If you want to see how myths arise from misunderstandings, the Tower of Babel provides a textbook example. In ancient Assyrian babilu means ‘door of God’ and thus correctly describes the Babylonian ziggurat erected to the god Marduk by Nebuchadnezzar II and later seen in ruins by Herodotus. But in Hebrew the word bâlal means ‘to confuse’, hence the confusingly different account in Genesis. In this version, men come together in the cradle of civilisation to build ‘a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven’ as a monument for posterity, lest they be ‘scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth’ — and God, sensing that ‘this is only the beginning of what they will do’, sends down a software bug to corrupt their communal language and scatter them before they finish the job. It’s from this muddle that Babel emerges as the ultimate symbol of architectural hubris, a subject first represented in Flemish art in the 16th century.

more from Laura Gascoigne at The Spectator here.