The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire BibleGenesis 11:4
And they said, go to, let us build us a city and a tower,
&c.] Some Jewish writers F18 say, these are the words of Nimrod to his
people; but it is a question whether he was now born, or if he was,
must be too young to be at the head of such a body of people; but they
are spoken to one another, or by the principal men among them to the
common people, advising and encouraging to such an undertaking. It is
generally thought what led them to it was to secure them from another
flood, they might be in fear of; but this seems not likely, since they
had the covenant and oath of God, that the earth should never be
destroyed by water any more; and besides, had this been the thing in
view, they would not have chosen a plain to build on, a plain that lay
between two of the greatest rivers, Tigris, and Euphrates, but rather
one of the highest mountains and hills they could have found: nor could
a building of brick be a sufficient defence against such a force of
water, as the waters of the flood were; and besides, but few at most
could be preserved at the top of the tower, to which, in such a case,
they would have betook themselves. The reason of this building is given
in a following clause, as will be observed. Some think by "a city and
tower" is meant, by the figure "hendyadis", one and the same thing, a
city with towers; and, according to Ctesias F19, there were two hundred
and fifty towers in Babylon: but no doubt the city and tower were two
distinct things; or there was one particular tower proposed to be built
besides the city, though it might stand in it, or near it, as an
acropolis or citadel to it; as it is not unusual in cities to have
such, to betake unto in case of danger:
whose top [may reach] unto heaven:
not that they imagined such a
thing could be literally and strictly done, but that it should be
raised exceeding high, like the cities in Canaan, said to be walled up
to heaven, (Deuteronomy 1:28) (9:1) hyperbolically speaking; and such was the
tower of Babel, by all accounts, even of Heathens: the Sibyl in
Josephus F20 calls it a most high tower; and so Abydenus F21 reports;
``there are (says he) that say, that the first men that rose
out of the earth, proud of their strength and largeness (of
their bodies), and thinking themselves greater than the gods,
erected a tower of a vast height, near to heaven, where
Babylon now is.''
And the temple of Belus, which some take to be the same with this
tower, at least was that perfected, and put to such an use, was,
according to Ctesias F23, of an immense height, where the Chaldeans
made their observations of the stars: however, the tower that was in
the middle of it, and which seems plainly to be the same with this, was
exceeding high: the account Herodotus F24 gives of it is,
``in the midst of the temple a solid tower is built, of a
furlong in length, and of as much in breadth; and upon this
tower another tower is placed, and another upon that, and so
on to eight towers.''
(mhkov) , the word used by Herodotus, translated "length", signifies
also "height", and so it is taken here by some; and if so, it looks as
if every tower was a furlong high, which makes the whole a mile, which
is too extravagant to suppose, though it may denote the height of them
all, a furlong, which makes it a very high building. This agrees with
Strabo's account of it, who calls it a pyramid, and says it was a
furlong high F25: according to Rauwolff F26, the tower of Babel is
still in being; this, says he, we saw still (in 1574), and it is half a
league in diameter; but it is so mightily ruined, and low, and so full
of vermin, that hath bored holes through it, that one may not come near
it for half a mile, but only in two months in the winter, when they
come not out of their holes. Another traveller F1, that was in those
parts at the beginning of the last century, says,
``now at this day, that which remaineth is called the remnant
of the tower of Babel; there standing as much as is a quarter
of a mile in compass, and as high as the stone work of Paul's
steeple in London--the bricks are three quarters of a yard in
length, and a quarter in thickness, and between every course
of bricks there lieth a course of mats, made of canes and
palm tree leaves, so fresh as if they had been laid within
Not to take notice of the extravagant account of the eastern writers,
who say the tower was 5533 fathoms high F2; and others, beyond all
belief, make it 10,000 fathoms, or twelve miles high F3; and they say
the builders were forty years in building it: their design in it
and let us make us a name;
which some render "a sign" F4, and
suppose it to be a signal set upon the top of the tower, which served
as a beacon, by the sight of which they might be preserved from
straying in the open plains with their flocks, or return again when
they had strayed. Others take it to be an idol proposed to be set upon
the top of the tower; and the Targums of Jonathan and Jerusalem
intimate as if the tower was built for religious worship, paraphrasing
``let us build in the midst of it a temple of worship on the
top of it, and let us put a sword into his (the idol's) hand.''
And it is the conjecture of Dr. Tennison, in his book of idolatry, that
this tower was consecrated by the builders of it to the sun, as the
cause of drying up the waters of the deluge: but the sense is, that
they proposed by erecting such an edifice to spread their fame, and
perpetuate their name to the latest posterity, that hereby it might be
known, that at such a time, and in such a place, were such a body of
people, even all the inhabitants of the world; and all of them the sons
of one man, as Ben Gersom observes; so that as long as this tower
stood, they would be had in remembrance, it being called after their
names; just as the Egyptian kings afterwards built their pyramids,
perhaps for a like reason; and in which the end of neither have been
answered, it not being known who were by name concerned therein, see
(Psalms 49:11) though a late learned writer F5 thinks, that by making a
name is meant choosing a chief or captain, which was proposed by them;
and that the person they pitched upon was Nimrod, in which sense the
word he supposes is used, (2 Samuel 23:17-19) but what has been observed
at the beginning of this note may be objected to it; though Berosus F6
says, that Nimrod came with his people into the plain of Sannaar, where
be marked out a city, and founded the largest tower, in the year of
deliverance from the waters of the flood one hundred and thirty one,
and reigned fifty six years; and carried the tower to the height and
size of mountains, "for a sign" and "monument", that the people of
Babylon were the first in the world, and ought to be called the kingdom
of kingdoms; which last clause agrees with the sense given:
lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth:
they seemed to have some notion of, and feared would be their case,
liking better to be together than to separate, and therefore were
careful to avoid a dispersion; it being some way or other signified to
them, that it was the will of God they should divide into colonies, and
settle in different parts, that so the whole earth might be inhabited;
or Noah, or some others, had proposed a division of the earth among
them, each to take his part, which they did not care to hearken to; and
therefore, to prevent such a separation, proposed the above scheme, and
F18 In Pirke Eliezer, c. 24.
F19 Apud Diodor. Sicul. Bibliothec, l. 2. p. 96.
F20 Antiqu. l. 1. c. 4. sect. 3.
F21 Apud Euseb. Evangel. Praepar. l. 9. c. 14. p. 416.
F23 Apud Diodor. ut supra, (Sicul. Bibliothec, l. 2.) p. 98.
F24 Clio sive, l. 1. c. 181.
F25 Geograph. l. 16. p. 508.
F26 Travels, ut supra. (pars. 2. ch. 7. p. 138.)
F1 Cartwright's Preacher's Travels, p. 99, 100.
F2 Elmacinus, p. 14. Patricides, p. 13. apud Hottinger. Smegma, p. 264.
F3 Vid. Universal History, vol. 1. p. 331.
F4 Perizonius, apud Universal History, ib. p. 325.
F5 Dr. Clayton's Chronology of the Hebrew Bible, p. 56.
F6 Antiqu. l. 4. p. 28, 29.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Gill, John. "Commentary on Genesis 11:4". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/geb/view.cgi?book=ge&chapter=011&verse=004>. 1999.