Tower of Babel Stele

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Tower of Babel Stele is carved on a black stone, which has already been dubbed the Tower of Babel stele, the inscription dates to 604-562 BCE. It was found in the collection of Martin Schøyen, a businessman from Norway who owns the largest private manuscript assemblage formed in the 20th century.


The spectacular stone monument (inspect) clearly shows the Tower and King Nebuchadnezzar II (illustration), who ruled Babylon some 2,500 years ago.

Inscription Text

circa 1100 BCE

The Tower of Babel Stele reads: 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.

circa 1100 BCE

It was famously rebuilt by the 6th-century BCE Neo-Babylonian dynasty rulers Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar II. According to modern scholars, such as Stephen L. Harris, the biblical story of the Tower of Babel was likely influenced by Etemenanki during the Babylonian captivity of the Hebrews. Nebuchadnezzar wrote that the original tower had been built in antiquity: "A former king built the Temple of the Seven Lights of the Earth, but he did not complete its head. Since a remote time, people had abandoned it, without order expressing their words. Since that time earthquakes and lightning had dispersed its sun-dried clay; the bricks of the casing had split, and the earth of the interior had been scattered in heaps."

Abrahamic narrative

circa 1100 BCE

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).

Identification with the Ziggurat

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.

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