Nimrod (Hebrew: נִמְרוֹד, Modern Nimrod Tiberian Nimrōḏ Aramaic: ܢܡܪܘܕ Arabic: نمرود) is, according to the Book of Genesis and Books of Chronicles, the son of Cush and great-grandson of Noah and the king of Shinar. He is depicted in the Tanakh as a man of power in the earth, and a mighty hunter. Extra-Biblical traditions associating him with the Tower of Babel led to his reputation as a king who was rebellious against YHWH. Several Mesopotamian ruins were given Nimrod's name by 8th century Arabs (see Nimrud).
The first mention of Nimrod is in the Table of Nations. He is described as the son of Cush, grandson of Ham, and great-grandson of Noah; and as "a mighty one on the earth" and "a mighty hunter before God". This is repeated in First Book of Chronicles and the "Land of Nimrod", used as a synonym for Assyria, is mentioned in the Book of Micah. Micah 5:6: And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders.
Genesis says that the "beginning of his kingdom" (reshit memelketo) was the towns of "Babel, Uruk, Akkad and Calneh in the land of Shinar" (Mesopotamia) — understood variously to imply that he either founded these cities, ruled over them, or both. Owing to an ambiguity in the original Hebrew text, it is unclear whether it is he or Asshur who additionally built Nineveh, Resen, Rehoboth-Ir and Calah (both interpretations are reflected in various English versions). (Genesis 10:8–12) (Genesis 10:8-12; 1 Chronicles 1:10, Micah 5:6). Sir Walter Raleigh devoted several pages in his History of the World (c. 1616) to reciting past scholarship regarding the question of whether it had been Nimrod or Ashur who built the cities in Assyria.
Traditions and legends
Since Classical times, Nimrod has traditionally been considered the leader of those who built the Tower of Babel in the land of Shinar, though the Bible never actually states this. Nimrod’s kingdom included the cities of Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, all in Shinar. (Ge 10:10) Therefore it was likely under his direction that the building of Babel and its tower began; in addition to Flavius Josephus, this is also the view found in the Talmud (Chullin 89a, Pesahim 94b, Erubin 53a, Avodah Zarah 53b), and later midrash such as Genesis Rabba. Several of these early Judaic sources also assert that the king Amraphel, who wars with Abraham later in Genesis, is none other than Nimrod himself.
Judaic interpreters as early as Philo and Yochanan ben Zakai (1st century AD) interpreted "a mighty hunter before the Lord" (Heb. : לפני יהוה, lit. "in the face of the Lord") as signifying "in opposition to the Lord"; a similar interpretation is found in Pseudo-Philo, as well as later in Symmachus. Some rabbinic commentators have also connected the name Nimrod with a Hebrew word meaning 'rebel'. In Pseudo-Philo (dated ca. AD 70), Nimrod is made leader of the Hamites; while Joktan as leader of the Semites, and Fenech as leader of the Japhethites, are also associated with the building of the Tower. Versions of this story are again picked up in later works such as Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius (7th century AD).
The Book of Jubilees mentions the name of "Nebrod" (the Greek form of Nimrod) only as being the father of Azurad, the wife of Eber and mother of Peleg (8:7). This account would thus make him an ancestor of Abraham, and hence of all Hebrews.
"Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to reach. And that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers.
Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high, sooner than any one could expect; but the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was. It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. When God saw that they acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they were not grown wiser by the destruction of the former sinners; but he caused a tumult among them, by producing in them diverse languages, and causing that, through the multitude of those languages, they should not be able to understand one another. The place wherein they built the tower is now called Babylon, because of the confusion of that language which they readily understood before; for the Hebrews mean by the word Babel, confusion…"
An early Arabic work known as Kitab al-Magall or the Book of Rolls (part of Clementine literature) states that Nimrod built the towns of Hadâniûn, Ellasar, Seleucia, Ctesiphon, Rûhîn, Atrapatene, Telalôn, and others, that he began his reign as king over earth when Reu was 163, and that he reigned for 69 years, building Nisibis, Raha (Edessa) and Harran when Peleg was 50. It further adds that Nimrod "saw in the sky a piece of black cloth and a crown." He called upon Sasan the weaver and commanded him to make him a crown like it, which he set jewels on and wore. He was allegedly the first king to wear a crown. "For this reason people who knew nothing about it, said that a crown came down to him from heaven." Later, the book describes how Nimrod established fire worship and idolatry, then received instruction in divination for three years from Bouniter, the fourth son of Noah.
In the Recognitions (R 4.29), one version of the Clementines, Nimrod is equated with the legendary Assyrian king Ninus, who first appears in the Greek historian Ctesias as the founder of Nineveh. However, in another version, the Homilies (H 9.4-6), Nimrod is made to be the same as Zoroaster.
