Monday, July 10, 2017

How Babylon Fell

Over the last several months, I've been doing research into what will likely be my next novel-writing project.  It's a mystic-theological spy-thriller, set in the year 539 BCE, because my muse, she tends to wander off in odd directions.

That's meant, among other things, steeping myself in the history of the ancient near East, Persian culture, Zoroastrianism, and the stories of the fall of Babylon.  The Babylonian Empire is fascinating, as it was one of the greatest powers in that region of the world, one whose control and dominance burned it forever in the narratives of the Bible.

"Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great," shouted wacky ol' John in Revelation, evoking images of catastrophe, of war and fire and death, of burning cities and angelic powers.   He was talking about Rome, of course, and about the fall of empires generally.  Babylon's just a convenient code word.

Ultimately, though, when that empire actually fell, it did so in a way that bears no resemblance to John's fever dreams.  It's more interesting than that, utterly fascinating.  

Cyrus of Persia defeated Nabonidas, last emperor of Babylon, but not as one might expect.  He didn't take Babylon down with armies, although Persia was perfectly competent on the battlefield.   There were no defining final battles, no great rivers of blood and cries of the dying.

There's some blurriness around this, as there is in many of the histories of the ancient world.  There may have been some skirmishes, and a handful of battles, but Persia's primary weapon against Babylon does not appear to have been the sword.

Cyrus seems to have primarily defeated the Babylonians using propaganda.  

He tore apart that society from within, by taking advantage of and magnifying the divisions within that culture.  Using words and cunning and a scholarly understanding of Babylonian society, the Persians undercut the authority of Babylonian leadership, sabotaging the trust of priests and people in the integrity of Nabonidas and his reign.

The Persians found the places of weakness, and took advantage.  

By the time the Persians arrived at the gates of Babylon itself, that society was so shattered that the Persians were welcomed in as saviors.   Cyrus defeated his greatest enemy with barely any bloodshed at all.

Because, as Jesus so correctly noted, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Here in America, where a cunning despot and master manipulator of information is  doing his best to make us that divided house, how Babylon actually fell seems something worth remembering.