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Tower of Babel

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A brobdingnagian ziggurat challenged the gods to ban the universal translator.

The Tower of Babel (Hebrew: מגדל בבל‎, Migdal Bavel; Arabic: برج بابل‎, Burj Babil), according to the Book of Genesis, was an enormous tower built in the plain of Shinar, a tower so tall it offended God.

According to the biblical account, a united humanity of the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating from the east, came to the land of Shinar, where they resolved to build a city with a tower "with its top in the heavens...lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the Earth." God came down to see what they did and said: "They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withholden from them which they purpose to do." So God said, "Come, let us go down and confound their speech." And so God scattered them upon the face of the Earth, and confused their languages, and they left off building the city, which was called Babel "because God there confounded the language of all the Earth."(Genesis 11:5-8).

The Tower of Babel has often been associated with known structures, notably the Etemenanki, a ziggurat dedicated to Marduk by Nabopolassar (c. 610 BC). The Great Ziggurat of Babylon base was square (not round) and it was 91 metres (300 ft) in height, but it was demolished by Alexander the Great before his death in an attempt to rebuild it. A Sumerian story with some similar elements is preserved in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta.

This page is for allusions and references to the legend; for the trope about ominously imposing skyscrapers in general, see The Tower. See also Curse of Babel for the language mix-up, Language Barrier for the Real Life version, and Space Elevator for the Sci Fi version. As to whether the successful completion of one will lead to God confounding our tongues even more, stay tuned! Compare with Yggdrasil, The World Tree of Norse Mythology that has a similar height. Sub-Trope of Journey to the Sky.

References in Fiction:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In A Certain Magical Index: Miracle of Endymion, Academy City debuts a Space Elevator called Endymion. Index compares it to the Tower of Babel. It turns out the elevator's creators deliberately modeled Endymion to be like the Tower of Babel in an attempt to ruin the world by recreating the original Biblical disaster.
  • In Animal Land, the biblical tower is alluded to with a location named after it however, unlike the biblical one which caused all languages to be separated, it contains a device that will enable all animals to understand one another.
  • In Babel II the legend of the tower is mixed with Ancient Astronauts to become the core of the plot.
  • Mamoru Oshii's planned Lupin III film was going to feature a Mad Scientist who rebuilt the Tower of Babel in Tokyo. The film was canceled for being too Mind Screwy (more info here), but apparently TMS Entertainment liked the idea of having a Lupin movie with Biblical lore enough to have the "replacement" movie Legend of the Gold of Babylon use the Tower of Babel as a plot point. In the movie, it was built by aliens. No, really.
  • In Ulysses 31, Circe the Magician builds a gigantic tower to house all the knowledge in the universe. In doing so, she openly challenges the gods of Olympus.
  • In Symphogear, the first season's Big Bad, Finé, is motivated by revenge on God/"The Custodians" for inflicting the Curse of Babel on mankind, which culminates in her building a new Tower that doubles as a Wave-Motion Gun in an attempt to destroy the moon, which she claims is the curse's physical anchor. The Symphogears are powered by music because it's a form of communication which transcends language, and in their Super Modes, usually triggered by the group song "Song (Babel) of the Beginning", can simply transmit the user's thoughts and feelings directly. Turns out the Custodians had a pretty Good Reason for inflicting the Curse of Babel on humanity, as Shem-ha, the Greater-Scope Villain of the franchise, was actually trying to use Yggdrasil, the norse counterpart of the tower, to take over all of humanity when they all shared the original language, and in reality, using Kadingir on the moon actually jump started Shem-ha's plans to return. Ooops.
  • Hell Girl Emma: King Nemrod is building a massive tower no matter how many slaves it kills. His son, suffering from a skin condition that makes him unable to live in direct sunlight (in the Middle East), wishes he'd stop, then it's revealed the entire reason Nemrod was building it in the first place was to reach the sun and demand it stop making his son miserable.
  • Metropolis (2001) starts with the Government building a massive ziggurat in the center of the eponymous city, and explicitly compares it to the Tower of Babel. They also note that while the original was built to defy God, their structure is instead dedicated to Him. It's actually a Superweapon intended to win the upcoming World War, and requires the android Tima to control it.

  • M.C. Escher did a woodcut of the Tower of Babel. The bewildered builders are different races, on the assumption that this division between people was also related to the tower.

