Outtakes from a Novel — Tower of Babel

I was just thinking: wouldn’t it be fun to have a spot to feature artifacts, documents, persons, architecture, anything concrete related to my historical fiction set in ancient Babylon and Persia? Perhaps provide a wee bit of commentary, maybe how the things fit into the story,…? In the absence of any nay-sayers (admittedly none nearby capable of weighing in — one dog is asleep, the other staring fixedly at a groundhog hole), the verdict is “yes!” So, here goes, a first installment.

The Tower of Babel. You know the story (the Bible, Genesis 11:1-9) — people presume to build a tower to the heavens, God scrambles their speech, so much for teamwork, so much for the tower. The most common and transparent interpretation you’ll find is that God has issues with humans presuming to the status (or real estate) of God. This has made for a lot of sermonizing and some wonderful art. Think of Bruegel’s (two for good measure, one of which is called “The Little Tower.” uh-huh.)

Then there’s that hauntingly gorgeous movie, Babel, with Cate Blanchette and Brad Pitt (say what you will); the latest album from Mumford and Sons; and if you’re feeling erudite, some truly dizzying philosophy on the theories of language and translation (e.g., Walter Benjamin, George Steiner, and let’s not forget Derrida, who took the language of academese to a whole new level of opacity thereby making it possible for facile professors to spin one 30-second idea into a full 90-minute lecture and still leave everyone feeling way smarter or at least pleasantly confused in a college-y sort of way).

Love the story (back to the Bible), which stands on its own as a dynamic creature of literature in what may be my favorite biblical book. As for the story’s history, lots of smart and credentialed biblical scholars think that its basis lies in the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar’s time, the mid-sixth century BC.  Nebuchadnezzar was the king who defeated Judah and took the society’s upper crust, best craftsmen, and scribes back to Babylon (not far from Baghdad in what is now Iraq). He did the same with all the disparate peoples he conquered. (Perhaps you can see where this is going.)

Nebuchadnezzar was famous for his building projects. It’s truly amazing what he accomplished, according to archaeologists. Yet he didn’t just leave well enough alone but revised the buildings and rebuildings that he had going on all over town and indeed all over greater Babylonia. The greatest of these was the ziggurat (a tiered building) smack in the center of Babylon, in the precinct of the great god Marduk, called the Entemenanki, or “house of the foundation of heaven on earth”.

Like all such kings, Nebuchadnezzar did not build these things himself. He made other people do it, especially the people that he had conquered — remember, many and from all over. Sooooo, different people speaking different languages all working away on a great big tower that would connect earth to heaven. And this at the command of the man who presumed to raze the temple in Jerusalem,

Enter our protagoniste, Amytis, or Ahmi as I’ve presumed to call her. Fifteen years old, from the rugged mountain kingdom of Media (modern northern Iran), pledged to marry King Nebuchadnezzar.

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