(See BABEL.) Properly the S. part of Babylonia, chiefly on the right bank of the Euphrates, but used to designate the whole country. Ur or Umqueir, more toward the mouth of the Euphrates, was the original chief city of Chaldaea; here inscriptions of the 22nd century B.C., deciphered lately, prove that the early seat of the Babylonian empire was there rather than higher up the Euphrates. In Isaiah 23:13 the prophet reminds Tyre of the fact so humbling to her pride, that the upstart Chaldees should destroy her: "Behold the land of the Chaldaeans; this people was not, until the Assyrian founded it for them that dwell in the wilderness:" i.e., their latter empire started into importance only after Assyria, in whose armies they had previously been mercenaries. The mountains of Armenia are thought by some to be their original seat (the Carduchian mountains, according to Xenophon, Cyrop. 3:2-3), from whence they proceeded S. in wandering "bands" (Job 1:17) before they became a settled empire, but their Cushite language disproves this.
Rawlinson distinguishes three periods.
1. When their empire was in the S., toward the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates; this is the Chaldaean period (from 2340 to 1500 B.C.) in which (See CHEDORLAOMER of Elam conquered Syria (Genesis 14), as the inscriptions show.
2. From 1500 to 625 B.C., the Assyrian period.
3. From 625 to 538 B.C., the Babylonian period. The Hebrew name is Chasdim, relative to Chesed, Abraham's nephew apparently (Genesis 22:22). But their existence was centuries earlier (Genesis 11:28). Chesed's name implies simply that Abraham's family had a connection with them. The Kurds still in Kurdistan between Nineveh and Media may be akin to the ancient Casdim. But G. Rawlinson considers the Chaldi to he more probably one of the Cushite (Ethiopian) tribes that crossed over the Persian gulf and settled in Babylonia.
Their name ultimately prevailed over that of the other tribes in the country. The remains found of their language correspond to that of the modern Galla of Abyssinia, the ancient language of Ethiopia. Scripture is thus confirmed, that Babel came from Cush and Ham, not from Shem (Genesis 10:6-10). Some interpret Ur = the moon goddess; the Chaldees being moon worshippers or Sabeans, from tsaba' "the heavenly hosts," worshipped Bel, the planet Jupiter, Nebo, Mercury, etc. (Job 31:26-27.) Chaldaea lies between the Tigris and Euphrates, and comprises also an average of 30 miles along the W. of the Euphrates; a vast alluvial plain, running N.E. and S.W. 400 miles, with the Persian gulf on the S., and a line from Hit on the Euphrates to Tekrit on the Tigris forming its N. boundary, Elam, or Susiana, lies on the E. An arid waste, with great mounds of rubbish and brick here and there, all that is left of that "glory of kingdoms," now extends where once, by a perfect network of canals for irrigation, a teeming population was supplied abundantly from the rich soil with grain and wine.
Scripture is to the letter fulfilled: "a drought is upon her waters" (Jeremiah 50:38). It was once said to be the only country where wheat grew wild. Berosus states also that barley, sesame, palms, apples, and many shelled fruit, grew wild. Herodotus (1:193) stated that grain yielded the sower from two to three hundred fold. Strabo says it yielded bread, wine, honey, ropes, and fuel equal to charcoal. Now, while dry in some parts, it is a stagnant marsh in others, owing to neglect of the canals; as Scripture also foretells: "the sea is come up upon Babylon," etc. (Jeremiah 51:42); "she is a possession for the bittern, and pools of water" (Isaiah 14:23). The Chaldaean cities are celebrated in Scripture: "Babel, Erech (now Warka), Accad, Calneh (Niffer)" (Genesis 10:10). Borsippa is Birs-Nimrud now; Sepharvaim or Sippara, Mosaib; Cutha, Ibrahim; Chilmad, Calwadha; Larancha, Senkereh; Is, Hit, where the canal leaving the Euphrates at the point where the alluvial plain begins passed along the whole edge of the plain, and fell into the Persian gulf.
There is one large inland fresh water sea, Nedjef, 40 miles long by 35 wide, surrounded by red sandstone cliffs; about 20 miles from the right bank of the Euphrates. Above and below this sea are the Chaldaean marshes in which Alexander was almost lost. In another sense the "CHALDAEANS" are a priest caste, with a peculiar tongue and learning, skilled in divination. In the ethnic sense we saw it was applied first to a particular Cushite tribe, then to the whole nation from the time of Nabopolassar. The Semitic language prevailed over the Cushite in Assyrian and later Babylonian times, and was used for all civil purposes; but for sacred and mystic lore the Cushite language was retained as a learned language. This is "the learning and the tongue of the Chaldaeans" (Daniel 1:4), in which the four Jewish youths were instructed, and which is quite distinct from the Aramaean, or Chaldee so-called (allied to Hebrew), of those parts of the book of Daniel which are not Hebrew, as not being so connected with the Jews as with the Babylonians.
The Cushite Chaldee had become a dead language to the mass of the people who had become Semitized by the Assyrians. All who studied it were called "Chaldaeans," whatever might be their nation; so Daniel is called "master of the Chaldaeans" (Daniel 5:11). Their seats of learning were Borsippa, Ur, Babylon, and Sepharvaim. The serene sky and clear atmosphere favored their astronomical studies; Cahisthenes sent Aristotle from Babylon their observations for 1903 years. Afterward their name became synonymous with diviners and fortunetellers. They wore a peculiar dress, like that seen on the gods and deified men in Assyrian sculptures. At the time of the Arab invasion the Chaldaeans chiefly still preserved the learning of the East.
We owe to them the preservation of many fragments of Greek learning, as the Greeks had previously owed much of their eastern learning to the Chaldees. The Aramaean and the Hebrew are sister languages. The former is less developed and cultivated than either Hebrew or Arabic. Of its two dialects, Chaldee and Syriac, the former prevailed in the E., the latter in the W. of Aram. To express the article it employs an affix instead of a prefix as the Hebrew The dual number and the purely passive conjugations are wanting. The Chaldee of parts of the Bible (Daniel 2:4-7:28; Ezra 4:8-6:18; Ezra 7:12-26; Jeremiah 10:11) more closely approaches the Hebrew idiom than the Chaldee of the Targum of Onkelos. Some think the seeming Hebraisms in it are remnants of an older form of the language than that found in the targums.
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