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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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He is generally supposed to have been the immediate son of Cush, and the youngest, or sixth, from the Scriptural phrase, "Cush begat Nimrod," after the mention of his five sons, Genesis 10:8 . But the phrase is used with considerable latitude, like "father" and "son," in Scripture. "And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar: out of that land he went forth to invade Assyria; and built Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, and Resin, between Nineveh and Calah: the same is a great city," Genesis 10:8-12 . Though the main body of the Cushites was miraculously dispersed and sent by Providence to their destinations along the sea coasts of Asia and Africa, yet Nimrod remained behind, and founded an empire in Babylonia, according to Berosus, by usurping the property of the Arphaxadites in the land of Shinar; where "the beginning of his kingdom was Babel," or Babylon, and other towns: and, not satisfied with this, he next invaded Assur, or Assyria, east of the Tigris, where he built Nineveh, and several other towns. The marginal reading of our English Bible, "He went out into Assyria," or to invade Assyria, is here adopted in preference to that in the text: "And out of that land went forth Ashur, and builded Nineveh," &c. The meaning of the word Nineveh may lead us to his original name, Nin, signifying "a son," the most celebrated of the sons of Cush. That of Nimrod, or "Rebel," was probably a parody, or nickname, given him by the oppressed Shemites, of which we have several instances in Scripture. Thus nahash, the brazen "serpent" in the wilderness, was called by Hezekiah, in contempt, nehushtan, "a piece of brass," when he broke it in pieces, because it was perverted into an object of idolatrous worship by the Jews, 2 Kings 18:4 . Nimrod, that arch rebel, who first subverted the patriarchal government, introduced also the Zabian idolatry, or worship of the heavenly host; and, after his death, was deified by his subjects, and supposed to be translated into the constellations of Orion, attended by his hounds, Sirius and Canicula, and still pursuing his favourite game, the great bear; supposed also to be translated into ursa major, near the north pole; as admirably described by Homer,—

Αρκτον θ ', ην και αμαζαν επικλησιν καλεουσιν , Η τ ' αυτου στρεφεται , και τ ' ‘Ωρεωνα δοκευει . Iliad v. 485.

"And the bear, surnamed also the wain, by the Egyptians, who is turning herself about there, and watching Orion." Homer also introduces the shade of Orion, as hunting in the Elysian fields,—

Τον δε μετ ', ‘Ωριωνα πελωριον εισενοησα Θηρας ομου ειλευντα , κατ ' ασφοδελον λειμωνα Τους αυτος κατεπεφνεν εν οιοπολοισιν ορεσσι Χερσιν εχων ροπαλον παγχαλκεον , αιεν ααγες . Odyss. v. 571.

"Next, I observed the mighty Orion

Chasing wild beasts through an asphodel mead, Which himself had slain on the solitary mountains: Holding in his hands a solid brazen mace, ever unbroken."

The Grecian name of this "mighty hunter" may furnish a satisfactory clue to the name given him by the impious adulation of the Babylonians and Assyrians. ‘Ωριων nearly resembles ‘Ουριαν , the oblique case of ‘Ουριας , which is the Septuagint rendering of Uriah, a proper name in Scripture, 2 Samuel 11:6-21 . But Uriah, signifying "the light of the Lord," was an appropriate appellation of that most brilliant constellation. He was also called Baal, Beel, Bel, or Belus, signifying "lord," or "master," by the Phenicians, Assyrians, and Greeks; and Bala Rama, by the Hindus.

At a village called Bala-deva, or Baldeo in the vulgar dialect, thirteen miles east by south from Muttra, in Hindustan, there is a very ancient statue of Bala Rama, in which he is represented with a ploughshare in his left hand, and a thick cudgel in his right, and his shoulders covered with the skin of a tiger. Captain Wilford supposes that the ploughshare was designed to hook his enemies: but may it not more naturally denote the constellation of the great bear, which strikingly represents the figure of a plough in its seven bright stars; and was probably so denominated by the earliest astronomers, before the introduction of the Zabian idolatry, as a celestial symbol of agriculture? The thick cudgel corresponds to the brazen mace of Homer. And it is highly probable that the Assyrian Nimrod, or Hindu Bala, was also the prototype of the Grecian Hercules, with his club and lion's skin.

Nimrod is said to have been "a mighty hunter before the Lord;" which the Jerusalem paraphrast interprets of a sinful hunting after the sons of men to turn them off from the true religion. But it may as well be taken in a more literal sense, for hunting of wild beasts; inasmuch as the circumstance of his being a mighty hunter is mentioned with great propriety to introduce the account of his setting up his kingdom; the exercise of hunting being looked upon in ancient times as a means of acquiring the rudiments of war; for which reason the principal heroes of Heathen antiquity, as Theseus, Nestor, &c, were, as Xenophon tells us, bred up to hunting. Beside, it may be supposed, that by this practice Nimrod drew together a great company of robust young men to attend him in his sport, and by that means increased his power. And by destroying the wild beasts, which, in the comparatively defenceless state of society in those early ages, were no doubt very dangerous enemies, he might, perhaps, render himself farther popular; thereby engaging numbers to join with him, and to promote his chief design of subduing men, and making himself master of many nations.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Nimrod'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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