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Article: The Tower of Babel (2/3)

April 23, 2007

The Tower of Babel: Outside The Bible

Archaeological evidence proves that the Bible’s description of the tower of Babel is historically accurate on the following points:

* The description of the building
* The time at which it was built
* The specific materials from which it was constructed
* The order of the construction process
* The motives involved in its construction

The Bible describes the tower of Babel using a term which is historically appropriate:

‘Gen 11:4 tells us that the settlers in Sumer decided to build “a city and a tower.” The word used for tower is ldgm (migdal). Since this word is often used in the OT for a watchtower or a defensive tower (e.g., Judg 9:45, 51; 2 Kgs 9:17; 17:9; Isa 5:2) and nowhere else refers to a ziggurat, what reason is there to believe that in Gen 11:4 it refers to a ziggurat?

The first reason is that the setting is in Babylonia where the ziggurat was the most prominent structure in a city – both visually and ideologically. [18]

Secondly, the tower in our text was designed to bring fame and glory to the builders (“so that we may make a name for ourselves”). Mesopotamian kings often took pride in building ziggurats, but no such pride was taken in defensive towers which were simply parts of the city wall. [19]’

‘As for the use of the word migdal, one wonders what other choice the Hebrews had for a word to refer to a ziggurat? Since they had no ziggurats in their culture, they would either have to borrow a word or use the closest word they could find in their own language. As Walton has pointed out, the word migdal is not inaccurate and has a similar etymology to ziggurat, being derived from gedal (to be large), while ziggurat is derived from the Akkadian word zaqaru (to be high). [22]’

‘There is very good reason then to believe that the tower in our text refers to a ziggurat and not just to a defensive tower. The vast majority of scholars agree that a ziggurat is intended.

[18] Elizabeth C. Stone, “The Development of Cities in Ancient Mesopotamia,” CANE 1:236, 238.

[19] Singer, A History of Technology, 1:254-55; Forbes, Studies, 1:68.

[22] John Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Tower of Babel Account and Its Implications,” BBR 5 (1995), 156’

Paul H Seely, ‘The Date Of The Tower Of Babel And Some Theological Implications’, pages 18-19, originally published in Westminster Theological Journal 63 (2001) 15-38

The Biblical account of the tower of Babel comes just after the record of the flood, and since it has been demonstrated that the flood occurred around 3,000 BC, we know that the events surrounding the tower of Babel must have taken place not long after this date.

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