Rational Faith

Do Ancient Chronologies Challenge the Bible?
Part 3: The Tower of Babel


The building of the tower of Babel




In parts 1 and 2, we saw how misunderstandings of ancient texts led to commonly held, but incorrect views.  Part one demonstrated why the early date of the exodus - 1446 BC - is the correct date. Part two demonstrated that commonly held Egyptian chronology is off and identified the amount of the error at the point of the exodus by identifying the pharaoh of the Exodus. (Hint: it's not Rameses or any of the other commonly suggested pharaohs.) Here in part three we see a more egregious error: An outright denial of Biblical truth. Whereas in parts one and two those who came to the wrong conclusions likely did so honestly - by simply misunderstanding the text.  But there can be no mistake here: it is clear the error here can only be arrived at by an outright denial of the biblical text - and its related teachings - at many levels. Let me give you an illustration of why this must be the case. 

Suppose there's a historian writing a history of the United States of America. This historian lives in the present time - the 21st Century and has just released his history. In it, he makes the following statement:

"As amazing as it may sound, the United States of America, the country that leads the world in most areas lags in this one area: It has yet to select a location for its capitol city, much less set it up.  Politicians acknowledge the need for a capitol, and have stated one will be selected, but in all these years,  have yet to do so."

For the sake of demonstration, let us suppose you're an American Citizen. Every U.S. citizen living in the present age should know that the U.S. does in fact have a capitol - Washington, District of Columbia (or DC for short) and it has been the capitol since 1790 - over 200 hundred years.  What then are we to make of claims from a historian - who is supposed to know the history of the U.S. - who claims the U.S. does not have a capitol when his intended audience knows that in point of fact the U.S. does have a capitol?

Two options are readily apparent. Either:

1. The so-called historian is a charlatan and has no idea what he's talking about or:

2. The historian has an axe to grind and is trying to re-write history (creating a revisionist history) to suit his own purposes by denying commonly held and long acknowledged truths.

This is the choice before us when it comes to the odd history given for the Tower of Babel.  But before we see why this is the case, let me offer one other concern: Many apologists today are lamenting the lack of Biblical background of many Christians today, so before we proceed, let us make sure a third option is not the case:

3. The historian is trying to propagate a revisionist history (as in option 2) and thinks he'll get away with it because his intended audience is too unfamiliar with the topic to notice his revision.

 So we'll start with a brief review to insure none fall in the category of not having the necessary background info. That will keep the choices limited to the first two. 

Following is a time line of key Biblical events pertinent to this discussion:

Briefly, here are a few concepts those pushing a revisionist history apparently hope you don't know:

  • The Torah - or the Book of the Law
    These are the first 5 books of the Bible, also know as the Pentateuch.
  • Mosiac Authorship of the Torah
    Moses wrote the Pentateuch. The Torah itself - as does the rest of the Bible - testifies that Moses is the author of those books.[1]
  • Early Chronology
    The narrative of the Tower of Babel is in Gen 11.1-9.  In terms of Chronology, This places the event after the Global Flood, but before the call of Abraham, which gives us a fairly good idea of when it happened.[2]  While the Bible is not precise on when the events happened, we have bounding dates within which the events must have occurred.[3]
  • The Divided Kingdom
    Due to Solomon's disobedience, God brought judgment on the nation and divided it - creating a Northern and Southern Kingdom (1 Ki 11:9-12)
  • The Exile
    Due to the disobedience of the Northern and Southern Kingdom, God sent his people into exile as  judgment: The Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria in 722 (2 Ki 17:19-23), and the Southern Kingdom fell to Babylon in 586 or 587 (2 Ki 24.10-16)

It is against this background that a documentary produced under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institute attempts to advance an outrageous and obviously false  revisionist history. In the documentary series Secrets  episode "The Tower of Babel"[4] the writers refuse to take the Bible at its word and  propose instead another scenario.  Instead of the events at Babel occurring very soon after the flood, this theory would have you believe that the tower of Babel was actually much later - a work of King Nebuchadnezzar more than a millennium later. Further and more outrageously, they propose that Jewish captives entering Babylon saw a magnificent tower - which they claim as the tower of Babel - and adopted it in their own writings. Here's how they put it:

"Experts believe that the Jews held captive in Babylon, after the siege of Jerusalem, saw the huge tower being built. At first they were mesmerized by the awe inspiring structure. Over time, it became a symbol of their oppression, of human aspiration, and overreaching ambition."

"When you look at the early chapters of the bible it is clear that some of it is drawn from the Judean's own records and some of it incorporates narratives which they must have encountered for the first time in Babylon, which were so powerful and striking that the authors, the philosophers who worked on the Hebrew text incorporated them to tell their own story."[5]
Irving Finkel
The British Museum

On the face of it, such a theory makes no sense. Consider the above Biblical time line. The events of Babel happened closely after the flood. Moses wrote both Genesis (which includes the recounting of the Tower of Babel) and also the book of Deuteronomy.  The book of Deuteronomy contains instructions for living in the land in a way that would gain God's blessings and avoid his wrath and curses.

