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Babel Impuzzlement | XI |

The root passage in Genesis 11 has not yet been discussed. 

Testing LJ cut:

Genesis 11

   1And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

   2And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

   3And 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 morter.

   4And 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.

   5And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.

   6And 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.

   7Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

   8So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

   9Therefore 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.


Seems to be working!  A new toy discovered thanks to the pithy digressions of joculum.  Ah, so much to learn about online formatting, so little time.

There must have been many novels written specifically about the Babel Tower.  Byatt's novel is about the sixties, not about biblical times.  I just note here that the nine verses are nearly chapter headings for a novel, although I would likely take a chapter total to 12 or 13 chapters, or do 30 mini-chapters covering the same ground.

Taken literally the bible passage has the same opportunities for humor that other passages in Genesis afford.  A lot of the story is glossed by quickly in the phrase: "thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth."  There is a physical suggestion to that-- picked up perhaps by various whirlwinds and removed?  Or, the confounding of the language being miracle enough, a more pragmatic approach would be the use of signs.  "If you can read this sign, follow the red arrows to Asia."

For the rational student of myths, it seems obvious that the writers of the bible needed an explanation for why there are so many different languages in the world, if the bible story of creation is the true story.  In true KISS fashion, the explanation comes in 9 verses.

However, there is no mention of how many different languages resulted, or a specific number of relocations.  Right after the Tower episode a serious amount of "begatting" goes on, but the topic of the language of those "begat" remains a mystery.   Perhaps there was a general period of confusion during which languages slowly re-evolved?  Perhaps "begat" was the only word still in universal use for the next thousand years or so?

I find it hard to see the confusion of language as a blessing, and even harder to imagine how the building of  a city and tower with the vision of a unified world could be so sinful as to deserve such a curse.  When one thinks of the suffering and bloodshed that has resulted through cultural and religious wars...  Perhaps it all goes back to some rule that we will never be allowed to regain Eden?  Any promising attempt toward a perfect world must be divinely pre-empted. 

But I wonder then why the Chinese did not start off worshiping the Lord of the Old Testament?  Was it so, but just too far back to be recorded?  The languages may have been confounded, but how did the religion become lost too? Many questions un-answered, as always in any text.

A final remark as a distantly linked Native American:  The European conquest of America brought with it an
attempted  "reversal"  of the Tower of Babel story, but hopefully, the various languages will survive it.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 24th, 2009 06:34 pm (UTC)
Interesting, it never occurred to me that there could be another interpretation of the confusion of languages as anything else than a curse. God's reaction here is in my view quite similar to the expulsion from Eden. These acts are less a punishment than a cautionary measure, lest Man became too God-like.
Jan. 24th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
It's very odd that God would create man "in his own image" and then get bent out of shape whenever man attempts to be "like Him." It seems to point to some vulnerability or underlying insecurity. But I would attribute it as a projection of the characteristics of known rulers at the time of the writing.

I would also imagine genetic research right now is being watched closely from above.
Jan. 25th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
A lot of times, God certainly looks and feels very human, to the point that you can almost see him and smell him,walking with the patriarchs in the good old days.
I don't know if this idea is original, probably not, but it occurs to me that the story of the tower works perfectly as a metaphorical explanation for the fruitlessness of our pursuit of an universal science. The tower would be The Science, which, once developed, would put Man, like the fruit of the tree of knowledge, on par with God; The confusion of tongues, literally, a device to stop man from achieving the goal. And as a corollary, it would also be a pretty neat explanation of why modern science is riddled with ambiguity, incompleteness and uncertainty; God put them there a that time, but since no one knew what it all meant, that part of the story didn't make it into the records. I just hope no creationists are reading this.
Jan. 25th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
I think that is right-- in the lesson of the Tower, science is certainly over-stepping, and perhaps, thus its findings are confounded(and God created "Uncertainty" physics as well). I have always been irked by sci-fi movies that seem to take a position that the scientists are "misguided" and their work must be destroyed, often with a religious argument at the base. Jules Verne may have started that conflict in print, but it is plain for anyone to see that the conflict would occur. Even in Sagan's Contact, the conflict has to be addressed, though he tries to show that we are in an infantile state of knowledge. Why are so few human responses to the unknown possessed of hope and an open-minded approach? No conflict, no story, would be my guess.
Jan. 24th, 2009 08:14 pm (UTC)
After a little looking about, refreshing my memory as a not-regular-bible-reader, I find that much of the issues concerning the Tower come in Chapter 10.

Further, it seems a consensus that the tower builders were in direct conflict with God's admonition "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth" as set forth in Chapter 9.

Also found some clarifying points on http://www.crystalinks.com
I am quoting from her blog having been able to find no guideline as to whether or not this is permitted by her.

"Despite the bleak future of Babel, God had promised Himself never to destroy the Earth with a flood again due to the disobedience of mankind (Gen. 8:20-22). God also made a covenant with Noah, his descendants and "every living creature," that He would never again destroy the Earth with a flood. Genesis 9:8-17 affirms that the rainbow serves as a personal reminder to God of His covenant.

"Accordingly, God separated the people to different lands and languages to frustrate their self-destructive plans. Determined to stay faithful to His covenant, this was God's only merciful alternative in response to the tower. If the people were punished, it was a light affliction administered. The reproof was quite mild compared to the prior worldwide flood (Gen. 7:21-23). Similarly, the rebuke of God at Babel hardly parallels the subsequent fiery obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24-30).

"Although at a casual glance this rebellion appears benign, it has been demonstrated that this autonomous or self-governing spirit would likely prove to be self-destructive. Willmington points out that the first person plural pronouns "us" and "we" occur no less than 5 times in this King James Version rendering of one sentence:

"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 (Gen. 11:4) (50).

"Nowhere in the entire passage referring to the Tower of Babel is there found the slightest indication that the builders considered God's will in their plans. The Bible goes to great lengths to confirm God's disdain for society's self-ruling ecumenical pursuits. The Psalmist writes of God's intervention into the affairs of humanity:

"The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples (Psalm 33:10 NAS)."

Edited at 2009-01-24 08:25 pm (UTC)
Jan. 25th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
Although I have not determined bible references, there is also a thread of dogma that all false beliefs had their origins in Babylon.

So, the nations were divided and must stay that way unless God chooses to unite them? And how would we know? I suppose by the miraculous nature of the event? We are "Waiting for the Miracle" like in the Leonard Cohen song-- and it would indeed be miraculous no matter how it got here.

I suppose that Rotarians (I am one), most of them deeply devout (but I am not one of those) must be quite conflicted. Apparently the millions they put into freeing the world of polio, the hands-on help to start clinics, to dig wells, to educate the poor, to conduct the largest cultural exchange program in the world-- those things must all be bad, huh? And to top that, Rotary was the shining example used when designing the United Nations. And of course, the United Nations is seen by many as New Babylon, the most recent unlearning of the Tower Lesson.

Jan. 25th, 2009 07:02 pm (UTC)
The Tower of Babel and the Confusion of Tongues is one of the most misunderstood accounts in the Old Testament. This misunderstanding leads to claims that the account is purely mythical. But this is not true. It was a real event. An objective reading of the biblical text (and modern clinical experiments) explain what really happened. God did not change the languages of man. Check out

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Cydonia photo: ESA

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