Land of Shinar

The arrogant acts of Nebuchadnezzar against the kingdom of Judah parallel the incident at the Tower of Babel

The book of Daniel calls Babylon the “land of Shinar,” an intentional link to the story of the Tower of Babel and the founding of the original city of Babylon. That incident is echoed again in the third chapter of Daniel when Nebuchadnezzar gathers all the nations to pay homage to the great golden image that he “sets up.

Biblically speaking, the Neo-Babylonian Empire was not a new political entity. It had an ancient pedigree.

Photo by Madhu Madhavan on Unsplash
[Photo by Madhu Madhavan on Unsplash]

The imperial city in which Daniel found himself was the latest incarnation of the World Empire
 that has existed since the beginning of civilization which is recorded in the book of Genesis.


God thwarted the completion of a high tower in the “land of Shinar,” resulting in the diversity and distribution of languages, nations, and cultures across the earth. That story provides the reader of Daniel with the true origins of the later Babylonian Empire.
  • (Daniel 1:1-2) – “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem, and laid siege against it; and the Lord gave into his hand Jehoiakim king of Judah and a part of the vessels of the house of God, and he brought them into the land of Shinar into the house of his gods, and the vessels brought he into the treasure-house of his gods.”

The preceding paragraph builds on the story in Genesis, the time when the “whole earth was of one language and one speech.” Noah’s descendants migrated to Mesopotamia to dwell “in the land of Shinar.” The name ‘Shinar’ is the Hebrew equivalent of ‘Sumer,’ the first known civilization located in Mesopotamia.

The people of Shinar began to build a city with a high tower that would “reach the heavens and thus make us a name, lest we be scattered across the whole earth.” The description reflects the Sumerian culture in which cities featured temples built on ziggurats, tiered mounds that formed the highest point in a city. Dedicated to its chief deity, the town’s civil, economic, and religious activities centered on the temple.

Originally, Yahweh commanded Adam to “multiply, replenish and subdue the earth.” That same command was reiterated to Noah after the flood.

Ziggarut - Photo by Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash
[Ziggarut by Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash]

But humanity chose instead to move to Mesopotamia and build a new civilization centered, and there, to make a name for itself. And in the Hebrew Bible, Babylon is characterized by its arrogance - (Genesis 1:28, 9:1, Isaiah 14:13-14, 63:12-14, Jeremiah 32:20).

If humanity united under one language, the wickedness of mankind would know no bounds. By confounding their language, God caused the nations to spread throughout the earth, and He stopped the first attempt at establishing a centralized World-Empire.

In this way, the idolatrous ambitions of Babylon were delayed, at least, until a more opportune time.

The Bible calls the city ‘Babel,’ the place where “Yahweh confounded the language of all the earth.” The name may be related to the Hebrew word balal or “confusion,” although in the ancient Akkadian language of Mesopotamia bab-ili (‘Babel’) means the “gate of god.”

Thus, in Daniel, the king of contemporary “Babel” attempts to reverse God’s ancient judgment. Having conquered the kingdom of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar sets out to gather different ethnic groups, cultures, and nations to his rebuilt city, and there, the people are educated in the “language of Babylon,” the latest incarnation of the World Empire.


The story of Nimrod is found in the so-called Table of Nations in Genesis, the man the Bible links to the founding of Mesopotamian civilization, and the founder of several of its chief cities, including Babel, Asshur, and Nineveh.

Nimrod became “a mighty one in the earth,” a term that reflects the “mighty men of name,” the gibborim that lived before the Great Flood, warriors who established fearsome reputations through violent exploits - (Genesis 6:4-13, 10:8-12).

Likewise, he was a “mighty hunter before the face of Yahweh.” The description denotes his opposition to Yahweh, not God’s approval. The name ‘Nimrod’ is derived from the Hebrew word mārăd - “We will revolt” – and is used elsewhere to typify despotic rulers that oppress Israel - (Micah 5:6).


In Genesis, the “whole earth spoke one language” as men began to dwell in “Shinar.” They built a city and tower of “great height” in the plain of Shinar to mark their achievements and prevent humanity’s dispersal.

Likewise, in Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar brings captives to Babylon, the great city that HE HAS BUILT. Exiles from other nations are educated in the “LANGUAGE OF THE CHALDEANS.” Hence, what the original inhabitants of Babel began to do, Nebuchadnezzar attempted to complete.

And so, Nebuchadnezzar “SETS UP” a great golden image of exceptional “HEIGHT” in the “PLAIN of Dura,” then decrees that “ALL PEOPLES, RACES, AND TONGUES” must render homage to it.  He gathers representatives from every province and nation “to the dedication of the image” - (Daniel 3:1-8).

Thus, the whole earth is summoned to be united under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule and to render homage to his great and “HIGH” image.

The verbal parallels are deliberate.  Just as the earlier inhabitants of Mesopotamia united to build a city and high tower for their own glory, so the king of Babylon now presumes to unite all humanity under his authority, and to “pay homage” to the image that he has “set up.”



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