Since they were just about to enter the land when Moses gave those instructions a key thing that defined the Jewish people was not yet in existence. It has often been said that the Old Testament Jews were defined by three things: the Land, the Law and the Temple. The land is what they were about to enter. The Law is what Moses gave in the first five books - the key elements of which is summarized in the book of  Deuteronomy - which Moses gave originally as a sermon (or sermons) by the Jordan. (Deut 1.1) And finally the temple. Which hadn't been built yet. It couldn't have been. They weren't even in the land yet. And God makes the following promise before they enter the land:

4 You must not worship the LORD your God in their way.
5 But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go;

Deuteronomy 12.4-5

Before they enter the land God promises to select a place for the temple, a place to "put his Name."  Clearly this was written at a time when the temple did not exist.  But if the scenario presented in the Smithsonian documentary is to believed we run into the conundrum I posed above about the U.S. historian and the capitol. In this case it's this passage in the Torah about the temple not being built, and given to a people who know the Jewish people have been in the land, have in fact built the temple, lost the land and the temple and they themselves taken captive.  Thus it would make no sense for Moses (or anyone else for that matter) to write such a verse for people going into exile.

Neither does it make sense for a documentary to propose a theory that makes no sense. So what are they really up to? Which brings us back to our original questions above: either the writers of this documentary are charlatans and have no idea what they're talking about; or they have another agenda and are trying to promote their own revisionist history. Documentaries tend to be well researched and presented, so it's likely not for lack of knowledge that they present this scenario. Rather one of the featured experts, Dr. Finkel has let the cat out of the bag with his references to "authors" (plural) writing late - during the Babylonian captivity.  Clearly he doesn't believe in a single author, namely Moses writing around the time of the exodus.

The Documentary Hypothesis

Where have we heard this idea of multiple authors writing parts of the Pentateuch relatively late before? In an old, discarded theory called the documentary hypothesis. It's main thrust is to deny Mosaic authorship, and with it, much biblical teaching and chronology in order to promote a false and discredited view of the Pentateuch and promote various false and/or anti-biblical theories. It's formally called the Graf-Wellhausen Documentary hypothesis which (unsurprisingly) has been shortened to just the documentary hypothesis. What is the Documentary Hypothesis? Here's a text book definition:

"Documentary Hypothesis: A critical proposal that  the Pentateuch is a collection of selections from several written documents (abbreviated JEDP) that were composed by different authors over a period of five centuries. A key tenet is that different divine names indicate different sources. Genesis 1 employs Elohim to refer to God, while Genesis 2 uses Yahweh (Or Jehovah). This accounts for two sources, J and E. Deuteronomy was written in 621 BC [according to the theory ]  and was the third source, D. A Priestly Code about holiness was composed later and became the fourth source, P. This JEDP hypothesis denies that Moses wrote the Pentateuch."[6]

Secrets - The Tower of Babel no doubt uses the documentary hypothesis to support  the merit-less idea that the account in Genesis was written by Jewish captives in the Babylonian exile that began in the 6th century BC.  That they disbelieve the biblical account and Mosaic authorship is not in question - they state that themselves.[7] And lest you miss the nonsense of the date, they refer to either the exiles or the date at least 10 times in the one hour show. But the scenario of the Jewish exiles writing the account of the tower is a bridge too far even for the failed Documentary Hypothesis. The section of the JEPD theory that the Tower of Babel account falls in  - would be a "J" document since God is called by his name - יהוה (YaHWeH) or (YaHVeH) in the account. (J is substituted for the "y".)  The "J" documents were supposedly created much earlier than the Babylonian exile - in 900 - 850 BC.[8] So even an appeal to the Documentary Hypothesis is not enough to save this godless theory. That's the first reason to discard this theory. The second is  the fact that the Documentary Hypothesis itself has already been thoroughly discredited.[9] And finally and perhaps most importantly, the theory does not accurately represent what actually happened.  The Bible indicates the tower was never finished, but the tower they present as the Tower of Babel is the ziggurat in Babylon called Etemenanki which was finished. No match there. One wonders why they bothered.

What's at stake?

