The king was saying: “Is this not Babylon the Great that I myself have built for the royal house by my own strength and might and for the glory of my majesty?” — Daniel 4:30
Before there was Rothschild, there was Murasu.
About 600 years before the birth of Christ, a royal family from Judea received a one-way ticket to Babylon from King Nebuchadnezzar. That king was so generous with his hospitality that this same invitation was extended to hundreds of other related noble families in Jerusalem. This event came to be known in the history books as the second of four waves of the deportation of Jews to Babylon in the 7th century B.C.E. What follows below is a fictional tale that is constructed from the research in the book ENTREPRENEURS AND EMPIRE – The Murasu Archive, the Murasu Firm, and Persian Rule in Babylonia, by Matthew W. Stolper, a professor of Oriental Studies [his bio is here ] and whose book as PDF is available [ here ], along with information from this YouTube lecture video [ here ].
We who live in the 21st century A.D. have been favored with a view of daily life of this one particular family due to this family’s own obsessive bookkeeping skills. Massive piles of their ledger records were discovered by archaeologists about a hundred years ago near the ancient city of Nippur in what today is called Iraq, just south of ancient Babylon. This family of refugees rose to such power as bankers and financiers that they succeeded in facilitating the placement of emperors on thrones in ancient Persia — a mere first step on a 2,000 year long path of global political puppeteering. It is said that if you really want to know somebody, look through their trash and their checkbook. The Murasu Family has graced us with a view of both. A picture of their world is still being revealed piece by piece by researchers today.
Our story begins on an August summer evening in the year 415 B.C.E. in Babylonia:
The mist above the canal was already beginning to obscure the view of Inanna in her temple from our vantage point on the rooftop. Cool summer breezes were always the welcome nighttime accompaniment to the rhythmic croaking of the toads. Grandfather Herschel puffed thoughtfully on his lit pipe as I sat expectantly on the ornate ivory divan.
I remembered how giddy grandfather had been when he found this ivory chaise lounge, a wonderfully ornate and decorative piece of furniture, offered for sale in the second-hand caravans at Babylon. The dealer knew the piece had arrived from some household in Syria, but only grandfather spotted the embedded carvings that linked it to old King Ahab’s palace in Damascus. Or so grandfather claimed. Ahab and his palace are long gone now, so there’s nobody alive from his family to dispute him. Someday I will resell the ivory piece for a handsome profit based on grandfather’s claim. Who’s to know if it’s true or not? And, anyway, if you repeat a lie often and long enough, the client will believe it.
“Asher, my son, you sit on the doorstep of great opportunity.” Grandfather Herschel somewhat furtively declared as if the whirring gnats would spirit away the confidence of our plans. “I still remember the sight of the back-end of Uncle Jeconiah’s gold-threaded litter on the day we left Jerusalem. Our own litter was three back behind his, but the sun glinted off the fabric of his royal carriage, so you could see it easily all the way down the line. I was only 11 and just a short-sighted nip of a boy when they brought us here to Nippur.”
“That was a long journey. During that ride, I remember being ridiculously concerned with whether or not there would be palm trees to climb at our new home!” he chuckled. The palm fronds that hung over the patio bowed and swayed just then as if fondly recalling the same memory. “Thankfully, your great-great-grandfather Mendel used his time on that trek to make plans. In the very hour when we arrived at the refugee hatru, he wasted no time contacting the agents with whom he had already corresponded many months before Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers invaded Jerusalem. That is key, Asher: advance planning. Always stay one step ahead of the competition. Don’t live in the “now,” but rather keep thinking ahead. The person who plans the future is the one who is best positioned to make it happen.” I made a mental note.
Just then, the tinkle of silver bells along cousin Charlotte’s ankle bracelet signaled the appearance of a tray of dates, figs, nuts and cheese along with a most welcome amphora of Shirazi sweet wine. This was a vintage that grandfather had been saving, procured from one of the mostly highly regarded wine merchants in all of Persia. The fact that grandfather was authorizing the serving of this libation tonight confirmed my suspicion for his summons of me. And he was serving this from one of his treasured Greek ceramic vessels, no less. The ceramic was exquisitely decorated with the tale of Demeter and Persephone. I smiled wryly at the universal harvest-cycle that is depicted in the paint. How ironic that here we sat, in the sight of both a Greek goddess on the amphora and in sight of her Babylonian counterpart just across the canal from our patio. Perhaps grandfather wanted to guarantee that he had the approval for his plans from all goddesses concerned. Charlotte withdrew back down the stairs to the interior of the house, silver bells a-tinkle.
Harvest goddess Demeter. “NAMA 16346 Cornucopia” by Orestes Painter – Marsyas (2007). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NAMA_16346_Cornucopia.JPG#/media/File:NAMA_16346_Cornucopia.JPG”
“Silver coinage,” grandfather declared, “is the next big thing.” I wrinkled my forehead in some puzzlement. I knew that grandfather and his network of confederates from Nippur to Lydia had been working for two years at forging a more uniform system of monetary exchange for use in the expanding empire. But I still did not understand the difference between paying for an item by handing over a silver “coin” as opposed to doing what we had been doing for millenia: having our wives slip off a silver bracelet from their wrist and placing it in the merchant’s scales.
