Category Archives: Bible Places

Brief History of Crete

For a Scripture friendly version, go here. See our topic list, click here.  Too check out our diploma courses, click here.

Basic Features of Cretan History and Reports on the Character of the People, in Support of the Study of the Epistle to Titus

Crete is an island which forms a southern boundary to the Aegean Sea, and lies southeast of Greece. Crete is 156 miles long, seven to thirty-five miles wide, and 3,189 square miles in area. It is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica), and is on the spine of an undersea mountain range thought to have formed at one time a land bridge between the Greek Peloponnesian peninsula and southern Turkey. In ancient times, Crete was the main stepping stone (by sea) between Greece and Africa, and between Asia Minor and Africa. The Philistines may have migrated to Palestine from Greece, having been located on Crete for a time in the ancient past.

Homer attributes to this island only ninety cities, ennhkonta polhev, yet In other places he gives it the epithet ofeJkatompoliv, hundred cities. And this number it is generally allowed to have had originally; but we must not let the term city deceive us, as in ancient times places were thus named which would rate with villages or hamlets only in these modern times. [^1]

Few places in antiquity have been more celebrated than Crete: it was not only famous for its hundred cities, but for the arrival of Europa on a bull, or in the ship Taurus, from Phoenicia; for the Labyrinth, the work of Daedalus; for the destruction of the Minotaur, by Theseus; for Mount Ida, where Jupiter was preserved 254 from the jealousy of his father Saturn; for Jupiter’s sepulchre; and above all, for its king, Minos, and the laws which he gave to his people; the most pure, wholesome, and equal, of which antiquity can boast.

Their lawgiver, Minos, is said by Homer to have held a conference every ninth year with Jupiter, from whom he is reported to have received directions for the farther improvement of his code of laws; though this be fable, it probably states a fact in disguise. Minos probably revised his laws every ninth year, and, to procure due respect and obedience to them, told the people that he received these improvements from Jupiter himself. This was customary with ancient legislators who had to deal with an ignorant and gross people, and has been practised from the days of Minos to those of Mohammed.

According to ancient authors, Crete was originally peopled from Palestine. That part of Palestine which lies on the Mediterranean was by the Arabs called Keritha, and by the Syrians, Creth; and the Hebrews called its inhabitants Kerethi orKerethim which the Septuagint have translated krhta~. In Ezekiel 25:16, we find “I will cut off the Cherethims”, translated by the Septuagint kai exoloqreusw krhtav, I will destroy the Cretans; and Zephaniah 2:5: “Woe unto the inhabitants of the seacoast, the nation of the Cherethites, Septuagint, “the sojourners of the Cretans.” That these prophets do not speak of the island of Crete is plain from their joining the Kerethim with the Pelishtim as one and the same people. “Thus saith the Lord God, Behold I will stretch out my hand upon the Philistines, and will cut off the Cherethims, and destroy the remnant of the seacoast;” Ezekiel 25:16. “Woe unto the inhabitants of the seacoasts, the nation of the Cherethites; the word of the Lord is against you: O Canaan, the land of the Philistines, I will even destroy thee;” Zephaniah 2:5.

Accordingly it appears that the Kerethim were a part of the Philistines. The Kerethim in Palestine were noted for archery; and we find that some of them were employed by David as his life guards, 2 Samuel 8:18; 15:18; 20:23; 1 Kings 1:38; 1 Chronicles 18:17; in all which places they are called, in our translation, Cherethites.

Idomeneus, who assisted Agamemnon in the Trojan war, was the last king of Crete. He left the regency of the island to his adopted son Leucus, who, in the absence of the king, usurped the empire; the usurper was however soon expelled, and Crete became one of the most celebrated republics in antiquity. The Romans at last, under Quintus Metellus, after an immense expenditure of blood and treasure, succeeded in subduing the island, on which he abolished the laws of Minos, and introduced the code of Numa Pompilius.

Crete, with the small kingdom of Cyrene, became a Roman province; this was at first governed by proconsul, next by a quaestor and assistant, and lastly by a consul. Constantine the Great, in the new division he made of the provinces of the empire, separated Crete from Cyrene, and left it, with Africa and Illyria, to his third son Constans.

In the ninth century, in the reign of Michael II., it was attacked and conquered by the Saracens. About 965, the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas, in the following century, defeated and expelled the Saracens, and reunited the island to the empire, after it had been under the power of the infidels upwards of 100 years. It remained with the empire until the time of Baldwin, earl of Flanders, who, being raised to the throne, rewarded the services of Boniface, marquis of Montferrat, by making him king of Thessalonica, and adding to it the island of Crete. Baldwin, preferring a sum of gold to the government of the island, sold it to the Venetians, A. D. 1194, under whose government it was called Candia, from the Arabic (Arabic) Kandak, a fortification, the name which the Saracens gave to the metropolis which they had built and strongly fortified.

In 1645, in the midst of a peace, it was attacked by the Turks with a fleet of 400 sail, which had on board an army of 60,000 men, under the command of four pashas, to oppose whom the whole island could only muster 3,500 infantry, and a small number of cavalry; yet with these they held out against a numerous and continually recruited army, disputing every inch of ground, so that the whole Ottoman power was employed for nearly thirty years before they got the entire dominion of the island. In this long campaign against this brave people the Turks lost about 200,000 men! [End of Clarke notes. wd]

Crete is centrally located, but very little was known of its history prior to the Greek period. It was not until the archaeological expeditions of Sir Arthur Evans in the late 19th Century that some of the true facts of ancient Cretan history became known. Evans was an out-of-work millionaire in England, so he took a position as the curator of the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford University in Oxford, England. He was an avid amateur archaeologist, but he was to achieve a reputation which placed him among the most professional.

Evans was also a numismatist, and he heard about some very interesting signet rings which had supposedly been left on the island of Crete by some ancient Egyptians. Taking an extended vacation from the museum, he sailed his personal yacht to Crete in 1894. He arrived in the harbor at Knossos in that year, and he began an archaeological dig at a place nearby called the Kephala site. On the very first day of digging, he uncovered the top of a bronze age palace. He knew that he had found something, but the property didn’t belong to him; so he covered up the hole and began negotiations with the Greek government on Crete to purchase the site.

The place that Evans bought was the site of ancient Knossos; and the palace he had found was that of King Minos, who had, up until that time, been thought of only as a legend. Evans called the civilization of King Minos the Minoan civilization. This civilization flourished from early times up until about 1400 B.C., and its discovery has been invaluable to the study of Greek and European history and languages, especially those of the eastern Mediterranean area.

The Minoan culture is distinguished by the originality and high development of its art and architecture. In fact, the Minoan culture is considered to be a forerunner of the Mycenaean civilization of ancient Greece.

Many examples of pictographic script were found at the palace site; and two basic forms were identified, labeled Minoan Linear A and Linear B. The work of decipherment began in the 1930’s, but it was not until 1953 that the Linear B script puzzle was solved, by two men named Ventris and Chadwick. They determined that Linear B is an archaic form of early Greek. Linear A is still under examination.

Sir Arthur Evans was recognized with many honors: he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Archaeologists; he was knighted in 1911; he was named president of the Society of Antiquaries from 1914 to 1919. He died at Oxford in 1941.

The Minoan civilization was destroyed in about 1400 B.C. with the eruption of the Santorini volcano at the island of Thera, about 70 miles north of Crete. It is thought that first a huge tidal wave struck the island, destroying coastal cities and populations, and that then volcanic ash came down, burying the whole island. Arthur Evans uncovered the buildings 3300 years later.

Of course, the island began to be repopulated immediately as people migrated from the mainland. In about 600 B.C., Dorian Greeks came in force and settled the island by conquest. Their cousins were the Spartan Greeks from the Peloponnesus and the Philistine Greeks of Palestine. Spartan Greeks settled on the western side of the island in cities like Lyttus. All of the Greeks on the island were warlike, fierce fighters who prided themselves on their independence and warrior qualities. Island people have a tendency to be independent, and this trait was augmented by their heredity.

There were Cretan Jews at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2:11; and Paul stopped at least once at Crete, on his voyage to Rome, Acts 27:7ff.

The following excerpts are from the works of Polybius, one of the most famous and prolific Greek historians of Roman times. The quotations are taken from his Histories, Volumes II, III, and VI. The citations indicate volume and page numbers as [II, 319], etc.

On the Cretan military [II, 319ff] – “The Cretans both by land and sea are irresistible in ambuscades, forays, tricks played on the enemy, night attacks, and all petty operations which require fraud; but they are cowardly and down-hearted in the massed face-to-face charge of an open battle”.

