Did the Tower of Babel really exist? If so, where was/is the Tower of Babel, and who built the Tower of Babel? These are the questions that come up when the Tower of Babel is mentioned. When we think of the Tower of Babel we think of a spiraling tower thanks to modern art and we think of the ancient city capital of the kingdom of Babylon. But the tower was said to be in the land of Shinar in the biblical book of Genesis. The land of Shinar is the Hebrew word for Sumer. So, Did the tower of Babel really exist? Well to answer that question we must first use proper words and definitions. The tower is most likely referring to a ziggurat, the ziggurat was usually the center of the town and the largest construction inside the town, the Hebrews not having a name for ziggurat used the word tower instead I believe to describe the ziggurat. So let’s see if there is any evidence for this tower.
In The Land of Shinar
We learn about this tower in Genesis chapter 11, I will use the ESV version as I believe it is most correct because it uses both the Septuagint and the dead sea scrolls as its translation. Most translations have the sons of Noah migrating toward the east, but the words used in the text and Hebrew grammar should translate “they migrated from the east”, this would also make more sense and be in agreement with Mesopotamian texts, and agree with the events of the Sumerians, who claim to have migrated from the east. And why are the Sumerians and Sumer so important to this biblical text? Biblical texts say they migrated from the east until they came to the land of Shinar. Hebrew שנער Šinʿar is equivalent to the Egyptian Sngr and Hittite Šanḫar, all referring to southern Mesopotamia. Some Assyriologists considered Šinʿar a western variant or cognate of Šumer (Sumer), (???, Sumerian: eme.gi7, Akkadian: Šumeru) the Sumerians themselves referred to their land as Kiengir, the ‘Country of the noble lords’ (???, ki-en-gi(-r), lit. ‘country’ + ‘lords’ + ‘noble’) as seen in their inscriptions. So the “tower of babel is in Sumer according to the text, which is southern Mesopotamia.
11 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 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 11:1-4
The Tower of Babel
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). The original derivation of the name Babel (also the Hebrew name for Babylon) is not known for certain, but the Akkadian name of the city was Bāb-ilim, meaning “gate of God”. But the Hebrews liked plays on words and called it Babel, meaning confused. However, that form and interpretation of Bāb-ilim itself are now usually thought to be the result of an earlier form of the name, Babilla, and may be of Sumerian in origin.
Now the phrase “everyone spoke one language” is another clue to this puzzle. While some take this phrase literally and believe there was only one languge spoke by the people of lower Mesopotamia, like a proto Sumerian or Akkadian, I believe it is more like a lingua franca type statement. Like saying there was only one official languge. Again Sumer or Akkad would fit this but I lean more towards Sumerian. Sumerian is the earliest known written languge, and the first power, yet not an empire, it was numerous city-states that wilded political, religious, and economic power far from its own region, so those who were doing business with the city-states would have to know Sumerian. So at that time, everyone spoke Sumerian (even if only as a second language) and there was only one written language, That of Sumer.
Unlike Canaan and Egypt, Sumer did not have a large supply of large stone to build with, so by necessity, they used baked brick, just as it says in verse three. And verse four is often misunderstood as well, many believing that the height of the tower being to the heavens means they thought they could actually build a tower to heaven and somehow overrun heaven by force is not found anywhere in the text. It is actually a hyperbole found on many Mesopotamian inscriptions about the constructions of ziggurats, And the phrase let us make a name for ourselves is referencing building a lasting monument. Many scholars believed the function of the ziggurat was not just a temple to house their god, but a gateway for the gods to come down to the city, which is what we find in verse five.
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.Genesis 11:5
The Land Of Sumer
So we have determined that Babel and its tower is in southern Mesopotamia, while some try to put this tower in the city of Babylon, there are a few problems with the city of Babylon being the city of Babel in Genesis chapter 11. Number one its location, that being in central Mesopotamia and in the land of Akkad or Babylonia. Second, the date of the city is not old enough. Some suggest the ziggurat to Marduk in Babylon is the famed tower, and link it to the myth of Marduk confusing the languages of man, but again, the ziggurat of Marduk is not old enough. So, is there another candidate for this city? A much older city that might have been once called Babylon?
Did the Tower of Babel Really Exist?
