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b) Gen 11:3: The people who moved to Shinar (Gen 11:1–2) devised a plan.

Moses reported, “They said to one another, ‘Come now, let us make bricks and let us burn them thoroughly.’ And they had for themselves brick for stone, and bitumen they had for mortar.”

Construction materials in Mesopotamia differed greatly from those available in Egypt and in areas close to Israel. By the end of the fourth millennium BC, Mesopotamians produced kiln-fired bricks for erecting temples, palaces, and other important buildings.[1]

Kiln-fired brick readily absorbs water. Therefore, the masons used bitumen, a natural asphalt, to penetrate the adjacent surfaces.[2] This made a building stronger than stone.[3]

Bitumen was a costly mortar, and kiln-firing took much longer than sun drying blocks of mud.[4] The scarcity of fuel added to the expense of this method.[5]

Therefore, even the grandest buildings used sun-dried brick for the interior walls.[6]

Ancient people often reused brick from abandoned structures. Consequently, most monumental architecture from this period no longer exists, apart from the rectangular foundations.[7]



Nevertheless, the expensive materials which the immigrants to Shinar used hint at what they constructed.[8]

Enuma Elish depicts Babylon as a place of rest and for Marduk’s glory as a reward for defeating Tiamat, the cosmic water monster.

After the battle, Marduk’s fellow gods said:

“Now, O lord, thou who hast caused our deliverance, what shall be our homage to thee? Let us build a shrine whose name shall be called ‘Lo, a chamber for our nightly rest’; let us repose in it! Let us build a throne, a recess for his abode! On the day that we arrive we shall repose in it.”

When Marduk heard this, brightly glowed his features, like the day, “Construct Babylon, whose building you have requested, let its brickwork be fashioned. You shall name it ‘The Sanctuary.’”

The Anunnaki [gods] applied the implement. For one whole year they molded bricks.

When the second year arrived, they raised high the head of [the tower] Esagila equaling Apsu[, the depth of the primordial waters].

Having built a stage-tower as high as Apsu, they set up in it an abode for Marduk, Enlil, (and) Ea. In their presence he was seated in grandeur…

After they had achieved the building of [the tower] Esagila, all the Anunnaki [gods] erected their shrines. The three hundred Igigi (heavenly spirits)…all of them gathered, the lord being on the lofty dais which they had built as his abode.

The gods, his fathers, at his banquet he seated, “This is Babylon, the place that is your home!”[9]



People in the Ancient Near East (ANE) believed that the god who owned a temple inhabited it through the presence of an idol made in the god’s likeness. If the god approved of the craftsman’s work, he entered the statue.[10]

After constructing a throne for the moon god Nanna in Ur, the king wrote this (ca. 1828 BC):[11]

I, Kudur-mabuk, humble shepherd, who stands in supplication for the shrine Ebabbar, when the gods…had given to me, on account of my order by the supreme decree of the gods Nanna and Utu, the true scepter suitable to lead the people…

On account of this, as I made an ardent prayer…shining star(s) radiance…a…awe-inspiring… throne [was inlaid] with red gold…a statue of the god Nanna [whose] fo[rm] was fashioned correctly…

A pair of protective genii…[giving] good omens[…], being there daily…I set up on either side of it. I fixed them there here at the perimeter of that throne (area with their…stretched out towards the statue of me praying, as if (making) new šuila prayers and entreaties.[12]



Inhabitants of the Ancient Near East considered worshiping an idol equivalent to adoration of the god whom the image portrayed. While it might not have looked exactly like the god, it could accomplish the deity’s work, including the protection of the city (Cf. Gen 1:26–28).[13]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 11:3. How does the brick-making technique used by those who moved to Shinar help us date this event? What do the types of construction materials imply regarding what they were building? Why would people in the Ancient Near East want a temple in their midst?





Go to A Stairway to Heaven (Gen 11:4)

[Related posts include Made in the Image of God (Gen 1:26 cont.); Stewards of the Earth (Gen 1:26 cont.); Male and Female He Created Them (Gen 1:27); The Blessing of Fruitfulness (Gen 1:28); The Descendants of Japheth (Gen 10:2–5); The Descendants of Ham (Gen 10:6–14); The Descendants of Canaan (Gen 10:15–20); The Descendants of Shem (Gen 10:21–31); Seventy Nations (Gen 10:32); A Plain in Shinar (Gen 11:1–2); A Stairway to Heaven (Gen 11:4); A Deity Descends (Gen 11:5–7); Dispersed over the Face of the Earth (Gen 11:8–9); Ancient Literature; and Author and Date of Genesis]

[Click here to go to Chapter 12: Scattered to the Ends of the Earth (Gen 11:1–9)]


[1]Walton, Genesis, 372.

[2]J. Connan, “Use and Trade of Bitumen in Antiquity and Prehistory: Molecular Archaeology Reveals Secrets of Past Civilizations,” Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, no. 354 (29 January 1999): 33–50, 33,

[3]Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Babel Account and Its Implications,” 164,

[4]Walton, Genesis, 372.

[5]Paul H. Seely, “The Date of the Tower of Babel and Some Theological Implications,” WTJ 63, no. 1 (1 September 2001: 15–38, 17,

[6]John F. Robertson, “Temples and Sanctuaries: Mesopotamia,” ABD 6:372–76, 372–3.

[7]Jean-Claude Margueron, “Babylon (Place),” ABD 1:563–5, 565.

[8]Walton, Genesis, 372.

[9]Speiser, trans., “Enuma Elish (The Creation Epic),” in ANET, 6:49–72, 68–9. Italics original.

[10]Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, 109.

[11]William W. Hallo, ed., The Context of Scripture: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World (COS2). (Leiden; New York; Köln: Brill, 2000), 251.

[12]Kudur-Mabuk, “Warad Sin (2.101B),” in COS2. ed. William W. Hallo; trans. I. Kärki and D. R. Frayne, 251–2.

[13] Walton, Genesis, 130.