As recorded in Genesis 11:1-9, the ancients allegedly built a tower to the skies in a valley in Babylon (near present-day Baghdad), and God scattered them across the Earth as a punishment.

As discussed over on Judaism.SE, the tower was either ~52.5 km tall or ~2.6 km tall. Are either of those numbers remotely possible, given the materials and technology of the time and place?

Note that Orthodox Judaism places this incident 3781 years ago, in 1765 BC.

closed as off-topic by DavePhD, SIMEL, tim, Sklivvz Mar 24 '17 at 22:01

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  • 2
    Genesis doesn't give any tower height biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+11:1-9 Basically you are asking about a tower described by a source other than Genesis. – DavePhD Mar 24 '17 at 19:09
  • @DavePhD That is correct. – DonielF Mar 24 '17 at 19:14
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    This should be asked on Worldbuilding.SE – user5341 Mar 24 '17 at 20:09
  • Openly asks for speculation/non-factual, also adding "given the materials and technology of the time and place" makes it trivial – Sklivvz Mar 24 '17 at 22:02
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    It's been a while but in uni I learned that the height limit of a brick-only structure (without concrete, without a steel frame) is about 8 storeys. That's using modern baked bricks. Mud bricks probably a lot less. The only way to get around it is to build pyramid-like things, and that would still be apparent. – RedSonja Mar 27 '17 at 13:21

Given that it is possible that some building techniques were lost to history, we'll never been able to definitively answer this question, but we can take a look at what we are capable of building now to see how it stacks up.

Taking a look at the wikipedia entry for tallest man made structures we can see that the tallest structure ever documented is the Burj Khalifa, standing 828.1 meters, in Dubai. Using your lower estimation of 2.6km we can see that the Tower of Babel would have been more than three times as tall as humanities current tallest building.

I'm not an engineer, but I'm very comfortable in saying that in 1765 BC humanity lacked the ability to build a 2.6 km building

  • See my comments to @TheBlackCat's answer. – DonielF Mar 24 '17 at 20:36
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    Techniques are lost to history, but materials and mass are not. We are talking about a structure ranging between the tallest (with spire) building in the current world (which is made of elements much strong and less dense overall than brick) and a structure roughly five times as tall as Mount Everest. Even if the technique was lost, the structure could not "just disappear" as we have seen with smaller structures, like pyramids. – Edwin Buck Mar 24 '17 at 21:35
  • @DonielF Increasing the size of the tower's base would help to an extent, but at some point that would only make things worse. As the base of your structure gets larger, you increase the probability of encountering a weakness in the bedrock. This normally wouldn't be an issue for what we would consider a normal sized building, but given the weight of a structure this size, any abnormality in the strength of the bedrock would cause sinking, shifting, and ultimately collapse. – A Bailey Mar 27 '17 at 16:53

The 52.5 km tower is definitely impossible no matter what technology you have. The reasons are the same as discussed for the height of a mountain in this skeptics.se answer. Above a certain height, the stone under the crust under the tower just isn't strong enough to support it. The actual details vary, but according to that accepted answer it should be less than 15 km.

  • The implication of the verse that they used brick instead of stone implies that they didn't have stone. If they were building it on a dirt floor, that would heavily decrease the maximum height, no? – DonielF Mar 24 '17 at 19:45
  • Also, would it make a difference how wide the tower was? – DonielF Mar 24 '17 at 20:36
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    And this isn't even taking into account atmospheric effects. At 20 km you have to deal with temperatures of -50°C and less. The air is far too thin to breathe. The ozone layer is about in that area too, and so even if you try to breathe the thin air, you'd get ozone poisoning. And once you're through the layer, you're bombarded with harmful UV radiation. So "space suits" is among the required technology. – Sebastian Redl Mar 24 '17 at 20:53
  • @DonielF: Lots of factors could decrease the height, the point is that there is no way it could be higher. And no, the width doesn't matter for this issue (although there are other issue that further limit the height where it does matter). What matters is the pressure, the weight of the material above a given unit of land. – TheBlackCat Mar 24 '17 at 23:04

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