The Failed Prophecies Concerning Babylon
made by Isaiah and Jeremiah
17 March 2002
The general public is unaware that a number of prophecies made by Isaiah and Jeremiah concerning Babylon failed to materialize and are even today unfulfiled. We will investigate the specific details found in these prophecies and call attention to archaeological anomalies and events from Babylon's history of the past 2500 years which reveal the prophecies were failed ones. The prophets understood that God would seek revenge on Babylon for the destruction of Jerusalem and his Temple. With the fall of Babylon, God's people would be released from their Babylonian Captivity, and return to the Promised Land.
Isaiah noted that Babylon would be destroyed by God. He would cause the Medes to lead a coalition of nations against the city, destroying it in bloody warfare. This event would secure the release of God's people from their oppressors (Isa 13:1-22; 14:22).
(Isa 13:1, 4, 17, 19-20, 22; 14: 1, 2-3, 22)
"The Oracle concening Babylon which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw...Hark, a tumult on the mountains as of a great multitude ! Hark, an uproar of Kingdoms, of nations gathering together ! The Lord of Hosts is mustering a host for battle...Behold I am stirring up the Medes against them...and Babylon, the glory of the kingdoms, the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans, shall be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them. It will never be inhabitated or dwelt in for all generations; no Arab will pitch his tent there...Its time is close at hand and its days will not be prolonged. The Lord will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land...they will take captive their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them. When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: 'How the oppressor has ceased, the insolent fury ceased !...How you are fallen from heaven, O day star, son of the Dawn ! How you are cut to the ground, you who made the nations low !...I will rise up against them says the Lord of Hosts, and I will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, offspring and posterity, says the Lord. And I will make it a possession of the hedgehog, and pools of water, and I will sweep it with the broom of destruction, says the Lord of Hosts."
Isaiah's staement, "Its time is close at hand and its days will not be prolonged," suggests that he was not envisioning a slow economic decline of Babylon beginning ca. 305 BCE under the Seleucids and extending to the 1st century CE, when the last cuneiform clay tablets were composed honoring the city's gods.
Isaiah understood that upon Babylon's destruction by God, that his people would be freed from their Babylonian oppressor and that Israel would would "take captive their captors." Israel/Judah NEVER took "captive" the Babylonians, even after their release from the Babylonian Captivity by Cyrus in 539 BCE.
(Isa 21: 2, 9)
"Go up, O Elam, and lay siege O Media...Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the images of her gods he has shattered to the ground."
Babylon's gods were not destroyed and tumbled to the ground and shattered by battle-crazed enemy warriors. Babylon peacefully surrendered in 539 BCE to Cyrus the Persian (not to a Median lead coalition, Cyrus having defeated and absorbed the Median empire ca. 560 BCE). According to a clay cylinder narrating the fall of the city (called the Cyrus Cylinder), Cyrus made a great show of respecting and honoring Babylon's gods, even asking for their blessing on him and his son as the new rulers of Babylon. Marduk's hand was held by Cyrus and later his son as part of the swearing in ceremonies for Babylonian kings ! The gods of the cities in Babylonia were restored with proper ceremonies to their original cities by Cyrus (Nabonidus, the last King of Babylon, having ordered them placed in Babylon in the course of hostilities).
Cyrus' "care" for the Babylonian gods, contra Jeremiah's claim that the gods are to toppled and destroyed -
"When I, well-disposed, entered Babylon, I set up the seat of my dominion in the royal palace amidst jubilation and rejoicing. Marduk the great god caused the big-hearted inhabitants of Babylon...to me. I sought daily to worship him. My numerous troops moved about undisturbed in the midst of Babylon. I did not allow any to terrorize the land of [Sumer] and Akkad. I kept in view the needs of Babylon and all its sanctuaries to promote their well-being." (p. 87. "The Cyrus Cylinder," Edwin M. Yamauchi. Persia and the Bible. Grand Rapids, Micigan. Baker Book House. 1990, 1996. ISBN 0-8010-2108-1)
(Isa 43:14, 47:1-15)
"For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned into lamentations."
No gate bars were broken down by Cyrus. The gates were opened in peace, welcoming him as a saviour. There were no lamentations over dead Babylonian warriors within the city or widows and slain children.