On Crete’s internal strife and civil wars [II, 429ff], “The city of Lyttus met with an irremediable disaster. Knossians and Gortynians had subjected the whole island, except for Lyttus (about 225 B.C.). Since Lyttus would not surrender to them, they declared war against it. At first, all the Cretans took part in the war against the Lyttans; but jealousy sprang up from some trifling cause, as is common with the Cretans. Several cities went over to the aid of Lyttus.

“Meanwhile, the city of Gortyn was having civil war, in which the elder citizens were taking the side of Knossos and the younger were siding with Lyttus. The elder Gortynians, with the help of Knossians and Aetolians, whom they had secretly let into the city and the citadel, put to death the younger citizens, delivering the city of Gortyn to Knossos.

“At about the same time, the Lyttians left with their whole force for an expedition into enemy territory. But the Knossians got word of their departure and used the opportunity to occupy Lyttus, destroying the town and sending the populace into slavery. The Lyttus military returned to a gutted city and were so distraught that they didn’t even enter the town, but sought refuge in the city of Lappa, becoming in one day cityless aliens instead of citizens.

“Thus, Lyttus, a colony of the Spartans, and allied to them by blood, the most ancient city in Crete, and the breeding place of her bravest men, was utterly and unexpectedly made away with.”

On the greed of Cretans III,373ff – “In all these respects the Cretan practice is exactly the opposite (to the Spartan). Their laws go as far as possible in letting them acquire land to the extent of their power; and money is held in such high honor among them that its acquisition is not only regarded as necessary, but as most honorable.

“So much, in fact, do sordid love of gain and lust for wealth prevail among them, that the Cretans are the only people in the world in whose eyes no gain is disgraceful…owing to their ingrained lust of wealth are involved in constant broils public and private, and in murders and civil wars.”

On Cretan treachery and conniving (this is Polybius’ rebuttal to the statements of Ephorus, Xenophon, Plato and Callisthenes that the constitutions of Sparta and Crete are similar) [III, 375ff] – “Such are the points in which I consider these two political systems to differ, and I will now give my reasons for not regarding that of Crete as worthy of praise or imitation.

“In my opinion, there are two fundamental things in every state, by virtue of which its principles and constitution are either desirable or the reverse. I mean customs and laws. What is desirable in these makes men’s private lives righteous and well-ordered and the general character of the state gentle and just. What is to be avoided has the opposite effect.

“So, just as when we observe the laws and customs of a people to be good, we have no hesitation in pronouncing that the citizens and the state will consequently be good also. Thus, when we notice that men are covetous in their private lives and that their public actions are unjust, we are plainly justified in saying that their laws, their particular customs, and the state as a whole, are bad.

Now it would be impossible to find, except in some rare instances, personal conduct more treacherous, or a public policy more unjust, than in Crete. Holding then the Cretan constitution to be neither similar to that of Sparta nor in any way deserving of praise and imitation, I dismiss it from the comparison which I have proposed to make.”

On the treachery of some citizens of the cities of Cydonia and Apollonia [VI, 31] – “The people of Cydonia at this time committed a shocking act of treachery universally condemned. For although many such things have happened in Crete, what was done then was thought to surpass all other instances of their habitual ferocity.

“For while they were not only friends with the Appolonians, but united with them in general in all the rights observed by men, there being a sworn treaty to this effect deposited in the temple of Zeus, they treacherously seized on the city, killing the men, laying violent hands on all property, and dividing among themselves and keeping the women and children, and the city with its territory.”

From Crete vs. Rhodes [VI, 285] – “Antiphatas … for, as a fact, this young man was not at all Cretan in character but had escaped the contagion of Cretan ill-breeding.”

The Story of the Capture of Achaeus

(a true, and truly Cretan, episode)

First, some background Greek history –

Philip of Macedon had won recognition as a Greek by force of arms. He announced his intention of leading a united Greek army against Persia to overthrow it once and for all. He was elected general at the city of Corinth in 335 B.C., but he was murdered shortly thereafter, and the army and generalship passed to his son, Alexander.

Alexander crossed the Hellespont in 334 B.C. with an army of 35,000 Macedonians and Greeks. He visited Troy, dedicated his armor to Athena, and placed a crown on the tomb of Achilles, whom he regarded as his ancestor. His first engagement with the Persians was at the river Granicus, east of Troy, which opened his way into Asia Minor. The second main battle was at Issus, after which he overran the whole east coast of the Mediterranean, conquering as far as Egypt. His third great battle was at Guagamela in 331 B.C., which brought the final downfall of the Persian empire. He went on to conquer territory over into India, but died at the age of 32 of a fever probably made worse by alcoholism.

Alexander had begun to think of world empire, but it was not to be. His generals fought each other to be his successor; and they finally divided the conquered territories among themselves. Ptolemy began his dynasty in Egypt, which lasted until Cleopatra. The Seleucid dynasty in Asia Minor, with the kings named Seleucus or Antiochus, lasted until 65 B.C. when Syria became a Roman province. The Antigonid rulers of mainland Greece and Macedonia also remained independent until the Roman takeover.

For the next century and a half after Alexander, the history of Asia Minor is that of the attempts by various kings to extend their dominion over the Mediterranean area. There was continuous fighting between Greeks, Egyptians, and Syrians, as first one and then the other became ambitious for more territory.

In about 215 B.C., Antiochus III took an army to hunt down a man named Achaeus, a member of the Syrian royal family, who had proclaimed himself king in Asia Minor. Achaeus and his army were forced to retreat into the city of Sardis, and Antiochus troops were camped almost all the way around the city in siege.

Now – at this time, Bolis, a Cretan, was a high ranking official in the court of Ptolemy, the Egyptian king. He was possessed of superior intelligence, exceptional courage, and much military experience. He was approached by Sosibius, the Egyptian “secretary of state”, and asked to work up a plan to save Achaeus from the clutches of Antiochus. In about three days, Bolis told Sosibius that he would take on the job; mainly because he had spent some time in Sardis and knew the layout of the land and the city. And he knew that Cambylus, another Cretan, and a friend of his, was the commander of the Cretan mercenaries in Antiochus’ army.

In fact, Cambylus and his force of Cretans had charge of one of the outposts behind the citadel where Antiochus was not able to build siege works. This portion of the surrounding forces’ line was occupied by Cambylus’s troops.

Sosibius had almost given up the idea of rescuing Achaeus; but now he thought that if anyone could do it, Bolis could. And Bolis was so enthusiastic about the idea that the project really began to move. Sosibius advanced the funds necessary for the project; and he promised Bolis a large reward from Ptolemy himself, pointing out also that King Achaeus would probably express his gratitude with money.

Bolis set sail without delay carrying dispatches in code and credentials to Nicomachus in Rhodes, a close friend of Achaeus, and to Melancomas at Ephesus. These two men had previously acted as Achaeus’ trusted agents in foreign affairs. They were in agreement with Bolis’ plan and began to make arrangements to help him in the rescue attempt. Bolis also sent word to Cambylus at Sardis that he had a matter of great urgency to discuss with him in private.

Bolis, being a Cretan and naturally astute, had been weighing every idea and testing the soundness of every plan. When Bolis met with Cambylus, (according to Polybius), “They discussed the matter from a thoroughly Cretan point of view. For they did not take into consideration either the rescue of the man in danger or their loyalty to those who had charged them with the task, but only their personal security and advantage. Both of them, then, Cretans as they were, soon arrived at the same decision, which was to divide between them in equal shares the ten talents advanced by Sosibius and then to reveal the project to Antiochus; and undertake, if assisted by him, to deliver Achaeus into his hands on receiving a sum of money in advance and the promise of a reward upon delivery of Achaeus adequate in importance to the enterprise.”

So, Cambylus left to talk to Antiochus; and Bolis sent a messenger to Achaeus with coded messages from Nicomachus and Melancomas outlining the plan to the king. Should Achaeus agree to make the attempt at escape, Bolis would go ahead with the rescue plan. Antiochus, for his part, was surprised and delighted at the offer from Cambylus. He was ready to promise anything to get Achaeus in his hands; but he was equally wary of any Cretan plan. So he demanded a detailed account of their project and how they were going to carry it out. Cambylus was able to convince him, so Antiochus urged him to put it into execution, and he advanced several talents for expenses.

Bolis, meanwhile, communicated with Nicomachus and Melancomas, who, believing that the attempt was being made in all good faith, immediately drew up letters to Achaeus in a secret mercantile code so that only Achaeus could read the messages. The letters urged Achaeus to put his trust in Bolis and Cambylus.

Bolis’ messenger gained access to the citadel in Sardis with the aid of Cambylus, and he handed the letters to Achaeus. The messenger had been completely briefed in the fake plan, and he was able to give an accurate and detailed account of everything in answer to Achaeus’ numerous questions about Bolis and Sosibius, Nicomachus and Melancomas, and especially Cambylus. The messenger was able to support the cross-questioning with confidence and honesty because he had no knowledge of the real agreement between Bolis and Cambylus.

