Babylon and Ziggurats
Links with the Bible
Sarah and Abraham came from Ur, and since they lived in the centuries after the Ziggurat of Ur was built, they must have looked on it when it was still in all its glory.
- The priests of Yahweh condemned worship in the ‘high places’, since it was based on veneration of the gods of sky, weather and fertile agriculture.
What was Babylon and its ziggurats like?
Babylon. What a city! What money and power!
Nebuchadrezzar II had a grand vision. He took a decaying city, Babylon, and transformed it into a vast, sophisticated metropolis.
Why? He wanted Babylon to reflect his own magnificence. The architects of the time adorned the facades of the buildings with painted glazed bricks, so that the massive constructions lining the wide Procession Street – the Ishtar Gate itself, and the palace of Nebuchadrezzar, would dazzle visitors to his capital.
The Ziggurats and the ‘Tower of Babel’
What was Procession Street like? It led through a grand avenue, from the Ishtar Gate, through the centre of Babylon to the main temple enclosure, Etemenanki, the “Building of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth”.
At the end of this avenue was Marduk’s ziggurat, or ‘the House That Lifts Up Its Head’.
This ziggurat, popularly known as “the Tower of Babel”, has no relation to the Bible story. The only connection is that the Babylon ziggurat is a late imitation of the very early staged temple towers built in most of the Mesopotamian dynastic cities.
What was this great ziggurat like?
Built with two or three terraces, faced with kiln baked bricks, their colossal facades panelled and recessed, these huge structures dominated the Mesopotamian scene.
Ur itself and the great cities of Eridu, Kish, Uruk, Nippur and, later, during the Cassite period, Dur Kurigalzu (Aqarqaf) all had ziggurats, the ruins of some of them standing to this day.
What was the purpose of ‘building up’? It is possible that the ziggurat was intended as a “stairway to heaven” and that the worshippers believed the gods descended from heaven to this “halfway house” meeting place.
Genesis (11:1-9) used the form (and makes the first biblical mention of the name of Babylon or Babel) in a vivid story designed to prove that at some point in human history, mankind had been scattered over many lands and thereafter spoke in many languages, forming a veritable ‘babble of tongues’.
Where, when, what: ziggurats
- Ziggurats were stepped temple towers, built as religious structures.
- About 25 ziggurats are known.
- Ziggurats are found in the major cities of what was Mesopotamia and is now modern Iran, spread throughout the ancient lands of Sumeria, Babylonia and Assyria.
- They were built from circa 2200-500BC.
- The Tower of Babel is associated with the ziggurat of the great temple of Marduk in Babylon.
- The ziggurats were simulated mountains, and many people in the ancient Near East continued to worship in ‘high places’.
- In Israel, these ‘high places’ were on top of mountains – see Bible Archaeology: Ancient ‘High Places’.
Design of a ziggurat
- A ziggurat had a core of mud brick and an exterior of baked brick.
- It had no internal chambers (though is was sometimes built over other, more ancient structures) and was usually square or rectangular.
- An exterior triple stairway or a spiral ramp led to the top of the ziggurat.
- The terraces were often adorned with trees and shrubs, and this is probably the origin of the idea of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
- Most ziggurats were about 170ft. square, or 125x170ft. (40x50metres) at the base.