Assyrian Legend of the Tower of Babel

(ORDO NEWS) —  The story of the legendary Tower of Babel from the Book of Genesis has inspired artists throughout human history and symbolized the idea of ​​human ambition.

Once a real ziggurat in the center of the city of Babylon, this great tower was also mentioned in tablets excavated in what is now Iraq.

Biblical story of the Tower of Babel

The history of the construction of the Tower of Babel, which led to the confusion of languages, has puzzled modern scholars for decades. The Book of Genesis tells of a time when the entire population of the Earth migrated east to the plain of Shinar.

Shinar, which means “land of two rivers” in Hebrew, is what most believe to be what the Akkadians called Sumer, known today as Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq.

The Hebrew etymology most likely refers to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Fearing to be scattered all over the face of the earth, the inhabitants of the plain decided to build a city and also a tower to reach heaven.

This city became known as Babylon (Akkadian: bab-ili or “gate of God”), which was a play on the Hebrew word balal or “to confuse” (i.e. language).

According to the Old Testament, man was punished for the construction of the Tower of Babel by the creation of various languages, designed to bring discord into mankind.

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“Tower of Babel” by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Excerpt about the Tower of Babel in Genesis

The following passage is from the Hebrew Publication Society’s translation of Genesis 11:

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

2 And as they went eastward, they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and settled there.

3 And they said to one another, “Come, let’s make a brick and burn it.” And they had brick for stone, and they had clay for mortar.

4 And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower whose top is in heaven, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered over the face of all the earth.”

5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.

6 And the Lord said, Behold, they are one people, and their language is one, and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be hidden from them, that’s what they planned to do.

7 Let’s go, let’s get down, and there let’s confuse their language so that they don’t understand each other’s speech.”

8 And the Lord scattered them from there over the face of all the earth, and they went off to build a city.

9 Therefore the name Babylon was called to her, because the Lord confounded the language of all the earth there, and from there the Lord scattered them over the face of all the earth.”

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“Tower of Babel” by Marten van Valkenborch the Elder

In Search of the Tower of Babel: Excavations at Nineveh

While most of us are familiar with the Hebrew story of the scattering of peoples and the introduction of new languages, archeology has shown that the concept of the spread of languages ​​is not as unique as we think.

We turn our attention to George Smith, the same George Smith who, in the 19th century, first translated the Epic of Gilgamesh and gave the world the earliest documented reference to the great flood.

After the translation, Gilgamesh Smith was sent to Nineveh, where he was to continue his excavations in the hope of discovering additional inscriptions paralleling or related to the Old Testament. Archeology at that time was a new science based on the confirmation of biblical writings.

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George Smith was an English Assyriologist who excavated at Nineveh and found tablets with stories that may have inspired the biblical story of the Tower of Babel

Discovery of ancient stories that inspired the biblical story of the Tower of Babel

Smith was lucky: during the excavation, additional tablets from the royal library of Ashurbanipal were found, and on further research, he did find a story that probably inspired the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. A fragment of the text, cataloged and hidden in the vaults of the British Museum, reads as follows:

“[…] them? Father […]

his heart was evil,

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

[…] because of him his heart was evil,

[…] Babylon brought into subjection,

[small] and great he caused confusion in their speech.

[…] Babylon brought into subjection,

… Babylon brought into subjection, [small] and great confused their speech.

Strong place them (tower) all day they founded;

at their strongest place at night

he finished completely.

In his anger he poured out the word:

[to] scatter all over the world, he turned his face.

He gave this command, and their council was troubled.

[…] move he broke

[…] approved the sanctuary”.

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Ashurbanipal’s library on display at the British Museum in London

George Smith provided his translation with a commentary summarizing the meaning of the inscription and highlighting key words that emphasize the type of construction that took place.

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

There are key parallels between the biblical and Assyrian stories, namely: both of them say that humanity, united by a single language, built a tower and thereby angered the gods, which led to a mixture of languages.

The Assyrian story of the Tower of Babel, like other tablets found in the same collection, were most likely copies of older tablets.

What inspired the Assyrians to build the Tower of Babel, and what was the original message?

As in the case of the Hebrew text, these questions remain unresolved for us.


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