Easton's Bible Dictionary
The name given to the tower which the primitive fathers
of our race built in the land of Shinar after the Deluge ( Genesis 11:1 - 9 ).
Their object in building this tower was probably that it might be seen as a rallying-point
in the extensive plain of Shinar, to which they had emigrated from the uplands
of Armenia, and so prevent their being scattered abroad. But God interposed and
defeated their design by condounding their language, and hence the name Babel,
meaning "confusion." In the Babylonian tablets there is an account of this event,
and also of the creation and the deluge. (See CHALDEA
The Temple of Belus, which is supposed to occupy its site, is described by the
Greek historian Herodotus as a temple of great extent and magnificence, erected
by the Babylonians for their god Belus. The treasures Nebuchadnezzar brought from
Jerusalem were laid up in this temple ( 2 Chronicles 36:7 ).
The Birs Nimrud, at ancient Borsippa, about 7 miles south-west of Hillah, the
modern town which occupies a part of the site of ancient Babylon, and 6 miles
from the Euphrates, is an immense mass of broken and fire-blasted fragments, of
about 2,300 feet in circumference, rising suddenly to the height of 235 feet above
the desert-plain, and is with probability regarded as the ruins of the tower of
Babel. This is "one of the most imposing ruins in the country." Others think it
to be the ruins of the Temple of Belus.
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
This expression does not occur in the Old Testament,
but is used popularly for the tower mighdol built by the inhabitants of the world
who, traveling in the East, built a city on the Plain of Shinar, with a tower
"whose top may reach unto heaven"-- an expression which is regarded as meaning
"a very high tower."
1. General Form of Babylonian Temple-Towers:
There was a great difference, however, between a Canaanite mighdol or watchtower,
and the great Tower at Babylon. The watchtower was simply a high structure, probably
without any special shape or form, which depended upon the will of the architect
and the nature of the ground upon which it was erected. The Tower of Babel or
Babylon, however, was a structure peculiar to Babylonia and Assyria. According
to all accounts, and judging from the ruins of the various erections extant in
those countries, Babylonian towers were always rectangular, built in stages, and
provided with an inclined ascent continued along each side to the top. As religious
ceremonies were performed thereon, they were generally surmounted by a chapel
in which sacred objects or images were kept.
2. Their Babylonian Name:
These erections had, with the Babylonians, a special name: ziqquratu,
meaning, apparently, "peak," or the highest point of a mountain, this word being
applied to the mountain-height upon which Ut-napishtim, the Babylonian Noah, offered
sacrifices on coming forth from the ark (or ship) when the waters of the great
Flood had sufficiently subsided. It has also been thought that they were used
as observatories when the Babylonians studied the starry heavens. This is probable,
but as these structures were of no great height, it is possible that, in the clear
atmosphere of the Babylonian plains, there was no real necessity to go above the
surface of the earth when making their observations.
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 Birs-Nimroud (explained as a corruption of
Birj Nimroud, "Tower of Nimrod"). This building, however, notwithstanding its
importance, was to all appearance never regarded by the Babylonians as the Tower
of Babel, for the very good reason that it was not situated in Babylon, but in
Borsippa, which, though called, in later times, "the second Babylon," was naturally
not the original city of that name. The erection regarded by the Babylonians as
the great Tower of their ancient city was E-temen-ana-ki, "the Temple of the foundation
of heaven and earth," called by Nabopolassar and Nebuchadrezzar ziqqurat Babili,
"the Tower of Babylon"--the world-renowned temple dedicated to Merodach and his
consort Zer- panitum, Babylon's chief deities.
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 Sahan, "the dish." These remains
of the great temple-tower of Babylon, within the memory of men not so very old,
towered, even in its ruined state, high above the surrounding plain. The burnt
bricks of the ancient Babylonians, however, who "had brick for stone, and slime
(bitumen) for mortar" (Genesis 11:3), are still good and have a commercial value,
so they were all cleared out, with whatever precious material in the way of antiquities
they may have contained, to repair, it is said, the banks of the Hindiyeh Canal.
Certain records in the shape of conical "cylinders," however, came into the market,
and were acquired by the museums of Europe and America. As these refer to the
restoration of the building by Nabopolassar, and the part taken by his sons Nebuchadrezzar
and Nabu-sum-lisir in the ceremonies attending the rebuilding, it is very probable
that they formed part of the spoils acquired.
