Ancient tar and mortar found in Iraq hints at ‘compelling clue’ about Bible

Tower of Babel: Archaeologists find brick to prove existence

The ancient city of Babylon plays a major role in the Bible. While it no longer exists, in the story, it is mentioned no less than 280 times, from Genesis to Revelation.

God, the story goes, often used Babylon as a way to punish Israel — but his prophets warned that the city would soon implode and cause its own destruction.

We know Babylon was a real place, located somewhere on the lower Euphrates River in southern Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq.

Archaeologists have worked tirelessly at the site when given the opportunity, hoping to uncover more about the well-documented yet elusive site, with one previous excavation turning up “unusual construction material” discovered on a brick believed to have once been part of the famed Tower of Babel.

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The brick was commissioned by King Nebuchadnezzar II — the man who researchers believe ordered the tower’s construction.

This came back in 586 BC when he stormed Jerusalem and sought to make prisoners of its most highly skilled workers and educated citizens, the event explored during the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary, ‘Secrets Unlocked: Tower of Babel’.

Once captured, these people were brought to Babylon and became slaves to the king and forced to build the now-famous tower.

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Dr Irving Finkel, of the British Museum, explained: “When you look at the early chapters of the Bible, it is clear that some of it is drawn from the Judeans’ 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 texts, incorporated them to tell their own story.”

The documentary’s narrator noted: “There’s a compelling clue in the story that backs up a theory that Jewish slaves witnessed the tower being built during their time in captivity.”

The brick archaeologists found carried traces of bitumen, an ancient tar, and mortar, a material mentioned in the biblical story that refers to the tower.

Researchers know Nebuchadnezzar commissioned the brick because his name is inscribed on the front, its edge covered in a thick black substance that is the bitumen.

“In the book of Genesis it literally says that they use brick for stone and bitumen for mortar; it’s expressly said there,” said Dr Finkel.

“There can be no doubt that the stimulus for the story and the narrative must have taken shape during the Babylonian exile.”

The evidence, the researchers say, could prove the existence of the Tower of Babel, which has up until now been difficult to locate, and also reveal how its story was written by a “desperate population in exile held captive by a ruthless king”.

“The destruction of the tower was their [the captives’] way to rewrite history — it’s a fiction rooted in truth,” said the narrator, drawing on research and Dr Finkel’s conclusions.

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