Eridu is considered by some to be the first city in the world. Built by the ancient Sumerians and is among the most ancient of ruins from Mesopotamia. Founded in circa 5400 BCE. Eridu was also home to the Sumerian god Enki, (the Akkadian Ea) and a large ziggurat has been found there. The temple has signs of being reconstructed several times, building upon older structures, and then being abandoned and unfinished. The city itself also shows signs of being uninhabited many times only to be reinhabited and finally altogether abandoned around 600 BCE. But is there any proof that Eridu is the Babel mentioned in Genesis?
The Sumerian King List as well as the tablet called The Eridu Genesis cites Eridu as the “city of the first kings”, stating, “After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridu”. So Eridu was looked upon at that time as the greatest city with the possible Eruk a close contender. Eridu was the home of Enki and the center of his cult. Bertman comments on the ruins of Enki’s temple:
The god’s temple has been found and shows that it was rebuilt over the course of thousands of years. In its earliest phase (dating back to about 5500 BCE), it measured about 12 by 15 feet, was made of mud brick and featured a simple podium or altar for sacrifices and a niche meant to hold a statue of the god. To judge by evidence found in a later niche – fish bones and ashes scattered on the floor around the altar – the god’s favorite meal was freshwater fish. The temple’s antiquity makes it the oldest in Mesopotamian architectural and religious history. (20)
The Ancient City of Eridu
But Is Eridu Babel? The great Ziggurat of Amar-Sin in the center of the city has been associated with the Biblical Tower of Babel from The Book of Genesis and the city itself with the Biblical city of Babel. This association springs from archaeological discoveries that support the claim that the Ziggurat of Amar-Sin more closely resembles the description of the Biblical Tower than any description of the ziggurat at Babylon.
Furthermore, the Babylonian historian Berossus1 (l. c. 200 BCE), a source for Greek historians, refers to Eridu when he writes of ‘Babel’ or Babylon. And he places Babylon’ in the southern marshes of the Euphrates and is patronized by the god of wisdom and freshwater. This strongly suggests that Eridu is the original Biblical Babel and the Ziggurat of Amar-Sin as the “tower” mentioned.
Also, A topographical list dating to Nebuchadrezzar2 I 1125-1103 BC names Babylons’ religious quarter as Eridu. Other texts of the second millennium BC record Eridu as being described when Babylon should be the reference, and during the Neo-Babylonian empire. The king of Babylon would often call himself LUGAL NUN.ki, Babylonian for KING of ERIDU.
Ziggurat of Amar-Sin
So I submit to you that indeed the Tower of Babel did exist And that The Ziggurat of Amar-Sin is the famous “tower”, and that Babel the city of Eridu. A side note, Abram, later to be named Abraham, lived in Ur of the “Chaldees“3 Chaldea was a country that existed between the late 10th or early 9th and mid-6th centuries BC, after which the country and its people were absorbed and assimilated into Babylonia. Semitic-speaking, it was located in the marshy land of the far southeastern corner of Mesopotamia and briefly came to rule Babylon. Located in the land of Sumer was basically next door to Eridu. I want to point out one thing here. There is not race called Hebrew or Israelites, Those are descriptive names, There were no Hebrews before Abraham “cross beyond” the river, becoming a Hebrew4 Hebrew: עברים / עבריים, Modern: ʿIvrim / ʿIvriyyim, Tiberian: ʿIḇrîm / ʿIḇriyyîm; ISO 259-3: ʕibrim / ʕibriyim . The Biblical term Ivri (עברי; Hebrew pronunciation: [ʕivˈri]), meaning “to traverse” or “to pass over”. The Hebrews then became Israelites when they founded the nation Israel. But before they crossed beyond the Euphrates river, God tells Abram, come out of the land of your people, which means his people were from Ur, possibly making him a Sumerian or Akkadian, and possibly from the early Sumerian dynastic kingdom period. This however I can’t prove, but It was worth mentioning.
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- 1(l. c. 200 BCE)
- 2I 1125-1103 BC
- 3Chaldea was a country that existed between the late 10th or early 9th and mid-6th centuries BC, after which the country and its people were absorbed and assimilated into Babylonia. Semitic-speaking, it was located in the marshy land of the far southeastern corner of Mesopotamia and briefly came to rule Babylon.
- 4Hebrew: עברים / עבריים, Modern: ʿIvrim / ʿIvriyyim, Tiberian: ʿIḇrîm / ʿIḇriyyîm; ISO 259-3: ʕibrim / ʕibriyim