, organize and direct the work and an economical surplus to pay for it.” (“Earliest Civilizations of the Near East”, London, 1965, page 36.) Such was the power and authority that Cain had mustered. To recapitulate: early in his life, after having been driven out by God, Cain wandered over many areas of the world. He did not stay in any one place very long. And the children he had over the course of those many decades also were nomads who migrated and engaged in hunting and fishing. The implication in Josephus’ account is that Cain did not build this famous walled city until well into his life. Some centuries elapsed before he began this project.
Now take careful note of the location of this city: it was in “Seth’s land”. That’s right — Cain had dared to come back into forbidden territory. At an earlier time God had said: “this area is for Seth and his family — the rest of the world is for Cain and his children to wander on.” But, as we well know, Cain was not noted for being willing to obey any of God’s orders.
Another significant point: the archaeologists have concluded that pre-flood Jericho could not have supported its immense population by agriculture alone. There was not enough fertile area to support that many people. Thus they conclude that this famous city must have existed on the basis of trade and commerce. How could this city engage in trade and commerce? Remember what Josephus said — that Cain was the inventor of weights and measures implying that he was engaged in trading. But also recall that Cain procured “spoils by robbery.” In other words, it seems he forced surrounding peoples to pay tribute, and he must have engaged in looting and pillaging. This was the basis of his trade and commerce.
….Yes, Cain’s city is still with us today. This famous pre-flood world trade centre was destroyed, of course, by the flood. But archaeology has found that it had been destroyed before that also. The wall was smashed and then rebuilt.
[End of quote]
But, in the course of the wanderings of the Cain-ites, there must have been various cities built in honour of the likes of Enoch, Irad and Tubal-cain, including those cities in southern Mesopotamia as already suggested. Prior to that, we might expect to find such cities in Syro-Palestine, and possibly even Egypt.
And Habermehl has pointed to a possible “Erech” in NE Syria.
There are historical indications of a city in the Khabur triangle area in the north of Syria that could have been the biblical Erech. Called “Urakka” in various Assyrian sources, it is mentioned by Astour (1968, 1993), Olmstead (1921), and Postgate (1974). Urakka is shown on the online map of the Assyrian Empire (Parpola 1987), near the modern city of Amuda in Syria, almost on the Turkish border (see fig. 3). There is an ancient mound 6 km (3 miles) south of Amuda, called Tell Aqab, that could possibly be this Urakka; excavations carried out on Aqab show it to have roots in great antiquity (Davidson and Watkins 1981). ….
[End of quote]
And perhaps one might consider also, for instance, ancient Arad for one of the cities named after Cain’s grandson, Irad.
The antediluvian phase was interrupted, of course, by the Great Flood.
So the antediluvian archaeology should reveal, at some point, evidence for this catastrophe.
- Noachic Flood
My model of the biblical Flood is neither global, nor narrowly local in the sense of its being confined to one particular region, such as Mesopotamia. It was significantly larger than local, inundating basically the entire region of the four rivers (as according to 1. above). Therefore, we should expect to find archaeological evidence for the biblical Flood right across the entire Fertile Crescent. For a more detailed examination of all this, see my:
Just How‘Global’ Was The Great Flood? (Genesis 6-9).
During the Early Neolithic phase (6000-5000 BC, conventional dating) at Jericho, after the city building phase (Cain?), we find that Jericho was mostly abandoned, with very minimal occupation later, during the Middle/Late Neolithic (5000-3100 BC, conventional dating).
And one will find in my Flood article evidence that Jerusalem was once under the sea.
I was particularly interested, after reading Habermehl’s article, to find if archaeology had revealed any evidence for flooding at Carchemish (as yet only poorly excavated). Well, this is what I read almost immediately (http://www.archaeology.co.uk/cwa/world-news/jerablus-and-the-land-of-carchemish.htm):
Much debate exists about world-wide climate change in the later 3rd millennium BC, one that may have led to aridification in the east of Syria. In the west, the Euphrates regime had become more unstable even before that date, exacerbated by soil erosion caused by over-exploitation of the land. The results in the valley bottom around Jerablus Tahtani were devastating. We found evidence in the much refurbished mound of Tomb 302 for exceptionally high and recurrent Euphrates flood waters. When the mound was damaged, caretakers patched it up again, giving us a precious record of inundations. Because of the height of these Euphrates intrusions in the mound, we know that flood waters must have washed several metres over the adjacent fields. Since floods most likely occurred during spring snow melts just before harvest, they must have devastated surrounding crops and perhaps rendered the site uninhabitable.