The Syriac Cave of Treasures (ca. 350) contains an account of Nimrod very similar to that in the Kitab al-Magall, except that Nisibis, Edessa and Harran are said to be built by Nimrod when Reu was 50, and that he began his reign as the first king when Reu was 130. In this version, the weaver is called Sisan, and the fourth son of Noah is called Yonton.
Jerome, writing ca. 390, explains in Hebrew Questions on Genesis that after Nimrod reigned in Babel, "he also reigned in Arach [Erech], that is, in Edissa; and in Achad [Accad], which is now called Nisibis; and in Chalanne [Calneh], which was later called Seleucia after King Seleucus when its name had been changed, and which is now in actual fact called Ctesiphon." However, this traditional identification of the cities built by Nimrod in Genesis is no longer accepted by modern scholars, who consider them to be located in Sumer, not Syria.
The Ge'ez Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan (ca. 5th century) also contains a version similar to that in the Cave of Treasures, but the crown maker is called Santal, and the name of Noah's fourth son who instructs Nimrod is Barvin.
However, Ephrem the Syrian (306-373) relates a contradictory view, that Nimrod was righteous and opposed the builders of the Tower. Similarly, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (date uncertain) mentions a Jewish tradition that Nimrod left Shinar and fled to Assyria, because he refused to take part in building the Tower — for which God rewarded him with the four cities in Assyria, to substitute for the ones in Babel.
Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer (c. 833) relates the Jewish traditions that Nimrod inherited the garments of Adam and Eve from his father Cush, and that these made him invincible. Nimrod's party then defeated the Japhethites to assume universal rulership. Later, Esau (grandson of Abraham), ambushed, beheaded, and robbed Nimrod. These stories later reappear in other sources including the 16th century Sefer haYashar, which adds that Nimrod had a son named Mardon who was even more wicked.
In the History of the Prophets and Kings by the 9th century Muslim historian al-Tabari, Nimrod has the tower built in Babil, Allah destroys it, and the language of mankind, formerly Syriac, is then confused into 72 languages. Another Muslim historian of the 13th century, Abu al-Fida, relates the same story, adding that the patriarch Eber (an ancestor of Abraham) was allowed to keep the original tongue, Hebrew in this case, because he would not partake in the building. The 10th century Muslim historian Masudi recounts a legend making the Nimrod who built the tower to be the son of Mash, the son of Aram, son of Shem, adding that he reigned 500 years over the Nabateans. Later, Masudi lists Nimrod as the first king of Babylon, and states that he dug great canals and reigned 60 years. Still elsewhere, he mentions another king Nimrod, son of Canaan, as the one who introduced astrology and attempted to kill Abraham.
In the Hungarian legend of the Enchanted Stag (more commonly known as the White Stag [Fehér Szarvas] or Silver Stag), King Nimród (aka Ménrót and often described as "Nimród the Giant" or "the giant Nimród", descendant of one of Noah's "most wicked" sons, Kam - references abound in traditions, legends, several religions and historical sources to persons and nations bearing the name of Kam or Kám, and overwhelmingly, the connotations are negative), is the first person referred to as forefather of the Hungarians. He, along with his entire nation, is also the giant responsible for the building of the Tower of Babel - construction of which was supposedly started by him 201 years after the event of the Great Flood (see biblical story of Noah's Ark &c.). After the catastrophic failure (through God's will) of that most ambitious endeavour and in the midst of the ensuing linguistic cacophony, Nimród the giant moved to the land of Evilát, where his wife, Enéh gave birth to twin brothers Hunor and Magyar (aka Magor). Father and sons were, all three of them, prodigious hunters, but Nimród especially is the archetypal, consummate, legendary hunter and archer. Both the Huns' and Magyars' historically attested skill with the recurve bow and arrow are attributed to Nimród. (Simon Kézai, personal "court priest" of King László Kún, in his Gesta Hungarorum, 1282-85. This tradition can also be found in over twenty other medieval Hungarian chronicles, as well as a German one, according to Dr Antal Endrey in an article published in 1979).
The twin sons of King Nimród, Hunor and Magor, each with 100 warriors, followed the White Stag through the Meotis Marsh, where they lost sight of the magnificent animal. Hunor and Magor found the two daughters of King Dul of the Alans, together with their handmaidens, whom they kidnapped. Hungarian legends held Hunor and Magyar (aka Magor) to be ancestors of the Huns and the Magyars (Hungarians), respectively.
