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Tower of Babel

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Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel 1563

The Tower of Babel (Hebrew: מגדל בבל, Migdāl Bāḇẹl; Arabic: برج بابل, Burj Babil) was a monumental building whose construction by the Babylonians and subsequent events are described in the Biblical book of Genesis. It was built by Nimrod (Noah's great-grandson) shortly after the global flood, and resulted in bringing God's judgment once again on mankind. As a result of this action, God "confused" their "language". It is an important event in Biblical anthropology in explaining why there are multiple distinct languages and races today.

The approximate date of its building built: Tammuz 1762 AM is given by James Ussher, who in The Annals of the World cites Manetho's Book of Sothis, as translated by Georgius Syncellus, as stating that the Babel incident took place five years following the birth year of Peleg [1] when Noah was 706 years old, Shem was 204 years old, Arpachshad was 104 years old, Salah was 69 years old and Eber was 39 years old. Based on Biblical chronology it would appear sometime after 2269 B.C.E. and before 2020 B.C.E. the death of the patriarch Noah.

Biblical narrative

According to Genesis 11 , all humans spoke the same language immediately following the global flood. Those who migrated to the east and settled in the land of Shinar decided to build a city and a great tower out of baked bricks to make a name for themselves. Because there is no archaeological evidence of buildings from antediluvian civilizations, the Tower of Babel was the first major monument ever built of which any evidence might remain. The biblical history of the Babel community shows that they used fire-baked bricks rather than sun-baked bricks. This is significant because this allows increased strength and the possibility of a tremendous structure. It is these fine details of the biblical text that show historical narrative as the structure of these passages. It is also important to note that the community of Babel was also building a city in the periphery of the Tower.

God intentionally scattered mankind to retard their technological advancement by confusing their speech. The origin of the various root languages is presumably linked to this event. God apparently created several unique languages to scatter humans throughout the world. Current estimates place the number of distinct language families at 94.[2] This action separated humans into several groups allowing physical differences to develop.[3] All human ancestry traces back to Noah and his family only 4500 years ago, and then even further back to Adam and Eve. We are all close relatives, and the differences that distinguish the human races should be considered superficial at best.

"Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth." The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth." - Genesis 11:1-9

Extra-Biblical evidence

Main Article: Language

The Ancient Mesopotamian literature of Sumeria contains elements of the events that transpired at Babel, in a legendary account known as The Epic of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta. A speech made by Enmerker makes clear reference to a time when all men spoke one language until the king of Sumerian gods confused the language of men. [4]

Max F. Muller, in Science of Language, observed categorically that all the ancient languages are indeed compatible with one common origin.[5] Earlier, Sir William Jones, writing in 1786, observed:

The Sanskrit language, whatever may be its antiquity, is of wonderful structure; more perfect than Greek, more copious than Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either; yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, than could have been produced by accident; so strong that no philologer could examine all three without believing them to have sprung from some common source which no longer exists.[6]

Sanskrit was the classical language of India and today is considered the primary bridge between Hebrew and other Semitic languages, and the Greek and Latin of Western civilization. Jones further included the Gothic, Celtic language and Persian language (Farsi) in what is now known as the Indo-European family of languages.[7]

But the similarities are not confined to this family. G. Ch. Aalders stated that the ancient languages of Assyria and Egypt had much in common with those of the Maya and Inca peoples of the Americas. Harold Stigers observed in 1976 that language scholars were rapidly concluding that all languages had a common root. Even secular scholars must now admit as much, whether they accept the story of the Tower of Babel or not.[7]

Engraving The Confusion of Tongues by Gustave Doré (1865).

The Sumerian Epic of Enmerkar does not stand alone as the only extra-Biblical euhemerism alluding to the events at Babel. First Century Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus mentions it in Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, chapter 4:

The Sibyl also makes mention of this tower, and of the confusion of the language, when she says thus: "When all men were of one language, some of them built a high tower, as if they would thereby ascend up to heaven, but the gods sent storms of wind and overthrew the tower, and gave every one his peculiar language, and for this reason it was that the city was called Babylon." But as to the plan of Shinar, in the country of Babylonia, Hestiaeus mentions it, when he says thus: "Such of the priests as were saved, took the sacred vessels of Jupiter Enyalius, and came to Shinar of Babylonia."[8]

Additionally, Greek philosopher Plato and the Greek historian Abydenus both mention an incident involving a confusion of languages. Abydenus also states that this incident was connected with a tower in Babylonia that was destroyed.[7]

The Genesis account contains a level of detail, including clear references to kiln-fired bricks and the use of bitumen for mortar, that one would expect from a historical account.[7] Those details are also entirely consistent with the setting of the story in ancient Babylonia and not in those parts of Mesopotamia where such materials would be unknown or prohibitively expensive.[9]


