The Tower of Babel

Genesis 11

The Tower of Babel

11 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon 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; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will 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 it 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.

Historical and Literary Worlds

This passage, as well as much of the early chapters of Genesis, bears many similarities to creation myths from many cultures around the world. This suggests that the same myths of creation and reasons for the dispersal and scattering of humanity may have been widespread in prehistoric times. Some scholars believe that the story of the Tower of Babel was a postexilic addition to primeval history. This is because of allusions after the story to the genealogies of Abraham and Sarah, which suggests that this story was written after both the primeval myths of creation and also the histories of the ancestral period. Additionally, some scholars postulate that the “tower” alluded to in the story was a particular Ziggurat in Babylon, suggesting that the story should be read almost entirely metaphorically.

This text immediately follows the story of Noah and the ark, which suggests a parallel between the wicked population of the earth before the flood and the nations of the earth who attempt to build the Tower of Babel. This story is immediately followed by a genealogy that shows the origins of Abram, and then proceeds to tell the story of Abram in Chapter 12. The Tower of Babel seems to be somewhat unrelated to the stories that precede it and follow it, which allows it to serve as an independent metaphor for the tendencies of humanity to rebel against God and reach too far. This theme of rebellion and arrogance is a continuous theme throughout Genesis, beginning with the story of the Garden of Eden.


Gertz, Jan C. “The Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9).” The Tower of Babel. Bible Odyssey, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.

Westermann, Claus. Genesis 1-11: A Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1984. Print.

Alden Aaberg, Matt Whear, and Max Dowdy