ZIGGURAT (zĭg'ū-răt, Assyr.-Bab. ziqquratu, from the verb zaqaru, meaning to be high or raised up; hence the top of a mountain, or a staged tower). A temple tower of the Babylonians, consisting of a lofty structure in the form of a pyramid, built in successive stages, with staircases on the outside and a shrine at the top. These structures are the most characteristic feature of the temple architecture in Mesopotamia, and the locations of more than two dozen are known today. The oldest one known is at Uruk. It measures 140 by 150 feet (44 by 47 m.) and stands about 30 feet (9 m.) high. At the top was the shrine, 65 feet (20 m.) long, 50 feet (16 m.) wide, and built about a narrow court. It is made of packed clay strengthened with layers of asphalt and unbaked bricks. The ziggurat at Ur was 200 feet (63 m.) long, 150 feet (47 m.) wide, and some 70 feet (22 m.) high. The inside was made of unbaked brick; the outside consisted of about 8 feet (2.5 m.) of baked brick set in bitumen. The Stele of Ur-Nammu is a contemporary record of the building of this ziggurat. The tower of Babel was a ziggurat (Gen.11.1-Gen.11.9).——SB

ZIGGURAT, ZIGGURRAT zĭg’ ŏŏ răt (“temple tower, high building”). A staged or stepped temple tower.

This architectural form was developed in the third millennium b.c. in Babylonia from a low temenos or platform supporting a shrine (as at Erech and ’Uqair) to the massive seven-story brick towers like Etemenanki “Building which is the foundation platform of heaven and earth” associated with the temple of Marduk at Babylon named Esagila (“whose top is [in] heaven”) measuring 295 square ft. at the base and about the same height. Access to each level was by a ramp or stairway (which some link with the ladder of Jacob’s dream in Gen 28:12). On the top of this “artificial mountain” was a shrine where the god of the city was believed to descend to have intercourse with man in special rites. Several ziggurats have been excavated, those at Ur, Ashur and Choga Zambil being the best known and preserved. The “Tower of Babel” (Gen 16:1-5) might have been a ziggurat since they are to be found in all principal Mesopotamian cities.


C. L. Woolley, Excavations at Ur (1954), 125-135; A. Parrot, The Tower of Babel.