The Date Of The Tower Of Babel And Some Theological Implications -- By: Paul H. Seely

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 63:1 (Spring 2001)
Article: The Date Of The Tower Of Babel And Some Theological Implications
Author: Paul H. Seely


The Date Of The Tower Of Babel
And Some Theological Implications

Paul H. Seelya

If we assume that the story in Gen 11:1–9 is accurately describing an actual historical event, that the account is what we might call “VCR history,” the narrative gives us five facts which enable us to date the event. One, the event took place in Shinar, at Babylon in particular (vv. 2, 9). Two, the event involved the building of a city with a tower (vv. 4, 5). Three, the tower was constructed of baked brick (v. 3). Four, the mortar used was asphalt (v. 3). Five, the tower was very probably a ziggurat (v. 4; see discussion below).

When we employ these five facts to date the building of the tower of Babel, we discover from archaeological data that the event occurs too late in history to be the origin of all languages on earth. Scientifically enlightened concordism has attempted to solve this problem through a reinterpretation of the biblical data, and creation science through a reinterpretation of the scientific data; but, these reinterpretations are merely plausible and are able to endure only by setting aside the weighty evidence which supports consensual scholarship. A better solution can be derived from Calvin’s understanding of divine accommodation.

I. The Location of Shinar and Its Relevance for Dating the Tower of Babel

Although there is a question whether or not the word Shinar is related to the word Sumer,1 there is no question that the land of Shinar is distinguished from the land of Assyria, that is, northern Mesopotamia (Isa 11:11). Further, it is evident that the land of Shinar covers the southern half of Mesopotamia (Gen 10:10). The land of Shinar is the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates that lies south of modern Baghdad.2

Archaeological excavations in the land of Shinar indicate that although prior to the sixth millennium B.C. there may have been small villages equivalent to those of modern-day Marsh Arabs in the southernmost reaches of the land, Shinar was fundamentally uninhabited before about 6000 b.c.3 In the s...

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