The Tower of Babel is an etiological myth in the Book of Genesis of the Tanakh (also referred to as the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament) meant to explain the origin of different languages. According to the story, a united humanity of the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating from the east, came to the land of Shinar. There they agreed to build a city and tower; seeing this, God confounded their speech so that they could no longer understand each other and scattered them around the world.
The Tower of Babel has been associated with known structures according to some modern scholars, notably the Etemenanki, a ziggurat dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Marduk by Nabopolassar, king of Babylonia (c. 610 BCE). The Great Ziggurat of Babylon was 91 metres (300 ft) in height. Alexander the Great ordered it demolished circa 331 BCE in preparation for a reconstruction that his death forestalled. A Sumerian story with some similar elements is told in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta.
The Story Recorded in Genesis
The story of the city of Babel is recorded in Genesis 11:1–9. Everyone on earth spoke the same language. As people migrated from the east, they settled in the land of Shinar. People there sought to make bricks and build a city and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for themselves, so that they not be scattered over the world.
God came down to look at the city and tower, and remarked that as one people with one language, nothing that they sought would be out of their reach. God went down and confounded their speech, so that they could not understand each other, and scattered them over the face of the earth, and they stopped building the city. Thus the city was called Babel. As it appears in the King James version of the Bible:
1. Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in and settled there.
2. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.
3 And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
4 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.
5 And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.
6 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
7 So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.
8 Therefore its name is 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.
— Genesis 11:4–9.