The Tower of Babel

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the Flood of Noah:  both the physical and the historical evidence that this huge catastrophe actually took place just as the Bible and other ancient histories say it did.  Today we want to consider what happened after the time of the Flood. 

The earliest histories available to us put the landing place of the ark in southeastern Turkey, in the area known as Ararat in the Bible or Urartu to modern scholars.  This is the same area in which archeologists have found the earliest evidence of agriculture and domesticated animals in the world.  This is just what we would expect to find if this is the area where the ark landed. 

Archeologists also agree that from this mountainous area, people migrated down into the river valley below in central Iraq.  As the Bible puts it, “And it happened in their journeying in ancient times that they found a valley in the land of Shinar, and they lived there” (Gen. 11:2).  This area, called Shinar in the Bible, is known as Sumer by archeologists.  Here they drained the marshes and figured out how to irrigate this fertile plain, which made it a very productive agricultural region.    

This was a time, the Bible says, when a single language was spoken by all mankind: “And all the earth was of one language and the same words” (Gen. 11:1).  It's not only the Bible that remembers this as a golden age of peace and harmony.  These same memories of a time of peace with a single language can be found in ancient Mesopotamian writings (in Iraq), in Egypt, and in the ancient Hindu (Vedic) literature of India, as well as in Buddhism—and even in distant Norway.  Many modern archeologists agree that an early common language was spoken here, and claim to have found traces of it in the names of different professions, place names, and other words preserved by later languages.

This time of peace is when the earliest traces of civilization appear, the first to be found anywhere in the world, right here in Shinar or Sumer.  Here is the first evidence of writing and literature, of law, of city-states, of the potter’s wheel, the sailboat, the plow, metalworking with bronze, and of advanced musical and architectural forms; of weaving, leatherwork, and masonry.  For archeologists, the sudden full-blown appearance of civilization at Sumer is a real puzzle.  Why?  Because there's no evidence for any small, gradual cultural steps leading up to it.  It just appears suddenly.  This is hard to explain for evolutionary science.  But it’s exactly what we would expect to happen if there really was a Flood:  that very soon after the Flood, mankind returned to the type of civilization it had known before the Flood.  The Bible mentions, for example, cities before the Flood (Gen. 4:17), along with musical instruments (Gen. 4:21), metalworking (Gen. 4:22), and agriculture (Gen. 4:2).  These things had already been invented.

But the Flood did not change the nature of man’s heart.  Over time, as mankind multiplied, sin also multiplied in the heart of man.  The Laws God had given to Noah were neglected and forgotten (Gen. 9:1-17).  And eventually it came to a full scale rebellion against God. 

This is the true subject of the story of the Tower of Babel (or Babylon, both names are exactly the same in Hebrew):  replacing the original universal monotheism (the worship of one god) with a man-made religion that rejected the kingship of God, and replaced him with other gods.  As it says in Gen. 11:4: "Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower, and its top will be in the heavens..."  The word “top” here  in Hebrew (rosh) can also be translated “ruler” or “leadership,” referring to the false gods the people worshipped here.   

In ancient Sumer or Shinar, the tower mentioned here would not refer to an ordinary tower of the kind we’re familiar with today, but to the temple towers they used to worship false gods.  These were step-pyramids with big stairways up the front.  In this area they are known as ziggurats.  They were believed to be literally stairways to heaven on which the gods they worshipped went up and down.  This is what the name “Babel” (Bab-illu) meant in the local language:  Bab means gate, illu means “of the gods.”  This was a place for people to meet with false gods, angels in rebellion against the Almighty.

Some older drawings show the tower of Babel with a circular design, spiraling upwards.  But this is because of modern Muslim towers seen by Western explorers in the 19th century.  No, the Tower of Babel was a huge stepped pyramid, a symbolic holy mountain, an early ancestor of the many later ziggurats built in the area.

These were built exactly as the Bible describes it:  “And they said, each man to his neighbor, ‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly; and they used the brick as stone and tar as mortar’”
(Gen. 11:3).  You can still see the tar today in between the rows of bricks.  Where did they get the tar?  From the many ancient tar pits in the area.  This is the same area where so much of the gas and oil is pumped out of the ground that we use in our cars and trucks today. 

In later ziggurats, at the time of the New Year’s festival, the king would be symbolically married to a goddess (represented in the ceremony by a priestess).  This marriage would take place with feasting and merrymaking.  Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, also tells us of priestesses being married to male gods in a similar way.  What was this?  It was a reenactment of one of the same horrible sins that led to the Flood of Noah:  angels interbreeding with humans (Gen. 6:2).  In other words, these towers were used to bring people into a spiritual relationship with demonic false gods! 

