The post has been updated to include the origin of quotation cited.
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.
According to our author, writing of heavy stone blocks:
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.
That one I hadn’t heard before, and I wanted to know what was up with that. Nimrod is well known in legend as having been a giant, so that part isn’t surprising, though Schwartzbauer’s distinction between Nimrod and the “race of giants” is. Dante, for example, speaks of Nimrod as a giant in Inferno 31, and the early Latin translation of Genesis used by the Church Fathers, following the Septuagint, identifies Nimrod the mighty hunter as a “giant.” Augustine, following this translation (he didn’t speak Hebrew or Greek), writes in City of God 16.3 that Nimrod was a post-Flood Giant and in 16.4 that Nimrod ordered the construction of the Tower of Babel. He strongly implies that Nimrod’s aim was to scale heaven, like the Giants of Greek myth. Presumably in reducing the role of Nimrod Schwartzbauer wants to keep biblically correct according to modern understandings of the text, but in so doing he runs afoul of Genesis 11:5, which specified, as Augustine noted, that the Tower was built by “sons of men,” not the “Sons of God” or the giants. Or, more likely, the claim comes from Sitchin-inspired ancient astronaut assertions, which make the (human) Nimrod the “restorer” of the Baalbek temple built by the Nephilim-Anunnaki.
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)
The text is different in a crucial place in French, where the original from 1890 gives the following:
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.)
Sadly, Alouf gave no citation in either the English or French versions (in French he does not even say it was found in Baalbek, only that the text was from Baalbek), and neither Reader’s Digest nor fringe writers even quoted the text (whatever it may be) correctly. There is no indication from Alouf that the manuscript is supposed to be ancient, and my guess is that it is not, perhaps late medieval to judge by the material cited in it.
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