Genesis 11:4

Genesis 11:4

And they said, go to, let us build us a city and a tower,
&c.] Some Jewish writers F18 say, these are the words of Nimrod to his people; but it is a question whether he was now born, or if he was, must be too young to be at the head of such a body of people; but they are spoken to one another, or by the principal men among them to the common people, advising and encouraging to such an undertaking. It is generally thought what led them to it was to secure them from another flood, they might be in fear of; but this seems not likely, since they had the covenant and oath of God, that the earth should never be destroyed by water any more; and besides, had this been the thing in view, they would not have chosen a plain to build on, a plain that lay between two of the greatest rivers, Tigris, and Euphrates, but rather one of the highest mountains and hills they could have found: nor could a building of brick be a sufficient defence against such a force of water, as the waters of the flood were; and besides, but few at most could be preserved at the top of the tower, to which, in such a case, they would have betook themselves. The reason of this building is given in a following clause, as will be observed. Some think by "a city and tower" is meant, by the figure "hendyadis", one and the same thing, a city with towers; and, according to Ctesias F19, there were two hundred and fifty towers in Babylon: but no doubt the city and tower were two distinct things; or there was one particular tower proposed to be built besides the city, though it might stand in it, or near it, as an acropolis or citadel to it; as it is not unusual in cities to have such, to betake unto in case of danger:

whose top [may reach] unto heaven:
not that they imagined such a thing could be literally and strictly done, but that it should be raised exceeding high, like the cities in Canaan, said to be walled up to heaven, ( Deuteronomy 1:28 ) ( 9:1 ) hyperbolically speaking; and such was the tower of Babel, by all accounts, even of Heathens: the Sibyl in Josephus F20 calls it a most high tower; and so Abydenus F21 reports;

``there are (says he) that say, that the first men that rose out of the earth, proud of their strength and largeness (of their bodies), and thinking themselves greater than the gods, erected a tower of a vast height, near to heaven, where Babylon now is.''

And the temple of Belus, which some take to be the same with this tower, at least was that perfected, and put to such an use, was, according to Ctesias F23, of an immense height, where the Chaldeans made their observations of the stars: however, the tower that was in the middle of it, and which seems plainly to be the same with this, was exceeding high: the account Herodotus F24 gives of it is,

``in the midst of the temple a solid tower is built, of a furlong in length, and of as much in breadth; and upon this tower another tower is placed, and another upon that, and so on to eight towers.''

(mhkov) , the word used by Herodotus, translated "length", signifies also "height", and so it is taken here by some; and if so, it looks as if every tower was a furlong high, which makes the whole a mile, which is too extravagant to suppose, though it may denote the height of them all, a furlong, which makes it a very high building. This agrees with Strabo's account of it, who calls it a pyramid, and says it was a furlong high F25: according to Rauwolff F26, the tower of Babel is still in being; this, says he, we saw still (in 1574), and it is half a league in diameter; but it is so mightily ruined, and low, and so full of vermin, that hath bored holes through it, that one may not come near it for half a mile, but only in two months in the winter, when they come not out of their holes. Another traveller F1, that was in those parts at the beginning of the last century, says,

``now at this day, that which remaineth is called the remnant of the tower of Babel; there standing as much as is a quarter of a mile in compass, and as high as the stone work of Paul's steeple in London--the bricks are three quarters of a yard in length, and a quarter in thickness, and between every course of bricks there lieth a course of mats, made of canes and palm tree leaves, so fresh as if they had been laid within one year.''

Not to take notice of the extravagant account of the eastern writers, who say the tower was 5533 fathoms high F2; and others, beyond all belief, make it 10,000 fathoms, or twelve miles high F3; and they say the builders were forty years in building it: their design in it follows,

and let us make us a name;
which some render "a sign" F4, and suppose it to be a signal set upon the top of the tower, which served as a beacon, by the sight of which they might be preserved from straying in the open plains with their flocks, or return again when they had strayed. Others take it to be an idol proposed to be set upon the top of the tower; and the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem intimate as if the tower was built for religious worship, paraphrasing the words,

``let us build in the midst of it a temple of worship on the top of it, and let us put a sword into his (the idol's) hand.''

And it is the conjecture of Dr. Tennison, in his book of idolatry, that this tower was consecrated by the builders of it to the sun, as the cause of drying up the waters of the deluge: but the sense is, that they proposed by erecting such an edifice to spread their fame, and perpetuate their name to the latest posterity, that hereby it might be known, that at such a time, and in such a place, were such a body of people, even all the inhabitants of the world; and all of them the sons of one man, as Ben Gersom observes; so that as long as this tower stood, they would be had in remembrance, it being called after their names; just as the Egyptian kings afterwards built their pyramids, perhaps for a like reason; and in which the end of neither have been answered, it not being known who were by name concerned therein, see ( Psalms 49:11 ) though a late learned writer F5 thinks, that by making a name is meant choosing a chief or captain, which was proposed by them; and that the person they pitched upon was Nimrod, in which sense the word he supposes is used, ( 2 Samuel 23:17-19 ) but what has been observed at the beginning of this note may be objected to it; though Berosus F6 says, that Nimrod came with his people into the plain of Sannaar, where be marked out a city, and founded the largest tower, in the year of deliverance from the waters of the flood one hundred and thirty one, and reigned fifty six years; and carried the tower to the height and size of mountains, "for a sign" and "monument", that the people of Babylon were the first in the world, and ought to be called the kingdom of kingdoms; which last clause agrees with the sense given:

lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth:
which they seemed to have some notion of, and feared would be their case, liking better to be together than to separate, and therefore were careful to avoid a dispersion; it being some way or other signified to them, that it was the will of God they should divide into colonies, and settle in different parts, that so the whole earth might be inhabited; or Noah, or some others, had proposed a division of the earth among them, each to take his part, which they did not care to hearken to; and therefore, to prevent such a separation, proposed the above scheme, and pursued it.


F18 In Pirke Eliezer, c. 24.
F19 Apud Diodor. Sicul. Bibliothec, l. 2. p. 96.
F20 Antiqu. l. 1. c. 4. sect. 3.
F21 Apud Euseb. Evangel. Praepar. l. 9. c. 14. p. 416.
F23 Apud Diodor. ut supra, (Sicul. Bibliothec, l. 2.) p. 98.
F24 Clio sive, l. 1. c. 181.
F25 Geograph. l. 16. p. 508.
F26 Travels, ut supra. (pars. 2. ch. 7. p. 138.)
F1 Cartwright's Preacher's Travels, p. 99, 100.
F2 Elmacinus, p. 14. Patricides, p. 13. apud Hottinger. Smegma, p. 264.
F3 Vid. Universal History, vol. 1. p. 331.
F4 Perizonius, apud Universal History, ib. p. 325.
F5 Dr. Clayton's Chronology of the Hebrew Bible, p. 56.
F6 Antiqu. l. 4. p. 28, 29.