The Tower of Babel (Part 1) Historical Documents


Many skeptics and inerrancy denying Bible commentators have scoffed at the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel, its miraculous overthrow and consequent dispersion of the people separating to settle the nations as if this was mere myth, or poetry. We will set forth to establish the Biblical account as historically accurate with such extensive evidence that one must choose to remain willfully ignorant to scoff at the facts.
The Biblical account is set forth in Genesis 11:1-9 as follows:

11 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

This record indicates (1) all the people of the earth were in one location, (2) they all spoke one language, (3) they built a tower and city, (4) God over threw the tower, (5) confused their language and (6) this caused them to leave off building the city and disperse over the face of the earth. If this were true we would expect to find similar accounts from various nations and cultures as part of their ancient history. This is exactly what we do find.

From Babylon, the famous Epic of Gilgamesh we find: “The building of this temple offended the gods. In a night they threw down what had been built. They scattered them abroad, and made strange their speech. The progress they impeded”1)George Smith, Chaldean Account of Genesis, 1880, p. 29 In fewer words, this expresses all the major aspects of the Genesis account only deviating with polytheism and neglecting any mention of the city which was the actual “progress they impeded” according to the Bible and can be inferred from Gilgamesh. Note that in Genesis 11:5, God descended to see the Tower which the children of men “builded” which is a perfect verb expressing the completion of the Tower, Gilgamesh expresses the Tower “had been built;” in Genesis 11:8 “they left off to build the city” hence Gilgamesh records “the progress they impeded.” God’s command was for man to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 9:1) which was what these men rebelled against in building the city and Tower, saying “lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4).

This is related also in an ancient inscription from Babylon: “Babylon corruptly proceeded to sin, and both small and great mingled on the mound. …All day they founded their stronghold, but in the night he put a complete stop to it. In his anger he also poured out his secret counsel to scatter them abroad, he set his face, he gave a command to make foreign their speech.”2)Babylonian inscription on clay tablet depostited in British Meuseum by Mr. George Smith cited by John Gill; also cited by GEORGE RAWLINSON, M. A., EGYPT AND BABYLON FROM SACRED AND PROFANE SOURCES, accessible at This inscription indicates monotheism, “he,” over throwing the “mound” also called “their stronghold” which “they founded” in Babylon. The Hebrew for Babel בָּבֶל is the same word used for the city Babylon though English translators used the Greek spelling to distinguish the difference for the city. While some commentators reject that they are one and the same, from biblical and historical evidence we will find no reason to doubt they are the same place. Again, this inscription does not indicate the city being built, but can easily be inferred as all were gathered together “both small and great mingled” to build this stronghold. Obviously there was a city around but the inscription expresses the god put a stop to the building of the Tower.

Archaeology has documented the Sumerian account from an inscription known as The epic of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, which states:

In those days, the lands of Subur (and) Hamazi,
Harmony-tongued (?) Sumer, the great land of the decrees of princeship,
Un, the land having all that is appropriate (?), The land Martu, resting in security, The whole universe, the people in unison (?)
To Enlil in one tongue [spoke].[…]
(Then) Enki, the lord of abundance (whose) commands are trustworthy,
The lord of wisdom, who understands the land,
The leader of the gods,
Endowed with wisdom, the lord of Eridu
Changed the speech in their mouths, [brought (?)] contention into it,
Into the speech of man that (until then) had been one.3)“The epic of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta,” translation from “The Babel of Tongues: A Sumerian Version” by Kramer, S.N.; Journal of the American Oriental Society 88:108-11, 1968

Here we find the return to the polytheistic theme, which expresses that man’s purpose of remaining united was for “resting in security” and is clearly a universal gathering of the people. This account has no mention of man sinning and causing this as judgement, but incidentally references “contention” being brought by the changed speech. This will be worth commenting on in the next text cited.

An Ancient Greek historian named Abydenus, wrote A History of the Chaldeans and Assyrians which records, “But there are some who say that the men who first arose out of the earth, being puffed up by their strength and great stature, and proudly thinking that they were better than the gods, raised a huge tower, where Babylon now stands: and when they were already nearer to heaven, the winds came to the help of the gods, and overthrew their structure upon them, the ruins of which were called Babylon. And being up to that time of one tongue, they received from the gods a confused language; and afterwards war arose between Cronos and Titan.”4)Eusebius of Caesarea, Praeparatio Evangelica (The Preparation of the Gospel), Bk. 9, chap. 14; citing Abydenus, Assyrian History; accessible at

Again we see polytheism, where the gods are weak and luckily received help from the winds that overthrew this Tower. Perhaps these gods were fearful because this account records man’s pride due to their strength and great stature. Other versions specifically claim they were giants. Again we find this Tower built where “Babylon now stands” and “the ruins of which were called Babylon.” Notice that it is after the confusing of languages that “war arose.” This is also recognized in the Bible when noting that Genesis 10 describes the division of the nations according to “every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” (Genesis 10:5, cf. 20, 31-32) Clearly Genesis chapter 10 chronologically is preceded by chapter 11, as it explains the “Table of Nations;” each nation from the family that bore the same language being dispersed from the Tower.

Genesis 10:8-10 introduces Nimrod, “a mighty hunter before the LORD.” The ancient Jewish paraphrase known as the Targum of Jonathan cites this phrase as “he was a powerful rebel before the LORD” and similarly the Septuagint translates it as “against the LORD” which is a possible rendering from the Hebrew literally translating as “to [or possibly, against] the face of Jehovah.” As some sources expressed Nimrod hunted men5)For example see J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee, (Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville TN: 1981) Vol. p. 51, perhaps on the basis that Genesis 10:10 states, “the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.” So Nimrod built his kingdom on the ruins of Babel, and then expanded it with war against the neighboring families that spoke different languages. For example, Accad was the father of the tribe that spoke the Akkadian tongue which the Gilgamesh Epic was written in. This is a partial explanation of why he became deified by the surrounding idolatrous nations that began to worship heroes and ancestors.

Many commentators express Nimrod as the leader constructing the Tower contrary to the biblical chronology, such as Jewish historian Josephus,6)Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.4.2; The Complete Works of Josephus, Master books, 2008, p. 8; and the first Christian historian (other than Luke) Theophilus7)Theophilus, Theophilus to Autolycus, Bk. 2, chap. XXXI, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II, Hendrickson Publishers (Grand Rapids, MI , 2012), p. 106; accessible at who calls him “Nebroth” but mistakenly claims the first war was which Scriptures describes in Genesis 14:1-2, which is the first time Scripture use the word “war.”