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THE TOWEE OP BABEL 

E. G. H. Kraeling 
Union Theological Seminary 

Ever since it became definitely known that the great and 
imposing ruins of Birs Nimrud were remnants of the ziqqnrrat of 
Borsippa, the view that they represented the Tower of Babel has 
been abandoned by most scholars. This view, according to Kol- 
dewey, the excavator of ancient Babylon, was tenable only so 
long as Oppert's fantastic ideas as to the extent of the city found 
credence. It is now held as almost certain that Marduk's famous 
Temple Esagila, with its ziqqurrat E-temen-an-ki, is the structure 
referred to in Gen. II. 1 It seems to me however that the ancient 
and traditional identification of the 'tower of Babel' with the 
site of Birs Nimrud must be revived. 

It is plainly the intention of Gen. 11. 1-9 to tell that Yahweh 
hindered the builders of the tower, so that they could not com- 
plete their work. For only to the temple with its tower and 
not to the residential sections can the statement in v. 8, 'They 
had to stop building the city' apply. Since the temple of an 
ancient city was its real heart and centre this synecdoche is not 
surprising. Furthermore a cessation of 'building the city' 
would not become very easily the part of a story if referring to 
the residential part, but a great temple tower that had remained 
a torso or had fallen into decay would stimulate the imagination 
profoundly. To this Birs Nimrud bears ample testimony, for 
the travellers of all times have been deeply stirred by the sight 
of its vast ruins. The story of Gen. 11, then, clearly arose and 
circulated at a time when the tower referred to had been a torso 
for a considerable period. 

1 Cf. Koldewey, Das wiedererstehende Babylon, 1913, and Die Tempel von 
Babylon und Borsippa, 1911. The long lost tablet describing Esagila in its 
final grandeur has been rediscovered and published by Scheil in Memovres 
de I'Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, vol. 39 (1913), p. 293 f. 
But the famous Bel-Temple described by Herodotus does not seem to have 
been the one at Babylon, which was no longer standing in the days of 
the Greek author, but rather the temple of Borsippa. Cf. Delitzsch in 
Festschrift fiir Eduard Bachau, 1915, p. 97 f. 



The Tower of Babel 277 

Now the J source from which Gen. 11. 1-9 is taken seems to 
have originated at the time of Solomon, 970-932 B. C. 2 If this 
dating may be regarded as fairly secure we must suppose that 
the story of the tower of Babel is an 11th century story and that 
the tower at this time had the incomplete or dilapidated appear- 
ance therein described. 

Unfortunately our knowledge of the history of the temples of 
Babylon and Borsippa is very meagre. We may here well omit 
the references to them in very early times. Suffice it to say they 
had their ups and downs, as the so-called Kedorlaomer texts 
show, which speak of the pillage of Ezida and Bsagila by the 
hostile Elamite. 3 During the period of the Cassite rule, lasting 
over 500 years, Babylonia seems to have enjoyed prosperity and 
no doubt the temples were well taken care of. King 4 has recently 
called attention to a boundary stone of Merodach Baladan I 
(1201-1181), one of the last rulers of the Cassite dynasty, on 
which appears the symbol of the god Nabii (the stylus) supported 
by a horned dragon set off against a four-stage tower, which can 
be none other than the ziqqurrat of Borsippa, B-ur-imin-an-ki. 
At this period, then, 'the house of the seven stages of heaven and 
earth' was only a four story structure, but we may assume that 
it was in good condition and had been well cared for by the king. 
The fall of the Cassite Dynasty, 1150 B. C, brought a repetition 
of the conditions that had existed before Hammurapi — invasion 
by the Blamites. "We learn that the statue of Marduk was even 
carried off by them from Esagila, but there is no record of how 
they dealt with the temples. Under Nebuchadrezzar I, however, 
a few years later, Babylon recovered the Marduk statue and 
regained its independence. Among the following kings many 
bear names compounded with Marduk, and were no doubt zealous 
in providing for this god's shrine. But the unsettled conditions 
of the period, the disturbance caused by the Aramaean migration 
and by the rise of the Assyrian power in the north do not argue 
for an age of prosperity in Babylon, and only in prosperous days 



" Procksch, Die Genesis, 1912, p. 17. 

8 Re-edited by Jeremias in Festschrift fur Hommel. Cf. also Das Alte 
Testament', 1916, p. 280 f . Esarhaddon began to rebuild Esagila and the 
operations were continued by Ashurbanipal and Shamash-shum-ukin; cf. 
Streck, Ashurbanipai II, 1916, p. 146, p. 246 f., etc. 

* History of Babylon, p. 79. 



