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Why tower of babel?

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The Tower of Babel (Hebrew: מִגְדַּל בָּבֶל‎, Mīgdal Bāḇel) narrative in Genesis 11:1–9 is an origin myth and parable meant to explain why the world's peoples speak different languages.[1][2][3][4]

According to the story, a united human race speaking a single language and migrating eastward, comes to the land of Shinar (שִׁנְעָר‎). There they agree to build a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Yahweh, observing their city and tower, confounds their speech so that they can no longer understand each other, and scatters them around the world.

Some modern scholars have associated the Tower of Babel with known structures, notably Etemenanki, a ziggurat dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Marduk in Babylon. While the archaeological record is incompatible with this identification, many scholars believe that the biblical story was inspired by Etemenanki. A Sumerian story with some similar elements is told in Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta.[5]

The phrase "Tower of Babel" does not appear in the Bible; it is always "the city and the tower" (אֶת-הָעִיר וְאֶת-הַמִּגְדָּל‎) or just "the city" (הָעִיר‎). The original derivation of the name Babel (also the Hebrew name for Babylon) is uncertain. The native, Akkadian name of the city was Bāb-ilim, meaning "gate of God". However, that form and interpretation itself are now usually thought to be the result of an Akkadian folk etymology applied to an earlier form of the name, Babilla, of unknown meaning and probably non-Semitic origin.[8][9] According to the Bible, the city received the name "Babel" from the Hebrew verb בָּלַל (bālal), meaning to jumble or to confuse.[10]

The narrative of the tower of Babel[11] is an etiology or explanation of a phenomenon. Etiologies are narratives that explain the origin of a custom, ritual, geographical feature, name, or other phenomenon.[12]: 426  The story of the Tower of Babel explains the origins of the multiplicity of languages. God was concerned that humans had blasphemed by building the tower to avoid a second flood so God brought into existence multiple languages.[12]: 51  Thus, humans were divided into linguistic groups, unable to understand one another.

The story's theme of competition between God and humans appears elsewhere in Genesis, in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.[13] The 1st-century Jewish interpretation found in Flavius Josephus explains the construction of the tower as a hubristic act of defiance against God ordered by the arrogant tyrant Nimrod. There have, however, been some contemporary challenges to this classical interpretation, with emphasis placed on the explicit motive of cultural and linguistic homogeneity mentioned in the narrative (v. 1, 4, 6).[14] This reading of the text sees God's actions not as a punishment for pride, but as an etiology of cultural differences, presenting Babel as the cradle of civilization.

Jewish and Christian tradition attributes the composition of the whole Pentateuch, which includes the story of the Tower of Babel, to Moses. Modern biblical scholarship rejects Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, but is divided on the question of its authorship. Many scholars subscribe to some form of the documentary hypothesis, which argues that the Pentateuch is composed of multiple "sources" that were later merged. Scholars who favor this hypothesis, such as Richard Elliot Friedman, tend to see the Genesis 11:1–9 as being composed by the J or Jahwist/Yahwist source.[15] Michael Coogan suggests the intentional word play regarding the city of Babel, and the noise of the people's "babbling" is found in the Hebrew words as easily as in English, is considered typical of the Yahwist source.[12]: 51  John Van Seters, who has put forth substantial modifications to the hypothesis, suggests that these verses are part of what he calls a "Pre-Yahwistic stage".[16] Other scholars reject the documentary hypothesis all together. The "minimalist" scholars tend to see the books of Genesis through 2 Kings as written by a single, anonymous author during the Hellenistic period.

There is a Sumerian myth similar to that of the Tower of Babel, called Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta,[5] 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—named as Shubur, Hamazi, Sumer, Uri-ki (Akkad), and the Martu land, "the whole universe, the well-guarded people—may they all address Enlil together in a single language."[17]

In addition, a further Assyrian myth, dating from the 8th century BC during the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911–605 BC), bears a number of similarities to the later written biblical story.[citation needed]

In Greek mythology, much of which was adopted by the Romans, there is a myth referred to as the Gigantomachy, the battle fought between the Giants and the Olympian gods for supremacy of the cosmos. In Ovid's telling of the myth, the Giants attempt to reach the gods in heaven by stacking mountains, but are repelled by Jupiter's thunderbolts. A.S. Kline translates Ovid's Metamorphoses 1.151-155 as:

