There is another fascinating connection between the arrival of asteroid Apophis and an event of huge significance for the Jews, and thus for Christians as well. Let’s travel back in time to the year 539 BC.
At that point, exiles from the kingdom of Judah had been in Babylonia for more than fifty years, since Nebuchadnezzar’s first siege of Jerusalem in 597 BC. Among them was the prophet Ezekiel, who was among the first wave of exiles and probably died around 570 BC.[i]
By the time of this story, Nebuchadnezzar had been dead for more than twenty years. Nabonidus had been king since about 556 BC, when he led a coup against Nebuchadnezzar’s young grandson, Labashi-Marduk, who was apparently deemed unfit to rule.
The last king of Babylon, Nabonidus, is a fascinating character. He might have been remembered as one of the great pagan rulers of the ancient world if he hadn’t picked the wrong side in the long supernatural war.
Nabonidus, whose name means “Nabu is praised” (Nabu being the Mesopotamian god of wisdom, literacy, and scribes), wasn’t Chaldean like Nebuchadnezzar. His background is somewhat fuzzy, but Nabonidus was probably Assyrian based on his origin in Harran. That’s in modern-day Turkey, near the border with Syria. It was home to a major temple to the moon-god, Sîn, where his mother served as a priestess.
He was a competent military leader, but Nabonidus might also be history’s first known archaeologist.[ii] Nabonidus may have been wrapping himself in the past to please the home crowd, aligning himself with Babylon’s glory days, or maybe he just genuinely loved history. Whatever his reasons, Nabonidus dug up artifacts all over Babylonia and displayed his finds in museums, the first person in history that we know of to do so. He also located and restored the ancient temples of Shamash, the sun god, and Ishtar, the goddess of sex and war, in the city of Sippar, and his mother was surely pleased when Nabonidus rebuilt the sanctuary of the moongod at Harran that had been constructed more than fifteen hundred years earlier by the great Akkadian king Naram-Sîn.
The most interesting aspect of Nabonidus’ life for this study was his devotion to the moon-god. That’s probably not a surprise, considering his mother’s lifetime commitment to Sîn. What’s unusual is the degree to which Nabonidus took it. While scholars aren’t completely agreed about this, evidence suggests he tried to replace the chief god of Babylon, Marduk, at the top of the pantheon with the moon-god. In addition, Nabonidus spent most of his seventeen-year reign outside of Babylon, living for ten years at Tayma,[iii] an oasis in the Arabian desert probably named for one of the sons of Ishmael.[iv] Not surprisingly, Tayma was a center of moon-god worship.[v]
Why was Nabonidus there? Some scholars suggest he was mainly after wealth. Tayma was on a trade route, the easternmost branch of the ancient incense road.[vi] Like any king needing to balance the royal budget, Nabonidus may have felt that his presence was necessary to control the lucrative trade from south Arabia to Mesopotamia, especially when it became clear that his neighbors to the north and east, the Medes and Persians, had become an existential threat.
There may be another explanation. A prayer attributed to Nabonidus found among the Dead Sea scrolls, an Aramaic text called 4Q242, suggests that his long stay at Tayma may have been for his health.
- The words of the p[ra]yer which Nabonidus, king of [Ba]bylon, the great king, pray[ed] when he was stricken]
- with an evil disease by the decree of G[o]d in Teman. [I Nabonidus] was stricken with [an evil disease]
- for seven years, and from [that] (time) I was like [unto a beast and I prayed to the Most High]
- and, as for my sin, he forgave it.[vii]
The similarity of this text to the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s madness in the fourth chapter of the book of Daniel is obvious. Some scholars believe Daniel’s account may have inspired the text at Qumran.
On the other hand, there is evidence that Nabonidus’ ten-year sojourn at Tayma was not medicinal, but spiritual. The oasis is believed to have been a center of moon-god worship as far back as the Bronze Age,[viii] at least five hundred years before Nabonidus ascended to the throne of Babylon. Tayma was in the heart of what was the land of Midian in the days of Gideon and his three hundred men, which was probably within a couple decades of 1200 BC. The book of Judges records that the kings of Midian and their camels were adorned with crescent ornaments,[ix] which were in all probability in honor of the moon-god.
