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The Tower of Babel

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The Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1563)

The Tower of Babel, Confusion of Tongues: Fact or Parable?

by Suzanne Hayes

Copyright Suzanne Hayes.
Presented with permission of the author.

Ancient Babylon conjures up images of wealth, wisdom, splendor and beauty but also, mystery and magic. The Tower of Babel is perhaps one of the most intriguing of the ancient tales.


Who Built the Tower of Babel?

It is thought that Nimrod commissioned the construction of the Tower of Babel. Nimrod was the great grandson of Noah, grandson of Ham and son of Cush. He was King and founder of many cities following the flood - he is associated with Babylon, Mespotonia, Uruk, Akkad and Calneh. He is depicted as a tyrannous ruler, a hunter of both animals and men, who established fire worship and idolatry.

What is the Story of the Tower of Babel

Genesis 11:1-2

“And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the East, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there”

Genesis 11:3

“And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar”

Genesis 11:4

“And they said, Go to, let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach into heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole Earth”

Genesis 11:5-6

“And the lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 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”

Genesis 11:7

“Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech”

Genesis 11:8-9

“So the lord scattered them abroad from hence upon the face of all the earth and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from hence did the lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth”

The message from Genesis seems to be that the Babylonian citizens who built the tower did so without God and without praise of or assistance from God.

Without God, and a need for God, men themselves become Gods.

Speaking one tongue, and with ancient wisdom, humankind would be capable of anything they put their minds to - this was not God's will or plan for humankind at this point in history, the knowledge and intent could easily be twisted for evil purposes and used to wipe out mankind - therefore God had to slow the advancement of man.

Without clarity of communication, mankind was fragmented and disempowered with a loss and dispersion of universal wisdom and universal intent.

The word “babble” is based upon the incoherent speech of the Babylonians following the destruction of the tower.

Cultural Interpretations of the Tower of Babel

Greek Account

“When all men were of one language, some of them built a high tower as if they would thereby ascend up to heaven, but the Gods sent storms of wind and overthrew the tower and gave everyone his peculiar language and for this reason it was that the city was called Babylon”

Sumerian Account

“Then Enki, the Lord of abundance, (whose commands are trustworthy) the lord of wisdom, who understands the land; the leader of the Gods, endowed with wisdom, the Lord of Eridu changed the speech in their mouths, contention into it, into the speech of man that (until now) had been one.”

Mexican Account

“And as men were thereafter multiplying they constructed a very high and strong Zacualli (a very high tower) in order to protect themselves when again the second world should be destroyed. At the crucial moment their languages were changed, and as they did not understand one another, they went to different parts of the world”

Polynesian Account

“But the God in anger chased the builders away, broke down the building and changed their language, so that they spoke diverse tongues.”

Crow Indian Account

“Then little Coyote did something bad. He suggested to Old Man that he give the people different languages so they would misunderstand each other and use their weapons in wars……Old Man did what little Coyote said and the people had different languages and made war on each other.”

The interesting question is - how much of the story of the Tower of Babel is symbolic parable and how much is based upon factual events.

What Was the Purpose of the Tower of Babel ?

The translation of the word “Babel” - means Gate of God

According to the book of Genesis, the Tower was built to reach the heavens, the reason for this is not known, however, if it was a symbolic gesture, it begs the question why did the Babylonians not erect the tower off a mountain to achieve height?

There are a number of theories regarding the purpose or use for the Tower of Babel:

Theory 1

The city of Babylon was inhabited with descendants from Noah and the great flood, where, they believed, the Gods had all but wiped out life on Earth.

The tower was a statement of their triumph in the face of adversity, and a challenge to their God - they would not cower from God but ascend to challenge them - in an attempt to show their might and potentially deter any further attack.

Theory 2

The city of Babylon was inhabited with descendants from Noah and the great flood, where, they believed, the Gods had all but wiped out life on Earth.

The tower was a statement of their triumph in the face of adversity, and a challenge to their God - they would not cower from God but ascend to challenge them - in an attempt to show their might and potentially deter any further attack.

Theory 2

The tower could have been a central religious place or meeting point for people to seek sanctuary in times of adversity of attack “lest they be scattered”.

However, it begs the question, if the tower was for religious purposes, why then would the tower have brought about the wrath of God?

If however, the tower was a religious building whose intent was to expose man to the mystery of the heavens and the greatness of God - which was within man, ie man as God - as much of the “new age” philosophy is currently purporting may explain the wrath.

One purpose of the tower appears to be the civilisation wanting to “make a name for themselves” -man attempting to share in the Glory of

Theory 3

Some have taken the statement that the tower of Babel was constructed to reach the heavens as a literal concept - ie a construct that housed, or was itself, a type of spacecraft which could literally reach the heavens.

Theory 4

Some have theorised that the tower was a communications device - to either communicate with other humans around the globe who escaped the flood - or, perhaps even with Gods within the universe.

Theory 5

The tower housed, or was itself, a weapon of mass destruction - to wage war upon any earthly or spiritual opponent of Babylon.

Theory 6

The tower was a statement of mankind's wisdom, knowledge and understanding of the earth, sciences. A demonstration of the power of man - with collective consciousness, man was all powerful and could achieve anything.

