Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a member today »

Newly translated ancient cuneiform texts have been expanding our knowledge of the Ancient Babylon but one from 604-562 BCE also depicts the only contemporary illustration of the Tower of Babel, which is mentioned in many ancient texts including the Bible.

One stele includes a drawing (highlighted above) of King Nebuchadnezzar II and his famed ziggurat, which scholars argue inspired the biblical story of the Tower of Babel.

LiveSciene explains:

In the inscription, Nebuchadnezzar talks about how he got people from all over the world to build the Marduk tower and a second ziggurat at Borsippa.

… the image of Nebuchadnezzar II on the newly translated stele is one of only four known representations of the biblical king.

The tablets also has some revealing things to say about how sophisticated Mesopotamian law could be.

One law code, which predates the more famous Hammurabi code, even offers rules for your bar tab:

… the copy sheds light on one of the oddest rules governing what you should pay a “female tavern-keeper” who gives you a jar of beer.

Apparently, if you have the female keeper put the beer on your tab during the summer, she will have the right to extract a tax from you, of unknown amount, in winter.

“If a female tavern-keeper gives [in] summer one beer-jar to someone on credit its nigdiri-tax will be […] in win[ter]…” (Translation by Miguel Civil)

The moral of the story, according to LiveScience, is “If you live in ancient Mesopotamia don’t put the beer on your tab.”

Support Hyperallergic

As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever. 

Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.

Become a Member

Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.