(nihp puhr') City located in Mesopotamia, approximately fifty miles southeast of the ancient city of Babylon and approximately one hundred miles south of modern Baghdad, Iraq. Although it is never mentioned in the Bible, its history is important in the larger context of the biblical world. It is believed to have been the center of one of the first true civilizations, that of Sumer.
The city was founded approximately 4000 B.C. by a primitive group called the “Ubaidians.” Nippur was for more than two thousand years the undisputed cultural and religious center, although it never was used as the capital city for any kingdom.
Nippur was a flourishing center of industry and scribal education. Documents discovered in the area describe a variety of commercial enterprises. Some of the tablets, dating back to 2500 B.C. and earlier, were found, as were records of a much later time. One of the most important later discoveries appeared in the ruins of a business house. The records, known as the Murashu documents after the banking family responsible for them, give some indication of the extent of Jewish involvement in the business world after the time of the Babylonian Exile. Scribal education concerned the use of one of the earliest forms of writing called cuneiform. See Cuneiform . Also part of education was an emphasis on mathematics.
Nippur was most important, however, for its religion. Various gods controlled every aspect of life. The chief deity was En-lil, also occasionally called Bel (“the lord”). He was thought of as god of the terrestrial world and the father of other gods. His significance made his home, Nippur, the place where people from peasants to kings came to offer gifts.
According to tradition, kingly authority descended from heaven after the flood. The several cities in the area, except for Nippur, took turns as the seat of government and often waged war against each other for political supremacy. The undisputed source of this supremacy, however, was En-lil, the principal deity. His authority was transmitted to the human kings through the priesthood of his temple, the Ekur (“mountain house”), the leading shrine in the area.
Nippur's influence and prominence began to wane with the rise of Babylonian power. By the time of Hammurabi, 1792-1750 B.C., Nippur had been replaced by Babylon as the religious and cultural center. It did, however, continue to be an influential city down about 250 B.C. See Babylon ; Cuneiform ; Hammurabi ; Mesopotamia ; Sumer .