One of the most ambitious projects attempted by Nimrod was the great tower. This event occurred about 400 years after the flood. We don’t really know if there were predecessors to Nimrod’s tower, but it became the pattern for numerous other pagan temples and shrines during the following centuries. Ostensibly Nimrod constructed the tower to escape any future floods and ascend to the heavens, but the real motive was probably to increase his power and control over the people, and to increase his influence and fame. Mormon informs us that Nimrod was inspired to build the tower by Satan (Hel. 6:28.)
The idea of worshiping in the high places had apparently been a tradition since the beginning of time. This was usually done on some high mountain. But if your abode is not close to a mountain, why not build an artificial mountain, which is exactly what the tower was meant to be. This was, of course, the purpose of all subsequent imitations. These stepped towers or pyramids, found originally in the area of ancient Mesopotamia, have come to be known as ziggarats, and we can still find the ruins of a number of these in this area. Ruins of such towers are also found in many other parts of the world including North and South America, China, and a modified version in Egypt.
The pyramids were usually constructed of mud bricks (called adobe in the Americas), although in the original tower we are told that they used fired bricks, with pitch or asphalt for mortar. The fired bricks were most likely used to face the mud brick core of the pyramid. Most of these zuggurats were constructed with three levels with a small temple structure placed on top. The temple was only meant for the use of the priests to perform their rituals. Access to the top was by means of stepped ramps, usually on three sides of the pyramid. Sometimes the surface of the pyramid would be smoothed and covered with plaster.
It is likely that idolatrous religious rites were conducted on these towers including human sacrifice. We have the more recent examples of such sacrifices among the Maya and Aztec peoples in ancient Mexico.
The scriptures indicate that the tower was an affront to God, and was one of the factors for the subsequent confusion of tongues and dispersion of the population. It is not likely that the Lord was offended by such a puny challenge to his power, but more likely he was responding to the pride and presumption of the people in even thinking that they could so easily avoid his wrath for their iniquities. In response, he punished them for their iniquities, and for their earlier refusal to disperse and populate the world.
We find a number of versions of the tower story in the Bible and the Apocrypha, and many more examples in the ancient legends and traditions of cultures around the world. I will review several of these to flesh out our story.
First the short Biblical account from Genesis 11:
1 AND the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
Several things are significant in this relation. First, in the beginning, they all spoke the original language. This was probably the Adamic language that would have been passed down through Noah following the flood.
Second, they used their most abundant resource, clay, to make the stone (brick) to built their structure. The brick was mortared together with “slime” or tar (bitumen), which was abundant in this area, where there are many natural oil seeps.
Third, this city and tower were built on a plain in the land of Shinar (Sinar, Sennaar, or Sumer) which was located west of the original landing place of the ark. We are told that they journeyed from the east to arrive at this site (this has implications for the original location of Ararat). Nimrod constructed his first cities on this plain (And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Gen. 10:10). At the time, these cities were located at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers which emptied into the Persian Gulf. However, over the centuries, this gulf has been filled in with sediments until the sites of these cities are now about 200 miles inland.
Fourth, their listed purposes were to build a tower to reach into heaven, make a name for themselves, and avoid being scattered abroad over the earth. Many have interpreted the phrase “unto heaven” to mean that the tower would reach into the stratosphere. This was not the intention at all. It was to be an artificial mountain and stretch upward into the sky similar to a mountain peak. Throughout the history of the earth people have gone to the “high places” to commune with deity. This was to be such a place. The height was relative. It only needed to be higher than the surrounding area. In their pride, they wanted to make a name for themselves, to rise above their peers, to become famous. Lastly they resisted the Lord's command to spread out and populate the earth. Instead, they congregated and formed strong cities, not trusting in the Lord, and fearing oppression from their enemies.
The Book of Jasher gives us additional information:
And king Nimrod reigned securely, and all the earth was under his control, and all the earth was of one tongue and words of union. And all the princes of Nimrod and his great men took counsel together; Phut, Mitzraim, Cush and Canaan with their families, and they said to each other, Come let us build ourselves a city and in it a strong tower, and its top reaching heaven, and we will make ourselves famed, so that we may reign upon the whole world, in order that the evil of our enemies may cease from us, that we may reign mightily over them, and that we may not become scattered over the earth on account of their wars. And they all went before the king [Nimrod], and they told the king these words, and the king agreed with them in this affair, and he did so. And all the families assembled consisting of about six hundred thousand men, and they went to seek an extensive piece of ground to build the city and the tower, and they sought in the whole earth and they found none like one valley at the east of the land of Shinar, about two days' walk, and they journeyed there and they dwelt there. And they began to make bricks and burn fires to build the city and the tower that they had imagined to complete. And the building of the tower was unto them a transgression and a sin, and they began to build it, and whilst they were building against the Lord God of heaven, they imagined in their hearts to war against him and to ascend into heaven... And they built the tower and the city, and they did this thing daily until many days and years were elapsed. (Jasher 9:20-25, 31).