5. A Babylonian Description of the Tower:
E-temen-ana-ki, to give the Babylonian (Sumerian) name, consisted of six stages
built upon a platform, and provided with a sanctuary at the top. A tablet seemingly
giving a detailed description of this building was for a time in the hands of
the late George Smith in the year 1876. Unfortunately he had not time to give
a translation of the document, or to publish the text, but his detailed account
of it (Athenaeum, February 12, 1876) is exceedingly interesting. 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 ki-gallu square in form,
and measuring 3 ku each way. Its size is doubtful, as the value of the ku is unknown.
The sides of this enclosure faced the cardinal points. In its walls were four
gates, one on each side, and named from the points toward which they looked. Within
this enclosure stood a large building measuring 10 gar (Smith: 200 ft.) each way.
Unfortunately, the name of this erection was damaged, so that its nature and use
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 Tasmetu, his spouse; on thee North were two temples dedicated
to Ea. (Ae) and Nusku respectively; on the South was a single temple to the two
great gods, Anu and Bel (Enlil?). It was on the West, however, that the principal
buildings lay--a double house with a court between the wings 35 cubits (Smith:
58 ft.) wide. These two wings were not alike in dimensions, the erection on one
side being 100 cubits by 20 (166 ft. by 34 ft.) and on the other 100 cubits by
65 (166 ft. by 108 ft.). In these western chambers stood the couch of the god,
and the golden throne mentioned by Herodotus, with other objects of great value.
The couch was stated to have measured 9 cubits by 4 (15 ft. by 6 feet 8 inches).
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" (ziqqurat Babili). The stages decreased
from the lowest upward, but each was square in plan. The first or foundation-stage
was 15 gar each way by 5 1/2 gar high (300 ft. by 110 ft. high), and seems to
have been decorated with the usual double recesses which are a characteristic
of Assyr-Bab architecture.
9. The Remaining Stages:
The second stage was 13 gar square and 3 gar high (260 ft. by 60 ft.). A term
was applied to it which G. Smith did not understand, but he notes that it probably
had sloping sides. The stages from the 3rd to the 5th were all of equal height,
namely, 1 gar (20 ft.), and were respectively 10 gar (200 ft.), 8 1/3 gar (170
ft.) and 7 gar (140 ft.) square. The dimensions of the 6th stage were omitted,
but may be restored in accordance with the others, namely, 5 1/2 gar square (110
ft.) by 1 gar (20 ft.) high.
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 gar long, 3 1/2 gar broad and 2 1/2 gar high
(80 ft., 60 ft., and 50 ft., respectively). He does not mention the statue of
the god, but it may be supposed that it was set up in this topmost erection. The
total height of the tower above its foundation was therefore 15 gar (300 ft.),
the same as the breadth of its base. It cannot be said that it was by any means
a beautiful erection, but there was probably some symbolism in its measurements,
and in appearance it probably resembled (except the decoration) the temple tower
of Calah as restored in the frontispiece to Layard's Monuments of Nineveh, 1st
series, in which a step-pyramid with a similarly highbasement stage is shown.
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.181) 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 Genesis 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
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 Genesis that the meaning
of Babel is "confusion." This, as is well known, is based upon the purely Hebrew
etymological law, which makes balal, "to confuse," or "mingle," assume a reduplicate
form; but as far as the cuneiform inscriptions, which are now very numerous, give
us information, Babel, from baldlu, "to mingle" (the root in question), was an
impossibility. But on the Babylonian side, that the rendering of the name as Bab-ili
(-ilani), "gate of god" ("of the gods") was a folk-etymology, is undoubted, notwithstanding
that the Sumero-Akkadian form Ka-dingira, with the same meaning, is far from rare.
It is noteworthy, however, that one of the forms used by Nebuchadrezzar is Babilam,
with the mimmation or "emming," which is a characteristic of the Babylonian language;
moreover, a place-name Babalam also occurs, which may be a still earlier, and
perhaps the original, form. Notwithstanding that one would like to see in Babalam,
"the place of bringing together," and in Babilam, "the bringer together," the
termination -am would seem to be an insurmountable difficulty.
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 Belus (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"
(Rabbi Yehanan, Sanhedhrin, 109, 1).
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,
Sanhedhrin, 109, 1). This, however, did not prevent the rabbis of Babylon from
being more celebrated than those of the Holy Land, and even of Jerusalem itself.
See also \ASTRONOMY\.
T. G. Pinches
6 stages, babylon, bible commentary, bible reference, bible study, confusing language, destruction, e-temen-ana-ki, God interposed, history of, tower of babel, ziqquratu