Middle Eastern Mythologies

Mythology of Babylon

Who were the Babylonians?

In the second millennium B.C.E., Semites known as Amorites established a capital in Babylon—perhaps on the ruins of Akkad. The most famous of the kings of what is now called Old Babylon was Hammurabi (c. 1792–1750 B.C.E.), who was famous for creating a series of unifying laws for the mixture of races living in his kingdom. During this period the Old Sumerian-Akkadian language was used for religious purposes, somewhat as Latin would later be used in the Roman Catholic Church. This was the period of the Babylonian version of the Gilgamesh Epic and the great creation epic known as the Enuma Elish. The Old Sumerian deities were retained with Semitic names, their stories changed somewhat to reflect the priorities of the Babylonian state. Old Babylon was itself conquered by non-Semitic Indo-Europeans, the Hittites, in 1600 B.C.E. Later, in 1225 B.C.E., the region would be taken by the Assyrians. At the end of the millennium, King Nebuchadnezzar I reestablished Babylonian rule and the old Sumerian-based religion and mythology. The wars with the Assyrians and others continued, however, until the Babylonians successfully established what is now called the Neo-Babylonian civilization, of which the most famous king was Nebuchadnezzar II (605–162 B.C.E.). This was the period of the famous Hanging Gardens, the ziggurat which in the Bible became the Tower of Babel (Babylon), and the Babylonian Exile, or Captivity of the Israelites which followed Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The Neo-Babylonians continued to worship the old gods. Much of the mythology surrounding these gods—especially the flood myth—strongly influenced the emergence of biblical narratives.


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