This idea of marriage to spirit beings is not entirely dead today.  While we were living in the Philippines, we read an article in the newspaper about several girls being married to the spirit of a tree.  And it’s a common theme in horror stories and movies.    

The building of this tower temple was an act of rebellion that led people away from a personal relationship with the Creator God.   It was also the beginning of powerful religious organizations controlled by men based on the worship of false gods.

Jewish and some Christian tradition connects the Tower of Babel with Nimrod (mentioned in Gen. 10:8,9).  He is the one, they say, that “made all the people rebel against God.”  They say he was the first to make war on other peoples, and the first man to rule the world.  The Tower of Babel, which they call the “house of Nimrod,” they say he built for the worship of idols, and that he had all the world worship him as a god.  They also say that Nimrod started magic, astrology, and even human sacrifice. 

Now associating all these things with Nimrod has no historical or Biblical basis.  The Bible only calls him a “great hunter” and says that he ruled Babylon and surrounding cities in Shinar (probably after the Tower of Babel, though the timing is not clear).  But if we remove his name, this is a pretty good list of all the terrible things that did come out of Babylon (or Babel).  Both history and the Bible agree that Babel is where the worship of idols began, and where the worship of idols was first used for political purposes.  Both modern and ancient history trace astrology and certain kinds of magical divination back to ancient Babylon.  It has also been connected with the origins of human sacrifice and ritual prostitution. 

Because of this evil Babylonian religious and political system, God judged the earth again, this time by confusing the languages of the people—a curse that continues right up until today (“Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech,” Gen. 11:7).  And because of that curse, wars and conflicts began to grow up between different groups of people, which God used to separate the nations into their places all over the world.  

This is a very different story about the origin of language than we hear from modern science.  If evolution were really true, and we all come from monkeys, we would expect languages to start out very simple, as a series of grunts, and get increasingly more complex over time.  But in fact the opposite is true:  the oldest known languages are the most complex—including the languages of some tribal peoples—while modern languages spoken in so-called “advanced” societies—like English or Chinese—have been greatly simplified over the years.  This is exactly the opposite of what evolution predicts, and strong support for the Bible. 

The wars brought about by the confusion of languages led to elaborate fortifications that suddenly appear everywhere, huge walls around cities, that had not been there before.  This is what archeologists call the Early Bronze Age.  This is when ziggurats, like the Tower of Babel, were first built all over Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq).  But this didn't just happen in Iraq:  Step pyramids made of stone or dirt can be found all over the world. 

The most famous pyramids are, of course, those found in Egypt, which unlike those in Sumer are smooth on the outside.  But did you know that the oldest pyramids in Egypt are also step-pyramids (at Saqqara and Maydum)?  Other step-pyramids can be found in Iran, in Sudan (ancient Cush), in Syria, in Turkey, in Greece, in Spain (in the Canary Islands), on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, in France, in England (Silbury Hill), in Norway, in Uzbekistan, in Ireland, on Mauritius (off the east coast of Africa), in India, in Sri Lanka, in Cambodia, in Myanmar (Burma), and in China where there are hundreds of large and small earth pyramids near the ancient capital of Xian, including the pyramid built above the tomb of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang  秦始皇 (259–210 BC), who was buried with all those terracotta soldiers.  Other pyramids have been discovered in Inner Mongolia and in the Qinghai province in western China, in Eastern China near Korea 將軍塚, in Korea, in Japan, in Indonesia, in the Tonga Islands and  New Guinea, in Tahiti, in Western Samoa, and Micronesia. 

But the prize for the longest continuous use of pyramids goes to the New World—North and South America—where they first appear in Peru in 2627 BC—at the same time they first appear in Egypt.  Here, in the Americas, pyramid building continued through civilization after civilization until the Spanish conquest in the 1600’s AD—a time span of more than 4,000 years!  The largest pyramids in the world are not in Egypt, but in Mexico.  The third largest pyramid in the world is in Illinois (in the United States)—a dirt pyramid, which has recently been found to have a stone core.  Hundreds of pyramids can be found all over Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru.

The stepped pyramids of South America are closely related to the ziggurats of Sumer and Babylonia.  Like them, they are step-pyramids with a central staircase and a temple (shrine) at the top.  Thousands of pyramids, made from dirt, can also be found all up and down the Mississippi river in the United States, where they are usually known as Indian mounds.  Most of the smaller mounds are simple burials, but many of the larger ones are square-based dirt pyramids, which once held a temple on top, just like the pyramids in Mesopotamia. 

