The Mesopotamian Background Of The Tower Of Babel Account And Its Implications -- By: John H. Walton

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 05:1 (NA 1995)
Article: The Mesopotamian Background Of The Tower Of Babel Account And Its Implications
Author: John H. Walton


The Mesopotamian Background Of The Tower Of Babel Account And Its Implications

John H. Walton

Moody Bible Institute

This paper investigates the history of ziggurats and brick making as well as the settlement patterns and development of urbanization in southern Mesopotamia. Gen 11:1-9 is interpreted in light of this information, and the conclusion reached is that the tower, as a ziggurat, embodied the concepts of pagan polytheism as it developed in the early stages of urbanization. Yahweh took offense at this distorted concept of deity and put a stop to the project. The account is seen against the backdrop of the latter part of the fourth millennium in the late Uruk phase.

Key Words: ziggurat, Tower of Babel, Mesopotamia, Gen. 11:1-9

The familiar story of the building of the Tower and City of Babel is found in Gen 11:1-9. From the initial setting given for the account, on the plain of Shinar, to the final lines where the city is identified with Babel, it is clear that the events recorded took place in southern Mesopotamia.1 It is this southern Mesopotamian backdrop that provides the basis for studying the account in light of what is known of the culture and history of Mesopotamia. One of the immediate results of that perspective is firm conviction that the tower that figures predominantly in the narrative is to be identified as a ziggurat. This is easily concluded from the importance that the ziggurat had in the civilizations of southern Mesopotamia from the earliest development of urbanized life to the high political reaches of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. It is common for the ziggurat to be of central importance in city planning. The frequent objection that the Hebrew term מִגְדָּל. (migdāl) is used primarily in military contexts or as a watch tower, but never used of a ziggurat, is easily addressed on three fronts.

1. We do not expect to see the term מִגְדָּל (migdāl) used of ziggurats in Hebrew because the Israelites did not have ziggurats.

2. We do not expect the Israelites to have a ready term for ziggurats because ziggurats were not a part of the Israelite culture.

3. Given the absence of a term in Hebrew, we would expect them to either borrow the word if they had to talk about them, use a suitable existing term, or devise a word. To call the ziggurat a tower is not inaccurate, and as a matter of fact, the...

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