The Tower Of Babel

We are informed that, at one time, "the whole earth was of one language,

and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they (the inhabitants of the

earth) journeyed from the East, that they found a plain in the land of

Shinar, and they dwelt there.

"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.

they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top

may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered

abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 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. Go to, let us go down, and there

confound their language, that they may not understand one another's

speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence 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 thence did the Lord scatter them

abroad upon the face of all the earth."[33:1]

Such is the "Scripture" account of the origin of languages, which

differs somewhat from the ideas of Prof. Max Mueller and other


Bishop Colenso tells us that:

"The story of the dispensation of tongues is connected by the

Jehovistic writer with the famous unfinished temple of

Belus, of which probably some wonderful reports had reached

him. . . . The derivation of the name Babel from the Hebrew

word babal (confound) which seems to be the connecting point

between the story and the tower of Babel, is altogether


The literal meaning of the word being house, or court, or gate of

Bel, or gate of God.[34:1]

John Fiske confirms this statement by saying:

"The name 'Babel' is really 'Bab-il', or 'The Gate of

God'; but the Hebrew writer erroneously derives the word

from the root 'babal'--to confuse--and hence arises the

mystical explanation, that Babel was a place where human

speech became confused."[34:2]

The "wonderful reports" that reached the Jehovistic writer who inserted

this tale into the Hebrew Scriptures, were from the Chaldean account of

the confusion of tongues. It is related by Berosus as follows:

The first inhabitants of the earth, glorying in their strength and

size,[34:3] and despising the gods, undertook to raise a tower whose top

should reach the sky, in the place where Babylon now stands. But when it

approached the heavens, the winds assisted the gods, and overthrew the

work of the contrivers, and also introduced a diversity of tongues among

men, who till that time had all spoken the same language. The ruins of

this tower are said to be still in Babylon.[34:4]

Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that it was Nimrod who built the

tower, that he was a very wicked man, and that the tower was built in

case the Lord should have a mind to drown the world again. He continues

his account by saying that when Nimrod proposed the building of this

tower, the multitude were very ready to follow the proposition, as they

could then avenge themselves on God for destroying their forefathers.

"And they built a tower, neither sparing any pains nor being

in any degree negligent about the work. And by reason of the

multitude of hands employed on it, it grew very high, sooner

than any one could expect. . . . . It was built of burnt

brick, cemented together, with mortar made of bitumen, that it

might not be liable to admit water. When God saw that they had

acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly,

since they were not grown wiser by the destruction of the

former sinners, but he caused a tumult among them, by

producing in them divers languages, and causing, that through

the multitude of those languages they should not be able to

understand one another. The place where they built the tower

is now called Babylon."[34:5]

The tower in Babylonia, which seems to have been a foundation for the

legend of the confusion of tongues to be built upon, was evidently

originally built for astronomical purposes.[35:1] This is clearly seen

from the fact that it was called the "Stages of the Seven

Spheres,"[35:2] and that each one of these stages was consecrated to the

Sun, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury.[35:3]

Nebuchadnezzar says of it in his cylinders:

"The building named the 'Stages of the Seven Spheres,' which

was the tower of Borsippa (Babel), had been built by a former

king. He had completed forty-two cubits, but he did not finish

its head. From the lapse of time, it had become ruined; they

had not taken care of the exits of the waters, so the rain and

wet had penetrated into the brick-work; the casing of burnt

brick had bulged out, and the terraces of crude brick lay

scattered in heaps. Merobach, my great Lord, inclined my heart

to repair the building. I did not change its site, nor did I

destroy its foundation, but, in a fortunate month, and upon an

auspicious day, I undertook the rebuilding of the crude brick

terraces and burnt brick casing, &c., &c."[35:4]

There is not a word said here in these cylinders about the confusion of

tongues, nor anything pertaining to it. The ruins of this ancient tower

being there in Babylonia, and a legend of how the gods confused the

speech of mankind also being among them, it was very convenient to point

to these ruins as evidence that the story was true, just as the ancient

Mexicans pointed to the ruins of the tower of Cholula, as evidence of

the truth of the similar story which they had among them, and just as

many nations pointed to the remains of aquatic animals on the tops of

mountains, as evidence of the truth of the deluge story.

The Armenian tradition of the "Confusion of Tongues" was to this


The world was formerly inhabited by men "with strong bodies and huge

size" (giants). These men being full of pride and envy, "they formed a

godless resolve to build a high tower; but whilst they were engaged on

the undertaking, a fearful wind overthrew it, which the wrath of God had

sent against it. Unknown words were at the same time blown about among

men, wherefore arose strife and confusion."[35:5]

The Hindoo legend of the "Confusion of Tongues," is as follows:

There grew in the centre of the earth, the wonderful "World Tree," or

the "Knowledge Tree." It was so tall that it reached almost to heaven.

"It said in its heart: 'I shall hold my head in heaven, and spread my

branches over all the earth, and gather all men together under my

shadow, and protect them, and prevent them from separating.' But Brahma,

to punish the pride of the tree, cut off its branches and cast them down

on the earth, when they sprang up as Wata trees, and made differences

of belief, and speech, and customs, to prevail on the earth, to

disperse men over its surface."[36:1]

Traces of a somewhat similar story have also been met with among the

Mongolian Tharus in the north of India, and, according to Dr.

