Xerxes and the "Tower of Babel"

Something else that I had not fully appreciated before is the number of times the ziggurat of Babylon had been damaged/destroyed and restored/rebuilt.

Quoting from Tutorial#2,

"Marduk upon arriving in Babylon began to build a Mesopotamian-style pyramid called a ziggurat. Yet, within as few as seven years his proud work and personal rehabilitation were cut short by a second rebellion and the need to prepare for an impending Flood. It would be a much later exiled king modeled after Re, Hammurabi, who was to restore the 'House of Marduk', called the Esagila temple, and also finish the aborted ziggurat, known as the Etemenanki. This Mesopotamian pyramid is referred to in the Bible as the 'Tower of Babel'."

One might have expected Sargon the Great to have been the first to revive the "tower", but he decided to make a new city, Akkad/Agade, his capital rather than Babylon. This break in protocol was later held against him.

Quoting from Chapter 6 of the book,

"After Sargon founded the new city of Agade, he decided to reestablish the cult of Marduk-Re. This was later perceived as a sin and sacrilege. It was said that the mistake of Sargon was not in honoring Marduk, but in neglecting his traditional city of Babylon. In other words, it was not the idea of re-introducing Marduk that was wrong, but how it was implemented. Rather than rebuilding the temple (the Esagil) and ziggurat (the Etemenanki) of Marduk, Sargon removed soil from Babylon and built a "new Babylon" in the precinct of Agade. In retrospect, this became the explanation for the troubles of Sargon late in his reign, and was also used to justify the ultimate destruction, abandonment and curse of glorious Agade."

At the end of the dynasty of Hammurabi, the statue of Marduk was carted off into exile and was not returned to Babylon until 24 years later. This occurred in the reign of Samsu-ditana (Biblical Terah).

The next episode dates to the late 18th Dynasty when the kingly line of Thutmose III in Egypt was vying for control over Mesopotamia with Shalmaneser III. After Assurdan I (Osorkon I son of Sheshonq I/Aye) assaulted the city for the Egyptian kings, it was then taken by a king of Elam named Shutruk-Nahhunte. His son Kudur-Nahhunte (likely a member of Shalmaneser's family) was made governor of Babylon. However, the conflict with Egypt's dynasts continued and "like a deluge he [Kudur-Nahhunte] swept away all the peoples of Akkad, and cast in ruins Babylon ..." (Joan Oates, Babylon, p 96)

This was followed by the conquest of Elam's capital Susa by Nebuchadrezzar I (Akhenaten) of the Egyptian line, and the return of Marduk's statue to Babylon. Tiglath-pileser (Takelot I), also of Egypt's royal house, took over control of Babylon for a short time, and likely as part of the feud in Egypt between Akhenaten and the sons of Aye. The civil war in Egypt resulted in the loss of Babylon, which reverted back to the control of the long-lived Shalmaneser III, at least until his death.

Babylon seems to have been largely neglected during the reign of Ramses II (Adad-Nirari III). The next significant event was the rise of Tiglath-pileser III/Chaldean Nabonassar. However, as a Judah-figure, this did not bode particularly well for Babylon, which benefited initally but was then embroiled, probably deliberately, in a protracted civil war. We would expect the fortunes of Babylon to have returned in the following reign of Sargon II, who once again "took the hand of Marduk-Bel", and it might have if Sargon had not been killed by Sennacherib, another Judah-figure.

Interestingly, Sennacherib not only attacked the ziggurat but also artificially flooded the city of Babylon in repetition of the earlier "Great Flood", and also consistent with the description of Kudur-Nahhunte's desolation. This flood analogy was made despite the fact that Mesopotamia was likely not experiencing an excess of water but increasingly severe drought conditions.

The successor of Sennacherib/Nabopolassar was Esarhaddon (the former Merodach-Baladin), who had always been partial toward Babylon and was eager to renovate the city upon becoming Great King. It is possible that the restorations began late in the reign of Sennacherib/Nabopolassar.

The glory of Babylon reached a new climax in the reign of the co-kings Assurbanipal and Nebuchadrezzar II only to be destroyed once again a generation or so later by Xerxes.