"Rendering the heights of heaven no safer than the earth, they say the giants attempted to take the Celestial kingdom, piling mountains up to the distant stars. Then the all-powerful father of the gods hurled his bolt of lightning, fractured Olympus and threw Mount Pelion down from Ossa below."[18]

Various traditions similar to that of the tower of Babel are found in Central America. Some writers[who?] connected the Great Pyramid of Cholula to the Tower of Babel. The Dominican friar Diego Durán (1537–1588) reported hearing an account about the pyramid from a hundred-year-old priest at Cholula, shortly after the conquest of the Aztec Empire. He wrote that he was told when the light of the sun first appeared upon the land, giants appeared and set off in search of the sun. Not finding it, they built a tower to reach the sky. An angered God of the Heavens called upon the inhabitants of the sky, who destroyed the tower and scattered its inhabitants. The story was not related to either a flood or the confusion of languages, although Frazer connects its construction and the scattering of the giants with the Tower of Babel.[19]

Another story, attributed by the native historian Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxóchitl (c. 1565–1648) to the ancient Toltecs, states that after men had multiplied following a great deluge, they erected a tall zacuali or tower, to preserve themselves in the event of a second deluge. However, their languages were confounded and they went to separate parts of the earth.[20]

Still another story, attributed to the Tohono O'odham people, holds that Montezuma escaped a great flood, then became wicked and attempted to build a house reaching to heaven, but the Great Spirit destroyed it with thunderbolts.[21][22]

Traces of a somewhat similar story have also been reported among the Tharu of Nepal and northern India.[23][further explanation needed]

According to David Livingstone, the people he met living near Lake Ngami in 1849 had such a tradition, but with the builders' heads getting "cracked by the fall of the scaffolding".[24]

In his 1918 book, Folklore in the Old Testament, Scottish social anthropologist Sir James George Frazer documented similarities between Old Testament stories, such as the Flood, and indigenous legends around the world. He identified Livingston's account with a tale found in Lozi mythology, wherein the wicked men build a tower of masts to pursue the Creator-God, Nyambe, who has fled to Heaven on a spider-web, but the men perish when the masts collapse. He further relates similar tales of the Ashanti that substitute a pile of porridge pestles for the masts. Frazer moreover cites such legends found among the Kongo people, as well as in Tanzania, where the men stack poles or trees in a failed attempt to reach the moon.[19] He further cited the Karbi and Kuki people of Assam as having a similar story. The traditions of the Karen people of Myanmar, which Frazer considered to show clear 'Abrahamic' influence, also relate that their ancestors migrated there following the abandonment of a great pagoda in the land of the Karenni 30 generations from Adam, when the languages were confused and the Karen separated from the Karenni. He notes yet another version current in the Admiralty Islands, where mankind's languages are confused following a failed attempt to build houses reaching to heaven.

Biblical scholars see the Book of Genesis as mythological and not as a historical account of events.[25] Genesis is described as beginning with historicized myth and ending with mythicized history.[26] Nevertheless, the story of Babel can be interpreted in terms of its context.

Genesis 10:10[27] states that Babel (LXX: Βαβυλών) formed part of Nimrod's kingdom. The Bible does not specifically mention that Nimrod ordered the building of the tower, but many other sources have associated its construction with Nimrod.[28]

Genesis 11:9[29] attributes the Hebrew version of the name, Babel, to the verb balal, which means to confuse or confound in Hebrew. The first century Roman-Jewish author Flavius Josephus similarly explained that the name was derived from the Hebrew word Babel (בבל), meaning "confusion".[30]

Etemenanki (Sumerian: "temple of the foundation of heaven and earth") was the name of a ziggurat dedicated to Marduk in the city of Babylon. It was famously rebuilt by the 6th-century-BCE Neo-Babylonian dynasty rulers Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar II, but had fallen into disrepair by the time of Alexander's conquests. He managed to move the tiles of the tower to another location, but his death stopped the reconstruction, and it was demolished during the reign of his successor Antiochus Soter. The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484 – c. 425 BC) wrote an account of the ziggurat in his Histories, which he called the "Temple of Zeus Belus".[31]

According to modern scholars, the biblical story of the Tower of Babel was likely influenced by Etemenanki. Stephen L. Harris proposed this occurred during the Babylonian captivity.[32] Isaac Asimov speculated that the authors of Genesis 11:1-9[33] were inspired by the existence of an apparently incomplete ziggurat at Babylon, and by the phonological similarity between Babylonian Bab-ilu, meaning "gate of God", and the Hebrew word balal, meaning "mixed", "confused", or "confounded".[34]

The Book of Jubilees contains one of the most detailed accounts found anywhere of the Tower.