    Card Games 
  • The Tarot card "The Tower" (currently described at The Tower) gains its implications of overweening pride and impending disaster by reference to the Tower of Babel.
  • Tower of Babel in Yu-Gi-Oh!. As spell cards are played, it gains spell counters. When it has 4 or more, it collapses, dealing 3000 damage to whoever played that fourth spell.

  • The Simpsons: In one anthology-style issue, the Prodigal Child at one point removes two poles from a construction site, hoping to entice his friend into playing with them. It doesn't work, and the Child doesn't even notice as behind him the tower collapses, the construction workers wondering, in different languages, what the heck just happened.
  • JLA (1997): There was a storyline titled 'Tower of Babel', in which Ra's Al Ghul created a series of towers around the world that transmitted a signal affecting all of humanity - phase 1 caused people to no longer understand spoken language, leaving mankind unable to talk to one another. Phase 2 ramped this up to extend to written language - all labels and signs were now gibberish, with the intent being that the insuing chaos would reduce the population to a size that Ra's approved of (and could easily control, of course). The League was only able to coordinate their counter attacks thanks to a telepathic link, courtesy of Martian Manhunter, although things had been made even harder for them by Ra's stealing and using Batman's contingency plans for disabling the members of the League...

    Fan Works 
  • I Shall Endure to The End has the demon Crowley and the angel Azaraphile present at the fall of a large sky-pointing structure. As Genesis is still being edited and written at the time, their account becomes the basis for the Biblical Babel. note 
  • Star Wars: Galactic Folklore and Mythology features a Gran legend similar to the Tower of Babel. An ancient race attempted to construct a building so tall it would reach Vraxang (their homeworld's twin planet, where the Gran believed the gods to reside), which was turned to dust by the gods, and used to make the Milky Way as a permanent warning to mortals.
  • In the Mature Animal Story Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! Elseworld The Harmony Trap, the parable is Aesop's Tower, which was built by the Primal Beings, without fur, feathers or scales. While the story gets interrupted before the end, it seems to be implied that God's punishment involved the speciation of the Primal Beings, resulting in the Funny Animals that inhabit the world today.

  • Metropolis: The city's ruler lives in the unsubtly-named skyscraper "New Tower of Babel". Maria's sermon/allegory of Why Metropolis Is Messed Up is a retelling of the Babel legend.
  • A model of the tower is used by future One Nation Earth agents preparing for the coming one-world order and its Religion of Evil in the Apocalypse film series movie Tribulation. It's also on the cover of Franco Macalousso's book Babel Becomes One.
  • According to the DVD Commentary, the Oscorp tower in The Amazing Spider-Man was designed to invoke the image of a Tower of Babel, the tallest building in New York where scientists play God.
  • In Napoléon, the council of war held by the forces defending Toulon is described by the intertitles as "a veritable tower of Babel" (five languages are spoken: English, German, Spanish, Italian, and French).

