By the Rev. A. H. Sayce, M.A.

Read 1st April, 1873.

[Extracted from TSBA vol. 2, (1873), pp. 243-9.]

The identification of the Biblical Nimrod is one of the problems connected with Assyrian research which still await their solution. Various suggestions have been put forward from time to time by the decipherers of the inscriptions—now that he was an ethnic title representing the tribe of Namri, now that he was the god Bel, now that he was no other than Khammurabi the Elamite conqueror of Babylonia; but they have all been equally unsatisfactory. The object of this paper is to point out that all our evidence in the matter, so far as it extends at present, goes to identify the great hunter of the ancient world with Merodach.

Now the chief points of identification which we possess are three in number:—the relation of Nimrod to Babylonia, his character as a hunter, and his name. These we shall examine in their order.

The name of Nimrod occurs twice in the Old Testament, in Gen. x, 8-1 1, and again in Micah v, 3. The latter prophet speaks of the "land of Nimrod" as synonymous with Babylonia, at that time under the sway of Sargon, and puts "the land of Assur" and "the land of Nimrod" upon one and the same footing. The same is the case in the ethnological table of Genesis. There, just as Nimrod is the founder of the four primaeval cities of Chaldaea, so Assur is the founder and eponyme of the four primaeval cities of Assyria. The two heroes are the counterparts one of the other. What Assur is to Assyria, Nimrod is to Babylonia. Now Assur or Asur represents the earliest capital of Assyria, whose ruins are to be found at Kileh Shergat. In all probability it is the Ellasar of Gen. xiv, 1, where the initial אל [p.244] would be the Assyrian âlu "city." Assur was of Accadian origin; in other words, its builders must have come from the southern alluvial plains of the Euphrates, in agreement with the statement of Genesis, bringing with them the art of writing, which had already been invented in Chaldaea. The tablets explain the meaning of the name as "water-border" or "water-bank," from the Accadian a "water" (Assyrian mie) and sar "border" (Assyrian sedtuv), no doubt in allusion to its situation on the Tigris. The title Assur extended itself from the city to the surrounding country, and became abstracted into a deity, the patron and eponyme of Assyria. The power of the later Assyrian Empire was expressed by making this god the head of the Pantheon, and the father of the three originally supreme gods Anu, Bil, and Hea (Damasc. De Pr. Princip. ed. Kopp, p. 324). Now, in the inscriptions, Merodach in the South answers to Assur in the North; and just as Assur is the patron-deity of Nineveh, so Merodach is the patron-deity of Babylon. As early as the time of Khammurabi, we find the king calling himself casid irniti Maruduc rin mutib libbi-su, "conqueror of the enemies of Merodach, the shepherd who makes good his heart"; and as soon as a Semitic dynasty is established in Babylonia we have monarchs named Merodach-gina, Merodach-iddm-akhi, &c. Merodach, "the great lord," "the illuminator of the gods," "the extender of lands and men," is the primary object of Nebuchadnezzar's worship. As the planet Mercury, he is identified with Dilgan ([cuneiform]) "the star of Babylon " (W.A.I. III, 53, 4), called Icu ([cuneiform]) by the Assyrians (III, G8, 13). Babylonia, accordingly, may be described as the land of Merodach, just as it is called the land of Nimrod in Micah; and the same relation that exists between Assur and Nimrod in the Old Testament exists between Assur and Merodach in the native monuments. Here, therefore, is a strong presumption in favour of the identity of the two.

