Monday, November 5, 2012

Nimrod - Beginnings

The history of the world is but the biography of great men. Thomas Carlyle

Carlyle may be right, unfortunately however it is often the history of evil men, not the truly great ones.  Such a man was Nimrod.  But it was not so in the beginning.  But first let us introduce our villain. 
In order to completely understand the old world environment of the Jaredites, one man is key to that understanding, and that man is Nimrod.  He is only briefly mentioned in the Bible, but his influence was and has been devastating to the inhabitants of the world ever since.  
We first read of Nimrod in the book of Genesis. This biblical account is very brief. We read “And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar (Gen. 10:8-10).”
Other versions of this story use the phrase “against the Lord” instead of “before the Lord.” This seems a more accurate description, especially when speaking of the older, apostate Nimrod.
The building of the tower and the Confusion of Tongues is given in a later part of Genesis (Gen. 11:1-9), but Nimrod is not even mentioned in this portion of the account.
The book Antiquities of the Jews, by Josephus, also contains a similar description of Nimrod (Book 1:4:2). But the best account I have found is in the apocryphal Book of Jasher. Here we find a much more detailed account of Nimrod's life and acts. Beginning in chapter seven we find many details of his origin, his work and his accomplishments, his apostasy and wickedness. It records much about his life, and finally records his death at the hand of Esau (Ch. 27). Much of his history is intertwined with that of Abraham who turns out to be Nimrod's nemesis.
Nimrod's beginning was promising. He was born to Cush in this patriarchs old age. Cush, as you will remember, was the grandson of Noah, through Ham. Nimrod's father favored him and gave him the garments God had bestowed on Adam when he was expelled from the Garden of Eden. These garments had been passed down from father to son until they were given to Noah. Ham stole them from Noah, following the flood. Ham later gave them to his son Cush, who passed them on to his favorite son, Nimrod.
According to ancient tradition, these garments gave Nimrod special power. While wearing them he had great influence over the animals, and even over his fellowmen. Through these garments, Nimrod falsely claimed to have the authority, or priesthood, even though he was of the lineage that was denied the rights of the priesthood because of the curse of Noah.
We learn from the Book of Jasher that Nimrod was originally righteous and favored of the Lord. The Lord blessed him in his early life. He was a large and strong man. He appears to have been a charismatic leader. Evidence would suggest that he was very intelligent. His leadership in creating the Sumerian civilization has influenced the cultures of the world profoundly, both for good and for evil.
Jasher relates: “And Nimrod became strong ... and God gave him might and strength, and he was a mighty hunter in the earth, yea, he was a mighty hunter in the field, and he hunted the animals and he built altars, and he offered upon them the animals before the Lord."  It is interesting, that at this point in his life, Nimrod seems to be obeying the Lord's commandment in offering animal sacrifices in the appointed manner. 
"And Nimrod strengthened himself, and he rose up from amongst his brethren, and he fought the battles of his brethren against all their enemies round about. And the Lord delivered all the enemies of his brethren in his hands, and God prospered him from time to time in his battles, and he reigned upon earth (Jasher 7:31-33).”
As Jasher relates, Nimrod, in his youth, was probably a righteous and favored servant of the Lord.  The Lord blessed him and prospered him.
Hugh Nibley, speaking of Nimrod, suggests that God inspired him with the idea and use of the bow, so that he and his people could defend themselves against the ravages of the wild animals. This innovation gave him great power and influence.
“Nimrod was the first person to establish kingship, fortifications, armies, and things like that [at least following the flood]. Nimrod was a very righteous king when he was young. He had great intelligence and great strength, and the Lord rewarded him for his service to the human race by giving him the bow ... Men at that time were threatened by the beasts; they couldn't defend themselves against the wild animals that were large and ferocious ... Men weren't up to it, so God gave Nimrod the bow to protect the human race.  Now comes the ... test. God gives a capable man wealth and power ... to see what he will do with it.  Nimrod was the first person to establish kingship, fortifications, armies, and things like that (1)." 
In later sections we will see just what Nimrod does with his God given power.
Another question arises, just who was Nimrod, and was this his real name? Why don't we find mention of him in any of the histories of Mesopotamia? One would think that such a prominent and influential man would be recorded in the early histories. One scholar suggests that Nimrod wasn't his real name at all.
David Livingston is an archaeologist with years of experience in excavating sites in Israel. One of his papers explores the background of Nimrod (2). In this paper Livingston suggests that Nimrod wasn't this mans name at all. He points out that Nimrod is a Hebrew epithet that means rebel, or rebelling, referring of course to Nimrod's later rebellion against God. Livingston feels that his real name was Gilgamesh, a mythical hero, extolled in a number of the Sumerian cuniform tablets.
This Gilgamesh was one of the early, if not the first king of Sumer. The Sumerian histories contain a number of myths and stories about him and his feats. If Livingston is correct, we do have a lot of historical information about Nimrod, the grandson of Noah. And the basic story of Gilgamesh does seem to parallel that of Nimrod, so Livingston may be justified in his theory.
On the other hand, the Book of Mormon seems to validate the correctness of the name Nimrod. The Jaredites used this name in their history, and a number of variants are include in Ether's record. For example, in the Jaredite's exodus they are directed to travel northward to a valley, and “the name of the valley was Nimrod, being called after the mighty hunter (Ether 2:1).” This was written much earlier than the biblical account and lends validity to his correct name. Neither the Jaredites or Moroni (who abridged the Jaredite account) had access to the biblical version (although it may have been mentioned in the Brass Plates that they possessed).
Variants of the name were bestowed on various individuals in Ether's history - names such as Nimrah, Nimruh, or Nimrim. There are some Jaredites that even bear the precise name of Nimrod.
There is one other name which is associated with this man. Later in the biblical history, as well as in the book of Jasher, he is refer to as Amraphel. It was Amraphel that accompanied the kings in the battle against Sodom and Gomorah, and whose army was destroyed by Abraham and his warriors (Gen. ch. 14).  All these three names seem to refer to the same man. So whether he is called Nimrod, Gilgamesh, or Amraphel, we are probably talking about the same individual and about his pivotal role in world history.

1. Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon--Semester 1: Transcripts of Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988--1990 Provo.

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