Livingston, among the Africans of Lake Nganu.[36:2] The ancient

Esthonians[36:3] had a similar myth which they called "The Cooking of

Languages;" so also had the ancient inhabitants of the continent of

Australia.[36:4] The story was found among the ancient Mexicans, and

was related as follows:

Those, with their descendants, who were saved from the deluge which

destroyed all mankind, excepting the few saved in the ark, resolved to

build a tower which would reach to the skies. The object of this was to

see what was going on in Heaven, and also to have a place of refuge in

case of another deluge.[36:5]

The job was superintended by one of the seven who were saved from the

flood.[36:6] He was a giant called Xelhua, surnamed "the


Xelhua ordered bricks to be made in the province of Tlamanalco, at the

foot of the Sierra of Cocotl, and to be conveyed to Cholula, where the

tower was to be built. For this purpose, he placed a file of men

reaching from the Sierra to Cholula, who passed the bricks from hand to

hand.[36:8] The gods beheld with wrath this edifice,--the top of which

was nearing the clouds,--and were much irritated at the daring attempt

of Xelhua. They therefore hurled fire from Heaven upon the pyramid,

which threw it down, and killed many of the workmen. The work was then

discontinued,[36:9] as each family interested in the building of the

tower, received a language of their own,[36:10] and the builders could

not understand each other.

Dr. Delitzsch must have been astonished upon coming across this legend;

for he says:

"Actually the Mexicans had a legend of a tower-building as

well as of a flood. Xelhua, one of the seven giants

rescued from the flood, built the great pyramid of Cholula, in

order to reach heaven, until the gods, angry at his audacity,

threw fire upon the building and broke it down, whereupon

every separate family received a language of its own."[37:1]

The ancient Mexicans pointed to the ruins of a tower at Cholula as

evidence of the truth of their story. This tower was seen by Humboldt

and Lord Kingsborough, and described by them.[37:2]

We may say then, with Dr. Kalisch, that:

"Most of the ancient nations possessed myths concerning

impious giants who attempted to storm heaven, either to share

it with the immortal gods, or to expel them from it. In some

of these fables the confusion of tongues is represented as

the punishment inflicted by the deities for such



[33:1] Genesis xi. 1-9.

[33:2] The Pentateuch Examined, vol. iv. p. 268.

[34:1] Ibid. p. 268. See also Bible for Learners, vol. i. p. 90.

[34:2] Myths and Myth-makers, p. 72. See also Encyclopaedia Britannica,

art. "Babel."

[34:3] "There were giants in the earth in those days." (Genesis vi.


[34:4] Quoted by Rev. S. Baring-Gould: Legends of the Patriarchs, p.

147. See also Smith: Chaldean Account of Genesis, p. 48, and Volney's

Researches in Ancient History, pp. 130, 131.

[34:5] Jewish Antiquities, book 1, ch. iv. p. 30.

[35:1] "Diodorus states that the great tower of the temple of Belus was

used by the Chaldeans as an observatory." (Smith's Bible Dictionary,

art. "Babel.")

[35:2] The Hindoos had a sacred Mount Meru, the abode of the gods.

This mountain was supposed to consist of seven stages, increasing in

sanctity as they ascended. Many of the Hindoo temples, or rather altars,

were "studied transcripts of the sacred Mount Meru;" that is, they were

built, like the tower of Babel, in seven stages. Within the upper

dwelt Brahm. (See Squire's Serpent Symbol, p. 107.) Herodotus tells us

that the upper stage of the tower of Babel was the abode of the god


[35:3] The Pentateuch Examined, vol. iv. p. 269. See also Bunsen: The

Angel Messiah, p. 106.

[35:4] Rawlinson's Herodotus, vol. ii. p. 484.

[35:5] Legends of the Patriarchs, pp. 148, 149.

[36:1] Ibid. p. 148. The ancient Scandinavians had a legend of a

somewhat similar tree. "The Mundane Tree," called Yggdrasill, was in

the centre of the earth; its branches covered over the surface of the

earth, and its top reached to the highest heaven. (See Mallet's Northern


[36:2] Encyclopaedia Britannica, art. "Babel."

[36:3] Esthonia is one of the three Baltic, or so-called, provinces of


[36:4] Encyclopaedia Britannica, art. "Babel."

[36:5] Higgins: Anacalypsis, vol. ii. p. 27.

[36:6] Brinton: Myths of the New World, p. 204.

[36:7] Humboldt: American Researches, vol. i. p. 96.

[36:8] Ibid.

[36:9] Ibid., and Brinton: Myths of the New World, p. 204.

[36:10] The Pentateuch Examined, vol. iv. p. 272.

[37:1] Quoted by Bishop Colenso: The Pentateuch Examined, vol. iv. p.


[37:2] Humboldt: American Researches, vol. i. p. 97. Lord Kingsborough:

Mexican Antiquities.

[37:3] Com. on Old Test. vol. i. p. 196.