In any case, the fort was suddenly abandoned about 2300 BC, and Jerablus Tahtani lay deserted for some 1700 years. Perhaps the fort’s inhabitants moved to better protected Carchemish, so helping to lay the very foundations of its greatness. If this was part of a more general pattern, we may infer that Carchemish expanded appreciably at the end of the 3rd millennium. Thereafter, Carchemish grew in importance, becoming one of the most vital centres in the Hittite Empire, and reaching its apogee around the 9th century BC. ….
[End of quote]
There is plentiful evidence, too, for a major Flood in Mesopotamia, though – due to chronological imprecision, as I think – the whole thing has not yet been properly co-ordinated. The great and scholarly C8th BC Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, knew of the Flood (as opposed to the various local inundations that frequently occurred in the region, and he knew of the Flood as historical: ‘I read the beautiful clay tablets from Sumer and the Akkadian writing, which is hard to master. I had the joy of reading inscriptions on stone from the time before the flood.’ (http://creation.com/who-said-it-answer-ashurbanipal)
- Tower of Babel
“And as people migrated from the east,
they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there”.
It might be expected that, following the Noachic Flood, with the Ark landing upon the “mountains of Urartu”, humankind would soon find its way back into the fertile Khabur region. That this region qualifies as a “plain” is apparent from Habermehl’s description of it (she includes a photograph):
It is difficult to tell from what we know of history exactly where the boundaries of the entire land of Shinar were; indeed, those boundaries may not even have remained precisely the same at different times. However, we will generally describe Shinar as a land including the territory that is located immediately south of the Turkish mountains between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This area is almost perfectly flat as far as the eye can see (fig. 2). It surely qualifies as “a plain in the land of Shinar,” as Genesis calls it.
[End of quote]
The fertile and strategic site of Carchemish (Jerablus) must have been a tempting target for the early post-diluvians. Could this, in fact, have been where the aged “Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard” (Genesis 9:20)? P. King and L. Stager have written of the perfect suitability of “the region of Carchemish”for nurturing vineyards (Life in Biblical Israel, p. 98).
Regarding mention of “the east” in Genesis s11:2, Habermehl has expressed this opinion:
Genesis 11:2 (KJV) says that Noah’s descendants migrated “from the east” to reach the plain in the land of Shinar. However, a list of 14 translations of Genesis 11:2 online splits evenly between translating this phrase “eastward” and “from the east” (Parallel Translations 2010); in addition, both the Brenton and NETS LXX translate “from the east.” These translations all appear to indicate that the Ark and Babel were east-west of each other.
However, the New American Bible reads, “While men were migrating in the east” (Genesis 2009), and the Good News Translation reads, “As they wandered about in the east” (Compare Translations 2010). These last two translations offer a convenient way of circumventing any geographical problems because there is no direction of migration actually indicated; Faber (1816, p. 374) quotes ancient sources on this. In any case, the entire territory involved in the migration would have been eastward of Israel, whatever translation is preferred.
The map of Mesopotamia (fig. 1) shows that, whether one believes the Ark to have landed on Mt. Cudi or Mt. Ararat … Babylon is hundreds of kilometers directly south of both of these places. Various authors have pointed this out, for example, Fraser (1834, pp. 217–218). This somewhat inconvenient geographical fact (for those who believe that the people migrated eastward or westward) is downplayed by those who believe that the Tower was built at the city of Babylon, and requires inventing scenarios that move the people far enough south while still satisfying their perception of this Scripture. ….
[End of quote]
I had previously thought that David Rohl’s view (in The Lost Testament) that the Uruk I dynasty after the Mesopotamian flood was the dynasty of Cush and Nimrod, with the latter being the historical Enmerkar. And this may still apply. However, I now think that we need to take into account our new geography/archaeology and also D. Petrovich’s compelling view of Nimrod as the legendary Sargon of Akkad.
Whilst Sargon was a real person, I would suggest that the Mesopotamians had borrowed this story of his infancy (dating much later than the similar Moses story) from the Book of Exodus (http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/nemonarchs/g/Sargon.htm):
A story about Sargon’s youth sounds like the Moses infancy story. The baby Sargon, nestled in a reed basket sealed with bitumen, was placed in the Euphrates River. The basket floated until it was rescued by a gardener or date grower. In this capacity he worked for the king of Kish, Ur-Zababa until he rose in the ranks to become the king’s cupbearer. ….
Finally, I shall be most interested to find whether further excavation work at the site of Jerablus (Carchemish), or its environs, yields any evidence for the famous Tower of Babel.