Tower of Babel: Fact or Fiction?

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Published on The Burning Platform on September 20, 2013

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PROLOGUE

Along with The Arky Arky and the Great Flood, the Tower of Babel is one of the best known bible stories.

But it is famous beyond its ACTUAL content … a mere 236 words (in English). Yet, the story has come to mean much more than its actual words. For example, the idea that God is so afraid of tall brick structures that he has to create multiple languages to keep people from becoming too smart for their own good.

Most have at least a vague idea of what the story is about, or at least know the name “Babel”. But, let’s take a look at the entire brief text. I will follow-up with my usual outrageous observations.

============================================
THE BIBLICAL TEXT — GENESIS 11:1-9
“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 morter. 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 of men 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.”

============================================

BACKGROUND

The Babel story is a great example why a literal interpretation of many OT stories makes no sense whatsoever. A literal interpretation makes a mockery of science, tortures logic, and detracts from the author’s actual spiritual meaning (if any) he intended to impart.

Genesis is a narrative dealing with “beginnings,” as its title indicates. It records the beginning of the universe, plant life, animal life, and even mankind. Hence, one is tempted to apply a literal interpretation that the primary lesson of the Babel passage is the record of how human beings began to speak different languages. This is incorrect, as you will soon see.

That being said, “Babel” may very well be a story of beginnings. The city “Babel,” is the same exact term used of “Babylon” elsewhere in the Bible. Indeed, the Tower was built in Mesopotamia, not Israel. So, more than just a possible explanation for the confusion of languages, it may also function as the etymology of “Babylon” …. the very same Babylonian empire that would wreak tremendous havoc on Israel in sixth century B.C.E. … and the very same Babylon called a “Whore” in Revelation, representing all that is evil, and ultimately destroyed.

Before I get into specifics, it is worth mentioning the origin of the word “Babel”. Strong’s Concordance says the word means “confusion”. That may be true regarding the meaning, but that’s not its etymology. In Hebrew “el” is a name for God … any God, actually. In Ezekiel — “I am el (God), in the seat of elōhîm (Gods). The Hebrews called God El-shaddai (God almighty), ImmanuEL (God with us), and dozens of other “el-” names. The Miriam Webster dictionary gives the following etymology — “Middle English, from Hebrew Bābhel, from Akkadian bāb-ilu, gate”. So, what is Babel? Literally, the Gate of God. So, is it the city that’s called Babel because that’s where God “came down” … as the text says? Or, was the actual tower the people were constructing the “gate of God” … their attempt to “reach to heaven”, or more likely, their attempt to provide a means for God to come down? The text is not clear. So, we’ll leave as interesting speculation.

THE MYTH OF A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

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

A literal interpretation presents problems right from the get go. That’s because there has NEVER been One Universal Language spoken by all humanity. However, I don’t wish to debate philology. A fine overview of the origin of languages is here; — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_language

Rather, I am much more interested in the status of human language AT THE TIME referred to by the text. Scholars diverge wildly regarding the possible date the Tower of Babel could have been built – anywhere from 3500BC – 2500BC. So, let’s take the earliest possible date (3500BC) and briefly examine the archaeological evidence.

I need only one example. Spirit Cave in Thailand is a stratified site showing human occupation from BEFORE 5000 B.C. We do not know what language they were speaking in what is now Thailand …. but we can be darn sure it was not Sumerian, or Hebrew. Also, an archaeological dig in Pakistan revealed trident-shaped writing on fragments of pottery dating even further back at 5,500 years BC. Pretty sure they weren’t speaking Sumerian or Hebrew either. There, I gave you two examples.

The fact of the matter is the writer of Genesis 11 was oblivious to the existence of the Far East, Australia, the Americas, and pretty much the rest of the world beyond a few hundred miles of his locale. . Had he been aware of these lands, the peoples, and their cultures … which existed AT THE SAME TIME as when The Tower was built …. then he would have had a much better understanding regarding the history of language, and he would NEVER have said “.. the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech”.

Furthermore … and quite significantly … the previous chapter in Genesis, Gen: 10, seems to completely contradict the Babel story. Gen 10 is known as the “Table of Nations”. It lists all the nations that derived from Noah’s sons (Shem, Ham and Japheth) after the flood; Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, dozens of other “ites” and even including Egypt and …. Babylon. No one in their right mind would suggest that ancient Egypt and ancient Babylon spoke the same language. We have written texts from both areas to prove otherwise. So,now we have at least two languages. Of much, much greater significance is the fact that the Bible itself states that once dispersed …. these people spoke “after their tongues”! Let’s be clear about this; the Bible states people spoke in unique tongues BEFORE the construction of the Tower.