"The Nabonidus Chronicle confirms that Ugbaru (Gubaru) and his troops entered Babylon without a battle on October 12th. Cyrus himself did not enter the city until October 29th. The inhabitants of Babylon greeted Cyrus not as a conqueror but as a liberator, and spread green branches before him." (p.87, Yamauchi)
"Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; sit on the ground without a throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans !...I will take vengenace, and I will spare no man. Our Redeemer -the Lord of Hosts is his name-...you shall no more be called mistress of kingdoms...These two things shall come to you in a moment, in one day; the loss of children and widowhood shall come upon you in full measure...disaster shall fall upon you...and ruin shall come on you suddenly..."
Isaiah appears to be saying that IN ONE DAY -in a moment- disaster will strike the city, she shall be in ruin. This prophecy was unfulfilled. Babylon did not experience "disaster," i.e., slain residents, breached walls, broken-in gates, houses on fire by looting enemy warriors. There was no ruin of any kind under Cyrus, who had ordered his soldiers not to loot the city, but to show respect and forbearance. As for all this ruin occuring in ONE DAY, it didn't happen, Babylon continued to exist with priests serving at her altars as late as the first century CE according to cuneiform clay tablets found in the city by archaeologists.
Babylon's fame as a "Mistress of Cities" continued until Hellenistic Greek times. At first, the Persian monarchs would come to Babylon to take part in the swearing in ceremonies as Babylon's new king, taking the hand of Marduk and asking his blessing. The Persian Crown Prince resided at times in Babylon (so did the Persian King), out of respect to Babylon's fame (remnants of a Persian built palace have been found in Babylon). The Hellenistic Greek monarchs also would come to the City for swearing in ceremonies and took the titular, "King of Babylon" as paying respect to the city, contra Isaiah's notion all this deference to Babylon would come to an end with the sudden destruction of the city by Medes. Alexander the Great (ca. 331 BCE) intended to make Babylon the capital of his Oriental Empire (he destroyed the Persian capital at Persepolis).
"Antiochus II (261-246 BCE) and Seleucus II (246-225) continued their predecessor's policy of cultivating favor with the inhabitants of Babylon. In 237 the latter presented to Babylon, Borsippa, and Cutha a gift of landed property and other valuables. Esagila is mentioned in the deed which stresses that the gift is to be Babylonian temple property eternally." (p.142. Oates)
Isaiah warns his people to flee from Chaldea and from Babylon, for their lives are in jeopardy- they might be killed in the savage fighting as armies engage each other :
(Isa 48: 14, 20)
"Assemble, all of you and hear ! Who among them has declared these things ? The Lord loves him; he shall perform his purpose on Babylon, and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans...Go forth from Babylon flee from Chaldea, declare with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send forth to the end of the earth; say. The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob !"
Jeremiah's prophecies were quite detailed regarding when and how God would destroy Babylon and her fate after the initial destruction of the city by a coalition of forces under Median control.
"This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste."
Babylon surrendered peacefully in 539 BCE to Cyrus. The Exile began ca. 597 or 587 BCE (two exiles occurred of Jerusalemites), but neither equates to a 70 year captivity, which should of ended ca. 527 or 517 BCE.
Jer 27: 6-7
"Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant...All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes: then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave."
Jer 29: 10
"For thus saith the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and I will bring you back to this place."
Jer 50: 8-10
"Flee from the midst of Babylon, and go out of the land of the Chaldeans...for behold, I am stirring up and bringing against Babylon a company of great nations, from the north country; and they shall array themselves against her; from there she shall be taken. Their arrows are like a skilled warrior who does not return empty-handed. Chaldea shall be plundered; all who plunder her shall be sated, says the Lord."
Jer 50: 12-
"...Lo, she shall be the last of the nations, a wilderness dry and desert. Because the wrath of the Lord she shall not be inhabitated, but an utter desoloation; everyone who passes by Babylon shall be appalled and hiss because of all her wounds. Set yourselves in array against Babylon round about, all you that bend the bow; shoot at her, spare no arows, for she has sinned against the Lord. Raise a shout, she has surrendered; her bulwarks have fallen, her walls are thrown down. For this is the vengenace of the Lord: take vengenace on her, do to her as she has done."
