Was the Tower a Ziggurat?

This article is from the new book, Rebooting the Bible, Part 2.

I’ve missed my date to publish by today.  Too much editing to do!  But it will pay off in the end.

So allow me to treat my followers with an excerpt from the Chapter on the Tower of Babel.  I go deep into the meaning behind the Tower. In this article I introduce the notion of the Cosmic Mountain and the connection between the Tower, sacred mountains, mounds, and monuments.  The pattern is fascinating, and the meaning revealing.

Expect the book within a week!


We cannot understand the purpose of the Tower of Babel without appreciating the nature of “the cosmic mountain.” Mountains have always been considered sacred sites. This statement seems to be so since they, metaphorically at least, reach up to the heavens where gods dwell. Perhaps also it is because they naturally strike us as majestic and awe-inspiring. They remind us we are not so prominent in the grand scheme of things.

Regardless, the history of religion ties the sacred mountain to mounds – the land emerging from the waters so that life as land-based creatures can begin. Whether we are looking at Egyptian pyramids, Ziggurats in Babylon, or even giant mounds in the Americas (such as Cahokia in Missouri, which focused the largest city in North America in A.D. 1250 – a city the size of London at that time). The oldest religions regard the cosmic mountain as the focal point for the conflict between the forces of good and evil. They also provide a means which humanity can reach up to the gods (or downward into Hades).  And when we deem a particular mountain, pyramid, or mound to be sacred, it becomes an “Axis Mundi” – a central axis around which the whole world revolves.  And for some, it’s not just the earth, but the universe.

Mount Zaphon, aka The Sacred Mountain on the Border of Syria and Turkey

Temples, ziggurats, pyramids, and mounds serve this purpose. In some spiritual sense, which the higher one reaches, the closer one comes to the gods. Steps in the step pyramids, the varying levels in ziggurats, chambers in pyramids as at Giza in the Great Pyramid, become the most intensive place for interactions between humans and supernatural beings. If we use today’s jargon, these places are the portals (or “stargates”) through which gods descend, and humans ascend.

Glory J. Wiese, in her outstanding paper, “A Study of the True Cosmic Mountain of Yahweh,” which will guide my comments in the remainder of this section, points out:

The elevated monuments are considered to bring the people closer to their deity, often where the god issues his decrees. From Mount Olympus for the Greeks to Mount Zaphon for the Canaanites, the dwelling place of the gods is constantly portrayed as a battleground for conflicting forces.  Simulated mountain-structures of the ancient Near East such as the ziggurat, pyramid, Mount Zaphon, and high place(s) must also be considered as sacred sites. By a careful examination of cosmic mountain imagery, we can affirm the belief that these artificial pinnacles present an opportunity for humanity to access and be accessed by spiritual forces of evil.[1]

Furthermore, central to Wiese’s argument is the assertion that cosmic mountains held to be sacred by religions other than Judaism and Christianity, must be sized up to identify their falsehoods so that we might correctly reckon the truth of Yahweh’s biblical cosmic mountain. Wiese sets out not only to explain the role of sacred mountains, mounds, or monuments but to challenge a recent argument concerning a premise believed about the Bible – that its “Cosmic mountain” is Mount Zaphon and not Mount Zion. Where does Yahweh reign? Syrians and Turks know Mount Zaphon is as Jebel Aqra, which sits on the border of Syria and Turkey (see Figure 23). A reference from Wikipedia brings out several vital facts about this mountain as it pertains to the Scripture.

It appears in the Hebrew Scriptures as Mount Zaphon (Hebrew: צפון). In ancient Canaanite religion, Mount Sapan was sometimes accounted as the home of all the gods, not only Baʿal and his sister. As Mount Zaphon, it appears in that role in the Hebrew Scriptures’ Book of Isaiah, along with the Mount of the Congregation. From its importance and its position at the northern end of Canaan, it also became a metonym [a synonym for northern Canaan itself] and then the word for the direction “north” in the Hebrew language.[2]

Pertinent to our study is the relationship between the Tower of Babel and the ziggurat (for Wiese and some others, it is synonymous with the Tower of Babylon).  The ziggurat must be a “staged tower” or one with “steps” or levels (terraces). The ziggurat in Babylon is known as Marduk’s Ziggurat (E-temen-anki – “the house of the foundation of heaven and earth”). Wiese points out that the Akkadians considered it built by the Anunnaki (Zecharia Sitchin’s extraterrestrials, but for more conventional scholars, fallen angels, or “sages,” i.e., Apkallu, in both cases the purported creators of humankind).

Mount Zaphon from the Turkey Side

The ziggurat would have a staircase leading to the top, either straightway or in a manner of the winding staircase.  It is asserted by the Greek historian Herodotus that the seven levels may each have been colored differently in the fashion of a rainbow or with distinctive “earth” colors. Other scholars believe that ziggurats, like the pyramids, were meant to provide “mountains” for sacred purposes where the gods could reach down to humankind, and vice versa.  This concept may be in the mind of Moses in Genesis 11 when Yahweh proclaims to His Heavenly Host that they should “go down” to see what the builders of the Tower were “up to” (pun intended). The ziggurat was like a step ladder. If so, the language is mocking the human supposition about “gods” living in the sky, and humanity’s quest to do the same.