The second characteristic of the Biblical Nimrod, which we are able to use in evidence, is his character as a hunter. It is as the wild huntsman of the ancient world that his name became a proverb throughout the East,—"Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord." Now the same [p.245] character belongs also to Merodach. A mythological tablet (W.A.I, II, 56, 25-29) gives us the following curious information:—"The god Uccumu ([cuneiform]), the god Accalu ([cuneiform]), the god Icsuda ([cuneiform]), and the god Iltebu ([cuneiform]), [are] the four names of the dog[s] of Merodach" ([cuneiform]). The first three words are easy enough to interpret, "the despoiler" from עכם (ecimu), "the devourer," from אכל (acalu), and "the seizer," from כשד (casadu); but Iltebu is more obscure. It may be "the consumer," from להב or (more probably, considering the vowel of the inserted dental) "the capturer," from שאב (Hebrew שבה). Here we see Merodach accompanied by his dogs, like the Greek Orion or the Wild Huntsman of mediaeval legend, and it is impossible not to compare him with the description of Nimrod given in Genesis. According to Ebers (Ægypten u. d. Bucher Moses, p. 58), the Egyptians were already acquainted with the story in the 14th century B.C. In the Papyrus Anastasi I, 23, 6, it is said of the Mohar, whose travels in Canaan are narrated, "Thy name is like that of Katarti, the Lord of Assyria, after his fight with the Hyaenas." If the reading Katarti is correct, it is remarkably similar to Gudibir, the common Accadian name of Merodach (W.A.I. II, 48, 36). So that here again we have a point of connection between the tutelary god of Babylon and the Biblical hero.

The last chief point of identification is the name Merodach, in Assyrian Maruduc, is a modification of the Accadian Amar-ud or Amar-ut ([cuneiform]), as the name of the god is usually written. The initial vowel is dropped as in the name of the Babylonian city Amar-da, which becomes Marad in Assyrian. Amar-ut would signify "the circle1 of the day," ut or ud being "sun," "day," or "light," and when used [p.246] as an adjective, "white." A longer form of ut was Utu (W.A.I. II. 57, 15), and this was still further increased by the addition of ci, whence we get Utuci (W.A.I. II, 48, 34) contracted in Assyrian to Utuc or Uduc "a spirit." The postposition ci (originally "place") meant "with," and hence was sometimes employed to form adjectives, like the postposition ga. "The circle of the day" would seem to refer to Merodach as the planet Mercury, or possibly would point to an original solar conception.2 At any rate, the fact remains that his ordinary Accadian name was Amar-ud. The resemblance of this word to Nimrod will be evident to everyone, the initial nasal in the latter alone requiring explanation. This is no doubt a difficulty, and the easiest way of escaping from it would be to assume a misreading in the Hebrew text, . having been taken for . But two facts decisively exclude such a supposition. One is the occurrence of the word in two passages of the Old Testament; the other is the existence of the name in Egypt, under the XXIInd dynasty, which it has been conjectured was of Assyrian origin, the proper name Namurot is met with more than once; and this gives us a clue to the interpretation of the difficulty before us. Egyptian influence has long been recognised in the ethnological table of Genesis; the list of the sons of Mizraim alone would show that some portion at least of the information has been derived from Egypt. Now Nimrod (Nimrudu) would be a niphal derivative, formed in [p.247] full accordance with the principles of Assyrian grammar; and when once Amar-ud had become Marud, with a definite meaning of its own, it would only be consistent with the ordinary procedure of Assyrian to treat the word as a Semitic root, and assimilate its form to its signification. Thus the Assyrian borrowed kharra "man" from the Accadian under the Semitised form khairu, and then derived from this khiratu "woman." In fact, when once one of the numerous loan-words which made their way from the old language of Chaldæa into Assyrian had become part and parcel of that language, then further modification, according to the spirit of Semitic grammar, followed as a matter of course. If, therefore, Amar-ud were borrowed by the Assyrian, and we know that the longer form Amar-uduci was, there is no difficulty in understanding how it came to appear as a niphal derivative, partly on account of the meaning, partly to compensate for the lost initial vowel.

