About the tower of babel

So i was on reddit and i came across a post (https://www.reddit.com/r/HistoryMemes/comments/tfcuvd/god_really_has_tricked_us_all/?utm_medium=android_app&utm_source=share) regarding the tower of babel and i saw the usual “god is petty” or “god is a jerk” in regards to the tower of babel story, but what i am concerned about is wether or not the tower really existed and as to how the story should be interpreted. Should the story be interpreted as metaphorical or literal, maybe half anf half?

Thanks in advance!


Lots of questions about that one too. Just a few short verses:
11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone,and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens,so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth,and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scatteredthem over the face of the whole earth.

When I read it, the first question I have is “Who is this ‘us’ that you are referring to?” Then, I note that it is interesting that while we commonly read it that the languages are first confused, then the people scattered due to the confusion, the text really does not explicitly say that. It says the people were scattered in verse 8, and the latter verse states the languages were confused, which is actually pretty accurate in describing how languages develop. People scatter due to war, famine, drought, etc. and their languages diverge after seperation. And again, this is centered on the whole world of Isreal, not saying the Mayan and Australian aboriginal language derived from a middle Eastern origin.

Perhaps that is reading too much into the story, however. It is sort of reading linguistic concordance into the text. My feeling is that it is not particularly historical (though may have some truth in it reflecting the recogonition of ancient people that languages have common roots) but is more a story telling of the danger of pride and arrogance. Christian nationalists, take heed.


Being on the edge between the pre-history and historical portions of Genesis I have always thought the story was half and half. The tower was probably a ziggurat, remains of which would have been known by the author.



[Plus eleven more characters to finish the minimum of the post.]

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I see these as two different questions. Setting the historical question aside, the literary-theological significance of the text includes its placement at the end of Gen 1-11 and as a precursor to Abraham in ch. 12. On one hand (reading it as the [anti-]climax of Gen 1-11), it demonstrates the spread of sin (since ch. 3) to refuse to fulfill the cultural mandate of 1:28 and to trust YHWH. Behind this also is the 3rd of three divine rebellions (chs. 3; 6:1-4; 11)–see Michael Heiser on the divine council (e.g., here and here). But Gen 4-11 is also about the spread of God’s grace. This can be seen in God “forcing” humanity to get in step with the cultural mandate.

On the other hand (connecting to Gen 12), notice that God’s election and covenant with Abraham, which is the divine answer/solution to the human sin problem, contrasts with fallen human’s attempt to control the world. For example, while humans wanted to make a name for themselves (11:4), God chooses to make Abraham’s name great (12:2) as a conduit to universal blessing (12:3). There are other textual connections like this.

When confronting difficult scientific and/or historical questions (which can’t be ignored ultimately, at least by evangelicals like me), I find it helpful to sideline those for the moment and to focus on the literary and theological questions. To me, that’s where the “good stuff” is. And, it allows me to converse with those who may land at a different place on the scientific and historical issues.


All stories are carriers of meaning. Nothing in Genesis is literal.

That rather b@ggers the birth of Israel as a people and Nation.

Is everything all or nothing?

Perhaps Genesis is not one book with one author? And perhaps each section (story?) should be taken on its own merit? And then work out why they have been placed together, and in this order.
Then, having done all that, perhaps we should consider what the purpose of the Bible is and how Genesis fits into the compilation.

It is so easy to be dismissive.


As usual. I take the story as historical as possible. No this not about the entire homo sapiens species. The species is already scattered over the earth. This is about the effects of God’s communication with Adam and Eve and how it changed people for better and worse.

If one is inclined to blame God for everything, then it is better not believe God exists. In that regard the stories of the flood and the tower of Babel serve God’s purpose well. Otherwise one might pay closer attention to the stories and ask yourself what it means for the thoughts of mankind to be only evil continuously and what kind of world is that describing. And I think the most significant thing about the Tower of Babel story is that it immediately follows the flood and what is happening should be understood in that context. So when God says “and this is only the beginning of what they will do”, it is because they are following an established pattern… the one that led to the flood. Not wanting another flood, God intervened before it reached such a point. You can tell God’s principle concern by how He intervened.

I don’t think the tower itself is of any great significance. Whether it existed or not, it represented the same kind of unified culture God saw before the flood and God knew that nothing good would come of it. To avoid the previous disaster God fell back on one of His oldest strategies that we see in evolution – that of competition. Different cultures and nations in competition with each other would limit the evil they could stoop to without be crushed by the competition.

Well why didn’t God do that to start with? Why is cultural diversity a second choice rather than God’s first choice? Because of war – nasty business and some might think it is the greatest of evils. But it is not. There is worse. Worse than the evils of war is a singular human culture where the thoughts of human beings are only evil continuously.

Methinks you are overcooking this and getting burnt.

You appear to be telling us what God thought. Mistake number 1 (see Job)
You appear to be telling us why God does something. Mistake number 2 (also Job)

You appear to be accepting not only the notion of how language diversified but that it was somehow necessary? Yet when someone tries to convince you of a similar view of a scientific fact you shout them down!

Why should it concern God at all!

Do you really think God could be threatened by Humanity in any shape or form? And besides, why are you accepting any concept of God being in the sky? (the concept behind the tower)


Why should what happens in the lives of children concern their parents at all!

sarcasm font.

Nope. Thus all this nonsense about sin being an offense against God is just hogwash.

Huh? Where are you getting that nonsense from? Certainly not from me! I am the one saying the existence of the tower is of little importance to the meaning of the story. Or is it you who think God is in the sky and thus we should be focusing on the tower? Otherwise your comments are not making any sense.

We appear to be misunderstanding each other. I never said that either.