Perhaps this also is in the mind of the author of Genesis when he described the dream of Jacob when angels were ascending or descending in the place where Jacob slept (remember the old hymn, “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder”?)  Just as mountain climbers accomplish a feat that only a few can follow, ascending the artificial mountain set apart those who worshipped in this way. At the sacred mountain, it was supposed a “breakthrough” could occur where the initiate could interact directly with elohim (used in the sense of Psalm 82, as gods, fallen angels, or demons).

But is the Tower of Babel a ziggurat as often assumed?  Furthermore, is it primarily a meeting place where humans and divinities come together? Or did the Tower of Babel represent something more?

Wiese provides a helpful taxonomy of the tower (i.e., mi migdal in Genesis 11).  She indicates that there are four uses of the word migdal:

  1. A shepherd’s watchtower, the tower of Edar (Genesis 35:21);
  2. A vineyard watchtower (Isaiah 5:2; cf. Matthew 21:33);
  3. A defensive military tower (such as Jerusalem’s towers in many references: 2 Chronicles 26:9-15; Psalm 48:12, Nehemiah 3:1, 12:39; Jeremiah 31:38; Zechariah 14:10);
  4. Or, a religious tower, e.g., the migdal of Penuel and its destruction by the action of Gideon (Judges 8:9,17); the migdal of Shechem (judges 9:46) and the migdal of Syene (Ezekiel 29:10; 30:6).

Wiese suggests that the Tower of Babylon was indeed a ziggurat since migdal appears to be a derivative of the Hebrew term gdl (“large”), “which etymologically parallels the Akkadian zaqaru (“high”).” Thus, the Hebrew word, migdal, incorporates the notion of large and high. And ziggurat seems an obvious derivative of zaqaru. For Wiese, there is no doubt the purpose of the Tower of Babel was not military, but spiritual since Yahweh reacts so negatively to the “type of unification” the Tower represented. If it were merely a watchtower or siege engine, the reaction of the Lord God would not be what it was. Thus, Wiese goes on to contend, perhaps too speculatively, that the builders were seeking personal empowerment – for their individual or collective aggrandizement – by interacting with demonic forces. “The ziggurat represents humanity’s vain attempt to overthrow their appointed jurisdiction and empower themselves with forces bent on destroying, not only the kingdom of God but humanity as well.” She surmises that what happens today in occult ritual occurred then.

I suggest that this “ain’t necessarily so.”  The rebels may have been thinking of something else entirely.

What stands out from the terse words in Genesis 11 (in contrast to the elaborate storytelling characteristics of the Book of Jasher) is that the builders were seeking a name for themselves. Genesis does not state that they were attempting to interact with gods or to be empowered by them. Instead, it is my view the Genesis account suggests that the human workers wished to establish themselves as elohim – and felt by building a tower that reached high above the plain of Shinar, they would achieve god-like status.[3]  Why would they think this? From the account supplied in Genesis concerning the antediluvian world, if we interpret Genesis 6:4’s “sons of God” as fallen angels who fathered “men of renown” it is easy to suppose that the builders also wanted to become “men of renown” now that the fallen angels were bound “in the pit” and the Nephilim were dead. “Man’s reach should exceed his grasp – or what’s a heaven for?” as Robert Browning said poetically (no doubt never intending that his wisdom could explain the Tower of Babel event). However, what we learn is that humanity would not be left orphaned from supernatural support. The rebels were “put in their place” and immediately assigned gods from the heavenly host – the 70 – that would become the “gods of the nations.” Yahweh thwarted Humanity’s quest to be as gods once again.

To riff on this point: Michael S. Heiser describes this situation. In his books regarding The Unseen Realm (explaining the “supernatural world view”) and Reversing Hermon (Mount Hermon is the mountain in northern Israel where the Book of Enoch asserts the “sons of God” came down and began to corrupt humanity), humanity is not left alone for long.  Traditionally, we understand the seventy creatures (also called elohim) as angelic beings who are assigned the nations to be their gods – one for each nation (or “peoples”) – as laid out in Genesis 10. Here we can offer the reference of the “Prince of Persia” and the “Prince of Greece” disclosed in Daniel 10, or the “powers and principalities” of Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus (Ephesians 6:12). Regardless of their exact nature, the 70 from the Heavenly Host, follow on the heels of the fallen angels of Genesis 6:4. The earth is invaded once again by supernatural creatures leading humanity into sin, as the 70 soon seek to be worshipped, refresh evil once more, and turn into devils (metaphorically) in their own right. Does humanity get what it deserves? The Tower event screams, “Yes!”

Psalm 82 reveals this surprising future outcome, which becomes a cornerstone for Heiser’s incredible two books:

1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:

2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah

3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.

4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

6 I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;

7 Nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”

8 Arise, O God, judge the earth;

 

NOTES

[1] Wiese, Gloria J. “A Study of the True Cosmic Mountain of Yahweh with Emphasis on the Prophecies of Ezekiel.” Retrieved January 3, 2020, from https://www.dougriggs.org/ A_Study_of_the_True_Cosmic_Mountain_of_Yahweh.pdf, p. 1-2.

[2] Retrieved January 3, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jebel_Aqra.

[3] Mascrenghe points out that violence was likely a component of the judgement of God upon the world at the time of the Flood and also at the Tower of Babel. Furthermore, “In both, the judgment comes after the building project has progressed (Noah, it is completed; Babel, probably not completed); in both, there is an allusion to making a name for oneself – In Noah’s story the Nephilim had made a name for themselves and in the case of the Babelites, it was their expressed intention.” (Mascrenghe, op. cit., p. 257.)