Land of Shinar

The arrogant acts of Nebuchadnezzar against the kingdom of Judah paralleled the incident at the Tower of Babel

Stone Column - Photo by Madhu Madhavan on Unsplash
In its opening passage, Daniel calls Babylon the “land of Shinar,” an intentional link to the story of the Tower of Babel and the founding of the city of Babylon. That incident is echoed again in the third chapter of Daniel when Nebuchadnezzar gathered all the nations to pay homage to the image that he had “set up” - [Photo by Madhu Madhavan on Unsplash].

Biblically speaking, the Neo-Babylonian Empire was not an entirely new political entity, for it had an ancient pedigree. The imperial city in which Daniel found himself was the latest incarnation of the World-Power that had existed since the beginning of civilization as recorded in Genesis.

The Tower of Babel. God thwarted the completion of a high tower in the “land of Shinar,” causing the diversity and wide distribution of languages, nations, and cultures across the earth. That story provides the reader of Daniel with the true origins of the later Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar.
  • (Daniel 1:1-2) – “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem, and laid siege against it; and the Lord gave into his hand Jehoiakim king of Judah and a part of the vessels of the house of God, and he brought them into the land of Shinar into the house of his gods, and the vessels brought he into the treasure-house of his gods.”
The opening paragraph builds on the story from Genesis, the time when the “whole earth was of one language and one speech.” Noah’s descendants migrated to Mesopotamia to dwell “in the land of Shinar.” The name ‘Shinar’ is the Hebrew equivalent of ‘Sumer,’ the first known civilization in Mesopotamia.

The people of Shinar began to build a city with a high tower that would “reach the heavens and thus make us a name, lest we be scattered across the whole earth.” The description reflects the Sumerian culture in which cities featured temples built on ziggurats, tiered mounds that formed the highest point in a city. Dedicated to its chief deity, the town’s civil, economic, and religious activities centered on its temple.

Originally, Yahweh commanded Adam to “multiply, replenish and subdue the earth.” That same command was reiterated to Noah after the flood; however, humanity chose to move to Mesopotamia and build a new civilization centered in Shinar, and there, to make a name for itself. And in the Hebrew Bible, Babylon is characterized by its arrogance - (Genesis 1:28, 9:1, Isaiah 14:13-1463:12-14Jeremiah 32:20).

If humanity united under one language, the wickedness of mankind would know no bounds. By confounding their language, God caused the nations to spread throughout the earth, and He stopped the first attempt to establish a centralized World-Power. Thus, the idolatrous ambitions of Babylon were delayed, at least, until a future opportunity.

Ancient Babylon
Ancient Babylon -

The Bible calls the city ‘Babel,’ the place where “Yahweh confounded the language of all the earth.” It may be related to the Hebrew word balal or “confusion,” although in the ancient Akkadian language of Mesopotamia bab-ili (‘Babel’) meant the “gate of god.”

Thus, in Daniel, the king of “Babel” attempted to reverse God’s ancient judgment. Nebuchadnezzar gathered different ethnic groups, cultures, and nations to his rebuilt city to be educated in the “language of Babylon,” the latest incarnation of the World-Power.

Nimrod. The story of Nimrod is found in the Table of Nations in Genesis, the man linked to the origins of Mesopotamian civilization, and the founder of several of its chief cities, including Babel, Asshur, and Nineveh. He became “mighty one in the earth,” a term that reflects the “mighty men of name,” the gibborim, who lived before the flood, warriors who established fearsome reputations through violent exploits - (Genesis 6:4-13, 10:8-12).

Likewise, Nimrod was a “mighty hunter before the face of Yahweh.” The description denotes his opposition to Yahweh, not the approval of God. The name ‘Nimrod’ is derived from the Hebrew word mārăd - “We will revolt” – and is used elsewhere to typify despotic rulers that oppressed God’s people - (Micah 5:6).

Parallels in Daniel. In Genesis, the “whole earth spoke one language” as men began to dwell in “Shinar.” They built a city and tower of “great height” in the plain of Shinar to mark their achievements and prevent humanity’s dispersal.

Likewise, in Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar brought captives to Babylon, the great city that he had built. There, exiles from other nations were educated in the “language of the Chaldeans.” What the original inhabitants of Babel began to do, Nebuchadnezzar attempted to complete.

And so, Nebuchadnezzar “set up” a great golden image of exceptional “height” in the “plain of Dura,” then decreed that “all peoples, races, and tongues” must render homage to it.  He gathered representatives from every province and nation “to the dedication of the image” - (Daniel 3:1-8).

Thus, the whole earth was summoned to be united under Nebuchadnezzar and to render homage to his great and “high” image. The verbal parallels are deliberate.  Just as the earlier inhabitants of Mesopotamia united to build a city and high tower, so the king of Babylon presumed to unite all humanity under his authority and his idolatrous image.



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