SIn is either doing evil or disobedience to God (depending on your view of Genesis 3-4.)

The fact that you are treating this story with any sense of historic reality.

I am sorry but both Noah and the tower have some theological significance but neither holds water in reality. There may have been a local flood, and there are equivalent stories in some other cultures, but in terms of physics alone, there is not enough water on the planet to cover the whole world and there was not enough technology to build what amounts to a skyscraper.


Indeed. That is what your responses demonstrate. I cannot understand why you talk about God being threatened by humanity, and I didn’t understand why you were talking about God in the sky after I said the tower was not important for the meaning of the story. It seems you read just a phrase and jump to wild conclusions that don’t make any sense if you just finish reading what I said.

I am aware of what you said and I never claimed that you said such a thing. I was just demonstrating that I do not think humanity threatens God in any way – quite the opposite.

Well that explains one of your non-sequiturs. But that is like jumping from a statement that George Washington existed to a claim that he chopped down a cherry tree. Worse than that is ignoring a following statement that this does not mean he chopped down such a tree.

And that is like jumping from the story of the cherry tree to the conclusion that George Washington didn’t exist!

Of course it was a local flood. Because like I said the meaning of the word “earth” has changed. There was no conception in the Bible of the earth as a globe. It is described as a table which means the “earth” of the Bible is only a small section of the globe.

But just because blindly literal treatments of Genesis 1-11 is nonsensical doesn’t mean we have to go the opposite extreme and turn them into some vague unknowable metaphor. Like I said above, I go for the maximum meaning and I see that in a real Adam and Eve – not as the only homo sapiens on the planet (which doesn’t even agree with the Bible), nor with magical fruit or talking animals. But still as real people with various mythical elements added to the story just like we see with so many other people such as George Washington and Saint Nicholas. And likewise with a real Noah and flood wiping out the first human civilization. In this way a scientist CAN take these stories seriously – no problem.

You know… REAL metaphors work because to take them seriously enough to examine the logic of the story. And that is why I think this babble about metaphors is really nothing but an excuse to dismiss the stories as completely meaningless. Nothing I have said in any way precludes taking it as a metaphor after all. You can still say none of it really happened but that it is making a point about how a singular culture united in evil can be a far worse reality than cultural diversity and war. But it is so much easier to just say “metaphor” and thus completely stop thinking altogether.

Rather than bust you up I will just concentrate on what is a Real metaphor?

You appear to be claiming that the stories are either real or irrelevant? So, because the science doesn’t work we are inventing an excuse for the inclusion of the narratives?

At this point, we might defer to the thread about the purpose of the Bible.

That aside you would appear to have a rather pompous opinion of what is or is not a valid metaphor (and, in my opinion your cherry tree fell down)

The bible is not interpreted to accommodate science or scientists. That may be your reson d’etre but it certainly isn’t mine (or the church as a whole)

And if you are going to take Adam and Eve as any sort of real people you have started down a particular route of interpretation. You want to walk down on the fence between myth and reality and claim it is the only reasonable solution? If it is a myth then there is no need for any of it to be real.


I don’t think it’s historical at all.

I believe the point of the story is basically the same as with a Adam’s story. The humans wanted to be like god and dwell among the gods by their own accord and were struck down. We see a similar fable throughout almost all faiths. Humans trying to elevate themselves to a god like status. From Frankenstein wanting to create his new creation, to the witch that casts to strong of a spell to even possibly the belief that technology will be what stops us from destroying ourselves instead of emotional intelligence and willingness to make smarter greener choices.

I also think through Gods all knowing he was also setting up the gospel. I mentioned before but will share again anyways in this thread.

Some of the key events I see surrounding the story of the tower is mankind trying to force their way to God and were scattered and turned into many people with many languages. In acts 2 we see God and head of the kingdom of heaven coming down to earth. The word made flesh and coming to earth. We see in acts also that the gift of speaking in tongues fell into the apostles and they were heard in many languages. Those thst believed and were baptized were added to the body. So now we were seeing God bringing everyone back to communication and as one people who belong to one tribe, the tribe of Christ.

There are many who see Acts 2 as a direct counterpoint to the story of Babel. Theologically it works


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Yes the great sin of the pagan religions was hubris. It was a fixture of a class society that one should not pretend to be greater than ones station. And this harping on the sin of hubris was more often a reminder to the highest classes that even they needed some humility.

Times have certainly changed and we don’t accept the dictates of a class society any more… so that meaning has fallen somewhat to the wayside. On the other hand, the sin of pride remains even with all the class society parts of it removed. And while it is true that mankind has learned and achieved what those in the past never thought possible, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any limits at all. So the message essentially remains intact. It is not like the Bible was saying we dare not accomplish anything, but only that we should accept that we are not the creator of the universe and we do have limits.

The account is history.
After the flood the people were supposed to spread out and populate the world but instead they settled en masse (or at least a large group) at Babel where once again they became vain and followed their own way instead of obeying God.
“Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves;”. It wasn’t that the tower could reach heaven, rather it was the attitude of the builders that offended God.
Then the Lord said "Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”. Obviously families still needed to communicate so the new languages were probably at a clan level so that the population was divided into smaller but still viable groups. Linguists are puzzled by the existence and origin of twenty or so language families in the world today. These could have all have appeared at Babel.

No they couldn’t. In what way are linguists puzzled? The Gunditjmara people have been speaking a language for at least 33,000 years and therefore easily twice that ancestrally in Australia alone. 30,000 years before the Babel myth is set. Language arose at least 80,000 years ago in Africa, whence the Australian Aboriginals’ ancestors left 75,000 years ago.

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