In the Bible and in legend, Nimrod (Standard Hebrew Nimrod, Tiberian Hebrew Nimr), son of Cush, grandson of Ham, great-grandson of Noah, was a Mesopotamian monarch and "a mighty hunter before Jehova.
He is mentioned in Genesis 10, the first chapter of Chronicles, and in the Book of Micah.
In the Bible he is an obscure figure; in later interpretations, as recorded by Josephus and the rabbis who compiled the midrash, he is the subject of innumerable legends. The most prominent of these was the story that he built the Tower of Babel.
Mention of Nimrod in the Bible is rather limited. He is called the first to become "a mighty one on the earth" and "the mighty hunter before Jehovah." He is said to be the founder and king of the first empire after the Flood, and his realm is connected with the Mesopotamian towns Babylon (Babel), Uruk, Akkad, Calneh, Nineveh, Resen, Rehoboth-Ir and Calah. (Genesis 10:8-10)
Traditions and Legends
According to Hebrew traditions, he was of Mizraim by his mother, but came from Cush son of Ham and expanded Asshur, which he inherited. His name has become proverbial as that of a "mighty hunter".
His "kingdom" comprised Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar, otherwise known as the land of Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-10; Chronicles 1:10, Micah 5:6).
Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it was through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage, which procured that happiness.
He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high, sooner than any one could expect; but the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was.
It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. When God saw that they acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they were not grown wiser by the destruction of the former sinners; but he caused a tumult among them, by producing in them diverse languages, and causing that, through the multitude of those languages, they should not be able to understand one another.
The place wherein they built the tower is now called Babylon; because of the confusions of the primary language of man at the time of the constructing of the Tower of Babel. In the History of the Prophets and Kings by the 9th century Muslim historian al-Tabari, Nimrod has the tower built in Babel, Allah destroys it, and the language of mankind, formerly Syriac, is then confused into 72 languages. Another Muslim historian of the 13th century, Abu al-Fida relates the same story, adding that the patriarch Eber (an ancestor of Abraham) was allowed to keep the original tongue, Hebrew in this case, because he would not partake in the building.
One tradition, of unknown provenance, suggests that Nimrod died a violent death. Another tradition, also of unknown provenance, says that he was killed by a wild animal. Still another, its origin equally obscure, says that Shem killed him because he had led the people into the worship of Baal. Still another ascribes his death to Esau (grandson of Abraham). Like Nimrod, Esau is credited in the Bible with being a mighty hunter, with this myth perhaps based on an assumption that he was jealous of Nimrod's reputation in that field.
According to a medieval Hungarian chronicle (Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum), the ancestors of Huns and Magyars (Hunor and Magor respectively) were the twin sons of Menrot (son of Tana) and Eneth. In different versions of this legend Menrot was referred to as Nimrod, the son of Kush. According to some scholars Tana or Kush could be perhaps Etana the king of Kish. This is a possible parallel to the Kushan Scythian ancestor Kush-Tana.
In Armenian legend, Haik, the founder of the Armenian people, defeated Nimrod in battle near Lake Van.In the Divine Comedy, Dante portrays Nimrod as a giant, one of the guardians of the well containing the ninth circle of Hell. He is constantly babbling incomprehensibly, presumably a reference to the Tower of Babylon. In the Book of Mormon, a Meso-American valley is named Nimrod, "being called after the mighty hunter."
The evil Nimrod vs. the righteous Abraham
The Bible does not mention any meeting between Nimrod and Abraham. In fact, there is a gap of seven generations between them, Nimrod being Noah's great grandson while Abraham was ten generations removed from Noah (Genesis 10,11). Nevertheless, later Jewish tradition brings the two of them together in a cataclysmic collision, a potent symbol of the cosmic confrontation between Good and Evil and specifically of Monotheism against Paganism and Idolatry.
