Testing LJ cut:
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.
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.