URCall: Herodotus and Babel

From the ICR’s URCall series of videos, hosted by Markus Lloyd. (link)


Did you know that the Greek historian Herodotus, often called the “Father of History,” wrote about the Tower of Babel? He described the eight levels that included a spiral staircase attempting to reach heaven. Since this historical record appears to confirm what we find in the biblical account, what other cool evidence backs up the bible?

Being, after all, the so-called “Father of History,” Herodotus wasn’t necessarily all that great at it by modern standards. That is to say, while many of the things that he wrote about did happen, others are derived from the myths and legends of his time – the distinction was not as important to his readers as it is to us. Finding that Herodotus has repeated your particular myth is not therefore the stamp of approval Lloyd makes it out to be.

But in the specific instance that he is alluding to, the reference does seem to be to a real thing: what Herodotus calls the “sacred precinct of Jupiter Belus,” aka the ziggurat called Etemenanki. Here is the paragraph people like to quote, with the most important section bolded:

The outer wall is the main defence of the city. There is, however, a second inner wall, of less thickness than the first, but very little inferior to it in strength. The centre of each division of the town was occupied by a fortress. In the one stood the palace of the kings, surrounded by a wall of great strength and size: in the other was the sacred precinct of Jupiter Belus, a square enclosure two furlongs each way, with gates of solid brass; which was also remaining in my time. In the middle of the precinct there was a tower of solid masonry, a furlong in length and breadth, upon which was raised a second tower, and on that a third, and so on up to eight. The ascent to the top is on the outside, by a path which winds round all the towers. When one is about half-way up, one finds a resting-place and seats, where persons are wont to sit some time on their way to the summit. On the topmost tower there is a spacious temple, and inside the temple stands a couch of unusual size, richly adorned, with a golden table by its side. There is no statue of any kind set up in the place, nor is the chamber occupied of nights by any one but a single native woman, who, as the Chaldaeans, the priests of this god, affirm, is chosen for himself by the deity out of all the women of the land.

(You can read more at Wikisource – the above is paragraph 181.)

The connection is that Etemenanki is sometimes cited as the inspiration for the Babel story. But the key word here is “inspiration” – Etermenanki cannot be equated with the tower imagined by YECs like the ICR, bearing as it does little resemblance to the model shown in the video (which seems to be more closely related to the leaning tower of Pisa).

So you can claim that Herodotus talked about the Tower of Babel, or you can claim that the tower as imagined really existed, but to do both as the ICR does here is a classic bait-and-switch. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.


5 thoughts on “URCall: Herodotus and Babel

    • No doubt. I mean, for human effort at the time perhaps, but for an all powerful deity to be upset about it, well, that’s a bit childish and petulant.

      I can see where he might have been a little miffed since he had to be bothered to actually come down (from outside the universe apparently) and see it for himself, but seriously Yahweh, chillax bro.

    • Sure, at the time it would be impressive. Which is why (if this is indeed the tower of babel) I can imagine people concocting an equally impressive backstory for it’s creation/destruction. In the grand scheme of things though….well you said it best. Just makes the whole thing seem childish and petulant

  1. Loyd says “He described the eight levels that included a spiral staircase attempting to reach heaven.” I gather from your comments and excerpts that Herodotus never described a “stairway to heaven” in connection with the tower in question. if that is the case, then Lloyd’s comments seem misleading at best, and flatly dishonest at worst. But what else is new?

    • There are two further paragraphs relevant to the ziggurat – judge for yourself:

      182. They also declare- but I for my part do not credit it- that the god comes down in person into this chamber, and sleeps upon the couch. This is like the story told by the Egyptians of what takes place in their city of Thebes, where a woman always passes the night in the temple of the Theban Jupiter. In each case the woman is said to be debarred all intercourse with men. It is also like the custom of Patara, in Lycia, where the priestess who delivers the oracles, during the time that she is so employed- for at Patara there is not always an oracle- is shut up in the temple every night.
      183. Below, in the same precinct, there is a second temple, in which is a sitting figure of Jupiter, all of gold. Before the figure stands a large golden table, and the throne whereon it sits, and the base on which the throne is placed, are likewise of gold. The Chaldaeans told me that all the gold together was eight hundred talents’ weight. Outside the temple are two altars, one of solid gold, on which it is only lawful to offer sucklings; the other a common altar, but of great size, on which the full-grown animals are sacrificed. It is also on the great altar that the Chaldaeans burn the frankincense, which is offered to the amount of a thousand talents’ weight, every year, at the festival of the God. In the time of Cyrus there was likewise in this temple a figure of a man, twelve cubits high, entirely of solid gold. I myself did not see this figure, but I relate what the Chaldaeans report concerning it. Darius, the son of Hystaspes, plotted to carry the statue off, but had not the hardihood to lay his hands upon it. Xerxes, however, the son of Darius, killed the priest who forbade him to move the statue, and took it away. Besides the ornaments which I have mentioned, there are a large number of private offerings in this holy precinct.

      After this point Herodotus goes on to talk about a couple of Babylon’s female rulers, and I don’t think he comes back to the topic at all. He did ramble a lot, by my reading.


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