This tradition is first attested in the writings of Pseudo-Philo (van der Toorn and van der Horst 1990, p. 19), continues in the Talmud, goes through later rabbinical writings in the Middle Ages (see  and is still being added to by contemporary rabbis. Searching through the Hebrew version of Google for "Nimrod" + "Abraham" (Hebrew: + ) would reveal dozens of religious treatises and tracts by Israeli rabbis, elaborating on the Abraham- Nimrod confrontation and citing it in numerous contexts.
The same confrontation is also found extensively in the Islamic tradition, portraying the confrontation between Nimrod, the arch-rebel against Allah's authority, and the Prophet Ibrahim (Arabic version of "Abraham"), honoured in Islam as "God's Friend". If anything, the Islamic tradition takes an even dimmer view of Nimrod than the Jewish one. While some Jewish sources have him repenting in the end of the tale, the Muslim ones usually depict him as obdurate to the bitter end, however many times his plots were defeated.
In some versions - as in Josephus - Nimrod is a man who sets his will against that of God. In others, he proclaims himself a god and is worshipped as such by his subjects, sometimes with his consort Semiramis worshipped as a goddess at his side. (see also Ninus). A portent in the stars tells Nimrod and his astrologers of the impending birth of Abraham, who would put an end to idolatry. Nimrod therefore orders the killing of all newborn babies. However, Abraham's mother escapes into the fields and gives birth secretly (in some accounts, the baby Abraham is placed in a manger).
Abraham grows up and already at a young age he recognizes God and starts worshipping Him. He confronts Nimrod and tells him to his face to cease his idolatry, whereupon Nimrod orders him burned at the stake. In some versions, Nimrod has his subjects gather wood for four whole years, so as to burn Abraham in the biggest bonfire the world had seen (a story possibly inspired or confused with Nimrod's building of the Tower). Yet when the fire is lighted, Abraham walks out unscathed.
In some versions, Nimrod then challenges Abraham to battle. When Nimrod appears at the head of enormous armies, Abraham produces an army of gnats which destroys Nimrod's army. Some accounts have a gnat or mosquito enter Nimrod's brain and drive him out of his mind (a divine retribution which Jewish tradition also assigned to the Roman Emperor Titus, destroyer of the Temple in Jerusalem).
In some versions, Nimrod repents and accepts God, offering numerous sacrifices that God rejects (as with Cain). Other versions have Nimrod give to Abraham, as a reconciliatory gift, the slave Eliezer, whom some accounts describe as Nimrod's own son. (The Bible tells a lot about Eliezer, though not making any connection between him and Nimrod. He was Abraham's majordomo, entrusted with the most sensitive missions such as fetching a bride for Abraham's son, and entered Jewish tradition as the archetype of a loyal servant.
Still, other versions have Nimrod persisting in his rebellion against God, or resuming it. Indeed, Abraham's crucial act of leaving Mesopotamia and settling in Canaan, which effectively sets the stage for the rest of the Bible, is sometimes interpreted as an escape from Nimrod's revenge. Some accounts place the building of the Tower many generations before Abraham's birth (as in the Bible, also Jubilees).
In others, it is a later rebellion after Nimrod failed in his confrontation with Abraham, and in still other versions, Nimrod does not give up after the Tower fails, but goes on to try storming Heaven in person, in a chariot driven by birds.
The story attributes to Abraham elements from the story of Moses's birth (the cruel king killing innocent babies, with the midwives ordered to kill them) and from the career of Daniel who emerged unscathed from the fire. Nimrod is thus made to conflate the role and attributes of two archetypal cruel and persecuting kings - Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh. Some Jewish traditions also identified him with Cyrus whose birth according to Herodotus was accompanied by portents which made his grandfather try to kill him.
Whether or not conceived as having ultimately repented, Nimrod remained in Jewish and Islamic tradition an emblematic evil person, an archetype of an idolater and a tyrannical king. In rabbinical writings up to the present, he is almost invariably referred to as "Nimrod the Evil"(Hebrew: ), and to Muslims he is "Nimrod al-Jabbar" (The Tyrant or Thug).