The evil Nimrod vs. the righteous Abraham
The Bible does not mention any meeting between Nimrod and Abraham, although a confrontation between the two is said to have taken place, according to several Jewish and Islamic traditions. Some stories bring the both together in a cataclysmic collision, seen as a symbol of the confrontation between Good and Evil, and/or as a symbol of monotheism against polytheism. On the other hand, some Jewish traditions say only that the two men met and had a discussion.
According to K. van der Toorn; P. W. van der Horst, this tradition is first attested in the writings of Pseudo-Philo. The story is also found in the Talmud, and in rabbinical writings in the Middle Ages.
In some versions (as in Flavius Josephus), Nimrod is a man who sets his will against that of God. In others, he proclaims himself a god and is worshipped as such by his subjects, sometimes with his consort Semiramis worshipped as a goddess at his side. (See also Ninus.)
A portent in the stars tells Nimrod and his astrologers of the impending birth of Abraham, who would put an end to idolatry. Nimrod therefore orders the killing of all newborn babies. However, Abraham's mother escapes into the fields and gives birth secretly (in some accounts, the baby Abraham is placed in a manger). At a young age, Abraham recognizes God and starts worshiping Him. He confronts Nimrod and tells him face-to-face to cease his idolatry, whereupon Nimrod orders him burned at the stake. In some versions, Nimrod has his subjects gather wood for four whole years, so as to burn Abraham in the biggest bonfire the world had ever seen. Yet when the fire is lit, Abraham walks out unscathed.
In some versions, Nimrod then challenges Abraham to battle. When Nimrod appears at the head of enormous armies, Abraham produces an army of gnats which destroys Nimrod's army. Some accounts have a gnat or mosquito enter Nimrod's brain and drive him out of his mind (a divine retribution which Jewish tradition also assigned to the Roman Emperor Titus, destroyer of the Temple in Jerusalem).
In some versions, Nimrod repents and accepts God, offering numerous sacrifices that God rejects (as with Cain). Other versions have Nimrod give to Abraham, as a conciliatory gift, the slave Eliezer, whom some accounts describe as Nimrod's own son. (The Bible also mentions Eliezer as Abraham's majordomo, though not making any connection between him and Nimrod.)
Still other versions have Nimrod persisting in his rebellion against God, or resuming it. Indeed, Abraham's crucial act of leaving Mesopotamia and settling in Canaan is sometimes interpreted as an escape from Nimrod's revenge. Accounts considered canonical place the building of the Tower many generations before Abraham's birth (as in the Bible, also Jubilees); however in others, it is a later rebellion after Nimrod failed in his confrontation with Abraham. In still other versions, Nimrod does not give up after the Tower fails, but goes on to try storming Heaven in person, in a chariot driven by birds.
The story attributes to Abraham elements from the story of Moses' birth (the cruel king killing innocent babies, with the midwives ordered to kill them) and from the careers of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who emerged unscathed from the fire. Nimrod is thus given attributes of two archetypal cruel and persecuting kings - Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh. Some Jewish traditions also identified him with Cyrus whose birth according to Herodotus was accompanied by portents which made his grandfather try to kill him.
A confrontation is also found in the Islamic Qur'an, between a king, not mentioned by name, and the Prophet Ibrahim (Arabic version of "Abraham"). Muslim commentators assign Nimrod as the king based on Jewish sources. In Ibrahim's confrontation with the king, the former argues that Allah (God) is the one who gives life and gives death. The king responds by bringing out two people sentenced to death. He releases one and kills the other as a poor attempt at making a point that he also brings life and death. Ibrahim refutes him by stating that Allah brings the Sun up from the East, and so he asks the king to bring it from the West. The king is then perplexed and angered.
Whether or not conceived as having ultimately repented, Nimrod remained in Jewish and Islamic tradition an emblematic evil person, an archetype of an idolater and a tyrannical king. In rabbinical writings up to the present, he is almost invariably referred to as "Nimrod the Evil" (Hebrew: נמרוד הרשע)"
The story of Abraham's confrontation with Nimrod did not remain within the confines of learned writings and religious treatises, but also conspicuously influenced popular culture. A notable example is "Quando el Rey Nimrod" ("When King Nimrod"), one of the most well-known folksongs in Ladino (the Judeo-Spanish language), apparently written during the reign of King Alfonso X of Castile.
Beginning with the words: "When King Nimrod went out to the fields/ Looked at the heavens and at the stars/He saw a holy light in the Jewish quarter/A sign that Abraham, our father, was about to be born", the song gives a poetic account of the persecutions perpetrated by the cruel Nimrod and the miraculous birth and deeds of the savior Abraham.
