The Tower of Babel and the Ishtar Gate

The Tower of Babel and the Ishtar Gate

August 5, 2020
8:00 PM

Israelite and Persian Perspectives on Babylon’s Great Monuments: The Tower of Babel and the Ishtar Gate

David Vanderhooft

The Hebrew Bible is very familiar with the city of Babylon and refers to it more often than any other city beyond Israel. Babylon was understood as the quintessential foreign city. Its massive architecture, particular topography, and learned traditions inspired both respect and condemnation. The story of the “city and tower” in Genesis 11:1–9 even concedes, contrary to the arguments of most interpreters, that the tower was actually completed. It stood, in a literary sense, as the pole around which Israel’s historical narratives revolve.

Meanwhile, for the earliest Achaemenid kings of the Persian empire, Babylon offered architectural examples for use in their new imperial style. One structure in particular, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, made a dramatic impression and prompted construction of an exact replica at Tol-e Ajori, a site west of Persepolis excavated in recent years by a joint Italian- Iranian team. The structure at Tol-e Ajori represents a kind of celebration in brick of Babylon’s cosmic monumentality.

David Vanderhooft is Associate Professor in the Theology Department at Boston College


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