“Nimrod, the Mighty Hunter.” This is how the Bible describes this ancient ruler who lived and reigned just following the Great Flood. A great-grandson of Noah, he was the original early despot, builder of the infamous tower of Babel. This man is described in numerous extra-biblical traditions. And numerous attempts have been made to identify him with known ancient rulers.
Now, more than 4,000 years after he ruled, has Nimrod finally been rediscovered?
Nimrod: In the Bible and Tradition
The biblical description of Nimrod is rather short. It describes him in the “Table of Nations” (Genesis 10), alongside about 65 other figures. This table is largely a simple list of names—but prime space (several verses) is given to describing just one of these figures: Nimrod.
Verses 8-10 read:
And Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; wherefore it is said: ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.’ And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.
(The next two verses describe further cities built either by him or Asshur.) Nimrod was clearly a powerful ruler, establishing many of the initial post-Flood cities. The name “mighty one” connotes “tyrant.” He was renowned as a hunter and protector, and the phrase “mighty hunter before the Lord” would better read “mighty hunter against and in place of the Lord.” This man, as we will see further down, set himself up as a god over his people, and he worked directly to counter the will of God.
The Bible doesn’t directly say Nimrod built the tower of Babel. But certainly the inference that he did is clear. Babel was the “beginning” of Nimrod’s kingdom. Genesis 11 shows that it was here at Babel, during the first years of this city, that the great tower was built with the intention of reaching heaven. This effort would have been led by Nimrod himself. Only after God confounded the language of the builders did the people scatter across the Earth. This explains why Babel was only the beginning of his kingdom, and why he needed to later build further cities to accommodate and keep together the scattering peoples.
Numerous ancient historians directly name Nimrod as the builder of the tower of Babel—most notably, Josephus. He wrote:
Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. … He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if He should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!
Josephus went on to describe the construction of the tower of Babel:
Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high, sooner than anyone could expect; but the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was. It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. (Antiquities of the Jews, 1.4.2-3)
Josephus continued to relate the construction of this “flood-proof” tower, quoting parallel histories, as well as explaining God’s intervention to stop the effort and spread mankind apart through the confusion of languages.
So what of that great architect and tyrant Nimrod? Is he still just an elusive name found only in the Bible and other later histories?
An Ancient Ruler of Sumer
The Sumerian King List is an ancient listing of the earliest rulers of Sumer and surrounding regions. It starts out by describing a list of rulers of vast ages, followed by a cataclysmic flood. For a full explanation of this king list and how it parallels the biblical account of extremely long antediluvian ages, see our article “Biblical Longevity of the First Humans.” Just after the “900-year-old” rulers, after lifespans began to rapidly decline, a certain Sumerian ruler emerges by the name of Enmerkar. (“Sumer” is believed to be an Akkadian form of Shinar. Shinar is the name of the great southern Mesopotamian plain where post-Flood mankind descended to and where Nimrod began his rule—Genesis 10:10.)
Most of the rulers on either side of Enmerkar’s reign are known only from brief token references. We know a whole lot more, though, about Enmerkar based on additional texts and references. This king bears a lot of resemblance to the biblical Nimrod.
The biblical Nimrod came on the scene just three generations after the extremely long-living antediluvian patriarchs (many of which lived to 900 years). Similarly, Enmerkar ruled three generations after the King List’s 900-year rulers.
It has been put forward that the “kar” in the name Enmerkar could mean “hunter.” If this is the case, then we would have the name Enmer the Hunter—as paralleling “Nimrod, the Mighty Hunter.” Perhaps the consonants in Enmer, nmr, are also a connection to the name Nimrod, and the original consonantal Hebrew spelling, nmrd.
Nimrod’s father is Cush; his grandfather, Ham; and his great-grandfather, Noah. According to the Sumerian list, Enmerkar’s father is a ruler called Meskiagkasher. This could have been the same Cush (with the matching “kash” in the name). The father for Meskiagkasher is the deity Utu, who was the god of the sun (later known as Shamash). Perhaps even here, there is a link with Cush’s father Ham—Ham in Hebrew meaning, simply, “hot.” Surely the sons of Noah—the three fathers of all nations, Shem, Ham and Japheth—would have been deified in later years by their respective peoples.
Ancient historians, including Berossus (third century b.c.e.), name the initial leading ruler of Assyria as Euchous. Modern Sumerologists have suggested Euchous and Enmerkar are the same individual. Interestingly, the ancient historians directly named Euchous as being Nimrod himself, also linking him to Belus of Babylon. Different names in different cultures—but the same individual.
