Just How Big Was Nineveh?
|The Largest Unknown City in the World|
“So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now, Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey.” – Jonah 3:3,4
A day’s journey in ancient times was approximately 20 miles, therefore, Nineveh would have been 60 miles, or so, in diameter. It would have occupied 2,826 square miles (4,548 square kilometres). That’s one big city!
Let’s make a few comparisons. New York City occupies only 304 square miles (489 square kilometres). In that area, approximately 8.3 million people are housed. This gives a population density of 27,300 people per square mile (16,973 per square kilometre). By contrast, I live in London, UK, another large city of 7,556,900 (population count in July 2009), which occupies approximately 659 square miles (1,060 square kilometres), with a density of 11,467 per square mile (7,129 square kilometres).
Most ancient cities were fairly dense, due to the logistical difficulties in feeding, watering and cleaning up after large numbers of people before the age of mass transportation systems, not to mention the cost of building the city walls. For example, ancient Pompeii had a population of 20,000, inside walls with a circumference of 2 miles (3.21 kilometres), for a density of 62,500 persons per square mile. If Nineveh had an average density of 50,000 people per square mile, it must have had a population of 141,300,000.
Since New York is considered to be a “great city” by most standards, Nineveh must have been stupendous, colossal, etc. It was 9 times larger than New York in land area, and 19 times larger in population.
But wait, the bible gives us the population of Nineveh:
“And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” – Jonah 4:11
One hundred and twenty thousand persons, spread over 2,826 square miles (4,548 square kilometres) is only 42 persons per square mile – that’s 15 acres per person, or 60 acres for a family of four. That’s not a city, surely?
Realistically, we could expect Nineveh to have a walled circumference of approximately seven miles (11.2 kilometres), assuming that the population figures are accurate. Interestingly, archaeologists have found walls that likely were Nineveh, and they were about seven miles (11.2 kilometres) around.
Nineveh was not a three day journey in breadth, unless Jonah was a really slow walker. So slow, in fact, that he could have gotten a job working at King Solomon’s temple!