TOWER OF BABEL STELE
|MS Short Title||
TOWER OF BABEL STELE
|Text||ETEMENANKI: ZIKKURAT BABIBLI: "THE HOUSE, THE FOUNDATION OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, ZIGGURAT IN BABYLON". CAPTION IDENTIFYING THE GREAT ZIGGURAT OF BABYLON, THE TOWER OF BABEL. THE ROYAL INSCRIPTION OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR CONTINUES: NEBUCHADNEZZAR, KING OF BABYLON AM I - IN ORDER TO COMPLETE E-TEMEN-ANKI AND E-UR-ME-IMIN-ANKI I MOBILIZED ALL COUNTRIES EVERYWHERE, EACH AND EVERY RULER WHO HAD BEEN RAISED TO PROMINENCE OVER ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD – LOVED BY MARDUK, FROM THE UPPER SEA TO THE LOWER SEA, THE DISTANT NATIONS, THE TEEMING PEOPLE OF THE WORLD, KINGS OF REMOTE MOUNTAINS AND FAR-FLUNG ISLANDS – THE BASE I FILLED IN TO MAKE A HIGH TERRACE. I BUILT THEIR STRUCTURES WITH BITUMEN AND BAKED BRICK THROUGHOUT. I COMPLETED IT RAISING ITS TOP TO THE HEAVEN, MAKING IT GLEAM BRIGHT AS THE SUN|
|Description||MS in Neo Babylonian on black stone, Babylon, 604-562 BC, stele with rounded top, 47x25x11 cm, the back of the lower 2/3 missing, 3 columns, 3+24+24+24 lines in cuneiform script, to the left: carving of the Tower of Babel from a front view, clearly showing the relative proportions of the 7 stages including the temple on the top; to the right: the standing figure of Nebuchadnezzar II with his royal conical hat, holding a staff in his left hand and a scroll with the rebuilding plans of the Tower (or a foundation nail) in his outstretched right hand; at the top: a line drawing of the ground plan of the temple on the top, showing both the outer walls and the inner arrangement of rooms, including the one that once had a fine large couch in it, richly covered, and a gold table beside it, according to Herodotus : The Histories I:181; on the left edge: another line drawing of the ground plan of the temple.|
The middle part of the inscription has been carefully erased, but the conquering ruler's inscription was never inserted instead. The same thing happened to the Law stele of Hammurapi, which was seized by the Elamites as war booty from Babylonia in the 12th century BC and taken to Susa, where it subsequently was found (Now in Louvre). This parallel, and archaeological and literary evidence (Ctesias c. 400 BC, and Aelian c.175-235 AD) leads to the possibility that also the Tower of Babel Stele was taken as war booty, most likely by Xerxes in the invasion in 483 BC. Like the Elamites before him, he kept a treasure-house of spoils of war at Susa, and possibly other sites as well. Actually one of the foundation cylinders of E-temen-anki was found in Susa during de Morgan's excavations at the end of the 19th century. But there can be no firm answers to these various possibilities. (See George pp. 163-165 in his publication mentioned below). More research details.
The ziggurat in Babylon was originally built around the time of Hammurabi 1792-1750 BC. The restoration and enlargement began under Nabopolassar, and was finished after 43 years of work under Nebuchadnezzar II, 604-562 BC. It has been calculated that at least 17 million bricks had to be made and fired. Babylon with the ziggurat was captured by Kyros 538 BC (who pulled down the 3 stair ramps so the tower could not be used as a fortress), Darius I 519 BC, Cyrus ca. 483 BC, and entirely taken down by Alexander I the Great 331 BC, due to the structural water damage caused by the removed ramps, but his rebuilding plans failed.
Until now our knowledge of the Tower of Babel has been based on the account in Genesis 11:1-9, and of Herodotus: The Histories I:178 - 182, with the measurement of the first 2 stages, and a Seleucid tablet of 229 BC (Louvre AO 6555), giving the sizes of the stages. However, no contemporary illustrations have been known, resulting in a long series of fanciful paintings throughout the art history until present. Here we have for the first time an illustration contemporary with Nebuchadnezzar II's restoring and enlargement of the Tower of Babel, and with a caption making the identity absolutely sure. We also have the building plans, as well as a short account of the reconstruction process. The text also mentions the restoration of the E-ur-imin-anki ziggurat in Borsippa, once believed by some scholars to be the Tower of Babel.
The text mentioning Nebuchadnezzar mobilizing workforces from all over the then known world to complete the Tower of Babel, people speaking a confusion of all the known languages at the time, raises the question: Did God really come down from heaven to earth to interfere in a building enterprise by creating language confusion as stated in the Bible? The account in Genesis 11 could, according to the text, have an entirely different and practical background: Obviously all the tens of thousands of workers speaking different languages, could not communicate with each other, and this caused a total confusion at this huge building project, which lasted 43 years. Neither the Babylonian gods nor Yahweh needed to come down from heaven to interfere and cause language confusion. And most importantly, the Jews taken into captivity in 586 BC after destruction of Jerusalem, were there in Babylon and observed the building of the Tower and the confusion. So when the Genesis text was composed by the Jews during the Babylonian exile and after return to their homeland in 539 BC, this down to earth chaotic building story had to be put in a theological context, and hence the present text in Genesis 11:1-9. Also note the link to Acts 2 where the Holy Spirit reverses the language confusion and makes everyone understand each other.
|Published||Andrew George, ed.: Cuneiform Royal Inscriptions and Related Texts in the Schøyen Collection, Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology, vol. 17, Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection, Cuneiform texts VI. CDL Press, Bethesda, MD, 2011, text 76, pp. 153-169, pls. LVIII-LXVII.|
|Exhibited||Rounded top part only: 1. The Bibliophile Society of Norway's 75th anniversary. Bibliofilklubben 75 år. Jubileumsutstilling Bok og Samler, Universitetsbliblioteket 27.2 - 26.4.1997; 2. XVI Congress of the International Organization for the study of the Old Testament. Faculty of Law Library, University of Oslo, 29 July - 7 August 1998; 3. Tigris 25th anniversary exhibition. The Kon-Tiki Museum, Oslo, 30.1. - 15.9.2003 -|
|Image featured in||Joel Levy: Lost cities of the ancient world. London, New Holland Publishers, 2008, p. 31. Zondervan Illustrated Bible, Backgrounds, Commentary. John H. Walton, gen. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich., Zondervan, 2009, vol 1, p. 62.|
|Place of origin||Babylon|
|Dates||604 - 562 BC|