According to the Sumerian King List, Enmerkar built the city of Uruk. The Bible states that Nimrod founded the city of Erech. These cities are one and the same (and it may well have been Nimrod’s second-most important city after Babel due to its second-place listing after the city in Genesis 10:10). Ancient texts about Enmerkar reinforce the high importance of Uruk.
What about further “building” links—specifically, to the tower of Babel? Surely if there was some link to this account we would have a match.
Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta
The Bible describes the tower of Babel as an effort to build a structure up to heaven, bringing together all people on Earth, “lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4)—which scattering, according to extra-biblical sources, the still-living Noah was attempting to accomplish. God saw the designs of the tower-builders and, realizing the potential advancement of the amassing unilingual society toward evil, stepped in to confuse the languages of the builders in order to force them to disperse into separate groups and repopulate the Earth.
There is an ancient Sumerian “epic,” dating to around 2100 b.c.e. (not long after the Flood), titled Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta. It tells of a back-and-forth dialogue between Enmerkar and another ruler, the lord of Aratta, regarding the sending of tribute to build a tower. (The name “Aratta” could well be a reference to an early kingdom based around Ararat, where the ark landed.) Enmerkar threatens that if the tribute does not come from the lord of Aratta, he will wreak havoc on the land of Aratta “like the devastation which swept destructively” (possibly a reference to the Flood). Partway into the long inscription, we find the following paragraph:
Chant to him … the incantation of Nudimmud: “… the whole universe, the well-guarded people—may they all address Enlil together in a single language! … for the ambitious lords, for the ambitious princes, for the ambitious kings—Enki, the lord of abundance … shall change the speech in their mouths, as many as he had placed there, and so the speech of mankind is truly one.”
Here we read, in the context of attempting to build a tower, an incantation to try to cause people to all speak the same language. We see that the “lord of abundance,” Enki, had “placed” many languages among the nations—and this incantation was intended so mankind could work together with one language. There are other translations of the text, which render it of even closer resemblance to the biblical confusion of languages. Here is one alternate translation of the same passage:
Once … the whole universe, the people in unison, spoke to Enlil in one tongue. … Then Enki, the lord of abundance … changed the speech in their mouths, brought contention into it, into the speech of man that had been one.
Whatever the correct original meaning, the connection with the confusion of languages in Genesis 11 is evident. The ruler in this text, Enmerkar, desired the unity of language in order to accomplish his goals—a unity that had once been, but was no longer, due to divine intervention.
The tower described in the text was to be a lofty temple located in Eridu. Historian and Egyptologist David Rohl (who took the lead in putting forward Enmerkar as Nimrod) believes that this city Eridu was the original Babel, and that the massive ziggurat (a large, wide Mesopotamian terraced tower, believed to be temple-related) found there is none other than remains of the tower of Babel itself. Adding weight to this is the claim that Eridu is the oldest city not only in southern Mesopotamia but also in the world (note that Babel was “the beginning of his kingdom” (Genesis 10:10). Eridu was known as the original home of the Sumerian god Enki. The ziggurat at this site appears to have been left incomplete—fitting with the tower of Babel story.
There are other theories for the original location of the tower of Babel. Wherever the true site is, it surely wasn’t originally called “Babel” (as this means “confusion”). It has been discovered that Babylon was anciently called “nun.ki” (as rendered by cuneiform logograms). Eridu carries exactly the same logogram name: “nun.ki.”
And a building in the shape of a ziggurat would fit the description of the tower of Babel from Josephus, who commented on the tower’s mountainous width rather than sheer vertical height. These ziggurats became a dominant part of the Mesopotamian landscape throughout the ensuing millennium.
There are further interesting parallels between the biblical Nimrod, the tower of Babel, and Enmerkar. One of Enmerkar’s chief cities was Kulaba. This place is described in another document, Enmerkar and Ensuhgirana, as being a “city which reaches from heaven to Earth.” This kind of language parallels the original intent of the tower of Babel, a “a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven” (Genesis 11:4). Of Enmerkar’s city Uruk (Erech), the same text states that its fame “like the rainbow reaches up to the sky, a multicolored sheen.” This reference to a rainbow could be significant, as just before Nimrod’s time, God had described the rainbow as His sign that He would never again destroy all mankind by a flood (Genesis 9:11-17).
