City Of The Most High
One of the world’s earliest cities of which traces and records still remain is Nippur, the holy city of the people among whom Abraham lived, the Sumerians. Founded about seven hundred years before his birth, and not long after the founding of Babylon, it shared with that city the distinction of being, at first, sacred to the Most High God. This was at a time when paganism and idolatry had not as yet had its rise in the earth, and the God universally worshipped was the God of Noah. So although this city is mentioned only once in the Bible it is of some interest to the Bible student who would know more of the true faith as it was revealed and preached in those early days of human history.
Nippur is mentioned in Gen. 10.8 under the name of Calneh as one of the four cities springing from the dominion of the celebrated warrior Nimrod. The reason for the difference in name was not known until modern times although the Talmud insisted that Nippur was the city alluded to in Genesis. It has been found in our day that Nippur - in the native tongue Niffer - was its name in later Old Testament times and until its disappearance in the Twelfth Christian century. In ancient times, the days of Abraham, it was known as Enlilki, meaning the city of the Sumerian god Enlil, at that time the god of the heavens. At some intervening time a scribe translating the old cuneiform record of Genesis into Hebrew mistakenly read the cuneiform sign for the city name backwards. He thus produced the consonants k-l-n. which the later Masorites, when they came to add vowels to the Hebrew words, turned into Kalneh or Calneh as now in the AV. Here is one evidence of the antiquity of the Genesis record; had it been composed in the era of the Israelite monarchy as many text books still claim, the later name would have appeared.
The earth was still very thinly peopled when Nippur was founded, not yet a city, a small settlement of reed huts but already having a temple of baked brick, sacred to the Most High. The episode of the Tower of Babel was probably at least two centuries in the past and the people had scattered, as Gen.11 said they did. The sons of Japhet had gone north, penetrating Europe on the one hand and Siberia on the other. Those of Shem, Abraham’s ancestor had taken the northern area of the Euphrates-Tigris plain and made Babylon their holy city, also sacred then to the true God.. Bab-ilu, they called it, the Gate of God. The sons of Ham had emigrated, to the south, and in after years produced the Egyptians and the Canaanites and the peoples of North Africa, but one of them, Cush, remained in the plain and developed the first great world civilisation, that of Sumer. So Nippur became their holy city and was always held in veneration on that account. It is rather intriguing to think that in those early days, before Jerusalem existed, there were two holy cities where the worship of the true God was kept alive, continuing on from the days of Noah nearly a thousand years earlier, and that just about the time that worship was being corrupted by the development of idolatry and paganism, the eternally holy city, Jerusalem, the city of God, came into being in the land which the Lord had already destined to be peculiarly his own. There would seem to have been no time in those far-distant days when the worship of God had altogether vanished from the earth.
No one knows when Jerusalem was founded. The recent discovery of the ancient city-state of Ebla in northern Syria has revealed that Jerusalem was in existence at least three or four centuries before Abraham and that points roughly to the time when polytheism – the worship of many gods, began to be developed from the original pure worship and both Babylon and Nippur ceased to be holy to the Most High God of heaven. It could be conjectured that some faithful souls of the line of Shem before Abraham was born perceived the drift of events and forsook the land of Sumer as did that patriarch after them and migrated to the as yet undeveloped land of Canaan, there to establish a new holy city which should perpetuate their faith and their worship. Thus when Abraham in his turn entered that land he found Jerusalem ruled by a king who was also “priest of the Most High God” and the patriarch accepted him a fellow-worshipper with himself. He later found other fellow-believers, Abimelech king of Gerar in the south land, and Pharaoh ruler of Egypt with his people, all similarly believers. As the true faith died out in one place it become re-established in another, and thus it has been through all history. By the time of Abraham, Nippur was a sizeable city, very similar in nature to the two which do figure in Bible history, Babylon and Ur of the Chaldees. It is very likely that Abraham knew it well, for it was only a hundred miles from his own home at Ur. It must have been well known to Daniel also, fifteen hundred years later, for many of the Jews taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar settled in Nippur, and it carried a thriving Jewish population continuously from then until the Middle Ages. It was in fact then that the well known Jewish flair for commercial dealing came to the top. When the city was excavated in 1887-1900 by the University of Pennsylvania, there was found among the thirty thousand inscribed tablets discovered on its site, what amounted to complete collection of records of the commercial dealings of a firm of Jewish bankers and dealers named Murashi and Sons. This covered the period from the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC to the year 403 BC, a period of nearly two centuries. The enterprising Murashi (his Babylonian name) had apparently been brought from Jerusalem with the captives and had set himself up in business with his headquarters at Nippur and before long was trading in every conceivable kind of merchandise, including. regrettably, male and female slaves, banking and lending money at thirty per cent interest, financing state projects at considerable profit, and with complete impartiality supplying weapons and stores to both sides of any pair of city-states wanting to go to war with one another. (The armaments manufacturers still do the same to-day, of course.) The ramifications of Murashi and Sons extended all over the Middle East and their activities must have contributed in no small degree to the prosperity of Nippur. It Is Of interest to note that during the excavations, there were discovered a number of “banknotes” of the time, worded just like modern banknotes but made of baked clay tablets instead of paper.
Nippur was inhabited up to the 12th century AD and was by then not only a Jewish centre but the seat of a Christian bishopric. Then came Turkish domination and the whole land languished. The city lost its prosperity, the inhabitants drifted away, the houses collapsed into ruins, and the desert sands covered what was left until Austin Layard in 1851 discovered the site of the old city. Since then modern excavation has revealed much of its secrets and ancient history, and added considerably to the world’s knowledge of Abraham’s day and earlier. Like its sister city Babylon, it was once a holy city to the Most High, but idolatry came in. It became a centre of paganism, and the proud title passed to a city which will bear it to all eternity, Jerusalem, the city of the great king.