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Tower of Babel

The tower mentioned in Genesis xi. as having been commenced by the descendants of Noah on the plain of Shinar (Sumir), in order to reach the heavens and thus escape from the danger of a second Deluge. Jehovah, however, confounded the language of the builders, so that they no longer understood one another, and thus became scattered. From this the tower, which remained unfinished, was called Babel or “confusion” (Heb. balbel, to confound). This etymology is, however, only a specimen of Old Testament paronomasia, in that Babel is in reality the Assyrian bab-ili, “the gate of God”—a Semitic rendering of the Sumirian name Ca-dimíra. Some fragments of a cuneiform text were discovered by Mr. George Smith containing a narrative closely parallel to the Biblical account. The story in Greek mythology of the attempt of the Giants to scale heaven is probably an echo of Babylonian tradition. See Gigantes.

Nothing is known regarding the site of the Tower of Babel, beyond the fact that it was in or very near Babylon. It is generally held to be represented by the great pile Birs Nimroud, which stands in Borsippa, a suburb of Babylon, eight miles distant, and dedicated to the god Nebo. Sir Henry Rawlinson made the discovery that the pile consisted of seven stages of brickwork on an earthen platform, each stage being of a different colour. The temple was known as the Temple of the Seven Lights (planets), each stage being consecrated to a light or planet.

Plan and Elevation of the Temple at Borsippa. (From Oppert's measurement.)

Another proposed site is that of the ruins now called Bab-il, within the city of Babylon. Here the mound is 1100 yards in length and 800 in breadth. See Lenormant, Les Origines de l'Histoire d'après la Bible, vol. i. (1882); Smith, Account of Genesis, ed. by Sayce (1880); and Sayce, Fresh Light from the Ancient Monuments (3d ed. 1886).

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