Either the author of Chapter 11 was being redundant at best (an unlikely repetition in Chapter 11 of what was just reviewed in Chapter 10), or much more likely, he didn’t know that God ALREADY dispersed the nations … each speaking after their own tongues. That’s quite a conundrum for literalists.

GOD GETS ALL PARANOID, ONCE AGAIN

“ And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower … 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,”

1)- God says, “let US go down”. Who is this “us”?? Some folks say it is a figure of speech; such as when a British Royal Queen refers to herself as “we”. Unfortunately, there was no British royalty back then … and the royalty that did exist simply didn’t talk that way. But most Christians say God was talking to Jesus in his pre-incarnate form .. cuz Jeebus existed before he was born. I don’t know how to debate time-travel fantasies, so I won’t. The more logical explanation is that the ancient Jews, before they developed monotheism, believed in multiple Gods. Even Abraham’s father worshipped multiple Gods, and almost certainly Abraham was raised by his own father to do likewise (until he didn’t). Many years later, perhaps decades, Rachel was caught hiding the “household idols” inside her camel’s saddle. Then after the Jews escaped Egpyt, one of their first acts was to construct and worship a Golden Calf. However Christians want to interpret this. The fact of the matter is that early Judaism adopted very many of the Gods they left behind, they believed in multiple Gods, amd monotheism actually took centuries to fully develop.

2)- Why does an omniscient, omnipotent God need to “come down” to see anything?? And, where exactly is he coming down from? Does he walk, or take a bus? Theologians call this anthropomorphism; “the attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being, such as a God.”. These attributions must be made because no one has ever seen this OT God. Moses came closest, and even then, he only saw God’s “backside” … literally, “ass”. Who said there’s no humor in the Bible? “Anthropomorphism” is just a way of saying; “We make our Gods in MAN’S image.” Have you ever noticed that Western Gods behave just like humans? Especially the Greek and Roman Gods with all their fornication and backstabbing and jealousy and murder. And the OT God who laughs, cries, repents, has massive bouts of anger so much so that he has attempted to wipe out the human race, is often driven to jealous rage, and suffers from severe bouts of paranoid insecurity. We “anthropomorphize” deities because the more the Gods become like men, the easier it is for men to believe in the Gods.

3) Regarding paranoia in the Tower of Babel story —- why would an omnipotent God be so damn afraid of humans [supposedly] speaking one language? Why is he so afraid of humans building a structure that is, at best, about 300 feet high? Why didn’t he strike dead the builders of One World Trade Center who just completed a 1,776 foot skyscraper? Why is God afraid of technological progress? Does God REALLY believe that by having one language that “NOTHING” will be “impossible” for mankind? The implication being that puny finite mankind can (will) overthrow an all-powerful eternal God …. unless their language be confounded. Isn’t this idea just beyond silly, and indicative of massive paranoia?

And this isn’t the first time God exhibited his paranoia. He freaked out when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit …. fearing that mankind is “now like us”. (There’s that ‘us’ again.) Really?? Humans are now like God because they ate some fruit? Shortly thereafter God freaked out again … afraid that Adam and Eve might eat from a tree that would give them eternal life, so he had an angel with a flaming sword drive them out of the Garden to prevent that. Another time God was so freaked out over man’s wickedness that he sent a Great Flood to wipe out all but eight people from the face of the earth …. you know, because this all-powerful God was totally powerless to influence humanity. There are dozens more stories in the OT where God freaks out, and when God freaks out, humans die. A strange and paranoid God.

HOW DID GOD PULL THIS OFF?

Almost always in the reading of God’s miracles, they are almost always simply accepted at face value. The reasoning being that God is All-Powerful, and therefore He can do anything He wants. So, when the Bible states that the planet Earth stopped spinning, or the sun stood still, (so that Joshua could kill more Amorites), well, not one in a hundred Christian readers stops to ask themselves “how in the hell is that even possible without the earth exploding into space in a million fragments?” “More miracles” is the only possible response. But that answers absolutely nothing. Such cop-out explanations are akin to the Hindu idea that the elephant holds up the earth. Someone asks, “What holds up the elephant?” Answer: Another elephant. And so on, ad infinitum, ad absurdum.

So, exactly how did God pull this off? Did folks suddenly and immediately in the blink of an eye start speaking, for example, German? Were they suddenly able to pronounce “umlauts” and that crazy “ch” sound? Did they suddenly and immediately understand the nuances of the German language and realize that one can now end a sentence with a verb? Did they suddenly wear Lederhosen? Language is in the brain, of course, so did God have to “rewire” each and every person’s brain, from 5 year olds to 100 year olds? Key question; did they forget their original language … or were they bilingual, in which case, of course, the people would all STILL have a common language! Lol

WAS CONFOUNDING LANGUAGE A GOOD IDEA?

