The Tower of Babel is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Over the centuries, many suggestions have been made regarding this narrative’s historical or literary origin.
Scientists are inclined to believe that historically, it dates back to the last years of the First Dynasty of Uruk in ancient Sumer. According to Genesis 11, many people settled in the southern plains of the “land of Shinar” immediately after the flood. These are the lands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Thus, the scene and background of the story are the ancient lands of Sumer. But where did history come from?
Nimrod – builder of the Tower of Babel
One may ask who then ruled the state and under whose patronage the Tower of Babel was built. There are some clues in Genesis. More precisely, in the tenth chapter, which precedes the one in which the story of the Tower of Babel is told.
Chapter 10 contains the genealogy of the descendants of the flood hero Noah. One of the most significant people mentioned in this genealogy is the famous Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah, who came from the second generation after the flood. He was the great ruler of Babylon, the very city that is associated with the story of the tower of the same name.
Babylon and confusion
The story of the Tower of Babel is one of the most famous in the Bible. It can even be considered a cult text known for more than just its actual content. After all, history carries many hidden meanings. If you carefully re-read the Bible verses that tell about this, you will notice a lot of very curious things.
- The whole earth had one language and the same words.
- Moving out from the east, they came to a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.
- And they said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and burn them well.” And they had brick instead of stone and bitumen instead of mortar.
- And they said, Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower as high as the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
- The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the people had built.
- And the Lord said, Behold, there is one people, and they all have one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing they are going to do will now be impossible for them.
- Let us go down and confuse their language there so that one does not understand the speech of the other.
- And the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.
- Therefore it is called Babylon because there the Lord confounded the language of all the earth; and from there, the Lord scattered them over all the earth.
Interestingly, the word “Babylon” means “confusion”. The fact that the story is very clearly constructed and well thought out can be seen in any translation. For example, people say “let’s go” twice, but God says once. This balance, more like an imbalance, indicates that the words of the Lord are decisive. He doesn’t repeat twice. Says and does. The obvious fear of people before dispersion strengthens the impression. In the end, that is exactly what happens.
Also very ironic is the “tower to heaven” in the context of the fact that God came down to look at it. Despite these literary features and the high level of literary skill in the story, much remains unsaid.
In this respect, the story is reminiscent of other biblical accounts, which are often rather sparse in narrative detail. The story of the Tower of Babel is full of gaps – noticeable gaps in important information. It doesn’t say what exactly is wrong with the city and the tower that bothered God so much. It is quite obvious that not the height, since he had to go down.
Yet despite this, God immediately declares that this building project is the beginning of something blatantly threatening (verse 6). Something is obviously wrong with the tower, or rather with the city (verse 8), but no one really understands what it is.
So what was wrong?
There are similar gaps throughout the Bible. There are a lot of unsaid things in it. Only a very attentive reader can reveal them and fill them with meaning. The story of the Tower of Babel is no exception. Although the narrative does not directly state what the problem is, this did not prevent finding it. For example, in the Old Testament Apocrypha, the Book of Jubilees, it is written that people built a tower in order to “climb up into heaven” (Jub. 10:19).
Another Apocrypha – the Book of Baruch, goes even further and says that people not only wanted to ascend to heaven, but also wanted to pierce it. In other words, start a war against heaven and God. Similar interpretations can be found in the Babylonian Talmud, in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, and in one of the very ancient Aramaic translations of Genesis.
Such interpretations are not outlandish. Early interpreters also based their conclusions on Biblical texts. Therefore, the war with Heaven may well be the reason, since something similar is described in the story of Nimrod. According to the story from that Genesis, he was a proud, arrogant and sinful person. Evil and deceit were not alien to him. Legends speak of him as a giant who was not submissive to God. It is to him that, according to the Apocrypha, the idea of building a tower “to the sky” and “storming the heavens” belongs.
This interpretation is very similar to the truth, but there are other interpretations. God’s judgment indicates that there was a problem, and it consisted indirectly in the fact that in the text, there is a hint of human pride. It sounds like people wanted to “make a name for themselves”. Although further, the Bible repeatedly talks about the heroes who made a name for themselves. That is, to say that such a desire is definitely bad, it is impossible.
The second moment of the story is connected with fear. God ordered it to be scattered all over the face of the earth, but people do not want this. Moreover, it is incredibly scary for them. There is no place for pride and arrogance, humanity hid, fearing a new big world. What an assault on heaven yet! And here again, the question arises: what is sinful then?
The explanation is quite simple according to experts – this is not a punishment. God simply allowed people to do what He commanded them to do. That is, dispersion is not the judgments of God, but his help. Depriving people of fear. He mixed languages, and people stopped understanding each other. Willy-nilly, humanity scattered over the face of the earth. It is done.
Why people are different, and that’s good
Curiously, the story of the Tower of Babel can be seen in the light of the call for diversity. People received new languages, dispersed, and became completely different peoples. God desires people to be united in some matters and welcomes their differences in others. All people are different in appearance, language, tastes and political preferences, but no matter how trite it sounds, they are all brothers, according to the Bible.
God wants mankind to be brotherly-loving so that each one respects the other. Therefore, it is not so significant whether the remains of this notorious Tower of Babel were found or not. Where was it, when was it… There is only one message: people should always remain people!