Besides these three main points of identification, there are one or two other characteristics of the Biblical Nimrod which must not be passed over. It is said of him that "he began to be a mighty one (gihhor) in the earth"; and this again suits Merodach well. Merodach alone of the gods is symbolised by the human figure—a man walking—which perhaps had much to do with his being identified by the Greeks with their Zeus. But more than this. In the mythological tablets he is called Gusur (W.A.I. II, 47, 23), possibly connected with the common root gasru "strong," and this is rendered "Merodach the hero" ([cuneiform]); while as Dun-pa-uddu, the name which the planet Mercury bears during the month Nisan, his title is sanu nis Kharrana ([cuneiform]) "lord of the men of Haran" (III, 67, 28). This connection of Harran with the star-worship and astrology of the Accadians is interesting. Besides being "a mighty one," Nimrod, we are told, reigned in "the beginning" over Babylon, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. The phrase is a remarkable one, and, as has long ago been pointed out, agrees better with the idea of a dynasty or a tutelary deity than of an individual monarch. Now the cycle of tablets which Mr. Smith has [p.248] discovered, and which contain the famous account of the Deluge, mention but four cities, Babylon, Erech, Nipur, and Surippac, thus coinciding with the enumeration of Genesis. All these cities lay in the alluvial plain between the Tigris and Euphrates, which would accordingly be the Shinar of Scripture, Ur on the western bank of the Euphrates being excluded from the list. Surippac would seem to be a gynonyme of Larsa, the modern Mugeyer, since the hero of the Chaldean flood is called a Surippacite, and Berosus assigns the father of Sisuthrus to Larancha, while Calneh, or Καλαννή3 "the town of Anu," has already been identified with Nipur by Sir H. Rawlinson. Accad must be corrected, as it was not a city, but a country, the "highlands" of Elam, whence the Accadai descended and conquered Babylonia, which up to that time would seem to have borne the name of Sumiri or Shinar. Just as the list of cities in Genesis begins with Babylon, so are the antediluvian kings of Berosus headed by Alorus the Babylonian, and along with the supremacy of Babylon would go the supremacy of the god Merodach, whose "gate" and home it was.

The only remaining piece of information that the passage in Genesis gives us about Nimrod, is that he was the son of Cush. Here there is a discrepancy between the Scriptural hero and the Babylonian god. Merodach was "the eldest son of Hea"; while as a planet when called Dil-gan he was "the spirit of Hea" (III, 68, 13), and in the month Adar he was "the fish of Hea." Cusu, on the other hand, was one of "the fourteen great gods, the sons of Anu," and, consequently, according to Babylonian theology, the cousin of Merodach. Cush, however, is a geographical title, and best receives its explanation from Gen. ii, 13, where the Gihon, which I have shown elsewhere4 to be a synonyme of the Euphrates, is said to encompass the whole land of Cush. The statement that "Cush begat Nimrod" would merely assert his Babylonian origin.


So far, then, as our evidence goes at present, it seems to me that we must regard the identification of Nimrod with Merodach as fairly made out. The comparison has been made before on the mere ground of similarity of name, by Von Bohlen, who saw in him Merodach-Baladan, the opponent of Sargon and Sennacherib, and by Chwolsohn, who would connect the Nunrod of Ibn Wahshiya with the Mardok-entes of Berosus.


1 I follow the French School in translating Amar "circle." The Syllabary, however (W.A.I. II, 1, 156), renders amar by bu-u-ru, and buhru is found in the inscriptions only as the equivalent of the Heb. בור, in the sense of "pit" or "snare."

2 The more the Babylonian mythology is examined the more solar is its origin found to be; thus confirming the results arrived at in the Aryan and Semitic fields of research. It is true that Ann, the son of "mother Heaven," was the Sky, and Hea, with his symbol the serpent, was primarily the Earth, whence he came to be the god of rivers as well as of the house and hearth, and of building generally; but the other great deities, so far as I can see at present, seem all to go back to the Sun. Thus, Adar or Nm-ip, the god of the thunderbolt and stormcloud, is called "the Sun of the South" (W.A.I. II, 57, 51); Raman, or Æther, is "the meridian Sun in Elam" (11,57, 76), Nebo is the "Eastern Sun" in "the height of heaven" (I, 58, 13, II, 48, 55), identified with the Aryan Mitra ([cuneiform]), the god of "the foundation," whom I would compare with the Al-orus of Berosus, signifies the "West" (1,58, 13); while Gisdhubar whose story is told in the tablets which contain the Chaldean account of the Deluge, is a solar hero, as Sir H. Rawlinson has pointed out.

3 This is the name of the city in the Septuagint. Kal or Kalla [cuneiform] was one of the Accadian words for "town," according to W.A.I. II, 30, 14.

4 Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, Vol. I, Part 2, p. 300.