The Tower of Babel, Archaeology, & Linguistics

The Tower of Babel, Archaeology, & Linguistics April 13, 2023

Prominent online atheist anti-theist Jonathan M. S. Pearce, who runs the blog, A Tippling Philosopher (1), provides an example of the fairly standard skeptical view of the tower of Babel story:

I have to claim that anyone who believes this story actually happened is an idiot. . . . sometimes you just gotta tell it like it is. And, because it’s what I do, I’ll help them along the way to realising it is ahistorical . . . We know how languages evolved and it wasn’t like that. The story is refuted by linguistics. Go research it, Christian. (2)

And what I “do” is to refute this sort of insulting knee-jerk skepticism. Invariably, the self-perceived “superior thinker” has not thought anywhere near deeply enough to give the story a fair shake. Pearce (sadly typical of anti-theist analyses) — in the end — will be found to be guilty of the same “shallow” and/or “gullible” mentality that he ostensibly decries. This will become obvious as we proceed.

First of all, all must understand that the early chapters of Genesis (particularly the first eleven chapters) represent a genre and form of thinking that is very difficult for us to fully understand or interpret with an assurance that we are grasping the author’s intention. So everyone is engaging in guesswork to more or less degrees. That said, I submit this story is not simply myth, and it has several demonstrable connections to known history, verified by archaeology, as I will show.

As always, we can’t absolutely prove miracles or the mind of God and whether he acted in ways that the account describes. But we can verify what is able to be verified, and argue convincingly, I think, that the story (however one interprets God’s place in it) is reflecting and reporting actual events of some sort. Accordingly, Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Humani Generis (August 12, 1950) (3), expresses a view with which all traditional Christians who believe in biblical inspiration and inerrancy can agree:

The first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense, which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes; the same chapters, . . . in simple and metaphorical language adapted to the mentality of a people but little cultured, both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people. If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations (and this may be conceded), it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents.

The pope was referring to and paraphrasing a letter from the Pontifical Biblical Commission, which he approved on January 16, 1948 (4). It reads in part:

If it is agreed not to see in these chapters history in the classical and modern sense, it must be admitted also that known scientific facts do not allow a positive solution of all the problems which they present. The first duty in this matter incumbent on scientific exegesis consists in the careful study of all the problems literary, scientific, historical, cultural, and religious connected with these chapters; in the next place is required a close examination of the literary methods of the ancient oriental peoples, their psychology, their manner of expressing themselves and even their notion of historical truth the requisite, in a word, is to assemble without preformed judgements all the material of the palaeontological and historical, epigraphical and literary sciences. It is only in this way that there is hope of attaining a clearer view of the true nature of certain narratives in the first chapters of Genesis.

In light of this perspective, I will give the tower of Babel account my best shot, incorporating insights from many different scholarly sources. As long as everyone understands that we are all engaging in speculation, and that we can’t be dogmatic or utterly inflexible concerning our own interpretations, discussion is constructive and hopefully helps us better understand the texts that observant Christians hold to be inspired and without error — correctly understood.

Genesis 11:2-4 (RSV) And as men migrated from the east, they found 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, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

As for Shinar, and what it refers to, let’s take a step back and examine an earlier related passage:

Genesis 10:8-12 Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD . . . ] The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

Christopher Eames notes that most of the city-states mentioned in this passage have been

. . . corroborated by archaeology as early centers of civilization in Mesopotamia. Babel, of course, corresponds to the historical Babylon. Erech is the historical Uruk (believed to be the origin of the territorial name Iraq). Accad is, of course, the above-mentioned city-state-cum-kingdom of Akkad. Asshur likewise corresponds to a city of the same name, and later the civilization of Assur—the Assyrians. Nineveh is the famous Assyrian capital city of the same name. And Calah is the Assyrian city of Kahlu. These later cities all link specifically to Asshur, a descendant of the fair-skinned Shem (from which we get the term “Semite”). (5)

Linguists, historians, and other scholars note that the Hebrew שנער Šinʿar is related to the Egyptian Sngr, Hittite Šanḫar(a), all referring to southern Mesopotamia. Sangara/Sangar is mentioned as one of the conquests of Pharaoh Thutmose III (r. 1479-1426 B.C.) (6) and Sanhar/Sankhar appears in the Amarna letters (7): clay tablets of correspondence between Egyptian diplomats and various Middle Eastern countries, written in cuneiform, and usually dated to around 1360–1332 B.C. Because of all these correlations, we know the Bible is referring to the historically momentous Sumerian culture and civilization of southern Mesopotamia (later Babylon and currently Iraq).

