Parallel Twin Ziggurats: The Tower of Babel and Pyramid of Cholula
From the oasis sands of the biblical cradle of Mesopotamia all the way to the volcanic Valley of Mexico, parallel pyramids and mirroring myths have endured across the ages. Isolated from each other by vast oceans and deserts of time, disperse cultures have incorporated analogous stories into their mythology, building structures, such as the Tower of Babel or the Pyramid of Cholula, that are strikingly similar even though they are located in different corners of the globe.
Stories of ziggurats built by different cultures abound, one could even call them twin towers, challenging conventional narratives of human history. These tales have several components in common: offended deities, the multiplication of languages, a global deluge and vexing ancient structures. These aspects are all intertwined, as if they are all pieces of a grand global puzzle waiting to be deciphered.
Mythology must not be blindly accepted at face value (thank you very much Dr. Jones), but on the other hand, to instantly dismiss mythology as ancient fiction is equally flawed reasoning. The former results in superstition, the latter produces ignorance. Some of the most renowned scholars on the subject of comparative mythology, such as Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, theorize that widespread mythological parallels amongst separate cultures can be explained away by the formation of base archetypes conjured from the cauldron of the collective human subconscious. While their expertise and the essence of this concept are beyond question, some myths are so specific, so universal, and are then compounded by their entanglement with mysterious structures, they defy this concept.
There are widespread mythological parallels relating a story to that of the Tower of Babel. ( Elena Schweitzer / Adobe Stock)
The Biblical Tower of Babel
The most commonly known of all these accounts is the biblical Tower of Babel narrative found in the Book of Genesis, chapter eleven verses one through nine. This narrative basically states that the generations following a global deluge cataclysm united together under one language. They migrated west into the region of Shinar ( Sumer or modern day Iraq) and they were determined to build a great city, with a tower.
There is a curious indication that somehow, this tower would empower them and prevent any future annihilation. Furthermore, this project is seen as an affront to the supreme deity. To counter this effort, the deity intervenes by confounding the language that united them, thereby undermining the project and causing the people to scatter throughout the planet.
- Ziggurat: A Mesopotamian Manmade Mountain to Reach the Gods
- The Qur’an and Torah on the True Meaning of the Tower of Babel and Multiple Languages
- Once Hidden in Plain Sight and Surprisingly Ignored: The Great Pyramid of Cholula
Scholarly Positions on the Biblical Narrative
Authors and scholars ranging from ancient times up to the present have made a variety of noteworthy observations and interpretations regarding this account. Josephus for example, wrote that a key aspect of the story is the arrogance of the tyrannical ruler who commissioned the construction whom the biblical text names Nimrod. Another interpretation is that this is more of an etiological myth (a myth that explains the origin of something unknown) which provides an explanation for the origin of different languages and cultures.
Perhaps the scholarly observations of the greatest magnitude are the attempts to identify the structure in question by associating it with the mysterious ziggurats of ancient Babylon and Sumer. This is quite logical due to the fact that the cities mentioned in the texts have historical basis in fact, were said to have been founded by this ruler in the texts, and come complete with enigmatic ziggurat structures, or towers, as their focal point. The extremely loose consensus among modern scholars identifies this tower with the Ziggurat of Etemenanki in Babylon which was somewhat restored by Nebuchadnezzar II and then eventually destroyed in a restoration attempt by Alexander the Great .
Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s depiction of the Tower of Babel. ( Public domain )
What Exactly is a Ziggurat?
A ziggurat is an enormous, ancient structure composed of terraced layers of stone which ascended to great heights by stacking raised platforms atop each other and were physically climbed by spiraling ramps. These were built by the Elamites, the Elbaites, the Akkadians, the Sumerians, and the Babylonians, dating as far back as the sixth millennium BC.
The ziggurat was not utilized for communal worship, but instead was believed to be the literal dwelling place of the deity to whom it was dedicated. Human presence at the ziggurat was restricted to an elite priesthood and a small contingent of armed guards. According to Herodotus, at the summit of the ziggurat was a temple that housed a small shrine, and at this shrine, offerings were made exclusively by the high priest who also preformed other secretive occult rituals.
