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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Babel, Tower of
This expression does not occur in the Old Testament, but is used popularly for the tower מגדּל ,
1. General Form of Babylonian Temple-Towers
There was a great difference, however, between a Canaanite
2. Their Babylonian Name
These erections had, with the Babylonians, a special name:
3. Whereabouts of the Tower of Babel
There has been much difference of opinion as to the geographical position of the Tower of Babel. Most writers upon the subject, following the tradition handed down by the Jews and Arabs, have identified it with the great Temple of Nebo in the city of Borsippa, now called the
4. Its Position at Babylon
This structure was situated in the southern portion of the city, not far from the right bank of the Euphrates, and according to Weissbach, is now represented by a depression within which is the original rectangular core of unbaked brick. From its shape, the Arabs have made this site
A B abylonian Description of the Tower
First there was the outer court called the "grand court," measuring, according to G. Smith's estimate, 1,156 ft. by 900 ft., and a smaller one, called "the court of Ishtar and Zagaga," 1,056 ft. by 450 ft. Round the court were six gates admitting to the temples: (1) The grand gate; (2) The gate of the rising sun (east); (3) The great gate; (4) The gate of the colossi; (5) The gate of the canal; and (6) The gate of the tower-view.
6. The Platform
After this came a space or platform apparently walled - a
7. The Chapels and Shrines
Round the base of the Tower were small temples or chapels dedicated to the various gods of the Babylonians. On the East were 16 shrines, the principal of them being dedicated to Nebo and
8. The Tower in Its First Stage
In the center of these groups of buildings stood the great Tower in stages, called by the Babylonians "the Tower of Babel" (
9. The Remaining Stages
The second stage was 13
10. The Chapel at the Top
On this was raised what Smith calls the 7th stage, namely, the upper temple or sanctuary of the god Bel-Merodach, 4
11. Herodotus' Description
With this detailed description, which is quite what would be expected in a Babylonian account of such a celebrated temple, the description in Herodotus (i.181ff) agrees. He states that it was a temple square in form, two furlongs (1, 213 ft.) each way, in the midst of which was built a solid tower a furlong square (nearly 607 ft.). This, however, must have been the platform, which, with the six stages and the chapel on the top, would make up the total of eight stages of which Herodotus speaks. The ascent by which the top was reached he describes as running "outside round about all the towers" - wording which suggests, though not necessarily, that it was spiral - i.e. one had to walk round the structure 7 times to reach the top. Representations on Babylonian boundary-stones suggest that this view would be correct, though a symmetrical arrangement of inclined paths might have been constructed which would have greatly improved the design. At the middle of the ascent, Herodotus says, there was a stopping-place with seats to rest upon, which rather favors this idea. At the top of the last tower there was a large cell, and in the cell a large couch was laid, well covered; and by it a golden table. There was no image there, nor did any human being spend the night there, except only a woman of the natives of the place chosen by the god, "as say the Chaldeans who are the priests of this god." These men told Herodotus that the god often came to the cell, and rested upon the couch, "but," he adds, "I do not believe them." After mentioning parallels to this at Egyptian Thebes and Patam in Lycia, he goes on to speak of another cell below (that referred to in G. Smith's tablet) wherein was a great image of Zeus (Bel-Merodach) sitting, with a footstool and a large table, all of gold, and weighing no less than 800 talents. Outside of this cell was an altar to the god, made of gold; and also another altar, whereon full-grown animals were sacrificed, the golden altar being for sucklings only. The Chaldeans also told him that there was, in the precincts of the building, a statue 12 cubits high, and of solid gold. Darius Hystaspis desired to take possession of this valuable object, but did not venture. His son Xerxes, however, was not so considerate of the feelings of the people and the priesthood, for he also killed the priest when he forbade him to meddle with it.
12. The Builders of the Tower
The Bible record does not state who the people were who journeyed in the East and built the city and the Tower. The indefinite "they" might be taken to mean whatever people were there at the time the record was written, and probably presupposes that the reader would certainly know. As the Tower of Babel bears, in the native inscriptions, a Sumero-Akkadian name, it may be supposed that the builders referred to belonged to that race.
13. Traditions Concerning Its Destruction
It is noteworthy that nothing is said in Gen concerning the stoppage of the erection, though they ceased to build the city. Bochart records a Jewish tradition which makes the tower to have been split through to its foundation by fire which fell from heaven - suggested probably by the condition of the tower at "the second Babylon," i.e. the Birs Nimroud. Another tradition, recorded by Eusebius (Prep. Evang ., ix; Chronicon , 13; Syncel. Chron ., 44) makes it to have been blown down by the winds; "but when it approached the heavens, the winds assisted the gods, and overturned the work upon its contrivers: and the gods introduced a diversity of tongues among men, who, until that time, had all spoken the same language."
14. The Meaning of "Babel"
The place where they built the Tower was called Babylon, on account of the confusion of languages. Here we have again the statement as in Gen that the meaning of Babel is "confusion." This, as is well known, is based upon the purely Hebrew etymological law, which makes
15. The Ultimate Destruction of the Tower
That the building of the city would have been stopped when the confusion of tongues took place is natural - the departure of the greater part of the inhabitants made this inevitable. When the population increased again, the building of the city was continued, with the result that Babylon ultimately became the greatest city of then known world. The Tower, notwithstanding what had been said as to its destruction, remained, and when, as happened from time to time, its condition became ruinous, some energetic Babylonian king would restore it. Alexander and Philip of Macedon began clearing away the rubbish to rebuild the great temple of bclus (Bel-Merodach) connected with it and there is hardly any doubt that the Tower would have been restored likewise, but the untimely death of the former, and the deficient mental caliber of the latter for the ruling of a great empire, put an end to the work. The Tower therefore remained unrepaired - "The tower was exceedingly tall. The third part of it sank down into the ground, a second third was burned down, and the remaining third was standing until the time of the destruction of Babylon" (
16. No Idea of Reaching Heaven
Concerning the reputed intention of the builders of the Tower, to carry it as high as the heavens, that, notwithstanding the Talmud and other writings, may be dismissed at once. The intention was to build a very high tower, and that is all that is implied by the words employed. That the Babylonians would have liked their tower to reach heaven may be conceded, and the idea may be taken as symbolical of Babylon's pride, the more especially as they regarded it as "the house of the foundation of heaven and earth." Though at present brought lower than the other temple-towers of Babylonia, its renown remains as one of the great glories of that renowned capital. Dedicated as it was to the gods whom they worshipped, and chiefly to the glory of Merodach, the representative of Babylonian monotheism, the Babylonians' descendants, the native Christians, have no reason to remember this erection of their forefathers with shame, but rather with pride. The rallyingpoint of nations, Babylon, while it existed, was always a great commercial center, and many are the languages which have resounded in the Tower's vicinity. The confusion of tongues led to the Jewish fiction that the air of Babylon and Borsippa caused forgetfulness, and was therefore injurious to students of the Law, causing them to forget it as the builders of the Tower had of old forgotten their speech (Rashi,
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Babel, Tower of'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/b/babel-tower-of.html. 1915.