Now let’s proceed to see what else we can learn about this period and place and how the Bible describes it. We have two textual clues in Genesis 11:3, which are ostensibly historical facts that we can seek to verify: kiln-fired bricks (“burn them thoroughly”) and the  “bitumen for mortar.”

The time-setting of the story of the tower of Babel (whenever it was written), from appearances, seems to be right after the Flood. Genesis 6-9 present the story of Noah’s ark and the Flood. Genesis 10 presents the “table of nations.” Genesis 11 abruptly tells the story of the tower of Babel in just nine verses. Then 11:10 refers to the “descendants of Shem” (Shem being one of Noah’s sons) and notes that “When Shem was a hundred years old, he became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood.” Thus, it looks, prima facie, like the time period is shortly after the Flood occurred. In my book, The Word Set in Stone (8), I accepted a provisional date for the Flood, of 2900 B.C.: give or take a hundred years.

In order to objectively date the Tower of Babel, according to archaeology, we need to to establish when kiln-baked bricks and bitumen appeared in the flood plain of southern Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Genesis 11:2 also refers to a “plain.” That fits the proposed area, which is as flat as a pancake. Genesis 11:8-9 states that the “city” being built in Shinar was “called Babel” (i.e., Babylon); hence, the “tower of Babel.”

I found a goldmine of information along these lines in a 1995 article about ziggurats and the tower of Babel (9). First of all, this region is famous for the construction of ziggurats (10), which some think were regarded as artificial mountains, in such a flat area. The oldest ziggurats go back to my proposed time period:

The structure at Eridu, the earliest structure that some designate a ziggurat, is dated in its earliest level to the Ubaid period (4300-3500). . . . the so-called White Temple of Uruk [is] dated to the Jamdet Nasr period (3100-2900) . . . (11)

During the Sumerian Uruk Period (4100-2900 BCE) ziggurats were raised in every city in honor of that community’s patron deity. . . . Ziggurat construction continued through the Early Dynastic Period of Mesopotamia (2900-2334 BCE) and was then adopted by the later Akkadian, Babylonian, and other civilizations of the region. (12)

Kiln-fired Mesopotamian bricks were different from the bricks used in Palestine, which only utilized sun-dried mud bricks. (13). Kiln-fired bricks appear in Mesopotamia during the late Uruk period and become more common in the Jamdet Nasr period (3100-2900 B.C.) (14). An article specifically about ancient Mesopotamian bricks observes,

There were problems in the south of Mesopotamia where dry bricks did not meet the building requirements, because it was irresistible to moisture, in addition to the high groundwater levels in the area, the lack of stone and the difficulty of carrying it out of northern Mesopotamia. At the same time, people already knew ceramics and its properties that were resistant to moisture, so the builders began to burn bricks . . . for the first time evidence of the baked brick appeared during the Uruk period, and exactly in the buildings of Eridu city. (15)

Paul H. Seely states about kiln-fired bricks:

We know when baked bricks first appear in the archaeological record of the ancient Near East as building materials. Nor are we arguing from silence. There are hundreds of archaeological sites in the ancient Near East which have architectural remains. . . . although unbaked brick was extensively used for architecture from c. 8500 B.C. to Christian times, baked brick, though used occasionally for such things as drains or walkways, did not make an architectural appearance until c. 3500 B.C. and it was rarely used in architecture until c. 3100 B.C. . . . the archaeological data from the Near East universally testify that prior to c. 3100 B.C. the bricks used in architecture were unbaked. Indeed, Jacquetta Hawkes indicates in her archaeological survey that baked brick was not used for architecture anywhere in the entire world until c. 3000 B. C. (16)

The presence of kiln-fired bricks, at the right time and right place to be available for the Tower of Babel seems, therefore, solidly established. Moving on to the question of “bitumen for mortar,” what evidence do we know of, for it being available in southern Mesopotamia, c. 3000-2800 B.C.? The beautiful Anu Ziggurat in Uruk (modern Warka) was built in c. 3517-3358 B.C. Its flat top “was coated with bitumen (asphalt—a tar or pitch-like material similar to what is used for road paving)” and “a system of shallow bitumen-coated conduits” were also discovered. (17) Where did this bitumen utilized in Uruk and other nearby sites come from? We know that, too:

Research into bitumen sources has illuminated the history of the expansionist period of Mesopotamian Uruk. An intercontinental trading system was established by Mesopotamia during the Uruk period (3600-3100 BC), with the creation of trading colonies in what is today southeastern Turkey, Syria, and Iran. According to seals and other evidence, the trade network involved textiles from southern Mesopotamia and copper, stone, and timber from Anatolia, but the presence of sourced bitumen has enabled scholars to map out the trade. For example, much of the bitumen in Bronze age Syrian sites has been found to have originated from the Hit seepage on the Euphrates River in southern Iraq. Using historical references and geological survey, scholars have identified several sources of bitumen in Mesopotamia and the Near East. (18)

Sumerians called bitumen esir, and Akkadians called it iddu. The substance  seems to have been more widely used in Mesopotamia than anywhere else in the ancient world. The early Ubaids in the region coated their  houses and paddleboats (both made from marsh reeds)  with bitumen. The Mesopotamian city of Hīt was famous for its bitumen wells, discovered by the Sumerians as early as 2900 B.C.

The availability and use of bitumen in Mesopotamia by the early third millennium B.C. is thus established. The Bible had its facts right again, as far as we can determine from archaeology. In other words, the types of building materials and methods for building the tower of Babel, according to the Bible, were indeed available and practiced, respectively, at that time and place.

Having verified what we can from archaeology, now we need to move on to the larger aspects of the story of Babel: the question of developing languages, migration, and exactly what the story is seeking to say about these things and related aspects.

Genesis 11:1 Now the whole earth had one language and few words.

This is right before the story of the tower of Babel. It has been argued, however, that Genesis chapters ten and eleven are chronological, and that differentiation of language was already cited several times in chapter ten:

Genesis 10:5 . . . These are the sons of Japheth in their lands, each with his own language, . . .

Genesis 10:20 These are the sons of Ham, by their families, their languages, their lands, and their nations.

Genesis 10:31 These are the sons of Shem, by their families, their languages, their lands, and their nations.

So why does Genesis 11:1 appear to contradict these verses in the chapter preceding it? It’s been noted that the Hebrew word for “earth” (eretz) can mean many things, including the entire world (e.g., Gen. 1:1, 15; 2:1, 4), but also things like the “land” or “ground” of countries, such as Egypt (eretz mitzrayim) and Canaan (eretz kana’an), the dry land (Gen. 1:10), and ground from which seeds grow (Gen. 1:12). This is plainly observed in the range of how the New American Standard Bible translates eretz: country or countries 59 times, ground 119 times, land[s] 1638 times; compare to earth[‘s], 656 instances, and world (3). Clearly and undeniably, eretz can and does have different meanings. As with most biblical words in both Hebrew and Greek –, we need to consult context to determine which meaning applies in any given biblical text.

Context indicates very strongly that Genesis 11 is not talking about the entire earth, but rather, the land which is described repeatedly as the place where the events occur: southern Mesopotamia, or Sumer, as it was known at the proposed period of history. That was already seen in the related passage of Genesis 10:8-12, and numerous times in Genesis 11: “Shinar” (11:2), “a city” and “the city” (11:4-5, 8), called “Babel” (11:9):

Genesis 11:5-9 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may 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 its name 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.

Even the references to being scattered to “the face of all the earth” can scarcely be taken literally, since there were huge areas of the world unknown to the ancient Hebrews, such as North, Central, and South America. Chris Gousmett contends for this interpretation:

It is not the origin of all the languages of the earth, but instead describes something else entirely. . . . 

While the expression kol-ha’aretz is translated as ‘the whole earth’ or ‘all the earth’ we could be justified in suggesting that there it refers to ‘the whole land’.  In addition, we can ask whether the population of the whole earth migrated into the plain of Shinar. This would appear not to be the case, as this story follows an account of the dispersal of various groups into other lands. The scattering they feared was not dispersal over the whole earth, but across the plain into which they had migrated to settle. (19)

That this is only one group of people among many is indicated by their desire to ‘make a name’ (a reputation) for themselves as one people among many. If this were the whole population of the earth prior to their dispersal after the flood then for whom would they make ‘a name’? (20)

What Gen. 11 speaks about is not the origin of the many different languages spoken across the earth, but the confusion engendered by God among one group of people in the land of Shinar. (21)

Some have argued that what was in the mind of the author was not language in reference to literally the entire world, but rather, a lingua franca, which means a common or bridge language, or one that is common as a second language across widely different groups of people. Historically, such languages included Akkadian, Babylonian, and Aramaic in ancient western Asia, Koine Greek, Latin (which functionally lasted until the 18th century), Italian, French, Spanish, and English. In this understanding, Sumerian was the lingua franca c. 3000 B.C. in (at least the self-understanding of) Mesopotamia. The Babel story might be thought to possibly be a “morality tale” of the demise of Sumerian language and culture. Some background detail of Sumerian culture may be useful to back up this hypothesis.

