I was planning to take today off because it’s Memorial Day here in the United States, but then Andy White posted a link to a bizarre creationist paper from 2010 by a then Minnesota high school junior named Adam Schwartzbauer, who attempted to explain the history of the Nephilim and their influence, in part relying on Zecharia Sitchin’s fabricated Book of Enki as a genuine historical text. But leaving aside Sitchin’s fakery, the author said something I hadn’t remembered hearing before and I thought it was very interesting, interesting enough for me to do a brief blog post about it in lieu of a rerun.
Perhaps one of the best evidences of giants is the giant ruins of Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. […] According to Arab tradition, the earliest temples there were built after the great flood by a race of giants—for the biblical king Nimrod.
What is interesting is that in Lebanese legend, Nimrod attempted to ascend to heaven on a bird, failed, and his broken body fell onto Mt. Hermon—the place where the Watchers fell. The story seems to be a survival of the Babylonian myth of Etana and the eagle, diabolized. But to our point, it’s interesting to see why the people of Lebanon considered Nimrod the builder of Baalbek. According to the French traveler Laurent d’Arvieux, writing in 1660, but published in his Memoires (1735), the inhabitants of Lebanon believed the Baalbek was the remains of the Tower of Babel. Therefore, “They assert that the dryness and aridity of Anti-Libanus arise simply in consequence of the curse which Nimrod brought upon himself by constructing the tower of Babel” (2.26, trans. L. Mooyaart). The story continued to be told into the twentieth century, though the details occasionally changed. Some versions, for example, made Nimrod a restorer of a structure first built on the site by Adam, or Cain. Modern scholars all agree that it is a local legend, localizing the Babel story. It almost seems like a gloss on the fall of the Watchers, a story long associated with nearby Mt. Hermon. It is only through a quirk of literature (specifically, nineteenth century reports about Baalbek used as sources by fringe writers) that an obscure local legend from Lebanon becomes a central tenet of the fringe understanding of the site, and raised to the level of a pan-Arab cultural myth. (This is impossible since we know that the people of Baghdad identified the Tower with the palace of Nebuchadnezzar at the ruins of Babylon.)
Oddly enough, this legend, so far as I know published first by d’Arvieux, seems to have morphed into an “ancient manuscript” in the hands of fringe theorists. Alan Alford says it comes from “an Arabic manuscript found at Baalbek” in his Gods of the New Millennium. Christian fundamentalist John Bliss quotes (twice, in different words) this alleged ancient text as saying “a tribe of giants constructed magnificent temples on the order of King Nimrod,” but he cites this to Reader’s Digest’s 1976 volume on The World’s Last Mysteries, which he quoted wrongly both times. David Childress, also using the same book, similarly attributes the claim to “ancient Arab writings” in Technology of the Gods (and his earlier books from which he self-plagiarized). The Reader’s Digest text, however, gives no citation, writing only that “Ancient Arab writings tell that the first temples of Ba’al-Astarte were built there a short time after the Flood, at the order of the legendary King Nimrod, by a ‘tribe of giants.’” You would be dumbfounded how many fringe writers quote or cite that uncritically.
It’s quite possible that there is in fact an ancient manuscript that states as much (though Baalbek is first mentioned only in the seventh century CE, by John of Antioch), but no one among the fringe has ever cited it so far as I can find. At first I thought it was referring to European texts, such as the Old English De falsis deis and the homily of Aelfic on the Pentecost, which both identified Nimrod as the chief of a tribe of giants who built Babylon and the Tower, as do two Armenian texts that give Nimrod as the chief of the giants, and the General Estoria of Alfonso X in Spain. But then I discovered the source, a translated nineteenth century book called the History of Baalbek by the Francophone Lebanese resident Michel M. Alouf (Mikhai'l Musa Aluf al-Ba'labakk):
Also one reads in an Arabic manuscript found at Baalbek: “After the flood, when Nimrod reigned at Libanus, he sent giants to construct the fortress of Baalbek which was named in honour of Baal, the god of the Moabites and worshippers of the Sun.” (trans. L. Mooyart)
After the Deluge had flooded the whole earth and changed its face, it also destroyed the great edifice of Baalbek, the sole refuge of Cain. When Nimrod reigned in Lebanon, he then sent giants to rebuild the fortress of Baalbek, and from this it was given the name it bears to this day in honor of Baal, god of the Moabites, and worshipers of the Sun. (my trans.)