Now the whole earth has had a language and few words. And as the men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Sinear and settled there. And they said to each other, "Come on, let us make bricks, and burn them completely." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build a city for us, and a tower with its top in the skies, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we spread abroad on the face of the earth" whole.
And the Lord came down and saw the city and the tower that the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, "See, they are a people, and they have a language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us down, and there confuses their language, so they can't understand the speech "of each other.
So the Lord spread them abroad over there on the face of the earth, and they set out to build the city. Then his name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord spread them abroad on the face of the earth. - Genesis 11.
The story of the Tower of Babel found in the Bible is familiar to many. Is there evidence that such a tower did exist? There are archaeological indications that he did, really.
On the fertile Mesopotamian plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in what is now modern Iraq, lies a mound, or bill, of broken mud-and-rubble buildings. This is all that remains of the famous ancient city of Babylon.
Babylon was one of several cities built by a succession of people that lived in the clear beginning around 5,500 years ago. There developed a tradition in each city of building a temple in the form of a step pyramid. These temples, or ziggurates, probably honored a particular god. Mesopotamian people believed in many gods and often a city could have several ziggurates. Over time Babylon became the most influential city on the plain and its ziggurat honors the god Marduk and was built, destroyed and rebuilt until it was the tallest tower.
Archaeologists examining the remains of the city of Babylon have found what appears to be the foundation of the tower: a square of earthen dikes some three hundred feet on each side. The most splendid personification of the tower was probably under King Nebuchadnezzar II who lived from 605-562 BC. The King rebuilt the tower to be 295 feet higher. According to an inscription made by the king, the tower was constructed of "baked brick enamelled in brilliant blue". The tower terraces with flowers and trees may also have been planted.
Ziggurat building on the Mesopotamian plain was not easy. The area lacks the stone deposited like the Egyptians used effectively for its infinite monuments. The available wood is mainly palm, not the best for construction, so people used what they had in abundance: mud and straw. The size of the raw brick towers was made by mixing cut straw with clay and pouring the results into molds. After the bricks were allowed to bake in the sun they were joined in construction using bitumen, a slimey (slime) material imported from the Iranian plateau. Bitumen was widely used as a bond and covering material along the Mesopotamian plain.
The tower, referred to by the Babylonians as Etemenanki, was unique to the city's wonders. Down the street was the Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Nebuchadnezzar also had two impressive palaces within the city. The final start of the end of the tower of Babel probably started around 478 BC. The city had been taken over by Persian King Xerxes who crushed a rebellion there that year. The tower was abandoned and crumbled.
Because of the use of mud-baked bricks, ziggurat needed constant maintenance. Often they had internal drainage systems designed to drain rainwater out of the way so that the bricks would not be corroded. If the tubes in a ziggurat were not cleaned regularly and they were allowed to crush the crumbling tower slowly. Ziggurats were also highly susceptible to earthquake damage. Its height magnified the effect of shivering forces while the rigid, unreinforced brick construction did not allow the structures to bend and shake.
Although the Tower of Babel has now fallen, some ziggurats still exist. The largest surviving, (though damaged) temple is now found in western Iran, in what was once the ancient land of Elam. Located approximately 18 miles from the capital of Elam, a city named Susa. Built in 1250 BC by King Untash-Napirisha it had five levels once and was 170 feet in height.
What we know about the Tower of Babel today comes only from the small archaeological evidence found and some ancient writings. Nebuchadnezzar described how "gold, silver and precious stones of the mountain and the sea were liberally fixed on the foundations" and how to reconstruct this he called on "various peoples of the Empire, from north and south, from mountains and the coasts" to help with the construction.
Even in 460 BC, after the tower had been crumbling for many years, the Greek historian Herodotus visited the tower and was very impressed. "It has a solid central tower, a square terrace, with a second one erected on top of it and then a third, and so on up to eight. All eight towers can be scaled by a spiral path that runs around the outside, and over equidistant up there are seats to rest those who make the journey to climb ".
Although the tower had fallen for many years, its biblical history continued to inspire artists. It was a favorite subject during the 14th century when several famous paintings were made. As archaeological and historical research showed that most were not really the representation of the current building.
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Tower of Babel, languages, language change, linguistics