# How wide was the Migdal Bavel?

This question describes how tall the Migdal Bavel was. In the Book of Jubilees (v. 30), provided in the answer there, the Tower is described as:

ויבנו אותה שלוש וארבעים שנה. בנוהו לבניה שלמה מאתים ושלוש לבנים רחבו, וגובה הלבנה שליש האחת חמשת אלפים וארבע מאות ושלושים ושלוש באמה עלה גבהו, ושתי זרתות ושלוש עשרה פרסה.

And they built it: forty and three years [1645-1688 A.M.] were they building it; its breadth was 203 bricks, and the height (of a brick) was the third of one; its height amounted to 5433 cubits and 2 palms, and (the extent of one wall was) thirteen stades (and of the other thirty stades).

(translation from here)

What would the tower's width be in amos (or any other unit of distance that's easier to work with than "bricks")?

Given that the passage describes the bricks as "a third of one" without specifying a third of one what, it seems to indicate that the bricks are being compared to something else; while that comparison is being used in terms of height, perhaps it could help us solve for width as well.

It should also be noted that in Mishnaic times, at least, the standard brick was 3 tefachim long (Eruvin 1:5); a source indicating that earlier bricks were of the same (or different, for that matter) length could also help.

• I haven't read it in context (only what's in your question), but I read "a third of one" as meaning its height is a third of its length, and so it would reduce to a straightforward math problem. But I have no basis for knowing if that's what they actually meant. – Monica Cellio Dec 17 '17 at 19:44
• @MonicaCellio It’s a really weird wording to use. “A third of one” is the literal translation. – DonielF Dec 17 '17 at 19:49
• I see a hei there, and this site (reliability unknown) translates it "the third of one". – Monica Cellio Dec 17 '17 at 20:05

Benjamin of Tudela describes the Tower of Babel among his records of his journey through Babylon in the Twelfth Century:

The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela

ומשם ארבעה מילין למגדל שבנו דור הפלגה והוא בנוי מלבנים הנקראים אגור ואורך יסודו כשני מילין וברחבו כארבעי' אמה וארכו כמו מאתים אמה ובין עשרה עשרה אמות דרכים ובהם שם עולים בעיגול מסבבין עד למעלה ורואין ממנו מהלך עשרים מילין כי הארץ מישור ובתוכו נפלה אש מן השמים ובקעה אותו עד התהום

Thence it is four miles to the Tower of Babel, which the generation whose language was confounded built of the bricks called Agur. The length of its foundation is about two miles, the breadth of the tower is about forty cubits, and the length thereof two hundred cubits. At every ten cubits' distance there are slopes which go round the tower by which one can ascend to the top. One can see from there a view twenty miles in extent, as the land is level. There fell fire from heaven into the midst of the tower which split it to its very depths. (Adler translation)

Four miles from hence is the tower built by the dispersed generation. It is constructed of bricks called al-ajurr; the base measures two miles, the breadth two hundred and forty yards, and the height about one hundred canna. A spiral passage, built into the tower (in stages of ten yards each), leads up to the summit, from which we have a prospect of twenty miles, the country being one wide plain and quite level. The heavenly fire, which struck the tower, split it to its very foundation. (Asher translation)

In the Nineteenth Century Sir Austen Henry Layard visited this tower as well and described it thus:

Nineveh and Babylon p. 277-279

The Birs Nimroud, ‘the palace of Nimrod’ of the Arabs, and ‘the prison of Nebuchadnezzar’ of the Jews; by old travellers believed to be the very ruins of the tower of Babel; by some, again, supposed to represent the temple of Belus, the wonder of the ancient world; and, by others, to mark the site of Borsippa, a city celebrated as the highplace of the Chaldaean worship, is a vast heap of bricks, slag, and broken pottery. The dry nitrous earth of the parched plain, driven before the furious south wind, has thrown over the huge mass a thin covering of soil in which no herb or green thing can find nourishment or take root. It rises to the height of 153 feet, and has on its summit a compact mass of brickwork, 37 feet high by 28 broad. Neither the original form nor object of the edifice, of which it is the ruin, had, previous to my visit, been determined. On one side of it, beneath the crowning masonry, lie huge fragments torn from the pile itself. The calcined and vitreous surface of the bricks fused into rock-like masses, show that their fall may have been caused by lightning; and, as the ruin is rent almost from top to bottom, early Christian travellers, as well as some of more recent date, have not hesitated to recognise in them proofs of that divine vengeance, which, according to tradition, arrested by fire from heaven the impious attempt of the first descendants of Noah. Even the Jews, it would appear, at one time identified the Birs Nimroud with the Tower of Babel. Benjamin of Tudela, who saw it in the twelfth century, gives the following curious account of the ruin. 'The tower built by the dispersed generation is four miles from Hillah. It is constructed of bricks, called Al-ajur (the word still used by the Arabs for kiln-burnt bricks); the base measures two miles, the breadth 240 yards, and the height about 100 canna. A spiral passage, built into the tower (from ten to ten yards), leads up to the summit, from which there is a prospect of twenty miles, the country being one wide plain, and quite level. The heavenly fire which struck the tower, split it to its very foundation.’ No traces whatever now remain of the spiral passage spoken of by the Jewish traveller.