Jer 50: 18-19
"...thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing punishment on the king of Babylon and his land as I punished the king of Assyria. I will restore Israel to his pasture, and he shall feed on Carmel and in Bashan..."
The allusion to the "punishment of the Assyrian king" proably refers to the destruction of Nineveh, and the sacking of the Assyrian capital, in 612 BCE, by a Median/Babylonian lead coalition, and the later demise of the Assyrian empire.
Jer 50: 21-23
"Slay, and utterly destroy after them says the Lord, and do all that I have commanded you. The noise of battle is in the land, and great is the destruction ! How the hammer of the whole earth is cut down and broken ! How Babylon has become a horror among the nations!"
Jer 50: 33-35
"Thus says the Lord of Hosts: The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah with them; all who took them captive have held them fast, they refuse to let them go. Their Redeemer is strong; the Lord of Hosts is his name. He will surely plead their cause, that he may give rest to the earth, but unrest to the inhabitants of babylon. A sword upon the Chaldeans says the Lord, and upon the inhabitants of Babylon..."
In the above verse Jeremiah quite clearly expects Israel's release from captivity to accompany the fall of Babylon in a bloodbath of carnage.
Jer 51: 27-28, 31, 37
"...summon against her the kingdoms, Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz; appoint a marshal against her, bring up horses like bristling locust. Prepare the nations for war against her, the kings of the Medes, with their governors and deputies, and every land under their dominion. The land trembles and writhes in pain, for the Lord's purposes against Babylon stand, to mak the land of Babylon a desolation without inhabitant...tell the king of Babylon that his city is taken on every side...I will dry up her sea and make her fountain dry; and Babylon shall become a heap of ruins, the haunt of jackals, a horror and a hissing, without inhabitant."
Olmstead noted that Babylon surrendered and was spared any destruction by Cyrus-
"Near the beginning of October, Cyrus fought another battle at Opis on the Tigris...on October 11 Sippar was taken without a battle...and on October 13, 539, Gobryas, governor of Gutium, and the troops of Cyrus entered Babylon without battle. Afterward, when Nabu-naid returned to Babylon, he was made prisoner. The last tablet dated by Nabu-naid is from October 14, the day after Gobyras captured Babylon, but it was written at Uruk, to which the welcome news had not yet penetrated....Babylon was well treated by Cyrus...on October 29 Cyrus himself entered Babylon. Branches were spread in his path, and he proclaimed peace to everyone in the city." (pp.50-51, "Founder Cyrus," A. T. Olmstead.
History of the Persian Empire. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press. Phoenix Books. 1948, reprint 1963)
"The sea has come up on Babylon; she is covered with its tumultuous waves. Her cities have become a horror, a land of drought and a desert, a land in which no one dwells, and through which no son of man passes...the wall of Babylon has fallen."
How can Jeremiah claim that God has dried up the sea of Babylon and then claim the city is covered by the sea ? Jeremiah later claims that the broad wall of Babylon will be leveled and the city will be submerged beneath the waves of the Euphrates, never again to rise.
Jer 51: 54
"Hark ! A cry from Babylon ! The noise of destruction from the land of the Chaldeans ! For the Lord is laying Babylon waste, and stilling her mighty voice...for a destroyer has come upon her, upon Babylon; her warriors are taken, their bows are broken in pieces; for the Lord is a God of recompense, he will surely requite...Thus says the Lord of Hosts: The broad wall of Babylon shall be LEVELED to the ground and her high gates burned with fire."
Jer 51: 62-64
O Lord, thou hast said concerning this place that thou wilt cut it off, so that nothing shall dwell in it neither man or beast, and it shall be desolate FOREVER. When you finish reading this book, bind a stone to it, cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, Thus shall Babylon SINK, TO RISE NO MORE, because of the evil I am bringing upon her."