Sumerian is believed to be a language isolate, meaning that “we know of no other languages that relate to it ancestrally.” (22) It was also the first written language in the history of the world, as a British Library article notes,

Full writing-systems appear to have been invented independently at least four times in human history: first in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) where cuneiform was used between 3400 and 3300 BC, . . .

Scholars generally agree that the earliest form of writing appeared almost 5,500 years ago in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). Early pictorial signs were gradually substituted by a complex system of characters representing the sounds of Sumerian (the language of Sumer in Southern Mesopotamia) and other languages.

From 2900 BC, these began to be impressed in wet clay with a reed stylus, making wedge-shaped marks which are now known as cuneiform. (23)

Sumerians, by the way, also developed the wheel, sophisticated irrigation and agricultural techniques, sailboats, calendars and cities, as far back as 3500 B.C.  Now, it may be that Genesis 11 reflects this unique and particular historical circumstance, where we have the first complete writing system ever in history, and a language isolate at that. This would have been pretty dominant in 3400-3000 B.C. among Sumerians in southern Mesopotamia. Perhaps it was all they knew. Then when different languages started showing up, perhaps an oral tradition began to the effect that this was a judgment upon the Sumerian-speaking (and cuneiform-writing) Sumerians, who had seemed so dominant. Moser observes,

Little is known about when Sumerian-speaking people arrived in southern Mesopotamia, assuming they did not originate there. Either way, from a very early period a multilingual environment existed in southern Mesopotamia, which included languages like Sumerian, an early form of Akkadian, other Semitic languages, and Hurrian. (24)

Could this “multilingual environment” that Moser refers to “in southern Mesopotamia” actually refer to the confusion of languages in the biblical text? Unfortunately, he doesn’t indicate the exact time of this “very early period.” So we’ll have to do more “digging” ourselves for further “answers” along these lines.

Written language is not the same thing as spoken language. It may very well be that Akkadian started to be widely spoken in Mesopotamia before it borrowed cuneiform as its writing method, too (as eventually fifteen languages did). The biblical text refers to the Sumerians not being able to “understand one another’s speech” (Gen. 11:7). That’s talking, and it need not necessarily be related to writing at all. Complex and technologically advanced cultures like the Incas had no writing system, as was also true of most of the North American indigenous people (the Cherokees being a notable exception; and they simply invented it “on the spot”).

So it could have been that spoken Akkadian was part of the confusion referred to in the Babel story. Omniglot, “the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages” (x23), states that “Akkadian was a semitic language spoken in Mesopotamia” starting around  “2,800 BC” and  that it “first appeared in Sumerian texts dating from 2,800 BC in the form of Akkadian names.” (25) If this is correct (and how do they know, I wonder?), it could correspond to a “late” date of the building of the tower of Babel, which I estimated provisionally to be from 3000-2800 B.C. That gives us a real possibility of linguistic confusion: from the first written language and the lingua franca and language isolate to a multi-lingual environment.

The Jewish Virtual Library (26) also dates Akkadian, defined as “the designation for a group of closely related East Semitic dialects current in Mesopotamia” to “the early third millennium,” which would be, presumably, about 3000-2800 B.C.: again fitting the time-frame schema for the possible explanation I am maintaining. Moreover, I found a scholarly article that deals with the inter-mixture of Akkadian and Sumerian and which refers to a “long history of linguistic symbiosis, stretching back several centuries [from before c. 2500 B.C.]” which reinforces “the impression of . . . a Sumerian-Akkadian linguistic area . . . Among the East Semitic languages of 3rd-millenium and earlier Mesopotamia were ancestral dialects of Akkadian . . .” (27)

Matthew A. McIntosh, who teaches ancient history, noted this cultural clash of the Sumerians and Akkadians, around 3000 BC:

When written records began in the late fourth millennium BC, the Semitic-speaking Akkadians (Assyrians and Babylonians) were entering Mesopotamia from the deserts to the west, and were probably already present in places such as Ebla in Syria. Akkadian personal names began appearing in written record in Mesopotamia from the late 29th century BC. (28)

