Tower of Babel
The biblical Tower of Babel, according to the Old testament and ancient Jewish and Christian scholars was an effort by mankind to reach the heavens with a ladder-like structure and enter the kingdom of God without God's approval. Sometimes it is linked with Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, who "dreamed, and behold a ladder set up to the earth, and the top it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending it."

The phrase "the Tower of Babel" does not actually appear in the Bible; it is always, "the city and its tower." Several generations after the Great Flood of Noah’s time humanity came together, Genesis 11:1-9 reads: “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 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. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children built. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”

Later Chapters of Genesis, see Abraham, Jacob and Joseph

Websites and Resources: Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ; Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ; Judaism Judaism101 ; ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ; Chabad,org ; Religious Tolerance ; BBC - Religion: Judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica,; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center ; Center for Jewish History ; Jewish ; Christianity and Christians Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ; BBC - Religion: Christianity ; Christianity Today; Biblical Images: Bible in Pictures ebibleteacher ; ; Pictures from the Bible ; Bible Blue Letter Images ; Biblical Images

Tower of Babel, a Ziggurat?

There is no proof or archaeological evidence that the Tower of Babel really existed. Many think it may have referred to a ziggurat in Babylon. Babylon’s name is derived from “Bab-Ilu” meaning “Gateway of the Gods.” The Hebrews called it Babel. Ziggurats’somewhat tower-like stepped pyramids made from mud brick and topped by temples to gods and goddess---were the largest Sumerian and Mesopotamian structures. They first appeared around 3500 B.C. In ancient times, every major Mesopotamian city had at least one.

Describing a ziggurat he saw in Babylon, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote in 460 B.C., "In the topmost tower there is a great temple, and in the temple is a great bed richly appointed, and beside it a golden table. No idol stands there. No one spends the night there save a woman of that country, designated by the god himself, so I was told by the Chaldeans, who are priests of that divinity."

Medieval vision of the walls of Babylon
and the Temple of Bel
Herodotus described the Etemenanki ziggurat, dedicated to Marduk in the city and famously rebuilt by the 6th century B.C. by the Neo-Babylonians under Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar II. Many modern scholars believe the biblical story of the Tower of Babel was likely influenced by Etemenanki during the Babylonian captivity of the Hebrews.

Nebuchadnezzar wrote that the original tower had been built in antiquity: "A former king built the Temple of the Seven Lights of the Earth, but he did not complete its head. Since a remote time, people had abandoned it, without order expressing their words. Since that time earthquakes and lightning had dispersed its sun-dried clay; the bricks of the casing had split, and the earth of the interior had been scattered in heaps."

For a long time a pyramid-shaped pile of rubble in Babylon, 295 feet square and 295 feet high, was thought to be the Tower of Babel. The pile or rubble turned out not even to be a ziggurat but a pile of solid towers.

Tower of Babel: Genesis 11

Genesis 11: The Tower of Babel reads: 1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there. 3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” [Source: New International Version (NIV) *-*]

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” 8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

From Shem to Abram: 10 This is the account of Shem’s family line. Two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old, he became the father[d] of Arphaxad. 11 And after he became the father of Arphaxad, Shem lived 500 years and had other sons and daughters.12 When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah. 13 And after he became the father of Shelah, Arphaxad lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters....

“...27 This is the account of Terah’s family line. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28 While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. 29 Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milkah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milkah and Iskah. 30 Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive. 31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there. 32 Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran.

Tower of Babel by the School of Tobias Verhaecht

Tower of Babel Story

The Tower of Babel story in the Old Testament is about a group people who come up with the ultimate audacious idea — building a tower that could reach heaven: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.” (Genesis 11:4). A highly unhappy Lord answered back to this act of impudence and made all the people speak in different languages so they couldn’t understand each other, thus “scattering them over all the earth.”

According to Art and the Bible: “After the Great Flood, Noah's descendants settled in the lowlands of Sinear, not far from the Euphrates. The spoke a common language and formed a single community. Genesis 11 tells their story: 'And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.' In addition, the tower had to serve as a landmark to keep people together, despite the fact that God had commanded Noah and his sons to 'replenish' the earth (Genesis 9:1). Also, the tower could be used as a safe haven in case of a new flood. [Source: Art and the Bible /*\]

“God looked down upon these industrious souls, and judged that in their ambition they were trying to equal him. So he decided to punish them with the Confusion of Tongues. Since people could no longer understand each other, they were scattered over the earth at last. The site of the event would from that day on be known as Babel, apparently meaning 'confusion'. /*\