Enmerkar and Inanna
The chief regional goddess during the days of Enmerkar was Inanna. She is described as the goddess of sex, war and power. Her worship included a variety of perverted sexual rites, and her chief center of worship was located in Enmerkar’s city Uruk (a new cult location, superseding worship of the god Enki at Eridu/Babel—perhaps this was after the incident at the tower of Babel?).
Inanna is recorded as being related to Utu-Shamash (grandfather of Enmerkar). In the above-mentioned Enmerkar and Ensuhgirana text, Enmerkar describes having sexual relations with Inanna. She is his counselor and gives him political instructions. There is even at least one possible reference of her as Enmerkar’s wife.
The Sumerians called her Inanna. The Assyrians and Babylonians called her Ishtar. The Canaanites and Israelites called her Astarte. Her Greek and Roman equivalents are Aphrodite and Venus, respectively. She was also generally known as the “queen of heaven.” Easter is another form of the name Ishtar and Astarte (and pronounced similarly)—and numerous peculiar Easter traditions can be traced back to this goddess. Regarding Easter: According to traditions cited by the first-century c.e. author Hyginus, a woman called the “Syrian goddess” and “Venus” is supposed to have hatched from an “egg of wondrous size” that fell from heaven. (Painted eggs, bunnies and hot cross buns were, of course, no part of original Christianity.) Even the hot cross buns are a continuation of the original Astarte worship Jeremiah warned against, when women would “knead the dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven” (Jeremiah 7:18; see here for more detail on this subject).
Thus, we see that at the earliest foundation of civilization—post-Flood, with the tower of Babel, Babylon and subsequent dispersion, the earliest foundations were also laid for world religion, going back to the early Sumerians and Inanna, as well as a connection with her much “younger” husband/sexual partner Enmerkar. Again, this parallels the story of Nimrod.
Assyrian Queen Semiramis is linked to Ishtar and Astarte. She was the wife of King Ninus, who, according to classical accounts, was the founder of Nineveh and was himself also one and the same as Nimrod (equated as such, for example, by the second-century b.c.e. Greek historian Apollodorus, among others). This early husband and wife pair is also traditionally linked as an incestuous mother-son couple (as expounded on in detail by Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons). After the death of Nimrod, Semiramis deified a later, illegitimate son as a reincarnation of her husband. This son is sometimes referred to as “Tammuz” (Ezekiel 8:14), or the Sumerian name “Dumuzid.” Interestingly, after Enmerkar’s death, there is first an initial ruler, followed afterwards by a man named Dumuzid. Could this have been the son of Enmerkar and Inanna?
There has also been much research connecting Nimrod and Semiramis with the Egyptian Isis, Osiris and Horus “mother-son worship” story, a common refrain also carried along into Hinduism and other religions.
Ancient gods and goddesses are commonly dismissed as purely mythical—doing so, however, is a mistake. It is highly likely that at least many of them are derived from real human leaders, who in the passage of time (even during their lifetimes) were deified, such as with Inanna.
So with the Great Dispersion after the tower of Babel, we have not only a dispersion of languages but also a dispersion of a common religious system that took on many different forms and names.
Enmerkar After All?
Thus we have the following: A Sumerian king whose name has a tantalizing link to that of Nimrod; who ruled just following the “900-year” patriarchs, like Nimrod; who built the same city as Nimrod; who is associated with the building of a tower, in relation to the divine confusion of languages—which tower was located in the “earliest city,” as with Nimrod’s Babel, the “beginning of his kingdom”; whose consort was a perverted goddess; whose religion gradually dispersed (with the languages) around the world, continuing to this day under different names, yet representing the same basic original Babylonian traditions.
So have we found him? Is the great tyrant Nimrod the Sumerian Enmerkar?
That’s for the reader to decide. But I believe the evidence is abundant.
Different cultures all around the world present different names, which can become confusing—but the general traditions are directly linked and point to an early center of civilization and religion before mankind was dispersed. Thus, with the confusion of the languages and resulting spread of humanity was also a dispersion of the same general religious foundations and even general historical accounts. And some form of a tower of Babel story is found throughout seemingly disconnected cultures all over the world, pointing to a common post-Flood genesis of mankind—and perhaps even explaining why the ancient temples in the Americas, Egypt and around the world so closely parallel the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. You can read about those parallel tower of Babel stories, from Asia to the Americas to the Pacific and beyond, here.
This article is part of our series on biblical figures brought to light through archaeology. Click on the following links to learn more about King David, King Hezekiah, the Prophet Elisha, the Prophet Jeremiah, and the Governor Nehemiah.