Tower of Babel – Bible stories

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Breughel's medieval painting of the Tower of Babel

Breughel’s medieval painting of the Tower of Babel

According to the Book of Genesis in the Bible, after the Flood people again began to get wicked. Then they had an awful idea. They wanted to build a tower that would go all the way up to Heaven. They wanted to be famous. These people called their tower Bab-el, the Gate to God. (This is a different version of the word “Babylon”, which means the same thing.)

The Jews hated Sumerian ziggurats, and probably those ziggurats inspired this story. The ziggurats were built with very much this idea in mind. People wanted to reach for the sky. They wanted to get as close to the gods as they could, so the gods would hear their prayers better. And they wanted to show off how good they were at building. Sumerian gods apparently appreciated the effort.

Another Tower of Babel scene, from St. Marks Basilica in Venice (1000s AD)

Another Tower of Babel scene, from St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice (1000s AD)

But in the Jewish Bible story, God hates this idea. So he wrecks the tower with a bolt of lightning. God also makes everybody speak different languages, so they will not be able to cooperate on big projects like this anymore. In Hebrew, just as in English, God makes the people *babble*.

The story of Babel is related to a Sumerian story in the Epic of Gilgamesh where Enlil, the chief of the gods, is annoyed by all the noise people make. He can’t sleep. So he sends a flood to kill all the people, as in the Bible story of Noah.

Learn by doing: work with a team to build a big sand castle or block tower and knock it down.

Epic of Gilgamesh
Go on to Abraham

Bibliography and further reading about the history of Judaism:


Go on to Abraham
More about Judaism home

By |2017-10-09T17:17:39+00:00August 23rd, 2017|Religion, West Asia|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Tower of Babel – Bible stories. Study Guides, August 23, 2017. Web. December 16, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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