History of Babylonian Cities: Ur, Sodom, Gomorrah and others

Our next clear view reveals Sumer as again the centre of power. Its king is Ur-gur, who was a Semite, but whose capital was Ur, one of the ancient Sumerian cities, not far from the southern coast. Under Ur-gur and his successors Ur held supremacy over the other cities for several centuries about three thousand years before Christ. Once more the ancient temples were upraised. Ur-gur built as no king before him had attempted to. At Nippur he set up a solid mass of brick, eight feet high and covering more than five acres of ground. This gigantic mass was meant only as a foundation to raise the sanctuary above danger of flood; yet even the foundation was no mere tumbled mass of bricks; channels and drains ran through it, guiding its rain-water flow, and making it a work of art. Upon this amazingly huge artificial mound was erected a "ziggurat," or storied tower, with inclined planes for roadways to its summit. This was the first known temple to take the ziggurat form, which afterward became characteristic of Babylonian religious shrines. Perhaps indeed this very temple was the one to which the Bible refers as the tower of Babel; for En-lil, the earth-god of Nippur, had come through the centuries to be called Bel, or Baal, which means "the chief god," or lord of all.

To the supremacy of Ur, the last vestige of the old Sumerian power, there succeeded, about 2300 B.C., the supremacy of Babylon. This city of the north had been steadily growing in power until now, as the professed champion of the Semites against the Sumerians, it assumed the permanent leadership of the Euphrates valley, and the whole land gradually became known as Babylonia.

The immediate cause of Babylon's rise to power seems to have been the invasion, about 2500 B.C., of a new swarm of Semites, such as had overrun the Euphrates region some two or three thousand years before. The strength of the new horde was chiefly massed about Babylon. Indeed, the Babylonian king, whom we now find battling with Ur and other cities for the empire, was called Sumu-abi, which means "Shem is my father," or "I am a Semite," as if he sought boastfully to insist upon his desert lineage.

Sumu-abi only began the long struggle between south and north, Sumer and Akkad, Turanian and Semite. It raged bitterly for many years. In the midst of it, encouraged perhaps by the increasing exhaustion of the cities of the valley, the Elamites rushed down from their hills and swept over Sumer and Akkad with such destruction as they had never before inflicted. Practically the entire valley was laid waste. All the ancient records perished. Later Babylonian ages possessed no writings antedating this terrible devastation. All the temples were plundered and overthrown, except possibly the ancient shrine of the goblins at Nippur, which even the Elamites venerated. The chief gods of the ancient world, including the idols of Anu and Nana at Erech, of Ea at Eridu, and a score of others, were carried away to Elam, where, for upwards of a thousand years, they were held like state prisoners in the temples of Susa, placed in humble servitude at the feet of the Elamite gods.

Some poet of Erech, lamenting this destruction, wrote to his lost goddess Nana a plea which has been preserved to us:

Until when, oh lady, Shall the ungodly enemy ravage thy land? In thy queen city, Erech, Destruction is complete. In Eulbar, thy temple, Blood has flowed as water. O'er all thy lands the foe has poured out flame; It hangs over them like smoke.

Oh lady, it is hard for me To bend my neck to the yoke of misfortune! Oh lady, thou hast let me suffer, Thou hast plunged me in sorrow!

The mighty evil foe Broke me as a reed; I know not what to resolve; I trust not in myself. Like a thicket of waving reeds I moan low, day and night. I bow my head before thee! I am thy servant!

The king of Elam who led his people in this cyclonic raid was called Kudur-nankhundi; its date we can fix with some confidence as 2285 or 2295 B.C. Kudur-nankhundi felt that his devastation entitled him to call himself in his turn "Lord of the world"; and he exacted tribute not only from Sumer and Akkad, but even from cities as far west as Palestine, the Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which lay by the shores of the Dead Sea.

We note here our Bible story most interestingly overlapping and supporting the records of Babylonia. The sacred volume tells us how, after paying tribute for twelve years, Sodom and the other cities by the Dead Sea finally refused further payments. Then came an army led by Kudur-lagamar, or, as the English Bible spells his name, Chedorlaomer; a successor of Kudur-nankhundi. The rebellious cities were utterly defeated by Chedorlaomer; but as the victor marched homeward with his spoils, his forces were suddenly assailed by a small band led by the patriarch Abraham, and were put to flight.

Did Abraham, who belonged by birth to the Euphrates region, perhaps to Babylon itself, know that he was striking a blow for his fellow countrymen? Whether he did or no, such was the actual, we might almost say the world-altering, result of his attack. Among the subject kings who attended Chedorlaomer was one whom the Bible calls Amraphel, and whom the Babylonian records enable us to identify with some confidence as Hammurabi, one of Babylonia's monarchs. Hammurabi took advantage of this hour of failure, or perhaps some other similar one, to rebel against Chedorlaomer. Babylon threw off the yoke of Elam, and after a long war established herself as the protector as well as the armed master of all the cities of the Euphrates valley. So thoroughly did Hammurabi consolidate his power that thereafter the entire region became known as Babylonia, the land of Babylon. The names of Sumer and Akkad pass out of history. That of Babylonia takes their place.

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Read about History of Babylonian Cities: Ur, Sodom, Gomorrah and others in the The Story of the Greatest Nations and the Worlds Famous Events Vol 1

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