Achaeus was convinced and agreed to the plan. He sent word back to Rhodes to Nicomachus, to tell Bolis to proceed. Achaeus figured that once he had escaped he could travel quickly back to Syria, while Antiochus was still occupied in the siege of Sardis, and create a great movement in his favor.

The rescue plan was as follows –Bolis and the messenger would go into the citadel and lead Achaeus out. The messenger would lead the way out because he knew the path and there was a new moon, making it completely dark. Bolis would be last and stick close to Achaeus. If Achaeus were to be alone, there would be no problem. But they wanted to take him alive; and if he brought some people with him, they didn’t want to take any chances of his escaping in the dark when he found out he was being kidnapped.

Cambylus took Bolis to talk personally with Antiochus, who again promised a huge reward for Achaeus. That night, about two hours before daybreak, Bolis went through the lines to the citadel and met Achaeus. Here, let Polybius pick up the narrative –

“As, however, Achaeus was second to none in intelligence, and had had considerable experience, he judged it best not to repose entire confidence in Bolis. He announced that he would first send out three or four of his friends, and after they had made sure that everything was all right, he would himself get ready to leave. Achaeus was indeed doing his best; but he did not consider that, as the saying goes, he was trying to play the Cretan with a Cretan. For there was no probable precaution of this kind that Bolis had not minutely examined.”

Achaeus dressed himself in rude clothing and put fairly good clothing on some of his retainers. Then, in darkness, they went out on the steep and difficult trail down from the citadel, the messenger in front as planned, with Bolis bringing up the rear. Again, Polybius:

“Bolis found himself perplexed … for although a Cretan and ready to entertain every kind of suspicion regarding others, he could not owing to the darkness make out which was Achaeus, or even if he were present. But he noticed that at certain slippery and dangerous places on the trail some of the men would take hold of Achaeus and give him a hand down, as they were unable to put aside their customary respect for him. So Bolis very soon determined who was Achaeus.”

Achaeus was taken in ambush by Bolis and his men, who kept Achaeus’s hands inside his garment to prevent suicide. He was taken bound hand and foot to Antiochus, who summarily executed him. Bolis and Cambylus received their rewards and went their way.

A final word from Polybius: “Thus did Achaeus perish, after taking every reasonable precaution and defeated only by the perfidy of those whom he had trusted, leaving two useful lessons to posterity, firstly to trust no one too easily, and secondly not to be boastful in the season of prosperity, but, being men, to be prepared for any turn of fortune.”

A publication of

Stay Up-To-Date With Our Email Newsletter Today!


Gnosticism and the Colossian Heresy

Introduction 1

[Please read the Epistle to the Colossians before continuing with this study.]

The doctrine of the Person of Christ is stated in Colossians with greater precision and fullness than in any other epistle of Paul.

The Colossian heresy, in its attack upon the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, made it imperative that it be met with such precise and complete doctrinal teaching as would successfully cope with the false teachings of these systems. A full understanding of the implications of the truth in Colossians stems from an acquaintance with this heresy.

The Colossian heresy is composed of two elements, either as taught separately by different people, or fused into one idea structure containing elements of legalistic Judaism and ascetic oriental Gnosticism.

Paul’s mention of Sabbaths, new moons, distinctions between meats and drinks, circumcision – all point to the element of Judaism in the heresy. His references to self-imposed humility, service and worship of angels, hard treatment of the body, and a superior wisdom, indicate that he is dealing with a Gnostic element.

Paul does not define these heresies. We are inferring the questions by examination of the answers that he provides. Neither is there any evidence that he is addressing two different groups; but it is generally agreed that many Christians at Colosse were being taught false doctrine that was based on these two major heresies.


A Gnostic is a person who considers himself as having “knowledge” beyond that which the ordinary person has. He thinks of himself as a member of an intellectual elite, one of the few who set themselves above all others as possessing a superior knowledge.

The ancient oriental philosophy, or religion, of Gnosticism was concerned mainly with two questions.

  1. First, how can the work of creation be explained?
  2. Second, How are we to account for the existence of evil in the universe.

So, the problem posed was, “How can one reconcile the creation of the world and the existence of evil with the conception of God as a being who is absolutely holy?”

The Gnostic argued as follows

If God had created the universe out of nothing, and evolved it directly from Himself, that holy God could not have brought an evil universe into existence. Otherwise, one is drive to the inescapable conclusion that God created evil, which is impossible because He is holy.

But, the fact of an evil universe remained. So the Gnostic explains this with the theory that God must have limited Himself in some was in the act of creation.

There must have been some evolution, some emanation from God, a germination. This first “germination” evolved a second, which introduced a third, and so on. The more numerous the various stages of these creative emanations from God, the more feeble became their deity, until the divine element became so diffused that contact with matter was possible.

Now – matter was conceived to be that in which evil resided. The Gnostic postulated the theory of some antagonistic principle, independent of God, by which His creative energy was thwarted and limited. Thus, evil is seen to be resident in the material universe.

So their reasoning is, the gap between a holy Creator, God, and matter is bridged by these emanations. In this way the Gnostic brushes aside the intermediate agency of creation, namely the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:3) and the fact that God put a curse on the perfect creation because of sin (Rom. 8:20).

From these philosophical speculations, two opposing codes of ethics emerged, a rigid asceticism and an unrestrained license. The problem confronting the religious Gnostic was – since matter is evil, how can one avoid its terrible influence and keep his higher nature pure?

According to one group, the solution was to hold to a rigid asceticism. All contact with matter should be reduced to an absolute minimum. The material part of man should be reduced by subduing and mortifying. One should live on a spare diet and refrain from marriage. Eating animals was forbidden. The anointing of the body with olive oil was prohibited.

Other Gnostics, however, felt that even such strict denial of the body would produce slight and inadequate results. The argued that matter is everywhere and that, no matter how careful you are, you can avoid contact with it.

Therefore, one should cultivate an indifference to the world of matter and sensation. One should follow his own impulses without giving matter any thought one way or the other. Further, this group argues, the ascetic elevates matter to a higher place that it deserves, by pacing such great importance on abstinence. Thus he fails to assert his independence to is. The true rule of life is to treat matter as foreign and alien to one, and as something towards which one has no duties or obligations, and which one can use or leave unused as one likes. This philosophy, or course, led to unbridled license.

Gnosticism had no connection with Christianity directly. The professing Christian church was, however, influenced by Jewish Essenes, who were mystics, members of a secret brotherhood, and characterized by the same sort of severe asceticism that Gnostics practiced, in their rigorous observance of Mosaic ritual. They would not light a fire, move a vessel, or perform other ordinary functions; some even stayed in bed as much as possible.

Essenes held the name of Moses in reverence, and blasphemy was punishable by death. Marriage was an abomination; the adopted children. Those who accepted marriage as necessary regarded it, nevertheless, as evil. They lived for prayer and religious exercises.

Believing that matter is evil, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, but believed in the continuance of the soul after life. They rejected blood sacrifices of the Jews (in spite of Moses) and sent offerings of vegetables to the temple. They place angels in the category of things to be worshipped, and prided themselves on their secret documents and teachings.

These, then, are the anti-Christian doctrines and practices that were creeping into the church at Colosse. Paul’s letter was written to combat these things.

  1. Intellectual exclusivism VS the universality of Gospel teaching
  2. Hidden mysteries and secret ritual VS the knowledge of God in Christ
  3. Some men perfect through knowledge VS every man perfect in Christ.
  4. Divine emanations and angels who were mediators in creation VS Jesus Christ as Creator
  5. A distributed divine essence (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) VS the divine essence is totally in Christ Jesus.

The Essenes 2

The Essenes were a Jewish religious community which was first mentioned in history in the writings of Josephus (Antiquities, XIII, 5, 9), who mentions them as flourishing in the time of Jonathan Maccabaeus, in about 150 B.C., where he speaks of Judas, an Essene.

The Essenes are not mentioned directly in the Bible. However, it is thought that Matt. 19:11,12 and Col. 2:8 and 18 include indirect references to Essenes. In any case, the Essenes disappeared from history after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

The Essenes were an extremely ascetic group of men in Palestine and Syria, and they are thought to have formed the first cells of organized monasticism in the Mediterranean world, setting the pattern for the various holy orders which proliferated during and after the time of Christ. It is still not clear whether the Essenes proceeded from some sect of Judaism or whether elements of Greek and other foreign philosophies had an influence in their origin. Their main colonies were near the northern end of the Dead Sea and around the town of Engedi. The study of the Dead Sea Scrolls has produced a considerable body of knowledge of the early Christian sects; and the Essenes may have been the group which produced the scrolls. The bibliography of this article provides references for further study.

