1902 Encyclopedia > Babel

Babel




BABEL was the native name of the city called Babylon by the Greeks. It means " gate of god," or " gate of the gods," and was the Semitic translation of the original Ac-cadian designation Ca-dimirra. According to Gen. xi. 1-9, mankind, after the deluge, travelled from the mountain of the East (or Elwand), where the ark had rested, and settled in Shinar (Sumir, or the north-west of Chaldea). Here they attempted to build a city and a tower whose top might reach unto heaven, but were miraculously prevented by their language being confounded. In this way the diversity of human speech was accounted for; and an etymology was found for the name of Babylon in the Hebrew verb balbel, "to confound." According to Alexander Poly-histor (frg. 10) and Abydenus (frgs. 5 and 6), the tower was overthrown by the winds. The native version of the story has recently been discovered among the cuneiform tablets in the British Museum. It is fuller and more com- plete than the account in Genesis, and formed part of a collection of Babylonian legends older, probably, than 2000 B.C. We learn from it that the tower was erected under the supervision of a semi-divine being called Etanna. The tower has been identified with the temple or tomb of Belus, which Strabo stated with some exaggeration to have been a stade (606 feet) high, but without sufficient reason. It is most probably represented by the modern Birs Nimrud, the ruined remains of the " Temple of the Seven Lights of the Earth," at Borsippa, a suburb of Babylon, which was dedi- cated to Nebo. The temple had been begun by " a former king," and built to the height of 42 cubits, but it lay an uncompleted ruin for many centuries, and was not finished till the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. Dr Schrader believes that the state of wreck in which it so long remained caused " the legend of the confusion of tongues " to be attached to it. The earliest buildings met with in Chaldea are constructed of sun-dried brick and mud. A similar tradi- tion to that of the tower of Babel is found in Central America. Xelhua, one of the seven giants rescued from the deluge, built the great pyramid of Cholula in order to storm heaven. The gods, however, destroyed it with fire and confounded the language of the builders. Traces of a somewhat similar story have also been met with among the Mongolian Tharus in Northern India (Report of the Census of Bengal, 1872, p 160), and, according to Dr Livingstone, among the Africans of Lake Ngami. The Esthonian myth of " the Cooking of Languages" (Kohl, Reisen in dit Ostseeprovinzen, ii. 251-255) may also be compared, as well as the Australian legend of the origin of the diversity of speech (Gerstacker, Reisen, vol. iv. p. 381, seq.) See further the articles BABYLON and BABYLONIA, (A. H. S.)







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