This page is also available in: Español
Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
What can you tell us about Nimrod, spoken of in Genesis 10:8-12?
The person of Nimrod is intriguing, and we find a significant amount of speculation about him in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic writings. What makes him intriguing is the fact that in the Table of Nations (Gen. 10) he is the only person about whom we have a statement of achievements, although what is said about him is somewhat sketchy. We will say something about possible historical parallels, examine what the biblical text says, and briefly mention some of postbiblical speculation about him.
1. Nimrod in History: The biblical text describes Nimrod as a person who lived in the area of Mesopotamia. Scholars have tried unsuccessfully to find an ancient Near Eastern parallel that matches what the Bible says about him. He has been identified with Gilgamesh, the person who, according to Babylonian literature, survived the Flood, but that theory has been rejected. More popular is to find in him traces of the god Ninurta, a Mesopotamian fertility god. But again the parallels are not strong enough to prove the case. Besides, the biblical text in no way suggests that Nimrod was divine. What we know about him is what Scripture says.
2. Nimrod in the Bible: The first thing the text mentions about Nimrod is that he “became a mighty warrior on earth” (Gen. 10:8, NIV),1 probably meaning that he was the first of such a type (cf. Gen. 9:20). The word “mighty” means, as the passage indicates, that he was politically and militarily powerful. With him began a new breed of leaders whose intention was to become more and more powerful. Second, he is described as a “mighty hunter” (verse 9), which means not only that he was a good hunter, but also that he was a powerful military conqueror.
The phrase “before the Lord” has proved difficult to interpret. The main difficulty is deciding whether it means that the Lord cared for Nimrod, or that Nimrod was acting in defiance of the Lord—”against Him” (Ps. 66:7, NIV). The fact that Nimrod is directly associated with Babylon and the land of Shinar implies a negative connection with the Lord. Besides, if we go by the Hebrew meaning of the name Nimrod (“we will rebel”), the implication is that he acted in rebellion against God.
If this interpretation is correct, the proverb cited in the text—”Therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord'”—would refer to a powerful person acting against the will of God.
Third, he is described as the first person who established a kingdom (“the first centers of his kingdom” [Gen. 10:10, NIV]; “the beginning of his kingdom” [verse 10]). It was based in the ancient cities of Babel (Babylon), Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the region called Shinar—Lower Mesopotamia. From there Nimrod went north to possess the land of Assyria (verse 11)—Upper Mesopotamia (see Micah 5:6).
3. Nimrod and Postbiblical Speculations: Jewish tradition argues that Nimrod was the first hunter, and therefore, the person who introduced meat to the human diet. Tradition says he was involved in the construction of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-4), and after the people were dispersed he stayed in Shinar to build his kingdom. Both Jewish and Islamic traditions indicate that there was a hostile relationship between Nimrod and Abraham. The main reason was that Nimrod was an idolater, while Abraham was called by the Lord to worship Him alone. Some versions of the tradition say that Nimrod placed Abraham in a furnace of fire so hot that its flames killed thousands, but Abraham emerged unharmed. In some traditions he is identified with Amraphel, one of the kings who attacked Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 14:1) and who were defeated by Abraham. The traditions and speculations, with rare exceptions, depict Nimrod as a symbol of evil.
I have summarized some of the postbiblical views about Nimrod in order to alert you to the danger of going beyond what is written. Those traditions should not be used to define personal convictions, or to speculate about the prophetic role of Babylon. We can only affirm what the biblical text says about Nimrod.