The Babylonians: An Introduction

The Babylonians: An Introduction

The Babylonians: An Introduction

The Babylonians: An Introduction

Synopsis

Gwendolyn Leick's approachable survey introduces the Babylonians, the people, the culture and the reality behind the popular myth of Babylon.Spanning some 1800 years in the history of the Babylonians, from the time of Hammurabi, famous for his Law-Code, to the time when Alexander's heirs ruled the Near East, Leick examines how archaeological discoveries and cuneiform tablets recovered from Babylonian cities allow us an impression of the Babylonian people and their society, their intellectual and spiritual preoccupations.Exploring the lives of kings and merchants, women and slaves, and the social, historical, geographical and cultural context in which their extraordinary civilization flourished for so many centuries, The Babylonians has provided scholars and students with a dazzling new insight into this fascinating world.

Excerpt

The city of Babylon was the most emblematic representation of Mesopotamian civilisation that the world remembered for centuries. In the Biblical accounts Babylon has only negative connotations, beginning with the account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis to the madness of Nebuchadnezzar and the death of Belshazzar in the book of Daniel. In the Revelations of St John the city even appears as 'Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations', who 'corrupted the earth with her fornication'. The Biblical condemnation that decries the hubris of metropolitan degeneracy and the idolatry of its jewel-bedecked gods reflects an ideology which contrasted the purity of Israel's pastoralist past with the iniquities of urban life for which the exile was seen as a divine form of retribution. The urbane classical writers on the other hand, notably Herodotus, much admired the very size of the city and the splendour of its monuments while deploring some of the more bizarre customs, such as womenfolk prostituting themselves once a lifetime in the sacred precinct. Such accounts also emphasised the cultural distance between the morally superior Greeks and the inhabitants of the Orient under Persian control. Through the conquests of Alexander the Great the Hellenic world was briefly incorporated in an essentially Middle Eastern one; and according to some accounts he had plans for Babylon to become the capital of his new empire. Had this ever happened the city would have been anchored more firmly in the memory of the West. As it was, the Biblical negative associations prevailed and they also inspired Rastafarian references to 'Babylon' as the representation of any urban, Western and capitalist centre where black people suffer marginalisation and poverty.

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