The Ziggurat of Etemenanki
In the 1880s, foundation cylinders were discovered with Neo-Babylonian inscriptions that chronicled the restoration effort by the king. It reads:
At that time my lord Marduk told me in regard to E-temen-anki, the ziggurat of Babylon, which before my day was (already) very weak and badly buckled, to ground its bottom on the breast of the netherworld, to make its top vie with the heavens. I fashioned mattocks, spades and brick-molds from ivory, ebony and musukkannu-wood, and set them in the hands of a vast workforce levied from my land. I had them shape mud bricks without number and mold baked bricks like countless raindrops. I had the River Arahtu bear asphalt and bitumen like a mighty flood. Through the sagacity of Ea, through the intelligence of Marduk, through the wisdom of Nabû and Nissaba, by means of the vast mind that the god who created me let me possess, I deliberated with my great intellect, I commissioned the wisest experts and the surveyor established the dimensions with the twelve-cubit rule. The master-builders drew taut the measuring cords, they determined the limits. I sought confirmation by consulting Samas, Adad and Marduk and, whenever my mind deliberated (and) I pondered (unsure of) the dimensions, the great gods made (the truth) known to me by the procedure of (oracular) confirmation. Through the craft of exorcism, the wisdom of Ea and Marduk, I purified that place and made firm its foundation platform on its ancient base. In its foundations I laid out gold, silver, gemstones from mountain and sea. Under the brickwork I set heaps of shining sapsu, sweet-scented oil, aromatics and red earth. I fashioned representations of my royal likeness bearing a soil-basket, and positioned (them) variously in the foundation platform. For my lord Marduk I made it an object fitting for wonder, just as it was in former times.
Aerial view which shows the remains of the Ziggurat Etemenanki (Lyaschuchenko / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Herodotus’s Account of the Same Babylonian Ziggurat
Before the discovery of this royal inscription in the 1880s, the only other description of this particular ziggurat came from Herodotus who described it in his writings from the mid-fifth century BC, he wrote:
The center of each division of the town was occupied by a fortress. In the one stood the palace of the kings, surrounded by a wall of great strength and size: in the other was the sacred precinct of Jupiter [Zeus] Belus, a square enclosure two furlongs [402 m/1319 feet] each way, with gates of solid brass; which was also remaining in my time. In the middle of the precinct there was a tower of solid masonry, a furlong [201 m/659 feet] in length and breadth, upon which was raised a second tower, and on that a third, and so on up to eight. The ascent to the top is on the outside, by a path which winds round all the towers. When one is about half-way up, one finds a resting-place and seats, where persons can sit for some time on their way to the summit. On the topmost tower there is a spacious temple, and inside the temple stands a couch of unusual size, richly adorned, with a golden table by its side. There is no statue of any kind set up in the place, nor is the chamber occupied of nights by any one but a single native woman, who, as the Chaldeans [the Babylonians], the priests of this god, affirm, is chosen for himself by the deity out of all the women of the land .
The White Temple ziggurat in Uruk is an example of a simple ziggurat from ancient Sumer. It’s purpose was to bring the temple closer to the heavens. (tobeytravels / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Enmerkar and the Lord of Arratta
There are many, extremely ancient Sumerian myths that predate biblical narratives. They are most certainly their precursors especially since the biblical narrative itself emphasizes the role of the patriarchal figure Abraham whose father was said to have had significant status in one of these very cities. Among these precursor narratives, is one that is undoubtedly the original version of the biblical story of the tower and the confounding of languages.
The story is entitled Enmerkar and the Lord of Arratta . Although some lines of text are missing, the nucleus of the story is that a king called Enmerkar is told by his patron deity to subjugate a neighboring kingdom and demand huge quantities of mineral tribute so as to embark on future constructing of more ziggurat dwellings and sanctuaries for the deities. The rival king refuses to submit, and Enmerkar (aided by the deities) conquers the rival king and the deity Enki/Ea is invoked to confound the united language.
This sets of a chain of events resulting in the dispersal of the population who now speak a variety of languages. The incantation invoking Enki reads:
“Enki, the lord of abundance and of steadfast decisions, the wise and knowing lord of the land, the expert of the gods, chosen for wisdom, the lord of Eridu, shall change the speech in their mouths, as many as he had placed there, and so the speech of mankind is truly one."
Could it be that the parallel myths throughout the world are actually the story of the same event in history? Here an artist’s version of how the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico looked originally. ( Public domain )
Many Other Parallel Myths Exist Worldwide
Similar parallel myths exist throughout the world. The Native American Cherokee have an oral tradition that contains many elements which are similar to the Sumerian myth.
When we lived beyond the great waters there were twelve clans belonging to the Cherokee tribe. And back in the old country in which we lived the country was subject to great floods. So in the course of time we held a council and decided to build a storehouse reaching to heaven. The Cherokees said that when the house was build and the floods came the tribe would just leave the earth and go to heaven. And we commenced to build a great structure, and when it was towering into one of the highest heavens the great powers destroyed the apex, cutting it down to about half of its height. But as the tribe was fully determined to build to heaven for safety they were not discouraged but commenced to repair the damage done by the gods. Finally, they completed the lofty structure and considered themselves safe from the floods. But after it was completed the gods destroyed the high part, again, and when they determined to repair the damage they found that the language of the tribe was confused or destroyed.
