Ancient name of a great city in central Babylonia whose ruined site is now known as Nuffar (Niffer), which is the same word in an Arabicized form. It is one of the oldest cities in the world at present identifiable by name and situation.

Excavations of Temple of Bel at Nippur.(From a photograph by courtesy of Prof. H. V. Hilprecht.)

It is just possible, but scarcely probable, that "Calneh" in Gen. x. 10 is another name for Nippur. The city lay about thirty-five miles southeast of Babylon on the canal Shaṭṭ al-Nil, which was at one time, and perhaps at the date of the founding of Nippur, a separate branch of the Euphrates. Its ancient renown was due partly to its central position among the Semitic settlements, and especially to the fact that it was the first known great seat of the worship of Bel. The name of this chief Babylonian god, identical with the Canaanitish Ba'al, suggests that his worship at Nippur was the consolidation of that of many local Ba'als, and that Nippur obtained its religious preeminence by having gained the leadership among the Semitic communities. In any case its predominance was actually established at least as early as 5000 B.C. Nippur's time of political domination and activity was, however, so remote that its interest to moderns is as yet chiefly antiquarian. The reconstructed history of Babylonia, which begins about 4500 B.C., shows at its earliest stages that Nippur was even then a city of ancient religious renown. The kings of other city-states, such as Kish, Erech, and Ur, vied with one another in the endeavor to secure the patronage of the city of Bel. Later, about 3800, the famous Sargon of Accad presented votive offerings at the shrine of Bel and rebuilt his chief temple. The same story is repeated in varying forms down to the very end of Babylonian history. Khammurabi (2250 B.C.), who unified Babylonia and organized it throughout, wishing to gain for his capital the prestige of Bel-worship, discouraged the cult of that deity at Nippur and transferred it as far as possible to the city of Babylon. There the worship of Bel was united with that of Marduk of Babylon, who actually assumed the name of the patron god of Nippur (comp. Isa. xlvi. 1). The fiction was maintained down to the days of the great Nebuchadrezzar (604-562), who found it necessary to demolish by force the restored temple of Bel at Nippur for the aggrandizement of "Babylon the Great."

The principal colony of the Hebrew exiles of 597 B.C. was planted beside the canal Chebar (Kabar) not far from Nippur, apparently to the east of the ancient city, which was then still a place of importance and must have influenced the social and industrial life of the Jewish community.

The modern excavations of Nippur under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania are among the most important of all that have been as yet undertaken in western Asia. The explorations, which have been carried on with some interruptions since 1888, have brought to light the ruins of several of the oldest temples of the world and have recovered many treasures of the most antique art, besides tens of thousands of inscriptions representing all phases of the life of ancient Babylonia.

  • Peters, Nippur or Explorations and Adventures on the Euphrates, 1897;
  • Hilprecht, Explorations in Bible Lands, 1903, pp. 289-568.
E. C. J. F. McC.
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