Text of the Midrash Raba version
The following version of the Abraham vs. Nimrod confrontation appears in the Midrash Raba, a major compilation of Jewish Scriptural exegesis. The part relating to Genesis, in which this appears (Chapter 38, 13), is considered to date from the sixth century.
נטלו ומסרו לנמרוד. אמר לו: עבוד לאש. אמר לו אברהם: ואעבוד למים, שמכבים את האש? אמר לו נמרוד: עבוד למים! אמר לו: אם כך, אעבוד לענן, שנושא את המים? אמר לו: עבוד לענן! אמר לו: אם כך, אעבוד לרוח, שמפזרת עננים? אמר לו: עבוד לרוח! אמר לו: ונעבוד לבן אדם, שסובל הרוחות? אמר לו: מילים אתה מכביר, אני איני משתחוה אלא לאוּר - הרי אני משליכך בתוכו, ויבא אלוה שאתה משתחוה לו ויצילך הימנו! היה שם הרן עומד. אמר: מה נפשך, אם ינצח אברהם - אומַר 'משל אברהם אני', ואם ינצח נמרוד - אומַר 'משל נמרוד אני'. כיון שירד אברהם לכבשן האש וניצול, אמרו לו: משל מי אתה? אמר להם: משל אברהם אני! נטלוהו והשליכוהו לאור, ונחמרו בני מעיו ויצא ומת על פני תרח אביו. וכך נאמר: וימת הרן על פני תרח אביו. (בראשית רבה ל"ח, יג)
(...) He [Abraham] was given over to Nimrod. [Nimrod] told him: Worship the Fire! Abraham said to him: Shall I then worship the water, which puts off the fire! Nimrod told him: Worship the water! [Abraham] said to him: If so, shall I worship the cloud, which carries the water? [Nimrod] told him: Worship the cloud! [Abraham] said to him: If so, shall I worship the wind, which scatters the clouds? [Nimrod] said to him: Worship the wind! [Abraham] said to him: And shall we worship the human, who withstands the wind? Said [Nimrod] to him: You pile words upon words, I bow to none but the fire - in it shall I throw you, and let the God to whom you bow come and save you from it!
Haran [Abraham's brother] was standing there. He said [to himself]: what shall I do? If Abraham wins, I shall say: "I am of Abraham's [followers]", if Nimrod wins I shall say "I am of Nimrod's [followers]". When Abraham went into the furnace and survived, Haran was asked: "Whose [follower] are you?" and he answered: "I am Abraham's!". [Then] they took him and threw him into the furnace, and his belly opened and he died and predeceased Terach, his father.
[The Bible, Genesis 11:28, mentions Haran predeceasing Terach, but gives no details.]
Historians and mythographers have long tried to find links between Nimrod and figures from other traditions. The Christian Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea as early as the early 4th century, noting that the Chaldean historian Berossus in the 3rd century BC had stated that the first king after the flood was Euechoios of Chaldea, identified him with Nimrod. George Syncellus (c. 800) also had access to Berossus, and he too identified Euechoios with the biblical Nimrod. More recently, Sumerologists have suggested additionally connecting both this Euechoios, and the king of Babylon and grandfather of Gilgamos who appears in the oldest copies of Aelian (c. 200 AD) as Euechoros, with the name of the founder of Uruk known from cuneiform sources as Enmerkar.
J.D.Prince, in 1920 also suggested a possible link between the Lord (Ni) of Marad and Nimrod. He mentioned how Dr. Kraeling was now inclined to connect Nimrod historically with Lugal-Banda, a mythological king mentioned in Poebel, Historical Texts, 1914, whose seat was at the city Marad. This is supported by Theodore Jacobson in 1989, writing on "Lugalbanda and Ninsuna".
According to Ronald Hendel the name Nimrod is probably a polemical distortion of Ninurta, who had cult centers in Babel and Calah, and was a patron god of the Neo-Assyrian kings. Marduk (Merodach), has been suggested as a possible archetype for Nimrod, especially at the beginning of the 20th century. Nimrod's imperial ventures described in Genesis may be based on the conquests of the Assyrian king Tukulti-Ninurta I (Dalley et al., 1998, p. 67). Alexander Hislop, in his tract The Two Babylons (Chapter 2, Section II, Sub-Section I) decided that Nimrod was to be identified with Ninus, who according to Greek legend was a Mesopotamian king and husband of Semiramis (see below); with a whole host of deities throughout the Mediterranean world, and with the Persian Zoroaster. The identification with Ninus follows that of the Clementine Recognitions; the one with Zoroaster, that of the Clementine Homilies, both works part of Clementine literature.