The earliest positively proven historical attestation of any Semitic people comes from 30th century BC Mesopotamia, with the East Semitic-speaking peoples of the Kish civilization, entering the region originally dominated by the people of Sumer (who spoke a language isolate). (29)

Related to the above analysis is the understanding of the collapse of the Mesopotamian Uruk culture (c. 3300-3000 B.C.). K. Kris Hirst states,

After the Uruk period between 3200–3000 BCE (called the Jemdet Nasr period), an abrupt change occurred . . . The Uruk colonies in the north were abandoned, and the large cities in the north and south saw a sharp decrease in population and an increase in the number of small rural settlements. (30)

Hirst attributes this to “climate change” and “drought, including a sharp rise in temperature and aridity over the region.” That may very well be (we know that the region became much less fertile over time), but it doesn’t rule out clashes that come from language differences. In God’s providence — as I have argued many times — natural events may be and are incorporated into the divine plan. Whatever, or however many, the reasons, the end result was “a sharp decrease in population” in southern Mesopotamian cities around 3000 B.C., which is, of course, quite consistent with the biblical report of  people in these regions being “scattered . . . abroad from there” (Gen. 11:8). This is fascinating, because now we have not only strong suggestions of linguistic discord at this particular time, but also a scattering or migration out of the area, which was precisely what we needed to find to corroborate the text.
Lastly, Dallin D. Oaks, a linguist, proposes an interpretation of the Babel account that has likely been largely overlooked:

I shall explore another possibility in the text, a possibility that a scattering of people is what caused the confusion of languages rather than vice-versa. In other words, the people were scattered, and their subsequent separation from each other resulted in a differentiation of languages, which would in turn help to keep the people separated from each other. If this latter interpretation better represents the intent of the text, the account is very compatible with the type of explanation scholars in historical linguistics commonly provide for the development of different languages.

One of the important implications of this alternate interpretation is that the confusion of languages would have been gradual rather than immediate. Does the biblical text allow an interpretation suggesting a more gradual change resulting from rather than causing a dispersion of people? A careful look at the account shows that it doesn’t actually say that the confusion was immediate. While the account says that the confusion of languages happened “there” at Babel, the identification of the location could be referring to the place at which the process of language change was initiated, since that was the place from which the dispersion of people occurred, and the dispersion is what caused the ultimate confusion of languages. And while some might believe that immediate change is implied because of their assumption that the confusion of languages caused the construction of the tower to cease, it should be pointed out that the account in Genesis doesn’t make such an overt connection, . . . (31)

FOOTNOTES

1) Jonathan M. S. Pearce, A Tippling Philosopher (blog): https://onlysky.media/jonathan-pearce/.

2) Pearce,  “The Tower of Babel Story Is OBVIOUSLY Not Historical,” November 23, 2021. https://onlysky.media/jpearce/the-tower-of-babel-story-is-obviously-not-historical/.

3) Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis (August 12, 1950). https://www.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_12081950_humani-generis.html.

4) Acta Apostolicae Sedis (Latin for “Acts of the Apostolic See”), vol. XL, pp. 45-48. This is the official gazette from the Vatican, which appears about twelve times a year. http://www.catholicapologetics.info/scripture/oldtestament/commission.htm.

5) Christopher Eames, “The ‘Sumerian Problem’—Evidence of the Confusion of Languages?,” Armstrong Institute of Biblical Archaeology, September 15, 2020. https://armstronginstitute.org/280-the-sumerian-problem-evidence-of-the-confusion-of-languages.

6) Margaret Stefana Drower & Peter F. Dorman, “Thutmose III,” Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Thutmose-III.

7) “Amarna letters,” Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Amarna-Letters.

8) Dave Armstrong, The Word Set in Stone: How Archaeology, Science and History Back Up the Bible (El Cajon, California: Catholic Answers Press, 2023), 29, 33.

9) “Is There Archaeological Evidence for the Tower of Babel,?” Bulletin for Biblical Research 5 (1995): 155-75; reprinted at the Associates for Biblical Research website. https://biblearchaeology.org/research/patriarchal-era/2695-is-there-archaeological-evidence-for-the-tower-of-babel.

10) Joshua J. Mark, “Ziggurat,” World History Encyclopedia, October 13, 2022. https://www.worldhistory.org/ziggurat/.

11) “Is There Archaeological Evidence . . .,” ibid.

12) Mark, ibid.

13) See Kathleen Kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land (New York: Norton, 4th ed., 1979) 46, 87, 91, 164, etc.

14) See Jack Finegan, Archaeological History of the Ancient Near East. (Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1979), 8; Holmyard Singer, The History of Technology, vol. 1. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1954), 462.

15) Kadim Hasson Hnaihen, “The Appearance of Bricks in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Athens Journal of History (Volume 6, Issue 1, January 2020) 73-96; citation from p. 80. https://www.athensjournals.gr/history/2020-6-1-4-Hnaihen.pdf.

16) Paul H. Seely, “The Date of the Tower of Babel and Some Theological Implications,” Westminster Theological Journal 63 (2001) 15-38; citation from p. 17. https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/01-genesis/text/articles-books/seely_babel_wtj.pdf.

17) Senta German, “White Temple and ziggurat, Uruk”, Khan Academy. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/ancient-mediterranean-ap/ancient-near-east-a/a/white-temple-and-ziggurat-uruk

18) K. Kris Hirst, “The Archaeology and History of Bitumen,” ThoughtCo., January 3, 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/bitumen-history-of-black-goo-170085. See also: M. Schwartz & D. Hollander, “The Uruk expansion as dynamic process: A reconstruction of Middle to Late Uruk exchange patterns from bulk stable isotope analyses of bitumen artifacts,” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 7:884-899 (2016). http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2016.01.027; Peter Roger Stuart Moorey, Ancient Mesopotamian Materials and Industries: Archaeological Evidence (University Park, Pennsylvania: Eisenbrauns, 1999), 334. https://books.google.com/books?id=P_Ixuott4doC&pg=PA334&lpg=PA334&dq=bitumen+in+ancient+mesopotamia&source=bl&ots=bwAwJaC_SC&sig=AlHp-aPz9yHkFcRCy2EpLH3QqEA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=j2oGT_WsAse1gwf824mjAg&sqi=2&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=bitumen%20in%20ancient%20mesopotamia&f=false.

19) Chris Gousmett, “The confusion of language in the interpretation of Genesis 11,” Evangelical Quarterly, 89.1 (2018), 34–50; quote from pp. 35-36. https://www.academia.edu/36158948/The_confusion_of_language_in_the_interpretation_of_Genesis_11.

20) Gousmett, 41-42.

21) Gousmett, 44.

22) Jason Moser, “Sumerian Language,” World History Encyclopedia, November 7, 2015. https://www.worldhistory.org/Sumerian_Language/.

23) Ewan Clayton, “Where Did Writing Begin?,” British Library, no date. https://www.bl.uk/history-of-writing/articles/where-did-writing-begin.

24) Moser, ibid.

25) “Akkadian,” Omniglot. https://omniglot.com/writing/akkadian.htm#:~:text=Akkadian%20was%20a%20semitic%20language,the%20form%20of%20Akkadian%20names.

26) “Akkadian Language,” Jewish Virtual Library. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/akkadian-language.

27) Andrew George, “Babylonian and Assyrian: A History of Akkadian,” 37-38. https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/3139/1/PAGE_31-71.pdf.

28) Matthew A. McIntosh, “Ancient Semitic-Speaking Peoples,” Brewminate, July 19, 2020. https://brewminate.com/ancient-semitic-speaking-peoples/.

29) J. Nicholas Postgate,  Languages of Iraq, Ancient and Modern (British Institute for the Study of Iraq: 2007), 31-71.

30) K. Kris Hirst, “Uruk Period Mesopotamia: The Rise of Sumer,” ThoughtCo., April 21, 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/uruk-period-mesopotamia-rise-of-sumer-171676.

31) Dallin D. Oaks, “The Tower of Babel Account: A Linguistic Consideration,” Science, Religion & Culture Vol. 2, Iss. 2 (May 2015). http://researcherslinks.com/current-issues/The-Tower-of-Babel-Account-A-Linguistic-Consideration/9/5/98/html

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ADDENDUM: see the related “follow-up discussion: Tower of Babel: Dialogue with a Linguist (6-26-23). [added on 6-26-23]

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Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 4,200+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty-one books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.

Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.

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Photo credit: The Tower of Babel, by Alexander Mikhalchyk (b. 1969) [Wikimedia Commons / Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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Summary: I approach the tower of Babel story in Genesis 11 with the goal of seeking to understand which aspects of it can be verified by secular archaeology and linguistics.

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