Iraqi forces are fighting against ISIS in their attempt to liberate the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. In their effort to free Mosul from ISIS, the Iraqi army has taken control of the village of Nimrud. Nimrud appears in the Old Testament as Calah, a city built by Nimrod, a “mighty hunter before the Lord”:
Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to become a mighty warrior. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city (Genesis 10:8-12).
According to archeologists, Calah was one of the four great cities of the mighty Assyrian empire. The association of the city of Calah with biblical Nimrod is based on the modern day name for the site where the ancient city was located. The modern day name for the site is Nimrud.
The Assyrian pantheon had many gods. The main god worshiped at Calah was Ninurta, the god of war. King Assurnasirpal of Assyria (884-860 B.C.) had an enormous temple and ziggurat (a temple tower) built in honor of Ninurta. The ziggurat of Nimrud was built nearly 3,000 years ago.
The museum catalogue of the University of Pennsylvania says the following about the ziggurat at Nimrud:
The ziggurat and its temples
Today, the archaeological site at Nimrud is dominated by the imposing pyramid-shaped [see picture below] remains of the city’s ziggurat. This stepped tower was attached to the temple precinct which was located in the north-western part of the citadel, and must have been a spectacular centrepiece of Assurnasirpal II’s magnificent new capital.
The ziggurat and the temple of Ninurta
The ziggurat (derived from the Akkadian word zaqaru “to build high”) was without a doubt the most spectacular sacred structure known from ancient Mesopotamia, where the earliest ziggurats date from the 3rd millennium BC. Their function is not precisely known, although it was presumably closely linked to the cultic functions of the associated temples.
According to bricks found at the site, the ziggurat was dedicated to Ninurta, a warlike god whose name may be the origin of the modern site-name Nimrud. Ninurta also had a large temple built for him by Assurnasirpal II, next to the site of the future ziggurat.
National Geographic is reporting that ISIS has destroyed the ziggurat of Nimrud. The militants used bulldozers to destroy the ziggurat. The two photos below, provided by the American Schools of Oriental Research Cultural Heritage Initiatives, show evidence of the destruction of this precious structure that reflected the religious culture of ancient Assyria.
It is very sad that the middle-age mindset of the Islamic State does not recognize the cultural heritage of the Iraqi people. They deliberately destroyed the ziggurat of Nimrud and deprived present and future generations of this important monument, preventing them from seeing and learning more about the culture and history of an ancient civilization that established a vast empire that controlled most of the Ancient Near East for centuries.
Claude F. Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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