Babel, Tower of

Genesis 11 - Tower of Babel - Scene 01 -Tower
Bible Cartoon: Genesis 11 – Tower of Babel – Scene 01 – Tower

The Bible account of the building of the Tower (Hebrew. migdal) of Babel is found in Genesis chp 11. [A] The tower built by the people living in the east was intended to be magnificent; an indication of their own ability and a common rallying point, so that they would not drift apart (verse 4). The tower was intended to be very tall: a monument to its builders skill.

Towers in other parts of the world were made of stone, but on the stoneless alluvial plain of ancient Mesopotamia, none was readily available, hence the builders decision to ‘ “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and bitumen for mortar.’ (verse 3).

What did the tower look like?
The exact shape and size may not be absolutely known, but some scholars suggest its form would have been like the ziggurat, the stepped tower characteristic of Mesopotamian building, although nothing in the biblical narrative indicates that the so-called Tower of Babel was a temple tower or ziggurat. The Assyro-Babylonian word zigguratu denotes a sacred temple tower and means a “pinnacle” or “mountaintop.” The oldest ziggurat is at ancient Uruk (which the Bible calls Erech (Genesis 10:10)), aged 4,000 years B.C.

The Tower of Babel was the first recorded structure of this sort attempted by man. It is likely that later towers might copy this first one, and as such, since ziggurats were fairly common designs in Mesopotamia, it seems reasonable to assume that the Tower at Babel was the first of this stepped-tower design. Ruins of more than 24 ziggurats may be seen in Mesopotamia.

It is likely that the height of the building equalled its base diameter, making it a rather squat looking building, even though it’s summit would have indeed been hundreds of feet off the ground. You can see from the picture above that my version is tall and thin, quite unlike the real Tower of Babel. My design looks rather more modern skyscraper than ancient ziggurat!

The highest ziggurat was seven stories, although a more common height was three stories. Babylonian towers were always rectangular, built in stages/stories, and provided with an inclined ascent along each side, reaching to the top. There was a chapel on the topmost stage, since religious ceremonies were performed there and sacred objects or images were housed there also.

The idea of the tower’s summit “whose top will reach into heaven” (Genesis 11:4) may simply be a reference to the height of the building, but may also reflect a prideful attitude of the tower’s builders. Both Assyrian and Babylonian kings were recorded as greatly prided themselves upon the height of their temples and boasted of having their tops reaching up to heaven.

Map Middle East Babel
Map of Middle East showing Babel

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Genesis 11:1-9 (ANIV)
1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, [1] they found a plain in Shinar [2] and settled there.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel [3] —because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Or, from the east; Or, in the east.

That is, Babylonia.

That is, Babylon; Babel sounds like the Hebrew for confused.

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Bible Cartoon: Genesis 11 – Tower of Babel – Scene 01 – Tower

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