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,
[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,
[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.
[36:9] 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:
[37:3] Com. on Old Test. vol. i. p. 196.