The Tower of Babel

November 16, 2012

The eleventh chapter of Genesis starts an undetermined amount of time after the flashing of Noah. The people of Earth have spread themselves out and have “one language and few words” (Gen 11.1). Those peoples have settled on a plain and at someone’s suggestion they plan to build a city.

“Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” (Gen 11.4)

Oxford informs me that these ambitious folk have settled in what has been determined as Mesopotamia. The tower they seek to build is supposedly one of the “ziggurats” that was typical in Mesopotamia.

Although I have not read and reported much in the last few months, I have had a few conversations with others regarding the Bible. It has been presented to me that the Bible, or at least parts of it, represent what people centuries ago used to understand the world around them. The various sciences and access to knowledge were not as developed as they are today, so many people had to rationalize their world as best they could. Sometimes this came in the form of seemingly ridiculous stories. Now, I don’t plan on poking holes and making fun of the stories presented in the Bible. However, I do find it interesting that the footnotes provided in my edition are offering scientifically established information to suggest the origins of this story. If there is any truth to the idea that our ancient ancestors were simply trying to understand their world, then there is a sort of irony that we are looking for evidence to support the claims made in the Bible. I guess what I am trying to say is this: The Bible is providing an explanation of why the world is the way it is, while we (modern people) are trying to explain whythe Bible is saying what it is saying about the world. Why don’t we just skip the Bible and explain our world using the information we have today?

Anyway…

Mankind heeds the above suggestion and sets out to build the famed Tower of Babel. It doesn’t take God long to figure out what mankind is up to and He decides to come down and check things out:

“Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Gen 11.6-7)

Wow. Bold move, God. Mankind is just trying to make a name for themselves and He has to show up and ruin everything. I’m having flashbacks to my childhood when some bully would crush my Lego houses, but let’s not make this about me. Not only does God confuse the language of these hapless souls, but He goes on to spread them “over the face of all the earth” (Gen 11.8) Conveniently, the word “Babel” means “gate of God” but it is often translated from the Hebrew word meaning “confuse”. Coincidence? Highly unlikely.

It is interesting that the explanation for the multi-lingual and dispersed people of Earth is a result of God’s assholery. As a result of God’s actions, the story effectively tells us more than just the reason for why people speak different languages. In the passage, God alludes to a certain fear that He has over what mankind is capable of. After all, Adam and Eve gave humans the knowledge of good and evil and all they need now is immortality to be like gods. The imminent threat of humans knocking on heaven’s door, ripe for godliness, is what spurs God (and His subtly mentioned buddies) into action. Although it may not be correct to call God’s emotions “fear”, it seems He is getting a little regretful at making man in His image.

Regardless, it’s probably the last time they ever listen to that guy who suggested the tower in the first place.

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