As many as twenty of these dirt pyramids could be found in each of the larger villages.  A hundred and fifty years ago, 20,000 Indian mounds could be seen in Wisconsin alone.  Now, because of land development, only about 2,000 remain.  But hundreds more can still be seen in Illinois, Alabama, Louisiana, Minnesota, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Georgia, and Florida; and there's even a couple in Texas, Arizona, Oregon, Utah, California, North Dakota, and South Dakota, with one each in New Mexico, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Virgina, and Oklahoma. 

One of the remarkable things about these step-pyramids is that the earliest ones outside of Sumer all appear at about the same time: 2700 BC, which is the same date indicated in Genesis for the Tower of Babel (in the old Greek Septuagint version).  The early step-pyramids of Egypt date to 2600 BC.  The earliest pyramids in Greece are dated 2700-2100 BC.  The oldest pyramids found in Uzbekistan are dated to 2700 BC.  The earliest pyramids in China’s Shensi province are dated to 2500 BC and in Inner Mongolia to the same general time frame (~3,000 BC).  Even the earliest step pyramid in England is 2660 BC, and the earliest in the New World, in Peru, is dated to 2627 BC.  This is an amazing “coincidence”!  What it means is that in a very short period of time after God struck the Tower of Babel, maybe within one or two hundred years, the Babylonian religious system had already been taken all over the earth. 

Why did all these different cultures choose the same basic pyramid shape for their temples?  Why not some other shape?  Why not five or six sided, or some other number?  Why a hill?  Why not a depression in the ground?  It’s hard to explain such great similarity all over the world unless there is some historical link between them.  That link is found in the Bible, in the story of the Tower of Babel. 

Something else linking this “Babylonian world civilization” (or “pyramid religion,” if you will) is a fascination with the stars and planets, in which the planets are identified as gods.  Archeologists have found literally hundreds of examples of pyramids, as well as other ancient buildings, structures, and tombs, built in alignment with the movements of the sun, the moon, and the planets.  Did you know that the twelve Western zodiac signs, which divide the night sky into regions of 30° each, were invented by the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians?  The 360° circle, the 60 minute hour, the 24 hour day all come from ancient Babylon and Sumer. 

Their interest in stars was not a purely scientific interest, though, but part of the religion of astrology that is remarkably similar wherever it is found around the world (except China).  Did you know that Western astrology, even today, is not based on how the signs actually appear in the sky today, but on how they appeared more than 4,000 years ago, at the time of the Tower of Babel?  (Because of the precession of the equinoxes, what was then in Aries is now in Pisces, etc.)  Here is another link with the Babylonian world civilization (the pyramid religion) that was scattered all over the world when God destroyed the Tower of Babel.

Another similarity is the practice of human sacrifice around the world--in Europe, the Americas, in Asia, and in Africa.  It was particularly bloody in the Americas, where at the top of their pyramids, beating hearts were ripped out of living victims and offered to the sun god.  Human sacrifices are often found buried in pyramids and other ancient religious structures.  Often when a king died, his entire court was killed and buried with him, which could be hundreds of people.  In early Egypt (in Pre-Dynastic & First Dynasty Egypt), servants and administrators were buried with the king or queen by the hundreds.  In the ancient African kingdom of Kerma, with its dirt pyramids, as many as 500 people were buried with a dead king. 

In Egypt (in the Old Kingdom period) someone  introduced the merciful idea of replacing living servants with little model servants, shawabtis,  that they believed would come to life and serve the dead.  The same thing happened in China.  Originally, a dead leader would be buried with his wives, slaves, and soldiers.  But Qin Shi Huang  秦始皇, the first Chinese emperor, had a huge terracotta army built instead.  From that time on the family and servants of an emperor were allowed to live (though some say that human sacrifices were buried with Emperor Qin, too).  In India, this kind of human sacrifice continued up until the 19th century in the suttee ritual, in which a wife was thrown on the funeral fire of her husband.  Similar rituals were once observed by the Thracians, Scythians, the Egyptians, the Scandinavians (where they were put in burning ships), the Celts, the Chinese, and peoples of Oceania and Africa.

As the Bible says, the fear of death brought people into slavery to death and to Satan, who had the power of death (Heb. 2:14,15).  By rejecting or simply forgetting about the covenant between Noah and the Creator God, mankind lived in a world of fear and uncertainty, in which the forces of nature were made into gods.  This is just a tiny taste of the tremendously bad impact Babylonian civilization had on the world with its spiritism and demonism, its idolatry and slavery, its wars and oppression:  all because of the human desire for sin that leads people away from God and into horrible spiritual fear and slavery. 

The groups into which people were divided after the destruction of the Tower of Babel are listed in Genesis 10, sometimes called the Table of Nations.  These are the traditional seventy Gentile nations of Jewish tradition.  The division of these nations into three large groups—the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth—matches what we know from history and historical linguistics (the historical study of language), as well as from recent DNA studies. 

