Hyperlinks aren’t really anything new under the sun. A book as ancient as the Bible has its own kind of hyperlink – though, unfortunately, they aren’t underlined in blue. You just have to pay close attention to notice them. There’s one in Daniel 1:2.
“And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god.” (Dan 1:2, ESV)
Do you see it? “Shinar.” Your Bible translators may have replaced this word with “Babylonia/Babylon,” because they’re pretty much the same place and who’s really heard of Shinar anyway? But I happen to think that eliminating “Shinar” from the story is like deleting a hyperlink.
Shinar is only mentioned a handful of times in the Bible, mostly in Genesis. It first appears in Genesis 10:10, where we learn that Nimrod’s kingdom got its start in the region of Shinar. Then in the very next chapter, it’s on the plain of Shinar that the city of Babylon is born. You probably know the story – a group of people decide to build a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so they could make a name for themselves and live together forever in their city (Gen 11:4).
There’s been a fair amount of debate about the offense of the tower builders. Without launching into the whole discussion, I can tell you that the tower was a ziggurat, part of a temple complex. Every Mesopotamian city had one. Such a tower functioned as a staircase for the god(s) to make their way down to earth, where they could hang out in their temples and accept gifts from worshipers. Worshipers built ziggurats for the ease and convenience of their gods. But did you catch why the settlers at Shinar built their tower? To make a name for themselves. Huh? They are a little confused about their place in the hierarchy of beings – the tower should have been all about their gods, not them. The builders at Shinar blurred the lines between the divine and the human. (It’s worth noting that immediately after this account of people “making a name for themselves,” Genesis records the story of Abraham, for whom God promised to make a name. Making names for people is God’s job, always.)
Ironically, the God Yahweh does come down to Shinar (perhaps he even used their little staircase), and, after assessing the situation, put an end to their city-building by confusing their language – and so the name “Babel,” meaning “to confuse.” The people confused about their role as humans have their language confused and they scatter.
But the city does get finished by someone. We know so because in Genesis 14 we meet a king of Babylon in a coalition of Mesopotamian kings, and, of course, Babylon persists in the biblical story as the epicenter of all things anti-God. Shinar, however, essentially disappears.
So why does Daniel use the obscure name of Shinar? I think it’s a hyperlink. He intends to call to mind the story of Babylon’s beginning because he’s about to tell the story of its end. Babylon, “confusion,” emerged out of the blurring of the lines between deity and humanity, and it will end in the same way. The king who dominates the book of Daniel – Nebuchadnezzar – may worship his god in his Shinar temple, but he is nonetheless a king who will act more like a god himself. And the ultimate end of Babylon will come on a night when a certain King Belshazzar will make even Nebuchadnezzar look almost saintly.
In the first verses of Daniel, we discover that the true God has come to Shinar again – but this time he’s on a covert operation: his temple vessels are tucked away in the treasury of the god there and some of his choicest human vessels are on their way to the palace of the king there. God will once again confront confused humans in Shinar, and before the city of Babylon falls, everyone will know who’s God and who’s not.