The Tower of Babel

How are we to understand the Tower of Babel? Type of literature, location, date, relationship to ziggurats, relationship to multiplicity of languages, etc?

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Here are some various threads from the past of the forum:

Lots to skim through, what do you think @Steelewires?

You are absolutely right regarding a connection to ziggurats, much like Jacob’s Ladder. To me, the use of this distinctly Mesopotamian structure indicates that this might have something to do with The Exile and the might and pride of Babylon, and how Yahweh would come to judge the foreign oppressor and scatter its people. After all, Babylon was famed for its titanic and ancient Temple to Marduk, Etemenanki. What do you make of this?

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Various dates for the construction of the ziggurats have been proposed, from about 6,000 BC to about 2,000 BC. It has also been suggested that the Tower of Babel account in Genesis 11 chronologically took place before the descendants of the sons of Noah in chapter 10. I don’t see how this can be. Where in chapter 10 would the Tower story be placed? No clue is given in the text as to the date of the events. Some think it’s an origin myth to explain why there are so many languages. Others think it is an account of historical events. My view is that it is interpreted history.

We need to remember that we are dealing with literature, and that there is a literary reason for the account of the building of the Tower being placed where it is. It seems like a parenthesis in the tracing of the lines of descent from Noah.

The story moves from 10:31 " These were the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands, according to their nations." (v32 being a summary of what went before) to the story of the Tower. It then returns to the descendants of Shem. This culminates in the introduction of Abraham.

So, why the parenthesis which is the account of the Tower? It contrasts the building up to bring God down with God revealing Himself to Abraham.

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Aye, it’s all part of establishing identity as a second rate power by the Jewish priestly class.

This was interesting from George Brooks in one of the threads @pevaquark posted:

Sumerian parallel
"There is a Sumerian myth similar to that of the Tower of Babel, called Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, where Enmerkar of Uruk is building a massive ziggurat in Eridu and demands a tribute of precious materials from Aratta for its construction, at one point reciting an incantation imploring the god Enki to restore (or in Kramer’s translation, to disrupt) the linguistic unity of the inhabited regions…"

That is the first thing I would look for, comparison to other ANE mythology. In no way do I personally read the story of the Tower of Babel and get the sense I am reading history. But I haven’t looked too deeply into many commentaries yet. Looks like an etiology for languages and also an attempt to brach the firmament to me.


Care to elaborate on what “interpreted history” means to you?


Sources? There may have been raised platforms early in that time range but real ziggurat building date from around 3,000 BCE (or 2,200 BCE sources seem to differ) into about the time of the Babylonian exile (~500BCE)

I think that the Flood was local, the Hebrew word being used to mean both “the world” and “the land”. I think in the light of geology and archaeology, it means the land in Genesis. So the scattering of the nations people refers to the peoples of the Ancient Near East. By calling the story interpreted history, i mean to convey that it may be an event that took place over many years, and should not be read as an instant event. God’s working out of His purposes for His people are historical workings, which leads me to believe that this is history, but not the kind that could be filmed frame by frame.

I regret that I cannot find the reference that dates the Tower to 6,000 BC. What I remember is that one scholar date it as possibly at that time, but the date had not gained acceptance by any others.

Whether the actual tower was real or metaphor is of no significance. The point was that God had to prevent a repetition of what led to the flood. The story makes it quite clear that whether real or not, the point of the tower was keep mankind united in a single civilization. But God already saw the result of this in a world where mankind thought only of evil continually. So God employed an evolutionary strategy of competition between cultures and nations, for this would put a limit on how degraded they could be without having neighboring nations conquer them.

The point of God authoring confusion in this story was to prevent mankind from keeping together in a single culture and civilization. So God encouraged people to migrate and spread the ideas of civilization around the world – no doubt taking the story of the flood with them. The multiplicity of language is a natural consequence of this. By obstructing our efforts to build a one world culture, God employed some of the same evolutionary strategies of diversity and competition in the development of human society. Thus we would not find ourselves stuck in a monolithic social system dominated by evil, but could escape to other nations where better values (like liberty and diversity) could prove their greater strength.

I remember hearing something about a massive Black Sea deluge about 7,000 years ago; do you think that’s what did it?

What I’ve seen suggests that the Black Sea was too slow (of the “Looks like we’ll have to move this month” type speed). Another candidate, the Persian Gulf, seems to have flooded (most recently) ~15,000 years ago, but how rapidly is harder to tell (for obvious geopolitical reasons).

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