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Genesis 11:3

3 And they said[a] one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.

Genesis 11:3 Meaning and Commentary

Genesis 11:3

And they said one to another, go to
Advising, exhorting, stirring up, and encouraging one another to the work proposed, of building a city and tower for their habitation and protection; saying,

let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly;
they knew the nature of bricks, and how to make them before: according to Sanchoniatho F8, the brothers of Vulcan, or Tubalcain, before the flood, were the first inventors of them; for he relates, that

``there are some that say that his brothers invented the way of making walls of bricks: he adds, that from the generation of Vulcan came two brothers, who invented the way of mixing straw or stubble with brick clay, and to dry them by the sun, and so found out tiling of houses.''

Now in the plain of Shinar, though it afforded no stones, yet they could dig clay enough to make bricks, and which they proposed to burn thoroughly, that they might be fit for their purpose. According to an eastern tradition F9, they were three years employed in making and burning those bricks, each of which was thirteen cubits long, ten broad, and five thick, and were forty years in building:

and they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar:
they could not get stone, which they would have chosen, as more durable; they got the best bricks they could make, and instead of mortar they used slime; or what the Septuagint version calls "asphaltos", a bitumen, or kind of pitch, of which there was great plenty in that neighbourhood. Herodotus F11 speaking of the building of Babylon, uses language very much like the Scripture;

``digging a foss or ditch (says he), the earth which was cast up they formed into bricks, and drawing large ones, they burnt them in furnaces, using for lime or mortar hot asphaltos or bitumen.''

And he observes, that

``Eight days journey from Babylon was another city, called Is, where was a small river of the same name, which ran into the river Euphrates, and with its water were carried many lumps of bitumen, and from hence it was conveyed to the walls of Babylon.''

This city is now called Ait, of which a traveller F12 of the last century gives the following account;

``from the ruins of old Babylon we came to a town called Ait, inhabited only with Arabians, but very ruinous; near unto which town is a valley of pitch, very marvellous to behold, and a thing almost incredible wherein are many springs throwing out abundantly a kind of black substance, like unto tar and pitch, which serveth all the countries thereabout to make staunch their barks and boats; everyone of which springs makes a noise like a smith's forge, which never ceaseth night nor day, and the noise is heard a mile off, swallowing up all weighty things that come upon it; the Moors call it "the mouth of hell."''

Curtius relates F13, that Alexander, in his march to Babylon, came to a city called Mennis, where was a cavern, from whence a fountain threw out a vast quantity of bitumen or pitch; so that, says he, it is plain, that the huge walls of Babylon were daubed with the bitumen of this fountain; and he afterwards speaks of the walls, towers, and houses, being built of brick, and cemented with it; and so Diodorus Siculus says F14 from Ctesias, that the walls of Babylon were built of bricks, cemented with bitumen; and not only these, but all Heathen authors that write of Babylon, confirm this; and not only historians, but poets, of which Bochart F15 has made a large collection; as well as Josephus F16 speaks of it, and this sort of pitch still remains. Rauwolff says F17 near the bridge over the Euphrates, where Babylon stood, are several heaps of Babylonian pitch, which is in some places grown so hard, that you may walk over it; but in others, that which hath been lately brought over thither is so soft, that you may see every step you make in it.


F8 Apud Euseb. Evangel. Praepar. l. 1. p. 35.
F9 Elmacinus, p. 14. apud Hottinger. Smegma, p. 263, 264.
F11 Clio sive, l. 1. c. 179.
F12 Cartwright's Preacher's Travels, p. 105, 106.
F13 Hist. l. 5. c. 1.
F14 Bibliothec l. 2. p. 96.
F15 Phaleg. l. 1. c. 11.
F16 Antiqu. l. 1. c. 4. sect. 3.
F17 Travels, par. 2. ch. 7. p. 138.

Genesis 11:3 In-Context

1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. they said...: Heb. a man said to his neighbour