The Tower of Babel

During the days of Noah and his sons Shem, Japheth, and Ham, the world spoke one language.  God had commanded Noah and his sons to fill the whole earth with people but instead, they began to settle in Babylonia rather than scatter about the Earth as God had commanded.

The men of Babylonia said, “let’s take bricks and build ourselves a huge city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may be important, make a name for ourselves, and not be scattered around the planet.”

God heard this and came down from heaven to take a look at the city and the tower that the men were building.  God recognized the arrogance in the men, that they should attempt to build a tower that reached all the way to the heavens, and that the men were not doing as God had instructed them.

God thought, “If speaking one language causes them the gather in one place like this, then I’ll split them into different groups and give each group a different language.”

So God scattered the men all over the earth so that they were forced to stop building the city and the tower.  The people wanted to “make a name for themselves” and God gave them one – Babel.  God called the city “Babel”, which means “confused”.

To this day, when someone says something that we cannot understand or does not make sense we call it “babbling”.

What the story means to us today

Human cooperation

Human cooperation is good but if it is directed towards selfish, self-interest, it is not pleasing to God.  What the people saw as their greatest strength, their unity, God swiftly destroyed by confusing their language.  In the Tower of Babel story, God saw the arrogance in man and knew that it was best that they be scattered in order to populate the earth.  Note that God was not angry but rather, took a somewhat humorous view of the situation.

God’s plan cannot be stopped

God’s plan will be accomplished either with man’s help or without it.    God’s intent was for man to populate the earth and when man became determined to congregate in one place (and reach the heights of God) he quickly put a stop to it.  A diverse humanity is for the better.

Out of these scattered nations, God chose one, Israel, to become the channel of his blessings.  As our stories continue, you will see that the Bible will continues discussing these blessings on Israel and God’s plan for Israel and the human race.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Sarcasm and wit

There is much irony and sarcasm in the story of the Tower of Babel.

The people’s unity allowed them to build the tower but it was this partnership that brought about their dispersement.

They sought to make a name for themselves and indeed they received a name  – “babble”.

The people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city” while God counters with “Come, let us go down and confuse their language.”

Punishment or in the best interest of man

The people wanted to build a tower that reached the heavens.  This does not mean that they wanted to take on God or dispose of him.  It means that they wanted to build a really tall tower that would prove their expertise and worth. They wanted to empower themselves.  In all likelihood, the dispersement of the human race was not a punishment but rather a means to ensure man populated the entire earth and prospered.  That they made the tower of brick, a man-made stone, rather than natural stone may be telling of their desire to be more independent from God.

Misc facts

The date of the event is hart to peg.  Some place it around 2062-2046 BC.

The Hebrew word translated “babel” is translated “Babylon” throughout the remainder of the Old Testament , a total of 286 more times.

The Tower of Babel story paves the way for the introduction of Abraham by means of Shem’s genealogy.

The science behind the story

Where is the tower of Babel?

Babylon is located in modern day Iraq, about 55 miles southwest of Baghdad.  It has been ransacked for thousands of years.  Nothing much remains of Babylon but a few bricks and dust.

Were there more towers?

The Mesopotamians built large pyramid like structures around 3000 BC called ziggurats (ZIH-guh-rats).  The first one was believed to have been built in Babylon (in Iraq).  It had many steps leading to the top and was made of mud bricks.  The bottom was rectangular with a temple located at the foot of the structure.  It is believed that the stairways of the ziggurats represented a path from earth to the gods.

Two structures stand out as candidates of being the ancient tower of Babel.  Birs Nimrud (BEERS NIM-rood), a 20-story structure located 15 miles southwest of Babylon on the west bank of the Euphrates River.  The second is Marduk (MAHR-dyook), located in Babylon.

Corroborating stories from other cultures

The Babylon story, Enuma Elish, has a tale that is strikingly similar to the account of the tower of Babel.  In the story of Enuma Elish, bricks were used with each brick inscribed with the name of the Babylonian god marduk.  The top of the ziggurat was said to have reached the heavens.  The Marduk tower may well be the tower of Babel mentioned in the bible.

Nimrod’s role in Babylon

Nimrod was the grandson of Ham (Noah’s son) and son of Cush.  His name means “rebel” or “let us revolt”.  Nimrod was the founder of the Babylonian empire and organizer of the enterprise that led to the construction of the tower of Babel.

Proof of migration of people to America

In 2014, scientists discovered America’s Native Americans, thought to originate from East Asia via a land bridge crossing the Bering Sea, possessed DNA profiles indicating that one-third of their genes came from west Eurasians – people linked to the Middle East and Europe. The results were obtained from the arm bone of a 24,000 year-old (i.e. 22,000 BC) Siberian youth.  The arm bone found near the shores of Lake Baikal (bahy-KAHL), yielded what may be the oldest genome of modern humans found to date.  DNA from the remains revealed genes found today in western Eurasians in the Middle East and Europe, as well as other aspects unique to Native Americans, but no evidence of any relation to modern East Asians. A second individual genome sequenced from material found at the site and dated to 17,000 years ago revealed a similar genetic structure (it also provided evidence that humans occupied this region of Siberia throughout the entire brutally cold period of the Last Glacial Maximum, which ended about 13,000 years ago.)

Bible Text

NIV Version

Genesis Chapter 11

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.  2 As men moved eastward,a they found a plain in Shinarb 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 tar 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 Babelc—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

 The Message

1–2 11 At one time, the whole Earth spoke the same language. It so happened that as they moved out of the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled down.
3 They said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and fire them well.” They used brick for stone and tar for mortar.
4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower that reaches Heaven. Let’s make ourselves famous so we won’t be scattered here and there across the Earth.”
5 GOD came down to look over the city and the tower those people had built.
6–9 GOD took one look and said, “One people, one language; why, this is only a first step. No telling what they’ll come up with next—they’ll stop at nothing! Come, we’ll go down and garble their speech so they won’t understand each other.” Then GOD scattered them from there all over the world. And they had to quit building the city. That’s how it came to be called Babel, because there GOD turned their language into “babble.” From there GOD scattered them all over the world.

The Net Bible

11:1 The whole earth had a common language and a common vocabulary. 11:2 When the people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 11:3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” (They had brick instead of stone and tar instead of mortar.) 11:4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth.”
11:5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the people had started building. 11:6 And the LORD said, “If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. 11:7 Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.”
11:8 So the LORD scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth, and they stopped building the city. 11:9 That is why its name was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the entire world, and from there the LORD scattered them across the face of the entire earth.

King James Version

11 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.