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The Life and Times of Nimrod, the Biblical Hunter

The Life and Times of Nimrod, the Biblical Hunter

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“Ruthless killer.” “Merciless ruler.” “Chief idolator.” These are just some of the names that I’ve come to be known by. And that’s okay; I’ve gotten used to them. I’ll even admit that I kind of deserve them. Some of those titles, anyway.

Before you go calling me names, though, it’s only fair that you familiarize yourself with all the details . . .

Young Nimrod

I was born into a strange time, a kind of post-Flood era.1 Grandpa Ham had survived on the ark, and together with his family went about repopulating the world. The scene was fresh then, and people were ripe for all kinds of new ideas. I think I sensed this as a kid, and it laid the seeds for some interesting innovations that I brought about later on.

Being the youngest child, I received preferential treatment from my father, Cush. If you’ve read the opening chapters of Genesis, you are probably familiar with the special cloaks that G‑d had made for Adam and Eve. Well, they had somehow survived the Flood, had been stolen from Great-Grandpa Noah by Grandpa Ham, and had been given to Poppa Cush. Since I was his favorite, he entrusted them to me.2

One thing is for sure: They helped out with my popularity rates. Animals had this strange reaction to these garments: upon sight of them, they would fall helpless at my feet. As you can imagine, hunting competitions weren’t much of a challenge for me, and before I knew it I had attracted quite a sizeable following of fans and devotees.3

The Torah focuses on my hunting prowess in its depiction of me: “He was a mighty trapper before the L‑rd; therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod, a mighty trapper before the L‑rd.’”4

What’s with “before the L‑rd”? It’s kind of like saying “in the whole wide world” in Bible talk.5 Nowadays, historians would write, “He was the mightiest hunter of his times,” which, mind you, is a description I’m not exactly ashamed of. (There are some other interpretations of “before the L‑rd”; we’ll get to them later.)

I know you’ve all heard rotten things about me, but, ironically, I started out as a devoutly religious person.6 Truth is, pretty much everyone back then was religious.7 The Flood was still fresh in people’s minds—I was born only 95 years after it ended—and no one was exactly looking for a repeat.

My cloak came in handy for religious purposes, too. I’d go out, hunt animals, and offer them as sacrifices to G‑d. Remember that I was called a “trapper before the L‑rd”? Some commentators understand this to be referring to my religious days, back when I was still on the straight and narrow.8

Power and Religion

Alas, power has this funny way of getting to people’s heads, and I was no exception. By the age of 40, I was the de facto leader of the Cush tribe, and I was building up quite a reputation for myself. It was around then that our cousins, the Japhethites, decided to pick a fight with us, and leading the charge, I defeated them. The Japhethites were rendered our subordinates, and I, the king over—what was then—most of modern civilization.9

Nowadays, people are familiar with the concept of a king. One man reigns supreme over all others, and has everyone do his bidding. In those days, such a notion was unheard of, and I take pride in introducing this fantastic new idea to the world.10 My intentions were not entirely altruistic, and I utilized my innovation for self-promoting purposes.

There came a point when G‑d was no longer necessary, and I made the bold decision to stand in as His replacement. It didn’t take much convincing to get everyone else on board, and a new religion was formed: Nimrodism.11

Here are a couple of things that we implemented to help cement the new movement:

1) We built a massive temple, several stories high, with a huge throne on the top level. I would sit on the throne and graciously afford passersby the opportunity to catch a glimpse of their new deity.12

2) We had statues made of me and placed throughout my kingdom. Bowing down to my image became a part of the daily ritual.13

3) We began building a tower that was supposed to reach the heavens, effectively enforcing our takeover.14 (More on this later, in “Tower of Babel.”)

When they said everything is hinted to in the Torah, they weren’t exaggerating. “He was a mighty trapper before the L‑rd” is understood by some to refer to my impressive powers of persuasion; I would persuade (“trap”) people into rebelling against G‑d (“before the L‑rd”).15

Abram’s Birth

It was around that time that we all relocated to Shinar—which some associate with Sumer—somewhere in modern-day southern Iraq.16 Its elevation level was significantly lower than the surrounding areas, and legend has it that those who died in the Flood were washed up there. That’s actually how it got its name, “Shinar,” which means “shake out,” because all the dead bodies were “shaken out” over there. It seemed like the perfect place to found a new civilization.17

Here’s an interesting piece of history, which ended up shaping much of the modern world:

My chief advisor at the time was a man named Terach. He was a loyal subject, and I held his opinion in high regard. At a party celebrating a new baby born to Terach, strange things appeared in the sky. A large star was seen shooting across the horizon, and it was swallowing all the other stars in its path.