The story of Abraham's confrontation with Nimrod did not remain within the confines of learned writings and religious treatises, but also conspicuously influenced popular culture. A notable example is "Quando el Rey Nimrod" ("When King Nimrod"), one of the most well-known of the folksongs in Ladino, (Judeo-Spanish), apparently written during the reign of King Alfonso X of Castile.
Beginning with the words: "When King Nimrod went out to the fields/ Looked at the heavens and at the stars/He saw a holy light in the Jewish quarter/A sign that Abraham, our father, was about to be born", the song gives a poetical account of the persecutions perpetrated by the cruel Nimrod and the miraculous birth and deeds of the saviour Abraham.
Though not clearly stated in the Bible, Nimrod has since ancient times traditionally been interpreted to be the one who led the people to build the Tower of Babel. Since his kingdom included the towns in Shinar, it is believed likely that it was under his direction that the building began. This is the view adopted in the Targums and later texts such as the writings of Josephus. Some extrabiblical sources, however, assert to the contrary, that he left the district before the building of the tower.
Nimrod is also traditionally considered to be among the founders of Freemasonry.
According to the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry: The legend of the Craft in the Old Constitutions refers to Nimrod as one of the founders of Masonry. Thus in the York MS., No. 1, we read: "At ye making of ye toure of Babell there was a Masonrie first much esteemed of, and the King of Babylon yt called Nimrod was a Mason himself and loved well Masons.
It is further often assumed that his rulership included war and terror, and that he was a hunter not only of animals, but also a person who used aggression against other humans. The Hebrew translated "before" in the phrase "Mighty hunter before Jehovah" is commonly analysed as meaning literally "in the Face of" in this interpretation, to suggest a certain rebelliousness in the establishment of a human government.
Since some of the towns mentioned were in the territory of Assyria, which is connected to Shem's son Asshur, Nimrod is sometimes speculated to have invaded territory that did not belong to him. However, various translations of the Hebrew text leave it ambiguous as to whether the towns in Assyria were founded by Nimrod or by Asshur.
Historians and mythographers have tried to find links between Nimrod and figures from other traditions. One such identification is with Ningirsu, and Ninurta who inherited his role, the Sumerian and later Akkadian god of war, hunting, and agriculture; or Nergal, God of Death and the Plague, who was sometimes called Lugal-Amarada or Lugal-Marad or Ni-Marad. Lugal Marad name means "king of Marad," a city, whose name means "Rebellion" in Akkadian, as yet unidentified. The name Ni-Marad, in Akkadian means "Lord of Marad". The chief deity of this place, therefore, seems to have been Nergal, of whom, therefore, Lugal-Marad or Ni-Marad is another name.
Marduk (Merodach) shared attributes with these earlier gods, is also included as a possible archetype for Nimrod. Nimrod's imperial ventures described in Genesis may be based on the conquests of the Assyrian king Tukulti-Ninurta I (Dalley et al., 1998, p. 67). Alexander Hislop, in his anti-Catholic tract The Two Babylons (Chapter 2, Section II, Sub-Section I) decided that Nimrod was to be identified with Ninus, who according to Greek legend was a Mesopotamian king and husband of Semiramis (see below); with a whole host of deities throughout the Mediterranean world, and with the Persian Zoroaster. For the latter, he may have followed the identification of Nebrod (the Septuagint's transliteration of Nimrod) found in the Clementine homilies (Homily IX).
David Rohl, like Hislop, identified Nimrod with a complex of Mediterranean deities; among those he picked were Asar, Baal, Dumuzi, and Osiris. In Rohl's theory, Enmerkar the founder of Uruk was the original inspiration for Nimrod, because the story of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (see: ) bears a few similarities to the legend of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, and because the -KAR in Enmerkar means "hunter".
Someone has identified Nimrod with Resheph of northern Semitic mythology.
In some interpretationes graeca he was identified with the hunter Orion, and thus with the constellation Orion. At the beginning of the 20th century he was linked either with the god Marduk, or by some Gilgamesh or his predeccesor Enmerkar.
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