(Apologies for the non-Jewish sources if they offend any readers.)

Josephus 1:4:3 seems to imply that it was wider than it was high (as understood by Verstegan):

But the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was.

The New World Encyclopedia entry about the Tower of Babel provides a number of opinions about this. It should be noted that it seems to have been measured in circumference rather than width.

• Gregory of Tours (I, 6, c. 594), quotes Orosius (c. 417) saying that it was 470 Parsa in circumference.
• Villani believed that it was 80 miles in circumference.
• Josephus is a non-Jewish source? – ezra Feb 16 '18 at 4:58
• "Truth comes from whoever said it." -Maimonides – ezra Feb 16 '18 at 4:58
• @ezra 1. no, the others are. 2. In this case, I'm not sure of the "truth" part... – רבות מחשבות Feb 16 '18 at 5:09
• very offensive s – user8832 Nov 9 '18 at 21:38

According to Sefer Hayoshor (Midrash) the base's circumference took 2 years walking distance which means the height was colossal and you would probably need most of Asia as a base for the tower of Bavel. Assuming a person walks 40km a day (Pesachim 93b thanks DonielF 1 mil is 2000 amos 1 amoh is about 50cm so 1km is 1 mil)and can travel about 600 days over 2 years (excluding shabbos Yomtov where there are techumim) the total perimeter would be around 24000 km. the Asian continent perimeter is 57,674 km so this is a significant chunk of Asia as a base. Source in Sefer hayoshor:

לבנות את העיר ואת המגדל ויבקשו בכל הארץ ולא מצאו כי אם בקעה אחת מקדם בארץ שנער ארץ רחבה מאד מהלך שנתים ימים

In fact the 3rd that remained from the tower after its destruction just its shadow takes 3 days to reach the end off and a person can walk about 10 parsa (40 km) in one day which means a third of the tower is 30 parsa (120km). This would mean the height of the original tower might have been around (90 parsa) 360 km see the continuation here http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=40009&st=&pgnum=39

This led to Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz to explain that the tower couldn't be so high and we do not take the Midrash literally. quoted from http://parsha.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/rav-yonasan-eibeshutzs-rocket-ship.html translation to what he said:

And this was the matter of the generation of the Dispersion, that they wished to construct a tower unto the heavens. For there is to understand -- were they such fools?! For if so, they would have needed a foundation, based on the science of architecture, to be wider than the globe of the earth!

His conclusion is that it must be that the tower was 5 mil high (5km) which is above the rain clouds where they could launch a space ship up their where the air was thinner..

• @DonielF i have finally found a source to the Midrash i am sorry it took so long – user15464 Sep 26 '18 at 12:12
• @user15464 Not a problem. The Gemara says that a person can walk forty mil in one 12-hour day (Pesachim 93b). Multiplying out to two years gets you 56,640 mil. Assuming two feet to an amah yields about 69,000 km per side, 276,000 km in the entire perimeter. That gives an area of 4,761,000,000 km^2. For reference, the surface area of the entire planet, including the water, comes out to just 510,072,000 km^2. I wonder if Rav Eibshutz knew just how correct he was. – DonielF Sep 26 '18 at 14:26
• Comparing the wording to Sefer Yonah’s description of Nineveh as a three-day journey, it could further be argued that two years refers to the apothem, rather than the entire side. In such a case, the area quadruples to 19,044,000,000 km^2, somewhere between the surface areas of Saturn and Uranus. – DonielF Sep 26 '18 at 14:40
• Isn't מהלך שנתים ימים describing the distance from their starting point to the place where they decided to build the tower? – Alex Oct 6 '19 at 1:46