Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Physical Nature of Babylon

The land "between the two rivers" is the richest part of the Fertile Crescent. The "crescent" is made up of broad plains that are watered and fertilized by the flow of the two large rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. "The river" of the Bible is the Euphrates. Syria and Canaan to the west are less fortunate, because they represent the narrow and lean parts of the Fertile Crescent and of the two Canaan is the smaller and the poorer; rivers are small and do not allow for boat passage. 

The length of the Euphrates from its beginnings to the sea if about 1800 miles, and it falls nearly one foot per mile during the last 1200 mile journey. The river begins to rise at the end of March and is in flood stage up until the end of May. It is navigable for small craft up until the end of September. 

The Vast Plain. Between the Tigris and Euphrates is the one plain, which extends from the mountains of Kurdistan to the Persian Gulf. The area contains many hundreds of thousands of square miles. The geological formation of the upper part, or northern part of this plain, is entirely different from the lower, or southern part. The northern part is likened to "the great and terrible" Syrian Desert which lies to the west of the Euphrates. But the southern region has alluvium deposits from the Tigris and Euphrates spillover of waters that takes place each spring. After the spring rains in the north, the pasture grasses spring forth for sheep grazing, but the benefit only lasts for a short season. 

In the south irrigation has created an abundance of crops, around which farms, villages, and large cities flourished in the past. From the ancient days, the area produced grains, palm fruit, and many other kinds of fruit trees. 

Mesopotamia vs Babylonia. Though the distinction is not truly accurate, classical writers called the northern area Mesopotamis, and the lower part Babylonia. The ancient writer and geographer Ptolemy appears to have placed the northern boundary of Babylon at what was called "the Median Wall" (mentioned by Xenophon, Anabasis ii, 4, 12). The classical writer Strabo mentions the "massive wall of Semiramis," which reached from the Tigris near Sittace at some point near the Euphrates. This "massive wall" was probably also the Median Wall. 

The argument is best settled by more modern Arab geographers, who cannot agree where Mesopotamia and Assyria ended, and where Babylon began. In reality, the area was probably never divided with such accuracy as we may wish. 

The Role of Canaan. Though situated at the southwestern end of the Fertile Crescent, Canaan would nevertheless play a most prominent role in what happens in this region. First, God would plant His people the Jews here for very important reasons. Second, because of its strategic location, the nations of the region would be exposed to the Israelites and learn of the One true God. There is no accident that the Jews were given this territory. 

Communications between Egypt and the kingdoms of the Fertile

Crescent passed of necessity through Palestine, thus establishing its destiny as a land-bridge. Military campaigns swept in succession through Palestine, which in many periods was held by one or the other of the great powers; yet no major cultural development came about in either civilization without Palestine having some part in it.1   Canaan was given to Abraham (Gen. 12:3), in fact, he was told later by God to "lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever" (13:14-15). But Canaan was but the starting part of the land promised to him.

Again, some years later with an astounding prediction, the Lord finalized His covenant with Abraham. He promised, "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates" (15:18).
Conclusion. There are some parallels in regard to the geography of Egypt and Babylon. For example, the plain between the Tigris and Euphrates resembles Egypt proper, with its Delta of fertile soil from the continual flooding of the Nile River.
As the life of Egypt has always depended, and always will depend, on the Nile, so the peoples who have successively inhabited Babylonia have owed their well-being, and development entirely to the two rivers, and especially to the Euphrates.2   Typography
Geographical and economic features played a role in developing this great and expansive area of the world. Fertility was dependent upon the great rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates passing through the region, with their many arteries and tributaries that brought irrigation waters. Even then the area is generally hot and dry, except for the spring rains that swell the rivers and provide silt for planting on land nearest the rivers.

A government order was needed in the region to organize a work force for crops, and as a vehicle for providing stability and peace. Because the land is so flat, the national boundaries were not stable, and invasion across borders actually fostered the instability of the great powers.

On the western border of the Fertile Crescent, near the Mediterranean Sea, lay Syria and Lebanon, with date orchards and the great forests of cedar that were coveted by sea-going peoples for ship building. To the north of the Fertile Crescent were the Kurdistan Mountains that protected the top of this region. From these mountains in the spring, the melting of the snows brings flooding to the tributaries that swell many of the rivers.

To the east, where the Euphrates flows into the Persian Gulf, the flood plain is particularly flat, south to the ocean from Lagash and Ur.

Because of the network of rivers, date tree forests actually curve and follow along with the Fertile Crescent. This fruit produced food for both animals and humans. And because of the rivers, and the underground caverns of water they provided, wells were easy to dig and provided plenty of water for those living on the desert sands.

Hot and dry would be the best way to describe the land between the two rivers. However, to the north near the mountains, cold winds may bring chilled breezes, but rarely will snow fall along the rivers of the Fertile Crescent. On the west in Syria and Lebanon, snows will also fall during the height of winter.

In late spring, dry desert winds blow from the south, bring scorching heat in the daylight hours and warm atmospheres in the evening hours. Late at night, the heat will radiate off the sands to bring the temperatures down to a bone chilling 35 degrees F.
Daniel and the Jewish people were all too familiar with this harsh but invigorating climate. In some strange way, the heat seemed to challenge and inspire industry and promote war and aggression.