  • Snow Crash references the Tower of Babel as part of its mythology mashup about linguistics and thought. The Tower of Babel is a metaphor for the scattering of language away from Sumerian, which was analogous to assembly binary code. It sort of makes more sense in context, but really doesn't.
  • In Terry Pratchett's science fiction novel The Dark Side of the Sun, set in the distant future, the people have a legend which is a sequel to the Tower of Babel. It tells of how, in the late twentieth century, mankind once again attempted to reach heaven, and God caused them to be unable to communicate with one another by striking them with the curse of Jargon.
  • C.S. Lewis was alluding to this in That Hideous Strength. While the bad guys weren't making a big tower, they were planning to go against God's will by perverting science. The title of the novel even comes from Sir David Lindsay's Ane Dialog, describing the original Tower of Babel.
  • In the novel Hollow, the Tower has long since fossilized into a stone mass and become indistinguishable from mere mountain, albeit very tall and oddly shaped, that the locals call "Das Kagel". The books and the stones have been pressed together into one from the massive weight of the structure and the passage of time, and eating these pieces grants incomplete knowledge of whatever the books used to contain.
  • In the short story Tower of Babylon by Ted Chiang, the tower has been built over centuries to well past the moon, with people living on it their entire lives, and everyone a little nervous because God has remained silent on the issue. They finally hit a ceiling, and the protagonist is part of a group of miners brought in to dig their way into Heaven...
  • In The Wandering, the Natasians' citadel, Asframore, has an incredibly high spire that they built for the explicit purpose of placing a statue on the top in defiance of the Almighty. On the way up there, Scripture references to the building of the Tower of Babel can be found on two of the plaques.
  • In the setting of A Tale of the Unwithering Realm, there exists a universe (the main antagonists, in fact) where the biblical Tower of Babel was built succesfully—and promptly built up into a Star Scraper over the centuries; it is now called simply "The Dark Tower".
  • In Chindi by Jack McDevitt a virtual reality recording of Babylon taken by Ancient Astronauts is discovered. On watching it, the protagonists are amused to see the real Tower is only a dozen stories high.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Castiel from Supernatural remembers when the Tower Of Babel fell...all thirty-five feet of it ("which I suppose was impressive in those days"). And it didn't fall because of divine retribution, it fell because dried dung can only be stacked so high.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Journey to Babel". The Enterprise carries a group of Federation ambassadors to a planetoid named Babel. Several of the ambassadors quarrel with each other repeatedly during the trip, almost as if they were speaking different languages.
  • Babylon 5 was named in reference to this, with the titular station being the fifth of a series of stations that were built by the humans to serve as a meeting place for all the major alien powers to talk out their differences rather than risk another massive interstellar war like the Earth-Minbari War. Why was it the fifth such station? The first three were destroyed during construction, and the fourth one just plain disappeared. What did they expect with a name like that?
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: The construction work of Celebrimbor's new forge tower bears a great resemblance to Pieter Bruegel's famous Tower of Babel-painting.

    Music and Theatre 
  • The short comic play Babels in Arms by David Ives is about the contractors hired to build the tower. They've just brought the first giant stone in; they end up questioning the hubris of building the giant tower, to get out of moving more giant stones.
  • The Bad Religion song "Skyscraper" tells the story from the perspective of the builders.
  • The Wild Party:
    • "A Wild, Wild Party", a number in Andrew Lippa musical likens the setting of a prohibition-era party to the Tower of Babel and other Biblical instances of decadence.
    • Also, a lyric in the song "Raise the Roof".
    Welcome to our Tower of Babel
    Learn the language come what may
  • In Godspell, the opening number "Tower of Babble" consists of eight famous philosophers singing in counterpoint and arguing with each other, evoking a metaphorical Tower of Babel in which incompatible worldviews are causing dissension and conflict among the people, until Jesus shows up and teaches them the true way.
  • Peter Gabriel's "The Tower That Ate People" is a modern industrial take on the legend.

  • In The Bible, the Tower of Babel was being built in Shinar by a civilization who spoke a single language as an attempt to reach the skies and meet God. Viewing this as an act of intrusion, God made it so all the builders ended up speaking different languages, thus making communication between them impossible. The ensuing loss of logistics led to the suspension of the tower's construction.

    Tabletop Games 
  • According to the Demon: The Fallen lore, there was never a literal "tower", but the "Time of Babel", when Lucifer executed the last-ditch scheme to elevate humanity to godhood. Just when it was so close to success, his own lieutenants ruined it all, and the Rebellion was done for.

