Although Iraq, as a modern country, did not begin until 1932, when it gained full independence from Britain, the people, culture and historical significance of the region date back to antiquity. This land, referred to at times as Babylon, Mesopotamia, or the Land of Shinar, is the region most often referred to in the Bible, second only to Israel itself.
Biblical Figures: The following key figures from the Bible were associated with Iraq.
Adam and Eve: Assuming that the Tigris and the Euphrates are the “two rivers” referred to in Genesis, Adam and Eve were created in Iraq. I will further explain the question regarding the identity of the “two rivers” in a future Fact and Fiction post regarding the Garden of Eden.
Noah: Although it cannot be proven, according to tradition, it is believed that Noah built the Ark in Iraq
Abraham: God called Abraham from Ur, a city in Southern Iraq, near modern day Baghdad.
Rebekah: Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, came from Nahor, a city in Iraq.
Rachel: Isaac’s son, Jacob, met his wife Rachel in Iraq
Jonah: God sent the prophet Jonah to preach to Nineveh, a city located in Iraq
Daniel: Numerous events from the Book of Daniel, including Daniel in the Lion’s Den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego miraculously surviving the fiery furnace, took place in Babylon, located in Iraq.
Other Prophets: Ezekiel and Amos both preached in Iraq
The Kings of Babylon: Various kings of Babylon mentioned in the Old Testament, such as Nebuchadnezzar, ruled from Iraq.
The Magi: It is likely that the Magi, or “wise men” from “the East” came from Iraq, which was a center of learning and culture, and home to many such astrologers.
Locations: Countless cities located in Iraq are mentioned, at times extensively, in the Bible. Some of the main cities referred to include the following.
Eden: As mentioned in reference to Adam and Eve, if the “two rivers” referred to in Genesis are the Tigris and the Euphrates, then the Garden of Eden was located in Iraq.
Ur: In addition to being the home of Abraham, Ur was a very advanced center of ancient civilization, well known for its ziggurat (temple). A series of ancient manuscripts found in this ziggurat testify to the truth of a Biblically recorded fact that had long been disputed. In Daniel 5, the Bible states the Belshazzar was king of Babylon when Daniel was offered a position of authority in the government, and when the Persians invaded. Numerous scholars had long pointed to this statement as proof of Biblical inaccuracy, given that other documents claimed Nabonidus as the last king of Babylon. Various documents discovered in the ziggurat, however, verified the truth of the Biblical account, testifying that Belshazzar was Nabonidus’ son, and co-ruled the empire with his father. Belshazzar was the one ruling the city of Babylon during the events mentioned in Daniel, while his father, Nabonidus, was away for an extended military campaign.
Uruk: Also known as Erech, this city is mentioned in Genesis 10, as one of the cities built by Nimrod. It was one of the oldest and most important Sumerian cities and cultural centers. It is believed that the current name “Iraq” may have been derived from “Uruk/Erech.”
Babylon: The well known name of Babylon referred to both the ancient city of Babylon, located in modern day Iraq, and to the extended Babylonian Empire that stretched out from the city. Babylon is mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament, in Genesis 10, 2 Kings 20, 25, Daniel 5 and Jeremiah 52, among others. Although the Tower of Babel, most likely an ancient ziggurat, cannot be definitively identified, given the number of ancient ziggurats in the region, its whereabouts can be narrowed down to the Babylonian Empire and, more specifically, the region that now constitutes southern Iraq.
Nuzi: Nuzi, Iraq, was the homeland of the Jebusites, a tribe mentioned numerous times in the Bible, also referred to as the Horites or Hivites.
Khorsabad: The city of Khorsabad is another historical testimony to the truth of the Bible, which speaks of the Assyrian Emperor Sargon (Isaiah 20). For centuries, different scholars and historians pointed to this as proof of Biblical inaccuracy, or assumed that Sargon must have been a Biblical alias for another emperor. In the late 1800s, however, archeologists discovered the remains of a vast, magnificent palace in Khorsabad. Excavations revealed the palace to be the fortress of Sargon, who was indeed a historical Assyrian emperor that ruled from 721-705 BC.
The importance of Iraq in the Old Testament is but a part of the rich heritage Iraq has offered the world. This region also played a great role in the development of ancient civilization, and boasts of a longstanding Christian history as well, dating back to the time of the Apostles, when St. Thomas traveled to the region and began the first Christian communities. I will dedicate future posts to these other dimensions of Iraqi heritage and culture, in order to do them full justice.