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The Sunday Times - London April 4, 1999 BRITAIN

Tower of Babel is 'found' near the Black Sea

by Jack Grimston

A BRITISH archeologist claims he has discovered the site of one of the most famous buildings in history, the biblical Tower of Babel, in a remote region of eastern Turkey.

Michael Sanders, a classical publisher, believes new satellite photographs from Nasa, the American space agency, and a reinterpretation of ancient biblical texts suggest the mythical tower actually existed - in the Pontus region of the Black Sea coast of Turkey.

Most archeologists believe Babel was located in Mesopotamian Babylon, the ruins of which lie north of Baghdad in Iraq.

Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, has even attempted to rebuild ancient Babylon, erecting badly constructed brick walls at the site.

The remains of several huge ziggurats, or stepped towers, near Babylon have given further credence to the theory that the tower was in Mesopotamia. But there has never been any physical proof.

"A location in Pontus makes much more sense in terms of the biblical story," said Sanders last week. He believes he has found a possible location near a place whose name means "gate of God", the same literal meaning as Babel.

In the Tower of Babel story in the book of Genesis, Noah's descendants led by Nimrod arrived at Babel in the land of Shinar. On his arrival Nimrod, known as the mighty hunter, decided to build a tower up to heaven. But God punished the people for their arrogance in trying to build such a folly. To cause confusion among the builders and make their job impossible, God made them all speak different languages rather than their common tongue.

Sanders has reviewed a number of old texts, including the Targum Yonathan, an Aramaic version of the Bible. It reports the tower was located in the "Land of Shinar" and that this was found in the ancient territory of Pontus.

"I was amazed to find after I decided that Pontus was the most likely location that several modern academics make this place the origin of all the modern languages of the West. Not Africa, not Mesopotamia, but right there, where I believe the Tower of Babel was."

Other researchers who believe the origins of the Bible lie in the Black Sea region include Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic, who is currently working on a three-year research programme on the Black Sea, which he believes could be the location of the biblical flood.

David Rohl, a Manchester classicist, claims that many of the events of Genesis, such as the flood, took place in eastern Turkey but places the Tower of Babel in Mesopotamia.

Other academics have suggested the tower could have been an observatory. Another theory is that it was an altar to the all-powerful Mesopotamian god Marduk and his consort Zupinatu.

One text went so far as to claim it was topped with a "cedar-made bed and gold-engraved throne". But Sanders is dubious. "We just don't know what the function was. In ancient times, there was a compulsion to build high to get closer to God."

Sanders's work is a challenge to conventional beliefs. Traditionally, biblical scholars and archeologists have placed the dawn of civilisation in Mesopotamia, the area bounded by the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, now mostly located in Iraq.

The main historical event linking Babylon with the Tower of Babel story is the fall of the temple tower built by King Etemenanki, which was rebuilt by Nabopolassar and his son Nebuchadnezzar II. The name Babel in Genesis is thought to be a play on the words for Babylon, gate of God, and "confuse". The English word babble is derived from the story.

Sanders is planning an expedition to the "Turkish Babel" in the spring of next year. "This theory might appear unconventional to some people but to many early scholars it would have made sense. A lot of the belief that Babylon is Babel stems simply from the similarity of the two names," he said.



Copyright 1998 Times Newspapers Ltd. This service is provided on Times Newspapers' standard terms and conditions. To inquire about a licence to reproduce material from The Sunday Times, visit the Syndication website.


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