Jeremiah's last statement, "Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more..." appears to be alluding to the Assyrian king Sennacherib's destruction of Babylon in 689 BCE for rebellion. He leveled the walls of the city and tore down the temples and houses to their foundations, dumping the rubble into the canals intersecting the city, then he diverted the Euphrates to inundate to town and cause it to disappear beneath its waters. No one in 689 BCE witnessing Babylon's utter destruction could have guessed that the city would emerge from the depths of the river one day and destroy Sennacherib's Assyrian capital, Nineveh, in 612 BCE. Jeremiah aware of all this, claims Babylon will not arise a second time from the depths of the river. Unfortunately for Jeremiah, the city's walls were not leveled (Herodotus ca. 450-425 BCE mentions favorably the broad walls of Babylon), nor was it flooded and destroyed for evermore as in Sennacherib's day.
"...we know that Nebuchadrezzar inherited a capital that must still have been in ruins after its total destruction by the Assyrian Sennacherib, who boasted that he tore down the city to its foundations and threw the rubble into the river." (p.176. James Wellard. Babylon, A history of the greatest city of the ancient world and its rediscovery by modern archaeologists. New York. Saturday Review Press. 1972. ISBN 0-8415-0161-0)
"The Assyrian king allowed his troops an unrestrained hand in its sacking, and Babylon was systematically destroyed and burned, the rubble thrown into the Euphrates. A deliberate flooding was engineered and the city's 'very foundations were destroyed.'
I made its destruction more complete that that by a flood, that in days to come the site of that city, and its temples and gods, might not be remembered; I completely blotted it out with floods of water and made it like a meadow." (p.120. Joan Oates. Babylon. [Revised Edition]. London. Thames & Hudson. 1979, 1986, 1994. ISBN 0-500-27384-7)
"...following the depradations of Sennacherib who had claimed to have 'razed the brick and earthworks of the outer and inner (city) wall, of the temples and of the ziggurat and dumped these into the Arahtu. 'I dug canals through the middle of the city and overwhelmed it with water. I made its very foundations disappear and I destroyed it more completely than a devasating flood. So that it might be impossible in the future to recognize the site of the city and its temples, I utterly dissolved it with water and made it like inundated (land)." (p.65. D.J. Wiseman. Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon. [The Schweich Lectures]. Oxford & New York. The British Academy. 1985, 1987, 1991, 1995. ISBN 0-19-726100-0)
Isaiah and Jeremiah both claimed that not only would Babylon be destroyed in war, setting free Israel, but that God would cause the city to be abanoned and never to be dwelt in again. In 539 BCE Cyrus took Babylon peacefully, he let the Jews return to Judah. But Babylon was NOT punished by God who is described as a "God of Recompense," intent on destroying Babylon and her temples and gods for the slain of Jerusalem and the sacking of the city and its temple (Jer 51:56).
Jer 51: 49, 55-56
"Babylon must fall for the slain of Israel...Hark ! a cry from Babylon ! The noise of great destruction from the land of the Chaldeans. For the Lord is laying Babylon waste...a destroyer has come uon her, upon Babylon; her warriors are taken, and their bows broken in pieces; for the Lord is a GOD OF RECOMPENSE, he will surely requite."
The city of Babylon has through the ages been occupied to some degree contra the ravings of the prophets. It was a capital under the Persians for a time. Later it surrendered to Alexander the Great -again, peacefully- and was spared any harm. The city eventually passed in Parthian hands and dwellings of the Parthian occupation have been found. Then it passed in Sassanian hands, whose ruins have also been documented. Then it passed into Arab hands, whose presence is documented until the 11th or 12 century CE. When Koldeway arrived in Babylon to excavate it on behalf of the German Oriental Society (1880's- 1917) he made a map of the site, which shows four Arab settlements within the walls of the ancient city. He called them Dorf Ananeh, Dorf Dschumdschuma, Dorf Kweiresch, and Dorf Sindschar (cf. map of Babylon on p. 12. Robert Koldewey. Das wieder erstehende Babylon. [Herausgegeben Barthel Hrouda]. Munchen. Verlag C. H. Beck. 1990. ISBN 3-406-31674-3). Much of the city has been turned into Date-palm plantations and these plantations are serviced by the villagers near and in Babylon. So, contra the prophets, Babylon was never really abandoned "forevermore".
