Tower of Babel: Archaeologists find brick to prove existence
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The Tower of Babel has perplexed archaeologists and historians for decades: was it real? Did it serve a purpose? Who built it? Is it all a big joke? It is perhaps one of the Bible’s more mysterious stories, found in Genesis 11:1-9 where the tower is said to have been built in Shinar — Babylonia — after the great flood. Decades of excavations took place around where the site could be, but when instability struck Iraq, much of the hard work was lost.
There have been pockets of instances where researchers have been able to resume their work, however.
And some archaeologists digging in the country have come across what they describe as “unusual construction material”, discovered on a brick believed to have once been part of the Tower of Babel.
The brick, studied by Dr Irving Finkel of the British Museum, is said to have been commissioned by King Nebuchadnezzar II, believed to be the man responsible for the tower.
In 586 BC, hoping to conquer the known world, he seized the city of Jerusalem and captured some of its most highly skilled and educated workers.
He took them back to Babylon to start work on the tower, with it soon becoming a symbol of their oppression.
The journey and the “unusual material” found both were explored during the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary, ‘Secrets Unlocked: Tower of Babel’.
Dr Finkel said: When you look at the early chapters of the Bible, it is clear that some of it is drawn from the Judeans’ own records, and some of it incorporates narratives which they must have encountered for the first time in Babylon, which were so powerful and striking that the authors, the philosophers who worked on the Hebrew texts, incorporated them to tell their own story.”
The documentary’s narrator added: “There’s a compelling clue in the story that backs up a theory that Jewish slaves witnessed the tower being built during their time in captivity.”
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Over images of Dr Inkel handling an original Babylonian brick found in Iraq, the narrator added: “It carries traces of an unusual construction material from the time: bitumen, an ancient tar, and mortar that’s specifically mentioned in the biblical tale.”
Written in small letters across the brick is Nebuchadnezzar’s name, a stamp of approval hinting that he personally commissioned whatever building the brick was used for.
Crucially, the edge of it was covered in a dusty black substance known as bitumen.
Dr Finkel said: “In the book of Genesis it literally says that they use brick for stone and bitumen for mortar; it’s expressly said there.
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“What we have here is one brick and its bitumen which fits exactly into that special context.
“There can be no doubt that the stimulus for the story and the narrative must have taken shape during the Babylonian exile.”
The brick holds enormous significance, as it may well help researchers to link together the story of the tower with an artefact.
Drawing on the research and Dr Finkel’s conclusions, the narrator said: “The destruction of the tower was their [the captives] way to rewrite history — it’s a fiction rooted in truth.”
But, archaeologists must first find out where exactly the Tower of Babel once stood.
Many claim the ancient city in which it was erected is within the borders of modern-day Iraq, but others say it is somewhere else in the Middle East.
Anne Habermehl, an independent researcher who has studied the region, claims that Babylon is in present-day Syria.
Writing in her book ‘Answers in Genesis’, she argues: “The Tower of Babel was most likely built in the Khabur River triangle of North Syria, somewhere inside a triangle marked at its points by Tell Brak, and could not have been located anywhere in southern Mesopotamia, as has been traditionally believed.
“There is a possibility that we may yet find the actual site of the Tower of Babel, but this will require further research as well as onsite archaeological excavation.”
But the literature available generally suggests that Babylon was located some 60 miles south of Bagdad, the capital of Iraq.
Babylon, in its time, was the centre of the civilised world, and served for nearly 2,000 years as the Mesopotamia Empire’s capital.
It was home not only to the tower but also The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, often listed as one of the wonders of the ancient world.
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