It doesn’t seem that confounding human language was all that brilliant. SAME language / culture unites … MULTICULTURALISM divides. It is significant to note that up to this point in biblical history, man had not fought against his fellow man other than in conflicts between individuals. There had been no mention of wars, no racial strife, no religious bigotry, no patriotic blood baths. Man had no reason to gang up and attack other groups of men. At that time, man was not at war with his fellow man and all men communicated freely in one tongue. It was this free communication which God knew he must put an end to if he planned on keeping men enslaved. Brilliant!

IS GOD BIPOLAR?

I ask this because thousands of years later in the New Testament book of Acts (2:1-11), God has a totally different agenda. This agenda is the antithesis of Babel … ONE language. This is the narrative. Believers were all in one place and of one accord (just like in Babel). The story even uses the word “confounded”, but for a different reason. This time after having received the Holy Spirit, the apostles preach … and men of diverse languages hear the sermon IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGES. Back in Babel the plan was to separate people, and now in Acts we’re seeing the exact opposite; a great re-integration. Bad one time. Good the next time. I wish God would make up His mind.

It seems that God’s primary reason for “coming down” was not necessarily the Tower structure itself – that was merely the means to an end — but because the people of Babel wanted to “make a name for ourselves”. But, in the very next chapter it is God himself who makes Abraham’s name great. King David spends a good portion of his life making a name for himself (2 Sam 8:13) without any negative repercussions or divine reprisals. It can be really hard to figure out what God really believes / wants.

WHAT LESSON CAN WE LEARN FROM THE TOWER OF BABEL?

Are we really supposed to believe that the Builders of the tower were motivated by building a structure that could reach heaven? How stupid would that be? They built the thing on “the PLAINS of Shinar”. A FLAT plain. There were MOUNTAINS nearby which would have given them a few thousand feet head start. Lol Are we to believe that they thought they could build a structure higher than a mountain? If they really wanted to reach the heavens, wouldn’t they have built the tower on the nearest high mountain? Yes. So, there must have been a different motivation … one we will never know. However, I can speculate on what the writer of the Babel story intended.

We can all certainly agree that the end result in the Tower story is one of division (one of God’s specialties). Let’s take a very brief look at one other major example in how God divides. OK. So, God chooses one race to his people … creating Judaism in the process. God later sends a Messiah to create a second division of his people …. creating Christianity in the process. God then chooses another guy, Mohammed, to create a third division of his people …. creating Islam in the process. And don’t tell me it wasn’t God who did all this. You should know that for ALL three of these divisions, God used the angel Gabriel as the messenger. Of course, these divisions have resulted in the longest and bloodiest conflicts in human history … which continue to this very day.

So, what are we to make of all this?

The 16th century philosopher, Machiavelli, may be able to help understand what is going on. Machiavelli described how a third party could manipulate two other parties … and maintain control over them both. It works like this;

—– 1) The Ruler creates a division amongst the people.

—– 2) The Ruler does this by creating conditions which accentuate the differences between groups. This causes conflict, and so the groups fight amongst themselves rather than against the ruler.

—– 3) The Ruler hides that HE is the cause of the conflicts, going so far as to feign innocence.

—– 4) The Ruler then offers support to ALL parties involved, thus maintaining their loyalty and faith in him.

—– 5) The Ruler is now viewed as The Beneficial One – Machiavelli uses the term “concerned parent” — no matter how bad and evil The Ruler might be in reality. After all, ONLY The Ruler can help bring everyone back together. There is a steep cost, of course. Many will suffer. Few will benefit. But, no one will ever blame The Ruler … which is just the way he likes it.

Now, am I saying that God is some type of Machiavellian monster? No. But, I am saying that that’s how the writers of Scripture often portray Him. Some may not want to hear this, but I am 100% convinced that the various authors of Scripture had no clue whatsoever that they were writing Scripture. There was no voice from heaven thundering “Hezekiah! Grab a pen. Let’s write some Scripture!”. They had no clue that the words they penned would take hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years to be considered “The Word of God” … and even then, only by a fatally flawed procedure of humans voting. The Ancient Sages had even less of a clue as to how the world works, human psychology and all that, but that didn’t stop them from trying to explain it.

So they wrote stuff, lots of stuff … some of it eventually became God’s Word … based on their observations and very limited knowledge. I imagine some smart (at the time) guy trying to explain to the people how multiple languages came into being, so he fabricates a story that at one time all humanity spoke just one language (a blatant misconception). No one apparently knew better, so people believed it. They believed it for so long, that even when the truth of the matter was made know … people STILL believed it. That, my friends, is the power of propaganda, believing the temporary lie until it becomes permanent truth. So, people have a choice to make. For me, the Tower of Babel story is an interesting piece of ancient literature. Nothing more.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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