    Video Games 
  • Namco's 1986 Famicom puzzle-platformer aptly named The Tower of Babel. It stars adventurer-archaeologist Indy Borgnine on a journey to reach the top of the eponymous tower to prove the existence of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
  • Devil Survivor runs on this with Babel being the final boss and the focus of much of the story.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, the Tower of Kagutsuchi has some damn strong vibes of this, as it not only leads to the Avatar of God Almighty himself, but is 666 floors tall.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE, mankind erected a 666-floor tower in the ruins of Shinjuku to celebrate mankind's retaking the world from the demons that threatened to destroy them. The tower's creation, however, caused three obelisks to emerge, as well as a resurgence in demon activity. Thus, the tower came to be known as "Shinjuku Babel". The Babel mythology is also recounted in the game's intro.
  • In Evolve Idle, there are demon races (and an evil universe) where the science boosting wardenclyffes are replaced with Towers of Babel, complete with flavor text that reads "A vantage point to challenge the heavens." Since there appears to be Devil, but No God, your race isn't then stricken with different languages and forced to disperse since nobody can understand each other anymore, as in the original story.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy IV:
      • Golbez and the Four Fiends erect the Tower of Babil. Based in the underworld, it rises through the Earth's surface into the sky. It's powered by the stolen Crystals.
      • The Giant of Babil, a Humongous Mecha built by the Lunarians in order to wipe out humanity, looks like a fortress with legs in Amano's concept artwork and it's huge enough to be a dungeon. In the DS/cell phone version, a prototype of it can be fought as a Superboss in New Game Plus, and it's considered the most difficult battle in the game.
    • Final Fantasy XII has the babil, a type of Golem that (like some of the other golems) physically resembles a tower. It also has a rarer, more powerful version called "Tower".
    • The Tower of Babel is a wonder in Final Fantasy Tactics.
  • The Tower of Babel in Illusion of Gaia. It serves as the final dungeon of the game, as well as being a point of interest and recurring element in the plot. The main character actually joined an expedition (headed by his father alongside the father of one of his friends) that was meant to "discover" and explore the Tower... which ultimately went south, leaving the protagonist with partial amnesia of the expedition and setting up the events of the game.
  • The Tower of Souls from ActRaiser 2 seems to be an analogue of the Tower of Babel. Your angelic servant in the game says when speaking of it, "Master, they are devising a preposterous plan. They... they are trying to become masters themselves. They are constructing a tower to try and reach the sky castle."
  • The Shinra Tower from Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, which was even based on the Story of Babel. The people from Alche City built the tower so that they could meet God, but when it was finished, they found out that they still had to go higher to reach heaven, so it was abandoned.
  • The Tower of Babel is the last monument to be built in Doshin the Giant. Bad stuff happens immediately afterwards.
  • Doom: The Tower of Babel, the final map of the second episode, is where you fight the Cyberdemon, quite possibly the toughest monster in the entire series. Unusually, no climbing is involved, but with each mission you complete in Episode 2, the Tower is being built, part by part, until it reaches the top when you get close to it.
  • The orbital elevator which goes all the way to the moon, where the last act of Mega Man X: Command Mission takes place, is named Babel.
  • Mental Omega. The name of the final Epsilon mission, Babel, alludes to the tower. The biblical tower was possible due to all men sharing a single language, and it was stopped when people started speaking different tongues. Instead, "Babel" here refers to the Mental Omega Device, a large tower that will mind control everyone on the planet. Yuri plans to use the Device to bring all of humanity under "one mind" and put an end to war.
  • The Quest Of Ki opens with the backstory of the Babylonian Castle Saga, which implies that Druaga's tower was really the Tower of Babylim. The tower and its 60 floors were originally built in the kingdom of Babylim after it was invaded by the Sumer Empire to harness the power of the Blue Crystal Rod. The tower was destroyed by the god Anu, but Druaga resurrected it.
  • Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones takes place in Babylon, with the royal palace built as an immense circular tower, slowly tapering as the tower rises. Considering that there are several wooden gantries with counterweights and ropes around the walls of the palace, it is apparently still in a state of construction, even as big as it is. The parallel with the Tower of Babel is probably intentional.
  • Xenogears has Babel Tower. In order to contact Shevat, the party must climb to the top of it, never mind the fact that Gears can fly. There aren't really any stairs, so you progress by jumping across platforms. Xenogears has a jump button, but it is by no means a platformer. If a random encounter is loading, you lose the ability to jump, and if you're doing this while approaching the edge of a platform and the button doesn't respond, you fall. When you fall, you go all the way down to the bottom of the tower and have to do the whole godforsaken thing over again. "That One Level" doesn't even begin to describe it. The truth about the tower is it's actually a remnant of a giant spaceship that crashed into the planet thousands of years ago.
  • The Tower of Babel is the final stage in Forgotten Worlds, found in the Heaven-like "Sky World" and serving as the lair of the Big Bad, "Celestial Emperor Bios", the "God of Gods".
  • Freespace 2 references the parable through Admiral Bosch's ETAK (short for Etemnanki) Project, which seeks to establish contact, and if possible an alliance, with the Shivans.
  • The opening cinematic for Civilization III seems to be alluding to it, with a slow, circling pan up what starts as an ancient Mesopotamian tower that transforms into medieval crenelations, industrial brick dwellings, and finally modern skyscrapers at the top.
  • Though the Nasuverse does not explicitly reference the Tower, Masters of Babel are people who speak the language of ancient Babylon, when humanity had one culture and language. As the root of all human communication the Unified Language possesses unique power over any human listener.
  • pop'n music 19 TUNE STREET pays homage to the Tower with its final 3 unlockable songs of Town Mode, all of which have a 2-parter title starting with Babel with a capital L at the end (~Grand Story~, ~Next Story~ and ~roof garden~). Incidentally, the rival character being displayed while playing the three songs is the tall tower being built and upgraded with the aforementioned Town Mode.
  • The Stone Tower in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has been interpreted as a metaphor for the Tower of Babel. Read more here.
  • The hideout Carmen Sandiego uses in Word Detective is called "The Tower of Babble". Get it? The pun is continued with the Babble-On ("Babylon") Machine that Carmen is using to steal language.
  • The Tower of Babel is the site of a Space Elevator to the moon in both Battle Clash and its sequel, Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge
  • Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown revolves around a Space Elevator known as "the Lighthouse." The IUN-PKF Gargoyle Squadron has secret orders to destroy the Lighthouse in Mission 4 while Mage Squadron is rescuing the former Osean president. Fittingly enough, the code words to signal this operation are "Babel, Babel, Babel."
  • Crusader of Centy has the Tower of Babel somewhere in the middle. At the top, there's a rope ascending further into heaven. You have to climb the rope, at which point it collapses and turns into a boss monster, and the tower collapses after the battle. Makes Just as Much Sense in Context.
  • The Forgotten Sanctuary stage from Dragon's Crown was once a massive tower made in an attempt to reach the Gods' realm. Needless to say, this pissed the Gods off royally, and both the tower and its surrounding city were leveled.
  • While not a true "Tower of Babel", the Shrine of Worship in Shadow of the Colossus is heavily inspired by the Tower of Babel, being remarkable in how unbelievably massive it is. Not only is it easily visible across the entire map, it is also the residence of Dormin, the morally ambiguous deity who promises Wander the resurrection of Mono(To further add to the comparison, Dormin spelled backwards is Nimrod, the king who ordered the Tower of Babel's construction).
  • In Barbie Explorer, the third level in Babylon is called "The Tower." The tower is question houses the treasure to be found.