The Greco Roman narrative of the Gigantomachy is almost identical to this story. However, it must be objectively conceded that the close contact of these cultures very well could have transmitted this myth from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean via contagion and conflation much in the same manner as it was transmitted from Mesopotamian to Hebrew cultures. Be that as it may, this mode of transmission cannot explain the parallel myths and enigmatic structures found at far flung corners of the globe. One of the most striking parallels is the proverbial twin tower of the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico.
The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl, is the largest known pyramid on Earth in terms of volume. ( Aleksandar Todorovic / Adobe Stock)
The Great Pyramid of Cholula
The largest known pyramid on Earth, in terms of volume, resides in the Valley of Mexico. Known as the Great Pyramid of Cholula, this enormous pyramid is closely associated with the Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl and the nearby, equally enigmatic, site of Teotihuacan. While this structure and the previously discussed ziggurat are not remotely twin in terms of their design, they are astonishingly twin in terms of their mythological traditions and mysterious functions.
According to Aztec mythology, (note that the Aztecs absolutely did not construct the Cholula Pyramid or Teotihuacan, but regarded them as sacred sites of pilgrimage) the Quinametzin were a race of giants who inhabited the region in the previous “Sun of Rain” era. They stood twelve-feet-tall (3.7 meters) and it was they who were responsible for the construction of both Teotihuacan and the Great Pyramid of Cholula.
In the sixteenth century AD, Dominican friar Diego Duran wrote a report that was relayed to him by an old priest of Cholula. This account stated that when the sun first rose there were giants in the land and they decided to build a tower that would lead them up to the Sun. The creator deity was angered by this and summoned the inhabitants of the sky to destroy the tower and scatter the race of giants. Another variation within Aztec mythology is that of seven giants (principle among them Xelhua), who, having survived a cataclysmic deluge, arrived in the valley and attempted to construct a mountain that would prevent another such catastrophe. The gods were angered by this, and hurled fire down onto the pyramid, killing many of them and ceasing its construction.
The Key to the Mystery is Etymology
It can, and has, been argued that these Mesoamerican myths were subject to the biblical projections of the friars and missionaries who first recorded them, and that this is the explanation for such stark parallels. However, this convenient cop-out does not stand up in the court of reality, and the reason why is the etymology of the names associated with the sites which existed long before these missionaries ever arrived and which parallel the Tower of Babel narrative.
Chapter eleven verse six of the Book of Genesis states: “And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” The word cholula itself originates from the Nahuatl word cholollan which means “place of refuge.” The word Teotihuacan itself means “The Place Where Men Become Gods.”
In the Chimalpopoca Codex is a narrative in which, after a period of just living on Earth, Quetzalcoatl (the deity associated with Teotihuacan and Cholula) becomes intoxicated with his celibate priestess sister, copulates with her, and neglects his sacred obligations. The next day, he and his subjects erect an enormous stone chest. In the story Quetzalcoatl lies down inside the chest, clad entirely with jade, and is set ablaze. His ashes and heart then rise up into the heavens whereupon he became the morning star.
The Greek Gigantomachy narrative states that the giants sought to lay siege to Olympus (literally translated as sky) by stacking mountains atop mountains. The Greek etymology of the word pyramid itself is pyr-fire ra-star mid-heart. These etymological connections were not projected by anyone as they existed for thousands of years before contact of any kind.
What all this means is a mysterious riddle wrapped in an enigma. The reader will have to draw their own conclusions, but it can be objectively stated once again that these links cannot be the result of some kind of cultural contagion. Furthermore, it must be noted that the ziggurat and the pyramids of both Teotihuacan and Cholula were built by unknown peoples for unknown functions using unknown methods in some dark distant recess of prehistory.
Top image: Is the mythology surrounding the Tower of Babel somehow connected to that of the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico? Source: breakermaximus / Adobe Stock
Coe, M. D. & Koontz, R. 2002. . Mexico: from the Olmecs to the Aztecs (5th, revised and enlarged ed.). London and New York: Thames and Hudson.
Frazer, J. G. 1919. Folk-lore in the Old Testament: Studies in Comparative Religion, Legend and Law . London: Macmillan. pp. 362–387.
Jordan, D.K. 2017. “The Death of Quetzalcoatl” in Brief Notes on Classical Nahuatl . Available at: https://pages.ucsd.edu/~dkjordan/nahuatl/ReadingQuetzalcoatl.html
Kramer, S. N. 1968. "The 'Babel of Tongues': A Sumerian Version" in Journal of the American Oriental Society . 88 (1). pp. 108–111.
Meza, O. 1981. El Mundo Mágico de los Dioses del Anáhuac (in Spanish). México: Editorial Universo México, p. 153
No name. No date. "Anales de Cuauhtinchan. Historia Tolteca Chichimeca. Libro de la Conquista" in Pueblos Originarios . Available at: https://pueblosoriginarios.com/
Sanders, G. S. 2017. Yates, D. N (ed.). The Cherokee Origin Narrative . Longmont, CO: Panther`s Lodge Publishers. pp. 1–3.