SANDS OF TIME: THE ISHTAR GATE

The Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon museum, Berlin.

In Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, over in the Ancient Near East collection, prepare to be amazed by a massive wall of beautifully glazed brick, etched and gilded with golden mythological creatures and mysterious symbols.  It is called the Ishtar Gate, one of the original seven wonders of the world, before the Lighthouse of Alexandria took its place.  Meticulously reconstructed, it now stands in Berlin as a testament to the ancient empire of Babylon and the ambition of her king, Nebuchadnezzar II.

A "mushussu", or Babylonian dragon.

A “mushussu”, or Babylonian dragon.

Constructed around 575 B.C., during the Neo-Babylonian empire, the gate was part of a series of 8, built to honor the goddess Ishtar. Excavated by Robert Koldewey in late 19th century Iraq, archaeologists were able to surmise that the doors and roof were made of cedar, which had unfortunately wasted away over time.  As for the walls, they were made of specially glazed blue bricks decorated with other gods, aurochs (the extinct ancestor of modern cattle), and a type of dragon called a mushussu.  Babylonians regularly paraded stone statues of their deities through the gate and on up to a ziggurat, a type of stepped, ceremonial tower.

1957-pergamon-museum-berlin-ishtar-gate-inscription

The inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II in ancient Akkadian, one of the first writing systems.

Researchers are certain of the gate’s authenticity as it bears what may as well be a signature of its chief architect, king Nebuchadnezzar himself.  With the help of a complete version from a limestone, the one on the wall was finished.  A section of it goes as follows:

“…I (Nebuchadnezzar) laid the foundation of the gates down to the ground water level and had them built out of pure blue stone. Upon the walls in the inner room of the gate are bulls and dragons and thus I magnificently adorned them with luxurious splendour for all mankind to behold in awe…”

Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar's strange dream.  (Daniel 2:24-49)

Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s strange dream. (Daniel 2:24-49)

Nebuchadnezzar is known to have been in power at the time of the prophet Daniel, the Jewish exile.  Yes, this is the same Daniel whose book in the Bible’s Old Testament chronicles his kidnapping from Jerusalem as a youth, growth in Babylon as a man of great wisdom and spiritual testing when thrown into a den of lions by the Persian King, Darius.  During Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, the Bible tells us that Daniel became one of his chief advisers and the king even respected him (Daniel 2:46-49).  Still, Nebuchadnezzar’s rash actions continuously tested the prophet’s loyalty to God.  His many extravagant displays of power are consistent with what is inscribed on the Ishtar Gate as well as its lofty design.  (Daniel 3: 1-6)

ishtarlionThis is one of those treasures that I myself have only seen in pieces; there are portions of the golden lions on display in the University of Chicago’s Oriental Museum.  I hope to make the trip to Berlin sometime in the near future to see the full reproduction.  For now, it looks like I too will have to settle for the armchair this time.  Keep on digging!

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