In addition to the information from Genesis, Jasher gives us some additional facts. At the time the tower was begun, Nimrod had established his kingdom and his reign was secured. He had control over a vast area and a large population. The people were united by a common language. It seems in this account, that the idea was suggested to Nimrod by his counselors and advisors who were of the family of Cush. Jasher emphasizes the need they had to protect themselves from their enemies, and their desire to rule over them and expand their kingdom. Here we get some idea of the size of the population. Jasher mentions 600,000 men who were laboring on this project. With their wives and children, this group would have numbered at least two and a half million people. Many of these could have been slaves or conscripted laborers. It seems that the location of the tower was chosen after Nimrod had established his original four cities. It was apparently a choice location and two days walk from their original residence. From the beginning of this project, their motivation was in opposition to God and his commandments. The project was under construction for a long time. One source mentions forty years.
Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian in his book Antiquities of the Jews, gives us a slightly different slant on the story of the tower:
Now it was Nimrod who excited them [the people of Shinar] to such an affront and contempt of God [such as refusing to spread abroad in the earth]. 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 [their prosperity] 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 changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning man from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged of 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. Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it as 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 (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, Ch. 4).
In this account, Nimrod is responsible for motivating the people to build the tower. He persuaded his subjects to ignore God and his blessings, and convinced them that they were solely responsible for any good that came into their lives. He changed the government into tyranny (it had apparently been a more benevolent monarchy before this) in order to turn the people away from God and his inspired servants. He wanted to take revenge on God (or at least this is what he told the people) for having destroyed the Adamic age in the flood. In this account, the people willingly follow Nimrod's lead and regarded anyone who didn't cooperate as a coward.
Were Jared, Moriancumer, and their friends involved in the construction of the tower? Were they complicit with Nimrod and his followers in their evil intent? The Book of Mormon only gives a vague reference to the association of the Jaredites with the tower. It indicates that they came from the location of the tower and that they were somehow associated with the people who built the tower, but it never tells us that they were directly involved in the actual construction. However, it is likely that if they were in the immediate area, that they would have been required to participate in the labor and the provision of materials, even if they didn't share the common belief or attitude. If nothing else, they would have been “taxed” to some degree or other to fund and support the project. Later examples of such projects required that the general population provide so many bricks during a given time period to build the pyramid.
From other sources we learn that the Jaredites may have actually been involved in the construction of the tower. Lorenzo Boturini, who was an expert on the ancient Mexican writings and their interpretation, states that according to the writings the ancestors of the Toltecs (who would likely have been the Jaredites) helped in the construction of the tower (Idea de una Nueva Historia General de la América Septentrional. Madrid, 1746, p. 111). Mariano Veytia, who also specialized in collecting and interpreting the ancient Mexican picture drawings, states that according to the Indian traditions the ancestral Toltecs were present at the construction of the tower (Ancient America Rediscovered, p. 193). Veytia also refers to one of the Indian legends which states that their ancestor, whom they called “Tepanahuaste [he would likely have been Moriancumer], which means the Lord of the Hollow Pole, and that Tepanahuaste was at the construction of the great wall, as they called the tower of Babel, and with his own eyes he saw the confusion of tongues (p. 47).” This event seemed to have great significance to the Indians and “They would include this event of the confusion of tongues on their charts, painting a round hill on the front of which a medal is seen placed, and a face is engraved on it, like that of an old man with a long beard, and outside the medal there are many tongues that surround it and form a border (Veytia p. 48).” This symbol for the tower came to be a standard symbol among the Toltecs and later Aztecs, who used it to refer to any town, as most towns among them would have its own tower or pyramid. The attached illustration is a similar depiction of the tower (or broken hill), from the Boturini Codex with the image of the Lord in the center and the tongues, or speech, emanating upward to the left.
There is a possibility that Abraham may have also been involved in the history of the tower (Refer to the related blog). I have suggested that the attempted sacrifice of Abraham may have been at this very tower. The altar, where he was to be sacrificed, was situated by Potiphar's Hill, which was located in Ur of the Chaldeas (see Abr. 1:10, 20). Potiphar's Hill may have been the Sumerian, or Egyptian, name for the tower. As I have theorized, Abraham's attempted sacrifice and rescue may have been the catalyst for the destruction of the tower and the subsequent dispersion.