The first post-Flood tyrant and empire builder
Published: 6 July 2021 (GMT+10)
Tyranny appears on the earth
Within a few generations after the Flood, tyrants began to appear on earth—first in the person of Nimrod, the grandson of Ham. Some commentators suggest that the name ‘Nimrod’ comes from the Hebrew root for the word ‘revolt’ or ‘rebellion’.1 Even if not, as we will consider, his name signifies rebellion.
Nimrod—a mighty man
Genesis 10:8 tells us that Nimrod was the first person to be a ‘mighty man’ (the adjective ‘mighty’ is used three times in Genesis 10:8–9; see also 1 Chronicles 1:10). The Hebrew word translated as ‘mighty’, can also be translated as ‘tyrant’.2 His distinction was that he was the first man, after the Flood, to use aggressive force to control other people. An implication of this may be that he attempted to put himself above honourable men like Noah and Shem, and also to elevate himself to a place above almighty God. Even while Noah and Shem were still alive, and able to bear witness to the judgment that came upon the antediluvians, including the tyrants of those days, Nimrod pursued his ambitious course of consolidating power, exercising authority over his neighbours, and challenging God. People of Nimrod’s generation likely lived around 400 years (compare, Genesis 11:17). During his long life (assuming that he was not assassinated), he would have continued to extend his power and increase the degree of evil which he practiced. Thus, his ruthlessness became legendary.
Nimrod—a mighty hunter
The Scriptures also refer to him as a mighty hunter before the Lord (Genesis 10:9). Every other occurrence of this word in the OT refers to hunting animals. So, many commentators conclude that Nimrod became famous for his ability to track and bring down big game. Thus, it is possible that this is a reference to his being the first recognized ‘dragon’ slayer.3 At that time, the offspring of dinosaurs which had been taken into the Ark would have been spreading throughout the lightly inhabited world. Nimrod may have brought down these ‘dragons’ and become renowned for protecting human settlements from vicious marauding animals. If this were the case, then even God would have been pleased with his action.
However, the context appears to suggest that we are to understand this differently. Nimrod was a mighty hunter; but he may not have limited his hunting to animal game and instead treated his neighbours as if they were nothing more than deer or gazelle. Thus, the expression ‘before the LORD’ (Genesis 10.9) should be taken in the negative sense, ‘against the LORD’.4 Nimrod was an affront to God and man because he sought to rule over people tyrannically.
Nimrod—a city builder
Like Cain (Genesis 4:17), Nimrod founded a city—Babel (Genesis 10:10). Babel was situated in Shinar (the early biblical name for the southern portion of the area later called Babylonia), in the flat valley between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers near where the two rivers come close together (in what is today Iraq). Today this area is dry and desolate, as Isaiah prophesied it would become (Isaiah 13:19–22). However, in the centuries immediately following the Flood, this area would have been well watered and highly productive.
For the Babylonians, the name Babel meant ‘gate of god’.5 It is generally believed that it was given this name since it was the seat of the pagan cult of Baal worship. It was there that the tower was built to honour the pagan pantheon and to challenge the authority of the living God. The covenant people reinterpreted the meaning of the city’s name, using related sounds (balal), to mean ‘he confused’ (Genesis 11:9).
As the population of Babel increased, it likely would have become too large for its immediate hinterlands to support. In addition, as the population of greater Mesopotamia increased, controlling the population from a single city could have been a challenge. These are possible reasons why Nimrod established other cities, in Sumer (Genesis 10:10). He maintained control over these cities and formed them into the first postdiluvian kingdom (Genesis 10:10)—this is the first reference to a kingdom in the Bible.