"The large mound, Amran, which conceals the ruins of the Esagila, marks the longest inhabitated part of Babylon. Indeed there was probably a village here until the founding of nearby Hillah in the 11th century AD. Considerable traces of Greek and Parthian occupation were revealed in the excavations, including a massive columned building and a nearby stoa." (p.160. Oates)
"The Babylon visible to the tourist today is largely 'this great Babylon', the work of the Neo-Babylonian kings Nabopolassar and Nebuchadrezzar. As we have seen, much of the city was restored and indeed rebuilt under several Achaemenid and Seleucid monarchs, but far less is preserved of their monuments..." (p.144.Oates)
"Babylon's depopulation and decline began under the rule of the Parthians. The great buildings lapsed into ruin. During the Sassanid period, AD 226-636, people were still living on the debris of the ancient palaces. By the Arabic Middle Ages nothing but huts were left at Babylon, a condition that continued until the twelfth century of our era." (p.297. C.W. Ceram.
Gods, Graves and Scholars, The Story of Archaeology. New York. Alfred A. Knopf. 1951, 1961)
Jeremiah prophecized that building stones from Babylon would never be taken and used again:
"And they will not take from you even a stone for a corner, nor a stone for foundations, but you will be desolate forever, declares the Lord.
If building "stones" are "bricks" then Jeremiah was dead wrong. Babylon's kiln-baked bricks were looted throughout antiquity from Hellenistic times (ca. the 3rd century BCE) to recent times (the 20th century CE). When the Greek ruler Seleucus I built his city of Seleucia in 305 BCE (40 miles north of Babylon on the Tigris) his architects employed building bricks from Babylon. Many of these bricks are impressed with a cuneiform inscription made by Nebuchadezzar. In fact the four villages Koldewey found within the ruins of Babylon, were made of Babylon's baked bricks. He found the natives busily burrowing into the ancient city for more kiln-baked bricks.
In more recent times, the Iraqi government has sponsored the rebuilding of some of the walls and buildings to promote tourism. People still come and go and work "in" Babylon, either as caretakers of the Date-palm orchards, or government -employed restorers of the ancient walls, contra the ravings of the prophets that the city would be desolate forevermore and be uninhabitated and never rebuilt. For pictures of the restoration please click on the following links
Babylon- The Ishtar Temple Restored
Babylon- The Sacred Processional Way Partially Restored (close up)
Babylon- The Sacred Processional Way Partially Restored (wide-angel view)
Although we have accounts from travelers and writers of the Roman era describing Babylon's "desolation," the city was still occupied by priests serving in the temples. The abandonment of Babylon was for economic reasons. When Selecus created his Greek city of Seleucia in 305 BCE, his successors eventually ordered the governing class of Babylon to move to the Greek city. Merchants and artisans followed. With time Seleucia eclipsed Babylon as a trade center. Economic ruin lead to further abandonment, much of the land within the walls being made into farmland by late 1st century BCE times.
The Bible tells its readers how to distinguish a false prophet from a "true" prophet, if the prophecy does not come to pass, it is not God's word and the prophet has spoken presumptiously:
Deut 18:20-22, RSV,
"But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, 'How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken ?'- when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him."
It would appear that Isaiah and Jeremiah, when judged by the above "biblical yardstick" are not real prophets, they are "false prophets." They incorrectly prophecized Babylon would be destroyed in war, under a hail of arrows, the slain would fill the streets, and upon the city's bloody fall, God would set his people free, returning them to their ancestral lands. It didn't happen. The city's broad walls were not "leveled" nor were these "leveled" walls submerged beneath the waters of the Euphrates (as in Sennacherib's day) never to rise again. One can still gaze upon the mighty walls of Babylon, unearthed by the archaeologist's spade and men still dwell and work in her to this day, contra the prophets -
Jer 51: 62,64
"O Lord, thou hast said concerning this place, that thou wilt cut it off, SO THAT NOTHING SHALL DWELL IN IT, NEITHER MAN OR BEAST, AND IT SHALL BE DESOLATE FOREVER. When you finish reading this book, bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, THUS MORE SHALL BABYLON SINK, TO RISE NO MORE..."