Iona McCombie Smith | The BL

The tower of Babel is one of the most fantastic stories in the Book of Genesis and has become legendary in Western culture. According to the Scriptures, it is described as a tall construction built in Babylonia after the Deluge – a symbol of humans’ delusion of reaching heaven.

German Late Medieval (c. 1370s) depiction of the construction of the tower. (Wikipedia)

The story of the tower of Babel

The story of the tower is recorded in Genesis 11:1-9. According to the Bible, Noah’s descendants repopulated the Earth after the Great Flood. In Genesis 10:9-10, it’s written that several people migrated to the East and settled in a land called Shinar. There, King Nimrod founded the city of Babylon and Assyria.

German Late Medieval (c. 1370s) depiction of the construction of the tower. (Wikipedia)

With time, the population kept growing, and the people occupying these lands used the same language, so they understood each other well. At the time, Humans on Earth had become skilled in construction and planned to build a city with a great tower. This structure would become a symbol of humanity, called the tower of Babel. Humans expected that through it, they could reach Heaven without the grace of God.

“Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’” (Genesis 11:4, ESV)

Observing the tower that humankind was building, God was aware of the arrogance of men. God saw through humankind’s intentions immediately – He knew they were attempting to render themselves equal to Him. With His infinite wisdom, He understood that this tower would only lead humanity away from Him.

Moreover, once the tower was finished, it would be possible for humans to stay together in the same place. They ignored God’s clear instruction: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1)

To punish mankind’s conceit and pride, God intervened, so that people would suddenly speak different languages, making it impossible for them to communicate and work together to build the tower (hence Babel meaning “confusion”). Thus, the people of Babylon were forced to scatter across the face of the Earth. The tower itself was partly burned, and its base was swallowed by the earth.

Why was mankind punished for building the tower?

Perhaps, some people may argue that there is nothing wrong with men’s desire to build such a tall and proud symbol of humanity. If that was the case, why did God want to prevent this plan, then?

o understand this, we should delve into humans’ true intentions when building the tower of Babel.

The tower was characterized by humans’ arrogance instead of obedience to God’s will. God created men and told them to live in harmony, love each other, multiply, and fill the Earth. However, despite God’s teachings, they came together in one place to build their seemingly great tower and prove their abilities and strength of unity. They believed that, while working together, they could accomplish any feat – even the impossible. As God 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.” (Genesis 11:6 NIV)

Besides, to show off their abilities, they used manmade materials, such as brick and tar, rather than more durable God-made materials like stone and mortar. This was to emphasize that the tower was a monument to honor humans, made by mankind’s unlimited abilities and strength, not to give glory to God.

Their desire to build their own stairway to Heaven showed that they wanted to be like God and that they could obtain the same power as Him. If completed, humankind would have refused their own God and decided everything on their own.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder – The Tower of Babel (Rotterdam). (Wikipedia)

Is the biblical tower of Babel real?

In 2017, Andrew George, a professor of Babylonia at the University of London, claimed that he had discovered an ancient Babylonian tablet containing compelling evidence that could prove the tower of Babel existed. The clay tablet shows the shape of a ziggurat, a king donning a conical hat while holding a staff, and a text below the image that describes the construction of the tower.

Dr. George said:

“This is a very strong piece of evidence that the tower of Babel story was inspired by this real building. At the top … there is a relief depicting a step tower and … a figure of a human being carrying a staff with a conical hat on. Below that relief is a text which has been chiseled into the monument, and the label is easily read. It reads, ‘Etemenanki, Ziggurat Babel.’ And that means ‘the Ziggurat or Temple Tower of the City of Babylon.’ The building and its builder on the same relief.”

The text, according to Dr. George, also provide a record of the people taking part in the construction of the tower:

“From the Upper Sea [Mediterranean] to the Lower Sea [Persian Gulf] the far-flung lands and teeming peoples of the habitations I mobilized in order to construct this Ziggurat of Babylon.”

Archaeologists also think the tower of Babel was 300 feet (91 meters) along the sides and 300 feet (91 meters) tall. Most of the buildings were scattered and broken, and only a small fraction remains.

Until now, no one can say whether the tower of Babel really existed or not. But there is one thing that holds, every attempt to go against God’s has led to a tragic end – just like the fate of the tower of Babel.

(The cover photo: ‘The Tower of Babel’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. (Wikipedia commons/Public domain)