Nimrod—an empire builder
The Genesis account mentions that Nimrod then went into Assyria and also built cities there (Genesis 10:11–12). This area had initially been settled by the descendants of Shem. So, Nimrod not only formed the first kingdom, but it appears that he also extended his kingdom by conquering and subjugating the people of other lands and formed an empire. Nimrod established permanent settlements (which were likely walled, based on the findings from archaeological digs in city ruins) from which the territories within his empire could be controlled. In Assyria, he first founded Nineveh on the Tigris River (in northern Iraq), which became the capital of Assyria. We know of Nineveh from later history (e.g., Jonah’s visit), as a city which covered a large area (Jonah 3:4). The locations of Rehoboth-Ir and Resen are uncertain. However, Calah is believed to be the city ruins called Nimrud (named after Nimrod) which was excavated in the mid-19th century. Two large, winged lion statues from the ruins were delivered by Henry Layard to the British Museum, after many transportation challenges. The Treasure of Nimrud (gold jewellery and precious stones6), found in the ruins, survived the looting in Iraq in 2003 and was preserved in Baghdad.
Nimrod—leader of the Babel rebellion
God had instructed mankind to go out and fill the uninhabited earth (Genesis 9:1)—to explore and subdue his splendid creation. However, instead of migrating in different directions, most of them determined that they would stick together and organize themselves around a single central city (Genesis 11:4)—this does not mean that every inhabitant on the earth at the time lived in the one city, Babel (Genesis 10:10; 11:1).
The unified rebellion at Babel may have occurred as soon as 130 years after the Flood, and possibly as late as 340 years after the flood. Even with the later date, Noah (Genesis 9:28) and at least Shem (Genesis 11:11) of Noah’s sons were still alive as eyewitnesses to the antediluvian rebellion against God (Genesis 6:5) and of its consequences. So, men could not have used an excuse of ignorance. Rather, the Babelites’ rebellion was clearly a blatant act of defiance against God’s law and authority.
It is not stated in Genesis 11 that Nimrod was responsible for building the tower, however, as the founder of Babel, it can legitimately be assumed that he oversaw the tower’s construction.7 Josephus, the Talmud, and the later midrash on the OT support this view. Based on our current understanding of ancient Middle Eastern cultic religions and the nature of ziggurats (which the tower likely was), it is possible that the Babelites, under Nimrod, created a religion with gods associated with celestial objects (sun, moon, planets, stars) and earth-based entities (sea, rivers, and storms). If this is the case, then they laid a foundation for the use of astrological signs and omens, and what they created was absorbed by the later inhabitants of Akkad and Sumer and transmitted around the world with the dispersing people groups, after the confusion of languages (Genesis 11:7–9).
Nimrod—an historical figure
Nimrod was an historical person, not legendary as suggested by some secular historians.8 The name ‘Nimrod’ may be a dysphemism introduced by the author of this portion of Genesis. So, we can ask who he was, as he is referenced in extrabiblical history. Various possibilities have been suggested, including Tukulti-Ninurta I, king of Assyria and Amenophis III, king of Egypt, and mythical heroes e.g., Marduk and Orion, and Gilgamesh.9 However, the most likely historical person, as suggested by archaeologist Murray Adamthwaite in an article in CMI’s Journal of Creation,10 and in the New Bible dictionary,11 is Sargon the Great, or Sargon of Akkad, the founder of the dynasty of Akkad. (Sargon (Šarru-kin: “the king is legitimate”) is a dynastic name taken centuries later by King Sargon I of the Old Assyrian Empire (fl. 1850 BC), and a thousand years after that by King Sargon II (reigned 721–705 BC) of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.)
At one time historians dated Sargon’s reign from 2568 to 2513 BC.12 We cannot accept secular historians’ dates when they date events prior to the Flood (about 2345 BC). However, in the 1990s his reign was redated from 2334 to 2279 BC.13 Even such a date range as this places Sargon of Akkad’s reign too close to the end of the Flood. Recent research, as noted by Adamthwaite, has proposed that Sargon’s reign should be redated from 2296 to 2240 BC;14 or his reign could be even more recent—dated from 2270 to 2215 BC.15 Both of these latter date ranges place Sargon the Great’s reign in the right era to coincide with Nimrod, and they overlap with the possible date for the construction of the tower at Babel (probably sometime between 2245 and 2215 BC).
