Babel, tower of
(See BABEL; BABYLON.) Bochart (Phaleg, 1:9) records the Jews' tradition that fire from heaven split it through to its foundation. It is curious that the Birs is so rent; hence perhaps arose the Jews' tradition. Alexander Polyhistor said that the four winds blew it down. The Birs Nimrud was probably its site, and gives an idea of its construction, being the best specimen of a Babylonian temple tower. It is an oblong pyramid, in seven receding and successively lessening stages. Lowest is a platform of crude brick, three feet high. The angles face the cardinal points, N.S.E.W. This implies that the temple towers were used as astronomical observatories; which Diodorus expressly states of the temple of Belus. In the third were found two terra cotta cylinders, now in the British Museum, stating that having fallen into decay since it was erected it was repaired by Nebuchadnezzar.
The great pyramid was much higher, being 480 ft. The temple at Warka is of ruder style than the tower of Babel (Genesis 11). The bricks are sun-dried, and of different sizes and shapes. The cement is mud; whereas in the tower of Babel they" burnt them thoroughly," and had bitumen ("slime") "for mortar." The Mugheir temple is exactly such in materials. The writing found in it is assigned to 2300 B.C. The tower of Babel was probably synchronous with Peleg (Genesis 10:25) when the earth was divided, somewhat earlier than 2300 B.C. The phrase "whose top (may reach) unto heaven" is a figure for great height (compare Deuteronomy 1:28). Abydenus in Eusebius' Praep. Evan. 9:14-15, preserves the Babylonian tradition. "Not long after the flood men were so puffed up with their strength and stature that they began to despise the gods, and labored to erect the tower now called Babylon, intending thereby to settle heaven. But when the winds approached the sky, lo, the gods called in the aid of the winds and overturned the tower.
The ruin is still called Babel, because until this time all men had used the same speech, but now there was sent on them a confusion of diverse tongues." The Greek myth of the giants' war with the gods, and attempt to scale heaven by piling one mountain upon another, is another corrupted form of the same truth. The character of the language in the earliest Babylonian monuments, as far back as 2800 B.C., is remarkably mixed: Turanian in structure, Ethiopian (Cushite) mainly in vocabulary, with Semitic and Aryan elements, conformably with the Bible account that Babel was the scene of the confusion of tongues. Turano Cushite themselves, they adopted several terms from the Aryan and Semitic races, of whom some must have remained at Babel after the migration of the majority. This mixed character is not so observable in other early languages.