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The tower of Babel

Gateway to the Heavens: The Assyrian Account to the Tower of Babel


The story of the construction of a tower in Babel, which resulted in the confounding of language has also confounded modern scholars. The Book of Genesis tells of a time in which all of the world’s population migrated eastward to the plain of Shinar. Shinar (Hebrew for “ [land of the] two rivers ”) is considered by most to be what the Akkadians referred to as Shumer or Sumer, in what is today Mesopotamia; that is modern day Iraq. The Hebrew etymology is most likely referring to the rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates. In fear of being scattered across the whole face of the earth, the inhabitants of the plain decided to build a city and also a tower to reach the heavens. This city would be referred to as Babel (Akkadian: bab-ili or “ gate of God ”) which was also a play on the Hebrew word balal or “to confuse” (i.e. the language).

The following excerpt is from the Jewish Publication Society translation of Genesis 11:

1 And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech.

2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

3 And they said one to another: ‘Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.

4 And they said: ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’

5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

6 And the Lord said: ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do.

7 Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’

8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city.

9 Therefore was the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

The Tower of Babel

Marten van Valckenborch the Elder - The Tower of Babel. Source: Wikipedia

While most of us are familiar with the Hebrew account of the dispersal of peoples and the introduction of new languages, archaeology has shown that the concept of a spreading of tongues is not as unique as we believe. We much divert our attention to George Smith, the very same George Smith who first translated the Epic of Gilgamesh in the 19th century, and provided the world with the earliest documented reference to a Great Flood.

Following his translation of Gilgamesh, Smith was sent to the site of Nineveh where he was to continue excavations in the hopes of unearthing additional inscriptions that paralleled or showed some relation to the Old Testament. Archaeology at the time was a new science, founded on validating the writings of the Bible. Smith was fortunate, in that the excavation did yield additional tablets (from the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal) and upon further research, he did discover a story likely to have inspired the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel. Catalogued and hidden in the inventory vaults of the British Museum, the fragmentary piece of text reads as follows:

[…] them? The father […]

Of him, his heart was evil,

[…] against the father of all the gods was wicked,

[…] of him, his heart was evil,

[…] Babylon brought to subjection,

[small] and great he confounded their speech.

[…] Babylon brought to subjection,

[small] and great he confounded their speech.

Their strong place (tower) all the day they founded;

to their strong place in the night

entirely he made an end.

In his anger also word thus he poured out:

[to] scatter abroad he set his face

he gave this? command, their counsel was confused

[…] the course he broke

[…] fixed the sanctuary

George Smith provides a commentary to his translation briefly summarizing what the inscription meant to him, along with highlighting key words that emphasize the type of construction that took place.

…we have the anger of the gods at the sin of the world, the place mentioned being Babylon. The building or work is called tazimat or tazimtu, a word meaning strong, and there is a curious relation, lines 9 to 11, that what they built in the day the god destroyed in the night.

Key parallels are seen between the Biblical and Assyrian accounts, that is, that they both speak of mankind unified by a single language and building a tower, thus angering the gods, which resulted in the confusion of the language. The Assyrian account, much like the other tablets found in the same collection, were most likely copies of older tablets. What inspired the Assyrian Babel and what was the original message conveyed? Much like its Hebrew counterpart, these questions continue to elude us.

Sources

Davidson, Benjamin. The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon . 11th ed. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004. [Print]

JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh . Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2003. [Print]

Koutoupis, Petros. Biblical Origins: An Adopted Legacy . College Station: Virtualbookworm.com P, 2008. [Print]

Smith, George. The Chaldean Account of Genesis . London: Elibron Classics, 2005. [Print]

Featured image: The Tower of Babel. Image source

By Petros Koutoupis

Comments

I would be very much interested in that video if u could share please

The book of Josephus goes into great detail on the Tower of Babel. He writes that it took a man over a year to walk around the base. If a man fell during the construction it was expected but if a brick fell everyone mourned.

In a straight line, it is estimated to take 4-5 months to walk across the US which is 2,800 miles. A year to walk around the base of a building? Do the math.

Why is it that the most powerful entity and all religion around the world is based on this? The masons , who can arguably be the most powerful orginization in the whole world have a very astute and profound belief in Nimord, the grandmaster mason, who built the tower of Babel as well as assyria ninevah , babylon UR Egypt etc... All religions both pagan and christian polytheistic and monotheistic have roots back to this event. Do any of you really believe that man was dumb enough or not smart enough to know better than to make up stories and spend billions of dollars in gold silver and precious stone, as well as enslaving thousands to build these monuments for them to be fake? What alot of you are saying doesnt add up.Maybe look into the ancient mystery religion of Zoroaster and compare the details of all of these religions from around the world, both modern and ancient and tell me that its all fairy tales... The fact that not only the bible but many important ancient cuneiforms an tablets as well as monuments all point to the same things and events there has to be some genuiness to the documentation of this. Also, the fact that all of the worlds religions have about the same starting times around the start of the bronze age and have massive simularities and heirachy of gods all are almost identical. Maybe there is some truth to this tower and languages hence the mass migration of peoples around the world with similar cultures and religions even with 1000's of miles between. Its hard to tell the exact same story in multiple languages. Maybe this was the true intent of the Rosetta stone to try and unite the major nations tongues to get this once great mass of people together in defiance? Just food for thought..

...and most powerful does not mean the wisest.

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