Who Were the Babylonians

Who Were the Babylonians

Who Were the Babylonians

Who Were the Babylonians


Who was Hammurapi, and what role did his famous law code" serve in ancient Babylonian society? Who was the mysterious Merodach-baladan, and why did the appearance of his emissaries in Jerusalem so upset Isaiah? Who was Nebuchadnezzar II, and why did he tear down the Solomonic temple and drag the people of God into exile? In short, who were the Babylonians? This engaging and informative introduction to the best of current scholarship on the Babylonians and their role in biblical history answers these and other significant questions. The Babylonians were important not only because of their many historical contacts with ancient Israel but because they and their predecessors, the Sumerians, established the philosophical and social infrastructure for most of Western Asia for nearly two millennia. Beginning and advanced students as well as biblical scholars and interested nonspecialists will read this introduction to the history and culture of the Babylonians with interest and profit. Paperback edition available from the Society of Biblical Literature (www.sbl-site.org)."


When ancient classical historians such as Herodotus and Berossus mention the Babylonians, or when authors of the Bible speak of the Babylonians, to what or whom do they refer? My task in this volume is to trace briefly the geopolitical realities behind these literary references in light of the most recent Assyriological data and, more broadly, to present a compendium of our knowledge of the ancient Babylonians—in short, to answer the question, Who were the Babylonians?

The history of Babylonia has often been written by archaeologists for archaeologists or by philologists for philologists. Specialists, writing mostly for each other, have investigated all areas of Mesopotamia's material culture or impressive cuneiform documentary evidence. While these approaches have their distinct contributions (indeed, 1 am indebted to them, as the notes will show), my objective is to provide a more general survey for students of history, archaeology, philology, and the Bible. Consequently, my approach will be broader and at the same time more specifically focused on Babylonia and the Babylonians rather than on ancient Mesopotamia per se.

Chronological precision is still impossible for most of Babylonian history prior to the first millennium B.C.E. For the earliest periods, and especially for the troublesome Old Babylonian chronology, I have continued to follow the so-called “Middle Chronology,” which has given us the familiar dates for Hammurapi, 1792–1750 B.C.E. However, despite its wide acceptance in the secondary literature, the Middle Chronology is far from certain and has come under recent scrutiny. The reader should be aware that the chronological schema used here for the third and second millennia B.C.E. are extremely tentative. Greater precision is possible for the first millennium B.C.E., although the complexities of the use of a lunar calendar in Mesopotamia and the Levant resulted in intercalary months, which was handled differently in each culture. Thus, we are seldom in a position to speak with certainty on chronological issues, even for the later periods.

I am grateful to Andrew Gilmore, my research assistant, for his invaluable help with a number of points, as well as to Andrew Vaughn and Bob Buller for their patient guidance. I am also grateful to Sujatha Pichamuthu for her help with the maps.

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