David Rohl, like Hislop, identified Nimrod with a complex of Mediterranean deities; among those he picked were Asar, Baal, Dumuzi and Osiris. In Rohl's theory, Enmerkar the founder of Uruk was the original inspiration for Nimrod, because the story of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (see:) bears a few similarities to the legend of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, and because the -KAR in Enmerkar means "hunter". Additionally, Enmerkar is said to have had ziggurats built in both Uruk and Eridu, which Rohl postulates was the site of the original Babel.
George Rawlinson believed Nimrod was Belus based on the fact Babylonian and Assyrian inscriptions bear the names inscriptions Bel-Nimrod or Bel-Nibru. The word Nibru comes from a root meaning to 'pursue' or to make 'one flee', and as Rawlinson pointed out not only does this closely resemble Nimrod’s name but it also perfectly fits the description of Nimrod in Genesis 10: 9 as a great hunter. The Belus-Nimrod equation or link is also found in many old works such as Moses of Chorene and the Book of the Bee.
Because another of the cities said to have been built by Nimrod was Accad, an older theory connects him with Sargon the Great, grandfather of Naram-Sin, since, according to the Sumerian king list, that king first built Agade (Akkad). The assertion of the king list that it was Sargon who built Akkad has been called into question, however, with the discovery of inscriptions mentioning the place in the reigns of some of Sargon's predecessors, such as kings Enshakushanna and Lugal-Zage-Si of Uruk. Moreover, Sargon was credited with founding Babylon in the Babylonian Chronicle (ABC 19:51), another city (Babel) attributed to Nimrod in Genesis. However, a different tablet (ABC 20:18-19) suggests that Sargon merely "dug up the dirt of the pit" of the original Babylon, and rebuilt it in its later location fronting Akkad.
Nimrod figures in some very early versions of the history of Freemasonry, where he was said to have been one of the fraternity's founders. According to the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry: The legend of the Craft in the Old Constitutions refers to Nimrod as one of the founders of Masonry. Thus in the York MS., No. 1, we read: "At ye making of ye toure of Babell there was a Masonrie first much esteemed of, and the King of Babilon yt called Nimrod was a Mason himself and loved well Masons." However, he does not figure in the current rituals.
- In the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (written 1308-21), Nimrod is a figure in the Inferno. Nimrod is portrayed as a giant (which was common in the Medieval period) and is found with the other giants Ephialtes, Antaeus, Briareus, Tityos, Typhon and the other unnamed giants chained up on the outskirts of Hell's Circle of Treachery. His only line is "Raphèl maí amèche zabí almi".
- ^ a b Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
- ^ Walter Raleigh, History of the World p. 358-365
- ^ James Kufel, Traditions of the Bible, 1998, p. 230.
- ^ the Kitab al-Magall
- ^ See Louis Ginsberg Legends of the Jews Vol I, and the footnotes volume.
- ^ van der Toorn and van der Horst 1990, p. 19
- ^ "נמרוד". Jewish Encyclopedia Daat. Herzog College. http://www.daat.ac.il/encyclopedia/value.asp?id1=1058. (Hebrew)
- ^ Full original text and an English translation appear in the Ladino wikipedia article; see also , , 
- ^ Wouter F. M. Henkelman, "The Birth of Gilgamesh", in Altertum und Mittelmeerraum: die antike Welt diesseits und jenseits der Levante, p. 819.
- ^ Prince, J.D. (1920) "A Possible Sumerian Original of the Name Nimrod" (Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1920)
- ^ Jacobsen, Theodor (1989) "LUgalbanda and Ninsuna" (Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 1989)
- ^ Oxford Guide To The Bible p.557. Oxford University Press 1993. ISBN 978-0-19-534095-2
- ^ Homily IX
- ^ "Enmerkar and the lord of Aratta: translation". Etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr1823.htm. Retrieved 2009-11-12.
- ^ The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World, Vol. 1, p. 347-350.
- ^ Mos. Choren. 1. 6; 9; Book of the Bee, 22
- ^ Inferno by Dante Alighieri, XXXL 67.
- The Legacy of Mesopotamia; Stephanie Dalley et al. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998)
- Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery; Stephen R. Haynes (NY, Oxford University Press, 2002)
- "Nimrod before and after the Bible" K. van der Toorn; P. W. van der Horst, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 83, No. 1. (Jan., 1990), pp. 1–29
- Nimrod, entry in the Jewish Encyclopedia
- WebBible entry
- Against World Powers: A Study of the Judeo-Christian Struggle in History and Prophecy - Modern Christian writings which follow David Rohl's view on the legends of Nimrod. Another page from this site summarizes Rohl's theory of Nimrod and Enmerkar
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