“There is evidence that the Tower of Babel actually existed. But in all fairness it was not built as Bruegel thought. Ancient clay tables tell of a ziggurat - a temple tower in the form of a terraced pyramid of successively receding stories. The Marduk ziggurat or Etemenanki was 91 meters in height and set on a 91 x 91 meters base and is believed to have had 7 tiers. Marduk was the main Babylonian god. So it is possible that our Biblical story finds its origin in Mesopotamia, as does the story of the Flood. Destroyed by the Assyrian King Sanherib in 689 BC, the Marduk ziggurat was reconstructed and perfected by the likes of Nebukadnezar II. In 478 BC the ziggurat was demolished again, this time by the Xerxes Persians. The Babylonians named their tower Bab-Iloe, Port of God.

“Jews in the Babylonian captivity must have seen the ziggurat. From cuneiform writings it appears that this tower was built to reach the heavens. To worship an idol in such a monstruous building, and reach for heaven: Jewish priests must have condemned that. Perhaps disgust of the building contributed to the creation of the biblical story of the Tower.” /*\

plan of Babylon

History of the Ziggurat of Babylon

According to UNESCO: “According to the tradition, several attempts were made to build the Tower, lastly by Nebuchadnezzar II. The bulk of the tower was built with unbaked bricks made by mixing chopped straw with clay and pouring the results into moulds. The bricks were joined in the construction by using bitumen, material imported from the Iranian plateau and used widely as a binding and coating material throughout the Mesopotamian plain. Following the fall of Babylon to Cyrus the Great of Persia in 539 BCE, the Tower of Babylon was probably gravely damaged, and left in a state of neglect and abandonment until 331 BCE, when the city was taken by Alexander the Great, who planned to rebuild the tower. At that time, most of the debris were removed in preparation for the reconstruction of the Tower, never actually implemented due to the sudden death of Alexander in Babylon. Babylon was excavated by Robert Koldeway between 1899 and 1917 on behalf of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft. Excavations uncovered substantial remains of the time of the Neo-Babylonian Period including the Esagila and the Tower of Babylon. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Sites, *=*]

Gerald A. Larue wrote in ““The tower of Babel story can be related to the ziggurats or temple towers of Mesopotamia. These huge, man-made mountains of sun-dried brick, faced with kiln-baked brick often in beautiful enamels, rose several hundred feet above the flat plains of Mesopotamia. Used in the worship of the various deities to whom they were consecrated, they seemed to J a fitting symbol of man's arrogant pride. Selecting the ziggurat at Babylon dedicated to Bel-Marduk, J describes the great building project as an attempt of man to invade heaven, which, in Near Eastern thought, was believed to be just above the zenith of the firmament. To thwart human ambitions, Yahweh caused men to speak in different languages, and because men who cannot speak together cannot work together, the project failed. This, J explained, was why mankind, descended from a common ancestor, Noah, spoke different languages. Once again J's delight in puns is demonstrated for God confused ( balel) man's speech at Babel, or as Dr. Moffatt's translation aptly puts it, the place "was called Babylonia" for there God "made a babble of the languages." [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

Evidence of the Tower of Babel?

In May 2017, a professor at the University of London said he had compelling evidence that the Tower of Babel actually existed. Zelda Caldwell wrote in “A stone tablet from the private collection of a Norwegian businessman Martin Schøyen includes the clearest image ever found of the Great Ziggurat of Babylon, according to Andrew George, Professor of Babylonian history at the University of London. The tablet, which has been captured on film for the first time by Smithsonian Magazine, shows an illustration of a pyramid-like structure, with a depiction of King Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled Babylon from 605-562 BC, standing next to it. [Source: Zelda Caldwell,, May 2, 2017 \=\]

“First built around the time of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC), the ziggurat in Babylon was in a serious state of disrepair by the time Alexander I the Great came along, and was taken down in 331 BC. With no evidence to tell us what it actually looked like, until now we have only had, in the words of the Schøyen Collection’s catalog, “a long series of fanciful paintings to rely on.” This tablet, for the first time, gives us a contemporary illustration of the tower; along with an inscription giving us an account of Nebuchadnezzar II’s building plans and the restoration process. \=\

ziggurat of Ur

The Schøyen Collection has documented the translation of the inscription on the tablet, noting that it contains a helpful caption identifying the drawing as: Etemenanki: Zikkurat Babibli: “The House, the Foundation of Heaven and Earth, Ziggurat in Babylon”. The inscription goes on to describe the restoration process: “Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon Am I – in Order to Complete E-temen-anki and E-ur-me-imin-anki I Mobilized All Countries Everywhere, Each and Every Ruler Who Had Been Raised to Prominence over All the People of the World – the Base I Filled in to Make a High Terrace. I Built Their Structures with Bitumen and Baked Brick Throughout. I Completed it Raising its Top to the Heaven, Making it Gleam Bright as the Sun” The illustration of Nebuchadnezzar II shows him “with his royal conical hat, holding a staff in his left hand and a scroll with the rebuilding plans of the Tower (or a foundation nail) in his outstretched right hand.” \=\

