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Tower of Babel

where the world's many languages are said to have begun

In Genesis 11, the descendants of Noah sought to build a tower tall enough to reach Heaven so they could communicate directly with God. God, however, did not want the tower built, and caused the people to speak different languages so they could no longer cooperate in building the structure. The Hebrews believed this represented the origin of the world's various languages.

artist rendering of the Tower of Babel

Although there is little evidence that an actual Tower of Babel ever existed, the Babylonian Empire of the Mesopotamian region was well known for its ziggurats (stepped pyramids), and it is believed that one specific ziggurat may have formed the basis for the Tower of Babel story. In the ruins of ancient Babylon is a square of earthen embankments that stretch about 300 feet on each side, upon which a ziggurat honoring the god Marduck was built, destroyed and rebuilt many times until it became the tallest structure in all of Mesopotomia. It most likely reached its peak during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II (who lived 605-562 BC), when it stood 292 feet high, according to contemporary accounts. Those same accounts also say that Nebuchadnezzar employed people from across the Babylonian Empire to build and maintain the structure, and those people would have likely spoken a variety of languages. The ziggurat, called Etemenaki by the Babylonians, stood in splendor for about 100 years, but began to decline and crumble after the capture of Babylon by the Persian king Xerxes about 478 BC.

King Nebuchadnezzar II

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This page was last updated on October 21, 2017.