My astrologers had only one explanation: The star was the newborn Abram, and he was destined to swallow us all. I had no choice: Abram had to die.

Terach didn’t prove easy to convince, and all the money in the world would not make him budge.

“Consider the following scenario,” he argued. “Imagine I was offered a huge sum of money to sell the king’s personal horse; would you suggest I agree to the deal?” That would be ridiculous; money was not exactly an issue at the time, and my horse was very dear to me. “This is precisely what you are asking of me,” he finished off. “What can money do to replace my own child?”

It took a little coercing (and threatening) until I had Terach on my side. He brought me his newborn baby, and I duly crushed his tender skull, eliminating any potential threat.

Or so I thought. It wasn’t until 50 years later that I realized that Terach had duped me, and had brought me one of his slave-children in place of Abram.18 Imagine what the world would look like today if it had been Abram that I killed . . .

Tower of Babel

After that brief hiccup, I enjoyed 25 years of peace and quiet, with my kingdom in Shinar running smoothly.19 Everyone got along very well, almost family-like,20 and we all spoke one language.21 Things would have probably stayed that way, if not for the ingenious suggestion of some of my advisors:22 “Let’s build a tower unto the heavens, and cement our place in history.”

Brilliant idea, right?

In their defense, they did have a number of good reasons to build this ziggurat:

a. Why should G‑d have the heavens all to Himself? We also deserve to have a say in what goes on up there.23

b. Apparently, the heavens collapse every 1656 years, as they did in the year of the Flood. By building this tower, we could offer additional support to the sky.24

c. We would become an undisputed world power, and never have to fear invasion again.25

The idea spread fast, and workers were enlisting by the thousands. Before you knew it, construction had begun, and we had a sizeable workforce of close to 600,000 people.26 Everyone seemed to get involved, and some historians suggest that even such high-ranking profiles as Noah, Shem and Abram participated as well.27

Most people don’t know this, but more than 20 years were spent on this project.28 It was an edifice of unbelievable proportions; some posit that the climb from bottom to top would take over a year’s worth of travel! The people’s abnormal commitment to the building caused them to lose sense of their humanity, and a fallen brick came to be a bigger tragedy than a fallen human.29

We all know the end of that story. G‑d humored us for 20 or so years and then undid everything in one fell swoop. Languages got mixed up, the building was destroyed, and we all ended up in different parts of the world.30 You can read more about that over here, in What Was Up with the Tower of Babel?

I stayed behind in the Mesopotamian region, and founded a few more cities.31 I built the city called Babel—which means “confusion”—as a testimony to the confusion that took place when the Tower was destroyed.32 I then built Erekh, commonly known as Uruk,33 Akkad (or Accad)34 and Calneh, which is identified by the Talmud as Nofar-Ninfi,35 or Nippur. In my new kingdom, I became known as Amraphel, “causes to fall,” a rather derogatory name referencing the downfall of all those involved in the building of the tower I was accountable for.36

The Return of Abram

It was two years after the tower disaster, and life was slowly getting back to normal.37 Then the “good” news arrived: Terach had tricked me way back then, and his son Abram was still around.

Apparently, he had decided to return home, and was wreaking havoc all over the city. He was on a crusade against idol worship, and was destroying idols wherever he could possible find them.

The rest of the story is well known, and can be read in all its detail here, Abraham’s Early Life.

Here’s the short version:

I had Abram arrested, and it was decided that he deserved to die. We fired up the palatial furnace for three days, and threw him in, his hands tied with ropes behind his back. Miracles of miracles, Abram walked around the furnace as if nothing was going on, and the only thing that got burned was the rope tying his hands.

I’ll share a few lesser-known details of the story as well:

a. It wasn’t only Abram that I threw into the furnace; his brother Haran was thrown in as well. See, I was so furious at having been deceived that I sought retribution from anyone implicit in the crime. Apparently, or so Terach claimed, it was Haran’s idea to exchange Abram for a different baby. I think we can all agree that Haran’s death was not unwarranted.

b. After seeing all the miracles that G‑d did for Abram, I showered Abram with gifts. I gave him two of my servants as well, one named Oni and the other Eliezer, who later became well known as “the servant of Abraham.”38

c. Some claim that I received my name Amraphel (“causes to fall”) as a result of this story. I had attempted to cause Abram to fall, and was therefore given this honorary title.39

Abram Again

Abram had proven to be enough of a nuisance, and I was sure that I was done having to deal with him. You can imagine my frustration when, two years after the furnace incident, Abram came to visit me again, this time in a dream.