So, Nabonidus, born in Harran, the northern Mesopotamian city of the moon-god, settled in the Arabian oasis sacred to the moon-god for reasons beyond its strategic importance. It may be that he was waiting for a message from the god—a prophecy or sign of some sort. While he stayed at Tayma, his son Belshazzar ruled as regent in Babylon. He’s the king we know from chapter 5 of the book of Daniel.
Belshazzar was in a delicate situation. There were certain religious duties that the king of Babylon was expected to perform. The king played a key role in the annual spring festival for the chief god Marduk called the akitu. If the king wasn’t in Babylon to “take the hand of Bel” (Marduk), the rites couldn’t be performed and the city, it was believed, wouldn’t receive the blessing of its patron god. And Nabonidus was outside of Babylon, living at Tayma in the Arabian desert, for ten years.
Nabonidus didn’t seem to feel that this was a problem. Scholars take this as evidence that his goal was to replace Marduk as the chief god of Babylon with Sîn, the moon-god. That couldn’t have made Nabonidus popular with the ancient priesthood of Marduk or religious conservatives in Babylon.
On that fateful night in 539 BC, Belshazzar, the son and coregent of Babylon’s king Nabonidus, hosted a drunken party at the palace. During the festivities, he ordered his servants to bring out the gold and silver vessels that had been plundered from the temple in Jerusalem to serve wine to the Chaldean nobles, and his wives and concubines.
Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote.
Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. (Daniel 5:5–6)
So, Daniel was summoned to interpret the sign. It was bad news for Belshazzar and Babylon.
You have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them.
And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.
Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN.
This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end;
TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting;
PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians. (Daniel 5:23–28)
All of this you probably know. The story is popular with all ages, from Sunday school children through adults. It’s an easy moral for a sermon: Don’t get too big for your britches. But there’s a lot more to it just under the surface.
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First, we need to explain why we’re taking you down this rabbit trail. There is a solid connection between the Babylon of old and the end times. The link is through the people who founded ancient Babylon and the gods they served.
The Antichrist’s church of the last days is called “Babylon the great,” but Mystery Babylon is the name that’s stuck. After two thousand years, scholars still can’t agree completely on what it represents.
Here’s what we know: The Babylon of John’s vision is a religion and a city. Ezekiel gave us important clues that modern prophecy scholars have missed because they haven’t considered the history and religion of the people who lived in the ancient Near East.
Chapter 27 of Ezekiel is a lament over the city of Tyre. The great trading city was founded by the Phoenician descendants of the Amorites who settled along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. This lament has a clear parallel in Revelation. It not only cements the connection between the visions of Ezekiel and John, it shows that the iniquity of the Amorites, mentioned by God during His covenant with Abraham,[x] is still with us today.
The word of the Lord came to me: “Now you, son of man, raise a lamentation over Tyre, and say to Tyre, who dwells at the entrances to the sea, merchant of the peoples to many coastlands, thus says the Lord God:
O Tyre, you have said,
“I am perfect in beauty.”
Your borders are in the heart of the seas;
your builders made perfect your beauty.
They made all your planks
of fir trees from Senir;
they took a cedar from Lebanon
to make a mast for you.
Of oaks of Bashan
they made your oars;
they made your deck of pines
from the coasts of Cyprus,
inlaid with ivory. (Ezekiel 27:1–6)
Tyre was the most powerful commercial empire in the Mediterranean for centuries. Even after the city’s influence began to fade, its colony in north Africa, Carthage, grew so powerful that its most famous general, Hannibal, nearly destroyed Rome. At the peak of Tyre’s power, in Ezekiel’s day, the prophet linked the strength of Tyre, its ships, to Mount Hermon and Bashan.
