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HISTORY'S FIRST SUPERPOWER
Peter D. Goodgame
So far we have looked at the literary evidence—the Bible, the Sumerian King List and the Sumerian myths—that place the biblical figure of Nimrod near the very beginning of Mesopotamian post-Flood history. Now we will look at the archaeological evidence of Nimrod’s mighty empire that, through a ruthless strategy involving diplomacy, trade, and brute force, emerged as the world’s very first superpower.
The rise of Uruk as the ancient world’s pre-eminent city of power is referred to by modern archaeologists and anthropologists as the “Uruk Expansion.” Here is how journalist Bruce Bower summarizes this phenomenon in his 1990 article “Civilization and its Discontents”:
[There is a] growing recognition among archaeologists that early Mesopotamian civilization experienced an unprecedented expansion between 3400 and 3100 B.C. The expansion occurred during the latter part of a phase called the Uruk period (named after the major city of the time), which began around 3600 B.C. Excavations conducted over the past 15 years indicate that southern Mesopotamian city-states, each consisting of one or two cities serving as political hubs and providing goods and services to thousands of people living in nearby farming villages, established outposts in neighboring territories lying within modern-day Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Even artifacts recovered at sites in the Transcaucasus of the Soviet Union show signs of Sumerian influence.
Such discoveries leave investigators pondering what made the Sumerians such hard-chargers in a world largely made up of subsistence farmers.
Many subscribe to the view of Robert McCormick Adams of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., who calls the Uruk expansion “the first urban revolution.” Adams says the economic demands of burgeoning Mesopotamian cities led to a great transregional civilization in the Near East.
Others, such as Henry T. Wright of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, contend the term “urban revolution” masks the fundamental significance of the Uruk expansion—the introduction, for the first time anywhere, of political states with a hierarchy of social classes and bureaucratic institutions that served powerful kings.
“Whatever the case, it was a revolutionary time, a moment of extraordinary innovations in art, technology and social systems,” Adams says. For instance, in the late 4th millennium B.C., Mesopotamia witnessed the emergence of mass-produced pottery, sculpture as an art form and the harnessing of skilled craftsmen and pools of laborers by an administrative class to produce monumental buildings. The world’s earliest clay tablets, portraying simple labels and lists of goods with pictographic symbols, also appeared, foreshadowing the birth of fully expressive writing around 3000 B.C. 57
Much like the American superpower that emerged near the end of the twentieth century, the world’s first superpower grew largely out of its materialistic pursuits and a desire to get rich through controlling trade.
Bower quotes from Harvard-based Assyriologist Piotr Steinkeller who explains, “The Sumerians wanted to become middlemen in international trade networks and reap big profits… they weren’t forced to expand because of internal growth.” 58
The leading expert on “Uruk Expansion” studies is the University of San Diego-based Professor Guillermo Algaze. He is the author of two books on the subject: The Uruk World System: The Dynamics of Expansion of Early Mesopotamian Civilization (2005), and Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization: The Evolution of an Urban Landscape (2008).
Journalist John Noble Wilford explains Algaze’s view regarding Uruk’s economic motivations:
“Dr. Algaze compares Uruk’s distant trading outposts to such modern examples as the Portuguese colony of Goa in India and the British colony of Hong Kong. The Uruk outposts, he said, ‘reflect a system of economic hegemony whereby early emergent states attempted to exploit less complex polities located well beyond the boundaries of their direct political control and that this system may be construed as imperialistic in both its extent and nature.’” 59
Economics provided the immediate impetus for Uruk’s lust for power, but there was also a religious motivation behind it, much like today’s American superpower is backed by the misguided religious notions that the expansion of capitalism represents the expansion of the Kingdom of Heaven, and that the accumulation of goods, worldly comfort, and material prosperity are essential doctrines of Christianity.
