Babylon and the Mesopotamia AKA בָּבֶל Babel
The fertile Mesopotamian plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers created ideal circumstances for Copper and Bronze Age civilizations. The 1st is very swift moving for shipping, the 2nd a slow, meandering river with lots of irrigation. Fed by the mountains of Turkey, the area floods regularly, but more catastrophically, than the predictable Nile. Rivers allow Civilization to start, but tend not to have much metal ore. Often these Civilizations fell under the control of "barbarians" who developed metallurgy long after their more prosperous neighbors discovered and harnessed agriculture.
This area has less of a stable identity than the Egyptians, controlled by different Tribes over the years. The Sumerians (@ 31st – 26th century BCE) wrote and spoke an agglutinative language, where signs might mean what they pictured or the sound of that symbol's object, and pre or suffixes adapt them. Named the Uruk Period (@ 3500 – 3100 BCE)is almost mythological in that it is the time of Gilgamesh which competed with Abraham's home city of Ur. They were followed by the Northern Semitic speaking Tribe of Akkadians (@ 2334 – 2154 BCE). Sargon the Great unites the various city-states into a geographically defined Empire (@ 2340 BCE), after poisoning his Master in Kish, recruiting an army of Akkadians, and conquering the cities of Sumer. The First Amorite Babylonian Dynasty (@ 1894 BCE) was an influx of Tribesmen from the Syria / Levant / Jordan area. Hammurabi founded a short lived (Third) Babylonian Empire (@1792 - 1750 BCE) from which we derive one of the earliest Legal Codes upon which much of the Ten Commandments of the Judeans is based.
The area fell under domination by the Assyrians from Turkey, who had developed better smelting and weapon-building technology and are related to the original Akkadians. While not having great rivers, they had metal in their hills. The Hittite , Kassites and Elamites (Kurds) in the East all took brief turns controlling the land, until the Chaldeans established the Neo-Babylonian Empire (608 to 539 BCE). After Civil War weakens the Judeans, the North Kingdom of Israel falls to the Neo - Assyrians. Those not taken captive The Ten Lost Tribes fall back to the Southern Kingdom of Judea. The Exiles are distributed throughout Halah (Cilicia in Turkey), in Habor by the river of Gozan ( Khazars on the Volga River?), and in the cities of the Medes (Central and Southern Iran). They conceal their copy of the Holy Book (Book of Deuteronomy) in the stones of the Temple's foundations, and when the Temple is destroyed by the neo - Babylonians of Nebuchadnezzar II, it is preserved in the ruins. Cyrus the Great, the Persian from Iran, invades Babylon, and sends all the captive leaders home to rebuild their own cities and Temples, pay taxes and stop making trouble for the Empire. This is the 1st historical usage of the term Yehudis, or Judeans, which will become the word Jews. King Solomon's Temple is sacked by Nebuchadnezzar II's army and ordered rebuilt when the Jews are returned to their Land by Cyrus.
While the destruction of Israel and earlier Neo - Assyrian captivity leads to the Northern Tribes being broken up and settled throughout the Empire, the destruction of Judah by the Neo-Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar II aka נְבוּכַדְנֶאצַּר and נְבוּכַדְרֶאצַּר (Nəḇuḵaḏreṣṣar) has the waves of captives from 597 BC , 587 BC and kept together and resettled together in other parts of the Empire, thus maintaining their identity. While the Egyptian Exile and Exodus are the foundation myths of the Jewish People, it was because of this Neo-Babylonian Exile that if became that foundation myth, as it's relevance to a Captive People should be obvious.
Defeating the Neo Assyrian Empire (@911 - 608 BCE), Nebuchadnezzar II's Neo-Babylonian Chaldean Empire united the Medes (modern Kurds), Persians (Iranians) Scythians and Cimmerians (see Robert E. Howard's Conan tales). The peace and prosperity allows him to build the Hanging Gardens, the Ishtar Gate, and he attempts to integrate the Intelligentsia of all the Societies he captured into small communities in the Capitol City. The Jewish Babylonian community became well established, and eventually a well respected religious court with it's own version of interpretation of the Torah, the Babylonian Talmud* (see Michael Rodkinson's translations in particular) (see http://bav.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/vat-ebr-108 for a quick peek at an original manuscript, note hoe font size is used for emphasis);
The Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to Cyrus the Great, king of Persia (Iran), (@539 BCE). Sometimes referred to as the Achaemenid empire, it had a great effect for a Kingdom which did not survive very long. Cyrus releases the captives in Babylon and instructed them to return home, rebuild their Temples, and govern themselves, so long as they pay taxes. He also issues a set of Laws, called the Cyrus Cylinder, which included the rights of captive foreigners as well as Persians.
The religions of Babylon evolved over time as political and tribal influences changed. But In The Beginning, before any other of the Sources of all Bibles, is the Hero's tale of Gilgamesh and the Creation stories of The "Enuma Elish" AKA Enûma Eliš. Copies have been found as far as the Levant (Judea) and Turkey, both were widespread in the Ancient world, and served as the basis for one of the Creation Stories in Genesis and one of the Noah takes (the Bible contains two each of these), though the ark is round or a coracle. It relates to Inanna and is thus the basis for the Oroboros Isis Gnosis Coven myth. As the "root" of human cultural mythology, it is a great source for modern ritualists, see the Enuma Elish ritual from 2010, if interested.
Sir Austen Henry Layard, Dr. Thomas Inman, Alexander Hislop and James Forlong were early British explorers to the area and describe 1st hand some of their discoveries among the ruins and how they considered these religious tenets as foundational to Christianity in Protestant England.
But all things must end, and the Babylonian Achaemenid Persian Empire fell to Alexander the Great and on his death in 323 BCE that part of his empire was seized by his General Seleucus of the Seleucid Empire, which also struggled to rule Persia, the Levant (Judea, etc), Northern India, Afghanistan (ha!) and even Egypt at times. Their control was hardest to maintain among the mounted Steppes warriors, and pushed by the Han Chinese attacks on the Steppes, the Parthians aka The Parthian Kingdom migrated towards Persia and confrontation. By this time, Babylon had adopted Greek / Macedonian battle tactics, and lost the skills of guerrilla mounted archers who, being nomads, simply avoided confronting the army and had no Capitol to conquer. This further distracted the Persians from their conquered possessions, and the the Maccabean Revolt starts in Judea to begin another short period of Jewish self-rule, but not nearly as successful as King Solomon's Golden Reign. By 224 CE Rome had worn the Parthians down and with the help of the native Persians, pushed the barbarian Steppes warriors back into the grasslands.
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Resources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_the_Great; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Israel_%28Samaria%29#Destruction_of_the_kingdom; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylon; Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations lectures by Kenneth W. Harl; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilgamesh; Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World by Glenn S. Holland Ph.D; Between the Rivers: The History of Ancient Mesopotamia by Alexis Q. Castor Ph.D; http://books.google.com/books?id=CEgPAQAAIAAJ&pg=RA1-PA213#v=onepage&q&f=false; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/En%C3%BBma_Eli%C5%A1http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis_creation_narrative; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Mesopotamia ; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-21747567; http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2013/10/30/us/politics/ap-us-rel-iraqi-jewish-archive.html?hp ; contrast Jeremiah in Egypt with Ezekiel in Babylon, 1st goes to Egypt, 2nd into exile in Babylon, where he sees God gets Wheels in his Chariot vision; http://news.yahoo.com/british-museum-prototype-noah-39-ark-round-175721612.html;_ylt=A0SO80prGOVSuxkAoqpXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTB0NzhqaHJmBHNlYwNzYwRjb2xvA2dxMQR2dGlkA1NNRTMyMV8x ; "The Ark Before Noah," by Irving Finkel ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seleucid_Empire ; http://classicalcoins.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-sasanian-persian-kingdom.html ; The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes lecture series by Professor Kenneth W. Harl, 2014; http://www.newsweek.com/what-did-ancient-mesopotamian-hits-sound-something-291543; http://www.stefconner.com/the-lyre-ensemble/ ; http://www.newsweek.com/what-did-ancient-mesopotamian-hits-sound-something-291543 ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvmpG2Nie0s;