Was there a Tower of Babel?

A recent news article proclaims: Compelling new evidence may prove the Tower of Babel really existed. The tower in question, the Ziggurat of Babylon, is dated to about 1792 to 1750 B.C.

But if the Tower of Babel really existed, it must be dated to a time well before Abraham. For Sacred Scripture gives a list of many generations between the building of the tower and the life of Abraham. Biblical chronologists generally place Abraham’s lifetime around 2000 BC, give or take a couple of hundred years. But even if we push the timing of Abraham’s life to a very late 1750 BC, the Tower would be too close so the time of Abraham. So the Ziggurat does not fit the description in the Bible.

Also, Scripture is clear that the tower and associated city was never completed (Gen 11:4-8). But the Ziggurat of Babylon was completed. So it is only wishful thinking, to say that perhaps a recent archaeological discovery supports the story of the tower. It does not.

Was there literally a tower of Babel? And, if so, when was it built?

In my interpretation, the first eleven chapters of Genesis are a figurative account of the origins of humanity. Chapter 12 begins the story of Abraham (Abram) and his calling by God. Abraham’s story is the beginning of recorded history for the Jews. So chapters 1 through 11 are prerecorded history. The events of those eleven chapters are historical events, retold with many figurative elements. Figurative elements prevail in those chapters because detailed information on prerecorded history is not available, and also because a figurative retelling of those literal events allows Sacred Scripture to emphasize the spiritual meaning in past historical events.

The story of the Tower of Babel takes place after the Flood of Noah. That flood was an historical worldwide event. But it did not cover all land with water, and did not kill all humans and animals outside of the Ark. The extent of the flood is figurative, but the flood and Ark themselves are literal. Similarly, the story of the Tower of Babel has both literal and figurative elements.

There was literally a people who, motivated by pride, began to build a great city and a great tower. And they were dispersed by God’s providence and grace, and so prevented from completing the work. They dispersed to many different regions, and developed differences in language and culture, becoming well divided, rather than united. These are literal elements.

However, the people were not all of humanity. That is said figuratively. And their initial single language was not the only language, at the time, for all humanity. Again, that is a figure. The story of one people, who were filled with pride and therefore became divided, is a figure for all of humanity. Why are we not united worldwide as one family, with one culture and language? Pride is what divides us, when love could unite us. But since we are fallen sinners, it is better that way. It is better to have many governments and many cultures, because anyone government or culture will have its faults, many of which may be serious. Only Christ can unite us, in love, and only in the distant future, when He returns.

See my book, Noah’s Flood: Literal or Figurative?, for more.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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4 Responses to Was there a Tower of Babel?

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    Could the Tower of Babel builders have been the Proto-Indo-Europeans?

  2. Matt says:

    How does one differentiate between what is literal and what is figurative in the Bible. For example, what is wrong if I believe that the Genesis creation story is completely literal. I really do believe that the entire Creation occurred in six – 24 hour days, and the beginning was about 6,000 years ago. I do not believe in evolution at all. Am I wrong as a Catholic to take the Creation story 100% literal?

    • Ron Conte says:

      It is wrong to ignore science as a source of truth about Creation. One way that we decide what is and is not literal is by considering what reason and science tell us. Your position is not heresy, but it is pretty clearly an error.

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