Tower of Babel (Manarah Babul)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Tower of Babel (Migdal Bavel) as told in Genesis 11:1–9 is an origin myth meant to explain why the world's peoples speak different languages. If existed, the real tower of Babel must have looked more like this Ziggurt, rather than its conventional depictions in art.


According to the story, a united humanity in the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating eastward, comes to the land of Shinar (שִׁנְעָר). There they agree to build a city and a tower tall enough to reach heaven. God, observing their city and tower, confounds their speech so that they can no longer understand each other, and scatters them around the world. The phrase "Tower of Babel" does not appear in the Bible; it is always "the city and the tower" (אֶת-הָעִיר וְאֶת-הַמִּגְדָּל) or just "the city" (הָעִיר).

Biblical Narrative

circa 1100 BCE

The Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94 CE), recounted history as found in the Hebrew Bible and mentioned the Tower of Babel. He wrote that it was Nimrod who had the tower built and that Nimrod was a tyrant who tried to turn the people away from God. Nimrod, also spelled Nemrod, legendary biblical figure of the book of Genesis. Nimrod is described in Genesis 10:8–12 as “the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord.” There is some consensus among biblical scholars that the mention of Nimrod in Genesis is a reference not to an individual but to an ancient people in Mesopotamia.

Identity Affiliations

circa 1100 BCE

Some modern scholars have associated the Tower of Babel with known structures, notably the Etemenanki, a ziggurat dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Marduk in Babylon. A Sumerian story with some similar elements is told in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta. There is a Sumerian myth similar to that of the Tower of Babel, called Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, where Enmerkar of Uruk is building a massive ziggurat in Eridu and demands a tribute of precious materials from Aratta for its construction, at one point reciting an incantation imploring the god Enki to restore (or in Kramer's translation, to disrupt) the linguistic unity of the inhabited regions.

circa 2100 BCE

Great Ziggurat of Ur
The partially reconstructed facade of the Great Ziggurat. Ziggurat was part of temple complex, built in 2100 BCE by King Ur-Nammu who dedicated in honour of Nanna/Sîn and rebuilt in 600 BC by Nabonidus and was dedicated to moon god Nanna. The remains of the ziggurat consist of a three-layered solid mass of mud brick faced with burnt bricks set in bitumen.


circa 1100 BCE

The Tower of Babel Stele (inspect) read: Etemenanki: Zikkurat Babili The house, the foundation of the heaven and earth, Ziggurat in Babylon. Caption Identifying the Great Ziggurat of Babylon, the Tower of Babel, The royal inscription of Nebuchadnezzar continues: Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon am I, in order to complete E-Temen-Anki and E-Ur-Me-Imni-Anki I mobilized all countries everywhere, each and every ruler who had been raised to prominence over all the people of the world, loved by Marduk, from the upper sea to the lower sea, the distant nations, the teeming people of the world, Kings of remote mountains and far-flung-islands, the base I filled in to make a high terrace. I built their structures with bitumen and baked brick throughout. I completed it raising its top to the heaven, making it gleam bright as the sun.

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