Archaeological discoveries are some of the most fascinating and exciting topics to explore, and I especially love to see how these discoveries compliment Biblical history. In this article I’m taking a look at two ancient cuneiform tablets found in Mesopotamia that shed light on the Biblical event known as The Tower of Babel.
The location of the Tower of Babel, as described in the Bible, is open to debate, but most secular archaeologists believe it was located in Babylon (Al Hillah). One of the problems with this theory, however, is that Al Hillah didn’t exist during this time period. So this location doesn’t make sense, and we need to find a new candidate. Biblical archaeologist Bryant Wood has proposed another location- at a city called Eridu.
Here’s the account of The Tower of Babel from Genesis 11:1-9:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
The two cuneiform tablets discovered provide some clues as to where this event took place. One of the tablets is Assyrian, is heavily fragmented, and is on display at the British Museum; it was found in Nineveh and affirms the Biblical event at Babel, recording how the god Bel destroyed the walls on a mound and confused the language of the builders:
… he the father of all the gods had repudiated; the thought of his heart was evil. … of Babylon he hastens to the submission (?), [small] and great he confounded (on) the mound. … of Babylon he hastens to the submission, [small] and great he confounded (on) the mound. Their walls all the day he founded; for their destruction (punishment) in the night … he did not leave a remainder. In his anger also (his) secret counsel he pours out; [to] confound (their) speeches he set his face. He gave the command, he made strange their counsel …
The translation is difficult, but the confounding of language and other references are clear enough that we can reasonably see it’s describing the same event recorded in Genesis.
A second tablet, now located in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, is complete and describes an epic called “Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta”, and in “The Spell of Nudimmud” it says:
It says, “In those days . . . (in) the (whole) compass of heaven and earth the people entrusted (to him) could address [the god] Enlil [lord of the air], verily, in but a single tongue. In those days . . . did Enki, . . . . leader of the gods, . . . lord of Eridu estrange the tongues in their mouths as many as were put there. The tongues of men which were one.”
Based on the evidence contained in these two archaeological finds, Wood makes the case that Babel is the city of Eridu, which is located about seven miles southwest of Ur in southern Mesopotamia. The reason why this makes good sense is because the god who estranged the tongue in the epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta was called lord of Eridu. Therefore, if the city in which people’s tongues were estranged was Eridu, then it’s reasonable to conclude that Eridu is Babel. In addition, Mesopotamian texts tell us that Babel is another name for Eridu, and archaeologists have even found evidence for a ziggurat there that had never been completed. Further evidence includes the “Uruk Expansion”, which was a mass migration occurring at that time.
Nonetheless, secular archaeologists don’t name Eridu as the location of Babel. Wood suggests this is mostly because they don’t believe the Biblical account in the first place. They consider the story to be etiology- a mythical story invented to explain something important. In the case of Babel, they believe it’s a made-up story to explain the emergence of different languages. Or they think the story is nothing more than an important religious teaching- warning of the danger of approaching the home of the gods.
But if we accept the Bible as true history, then we begin to see how archaeology compliments this history by building on faith that’s rooted in sound logic and reason.