The descendants of Japheth are the Indo-European speaking ethnic groups—the Caucasian peoples of the world.  They migrated into Europe, including Eastern Europe and the Caucasus area, Russia, and north Asia.  This includes Western China where naturally preserved mummies of Caucasians have been found (the Takla Makan mummies in Xinjiang province 塔克拉瑪幹木乃伊, some with blond hair).  These people are thought to be mentioned in ancient Chinese writings.  Another wave of Japhethites migrated to India:  these are the light-skinned Aryans that brought the caste system to India. 

The descendants of Ham are the Hamitic peoples, which include the black Africans, many South Asians, and native Australians.  There is strong evidence of an early Hamitic wave of migration across southern Asia that extended as far as the Philippines (the Negritos), the South Sea Islands and Australia, and possibly even as far as South America.  Asia, therefore, is a complex combination of Japhitic influence from the northwest, Hamitic influence from the south, and even some Semitic influence from the southwest. 

Egypt was once an important Hamitic center.  But today, most modern Egyptians are no longer pure Hamites.  They have been mixed with Japhitic blood from the north during their many hundreds years of Greek domination, as well as Arab Semitic blood from the east during their more than a thousand years of Arab domination.  This leads to the interesting question as to whether the original Egyptians were black. 

This question was in the news a few years ago when measurements were taken of the face that appears on the famous Egyptian sphinx at Giza.  The dimensions of that face, as reported in a front-page article in the New York Times, match that of the Negroid type, that is of black Africans, more than the current Egyptian type.  In other words, the sphinx has a black African face, a Hamitic face.  This has not solved the question as to whether the early pharaohs were black or not.  But this was certainly a strong possibility back in the time when there was much more Hamitic blood in Egypt than there is today. 

The descendants of Shem are the Semitic peoples with their Semitic languages, which include Hebrew and Arabic.  They remained mostly in the Middle East and East Africa.  However, there is evidence of Semitic migration into Asia, including the famous Ten Lost Tribes, which may have affected populations as far away as Japan. 

Unfortunately, in recent years the racial differences between different groups of people have been used to create problems between them because of different theories about racial superiority:  that one race is better than other races.  Many of these ideas came from the theory of evolution, which originally taught that the races had evolved separately from each other, and that therefore some races were more “evolved”—they were better—than others.  This idea has now been shown to be completely false. 

So how did the different races originate?  The amount of time for the different racial groups to appear does not require millions of years, but only one generation.  This can be proved from a simple genetic grid that shows the influence of, let’s say, the genes for skin color.  Starting with two parents with medium dark skin, AaBb, the chances are one in 16 that their child would be AABB, the darkest skin color, and also one in 16 that their child would be aabb, the lighest skin color.  Only half of their kids would be the same color as their parents, the others would be either lighter or darker. 

Adam and Eve must have had this kind of maximum genetic diversity.  Otherwise, those varieties would not exist today.  This means that Adam and Eve would themselves have had a medium color skin:  a brownish skin.  But their children would have had many different skin colors:  from the darkest black to the lightest white.  This is just what happens in India today.  Within one family there can be some with light, some with dark, and some with medium colored skin.  Racial differences do not show evidence of evolution, but rather of the amazing variety that God put within all created things.  Today, many groups have lost this genetic diversity, which is why all the children in those groups are similar.  But when different races intermarry with each other, some of this original diversity is restored (like in India).    

So what have we learned?  The Tower of Babel, together with the story of the Flood, helps us understand the problem with the human race.  It explains why, even though God is a good God and made a wonderful world for us, we have so many problems.  The answer is simple:  sin.  As it says in Gen. 8:21, "For the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth."  Even a worldwide flood did not solve the problem, nor did scattering mankind all over the earth.

But God has a solution.  And what is that solution?  Personal faith in the Creator God.  This is the solution that God introduced to the world through a simple shepherd in the Middle East by the name of Abraham.  In spite of all the lawlessness and false religion of his generation, Abraham believed in God.   And through him and his descendants, God raised up Israel to be a nation of priests, holy to God, a testimony to the world of the true God until today.  And then through Israel, God raised up the Messiah, who has made a relationship with the true God available to all the peoples of the earth.  On what basis?  On the basis of faith, just like in Abraham’s day.  But that doesn’t mean there’s no evidence for what we believe.  There’s plenty of evidence for the truth of the Bible.  But what you do with that evidence is the decision that every person faces in their life.  What about you?  Will you decide for the true and living God?  Will you put your faith, your trust, in him, or in the ways of the world?  Let’s pray.