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Linguistics : Abstracts

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This page was last updated: February 04, 2003

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The Story of the Tower of Babel

"Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.' And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.' So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.' Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth." (Genesis 11:1-9)


The Tower of Babel was a favourite subject of post-renaissance painters. This one is by Bruegel the Elder.

All paintings more or less captured the gigantic feature of the biblical tower. The numerous Ziggurats built in Babylon, or more widely, Mesopotamia, roughly in the period from 1500 BC up to 600 BC, are in reality what the Tower of Babel represents.

The word "Babel" in Hebrew is interpreted as "the Gate of God" - "Baab" meaning gate, and "El" meaning God. It is sometimes related to the Hebrew verb "balbail" - to confuse.





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