Amazon has just unveiled the plans for its new corporate headquarters that will stand in Arlington, Virginia, directly across the Potomac River from Washington DC. The announcement inaccurately describes the design as a “double helix” but scholars of ancient history and the Bible will readily recognize the ancient model for the design: the Tower of Babel.
Helix Building: A “New Design With Mesopotamian Roots
Construction on their second corporate headquarters is expected to begin next year and when completed in 2025 at a cost of $2.5 billion. It will include 2.8 million square feet of new office space distributed across three 22-story buildings. The location is less than four miles from the Capitol Building. John Schoettler, head of Amazon’s global corporate real estate portfolio, announced the second half of the project designed by architecture firm NBBJ.
“The natural beauty of a double helix can be seen throughout our world, from the geometry of our own DNA to the elemental form of galaxies, weather patterns, pinecones, and seashells,” the company said. “The Helix at our Arlington headquarters will offer a variety of alternative work environments for Amazon employees amidst lush gardens and flourishing trees native to the region.”
Though it is true that DNA is arranged in a double-helix, the architectural design is not, in fact, a double helix that appears like a ladder that has been twisted into a corkscrew. The design of the building is, perhaps, a single helix with a spiral walkway ascending the exterior of the building. The architectural design of the Amazon building does, in fact, closely resemble that of a ziggurat, a type of massive structure built in ancient Mesopotamia. A ziggurat has the form of a terraced compound of successively receding stories or levels.
Tower of Babel: Waging War Against Heaven
The biblical account of the Tower of Babel has been associated by modern scholars to the massive construction undertakings of the ziggurats of Mesopotamia, and in particular to the ziggurat of Etemenanki in Babylon in light of the Tower of Babel Stele describing its restoration by Nebuchadnezzar II.
Archaeologists generally agree that the site of the tower is in the ancient city of Babylonia, an area known today as Al Qasr, approximately 80 miles south of Baghdad. The original city, believed to have been built in 2300 BCE, was sacked in 1595 BCE by the Hittites. In 612 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar II rebuilt the city, turning it into his capital. He constructed a large ziggurat around the original ancient tower.
Nebuchadnezzar’s ziggurat, referred to by archaeologists as the Etemenanki, is believed to have been almost 300 feet tall, with a square base measuring 300 feet on each side. It encased the earlier structure, made of sunbaked bricks, inside a 49-foot -thick wall of oven-baked brick.
This was illustrated in the Tower of Babel painted by Lucas van Valckenborch in 1594 which now hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The late-16th century painting is remarkably similar, almost identical to, the modern design of the Amazon headquarters.
This spiraling design of the Tower of Babel was also illustrated in 1679 by the Jesuit scholar, Athanasius Kircher, and yet again in 1865 in an engraving by Gustave Doré titled The Confusion of Tounges. These are all remarkably similar to the Amazon design.
Rabbinic literature offers many different accounts of other causes for building the Tower of Babel, and of the intentions of its builders. According to one midrash, the builders of the Tower, called “the generation of secession” in the Jewish sources, said: “God has no right to choose the upper world for Himself, and to leave the lower world to us; therefore we will build us a tower, with an idol on the top holding a sword, so that it may appear as if it intended to war with God.” The building of the Tower was meant to bid defiance not only to God but also to Abraham, who exhorted the builders to reverence.
Some among that generation even wanted to war against God in heaven (Talmud Sanhedrin 109a). They were encouraged in this undertaking by the notion that arrows that they shot into the sky fell back dripping with blood so that the people really believed that they could wage war against the inhabitants of the heavens.
The Midrash also described a structure built on tall columns designed to protect the tower from another divine flood.
The Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews written in 94 CE, recounted history as found in the Bible and mentioned the Tower of Babel. He wrote that it was Nimrod who had the tower built and that Nimrod was a tyrant who tried to turn the people away from God. In this account, God confused the people rather than destroying them because annihilation with a Flood had not taught them to be godly.