The extent of Sargon’s empire was essentially the same as that referred to in the Genesis 10 account (Shinar and Akkad)—although it also extended into Asia Minor (which may have occurred after the account in Genesis 10 was written). Historians regard Sargon of Akkad as the first person to have created an empire, which fits well with what we are told about Nimrod. The Bible identifies Nimrod as the first empire builder. Thus, they are likely the same person.
The end of Nimrod’s empire
Historians believe that Sargon the Great’s dynasty controlled Mesopotamia for a century and a half, that he died in 2215 BC, and that the subjects in his empire revolted upon hearing of his death. Two of Sargon’s sons succeeded him with short reigns. After which, his empire decayed, and the Elamites destroyed the remnants of his empire.
Historians have identified a period of chaos after the death of Sargon the Great and the demise of his dynasty, in which Mesopotamia had no central authority for over a century. This chaos could be explained by the disruption which would have resulted from the confusion of languages (Genesis 11:7–9). It is believed that, following the Akkadian period under Sargon, there was an attempt by a Sumerian dynasty (south Mesopotamia) to consolidate power in Mesopotamia. It is called the Third Ur Dynasty period. It is reported to have lasted until around 2000 BC. Abraham was born during this period, and, as we are informed, lived in Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11:28, 31). Out of this turmoil in Mesopotamia, an Amorite king, Hammurabi (reported to have reigned c. 1792–1750 BC) established a new empire, based in Babylon. This was the short-lived Old Babylonian Empire, not to be confused with the Neo-Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar. He was successful in consolidating power in Mesopotamia and restored a measure of centralized order. He is known for his law code, of which parts have been preserved on a number of stelae and clay tablets.
Dynasties controlling Mesopotamia were important throughout the period of the Israelite occupation of Palestine because they had significant interactions with God’s covenant people. Centuries after Hammurabi, these empires were the Neo-Assyrian (e.g., Tiglath-Pileser and Sargon II), Neo-Babylonian (reaching its height under Nebuchadnezzar), Persian (e.g., Cyrus the Great), Greek (e.g., Alexander the Great and Antiochus Epiphanes, a descendant of Alexander’s general Seleucus), and Roman. Sargon the Great was regarded by later Mesopotamian empire builders as the model for despotic rule. For example, Nabonidus (r. 555–539 BC), king of Babylon, showed great interest in the history of Sargon’s dynasty and had excavations undertaken at Sargon’s palaces.
God used the division of language at Babel to bring an end to Nimrod’s ambitions and the first empire in world history. Nimrod was an affront to God because of his support for a false polytheistic religion, his attempt to dethrone God by building a tower raised against Heaven, and his tyrannical rule over people. He built cities, like wicked Cain, as memorials to man, rather than building altars to the living God as Noah and Abraham did (Genesis 8:20; 12:7–8). He worked to build the City of Man—the anti-God, temporal, hedonistic city—rather than seeking the establishment of the City of God (Hebrews 11:10, cf. Augustine).
References and notes
- Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Lewis, T., & Gosman, A. A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Genesis (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software 2008), p. 367. Return to text.
- Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1977), p. 150. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The Genesis account—a theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1–11 (Powder Springs, GA: Creation Book Publishers 2015), p. 641. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J. ref. 3, p. 642. Return to text.
- Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, ref. 2, p. 93. Return to text.
- aina.org/nimrud/nimrudtreasures.htm. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., ref. 3, pp. 642, 659–660. Return to text.
- britannica.com/biography/Nimrod Return to text.
- Wexler, Gertrude, “Nimrod”, Collier’s Encyclopedia (Vol 17), (New York: Macmillan Educational, 1981), p. 556. Return to text.
- Adamthwaite, M.R., . Perspectives on ancient chronology and the Old Testament—part 1, J. Creation 31(3):61–67,2017. Return to text.
- Wiseman, D. J. “Nimrod”, in D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, & J. I. Packer (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.), (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 825. Return to text.
- Jones, Tom B. “Sargon I”, Collier’s Encyclopedia (Vol 20), (New York: Macmillan Educational, 1981), p. 433. Return to text.
- britannica.com/biography/Sargon Return to text.
- Adamthwaite, ref. 10. Return to text.
- military.wikia.org/wiki/Sargon_of_Akkad Return to text.