1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Borsippa

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BORSIPPA (Barsip in the Babylonian and Assyrian inscriptions; Borsif in the Talmud; mod. Birs or Birs-Nimrud), the Greek name of an ancient city about 15 m. S.W. of Babylon and 10 m. from Hillah, on the Nahr Hindieh, or Hindieh canal, formerly known as “the Euphrates of Borsippa,” and even during the Arabic period called “the river of Birs.” Borsippa was the sister city of Babylon, and is often called in the inscriptions Babylon II., also the “city without equal.” Its patron god was Nebo or Nabu. Like Babylon Borsippa is not mentioned in the oldest inscriptions, but comes into importance first after Khammurabi had made Babylon the capital of the whole land, somewhere before 2000 B.C. He built or rebuilt the temple E-Zida at this place, dedicating it, however, to Marduk (Bel-Merodach). But although Khammurabi himself does not seem to have honoured Nebo (q.v.), subsequent kings recognized him as the deity of E-Zida and made him the son of Marduk (q.v.). Each new year his image was taken to visit his father, in Babylon, who in his turn gave him escort homeward, and his temple was second in wealth and importance only to E-Saggila, the temple of Marduk in Babylon. As with Babylon, so with Borsippa, the time of Nebuchadrezzar was the period of its greatest prosperity. In general Borsippa shared the fate of Babylon, falling into decay after the time of Alexander, and finally in the middle ages into ruins. The site of the ancient city is represented by two large ruin mounds. Of these the north-westerly, the lower of the two, but the larger in superficial area, is called Ibrahim Khalil, from a ziara, or shrine, of Abraham, the friend of God, which stands on its highest point. According to Arabic lore, based on Jewish legends, at this spot Nimrod sought to throw Abraham into a fiery furnace, from which he was saved by the grace of God. Excavations were first conducted here by the French Expédition Scientifique en Mésopotamie in 1852, with small result. In 1879 and 1880 Hormuzd Rassam conducted more extensive, although unsystematic, excavations in this mound, finding a considerable quantity of inscribed tablets and the like, now in the British Museum; but by far the greater part of this ruin still remains unexplored. The south-westerly mound, the Birs proper, is probably the most conspicuous and striking ruin in all Irak. On the top of a hill over 100 ft. high rises a pointed mass of vitrified brick split down the centre, over 40 ft. high, about which lie huge masses of vitrified brick, some as much as 15 ft. in diameter, and also single enamelled bricks, generally bearing an inscription of Nebuchadrezzar, twisted, curled and broken, apparently by great heat. Jewish and Arabic tradition makes this the Tower of Babel, which was supposed to have been destroyed by lightning. Excavations conducted here by Sir Henry Rawlinson in 1854 showed it to be the stage tower or ziggurat, called the “house of the seven divisions of heaven and earth,” of E-Zida, the temple of Nebo. On a large platform rose seven solid terraces, each smaller than the one below it, the lowest being 272 ft. square and 26 ft. high. Each of these terraces was faced with bricks of a different colour. The approach to this ziggurat was toward the north-east, and on this side lay also the principal rooms of the temple of which this was the tower. These rooms were partly excavated by Hormuzd Rassam in 1879–1880. In its final form this temple and tower were the work of Nebuchadrezzar, but from the clay cylinders found by Sir Henry Rawlinson in two of the corners of the tower it appears that he restored an incomplete ziggurat of a former king, “which was long since fallen into decay.” Some of the best authorities believe that it was this ambitious but incomplete and ruinous ziggurat, existing before the time of Nebuchadrezzar, which gave occasion to or afforded local attachment for the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel.

Authorities.—H. C. Rawlinson, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1860); J. Oppert, Expédition scientifique en Mésopotamie (Paris, 1863); F. Delitzsch, Wo lag das Paradies? (Leipzig, 1881); J. P. Peters, Nippur (New York and London, 1896); H. Rassam, Asshur and the Land of Nimrod (London and New York, 1897); M. Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (Boston, 1898); see also Babylon, Babel.  (J. P. Pe.)