    Web Original 

  • SCP Foundation:
    • SCP-1139 ("The Broken Tongue"). SCP-1139 is a small (20 centimeters high) metallic block. When electricity is applied to it, everyone within range permanently forgets their native language and starts speaking a new language. The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel is presumably based on this object.
    • SCP-1643 ("The City and the Tower"). A member of a group of interest to the Foundation found the site of the original Tower and upgraded it in order to nuke Heaven.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The Masons use a ceremonial 'Tower' to represent the Tower of Babel in their ceremonies.
  • Not just An Aesop, the story is a warning that 'Something is too big to fail' is a very foolish and fallacious way of thinking indeed. Civilization can, and has, collapsed throughout human history, such as the Bronze Age Collapse, through natural disasters and/or warfare.
  • It is possible there was a real life Babel tower around the early Holocene, several thousand years ago. According to the people listed as being ancestors of various ethnic groups in Genesis 10 and 11, some of these would have took place about the end of the ice age, since Miziriam (Egypt) started around 7000 BC, with it's civilization actually taking off 2000 years later, and Jericho was first built nearly 12000 years ago. Such a tower would have existed in Mesopotamia, near where the first Sumerians lived.
  • Some new evidence suggests that it was a real structure, a large ziggurat commissioned during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, even larger than the one at Ur. It was seen as a symbol of oppression by the Israelites who wrote down the Biblical account, because at the time they did, they were living in exile there. (See, for example, the Book of Daniel.) So it was portrayed as a bad thing, and had a story of Hubris to go with it. (Obviously, the Babylonians would have seen it as a really awesome thing that showed how great they were.)


Video Example(s):


Asuma's Discovery

Shinohara Asuma is digging through files at his father's Labor manufacturing company when he stumbles across a master copy of the new Hyper Operating System, which Special Vehicles suspects is responsible for a spate of Labors going berserk during use. He plugs it into the computer while (in a line original to the English dub) musing that its inventor Ei'ichi Hoba's name "sounds like Jehovah". A quote from Genesis 11 appears on the screen, then all Hell breaks loose in the factory. HOS indeed is responsible, and furthermore, Shinohara Heavy Industries has no clue what's wrong with their product.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / AccidentalDiscovery

Media sources: