Genesis 11:3
And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
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(3) Let us make brick, and burn them throughly.—Heb., for a burning. Bricks in the East usually are simply dried in the sun, and this produces a sufficiently durable building material. It marks a great progress in the arts of civilisation that these nomads had learned that clay when burnt becomes insoluble; and their buildings with “slime,” or native pitch, for cement would be virtually indestructible. In fact, Mr. Layard says that at Birs-Nimroud it was scarcely possible to detach the bricks one from another, as the cement by which they were united was most tenacious (Nineveh and Babylon, p. 499).

Genesis 11:3-4. Let us make brick, let us build a city — The country, being a plain, yielded neither stone nor mortar; yet this did not discourage them; but they made brick to serve instead of stone, and slime instead of mortar; a kind of clay or pitch called bitumen, which, as Pliny testifies, is liquid and glutinous, and fit to be used in brick buildings, as Strabo, Dion, and others observe. And that Babylon was built with this and with brick, as is here said, we have the joint testimony of Berosus, Etesius, Dion, Curtius, and many others. It has been thought that they intended hereby to secure themselves against the waters of another flood; but if they had, they would have chosen to build upon a mountain rather than upon a plain. But two things, it seems, they aimed at in building. 1st, To make them a name — A great name; out of pride and vain glory to erect a monument that should remain to all posterity: and, 2d, To prevent their dispersion; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth — It was done (saith Josephus) in disobedience to that command, Genesis 9:1, Replenish the earth — That they might be united in one glorious empire, they resolve to build this city and tower, to be the metropolis of their kingdom, and the centre of their unity.11:1-4 How soon men forget the most tremendous judgments, and go back to their former crimes! Though the desolations of the deluge were before their eyes, though they sprang from the stock of righteous Noah, yet even during his life-time, wickedness increases exceedingly. Nothing but the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit can remove the sinful lusts of the human will, and the depravity of the human heart. God's purpose was, that mankind should form many nations, and people all lands. In contempt of the Divine will, and against the counsel of Noah, the bulk of mankind united to build a city and a tower to prevent their separating. Idolatry was begun, and Babel became one of its chief seats. They made one another more daring and resolute. Let us learn to provoke one another to love and to good works, as sinners stir up and encourage one another to wicked works.A building is to be erected of brick and asphalt. The Babylonian soil is still celebrated for these architectural materials. There is here a fine clay, mingled with sand, forming the very best material for brick, while stones are not to be found at a convenient distance. Asphalt is found boiling up from the soil in the neighborhood of Babylon and of the Dead Sea, which is hence called the "lacus Asphaltites." The asphalt springs of Is or Hit on the Euphrates are celebrated by many writers. "Burn them thoroughly." Sun-dried bricks are very much used in the East for building purposes. These, however, were to be burned, and thereby rendered more durable. "Brick for stone." This indicates a writer belonging to a country and an age in which stone buildings were familiar, and therefore not to Babylonia. Brickmaking was well known to Moses in Egypt; but this country also abounds in quarries and splendid erections of stone, and the Sinaitic peninsula is a mass of granitic hills. The Shemites mostly inhabited countries abounding in stone. "Asphalt for mortar." Asphalt is a mineral pitch. The word rendered mortar means at first clay, and then any kind of cement.3. brick—There being no stone in that quarter, brick is, and was, the only material used for building, as appears in the mass of ruins which at the Birs Nimroud may have been the very town formed by those ancient rebels. Some of these are sun-dried—others burnt in the kiln and of different colors.

slime—bitumen, a mineral pitch, which, when hardened, forms a strong cement, commonly used in Assyria to this day, and forming the mortar found on the burnt brick remains of antiquity.

Let us make brick, for in that low and fat soil they had no quarries of stones. The heathen writers agree that Babylon’s walls were made of brick.

The slime was a kind of clay called bitumen, which, as Pliny testifieth, is liquid and glutinous, and fit to be used in brick buildings, as Strabo, Dion, and others note. And that Babylon was built with this, as is here said, we have the joint and express testimony of Berosus, Ctesias, Dion, Curtius, and many others. And they said one to another, go to,.... Advising, exhorting, stirring up, and encouraging one another to the work proposed, of building a city and tower for their habitation and protection; saying:

let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly; they knew the nature of bricks, and how to make them before: according to Sanchoniatho (h), the brothers of Vulcan, or Tubalcain, before the flood, were the first inventors of them; for he relates, that"there are some that say that his brothers invented the way of making walls of bricks: he adds, that from the generation of Vulcan came two brothers, who invented the way of mixing straw or stubble with brick clay, and to dry them by the sun, and so found out tiling of houses.''Now in the plain of Shinar, though it afforded no stones, yet they could dig clay enough to make bricks, and which they proposed to burn thoroughly, that they might be fit for their purpose. According to an eastern tradition (i), they were three years employed in making and burning those bricks, each of which was thirteen cubits long, ten broad, and five thick, and were forty years in building:

and they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar: they could not get stone, which they would have chosen, as more durable; they got the best bricks they could make, and instead of mortar they used slime; or what the Septuagint version calls "asphaltos", a bitumen, or kind of pitch, of which there was great plenty in that neighbourhood. Herodotus (k) speaking of the building of Babylon, uses language very much like the Scripture;"digging a foss or ditch (says he), the earth which was cast up they formed into bricks, and drawing large ones, they burnt them in furnaces, using for lime or mortar hot asphaltos or bitumen.''And he observes, that"Eight days journey from Babylon was another city, called Is, where was a small river of the same name, which ran into the river Euphrates, and with its water were carried many lumps of bitumen, and from hence it was conveyed to the walls of Babylon.''This city is now called Ait, of which a traveller (l) of the last century gives the following account;"from the ruins of old Babylon we came to a town called Ait, inhabited only with Arabians, but very ruinous; near unto which town is a valley of pitch, very marvellous to behold, and a thing almost incredible wherein are many springs throwing out abundantly a kind of black substance, like unto tar and pitch, which serveth all the countries thereabout to make staunch their barks and boats; everyone of which springs makes a noise like a smith's forge, which never ceaseth night nor day, and the noise is heard a mile off, swallowing up all weighty things that come upon it; the Moors call it "the mouth of hell."''Curtius relates (m), that Alexander, in his march to Babylon, came to a city called Mennis, where was a cavern, from whence a fountain threw out a vast quantity of bitumen or pitch; so that, says he, it is plain, that the huge walls of Babylon were daubed with the bitumen of this fountain; and he afterwards speaks of the walls, towers, and houses, being built of brick, and cemented with it; and so Diodorus Siculus says (n) from Ctesias, that the walls of Babylon were built of bricks, cemented with bitumen; and not only these, but all Heathen authors that write of Babylon, confirm this; and not only historians, but poets, of which Bochart (o) has made a large collection; as well as Josephus (p) speaks of it, and this sort of pitch still remains. Rauwolff says (q) near the bridge over the Euphrates, where Babylon stood, are several heaps of Babylonian pitch, which is in some places grown so hard, that you may walk over it; but in others, that which hath been lately brought over thither is so soft, that you may see every step you make in it.

(h) Apud Euseb. Evangel. Praepar. l. 1. p. 35. (i) Elmacinus, p. 14. apud Hottinger. Smegma, p. 263, 264. (k) Clio sive, l. 1. c. 179. (l) Cartwright's Preacher's Travels, p. 105, 106. (m) Hist. l. 5. c. 1.((n) Bibliothec l. 2. p. 96. (o) Phaleg. l. 1. c. 11. (p) Antiqu. l. 1. c. 4. sect. 3.((q) Travels, par. 2. ch. 7. p. 138.

And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
3. brick for stone, &c.] For a description of building with bricks held together with bitumen in Babylonia, see Herodotus, i. 179. The writer here is evidently more familiar with building in stone and mortar than in brick and bitumen: another indication that the story is Israelite in origin.

slime] That is, bitumen, LXX ἄσφαλτος, Lat. bitumen. The Hebrew word ḥêmar is found here and in Genesis 14:10, Exodus 2:3. The word for bitumen or pitch used in Genesis 6:14 (kopher) resembles the Assyrian; and the fact that it is not used here tells for the Israelite character of the story.Verse 3. - And they said one to another. Literally, a man to his neighbor; ἄνθρωπος τῷ πλησίον αὐτοῦ (LXX.). Go to. A hortatory expletive - come on (Anglice). Let us make brick. Nilbenah lebenim; literally, let us brick bricks; πλινθεύσωμεν πλίνθους (LXX.); laterifecimus lateres (Calvin); lebenah (from laban, to be white), being so called from the white and chalky day of which bricks were made. And burn them thoroughly. Literally, burn them to a burning; venisrephah lisrephah, a second alliteration, which, however, the LXX. fails to reproduce. Bricks were usually sun-dried; these, being designed to be more durable, were to be calcined through the agency of fire, a proof that the tower-builders were acquainted with the art of brick-making. And they had - literally, and there was to theme - brick for stone. Chiefly because of the necessities of the place, the alluvial plain of Babylon being void of stones and full of clay; a proof of the greatness of their crime, seeing they were induced to undertake the work non facilitate operis, nec aliis commodis, quae se ad manum offerrent (Calvin); scarcely because bricks would better endure fire than would stones, the second destruction of the world by fire rather than water being by this time a common expectation (Com a Lapide). Josephus, 'Ant., lib. 1. cp. 4; Herod, lib. 1. cp. 179; Justin, lib. 1. cp. 2; Ovid, ' Metam.,' 4:4; and Aristoph. in Avibus (περιτευχίζειν μεγάλαις πλίνθοις ὀπταῖς ὥσπερ Βαβυλῶνα), all attest that the walls of Babylon were built of brick. The mention of the circumstance that brick was used instead of stone "indicates a writer belonging to a country and an age in which stone buildings were familiar, and therefore not to Babylonia" (Murphy). And slime. Chemer, from chamar, to boil up; ἄσφαλτος (LXX.); the bitumen which boils up from subterranean fountains like oil or hot pitch in the vicinity of Babylon, and also near the Dead Sea (lacus asphaltites). Tacitus, ' Hist.,' 5:6; Strabo, 16. p. 743; Herod., lib. h c. 179; Josephus, 'Antiq.,' lib. 1. c. 41 Pliny, lib. 35. 100. 15; Vitruvius, lib. 8. c. 3, are unanimous in declaring that the brick walls of Babylon were cemented with bitumen. Layard testifies that so firmly have the bricks been united that it is almost impossible to detach one from the mass ('Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 499). Had they. Literally, was to them. For mortar. Chomer. The third instance of alliteration in the present verse; possibly designed by the writer to represent the enthusiasm of the builders. As men multiplied they moved from the land of Ararat "eastward," or more strictly to the south-east, and settled in a plain. בּקעה does not denote a valley between mountain ranges, but a broad plain, πεδίον μέγα, as Herodotus calls the neighbourhood of Babylon. There they resolved to build an immense tower; and for this purpose they made bricks and burned them thoroughly (לשׂרפה "to burning" serves to intensify the verb like the inf. absol.), so that they became stone; whereas in the East ordinary buildings are constructed of bricks of clay, simply dried in the sun. For mortar they used asphalt, in which the neighbourhood of Babylon abounds. From this material, which may still be seen in the ruins of Babylon, they intended to build a city and a tower, whose top should be in heaven, i.e., reach to the sky, to make to themselves a name, that they might not be scattered over the whole earth. שׁם לו עשׂה denotes, here and everywhere else, to establish a name, or reputation, to set up a memorial (Isaiah 63:12, Isaiah 63:14; Jeremiah 32:20, etc.). The real motive therefore was the desire for renown, and the object was to establish a noted central point, which might serve to maintain their unity. The one was just as ungodly as the other. For, according to the divine purpose, men were to fill the earth, i.e., to spread over the whole earth, not indeed to separate, but to maintain their inward unity notwithstanding their dispersion. But the fact that they were afraid of dispersion is a proof that the inward spiritual bond of unity and fellowship, not only "the oneness of their God and their worship," but also the unity of brotherly love, was already broken by sin. Consequently the undertaking, dictated by pride, to preserve and consolidate by outward means the unity which was inwardly lost, could not be successful, but could only bring down the judgment of dispersion.
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