The Obvious:
For those who deny the existence of God it's easy to see why they'd want to deny the inspired, Mosiac authorship of the account of the Tower of Babel. Like the account of Jonah and the fish, though this is a very short account, it's powerful and memorable. In 9 short verses the account of the Tower of Babel affirms:

  • Immediately after the flood, as expected of the 8 people who re-populated the earth after the flood - they all spoke the same language - as did everyone else on earth - namely the children of the sons of Noah.
  • God's Intervention in the affairs of men and his sovereignty
    God had twice previously told men to go and fill the earth (Gen 1:28, 9:1)
    Men came up with a plan to not be scattered (Gen 11.4), but God achieved his will anyway; and men were still scattered (Gen 11.8)
  • God as the author of all root languages
  • Why the various people groups exist and congregated as they did (according to language)

The Not So Obvious:
Just as the account of Jonah foreshadows the resurrection, there's an important foreshadowing that happens in the account at Babel - and it's all tied up in the name. As most people know the name "Babel" is meant to convey a word play that's made on the name of the city. Early Bible translators conveyed the idea of a word play by transliterating "Babel" instead of translating it. With "Babel"  - one is reminded of Babble - and one readily pictures a number of different languages people can't understand - which of course happened. But that's not the point of the word play. There's a deeper point being made. Unfortunately that point is lost in the English translations.

The original pun or word play is  this:

That's why they called it's name בבל  (BaBeL - translated: "Babylon")
Because there the Lord 
בלל (BaLaL - translated: "Confused")
the language of the whole world.
Gen 11.9(a)

The pun is on the name - Babylon - BaBeL in Hebrew. The word play is made by changing the second B in BBL to an L to be become BaLaL - "Confused". Babel, Balal - very easy to remember, right? That's why it's a powerful word play. Babylon is a very significant city to the ancient Jews. And thus such a powerful word play is appropriate for such an important city.  Just as Jonah becomes a picture of the resurrection (Jonah 2.6), and Egypt becomes a symbol of bondage and slavery (Ex 20.2), Babylon becomes a picture, a type of the sinful, rebellious city (Jer 51.6).   In other words the people of Babylon were rebelling from early on, and thus the city (and tower) of Babylon became for the original readers of the Torah, a symbol of rebellion against God.

That Babylon is the archetype of the sinful, rebellious city can easily be seen in the Book of Revelation (Rev 14.8; 16: 19; 18:10 et. al.) but it is also clear elsewhere in the Bible. What does the apostle Peter mean when he says "She who is in Babylon"? (1 Pe 5.13)  Babylon - as a city state - hadn't existed for centuries. Could it be he's referring to Rome as a type of Babylon - the rebellious, sinful city?


The account of the Tower of Babel - more properly called the Tower of Babylon is a key section in the Bible that explains much that we see in the world today:  the various people groups (all from one family I might add - we're all one family, one race - the human race), it explains the various languages and of course it illustrates the propensity for humans to rebel against God. But as at the tower of Babylon, God's will, will be done. Theories like the documentary hypothesis that deny God's intervention by denying both inspiration of the scripture and Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch cannot adequately explain these obvious features of humans both individually and collectively as groups of humans seen around the world.


Duane Caldwell | February 21,  2018



1. For a selected list of Old and New Testament passages that support Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, see:
Bodie Hodge and Dr. Terry Mortenson, Did Moses Write Genesis?, Answers in Genesis, June 11, 2011, https://answersingenesis.org/bible-characters/moses/did-moses-write-genesis/

2. Based on Ussher's chronology we have a fairly precise date for the date of the Global flood. Also based on the Genesis narratives we know that Abraham lived in the 22 century B.C.

3. Some have narrowed the events of the Tower of Babel to a specific date (e.g. 2242 BC - the 23rd century BC as suggested by Bodie Hodge of Answers in Genesis - Was the Dispersion of Babel a Real Event? ) But such precision is not necessary for our discussion here. All we really need to know is that it followed immediately after the flood.

4. Secrets episode "The Tower of Babel", Documentary, for the Smithsonian Channel, Tim Evans Executive Producer, 2016

5. Israel Finkel, ref. from Secrets episode "The Tower of Babel"

6. Gregg R. Allison, "Documentary Hypothesis" from The Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms, Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Bookers, 2016, Kindle edition loc 958

7. They close the program making clear they disbelieve both Mosiac authorship and the account in Genesis in general. The narrator speaks of the biblical account as follows:

"...Written by a desperate population in exile, held captive by a ruthless king. And this was their way to re-write history. "It's a fiction rooted in truth"

Secrets episode "The Tower of Babel", Documentary, for the Smithsonian Channel, Tim Evans Executive Producer, 2016

8.Dates referenced from Did Moses Write Genesis?,

9.  For more on why the documentary hypothesis has been discredited, see:
Bodie Hodge and Dr. Terry Mortenson, Did Moses Write Genesis?, Answers in Genesis, June 11, 2011, https://answersingenesis.org/bible-characters/moses/did-moses-write-genesis/
Duane Garrett, "The Documentary Hypothesis", Associates for Biblical Research, Sep 24, 2010, http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2010/09/24/The-Documentary-Hypothesis.aspx


The construction of the Tower of Babel (as depicted at the Ark Encounter)
 Duane Caldwell 2017