Gen 10:8-12 Included among the descendants of Ham is Nimrod (meaning, in Hebrew, ‘We shall rebel’) - described as the world’s first great conqueror. His fortified cities include Babylon (which was given the Sumerian title Nun-ki – the ‘mighty city’ when it became greater than Eridu, the first ‘mighty city’), Erech and Akkad in Babylonia (southern Iraq). His descendants later build Nineveh and Nimrud (Calah) in Assyria (northern Iraq) (see Map 37). It is ‘Nimrod the hunter’ (called ‘King Enmer the hunter’ in the Sumerian Epics) whom the Jewish historian Josephus tells us was the king who built the Tower of Babel and rebelled against God.
Map 37 Nimrod's Empire
Gen 11:2-8 God is dismayed that the people are building a ‘tower’ (a platform temple) in Babylonia to worship pagan gods, so he decides to scatter the people across the earth and confuse them with different languages.
The Tower of Babel
As Noah’s descendants moved eastwards across the low-lying floodplain between the Tigris and the Euphrates, they came to a plain in Shinar (historical Sumer, later called Babylonia, in modern-day southern Iraq) (see Map 37). At Eridu (the original Sumerian Nun-ki – the ‘mighty city’ founded by Enoch - see Genesis 4:17-18), near modern-day Basra, the inhabitants made clay bricks and built a great platform temple that reached "high into the sky” (Genesis 11:4).
This first religious ‘high place’, built by Nimrod in c.2850BC, was excavated by archaeologists in the 1940s. It was dedicated to Enki, the god of wisdom.
It was later joined by many other Babylonian ‘towers’ – step-pyramids or ‘ziggurats’ with small temples on top honouring the local gods. They were built higher than other buildings as the gods were assumed to dwell in the highest places. In practical terms, it also raised them well above the level of flooding on the surrounding low-lying Mesopotamian floodplain.
The ziggurat of ancient Babylon, built in c.1700BC (and called the Etemenanki in Sumerian, meaning ‘temple of the foundation of heaven and earth’) is often confused with the Biblical Tower of Babel or Tower of Babylonia built over a thousand years earlier at Eridu (see Genesis 11:2-8).
Gen 11:9 The author of Genesis records that, in the beginning, there was only one common language (see Genesis 11:1). Over time, other languages developed. The writer explains that the Mesopotamian land of Sumer is later called Babel or Babylon, “since that is where the LORD confused the language of the whole world” (Genesis 11:9). (Babel – our word ‘babble’ - sounds like the Hebrew for ‘mixed up’ or ‘confused’.)