“Indeed,” says Carl C. Lamberg-Karlovsky of Harvard University, “religious beliefs may have exerted an important influence on the Uruk expansion. Southern Mesopotamians believed their temple gods owned the land and humans were its stewards. Thus, Uruk city-states may have pursued a type of ‘manifest destiny,’ he suggests, claiming nearby lands in the name of their deities.” 60
“Globalization” is the term that is used to describe the rise of the global “free market” and the decline of the sovereignty of nation-states throughout the world today. With global capitalism now backed up by the greatest military the world has ever seen, and over seven hundred American military bases across the globe, the world is now firmly controlled by the “merchants of the earth,” (61) the financiers, and corporate leaders who are the masters of the global marketplace.
In the book, Globalizations and the Ancient World, author Justin Jennings looks at the Kingdom of Uruk as history’s first example of the “globalization” phenomenon that has periodically surfaced throughout earth’s history, which today culminates with the American superpower:
The rapid urbanization of Uruk-Warka during the Uruk Period must have sent shockwaves across the southern alluvium. By the Middle Uruk Period, the site’s 100-hectare footprint was already ten times larger than any other site in the region and the city would more than double in size during the Late Uruk Period… The 50,000 people packed on the Uruk-Warka mound was a logistical nightmare. The city’s frenetic growth would have quickly overwhelmed the exchange relationships that had previously supplied the towns of the southern alluvium, and the city’s inhabitants would have had to increasingly rely on outside producers for food and other resources… A boisterous, informal economy likely formed; it would have brought agricultural products, animals, labor, spun wool, and other rural products into the city in exchange for exotic goods, copper tools, cloth, heavenly favor, and other urban products… Some of the towns closest to the city may have been tied to the site by tribute obligations at an early date, but it is likely most populations living outside of the city were initially connected more tenuously to Uruk-Warka through trade partners, family ties, cult allegiances, and other relationships… 62
Uruk’s dynamic expansion was indeed pushed along through economic and diplomatic means, but there is evidence that it also included a significant amount of violence and bloodshed, at least at the very beginning.
Journalist John Noble Wilford reports on the excavation of the ancient site of Hamoukar in northeast Syria that uncovered an ancient battleground. He writes that archaeologists describe it as, “the oldest known excavated site of large-scale organized warfare.” 63
Hamoukar was a “flourishing urban center” before an army from the south conquered it near the very beginning of the Uruk Expansion:
The discovery was reported by Clemens Reichel of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, who was co-director of the Syrian-American excavations at the site…
The archaeologists reported finding collapsed mud-brick walls that had undergone heavy bombardment and ensuing fire. All around, they collected more than 1,200 oval-shaped “bullets” used with slings and some 120 larger round clay balls. The layer of ruins from that time also held vast amounts of pottery from the Uruk culture of southern Mesopotamia.
“The picture is compelling,” Reichel said.
“If the Uruk people weren’t the ones firing the sling bullets, they certainly benefited from it. They took over this place right after its destruction.”
Speaking by telephone from Damascus, Abdal Razzaq Moaz, Syria’s deputy minister of culture, said that Hamoukar was ‘one of the most important sites not only in the Middle East but in the Old World,’ and that the new discovery brought to light ‘a kind of turning point in the history of civilization.’” 64
This “turning point” was the regional triumph of the Empire of Uruk. Its extensive power and influence can be traced west to Egypt (which we will cover in future chapters), east to India, south to Arabia, north to Turkey and the Levant, and even throughout the Mediterranean Basin. This was the superpower that Nimrod ruled over prior to his fall from power.
We’ve already mentioned how the Bible seems to be silent regarding Nimrod’s end, although the “confusion of tongues” helps to explain the disintegration of his kingdom. Archaeologists really can’t explain what happened, although they clearly see that the fall of Uruk happened very abruptly as a result of some sort of crisis or internal collapse:
At the height of its development the Late Uruk culture included the following elements: a capital of indisputable preeminence, Uruk itself measuring one hundred hectares, with its sacred and organizational center at the Eanna precinct; a central territory that embraced all of Lower Mesopotamia (poorly known in this phase, unfortunately) and Khuzistan (Susa); a zone that we can define as the semi-periphery, Upper Mesopotamia, with a mixed culture; and a zone with commercial outposts distributed over the Anatolian and Iranian highlands. But this system had a short lifespan of only a couple of centuries. The settlements of the periphery were destroyed or abandoned, and the long development of the Eanna center was interrupted. It seems, therefore, that the first period of urbanization faced a crisis or a real collapse, after a long formative phase and the culmination of its internal organization (writing) and commercial expansion (colonies). 65
This description of the Kingdom of Uruk having a “central territory” in Southern Mesopotamia and a “semi-periphery” in Upper Mesopotamia matches up perfectly with the description of Nimrod’s empire in Genesis 10:10–12, which explains that it began in the south with Erech (Uruk) and Babel (Eridu), and was then expanded to include Ninevah and several other cities in the north.
David Rohl summarizes Nimrod’s career,
By the end of his long reign the king of Uruk controlled much of Mesopotamia and had greatly enriched the cult centres of Sumer. He also controlled the donkey trade routes through the Zagros mountains and sea trade via the Persian Gulf. To the north, large heavily fortified colonies were established close to the main waterways and therefore connected the heart of the empire by means of fast-moving ships. Exotic goods and metals were pouring into the capital city of Uruk and, of course, Enmer’s palace coffers. This really does make him the first potentate on Earth, just as the Genesis tradition states. In his guise of warrior-hero Enmer/Nimrod is remembered as the founder of the mightiest cities in Assyria and Babylonia, as well as a great builder in the old religious centres of Sumer. 66
Dating the Uruk Expansion
The academic world of historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists is virtually unanimous in dating the end of the Uruk Expansion to a time right around 3100 BC. This may be viewed as problematic for some Christians who hold to the chronology of world history that is found within most English Bibles today. The Masoretic text is the basis of these translations, and according to this chronology, the Flood took place in 2348 BC, long after the Uruk Expansion. If this is true, then we are looking at the wrong place in time for Nimrod. However, there is another biblical source for dating the early events of Genesis. This source is the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Old Testament.
The Septuagint translation is a copy of the Old Testament that was translated from Hebrew into Greek by Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, sometime around 250 BC. The Masoretic text, on the other hand, was compiled (with significant changes) about 350 years later around 100 AD.
Barry Setterfield is a Bible scholar who provides an extensive argument for favoring the Septuagint chronology of the Old Testament over the Masoretic Text in his online article “Creation and Catastrophe Chronology.” (67) Setterfield points out that, prior to 100 AD, the Jews used an authoritative text, known as the “Vorlage,” which was written in a flowing cursive type of script known as paleo-Hebrew. This was the version of the Old Testament canon that was compiled by Ezra and Nehemiah and introduced at the “Great Synagogue” sometime around 440 BC. From this original Hebrew “Vorlage” text, which was used by Jesus and His disciples, there came three “recensions.”
The first was the Samaritan Pentateuch, also written in paleo-Hebrew, which became the basis of the Samaritan version of Judaism. This version allegedly goes back to Tobiah the Ammonite who supposedly took a copy of the Torah from Jerusalem when he was cast out in 408 BC (see Nehemiah13:4–9).
The second was the Greek Septuagint version of the Vorlage which was created around 250 BC which remains the official version of the Old Testament in the Eastern Orthodox Church to this day.
The third was the Masoretic text. This version was an “updated” version of the original Vorlage into a modern square Hebrew text type. Setterfield writes that this translation emerged out of the Council of Jamnia that took place in 100 AD, and afterwards older “Vorlage” versions were systematically destroyed by the leading Jews. This council was led by Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph along with Yohannan ben Zakkai. Rabbi Akiba was later involved in endorsing the false messianic claims of Simon Bar Kochba that led to the disastrous Bar Kochba Revolt against Rome in 132 AD. Akiba and Zakkai are both also known as early Kabbalists according to Jewish tradition. 68
Setterfield analyzes all three of these recensions and compares them with portions of the Old Testament that appear in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the New Testament, and in the works of Josephus. What he finds is that Jesus and the Apostles, as well as Josephus and the pre-70 AD Dead Sea Scrolls, all provide abundant evidence that the Septuagint (LXX) translation is more faithful to the original Vorlage text than the Masoretic text.
The Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament was the Bible of the early Christian Church. According to Setterfield, this was precisely why the Jews at the Council of Jamnia repudiated it (and the Vorlage that it was based upon) and created their own Masoretic version. Several centuries later, misguided Christian leaders led by Origen adopted the Masoretic text as the authoritative version of the Old Testament, from which it became the basis of our modern English Old Testament.
So why is all of this intrigue and debate important? Well, it has to do with dates. Based on the chronologies of the Septuagint (LXX) and the Masoretic text (MT) here are the dates of some important events in biblical history according to the two different sources:
Date of Creation:
MT – 4004 BC
LXX – 5810 BC
Date of the Flood:
MT – 2348 BC
LXX – 3536 BC
The Tower of Babel:
MT – 2100 BC (+/- 100 years?)
LXX – 3100 BC (+/- 100 years?)
The Calling of Abraham:
MT – 1921 BC
LXX – 2247 BC
Note that the Tower of Babel event cannot be dated precisely because it does not specifically fall within a biblical chronology. However, we can try to match Nimrod up with the third or fourth generations after Shem, who are Salah and Eber. According to the LXX chronology as calculated by Setterfield, these figures were born in 3399 and 3269 BC. If Nimrod was born anytime near these dates, then this means that the LXX translation of the Old Testament chronology offers a perfect fit if compared with the 3100 BC date for the end of the Uruk Expansion, which would have corresponded with the Tower of Babel event and the fall of Nimrod.
Regarding such an early date for Creation in the LXX, here is what Setterfield has to say, which is further evidence that the early church looked to the LXX as the authoritative version:
Interestingly enough, a Creation date of 5793 BC is in broad agreement with the early church whose exegetes favoured dates of the order of 5500 BC. Thus Theophilus of Antioch (AD 115–181) gives a date of 5529 BC, Hippolytus (on some doubtful grounds) gives 5500 BC, while Julius Africanus (who died 240 AD) put it at 5537 BC. The Chronicle of Axum places it at 5500 BC while Talmudists (Petrus Alliacens) give a time around 5344 BC. Arab records quote 6174 BC. 69
As we continue our investigation into the career of Nimrod, we will find that the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, despite its idiosyncrasies, is actually indispensable to our research and reveals many mysteries that have been (purposefully?) written out of the Masoretic text.
Peter D. Goodgame
posted and updated on December 2, 2015
57. Bruce Bower, “Civilization and its Discontents: Why Did the World’s First Civilization Cut a Swath Across the Near East?” Science News, March 3, 1990, http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Civilization+and+its+discontents%3a+why+did+the+world%27s+first...-a08784921
58. Bruce Bower, "Civilization and its Discontents".
59. John Noble Wilford, “Trade or Colonialism? Ruins May Give Answer,” The New York Times, May 25, 1993, http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/25/ science/trade-or-colonialism-ruins-may-give-answer.html
60. Bruce Bower, “Civilization and its Discontents.”
61. Revelation 18:23b, speaking of the great eschatological city of Babylon: "for your merchants were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery."
62. Justin Jennings, Globalizations and the Ancient World (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 66
63. John Noble Wilford, “Where War was Waged 5,500 Years Ago,” The New York Times, December 16, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/25/science/trade-or-colonialism-ruins-may-give-answer.html
65. Mario Liverani, Uruk: The First City (London, UK: Equinox, 2006 ), 73.
66. David Rohl, The Lost Testament, 63.
67. Barry Setterfield, “CREATION AND CATASTROPHE CHRONOLOGY,” September, 1999, http://www.setterfield.org/ccchron/barrychron.html
68. See my online article, “The Divine Council and the Kabbalah,” located at http://www.redmoonrising.com/agenda.htm
69. Barry Setterfield, “CREATION AND CATASTROPHE CHRONOLOGY” http://www.setterfield.org/ccchron/barrychron.html
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