278 E. G. E. Eroding 

are building operations carried on extensively by kings. But 
the ziqqurrat of Babylon seems to nave been standing, for when 
Sennacherib (705-681), the conqueror of Babylon, entered the 
city he devastated the temple, tore down the ziqqurrat, and threw 
it into the Arahtu canal. 5 

The ziqqurrat of Borsippa however seems also to have experi- 
enced a destruction, and perhaps at an earlier time. Of especial 
importance in this connection is the inscription of Nebuchadrez- 
zar's cylinder. 6 'At that time E-ur-imin-an-ki, the ziqqurrat of 
Barsip which a previous king had made — 42 cubits he had ele- 
vated it, not had he raised its head, from a distant day it had col- 
lapsed, not were in order the outlets of its water, rain and storm 
had removed its bricks, the bricks of its covering were split open, 
the bricks of its body were heaped up like a ruin mound — Mar- 
duk, my lord, aroused my heart to construct it.' Now it must 
be emphasized that the activity of the previous king referred to 
was also one of restoration, since the temple tower was only ele- 
vated 42 cubits. 7 The four-stage tower of the days of Merodach 
Baladan I was much higher! The necessary conclusion there- 
fore is that this older temple had been destroyed or had fallen 
into ruin, and that later on a king, who ruled a long time 
before Nebuchadrezzar, had begun its restoration. The par- 
tially restored ziqqurrat had also in the course of time fallen 
into ruins. This obviously compels us to seek a much earlier 
date for the destruction of the temple than that of Sennacherib. 
In fact the attempt at restoration may antedate this king and is 
perhaps to be accredited to Merodach Baladan II (721-710) who 
calls himself 'the worshipper of Nebo and Marduk, the gods of 
Esagila and Ezida, who provided abundantly for their gates and 
made shining all their temples, renewed all their sanctuaries.' 8 

* Bavian Inscription, III E 14, 1. 51. 

* Langdon, Neubabylonische Konigsinschriften, 1912, p. 98 f. ; cf. also p. 
114. 

'Cf. with this the statement in Langdon, p. 60 (Col I. 44 f.) that 
Nabopolassar raised the ziqqurrat of Babylon 30 cubits. In both cases it 
does not seem clear whether this means from the base up. Thirty cubits 
is not even the height of the lowest stage of Nebuchadrezzar's Tower. 
Furthermore Rawlinson claims to have found the three copies of the 
cylinder above quoted on the eorners of the third stage of E-ur-imin-an-ki, 
indicating that here the work of Nebuchadrezzar began. — He figured 
about 8 metres to every stage; cf. JSAS 18, pp. 1-34, on the excavations. 

* Cf . the Black Stone Inscription. 



The Tower of Babel 279 

It seems most likely that immediately after the fall of the Cassite 
dynasty Ezida and E-ur-imin-an-ki, whether by violence or by 
neglect, fell into ruins. It seems to have a peculiar significance 
that the Assyrians in the 9th century founded another temple by 
the name of Ezida at Nineveh and adopted to a very great extent 
the worship of the god Nabu. 9 If the shrine at Borsippa had 
been flourishing in those days such action would not have been 
very likely. Thus while the continuity of the temple of Babylon 
seems to be assured to the time of Sennacherib, there is ground 
for supposing that that of Borsippa fell into ruin right after the 
Cassite era, in other words at the time of the rise of the Hebrew 
kingdom in Palestine when the Jahvist lived. 

But an additional argument from the mythological point of 
view speaks most emphatically for the tower of Borsippa. In 
the 137th Fable of Hyginus we are told that ages ago mankind 
spoke only one language. But after Mercury had multiplied 
the languages and divided the nations, strife began to arise 
among them. Zeus was angered at Mercury's act but could not 
change it. The tradition presupposed in this fable seems to have 
no other analogy in Graeco-Eoman legend. And if we recall that 
Mercury is the equivalent of the Oriental Nabu. we must imme- 
diately ask ourselves whether this is not an eastern myth that 
was imported with so much other Asiatic lore in the Hellenistic 
era. The god Nabu is the author of written language — the cryp- 
tic signs that seem so wonderful to the uninitiated; the art of 
writing is once called 'the mother of language and the father of 
wisdom. ' 10 Equally mysterious, however, must have seemed the 
sound of foreign tongues. "Who else could be their originator in 
a Babylonian speculative system than the god Nabu.? True, 
we have no direct testimonial to this in the inscriptions. But if 
Gen. 11 originated in Babylonia — and of this there can be no 
doubt — then Yahweh has assumed in the present version the role 
of some Babylonian deity, and this deity by every argument of 
analogy and probability can only have been Nabu. We should 
expect the story of the dispersion of tongues to be centered at 
Nabu's shrine in Borsippa, rather than at Marduk's sanctuary in 
Babylon. 



