As an Assyriologist, I don’t deal in the Bible, and I am not a religious person, but in this case, I can say there is an actual building which does seem to be the inspiration for the Biblical narrative.
Assyriologist Dr. Andrew George, a professor of Babylonian at the University of London, is referring to a sixth-century BCE stone tablet with a carving of a ziggurat – a terraced step pyramid common in Mesopotamia. The ziggurat is flanked by a figure identified as King Nebuchadnezzar II and an inscription that reads, “Tower of Temple of Babylon.” The 2.600-year-old tablet was discovered a century ago. What took so long to connect these seemingly obvious dots?
For those not up on biblical or Babylonian history, Genesis 11:4 says, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the Earth.” It then explains that God didn’t approve, confused the languages and scattered the people building the tower, which is then called Babel, possibly from the Hebrew word balal, which means to jumble or confuse. Archeologists have attempted to link the biblical Tower of Babel to real structures – such as Etemenanki, a ziggurat dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Marduk by Nabopolassar, king of Babylonia – but they’ve never had any conclusive proof.
Until now. According to Dr. George, the tablet, discovered a century ago in the Babylonian area of Iraq, is currently in the private collection of Norwegian businessman Martin Schøyen and has never been available for close study until recently. In an upcoming series produced by the Smithsonian, George dates the baked clay tablet to around 600 BCE and illustrates how the faint carvings show the seven tiers of a giant ziggurat. He also shows how the outline next to it is a giant depiction of King Nebuchadnezzar II, who reigned from around 605-562 BCE.
But the key is the faint text carving, which Dr. George translates as:
NEBUCHADNEZZAR, KING OF BABYLON AM I – IN ORDER TO COMPLETE E-TEMEN-ANKI AND E-UR-ME-IMIN-ANKI I MOBILIZED ALL COUNTRIES EVERYWHERE, EACH AND EVERY RULER WHO HAD BEEN RAISED TO PROMINENCE OVER ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD – LOVED BY MARDUK, FROM THE UPPER SEA TO THE LOWER SEA, THE DISTANT NATIONS, THE TEEMING PEOPLE OF THE WORLD, KINGS OF REMOTE MOUNTAINS AND FAR-FLUNG ISLANDS – THE BASE I FILLED IN TO MAKE A HIGH TERRACE. I BUILT THEIR STRUCTURES WITH BITUMEN AND BAKED BRICK THROUGHOUT. I COMPLETED IT RAISING ITS TOP TO THE HEAVEN, MAKING IT GLEAM BRIGHT AS THE SUN
Painting of the Tower of Babel by Marten van Valckenborch the Elder, Flemish Renaissance painter
So what about the babbling and the collapse of the tower? In an interview with Breaking Israel News, George theorizes that the multitudes of languages referred to in the story of the tower may refer to the fact that a monument of that magnitude needed many workers from many countries.
The myth about the multitude of tongues comes from the context described in the stele about the multitude of peoples enlisted in the construction of the tower. There were many languages spoken on the construction site. From that it may be that the Bible got the idea of the confusion of tongues.
That ‘confusion of tongues’ may have also had led to construction problems which caused the project to take 43 years. That may also be why the tower didn’t withstand the test of time and is now most likely the rubble that is at the Etemenanki site.
Good evidence that the Tower of Babel existed and is depicted on a stone tablet? Yes. Undeniable? Not yet. A lesson for construction bosses on big projects? Definitely … always carry a translation app.