Genesis - 11:3

3 They said one to another, "Come, let's make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." They had brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.

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Explanation and meaning of Genesis 11:3.

Differing Translations

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And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
And they said one to another, Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
And each one said to his neighbour: Come, let us make brick, and bake them of stones, and slime instead of mortar.
And they said one to another, Come on, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar.
And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
and they say each one to his neighbour, 'Give help, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly:' and the brick is to them for stone, and the bitumen hath been to them for mortar.
And they said one to another, Come, let us make bricks, burning them well. And they had bricks for stone, putting them together with sticky earth.
They said one to another, 'Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.' They had brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.
And each one said to his neighbor, "Come, let us make bricks, and bake them with fire." And they had bricks instead of stones, and pitch instead of mortar.
Et dixerunt quisqui ad proximum suum, Agite, laterificemus lateres, et coquamus ad coctionem: et fuit eis later pro lapide, et bitumen fuit eis pro caemento.

*Minor differences ignored. Grouped by changes, with first version listed as example.

Historical Commentaries

Scholarly Analysis and Interpretation.

And they said one to another [1] That is, they mutually exhorted each other; and not only did every man earnestly put his own hand to the work, but impelled others also to the daring attempt. Let us make brick. Moses intimates that they had not been induced to commence this work, on account of the ease with which it could be accomplished nor on account of any other advantages which presented themselves; he rather shows that they had contended with great and arduous difficulties; by which means their guilt became the more aggravated. For how is it that they harass and wear themselves out in vain on a difficult and labourious enterprise, unless that, like madmen, they rush impetuously against God? Difficulty often deters us from necessary works; but these men, when they had neither stones nor mortar, yet do not scruple to attempt the raising of an edifice which may transcend the clouds. We are taught therefore, by this example, to what length the lust of men will hurry them, when they indulge their ambition. Even a profane poet is not silent on this subject, -- "Man, rashly daring, full of pride, Most covets what is most denied." [2] And a little afterwards, -- "Counts nothing arduous, and tries Insanely to possess the skies." [3]


1 - "Dixit vir ad proximum suum," as it is in the margin of the English version. "A man said to his neighbor."

2 - "Audax omnia perpeti Gens humana ruit per vetitum nefas." Hor. Lib. 1 Ode 3.

3 - "Nil mortalibus arduum est Coelum ipsum petimus stultitia." Ibid.

Let us make brick - It appears they were obliged to make use of brick, as there was an utter scarcity of stones in that district; and on the same account they were obliged to use slime, that is, bitumen, (Vulg). ασφαλτος, (Septuagint) for mortar: so it appears they had neither common stone nor lime-stone; hence they had brick for stone, and asphaltus or bitumen instead of mortar.

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.

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.

Go to, let us make brick, let us build us a city - The country being a plain, yielded neither stone nor morter, yet that did not discourage them, but they made brick to serve instead of stone, and slime, or pitch, instead of morter.
Some think 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. To make them a name: they would do something to be talked of by posterity. But they could not gain this point; for we do not find in any history the name of so much as one of these Babel - builders. Philo Judeus saith they engraved every one his name upon a brick; yet neither did that serve their purpose. They did it 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. God orders them to scatter. No, say they, we will live and die together. In order hereunto they engage themselves and one another in this vast undertaking. That they might unite in one glorious empire, they resolve to build this city and tower, to be the metropolis of their kingdom, and the center of their unity.

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