Theory 7

The tower was a commercial trading centre within the heart of the ancient city - a shrine to commercialism over spirituality.

Could The Parable of the Tower of Babel Be Based in Fact

Origins of Language

The spoken word leaves no trace - it is therefore impossible for language historians to determine at what point in human history, languages were first uttered or how they developed.

The diversification of language on earth is however of great interest to linguists. There are around 5000 languages spoken in the world today and two main theories regarding how such a varied number of linguistic differences occurred.

The Monogenesis Theory (or Mother Tongue Theory) supposes that in the beginning, all modern humans came from a singular genetic source in Africa and all spoke the same language, what exactly that language was is a matter of discussion. This theory is supported in the book of Genesis from the Old Testament “they all have one language”. The original single mother tongue evolved, as humans moved and travelled in groups, into the various language spoken today.

The Candelabra Theory supposes that different languages started in different places on earth and evolved with each individual social group according to geographical location and contact with other groups or cultures.

There is however a fundamental problem with both theories - The Candelabra theory cannot fully explain the fact that there remain common or similar words for the same items - suggesting that language has in fact been adapted from one singular source. The Monogenesis theorists cannot fully explain that following rigorous analysis of language evolution, the length of time it takes for any language to evolve into the forms used in today's societies would have taken a longer time period than modern man has been on the planet.

An interesting point however, is that many accomplished linguistic historians point to the parable of the Tower of Babel to a viable explanation for the origin of the varied languages used on the planet today.

Archaeological Evidence Reveals Evidence of the Foundations of The Tower of Babel

Archaeologists have uncovered what appears to be the foundation of the Tower of Babel within the ancient city ruins of Babylon. The base is square, 91 metres along each side, with earthen embankments.

Could the Confusion of Speech be Explained?

The loss of speech may have been a divine retribution or possibly a natural disaster - interpreted as an act of God.

An article was published in the Telegraph in May 2008 which described how Roger Highfield, the Telegraph's Science Editor, participated in an experiment in which the speech area of his brain temporarily disabled by a process of “transcranial magnetic stimulation”

The area of the brain identified to be responsible for speech, speech tone and recognition is named after the man who discovered it - Broca's area.

The introduction of a magnetic force effectively turned off the ability to communicate - albeit on a temporary basis.

Is it feasible therefore to consider that a large scale electro-magnetic emission or blast from the tower of Babel could have affected the speech centre of those around the tower on a permanent basis.

We cannot ascertain however if the tower contained electro magnetic material, however, electromagnetic material could certainly support theories 3, 4 and 5 of the purpose of the tower.

Babylon Today

Renovation to the remains of the city of Babylon - situated in war torn Iraq, were started by Sadam Hussein. The city is now host to an American military base - but an article in the New York Post reveals that there are plans to turn the city into a commercial shopping centre to attract tourists.


Copyright by Suzanne Hayes..
Presented with permission of the author.

The Tower of Babel in the background of a depiction of
the Hanging Gardens of Babylon by Martin Heemskerck.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Breugel




Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism (Paperback) by Robert T. Pennock (Author)



The face of creationism has been through some major plastic surgery in the past decade or so. The leading proponents of "intelligent design theory" have left the ranting flat-earth types behind and found respected positions in the academic world from which to launch attacks on mainstream science. Philosopher of science Robert T. Pennock has explored all sides of the ongoing debate, which remains (despite the protestations of many creationists) more about biblical inerrancy than scientific evidence. His book Tower of Babel examines the new directions antievolutionists have taken lately, but goes beyond a mere recounting of recent history by proposing a new avenue of counterattack: linguistics.

The parallels are striking once we look closely: Genesis proclaims that God created all human languages at one stroke, while modern scientific thought proposes linguistic evolution similar in form to genetics. Best of all for scientists, though, linguistic change is much more rapid than biological change, and we have actually observed what might be called "speciation events" to have occurred historically in languages. While not meant to supplant traditional arguments against creationism, Pennock's ideas certainly supplement them and will be useful to educators and researchers alike. His sense of urgency is compelling; he sees the future of scientific education and freedom at stake and argues strongly for a separation between private beliefs and public knowledge. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

According to University of Texas philosopher Pennock, creationism has been evolving, changing from an unsophisticated attack on biological evolution to a more refined and polished assault on the nature of science itself. Rather than offering sophomoric arguments and forged archeological displays, he contends, the new creationists are attempting to promulgate a philosophical construct, theistic science, that is both more subtle and more insidious. With great insight and good humor, Pennock catalogues the wide range of creationist beliefs, dissects their main arguments and highlights what he sees as their internal inconsistencies. He focuses most of his attention on explicating the alleged weakness of the premises of theistic science and its reliance on an "intelligent designer," contending that its incorporation of miracles into its explanatory sphere undermines all aspects of science. In clear, direct prose, Pennock uses the basics of linguistic evolution to go after the foundation of the new creationism while employing sound philosophical arguments to demonstrate that an evolutionary worldview is neither immoral nor the first step toward the acceptance of atheism. With the new creationists claiming that an evolutionary perspective is responsible for virtually all of the world's ills and their desire to make amends by restructuring public education and the legal system, the stakes are huge. Pennock's response, thoughtful, thorough and respectful, deserves to be widely read.

Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.



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