Babylonian or Chaldean?

By Mark Morgan | Jeremiah

Oct 16

Babylonian or Chaldean – what is the difference?

While reading some parts of the Bible I have always wondered about the names “Chaldea” and “Babylon”.  In the past I have always let my uncertainties drift along, while my questions remained unanswered.  Were the two just different names for the same place; did the names change with time?  Why were the differences there?  This time, I decided that I needed to know properly!

Just (or at least mostly) looking in Jeremiah, some fascinating statistics emerge.

In the ESV (and the KJV also), the word “Babylonian” does not occur in Jeremiah, Daniel or Zephaniah, and only 3 times in Ezekiel, all in chapter 23 (verses 15, 17 and 23).

The first and last of these help us to understand the distinction between “Chaldea” and “Babylon”:

wearing belts on their waists, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them having the appearance of officers, a likeness of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea.

Ezekiel 23:15

the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, desirable young men, governors and commanders all of them, officers and men of renown, all of them riding on horses.

Ezekiel 23:23

These verses show us that Babylonians are a subset of Chaldeans.

Babylon occurs 171 times in 150 different verses in Jeremiah.  88 of these (in 84 verses) occur as part of the expression “king of Babylon”.

On a few occasions the words “Babylon” and “Chaldean” are both used together, often in the forms “the king of Babylon” and “the Chaldeans”.

For example:

‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands and with which you are fighting against the king of Babylon and against the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the walls. And I will bring them together into the midst of this city.

Jeremiah 21:4

and give you into the hand of those who seek your life, into the hand of those of whom you are afraid, even into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of the Chaldeans.

Jeremiah 22:25

Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste.

Jeremiah 25:12

Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him face to face and see him eye to eye.

Jeremiah 32:4

Therefore, thus says the LORD: Behold, I am giving this city into the hands of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall capture it.

Jeremiah 32:28

But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.”

Jeremiah 38:18

Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, swore to them and their men, saying, “Do not be afraid to serve the Chaldeans. Dwell in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.

Jeremiah 40:9

From these verses, you could reasonably conclude that Babylon was the city, the centre or capital of the realm.  However, the people in and around Babylon were Chaldeans.

Another couple of passages which confirm this interpretation are:

“Flee from the midst of Babylon, and go out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as male goats before the flock.”

Jeremiah 50:8

And I will spread my net over him [Zedekiah], and he shall be taken in my snare. And I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it, and he shall die there.

Ezekiel 12:13

Jeremiah concludes with three chapters of prophecies (Jeremiah 50-52) against Babylon followed by a quick summary of Babylon’s interactions with Judah.

These three chapters alone use the word “Babylon” 71 times in 63 verses.  There are also some verses that could question this conclusion because they refer to the “land of Babylon”.

“A voice! They flee and escape from the land of Babylon, to declare in Zion the vengeance of the Lord our God, vengeance for his temple.

Jeremiah 50:28

The land trembles and writhes in pain, for the Lord’s purposes against Babylon stand, to make the land of Babylon a desolation, without inhabitant.

Jeremiah 51:29

However, some other verses in the same chapters may help to explain this, by emphasising that while Babylon is a city, it is a city that controls an entire land:

tell the king of Babylon that his city is taken on every side

Jeremiah 51:31

punish the images of Babylon; her whole land shall be put to shame.

Jeremiah 51:47

In summary, Nebuchadnezzar was king of the city of Babylon and he was a Chaldean by nationality.  Chaldea is an area to the south and east of Babylon.  At times, the entire Babylonian empire was called Chaldea.

If I were king, I might express things in the same way by saying that I was king of Melbourne, the city, and that I was an Australian – although my true citizenship is in heaven.

For the series Terror on Every Side! this information made me conclude that I should not speak of people as “Babylonian”, but rather as “Chaldean”.  However, I should also point out that some translations of the Bible (such as the NET and NLT) have replaced “Chaldean” with “Babylonian” in most places, often relegating the name “Chaldean” to a footnote.

Unfortunately, Volume 3 was originally published with “Babylonian” and “Babylonians” occurring about 15 times.  At least I have been able to change all of those uses in Volume 4!