Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tower of Babel

By Cray Shellenbarger

For our Architecture 532: Non-Western History class we have been asked to write a paper on a piece of architecture. I chose the Tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel as mentioned in Genesis is a well known story. The people of Babylon came together to construct a tower “with its top in the heavens.” God then realized that such a people unified by their language could achieve anything they attempted. So, God decided to confound their speech and spread them across the face of the Earth. Some say that this story was developed to explain the vast diversity of the human race. What if there is some historical significance to the story? Perhaps there is some sort of architectural evidence to compliment the stories. Analyzing the story alone is very interesting but this will look at it from an architectural point of view.

There is actually a large amount of information available on this project. The bible is only the beginning of references to similar buildings and stories. In the Book of Jubilees describes the Tower of Babel as being over 5,400 cubits in height, which would be over 8,000 feet tall. This would dwarf any of our modern buildings by several times. As mentioned earlier, many scholars believe that the story could be a reference to an actual building. One possibility would the ziggurat, Etemenaki. Etemenaki, a temple of the god Marduk, was located roughly fifty miles south of Baghdad. The base of the structure is said to remain there. The base that is supposed to be that of Etemenaki can be seen from satellite photos. Other references claim that the tower was located in Shinar which was a region in Mesopotamia with unknown boundaries. There have been many interpretations of the appearance of the Tower of Babel. Some of them include the images in this article.

It is also said that Etemenaki may have had an influence on the biblical account due to the Babylonian imprisonment of the Hebrews. Regardless, the story of the Tower of Babel is an etiology, an explanation of a phenomenon. This will continue to serve generations to come.

Images courtesy of and Joseph Barrigan

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