The account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 offers numerous points for comparison with the ancient world. The narrative is set in the Land of Shinar, recognized as the region known as Sumer in southern Mesopotamia. The excerpt below looks at the materials and at the nature of the project. Our expectation would be that in order to understand how the project offended deity, we need to have a clearer idea of what the people were actually doing.
Let’s make bricks and bake them (11:3). Stone is not readily available in the alluvial plain of southern Mesopotamia, so a logical economical choice is to use brick—there is plenty of mud. Mudbrick, however, is not durable, so it was a great technological development to discover that baking the brick made it as durable as stone.1 This was still an expensive process, since the kilns had to be fueled. As a result, mudbrick was used as much as possible, with baked brick used only for outer shells of important buildings or where water-proofing was desirable.2