Essene Organization

The community of the Essenes was organized as a single body, with a president at the head. The members had to obey the president unconditionally. A man who wanted to join the order was given three articles: a pickax, an apron, and a white garment. After a year’s probation, during which he was observed continuously, he was admitted to the second stage of his probation period. Another two years passed, after which the successful candidate was admitted as a full member and allowed to participate in the common meals. He was required to take a terrible oath, in which he swore to be absolutely open to the brethren and to keep secret the doctrines of the order, under pain of excommunication.

Children were instructed in the principles of Essenism; and Josephus says that the Essenes were divided into four classes. The children formed the first class, the first and second stages of novices were the next classes, and the fourth class were the full members.

Essene Discipline

Discipline was carried out by trial, and guilt was never decided unless at least one hundred members voted for it. After that, the decision was unalterable. The usual punishment was excommunication, often amounting to a slow death, since an Essene could not take food prepared by strangers, for fear of pollution.

The strongest tie between members was the absolute community of goods. Those who came into the order had to give all they had to stewards who were appointed to take care of their common affairs. There was one purse for all, and all members had expenses, clothing, and food in common. Those who were needy, such as the aged and infirm, were cared for at the common expense; and special officers were assigned in each town to take care of traveling brethren.

Essene Ethics and Customs

The daily labor of the members was strictly regulated. After group prayer, the members were dismissed to work by their president. They reassembled later for purifying washings and the common meal. They went to work again for the afternoon and gathered again for the evening meal. The chief employment was agriculture, and there were crafts of every kind. Trading, however, was forbidden; it was thought to lead to covetousness. It was also forbidden to make weapons or any utensils or tools that might injure men.

According to Josephus and other historians, the Essenes’ life was simple and unpretentious. They did not marry, but other people sent their children to them for training and admission to the order. They only ate enough to stay healthy; and they were content to eat the same food day after day. They felt that great expense was harmful to mind and body; and they did not throw any clothes or shoes away until they were completely worn out. They only acquired for themselves the minimum required to maintain life.

The following special customs were observed by the Essenes:

  • They had no slaves; all were free, mutually working for each other.
  • Swearing oaths was forbidden as worse than perjury; “for that which does not deserve belief without an appeal to God is already condemned.”
  • The forbade anointing the body with oil or perfumes, because they thought that having a rough exterior was praiseworthy.
  • It was compulsory to bathe in cold water before meals, after the functions of nature, and after coming into contact with lower Essene classes or strangers.
  • They wore white clothing all the time.
  • They required great modesty. In performing natural functions they dug a foot-deep hole with their pickax, which they always carried, covered themselves with a mantle (so as not to offend God), and covered the hole when they were finished. While bathing, they tied the ever-present apron around their loins.
  • They sent gifts of incense to the temple, but they did not offer animal sacrifices because they thought their own sacrifices were more valuable.
  • Their common meals had many characteristics of sacrificial feasts. The food was prepared by priests with the observance of certain rites of purification; and an Essene could not eat any food but this.

Essene Theology

The Essene theology was basically Jewish, with an absolute belief in God. Next to God, the name of Moses the lawgiver was an object of great reverence, and whoever blasphemed either God or Moses was sentenced to death. In their worship, the Scriptures were read and explained. The Sabbath was so strictly observed they did not even move vessels or perform the functions of nature. Their priesthood closely paralleled the Aaronic priesthood.

They had a strong belief in angels and revered them highly. Novices had to swear to preserve the names of the angels.

Concerning their doctrines of the soul and of immortality, Josephus writes: “They taught that bodies are perishable, but souls immortal, and that the souls dwelt originally in the eternal ether, but being debased by sensual pleasures united themselves with bodies as if with prisons. But when they are freed from the fetters of sense, they will joyfully soar on high as if delivered from long bondage. To the good souls is appointed a life beyond the ocean, where they are troubled by neither rain nor snow nor heat, but where the gentle zephyr is ever blowing…But to the bad souls is appointed a dark, cold region full of unceasing torment.”

The Essenes had peculiar conduct with respect to the sun. They turned to the sun while prayer, in contrast to the Jewish custom of turning toward the temple.

Essenism seems to have been Pharisaism in the highest degree. It was, however, influenced by foreign systems of theology and philosophy, including possibly Buddhism, Parseeism, Syrian heathenism, and Pythagoreanism.

1 This article is taken largely from Bishop J. B. Lightfoot, Epistle to the Colossians.

2 Bibliography of the section on the Essenes.

Josephus, Antiquities, xviii,1,5; Wars, II,8,2

Schuerer, Jewish People, Vol. II

Edersheim, Life and Times of the Jesus the Messiah,

Brownlee, W.H., “A Comparison of the Covenanters of the Dead Sea Scrolls with Pre-Christian Jewish Sects”, in The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. XIII, Sept. 1950, pp. 50-72.

Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Handbook

A publication of

Stay Up-To-Date With Our Email Newsletter Today!

Bethlehem – The home of Ruth and Boaz, the city of David, the birthplace of Jesus Christ.


Bethlehem-Judah is a town in Palestine, about five miles south of Jerusalem, at an elevation of about 2550 feet above mean sea level. The town overlooks the highway to Hebron and Egypt.

The name Bethlehem probably means house of bread or granary, so it was used of various places. The name draws attention to the fertility of the region.

There are other towns named Bethlehem in Israel, the most notable other one being in the north, toward the coast, in the territory allotted to Zebulun.

The town was also called Bethlehem Ephratah (Micah 5:2), Bethlehem of Judea (Matt. 2:1) and the city of David (Luke 2:4)

Jacob was buried Rachel near Bethlehem. In those days the town was called Ephrath. See Gen. 35:19; 48:7. The names are sometimes combined in the Bible.

After the conquest of Canaan by Joshua, Bethlehem became part of the land allotted to Judah (Judges 17:7).

David was born in Bethlehem. He was anointed in Bethlehem by Samuel, after God had chosen him as king. David’s three heroes (2 Sam. 23:15 ff) brought him water from the well at Bethlehem. The well now existing on the north side of the village is thought to be the same well.

Bethlehem-Judah was the birthplace of Jesus Christ. The male children of this region were slain by Herod, who had ordered that all males under the age of two were to be killed. Matthew 2:13-18

Stay Up-To-Date With Our Email Newsletter Today!


Foreword:  When we study the Bible thoroughly,  it  is often necessary to examine the cultures that existed during Old Testament and New Testament times.    Specifically those histories that intersect those of the Israelites.  In the case of Babylon, this was a pagan nation used by God to apply discipline to the Southern Kingdom. Where is Babylon?  What are its roots?  What happened to the nation?  These topics are addressed in this article.  Don’t forget to sign up for our eNews and keep up to date on whats happening at Grace Notes.

From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Babylon baʹbə-lon; BABEL bāʹbəl (Gen. 10:10; 11:9) [Heb bābel—‘gate of god’; Akk bāb–ili, bāb-ilāni—‘gate of god(s)’; Gk Babylōn; Pers Babirush]. The capital city of Babylonia.

I. Location

Babylon lay on the bank of the Euphrates in the land of Shinar (Gen. 10:10), in the northern area of Babylonia (now southern Iraq) called Accad (as opposed to the southern area called Sumer). Its ruins, covering 2100 acres (890 hectares), lie about 50 mi (80 km) S of Baghdad and 5 mi 8 (km) N of Hillah. The ancient site is now marked by the mounds of Bâbil to the north, Qaṣr (“the Citadel”) in the center, and Merkes, ‘Amran Ibn ‘Alī Ṣaḥn, and Homera to the south. The high water and long flooding of the whole area render the earlier and lower ruins inaccessible.

II. Name

The oldest attested extrabiblical name is the Sumerian ká-dingir-ki (usually written ká-dingir-ra, “gate of god”). This may have been atranslation of the more commonly used later Babylonian Bāb-ilī, of which an etymology based on Heb bālal, “confused,” is given in Gen 11:9. Throughout the OT and NT, Babylon stands theologically for the community that is anti-God. Rarely from 2100 b.c. and frequently in the 7th cent Babylon is called TIN.TIR.KI, “wood (trees) of life,” and from the latter period also. E.KI, “canal zone (?).” Other names applied to at least part of the city were ŠU.AN.NA, “hand of heaven” or “high-walled (?),” and the Heb šēšaḵ (Jer. 25:26; 51:41), which is usually interpreted as a coded form (Athbash) by which š = b, etc. The proposed equation with ŠEŠ.KU in a late king list has been questioned, since this could be read equally well as (É).URU.KU.

III. Early History

A. Foundation Genesis ascribes the foundation of the city to Nimrod prior to his building of Erech (ancient Uruk, modern Warka) and Accad (Agade), which can be dated to the 4th and 3rd millennia b.c. respectively. The earliest written reference extant is by Šar-kali-šarri of Agade ca 2250 b.c., who claimed to have (re)built the temple of Anunītum and carried out other restorations, thus indicating an earlier foundation. A later omen text states that Sargon (Šarrukīn I) of Agade (ca 2300) had plundered the city.

B. Old Babylonian Period Šulgi of Ur captured Babylon and placed there his governor (ensi), Itur-ilu, a practice followed by his successors in the Ur III Dynasty (ca [5 highlights]2150–2050 [5 highlights]b.c.). Thereafter invading Semites, the Amorites of the 1st Dynasty of Babylon, took over the city. Their first ruler Sumu-abum restored the city wall. Though few remains of this time survive the inundation of the river, Hammurabi in the Prologue to his laws (ca 1750) recalls how he had maintained Esagila (the temple of Marduk), which by the time of his reign was the center of a powerful regime with wide influence. Samsu-iluna enlarged the city, but already in his reign the Kassites were pressing in from the northeast hills. It actually fell in 1595 to Hittite raiders under Mursilis I, who removed the statue of Marduk and his consortṢarpānītum to Ḫana. (Possession of a city’s gods [their statues] symbolized control.) The city changed hands frequently under the Kassites (Meli-Šipak [Meli-Šiḫu] and Marduk-aplaiddina I) amid the rivalry of the local tribes. Agumkakrime recovered the captive statues, but that of Marduk was again removed at the sack of the city by Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria (1250) and by the Elamite Kudur-Naḫḫunte II (1176).

C. Middle Babylonian Period The recovery of Marduk’s statue was the crowning achievement of Nebuchadrezzar I (1124–1103), marking an end to foreign domination of the city. He restored it to Esagila amid much public rejoicing and refurbished the cult places. Although Babylon retained its independence despite the pressure of the western tribes, this required help from the Assyrians, one of whom, Adad-apal-iddina, was given the throne (1067–1046). By the following century, however, the tribesmen held the suburbs and even prevented the celebration of the New Year Festival by Nabû-mukīn-apli of the 8th Babylonian Dynasty.

D. Neo-Assyrian Supremacy Shalmaneser III of Assyria was called to intervene in the strife that broke out on the death of Nabû-apla-iddina in 852 b.c. He defeated the rebels, entered Babylon, treated the inhabitants with respect, and offered sacrifices in Marduk’s temple. This action inaugurated a new period of Assyrian intervention in the southern capital, with the result, according to Herodotus, that Sammu-ramat (Semiramis), mother of Adadnirari III, carried out restoration work there.

The citizens’ independent spirit was never long suppressed; and Arameans from the southern tribes seized the city, made Erība-Marduk their leader, and refused to pay allegiance to the northern kingdom. To remedy this Tiglath-pileser III began a series of campaigns to recover control. First he won over the tribe of Puqūdu (Pekod of Jer. 50:21; Ezk. 23:23), who lived to the northeast, leaving Nabonassar (Nabû-nāṣir) as governor of Babylon to pursue a pro-Assyrian policy until his death in 734 [5 highlights]b.c., whereupon Ukīn-zēr of the Amukkani tribe seized the city.

The Assyrians then tried to gain the support of the other tribal chiefs, including Marduk-apla-iddina (Merodach-baladan of the OT) of Bīt-Yakin, who, however, took over the city on the death of Tiglath-pileser’s successor Shalmaneser V in 721. He proclaimed the city’s independence and maintained it for ten years. Either toward the end of this period or more probably in 703 b.c., when he again held Babylon, Merodach-baladan sought Hezekiah’s help against the Assyrians (2 K. 20:12–17). Sargon II recaptured the city in 710 and celebrated the New Year festival by taking the hands of Marduk/Bēland the title “viceroy of Marduk.”

To revenge Merodach-baladan’s later seizure of the capital, Sennacherib marched south to remove the traitor Bēl-ibniand set his own son Aššur-nadin-šumi on the throne. The latter was soon ousted, however, by local revolutionaries, who in turn were defeated by Sennacherib in 689 when he besieged the city for nine months, sacked Babylon, and removed the statue of Marduk and some of the sacred soil to Nineveh. Though this act brought peace, it broke any trust the citizens ever had in the Assyrians, despite Esarhaddon’s efforts to restore the decrepit town. Esarhaddon claimed to have revoked his father’s decree imposing “seventy years of desolation upon the city” by reversing the Babylonian numerals for 70 to make them 11. Many refugees returned, and the city again became a prosperous center under his sonŠamaš-šum-ukīn (669–648). He was isolated, however, by the surrounding tribes, who eventually won him over to their cause. His twin brother Ashurbanipal of Assyria laid siege to the city, which fell after four years of great hardship. Šamaš-šum-ukīn died in the fire that destroyed his palace and the citadel.

E. Chaldean Rulers Reconstruction work began under the Chaldean Nabopolassar (Nabû-apla-uṣur, 626–605 [5 highlights]b.c.), who was elected king following a popular revolt after the death of the Assyrian nominee Kandalanu. His energetic son Nebuchadrezzar (II) with his queen Nitocris restored not only the political prestige of Babylonia, which for a time dominated the whole of the former Assyrian empire, but also the capital city, to which he brought the spoils of war including the treasures of Jerusalem and Judah (2 K 25:13–17). Texts dated to this reign list Jehoiachin king of Judah (Ya’ukin māt Yaḫudu), his five sons, and Judean craftsmen among recipients of corn and oil from the king’s stores. It is to the city of this period, one of the glories of the ancient world, that the extant texts and archeological remains bear witness. Nabonidus (555–539 [5 highlights]b.c.) continued to care for the temples of the city, though he spent ten years in Arabia, leaving control of local affairs in the hands of his son and co-regent Belshazzar, who died when the city fell to the Persians in 539 (Dnl 5:30).

IV. Description

A. Walls Babylon lay in a plain, encircled by double walls. The inner rampart (dūru), called “Imgur-Enlil,” was constructed of mud brick 6.50 m (21 ft) thick. It had large towers at intervals of 18 m (60 ft) jutting out about 3.5 and.75 m (11.5 and 2.5 ft) and rising to 10–18 m (30–60 ft). It has been estimated that there were at least a hundred of these. The line may well have followed that laid down by Sumu-abum of the 1st Dynasty. Over 7 m (23 ft) away lay the lower and double outer wall (šalḫu) called Nimit-Enlil, 3.7 m (12 ft) thick, giving a total defense depth of 17.4 m (57 ft). Twenty m (65 ft) outside these walls lay a moat, widest to the east and linked with the Euphrates to the north and south of the city, thus assuring both river passage and water supply and a flood defense in time of war. The quay wall nearest the city was of burnt brick set in bitumen, and this too had observation towers. The outermost wall of the moat was of beaten earth. The inner area, including Babylon W of the river, which remains unexcavated, measured 8.35 sq km (3.2 sq mi) and the eastern city alone encompassed an area of about 2.25 sq km (.87 sq mi). Nebuchadrezzar and, according to Herodotus, his queen Nitocris made significant additions to the defenses begun by his father. These now incorporated his “Summer Palace” (Bâbīl) 2 km (1.2 mi) to the north. He also added an enlarged northern citadel and enclosed a large area of the plain with yet a third wall, forming an “armed camp” in which the surrounding population could take refuge in time of war. This ran 250 m (820 ft) S of the inner walls and projected about 1.5 km (1 mi) beyond the earlier wall systems.

Herodotus, who describes the city and walls some seventy years after the damage done by Xerxes in 478 b.c. (i.178–187), appears to exaggerate the size. He says that the height of the walls, beyond the moat, was 200 cubits (about 90 m or 300 ft) by 50 royal cubits thick (= 87 ft, 26.5 m). The width was sufficient for a chariot and four horses to pass along them. Moreover, the estimate of the total length of the walls as 480 stades (about 95 km or 60 mi) is difficult to reconcile with the archeological evidence, though the figures are close to those given by Ctesias (300 furlongs = 68 km or 42 mi, with the walls 300 ft [90 m] high and 60, 40, and 20 furlongs in length respectively). Herodotus viewed the city as a rectangle. Unfortunately no excavations to confirm this have yet been possible West of the river.

B. Gates Babylonian inscriptions give the names of the eight major entrances to the city itself, but of these only four have been excavated. The southwest gate of Uraš was probably typical in general plan. The approach was by a dam across the moat through a wide gateway in the outer wall with recessed tower chambers and thence by a deep gateway in the inner wall. The other gate in the south wall was named after Enlil, since it faced southeasterly toward his sanctuary at Nippur. In the east wall were the gate called “Marduk is merciful to his friend” and, S of this, the Zababa gate facing Kish. In the north wall the Ishtar gate was specially decorated and renovated by Nebuchadrezzar at the time of his enlargement of the citadel.

The Sin gate in the north wall and the Šamaš and Adad gates in the west are known only from references in the texts. These gates may well be identified with the five named by Herodotus as Semiramis (Ishtar), Nineveh (Sin to the north?), Chaldean (Enlil? to the south), Kissian (Zababa), and Zeus Belos (Marduk). He further mentions one hundred gates of bronze in the outer walls, which may be “the well-built wide gates with doors of bronze-covered cedar” made by Nebuchadrezzar. Excavations show that the Ishtar gate consisted of a double tower 12 m (40 ft) high, decorated with blue and black glazed bricks with alternate rows in yellow relief of 575 mušruššu (a symbol of Marduk, a combination of a serpent with lion’s and eagle’s legs) and the bulls of (H)adad.

C. Streets The layout of the principal streets was determined by the line of the river and of the main gates and was virtually unchanged from Old Babylonian times. The main thoroughfare, called Ai-ibūr-šābū (“the enemy shall not prevail”), was the sacred procession way running from the Ishtar gate SSE, parallel with the Euphrates. Completed by Nebuchadrezzar, it ran for more than 900 m to the temple Esagila before joining the main east-west road between that temple and the sacred area of Etemenanki and then turning to the Nabonidus wall on the river. There the crossing was made by a stone bridge, 6 m wide, supported by eight piers, each 9 by 21 m (29 by 69 ft), the six amid stream being of burnt bricks that still show traces of wearing by the current. The bridge was 123 m (403 ft) long, shortened to 115 m (377 ft) when Nabonidus built his quay. Herodotus ascribed the bridge to Nitocris (i.186; cf. Diodorus ii.8) and speaks of it as an “open bridge,” perhaps with a removable center section to enable the two parts of the city to be defended independently.

Western towers of the Ishtar gate, with reliefs of animals. Constructed by Nebuchadrezzar II (605–562 b.c.), the gate led to the sacred processional street. (Oriental Institute, University of Chicago) See Plate 6.

The Procession Way was 11–20 m (36–66 ft) broad and paved with colored stone from Lebanon, red breccia, and limestone. Some paving stones were inscribed “I Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, paved this road with mountainstone for the procession of Marduk, my lord. May Marduk my Lord grant me eternal life.” The parapet of the raised road was decorated with 120 lions in relief.

The other main roads intersected the city at right angles and bore names associated with the gates from which they led: “Adad has guarded the life of the people”; “Enlil establisher of kingship”; “Marduk is shepherd of his land”; “Ishtar is the guardian of the folk”; “Šamaš has made firm the foundation of my people”; “Sin is stablisher of the crown of his kingdom”; “Uraš is judge of his people”; and “Zababa destroys his foes.” There were also other procession streets named after deities — Marduk (“Marduk hears him who seeks him”) and Sibitti — and also after earlier kings (Damiq-ilišu).

D. Citadel The northern wall was extended in the center by Nebuchadrezzar to form an additional defense for the palaces to the south and to provide more accommodation. This complex appears to have been used by his successors as a storehouse (some think as a “museum”), for here were found objects from earlier reigns including inscriptions of the Assyrian kings Adadnirari III and Ashurbanipal from Nineveh, a Hittite basalt sculpture of a lion trampling a man (“the lion of Babylon”), and a stele showing the Hittite storm-god Tešub from seventh-century (b.c.) Sam’al.

E. Palaces In the southern citadel, bounded by the Imgur-Enlil wall (N), the river (W), the Procession Way (E), and theLibilḫegalla canal (which was cleared by Nebuchadrezzar and linked the Euphrates and the Banitu canal E of the city with the canal network in the New City, thus providing the city with a system of internal waterways), was a massive complex of buildings covering more than 360 by 180 m (400 by 200 yds). Here lay the vast palace built by Nabopolassar and extended by his successors. The entrance from the Procession Way led to a courtyard (66.5 by 42.5 m, 218 by 140 ft), flanked by quarters for the royal bodyguard, which in Nebuchadrezzar’s time largely consisted of foreign mercenaries. A double gateway led into the second court, off which lay reception rooms and living quarters. A wider doorway gave access to a third court (66 by 55 m, 218 by 180 ft); to its south lay the Throne Room, the external wall of which was decorated in blue glazed bricks bearing white and yellow palmettes, pillars with a dado of rosettes and lions. This large hall (52 by 17 m, 170 by 57 ft, partially restored in 1968) could have been that used for state occasions, such as Belshazzar’s feast for a thousand persons (Dnl. 5). Two further wings of the palace overlooking the river to the west may have been the quarters of the king, his queen, and their personal attendants. It is more likely that this was the building used by Belshazzar for his feast rather than the “Palace of the Crown Prince” (ekal mār šarri) said to have been used later by Xerxes.

In the northwest angle of this complex, adjacent to the Ishtar gate, lay another large building (42 by 30 m, 140 by 98 ft) consisting of fourteen narrow rooms leading off a long central walk. Since it was at some time walled off from the new palace, it has been thought to have been the substructure of that wonder of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. According to Ctesias in Diodorus (ii.10) and Strabo (xvi.1.5), this was a series of garden-laid terraces supported by arches designed by Nebuchadrezzar (so Berossus in Josephus Ant. x.11.1 [226]) for his queen, to remind his new bride, Amyitis daughter of Astyages the Mede, of her mountain-fringed homeland. This description might, however, equally apply to the ziggurat (see G below).

The presence of administrative texts within these subterranean rooms more likely indicates that these were palace stores. Included among the tablets found here and dated to the tenth to thirty-fifth years of Nebuchadrezzar (i.e., 595–570 [5 highlights]b.c.) were lists of recipients of rations of corn and oil distributed to foreigners, men from Judah, Ashkelon, Gebal, Egypt, Cilicia, Greece (Yamanu), and Persia. Among the men of Judah were Jehoiachin and his sons and craftsmen, some with such OT names as Gaddiel, Shelemiah, and Samakiah (E. F. Weidner, Mélanges offerts à M. Dussaud, II [1939], 924ff). Nebuchadrezzar also built himself a “Summer Palace” outside the main citadel but within the defense walls. This was set 9 m (30 ft) high (it was 100 m [328 ft] long) to catch the cooler northeast winds.

F. City Quarters Tablets name the various parts of the city, which included the citadel itself (ālu libbi āli, “city within a city”) with at least nine temples. It was described as near ká-dingir-ra, which name also applied to the whole city. The citadel included the royal palace as far as Esagila. Here were to be found the temples of Ishtar and Ninmaḫ. Other quarters were named Kaṣiri, Kullab, and Kumari. The “New City” (ālu eššu) lay on the west bank of the Euphrates and was part of the Chaldean extension. Large areas within the city walls were given up to parks and squares.

G. Temple Tower (Ziggurat) The ziggurat of Babylon, É-temen-an-ki (“building [of] the foundation of heaven and earth”), lay in the center of the city, S of the citadel, now marked by the ruin-area Ṣaḥn (“the Pan”), a deep depression near the mausoleum of ‘Amrān Ibn ‘Alī founded a.d. 680. It lay in a square doublecasemate walled enclosure, forming a rectangular courtyard measuring about 420 by 375 m (460 by 410 yds). Entry was by two doors in the north and ten elaborate gateways. The enclosure was frequently repaired, and bricks marking this activity in the reign of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal of Assyria and of Nebuchadrezzar have survived. The area was subdivided into a long narrow western court, a northern court in which towered the ziggurat with its adjacent monumental buildings, wall shelters for the pilgrims, housing for the priests, and storerooms. The main approach from the Procession Way led between two long storerooms. One late Babylonian text, the Esagila tablet AO 6555, gives the dimensions of the courts and the names of the gates: “grand”; “the rising sun”; “the great gate”; “gate of the guardian colossi”; “canal-gate”; and “gate of the tower-view.”

Opposite the main gate lay the stepped tower on a platform with shrines grouped around. The stages are given as 91 m sq by 34 m high (300 ft sq by 110 ft high) for the lowest, the next 80 m sq by 18 m high (260 ft sq by 60 ft high), the next three diminishing stages each 6 m (20 ft) high and 61, 52, and 43 m (200, 170, and 140 ft) square. Originally each stage, as at Ur, may have been of different color. The sanctuary of Marduk (Bēl) on top, 15 m (50 ft) high, gave a total height of 85 m (280 ft). However, nothing remains of the tower except the lower stairs, the whole having been plundered for its bricks by local villagers. There is no reason to doubt the identification of this site with the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1–11), the building of which had been terminated. The inscriptions refer only to rebuilding and repair work by the later kings of Babylon. The common identification of the Tower of Babel with the remains of the ziggurat at Borsippa, 7 mi (11 km) SSW, is open to question on a number of grounds, not the least that that edifice was in a separate city. The extant vitrified ruins there are of a temple tower also rebuilt by Nebuchadrezzar II.

Ruins of Nebuchadrezzar’s “Summer Palace,” just inside the outer fortification line on the bank of the Euphrates (W. S. LaSor)

Herodotus (i.181–183) described Etemenanki, which he called the “sanctuary” of Zeus Belos. It was, he wrote, 2 stadia (400 m or 1300 ft) sq and was entered through a bronze gate. The temple tower stood in the center of the sanctuary, its sides 1 stadium (200 m, 650 ft) long, with eight towers, one on top of the other. It also had slopes or steps rising on each level. (See Babel, Tower Of.) In the large topmost temple was a couch covered in beautiful rugs with a golden table. There was no image of the deity, and the Chaldean priests informed Herodotus that one unmarried native woman spent the night there to be visited by the deity. Though Herodotus did not believe the story, it conforms to the known Babylonian view of the sacred marriage.

H. Esagila The principal temple of Babylon, Esagila (“house of the uplifted head”), was dedicated to the patron deity of the city Marduk. It lay S of Etemenanki, which must have overshadowed it. The excavations by Koldewey in the ‘Amrān Ibn ‘Alī mound disclosed sufficient evidence to recover the ground plan of two building complexes. The main shrine to the west (10 by 79 m, 33 by 260 ft) was entered by four doors, one on each side. At a lower level than the principal shrine, that of Marduk, were chapels and niches for lesser deities around the central courtyard. Nabopolassar claimed to have redecorated the Marduk shrine with gypsum and silver alloy, which Nebuchadrezzar replaced with fine gold. The walls were studded with precious stones set in gold plate, and stone and lapis lazuli pillars supported cedar roof beams. The texts describe the god’s gilded bedchamber adjacent to the throne room.

Herodotus (i.183) described two statues of the god, one seated. The larger was said to be 12 ells (6 m, 20 ft) high, but Herodotus did not see it, being told that it had been carried off by Xerxes. This was the usual practice of those kings who wished to curb the independent citizens of Babylon. The opposite action, that of “taking the hand of Bēl (Marduk)” to lead the statue out of the akitu (New Year) house and into Esagila, ensured their authority and usually acceptance by the people. Herodotus was told that 800 talents (16.8 metric tons) of gold were used for these statues and for the table, throne, and footstool. A thousand talents of incense were burned annually at the festivals while innumerable sacrificial animals were brought in to the two golden altars, one used for large, the other for small victims.

Esagila was first mentioned by Šulgi of Ur, who restored it ca 2100 b.c. Sabium, Hammurabi, Samsuiluna, Ammi-ditana,Ammi-ṣaduqa and Samsu-ditana all refer to their devotion to the temple during the 1st Dynasty of Babylon (1894–1595), a care that was to be continued by every king and conqueror of Babylon except Sennacherib. Some refer to their dedications to Marduk and Ṣarpānītum or to Nabû and Tašmetum in their twin shrine at Ezida (“house of knowledge”). One of the best-known of these votive gifts was the diorite stele engraved with the laws of Hammurabi and set up in Esagila as a record of the manner in which that king had exercised justice. The standard brick inscription of Nebuchadrezzar describes him as “provider for Esagila and Ezida.” At a lower level in Esagila were located the shrines of Ea to the north, Anu to the south, and elsewhere Nusku and Sin. To the east of Esagila lay a further complex of buildings (89 by 116 m, 292 by 380 ft) the precise purpose of which is not known.

I. Other Temples In addition to Ezida, Babylonian texts refer to at least fifty other temples by name, Nebuchadrezzar himself claiming to have built fifteen of them within the city. Excavations have uncovered the temple of Ishtar of Agade (Emašdari) in the area of private houses (Merkes), E of the Procession Way. This faced toward the southwest and was rectangular in form (37 by 31 m, 111 by 102 ft) with two entrances, S and E, leading into an inner court. The plan was similar to others of the period (e.g., Ezida of Borsippa) with six antechambers alongside the antechapel and shrine, which led directly off the court. This temple was kept in order by Nebuchadrezzar and Nabonidus and lasted into the Persian era.

Koldewey also cleared two temples E of ‘Amrān Ibn ‘Alī in the Išin-Aswad mound. One cannot be identified as yet due to the absence of inscriptions, hence its designation “Z” temple. This was in continual use over at least seventeen hundred years. To the east lay the shrine of Ninurta (Epatitilla, “temple of the staff of life”) built by Nabopolassar, according to its foundation cylinder. This was restored by Nebuchadrezzar. Here the plan (190 by 133 m, 623 by 436 ft) differs, the main entry being to the east, with subsidiary doors to the north and south. Off the courtyard to the west lay three interconnected equal shrines, each with a dais perhaps dedicated to Ninurta and his wife Gula and son Nusku.

Near the Ishtar gate stood the well-preserved temple of Ninmaḫ, goddess of the underworld, constructed by Ashurbanipal ca 646 b.c. Outside this massive building, called Emaḫ, stood an altar. Passing this to the main door on the north side, worshipers would then traverse the courtyard, passing a well, to enter the shrine in the antechapel. Here they would kneel before the statue of the goddess splendidly clothed and standing on its dais. The architect, Labāši, had designed the surrounding storerooms with a view to security, since many valuable votive offerings must have been hoarded there together with the many fertility figurines found in them. The outer wall was defended by towers, since the shrine may have lain outside the main city defenses. This building has now been fully restored by the Iraqi Department of Antiquities. The cuneiform texts imply that there were many shrines in the city, “180 open-air shrines for Ishtar” and “300 daises for the Igigi gods and 1200 daises of the Anunnaki gods.” There were also more than two hundred pedestals for other deities mentioned. The open-air shrines were probably similar to those for the intercessory Lama goddess found at crossroads at Ur.

J. Private Houses A series of mounds to the north of Išin Aswad at Babylon are called locally Merkes, “trade center.” Since the levels containing houses were easier to excavate, being on raised ground, it was possible for Koldewey to trace occupation here almost continuously from the Old Babylonian period to the Parthian period. Here too the streets ran almost straight and crossed at right angles. The houses consisted of a series of rooms around a central courtyard. They were made of mud brick roofed with mats set over wooden beams, and many showed signs of the fire that had raged in the destruction of the city at the hands of the Hittites, Sennacherib, or Xerxes. Several of the buildings had foundation walls 1.8 m (6 ft) thick; and, like “the Great House” in Merkes, this may indicate that they supported more than one story. Nevertheless, Herodotus’ observation that “the city was filled with houses of three or four stories” cannot now be checked. Some houses may have been built on higher ground than others. Moreover, his expression órophos could be rendered “roofs” rather than “story.”

K. Documents Apart from the architectural remains, the decorations of the Ishtar gate, and small objects, the most significant finds from ancient Babylon are more than thirty thousand inscribed tablets. Since apart from the Merkes the Old Babylonian levels have not been explored, mainly because of the high water table of the region, most of these are dated to the Chaldean dynasty or later. They provide an intimate knowledge of personal dealings by merchants until the Seleucid era. Many were obtained by locals in their illicit diggings and cannot now be associated with their original context. These tablets are mainly contracts and administrative documents. There are, however, a number of literary and religious texts originating in the temples in the post-Achaemenid period up to a.d. 100. A few of these traditional “school-texts” are in Greek on clay tablets. These continued to be copied long after Aramaic had become the official language written on more perishable materials, and they include astronomical observations, diaries, almanacs, and omens.

V. Later History

A. Fall of Babylon, 539b.c. In 544 Nabonidus returned from Teimā to Babylon, with which he had been in contact throughout his ten-year exile. He does not, however, appear to have taken over control of the city itself again from Belshazzar when, according to the Babylonian Chronicle for his seventeenth year, the gods of the chief cities of Babylonia, except Borsippa, Kutha, and Sippar, were brought into the capital for safekeeping. During Cyrus’ attack on Opis the citizens of Babylon apparently revolted but were suppressed by Nabonidus with some bloodshed. He himself fled when Sippar fell on the 15th of Tešrītu, and the next day Ugbaru, the governor of Gutium, and the Persian army entered the city without a battle. This appears to have been effected by the strategem of diverting the river Euphrates, thus drying up the moat defenses and enabling the enemy to enter the city by marching up the dried-up river bed. This may also imply some collaboration with sympathizers inside the walls. That night Belshazzar was killed (Dnl. 5:30). For the remainder of the month Persian troops occupied Esagila, though without bearing arms or interrupting the religious ceremonies.

On the 3rd of Araḫ-samnu (Oct 29, 539 b.c.), sixteen days after the capitulation, Cyrus himself entered the city amid much public acclaim, ending the Chaldean dynasty as predicted by the Hebrew prophets (Isa. 13:21; Jer. 50f). Cyrus treated the city with great respect, returning to their own shrines the statues of the deities brought in from other cities. The Jews were sent home with compensatory assistance. He appointed new governors, so ensuring peace and stable conditions essential to the proper maintenance of the religious centers.

B. Achaemenid City In Nisānu 538, Cambyses II son of Cyrus II “took the hands of Bēl,” but left the city under the control of a governor, who kept the peace until Cambyses’ death in 522 b.c. There followed the first of the recurrent revolts. Nidintu-Bēl seized power, taking the emotive throne-name Nebuchadrezzar III (Oct.–Dec. 522). Darius, the legitimate king (520–485), put down a further rebellion in the following year but spared the city, building there an arsenal, a Persian-style columned hall (appa danna), as an addition to the palace he used during his stay in the city.

Xerxes, possibly the Ahasuerus of Ezr. 4:6, maintained Babylon’s importance as an administrative center and provincial capital, but the town declined after an uprising that he successfully suppressed. Another rebellion in his fourth year (482) led him to destroy the ziggurat and to remove the statue of Marduk. The walls remained standing in good enough repair for Herodotus, who probably visited the city ca 460 b.c., to describe them in detail (i.178–188), vindicated to a large measure by subsequent researches. There is no evidence that the decree of Xerxes imposing the worship of Ahuramazda was ever taken seriously.

Economic texts from the Egibi family and the Murašu archives from Nippur (460–400 [5 highlights]b.c.) show continued activity despite increasing inflation which more than doubled the rent on a small house, from 15 shekels per annum under Cyrus II to almost 40 shekels in the reign of Artaxerxes I (Longimanus, 465–424), when Ezra and Nehemiah left Babylon to return to Jerusalem (Ezr. 7:1; Neh. 2:1). Artaxerxes II (404–359), according to Berossus, was the first Persian ruler to introduce the statue of Aphrodite or Anahita into the city. Artaxerxes III (Ochus, 358–338) could be the builder or restorer of the appa danna found by Koldewey.

C. Hellenistic Period After his victory at Gaugamela near Arbela (Erbil), Oct. 1, 331 b.c., Alexander marched to Babylon, where the Macedonian was triumphantly acclaimed, the Persian garrison offering no opposition. He offered sacrifices to Marduk, ordered the rebuilding of temples that Xerxes allegedly had destroyed, and then a month later moved on to Susa. He later returned to further his elaborate plans for the sacred city, on which he paid out 600,000 days’ wages for clearing the rubble from the precincts of Esagila (Strabo xvi.1). This debris was dumped on that part of the ruins now called Ḥomera. The Jews who had fought in his army refused to take any part in the restoration of the temple of Bēl(Josephus CAp i.192). Alexander also planned a new port, but this too was thwarted by his death, June 13, 323. The Greek theater inside the east wall (Ḥomera), cleared by Koldewey and Lenzen, may have been built at this time, though it was unquestionably restored in the time of Antiochus IV.

D. Seleucid-Parthians A king list from Babylon written soon after 175 b.c. names the successors of Alexander who ruled the city — Philip Arrhidaeus, Antigonus, Alexander IV, and Seleucus I (323–250). Before Seleucus died Babylon’s economic but not its religious importance had declined sharply, a process hastened by the foundation of a new capital at Seleucia (Tell `Umar) on the Tigris by his successor Antiochus I, in 274 b.c.

E. Later City Babylon’s attraction as a “holy city” continued. The satrap Hyspaosines of Characene suppressed a revolt led by a certain Hymerus in 127 b.c. when the priests of Esagila were active. Hymerus issued coins as “king of Babylon” in 124/23, but by the following year Mithradates II had regained control. An independent ruler Gotarzes I was recognized as ruler in 91–80, and the city lay in Parthian hands (Mithradates III, 58–55) until taken over by a rebel Orodes. It remained a center of Hellenism, despite the opposition of a significant traditional Babylonian priestly party and of a minority of Jews, from among whom may have come Hillel. Babylon supported the Jews in Palestine who opposed Herod (Josephus Ant. xv.2.1–3). The close association between these Jews in Babylon, who enjoyed self-government there in the 1st cent, and their fellows in Jerusalem is suggested in Acts 2:9–11. Dated cuneiform texts up to a.d. 110 show that the site was still occupied. While Babylon may have been the site of an early Christian church (1 Pet. 5:13), there is no evidence (see Babylon in the NT). When Trajan entered the city in 115 he sacrificed to Alexander’s manes but made no reference to the continued existence of other religious practices or buildings. According to Septimius Severus the site was deserted by a.d. 200.

VI. Exploration and Excavation

Since the ancient city of Babylon long lay deserted and unidentified, many early travelers, including Schiltberger (ca 1400), di Conti (1428–1453), Rauwolf (1574), and John Eldred (1583), thought it lay elsewhere, probably at the upstanding remains of ‘Aqar Qūf, W of Baghdad, which resembled the Tower of Babel. Benjamin of Tudela (12th cent), however, considered that the ruins of Birs Nimrûd covered ancient Babylon.

Pietro della Valle, visiting Bâbil in 1616, correctly equated it with Babylon, as did Emmanuel Ballyet in 1755 and Carsten Niebuhr some ten years later. Surface exploration was undertaken by C. J. Rich (1811/12, [6 highlights]1821) and J. S. Buckingham and Mellino (1827). Ker Porter mapped the ruins (1818), as did Coste and Flandin (1841), while soundings were made by R. Mignan (1828) and more seriously by A. H. Layard (1850).

The first systematic excavations were directed by a French consul, Fresnel, with Oppert and Thomas in 1852. Their finds were regrettably lost when a boat containing them foundered at Qurna. Work was continued by E. Sachau in 1897/98, but it was left to the Deutsche Orientgesellschaft under Robert Koldewey to plan and carry out scientific excavations throughout the years 1899–1917. Work began with the Procession Way, the temple of Ninmaḫ, and the palaces (1900), the Ninurta temple (1901), the Ishtar gate (1902), the Persian buildings (1906/07), Merkes (1908), and the rest of theQaṣr (1911/12).

From 1955 to 1968 the Iraqi Department of Antiquities carried out further clearances, especially of the Ishtar gateway, which was partially restored together with the Procession Way and the palaces. The Ninmaḫ temple was reconstructed, and a museum and rest house built on the site, which is also partially covered by the village of Jumjummah. The German Archaeological Institute has continued its interest in the site by excavating the quay wall and the Greek theater.

See also Archeology of Mesopotamia.

Bibliography.—R. Koldewey, Excavations at Babylon (1914); E. Unger, Babylon, die heilige Stadt (1931); “Babylon” inReallexikon der Assyriologie, II (1932); O. E. Ravn, Herodutus’ Description of Babylon (1932); W. Andrae, Babylon, die versunkene Weltstadt und ihr Ausgräber Robert Koldewey (1952); F. Wetzel, Das Babylon der Spätzeit (1957); A. Parrot,Babylon and the OT (1958); H. J. Klengel, in Forschungen und Berichte, 5 (1962); J. Neusner, History of the Jews in Babylonia: The Parthian Period (1965); H. W. F. Saggs, in AOTS, pp. 39–56.

D. J. Wiseman

A publication of

<div align=”center”>Stay Up-To-Date With Our Email Newsletter Today!</div>
<!– BEGIN: Constant Contact Email List Form Button –>
<div align=”center”><a class=”button” style=”background-color:#e8e8e8;border:solid 1px #5b5b5b;color:#5b5b5b;display:inline-block;padding:8px 10px;text-shadow:none;” href=”;p=oi&amp;m=1118092547857&amp;sit=4e4qyj5ib&amp;f=b6906fcc-9bc5-49ea-ad00-b5217307b601″>Subscribe Today</a></div>
<div class=”footer”>Grace Notes is a ministry of <a href=”; target=”_blank”>Austin Bible Church</a>, Austin, TX, <a href=””>Pastor Bob Bolender.</a>
Director: <b>Louis Roth</b>, PO BOX 515, Liberty Hill, TX 78642 – <a href=””></a>
Webmaster: <b><a href=””>Jacob Williams</a></b></div>