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In the Old Testament, Nimrod 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." He is also a son of Kush (Genesis 10:8-10). The "land of Nimrod" was somewhere in the general direction of Mesopotamia (Micah 5:6).
That's it. That's entirely and completely it. If you know that Nimrod was a "mighty hunter before the Lord", you have mastered the entire briefing that Holy Writ brings you about Nimrod. This has not prevented His Nims from becoming a major figure in Jewish and later folklore.
In traditional lore
“”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 were 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. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to reach. And that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers.
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 confusion of that language which they readily understood before; for the Hebrews mean by the word Babel, confusion …
|—Josephus, Jewish Antiquities|
The opinion that Nimrod built the Tower of Babel also made its way into the Talmud. The Biblical statement that Nimrod hunted "before the Lord" was turned by a number of Classical era Jewish commentators as making Nimrod an opponent of God; how he did that by hunting is anybody's guess. Maybe Jesus really was a vegetarian (don't tell Southern evangelists!).
Other traditions make out Nimrod to have been a person who persecuted Abraham. This introduces an element of anachronism, since according to the Book of Genesis both Nimrod and the Tower of Babel substantially precede Abraham. A famous Ladino folk song, Cuando el rey Nimrod, preserves a tale about Nimrod persecuting the Jews at the birth of Abraham, and causing him to be cast into a fiery furnace in the same way that Daniel was.
Nimrod appears as an evil figure in a riddle in the Old English poem Solomon and Saturn:
- Se mæra was haten sæliðende
weallende Wulf, werðeodum cuð
Filistina, freond Nebrondes.
- "That famous man was called the Ravening Wolf, a sea-sailor, known to the tribal nation of the Philistines, the friend of Nimrod."
The meaning of this riddle is quite obscure.
In the Divine Comedy, Nimrod is made out to be a giant, and is chained in the wall surrounding the ninth circuit of Hell. He is given the line Raphèl mai amècche zabì almi, which is unintelligible in Italian, and thought to be a reference to his responsibility for the confusion of the world's languages at Babel..
The Two Babylons
Alexander Hislop, in his tract The Two Babylons announced on the scantiest of evidence that Nimrod was to be identified with Ninus, a composite figure not actually found in Mesopotamian king lists. (Well, they both had the 'N' thing going.) Ninus, according to Greek legend, he was a Mesopotamian king and the husband of the semi-legendary Semiramis. Hislop then identified Nimrod with a whole host of deities throughout the Mediterranean world, and with the Persian Zoroaster.[note 1]
In this tale, Nimrod is murdered and his body hewn in pieces. This sets Semmy on a quest to reassemble her husband's body so she can bring him back to life
like Frankenstein. Unfortunately, one bit — his penis — remains uncollected and it wouldn't do to bring him back as a eunuch. So Semmy announces that Nimrod has been deified, and that her son Tammuz is his reincarnation as the divine son, later deified as Baal. All of the pagan religions in this world are the result of Semiramis's publicity campaign on behalf of Nimrod. And Roman Catholicism is one of those pagan survivals, with the Virgin Mary an idol made in the image of Semiramis. And somehow this is all supposed to make some kind of sense.
Hislop's tale of the tragedy of Nimrod and Semiramis has had a lively following among the most extreme Christian fundamentalists. Jack Chick reused Hislop's tale of Nimrod and Semiramis in several places, including his tract Why is Mary Crying? According to conspiracy theorist David Icke, Nimrod and Semiramis are somehow mixed up with the reptilians. Icke also identifies the dove and the olive branch from the tale of Noah's Ark with Semiramis and Nimrod, which would appear to go well past the most literalist exegesis.
In popular culture
In American slang, nimrod has come to be used as a generic insult vaguely implying stupidity and incompetence. This is Bugs Bunny's fault. Bugs occasionally calls Elmer Fudd, the hunter who never succeeds in capturing Bugs Bunny, a "nimrod", an ironic reference to the mighty hunter from the Bible.
- The identification with Ninus follows that of the Clementine Recognitions; the one with Zoroaster, that of the Clementine Homilies, both works part of pseudo-Clementine literature. There was a historical Assyrian queen Shammuramat in the 9th century, the wife of Shamshi-Adad V, whom some speculations have identified with Semiramis, while others make her a later namesake of a much earlier Semiramis.
- Genesis 10
- (Chullin 89a, Pesahim 94b, Erubin 53a, Avodah Zarah 53b)
- Jewish interpreters as early as Philo and Yochanan ben Zakai (1st century CE) interpreted "a mighty hunter before the Lord" (Heb. : לפני יהוה, lit. "in the face of the Lord") as signifying "in opposition to the Lord"; a similar interpretation is found in Pseudo-Philo, as well as later in Symmachus.
- See the Wikipedia article on Kuando el rey Nimrod.
- Dante, Inferno, XXXI
- See generally Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons (3d ed., 1903, S. W. Partridge)
- Jack Chick, Why is Mary Crying
- David Icke, The Biggest Secret (1999, Ryde: Bridge of Love Publications. ISBN 0-9526147-6-6), ch. 7, "Knights of the Sun", pp. 52 - 54