The Tower of Babel

KIRCHER, Athanasius. Turis Babel (Amsterdam, 1679)

Provenance: Thomas Phillips, 1837

Athanasius Kircher.Turis Babel. Amsterdam, 1679.

Bernard and Picart were developing their approach at a turning point in European understanding of non-Western religions. Sixteenth and early seventeenth century scholarship had focused on linguistic etymologies, allegories and attempts to trace the diffusion of Egyptian beliefs, Judaism, and  early Christianity. An example of this approach is the work of Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680), a German scholar and professor of philology, mathematics, and Oriental languages, the breadth of whose learning is such that he has been refereed to as the last Renaissance man.

Turris Babel was Kircher's attempt to reconstruct the detail surrounding the famous biblical story of Nimrod's attempt to build a tower that reached the heavens. Kircher argues that Nimrod's ambition was intrinsically flawed because in order to reach the nearest heavenly body, the Moon, the tower would have to be 178,672 miles high and would weigh over three million tons. Its weight would tip the balance of the planet and move it from its position at the centre of the universe, resulting in a cataclysmic disruption in the order of nature.