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Josephus: Tower of Babel and Nimrod

This is the description of the building of the Tower of Babel given by Josephus. It gives more detail than the account in the Book of Genesis, including the prominent role played by the tyrant Nimrod

Antiquities of the Jews 1:4:1-3

1. Now the sons of Noah were three - Shem, Japhet and Ham, born one hundred years before the Deluge. These first of all descended from the mountains into the plains and fixed their habitations there; and persuaded others who were greatly afraid of the lower grounds on account of the floods and so were very loth to come down from the higher place, to venture to follow their examples. Now the plain in which they first dwelt was called Shinar. God also commanded them to send colonies abroad, for the thorough peopling of the earth, - that they might not raise seditions among themselves, but might cultivate a great part of the earth, and enjoy its fruits after a plentiful manner: but they were ill instructed, that they did not obey God; for which reason they fell into calamities, and were made sensible, by experience, of what sin they had been guilty; for when they flourished with a numerous youth, God admonished them again to send out colonies; but they, imagining the prosperity they enjoyed was not derived from the favour of God, but supposing that their own power was the proper cause of the plentiful condition they were in, did not obey him. Nay, they added to this their disobedience to the divine will, the suspicion that they were therefore ordered to send out separate colonies, that, being divided asunder, they might the more easily be oppressed.

2. Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, - a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God as if it was through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, - seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence upon his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!

3. Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God: and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it it grew very high sooner than anyone could expect; but the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was. It was built of burnt brick cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. When God saw that they acted so madly he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they were not growing wiser by the destruction of the former sinners; but he caused a tumult among them, by producing in them divers languages, that they should not be able to understand one another. The place wherein they built the tower is now called Babylon; because of the confusion of that language which they readily understood before; for the Hebrews mean by the word Babel, Confusion. The Sibyl also makes mention of this tower, and of the confusion of the language, when she says thus:- "When all men were of one language, some of them built a high tower, as if they would thereby ascend up to heaven; but the gods sent storms of wind and overthrew the tower, and gave everyone his peculiar language; and for this reason it was that the city was called Babylon." But as to the plain of Shinar, in the country of Babylonia, Hestiaeus mentions it when he says thus:- "Such of the priests as were saved took the sacred vessels of Jupiter Enyalius, and came to Shinar of Babylonia."

Antiquities of the Jews 1.6.2

But Nimrod, the son of Chus, staid and tyrannized at Babylon, as we have already informed you.

The quotation from the Sibyl is from the Sibylline Oracles Book III: 117-129

But when the threatenings of the mighty God
Are fulfilled, which he threatened mortals once,
When in Assyrian land they built a tower;--
120 (And they all spoke one language, and resolved
To mount aloft into the starry heaven;
But on the air the Immortal straightway put
A mighty force; and then winds from above
Cast down the great tower and stirred mortals up
125 To wrangling with each other; therefore men
Gave to that city the name of Babylon);--
Now when the tower fell and the tongues of men
Turned to all sorts of sounds, straightway all earth
Was filled with men and kingdoms were divided;