Teaching the Tower of Babel


While in my Humanities Ancient Near Eastern Unit, I do a lesson on the Tower of Babel and inevitably we talk about ziggurats, specifically the White Temple and its ziggurat from Uruk. In my PowerPoint I start off by asking the students what comes to mind when I say the “Tower of Babel.” I find it is one of those pop culture items that people recognize but do not know the backstory to (alas, like so many things!)

We then watch this fabulous short video, The Tower of Babel with British Museum curator Irving Finkel. After the video I have one student read aloud the section from the Bible, Genesis 11:1-9, on the Tower of Babel and I discuss the Tower of Babel in history and mythology via ziggurats. The next few slides have pictures of ziggurats (recreated and modern-day) and a Sumerian city layout to provide a visual to my short lecture on the role of ziggurats in Sumerian society.


I then have the students individually read this short article from Annenberg Learner’s series “Art Through Time: A Global View” on the Ruins of the White Temple and Ziggurat. While they are reading I have some guiding questions on my PowerPoint that include:

  • Why would ziggurats be in a pyramid shape?
  • How do they reflect the society that built them?
  • How does the function connect to their size and shape?
  • How do the functions of ziggurats differ from many modern-day houses of worship?
  • Do we have any modern-day buildings that have a similar role in our society?

They then discuss their observations as a small group and we go over these questions as a whole class.


**Disclaimer: I actually have the opportunity to use many religious texts in class, including the Bible, but I always make it clear that we are using these texts as LITERATURE not religious truth or fact.



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