Grandfather must have detected my confusion. “You’re wondering how can anybody regard this as innovation?” he quizzed, setting down his pipe in favor of his silver sipping cup.
“Yes, partly, Grandfather. That is, I can see the convenience of the new system. You speed up the transaction for both the merchant and the customer. But other than that … well, I admit that I fail to see the earth-changing nature of this new system.”
Grandfather leaned in, close to my ear, still not trusting those whirring gnats in the air. “The difference,” he revealed, “is that the coins carry the guarantee of both the King and the Temple, but a silver bracelet is just a silver bracelet.” He leaned back in his over-sized recliner and savored a long draft of the wine.
He elaborated, “The coins will be manufactured under strict controls and oversight. They will be uniform in design and weight. They will be stamped on one side with the approval of the King and stamped on the other side with the approval of the Temple. The uniformity of design will inspire acceptance. But the approval of the Temple … well, THAT will inspire unquestioning faith and confidence in the power behind coin.”
“Don’t you see, Asher?” he continued. “A person can hold and feel a silver bracelet. You know exactly what it is and what you can buy with it. But if you melt down that silver and stamp the face of a god on it, you make it Divine. Then, you can create anything with it. Go anywhere with it. Take it further in society than anybody has ever yet imagined. The minted coin then becomes a god. In a very literal sense, the Sky is the limit!”
Herschel puffed deeply on his pipe to let that utterance sink into my brain. I was beginning to understand, but not quite yet. Perhaps I needed a concrete example. Clearly I needed more tutoring in this “math magic” that apparently came easily to grandfather’s mind.
Again Herschel picked up on my mental vacancy. “Asher, when your forefather Mendel came to Nippur, he used Babylon’s age-old credit system to the advantage of the family. As foreigners, we, of course, could not own royal estate ourselves. But we could lease property from our Babylonian captors. Mendel knew far in advance that Nebuchadnezzar would come to Jerusalem and deport your ancestors to Babylon. It was inevitable.”
Grandfather recounted the family history. “Mendel was a practical man. ‘If you’re going to bring thousands of refugees into Babylonia to use as workers, then obviously somebody has to grow food for all of them,’ he would say. Mendel established a business relationship with the agents of the Temple of Inanna and other nearby landowners of Nippur. He arranged to lease their farmland and then turned around and sub-let the tracts to people of our nation, to work the land as farmers.”
(Murasu Archive found at site marked WA. Chebar Canal runs thru the middle. Temple of Inanna across from Murasu site. Map image by Zunkir in Wikimedia Commons)
“But grandfather, ” I objected. “We collected rents from our own brothers? Weren’t we profiting from their servitude? And what about the Shemitah? We never instructed the farmers to let the land go fallow nor did we ever give the tenants their seventh-year free pass on the lease. Isn’t that why Yahweh kicked us out of Jerusalem? Because of failure to uphold our covenant?”
“Pshaw!” Herschel angrily retorted. “What would you have us do? Just let everybody starve?” Then he softened, remembering that my own life experience was far removed from those events nearly 200 years ago.
“My son, your great-great-grandfather helped effect a smooth transition for our brothers as they settled in their new environment. Yes, we collected a percentage of the harvest as payments on the sub-leases. And then we arranged to sell those crops in exchange for silver pieces at the regional markets, markets which we also helped to organize. These endeavors cost time and effort. Doesn’t the Law of Moses allow for fair payment of a day’s work? We took our cut of the silver for services rendered. And might I remind you, that the gradual acquisition of those silver pieces has lead us to where we are today, with enough bullion to seed the minted-coin endeavor.”
The full moon was high now and the patio was bathed in silvery light. The solitude of this late summer night was only illusory. In the date orchards and vineyards along the Chebar Canal, the pickers would be rising in just a few more hours to begin the first harvest. The season looks to be good. The farmers will be able to pay their lease fees by the time of the Tishri new moon. And we will be able to make the King happy by collecting the tax revenue for the palace. Minus our usual ten per cent cut, of course.
Grandfather clanked down his silver wine cup. I reached for the amphora to offer him another serving, but he waved me off.
“You need to sleep well this evening. Tomorrow we will ferry across the Chebar and I will take you on a tour of our treasury at Inanna’s temple. Once you observe the process of how a piece of shiny silver gets converted into the mandate of a god, then the “scales” will fall from your eyes!” He laughed and winked at his own joke.
I took my leave and made my way back to my own apartment. As I climbed into bed I could see the moonlight dancing on the Chebar waters now from my upper floor window. The sparkles complemented the golden glow that was blazing just across the river at the Temple of Inanna. I prayed I would not fail grandfather’s trust in me, especially since I still did not quite understand how this new scheme takes the place of a god.
This blog is a continuation of the series “Water Into Wine.” Stay tuned for the next serial to see how the probity of the Temple breathed god-like life into gold and silver 500 years before the birth of Christ. For deeper insights into the origination of state-coined money at Lydia and the history of alliance between Temples and Bankers, see these two books:
1. Babylon’s Banksters by Joseph P. Farrell
2. The Babylonian Woe [PDF only] by David Astle.