Senir was the Amorite name for Hermon, the mount of assembly ruled by the creator-god of the western Amorites, El. But the Amorites were history by Ezekiel’s day, at least under the name “Amorite.” By the time of David and Solomon, about four hundred years before Ezekiel, the lands once ruled by Amorite kingdoms were under the control of their descendants, the Arameans, Phoenicians, and Arabs. So, why did Ezekiel use the archaic Amorite name for Mount Hermon?
Here’s why: The prophet deliberately linked Tyre to the spiritual wickedness of the Amorites connected to Hermon and the land around it. Not only was Senir/Hermon the abode of El, where the Rephaim spirits (i.e., the spirits of the Nephilim destroyed in the Flood)[xi] came to feast,[xii] it towered over Bashan, which was believed to be the literal entrance to the netherworld.[xiii] By calling the mountain “Senir” instead of “Hermon,” Ezekiel specifically connected Tyre to the Amorites, whose evil was legendary among Jews.
Here’s the important link between the past and future: Babylon was founded by Amorites. Hammurabi, of the ruling house that established the ancient kingdom of Babylon, was an Amorite from a long line of Amorites. When we use the word “Babylonian,” we’re simply using a geographic term to distinguish the Amorites of eastern Mesopotamia from the Canaanites, who were the Amorites of western Mesopotamia.
The Phoenicians, descended from Amorites who settled in what is now Lebanon, made Tyre the foremost commercial empire of the ancient world. The key link between Tyre in the sixth century BC, the time of Ezekiel, and Mystery Babylon at some as-yet unknown time in the future is the lament over its destruction:
At the sound of the cry of your pilots
the countryside shakes,
and down from their ships
come all who handle the oar.
The mariners and all the pilots of the sea
stand on the land
and shout aloud over you
and cry out bitterly.
They cast dust on their heads
and wallow in ashes;
they make themselves bald for you
and put sackcloth on their waist,
and they weep over you in bitterness of soul,
with bitter mourning.
In their wailing they raise a lamentation for you
and lament over you:
“Who is like Tyre,
like one destroyed in the midst of the sea?
When your wares came from the seas,
you satisfied many peoples;
with your abundant wealth and merchandise
you enriched the kings of the earth.
Now you are wrecked by the seas,
in the depths of the waters;
your merchandise and all your crew in your midst
have sunk with you.
All the inhabitants of the coastlands
are appalled at you,
and the hair of their kings bristles with horror;
their faces are convulsed.
The merchants among the peoples hiss at you;
you have come to a dreadful end
and shall be no more forever.” (Ezekiel 27:28–36)
Now, compare that section of Ezekiel’s lament over Tyre to John’s prophecy of the destruction of Babylon the Great in Revelation 18.
UP NEXT: The Moon-God, Son Of Enlil, And The Rise Of Marduk.
[i] His last dated prophecy is in Ezekiel 29:17, “the twenty-seventh year, in the first month, on the first day of the month,” which was April 26, 571 BC.
[ii] Garrison, Mark B., “Antiquarianism, Copying, Collecting,” in A Companion to Archaeology in the Ancient Near East, D. T. Potts, ed. (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) 44–46.
[iii] Also called “Tema” or “Teman” in the Bible.
[iv] Genesis 25:15.
[v] Humphreys, op. cit., 300.
[vi] Hausleiter, Arnulf, “North Arabian Kingdoms.” A Companion to Archaeology in the Ancient Near East, D. T. Potts, ed. (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) 828.
[vii] Kim, Jin Yang, “F. M. Cross’ Reconstruction of 4Q242.” Old Testament Story (https://otstory.wordpress.com/2008/02/22/f-m-cross-reconstruction-of-4q242/), retrieved 11/8/18.
[viii] Humphreys, op. cit., 300.
[ix] Judges 8:21, 26.
[x] Genesis 15:16.
[xi] Gilbert, op.cit., 84–89.
[xii] Lipiński, op.cit.
[xiii] Gilbert and Gilbert, op.cit., 251–253; also, Derek P. Gilbert, Last Clash of the Titans, 122–125.