Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "OLD TESTAMENT
The History of Israel: Addendum
ISRAEL'S NEIGHBOR: MESOPOTAMIA
Return to Syllabus
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
- At the eastern end of the Fertile Crescent
- Meso-potamia means “between the rivers”: Tigris and
- Much irrigation in ancient times; desolate today;
enlarged delta today.
- Persia to the east; mountains of Armenia
to the north; desert to the west; Persian Gulf to the south.
- Some cities:
- In the north: Nineveh , Asshur, Calah.
- In the south: Babylon, Nippur, Erech, Ur.
- Political divisions
- Southern Mesopotamia called Babylon,
from the capital city. In Bible , Shinar and Land of
Chaldeans. Located in the rich alluvial plain of the Tigris
and Euphrates. This is the oldest part of the land. With the exception of
one long period, it was the leader in the political and cultural life.
- Northern Mesopotamia called Assyria,
from early capital city. Capital later changed to Nineveh. Assyria colonized
by Sumerians, c.2500 B.C. Racial makeup of Assyrians little understood. Less
civilized, more war-like people than Babylonians. (Cp. Sparta and Athens)
- Periods of history
- Prehistoric—to 3000 B.C.
Earliest known civilization on earth arises at the end of this period. b.
Invented cylinder seals, then writing (Erech-3500 B.C.), dome,
architecture; first ziggurat.
- Pre-Baby Ionian, 3000-1830 B.C.
- Period of Sumer and Akkad.
- Sumer in S. Mesopotamia; shaved heads and faces.
- Akkad in central Mesopotamia ;
- First dynasty of Ur , c.2500 B.C.,
excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley.
Revolutionized our ideas about Abraham’s background. “Royal”
cemetery; elaborate burials.
- Sargon I, Akkadian king, conquers the land, 2350 B.C.
First empire of history. Conquered Syria . Nuzu now a
- Third dynasty of Ur toward end of this
period. Great ziggurat “House of terrace-platform of heaven and
earth, “ later restored by Nabo nidus, excavated by Woolley. Shrine
of moon god, Nannar, on top. Perhaps this is Abraham’s time.
- Early Babylonian, 1830-1550 B.C.
- Amorites, a Semitic people, overrun Babylon.
- Hammurabi, great Amorite king, conquers Mesopotamia, c.
- Code of Hammurabi, first great law code.
- Nuzi tablets, throw great light on patriarchal age.
- Middle Babylonian, 1550-1100 B.C.
- Period of decline.
- Babylonia overrun by northern mountain peoples.
c. Assyria begins to come to power.
- Assyrian empire, 1100-605 B.C.
- First world empire of great stability.
- Tiglath Pileser I (1114-1076) builds empire.
- Period of decline follows Tiglath Pileser I; rise of
United Hebrew kingdom.
- Assur-nasirpal n (883-859);”calculated frightfulness
Basis of chronology - limmi years (i.e., certain officials appointed every
New Year’s day, after whom their year of office was named). He raided
lands bordering on eastern Mediterranean in time of Ahab.
- Shalmaneser III (858-824). Battle of Karkar; Benhadad
of Damascus and Israelite Ahab with their allies oppose Shalmaneser’s
advance, 854. Black obelisk of Shalmaneser shows Jehu paying tribute. Then
Assyria stopped for a time.
- Period of weakness, 80 years.
- Tiglath Pileser II, or Pul (745-728). Resurgence of
strength. Deportation introduced. Conquered much of Fertile
Crescent . Menahem, king of Israel, buys him off.’ During Pekah’s
reign Pul raids Trans Jordan. Era of Israelite prophets.
- Shalmaneser V (728-722). Hoshea of Israel becomes
tributary, then rebels. Shalmaneser besieges Samaria three
- Sargon II (722-705). Destroys Samaria, takes Israel
- Sennacherib (705-681). Attacks Jerusalem.
- Assur-banipal (669-626). Assembled great library at
Nineveh; here were found Babylonian “Creation” and “Flood” stories.
- Fall of Nineveh to Medes and Babylonians, 612.
- Final disintegration of Assyrian empire at battle of
- New Babylonian empire, 605-539 B.C.
- Nebuchadnezzar (Nebuchadrezzar) (605-562). Brings
resurgence to Babylon; rebuilds city of Babylon. Raids Jerusalem
during reign of Jehoiakim (605). Carries Jehoiachin captive to Babylon,
597; sets up Zedekiah puppet. Jerusalem destroyed; exile
- Babylon falls to Cyrus, Medes and Persians, 539.
- Persian period, 539-331 B.C.
- One of the most difficult periods for the historian to
unravel. According to the present state of our knowledge, these are the
(Cyrus came to throne in 559, but Persian empire begins in
- Cyrus (559-530) reverses deportation policy. Darius
the Mode a problem; perhaps he was military governor of Babylon
after its capture. Jews return to Palestine under
- Cambyses (530-522). The Ahasuerus of Ezra 4 and
Artaxerxes of Ezra 4.
- Darius Hystaspis (522-486). Not Darius the Mode.
- Xerxes (486-465). The Ahasuerus of Esther. Defeated
by the-Greek s at Salamis and Plataea.
- Artaxerxes Longimanus (465-423). Ezra and Nehemiah
return to Jerusalem.
- Hellenistic period, 332 B.C. to Islam (6th century A.D.)
Alexander the Great (335-323) conquers Babylon ; dies there.
- Religion of Mesopotamia
- The cosmic state
- Cosmos seen as an order of wills—as a state.
- Great powers (gods) rule this state.
- Religion is the integration of these divine wills.
- The structure of the cosmic state
- Behind each phenomenon is a person—a god; animism.
- Assembly of the gods rule the world.
- Possibility of man’s achieving partial identity with
- Leaders of the cosmic state
- Ann—sky god (authority),
- Enlil—Lord storm (force).
- Ninhursaga—Mother earth (fertility).
- Enki—Lord earth (creativity).
- City gods
- Marduk— Babylon (Enuma elish).
- Nannar. Nin-gal—God of Ur and consort.
- Tammuz cult
- Nature myth b. Death and resurrection
- Remains of Mesopotamia
- Tell (i.e., a ruin covered by sand or earth » a mound)
- Unwritten remains—buildings, objects
- Written remains—clay tablets the principle find.
Some 200. 000 now in museums. Perhaps 1/5 of these translated!
- Languages of Mesopotamia
- Sumerian—language of the early non-Semitic people
- Akkadian (formerly called Babylonian) is Semitic and
related to Hebrew.
Cuneiform (“wedge-shaped”) is the name of the method of writing these
languages on clay tablets. Both the languages above were written in
- Literature of Mesopotamia
- Great libraries. Remains:
- Enuma elish, “Creation” epic.
- Gilgamesh, “Flood” epic.
- Many business texts, e.g., Nuzi tablets.
Return to Syllabus
200 Manor Avenue
Langhorne, PA 19047
United States of America
Notes" Study materials on this website are made available
here free, through the generosity of Cairn University,
and may be copied for use in Bible study groups, in limited numbers, providing
that no charge is made for them. No further distribution or use
of these materials is allowable under U.S. or International Copyright
Law without the express permission of Cairn University.