• Cf. Streck, op. tit. 2, 272 f. Shamash-shum-ukln, Stele Inscr. S 1 1. 13 f., 
says that he renewed the walls of Ezida which had grown old and weak 
under a former king. 

10 Cf. Jeremias in Roseher's Lexicon 3. 56. 



280 E. Q. H. Kraeling 

The motif of the deity's prevention of the completion of the 
tower can however be no integral part of the official cult story of 
Ezida. This element was added at a time when Bzida and its 
ziqqurrat were greatly neglected. One might be inclined to 
assign this motif entirely to the imagination of that early Hebrew 
story-teller who saw in the scene of ruin Yahweh's verdict upon 
the self-aggrandizement of the people of Babylonia. Yet it also 
seems possible that the idea of the jealous deity, that is afraid of 
men's prowess and intervenes in order to defeat their attempt to 
overthrow him by destroying the ladder on which they seek to 
climb into heaven, shimmers through the story. The descent of 
the deity for punitive purposes (v. 7) finds an analogy also in a 
passage of the so-called Kedorlaomer texts : 'If the king does not 
speak righteousness, inclines toward wickedness, then his sh§du 
will descend from Esharra, the temple of all the gods. m It may 
well be therefore that this element goes back to a pre-Hebraic 
stage. Gunkel's view that the story was heard from Aramaean 
Beduin on the Babylonian border 12 may not be very far from the 
truth. The point of view certainly cannot be that of the native 
Babylonian citizen. Perhaps an ancient Hebrew forerunner of 
Herodotus who visited Babylonia as tradesman and came into 
contact with the roving Chaldaean Aramaeans brought back the 
story to Palestine as he heard it from the lips of these nomads 
somewhere near the great ruins of Birs Nimrud. 

A third stage, however, in the development of the story is 
assuredly Palestinean — that is its attraction away from Borsippa 
to Babel. Naturally a traveller would relate it in connection 
with his visit to the metropolis since the name of Borsippa was 
too obscure and unimportant for his hearers. And since 'Babel' 
lent itself so excellently to a pun with baled 'to confuse', the 
original reference to Nabu's temple was lost. Gunkel has seen 
that the emphasis on the root pug, 'to scatter,' thrice repeated, 
prepared the way for another etymology which has been obliter- 
ated — that of the temple or ziqqurrat. 13 His own suggestion of 
an appellation like 'pigu' (the 'white' tower) is of no value, for 

a Of. Jeremias, Das Alte Testament, p. 180. 

"Gunkel, Die Genesis 1 , ad loe. 

"Gunkel divides the story into two sources — a city version and a tower 
version; so also Procksch, who however maintains that the story is a 
unity in its present form beeause of the excellent metre. 



The Tower of Babel 281 

the towers were many-colored. In seeking the original name we 
must remember that the key form for the etymology is always the 
last one used — here heftyam (v. 9). There is no other Baby- 
lonian temple name so nearly like this as B-zi-da, especially if we 
recall that Sumerian B (house) appears as he in Hebrew (cp. 
hekal = ekallu). The form Hezida is the most likely representa- 
tion of the name in Hebrew. An identity of all consonants is 
not necessary; cp. 'Bsaw = se'ar, Gen. 25. 25, etc., where a mere 
vocalic correspondence was found sufficient. 1 * In view of all the 
other material we have presented it seems certain that this name 
once stood in the text. That the pun is made with the name of 
the temple Ezida, rather than with the tower E-ur-imin-an-ki, 
presents no difficulty since even in the Babylonian texts the lat- 
ter is only rarely mentioned. The shorter and more familiar 
name of the greater complex of the temple was more likely to be 
perpetuated. 

Originally a cult story of Ezida, then a popular Aramaean 
legend, then a Babylonian reminiscence of a Hebrew traveller, 
and eventually a vehicle of deep religious and philosophical 
thought— such is the evolution of Gen. 11. 1-9. Surely a fas- 
cinating bit of history down whose vistas we here can glance. 

"A much worse pun on the name of Ezida with Uza occurs in a 
Babylonian text, cf. King's The Seven Tablets of Creation, 1. 209 ff. Eev. 
7, and Jeremias, Altorientalische Geisteshvltw, 1913, p. 30 note. It seems 
likely however that the Hebrews heard a corrupt form of the name, else a 
pun with e%d 'arrogance' would have been more attractive.