Abraham and Lot

After Abraham reached Canaan, he and his men and Lot quarreled over grazing rights. A compromise was worked out in which Abraham told Lot, “Let is part company. If you take the left hand, then I shall go right, and if you take the right hand, I shall go left. Lot headed with his animals to Sodom and Abraham settled in Canaan.” In Chapter 13, Lot heads off for the "the whole plain of Jordan" in which "all of it is well-watered." Archaeologists have discovered evidence of an extensive irrigation system in Jordan that dates back to Abraham's time.

Abraham wandered in the desert with his animals but in time became wealthy, and distinguished himself as a war king and diplomat. After Lot was captured by enemies of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham and his men rescued him during a night time raid.

In Chapter 19, Lot rests at a gateway of Canaanite city with a large chamber where people gathered to hang out, gossip and do business. Many Canaanite cities did possess such a chamber.

After the rescue of Lot, the high priest and king of Canaan gave Abraham wine and bread and declared: “Blessed be Abraham by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, and blessed he God Most High who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Sodom and Gomorrah

Abraham and Lot
God threatened to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because they were so evil. Abraham asked God to spare the cities if ten good men could be found. Ten good men were not found and God carried out his threat by destroying the two cities with fire and brimstone.

Lot was considered a good man and he and his family were warned of God's punishment and allowed to flee before the destruction took place .Lot’s wife disobeyed God’s sole command of not looking back and was turned into a salt pillar, which some say stand near the Dead Sea.

Geologists believe that they have found proof of Sodom and Gomorrah's existence on a peninsula in the Dead Sea that vanished around 1900 B.C. They suggest that the cities were located on soil saturated with bitumen that may have caught fire and liquified during an earthquake Sodom gave birth to the word sodomy and sodomite.

Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot

Genesis 13:10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. 13:11 Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. 13:12 Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. 13:13 But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly. [Source:King James Version of the Bible,]

14:1 And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations; 14:2 That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar. 14:3 All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea. 14:4 Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

14:5 And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, and smote the Rephaims in Ashteroth Karnaim, and the Zuzims in Ham, and the Emins in Shaveh Kiriathaim, 14:6 And the Horites in their mount Seir, unto Elparan, which is by the wilderness. 14:7 And they returned, and came to Enmishpat, which is Kadesh, and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, that dwelt in Hazezontamar.

14:8 And there went out the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;) and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim; 14:9 With Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and with Tidal king of nations, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings with five. 14:10 And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain. 14:11 And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way.

Abraham Rescues Lot

Genesis 14:12 And they took Lot, Abram's brother's son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed. 14:13 And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram. 14:14 And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan. 14:15 And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. [Source: King James Version of the Bible,]

Lot flees Sodom and Gomorrah
14:16 And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people. 14:17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale. 14:18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. 14:19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: 14:20 And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.

14:21 And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself. 14:22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, 14:23 That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: 14:24 Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.

Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

Genesis: 18:20 And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; 18:21 I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. 18:22 And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD. 18:23 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? 18:24 Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? 18:25 That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? 18:26 And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes. [Source: King James Version of the Bible,]

18:27 And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the LORD, which am but dust and ashes: 18:28 Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it. 18:29 And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty's sake. 18:30 And he said unto him, Oh let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there. 18:31 And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the LORD: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty's sake. 18:32 And he said, Oh let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake.

19:1 And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; 19:2 And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night. 19:3 And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat. 19:4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: 19:5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

19:6 And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, 19:7 And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. 19:8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof. 19:9 And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.

19:10 But the men put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door. 19:11 And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door. 19:12 And the men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides? son in law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place: 19:13 For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it.

19:14 And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law. 19:15 And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city. 19:16 And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city. 19:17 And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.

Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

19:18 And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my LORD: 19:19 Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die: 19:20 Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live. 19:21 And he said unto him, See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast 19:22 Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do anything till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar. 19:23 The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar.

19:24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven; 19:25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. 19:26 But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt. 19:27 And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD: 19:28 And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, King James Version of the Bible,, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, , Metropolitan Museum of Art “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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