The precise location of the Tower of Babel remains unknown. However, the translator of the Epic of Gilgamesh reported in 1880 a fragmentary inscription that tells of an incident that might be the Babel Incident:

The building of this temple offended the gods. In a night they threw down what had been built. They scattered them abroad, and made strange their speech. The progress they impeded.[10]

Almost thirty ziggurats have been identified in Mesopotamia. Nearly all served a religious function. The Tower of Babel is almost certainly one such structure—and an important one, given the expense of the building materials used.[9]


James Ussher's date places the Babel story 106 years after the Flood of Noah.[1] In that time, even acknowledging that Noah's children began having children of their own very soon after they disembarked, the total world population cannot have grown very large. Yet the Babel account clearly says that men started to build a city. Yet the word "city" as used in this story means:

a city (a place guarded by waking or a watch) in the widest sense (even of a mere encampment or post).[11]

In this context, a city need be no larger than a small town of today.

Furthermore, the sons of Noah each had a large number of sons: four, five, and seven, for a total of sixteen families in a generation that began directly after the Flood. One hundred six years allows time for five generations, and if each family produced eight more families, the population could reach at least 65,000 in a hundred years, more than enough to attempt to build a single city and even a ziggurat. This would be consistent with the fact that no enormous tower has yet been found by archaeologists.

However, whereas there is little support for gaps in the genealogies in most places, the two locations which seem to have the most support for such a notion is the time before Terah was born,[12] and the time before Peleg was born.[13] The reader is encouraged to keep an open mind regarding the possibility of an unknown length of undocumented time in either of these two areas, but to not get carried away with inserting centuries and millennia in order to expand the chronology to appease uniformitarian archaeologists. There is an upper limit to how much extra time may be crammed into the account.


Great Ziggurat at UR

Archaeologists suggest that the legend of the Tower of Babel was invented at a later date to account for the remains of ziggurats built by earlier generations in cities such as Ur and Babylon. They consider that these large stepped structures were temples. Mainstream anthropologists agree that many modern language families developed from one original common source language. For example, the widely spoken family of Indo-European languages is believed to have evolved from one single ancestral language from the area around the Black Sea.

Skeptics have criticized this story, primarily because they doubt that humanity has ever spoken only one language any time in its history. Furthermore, modern religious thinkers often suggest that the Babel story was a symbolic fiction—in short, a myth—intended to explain why different peoples of the world speak different languages.[7] This criticism fails to account for recent evidence, from philology, history, and archaeology, that not only could the Tower have been built as described, but also that humanity did once speak a common language from which all other languages spoken today derive.[Reference needed]

See Also

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  1. 1.0 1.1 Ussher, James. The Annals of the World, Larry Pierce, ed. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pg. 48-49
  2. Oller, John W. Jr. More Than PIE: Babel Explains Distinct Language Families. Answers, vol 3 no. 2 (13 January 2008). Retrieved Aug 30, 2010.
  3. The physical differences would develop as a result of already-existing genetic variation, which would've been sorted by family, resulting in distinct genetic gradients between people groups.
  4. "Is there any reference to the confusion of languages at Babel in early Mesopotamian literature?" <>, n.d. Accessed October 30, 2008.
  5. Muller, Max F. Science of Language. Quoted in Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History (Wheaton, IL: Van Kampen Press, 1950), pp. 46-47. Quoted in Jackson, op. cit.
  6. Jones, William. Quoted in A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (London, England: Hodder & Stoughton, 1919). Quoted again by Jackson, op. cit.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Jackson, Wayne. "The Tower of Babel: Legend or History?" The Christian Courier, December 17, 1999. Accessed October 30, 2008.
  8. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.4.3. Cited by Jackson, op. cit.
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Is there archaeological evidence of the Tower of Babel?" <>, n.d. Accessed October 30, 2008.
  10. Smith, George. 1880. Chaldean Account of Genesis. Quoted in Stephen L. Caiger, Bible and Spade—An Introduction to Biblical Archaeology (London, England: Oxford University, 1946), p. 29. Quoted again in Jackson, op. cit.
  11. Strong, J. Complete Dictionary of Bible Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996 (ISBN 0785211470), entry 5892 (Hebrew).
  12. Terah is clearly the direct father of Abram, and it is intriguing to note that the ancient world seems to be already well settled, with many cities over large areas, by the time Abram begins his journey. There is a possibility that there were a few hundred years, or thousands, more between Babel and Abram than the narrative mentions, but caution: time should not be added unless there is ample warrant for doing so.
  13. In The Genesis Flood, Morris and Whitcomb express concern over juxtaposing the patriarchs with the judgment at Babel, feeling that these were righteous men and could not be accused of backsliding. The reader is encouraged to decide for themselves--this is not an important doctrinal topic, but determining whether Babel occurred in strict chronology or several hundred years after the last of the Patriarchs had died will be an important task for archaeologists seeking to create a correct timeline of history.

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