Friday, August 11, 2006

The Ziggurat at Ur

The Washington Post has a piece on a visit by US Army engineers to the ancient tower at Ur, built some four-thousand years ago.

It accurately mentions that the enormous edifice, used for worshiping a Chaldean deity, is located at the site of the ancient city from which Abraham, father of the Israelites, came. But the article says little substantive about the ziggurat or of the civilization that produced it. It was the product of what's referred to as the Third Dynasty of Ur, extant from about 2060 to 1950 BC. According to Bernhard Anderson:
Ur-nammu, the founder of the dynasty, made Ur a thriving commercial center and adorned the city with an impressive ziggurat or tiered temple-tower...But [this] Sumerian revival was brief...
The empire was conquered and a succession of powers tried to take control over the area, eventually seeing a semi-nomadic people populate it. Among these people were the Amorites and from them sprang the Hebrews and Arameans, the stock from which Abraham and family issued.

But of more interest probably is that ziggurats were widely used in Mesopotamian cultures, both as places of worship and as symbols of the strength of kings and peoples. (It's interesting to consider how often structures ostensibly erected to honor deities are little more than monuments to the egos or power of rulers or their peoples. Saint Peter's in Rome, built during the papal reign of Leo X, comes to mind. My wife and many friends of mine have reported how beautiful the buildings there are and how repulsed they were by their excess.)

Many scholars believe that the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) was a ziggurat and that in the recounting of its story, the semi-nomadic Hebrews were expressing their disdain for the arrogance of settled peoples who put their trust in buildings, arms, force, wealth, or human ingenuity. When the Hebrews first told it, they were condemning the haughtiness of Canaanite culture they encountered as they moved closer to their ancestral roots, following the period of their slavery in Egypt. The story, which I believe was true, was also a way of reminding the seemingly powerless Hebrews that God was greater than the armies they faced and that He alone deserved their worship, praise, and allegiance.

Even today, we human beings build proud towers. Not all of them are made with bricks and mortar. Some are the psychological and spiritual edifices of arrogance, prejudice, superstition, or legalistic religion. Others are made of money and power in various forms.

Even if the towers we erect stand for several millenia, we human being don't stand nearly as long. At least we don't here on earth and don't eternity without the intervention of God. But this God revealed in Jesus Christ can give us life beyond our death, a life that will last long after the last ziggurat, skyscrapers, and stock portfolios have passed out of existence.

First Peter, a letter written by the apostle to early Christians in what is modern Turkey, speaks to all Christian believers, even those of us around today, when it says:
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth [that is, by believing in Jesus Christ and allowing Him to take up residence in our lives] so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

For “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” That word is the good news that was announced to you. (First Peter 1:22-25)
Towers may be destroyed by hateful enemies or felled by our own arrogance. But people enlivened by God's Word of affirmation and new life, available to all with faith in Christ, have life that cannot be taken from them!

[Thanks to Andrew Jackson of for linking to this post.]

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