Land of Shinar

SYNOPSISIn Daniel, the arrogant acts of Nebuchadnezzar parallel the story of the Tower of Babel from the book of Genesis

Stone Column - Photo by Madhu Madhavan on Unsplash
The first paragraph in the book of Daniel refers to Babylon as the “land of Shinar,” a clear verbal link to the story in Genesis about the “tower of Babel” and the founding of the city of Babylon. This incident is echoed again in the third chapter of Daniel when Nebuchadnezzar gathered all nations to pay homage to the image he had “set up” - (Genesis 11:1-9).

Thus, the Neo-Babylonian Empire was not an entirely new political innovation - It had an ancient pedigree. From the biblical perspective, the royal city in which Daniel found himself was the latest incarnation of the World-Power that has existed since the beginning of civilization.

The Tower of Babel
  • (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 Emphasized Bible).
In the book of Genesis, God stopped the completion of a high tower in the “Land of Shinar,” which resulted in the diversity and the distribution of languages, nations, and cultures across the earth. The story provides the origins of the city of Babylon.

The description in the opening paragraph of Daniel builds on the story from the eleventh chapter of Genesis, the time when the “whole earth was of one language and one speech.” The descendants of Noah had migrated to Mesopotamia to dwell “in the land of Shinar.” The name ‘Shinar’ is probably the Hebrew equivalent of ‘Sumer,’ the first known civilization in Mesopotamia.

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

Yahweh had commanded Adam to “multiply, replenish and subdue the earth.” This same command was reiterated to Noah after the Flood. But, instead, mankind chose to move to Mesopotamia and build a new civilization centered in Shinar - There to make a name for itself. And in the Hebrew Bible, the city of Babylon is characterized by its arrogance - (Genesis 1:28, 9:1, Isaiah 14:13-1463:12-14Jeremiah 32:20).

If humanity had united under one language, the wickedness of mankind would have known no limits. But by confounding their language, God caused the nations to spread throughout the earth. Moreover, He thwarted the very first attempt to establish a centralized World-Power – Thus, the idolatrous ambitions of Babylon were delayed.

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

Ancient Babylon
Thus, in the book of Daniel, the king of “Babel” attempts to reverse God’s ancient judgment against the “land of Shinar.”  Nebuchadnezzar gathers different ethnic groups, cultures, and nations to his rebuilt city where the representatives of the nations are educated in the “language of Babylon,” the “tongue” of the incarnation of the World-Power in Daniel's day.

Nebuchadnezzar was renowned as a builder who restored temples, constructed city walls and palaces and erected high towers.  His claim to be the builder of “great Babylon” was not an empty boast - (Daniel 4:30).

Nimrod
  • (Genesis 10:8-12) – “And Cush begat Nimrod—he became a hero in the earth; he became a hero of hunting before Yahweh, for this cause, it is said, Like Nimrod, a hero of hunting before Yahweh. So the beginning of his kingdom came to be Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar. From that land went forth Asshur,—and he built Nineveh and Rehoboth-ir, and Calah: and Resen, between Niveveh and Calah,—the same is the great city.”
The story of Nimrod is from the ‘Table of Nations’ in the tenth chapter of Genesis, a man linked to the origins of civilization in Mesopotamia and the founder of several chief cities, including Babel, Asshur, Nineveh. He became “mighty one in the earth.” The term reflects the “mighty men of name” - The gibborim - That lived before the Flood, warriors who established fearsome reputations through violent exploits - (Genesis 6:4-13).

Nimrod was also a “mighty hunter before the face of Yahweh.” The description denotes his opposition to Yahweh, not the approval of God for him. The name ‘Nimrod’ is derived from the Hebrew word mārăd - “We will revolt.”

Nimrod founded a kingdom in what became Assyria. Possibly, he was also an early ruler of the city-state of Babylon.  Nimrod is used elsewhere to typify despotic rulers who oppress God’s people - (Micah 5:6).

Parallels in Daniel

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

Similarly, in Daniel, the Babylonian King brought captives to Babylon, the great city he had built. There, the exiles from Judah were educated in the “language of the Chaldeans” to help administer the vast empire. What the original inhabitants of Babel began to do, Nebuchadnezzar attempted to complete.

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

The whole earth was to be united under Nebuchadnezzar and in homage to his great and “high” image. The verbal parallels are deliberate.  Just as the earlier inhabitants 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 of great height.

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