I was standing with my men next to the same furnace that Abram had been thrown into, when an image of Abram brandishing a sword emerged, and he began to approach us. As we ran, he threw an egg onto my head, which turned into a great river and drowned all of my men. I survived together with three others, who suddenly appeared dressed as kings. The river then dried up and returned to being an egg, which hatched and a chick emerged. The chick flew towards me and began poking my eyes, at which point I woke up.

The message was clear: Abram was not done.

By the time my men arrived at his house to to arrest him, Abram was gone. Apparently Eliezer had tipped him off, and he had fled the city. He had gotten the better of me—again.40

Military Humiliation

I’m going to end my story with two military ventures, both which ended in humiliating defeat. The first was in the year 2013, thirteen years after Abraham’s escape, and the second in the year 2021, nine years later.

I had a general by the name of Chedorlaomer, who following the Tower of Babel incident had seceded and became king of Elam. His power got to his head, and he extended his borders all the way to the area of Sodom, taking the resident five nations under his control.

Things went well for him for 12 years, and his subject nations paid their taxes religiously. There came a time, however, when these nations got fed up and staged an all-out revolt against Chedorlaomer.

Sensing his weakness, I seized the opportunity to reclaim my prestige in the neighborhood. I gathered my entire army, a sizeable 70,000 men, and waged war against my former general. Here’s the humiliating bit: With only 5,000 men, he won a decisive victory, and I ended up his subordinate.41

In fact, all the neighboring states became his subordinates, which leads me into my second military humiliation.

After 13 years of unrest in his extended empire, Chedorlaomer decided to quash the Sodom rebellion once and for all. He conscripted all of his allies to participate in the war effort, and off we went to fight Sodom, our five kings against their four.

It was none other than Abram who popped up again. He had gotten wind that his nephew Lot, who was living in Sodom at the time, was taken captive, and he came together with his men to rescue him. We were forced to flee, and returned back home humiliated.42

My Demise

I had always considered myself to be the fiercest warrior in history, and I didn’t honestly think that I would ever find my match. As I was getting older, though, there was talk of a new up-and-coming star. Apparently, one of Abram’s grandchildren, Esau, had ventured off the straight and narrow and was gaining quite a reputation for himself in the Canaanite underworld.

How he found out about my cloak is still unclear to me, but one thing’s for certain: he was determined to get his hands on it. And blood did not seem to be a hindrance.

Long story short:

We were out on a hunting expedition and were ambushed by Esau himself. My elderly body was no match for his youthful spirit—he was only 13 years old at the time—and he ultimately got the better of me. And, of course, he took possession of the cloak.43

Looks like the prophecies were right all along. Who would have thought that my demise would come through the hands of Abram’s grandchild?

Timeline of events:

1656 (2015 BCE): Flood of Noah

1751 (1920 BCE): Birth of Nimrod

1791 (1900 BCE): Nimrod rebels against G‑d and rules in Babel

1948 (1813 BCE): Birth of Abraham

1973 (1788 BCE): Construction of Tower of Babel begins

1996 (1765 BCE): Tower of Babel destroyed

1996–2008 (1765–1753 BCE): Cities of Sodom serve Chedorlaomer

2009–2022 (1762–1749 BCE): Cities of Sodom rebel against Chedorlaomer

2013 (1758 BCE): Nimrod wages war against Chedorlaomer and loses

2022 (1749 BCE): War of Five Kings against Four Kings

2123 (1638 BCE): Nimrod killed by Esau

Footnotes
1.
According to Sefer HaYashar, Nimrod was 40 years old when his reign in Babel began. This was in the year 1791 from creation (Me’or Einayim, cited in Seder HaDorot), thus placing his birth in the year 1751, ninety-five years after the Flood, which ended in the year 1657.
2.
Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 24.
3.
Ibid.; Sefer HaYashar.
5.
Ramban, Genesis 10:11.
6.
Sefer HaYashar. See Torat Kohanim, Bechukotai 26:14, where Nimrod is described as one who “knew his master and intentionally rebelled against Him,” indicating that there was a time when he indeed knew his master, G‑d. See Torah Sheleimah, Genesis 10:9, footnote 23, where this connection is drawn.
7.
See Rashi, Genesis 10:8, who states that Nimrod began the rebellion against G‑d. Ramban, Genesis 10:11, explains that this refers to the post-Flood rebellion, because the pre-Flood rebellion is already attributed to Enosh, as described at length here.
8.
Ibn Ezra, Genesis 10:9. Ramban rejects Ibn Ezra’s interpretation, claiming that it diverges from the traditions of Chazal regarding Nimrod. See Torah Sheleimah, Genesis 10:9, who reconciles the view of Ibn Ezra with that of Chazal based on the sources cited in footnote 6.
9.
Sefer HaYashar.
10.
Ramban, Genesis 10:9.
11.
Ramban, Genesis 10:9.
12.
Midrash HaGadol, Genesis 11:28.
13.
Shalshelet HaKabbalah, cited in Seder HaDorot.
14.
Genesis 11.
15.
Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, Genesis 10:9; Bereishit Rabbah 37:2.
16.
Genesis 11:2; Shalshelet HaKabbalah, cited in Seder HaDorot.
17.
Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachot 4:1; Bereishit Rabbah 37:4.
18.
Sefer HaYashar; Midrash HaGadol, Genesis 11:28.
19.
Abraham was born in the year 1948 from creation, and the building of the tower did not begin until the year 1973 (Seder HaDorot).
20.
Bereishit Rabbah 38:6; Tanchuma Yashan, Noach 24.
21.
Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 1:9. Another opinion is cited there, that 70 different languages were spoken then, yet they were all able to understand all 70 (Korban HaEdah).
22.
According to many midrashim, it was the suggestion of others to build the tower. Bereishit Rabbah 38:8 states that it was (the descendants of) Mitzrayim who suggested it to (the descendants of) Cush; and Tanchuma, Noach 18, that it was Cush who suggested it to Put, and Put to Canaan. In Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 24, however, it is recorded that it was the suggestion of Nimrod himself. This is also implied in the Talmud, Chullin 89a, where the verse “Let us build a city” is attributed to Nimrod. Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, Genesis 10:11, explains that Nimrod was not involved in the building at all, and left Babel for Ashur in order to disassociate himself from the tower.
23.
Bereishit Rabbah 38:6.
24.
Ibid.
25.
Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 24; Sefer HaYashar.
26.
Sefer HaYashar.
27.
Ibn Ezra, Genesis 11:1.
28.
The building began in the year 1973 from creation and was not destroyed until the year 1996, twenty-three years later (Seder HaDorot).
29.
Sefer HaYashar.
31.
Sefer HaYashar.
33.
The Talmud, Yoma 10a, identifies this city as Urikhuth, which is assumed to refer to the ancient Mesopotamian city of Uruk. See Bereishit Rabbah 37:4, where Erech is identified as Charan.
34.
Bereishit Rabbah 37:4 identifies this as Netzivin (Nisibis).
35.
Talmud, Yoma ibid. In Bereishit Rabbah 37:4 it is identified as Ctesiphon, a city on the eastern bank of the Tigris.
36.
Sefer HaYashar. The Talmud and Midrash cite other reasons why his name was changed, which are discussed later in this article.
37.
Sefer HaYashar states that Abram was 50 when he returned home. At the time of the Tower’s destruction, he was 48.
38.
Sefer HaYashar.
39.
Talmud, Eruvin 53a.
40.
Sefer HaYashar.
41.
Sefer HaYashar.
42.
Genesis 14.
43.
Talmud, Bava Batra 16b; Bereishit Rabbah 65:12. However, see ibid. 63:13, that Nimrod was out to kill Esau over the cloak that he had stolen from him, which implies that Nimrod did not die by the hand of Esau.
Shaul Wolf was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. He studied in Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon in Los Angeles and received his rabbinical ordination from the Central Chabad Yeshivah in Brooklyn, N.Y. He currently lives in Brooklyn where he studies and responds to questions for Ask the Rabbi @ Chabad.org.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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A black man Earth May 27, 2016

HAMITE Lol. It's well known Nimrod was a Hamite, black. Why make him white? Reply

Anonymous February 5, 2016

these stories are all allegories. Reply

Anonymous December 21, 2015

I would like to know what is written of how Nimrod died. Reply

Hallel Yishai Robehres West USA December 16, 2015

Shaul Wolf, I am a graduate with a Bacheloreate in Architecture. Toda. Toda. Toda. Reply

Lew White Louisville December 15, 2015

I enjoyed this historical essay on Nimrod. My latest book, Nimrod's Secret Identity, relied mostly on Josephus' work, but my approach goes into the long-range effects of Nimrod's rebellion and Sun worship that developed from him. The character known as Krampus, aka Santa Claus, is an avatar of Nimrod. Reply

Kate Gladstone Albany, NY, USA December 15, 2015

What about the innocent slave-baby who was killed? Is Abraham's father guiltless in its death? Reply

Baruch December 15, 2015

Very well written. Reply

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