In Pseudo-Philo, the direction for the building is ascribed not only to Nimrod, who is made prince of the Hamites, but also to Joktan, as prince of the Semites, and to Phenech son of Dodanim, as prince of the Japhetites. Twelve men are arrested for refusing to bring bricks, including Abraham, Lot, Nahor, and several sons of Joktan. However, Joktan finally saves the twelve from the wrath of the other two princes.[35]

The Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94 CE), recounted history as found in the Hebrew Bible and mentioned the Tower of Babel. He wrote that it was Nimrod who had the tower built and that Nimrod was a tyrant who tried to turn the people away from God. In this account, God confused the people rather than destroying them because annihilation with a Flood had not taught them to be godly.

Third Apocalypse of Baruch (or 3 Baruch, c. 2nd century), one of the pseudepigrapha, describes the just rewards of sinners and the righteous in the afterlife.[13] Among the sinners are those who instigated the Tower of Babel. In the account, Baruch is first taken (in a vision) to see the resting place of the souls of "those who built the tower of strife against God, and the Lord banished them." Next he is shown another place, and there, occupying the form of dogs,

Rabbinic literature offers many different accounts of other causes for building the Tower of Babel, and of the intentions of its builders. According to one midrash the builders of the Tower, called "the generation of secession" in the Jewish sources, said: "God has no right to choose the upper world for Himself, and to leave the lower world to us; therefore we will build us a tower, with an idol on the top holding a sword, so that it may appear as if it intended to war with God" (Gen. R. xxxviii. 7; Tan., ed. Buber, Noah, xxvii. et seq.).

The building of the Tower was meant to bid defiance not only to God, but also to Abraham, who exhorted the builders to reverence. The passage mentions that the builders spoke sharp words against God, saying that once every 1,656 years, heaven tottered so that the water poured down upon the earth, therefore they would support it by columns that there might not be another deluge (Gen. R. l.c.; Tan. l.c.; similarly Josephus, "Ant." i. 4, § 2).

Some among that generation even wanted to war against God in heaven (Talmud Sanhedrin 109a). They were encouraged in this undertaking by the notion that arrows that they shot into the sky fell back dripping with blood, so that the people really believed that they could wage war against the inhabitants of the heavens (Sefer ha-Yashar, Chapter 9:12–36). According to Josephus and Midrash Pirke R. El. xxiv., it was mainly Nimrod who persuaded his contemporaries to build the Tower, while other rabbinical sources assert, on the contrary, that Nimrod separated from the builders.[28]

According to another midrashic account, one third of the Tower builders were punished by being transformed into semi-demonic creatures and banished into three parallel dimensions, inhabited now by their descendants.[36]

Although not mentioned by name, the Quran has a story with similarities to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, although set in the Egypt of Moses: Pharaoh asks Haman to build him a stone (or clay) tower so that he can mount up to heaven and confront the God of Moses.[37]

Another story in Sura 2:102 mentions the name of Babil, but tells of when the two angels Harut and Marut taught magic to some people in Babylon and warned them that magic is a sin and that their teaching them magic is a test of faith.[38] A tale about Babil appears more fully in the writings of Yaqut (i, 448 f.) and the Lisān al-ʿArab [ar] (xiii. 72), but without the tower: mankind were swept together by winds into the plain that was afterward called "Babil", where they were assigned their separate languages by God, and were then scattered again in the same way. In the History of the Prophets and Kings by the 9th-century Muslim theologian al-Tabari, a fuller version is given: Nimrod has the tower built in Babil, God destroys it, and the language of mankind, formerly Syriac, is then confused into 72 languages. Another Muslim historian of the 13th century, Abu al-Fida relates the same story, adding that the patriarch Eber (an ancestor of Abraham) was allowed to keep the original tongue, Hebrew in this case, because he would not partake in the building.[28]

Although variations similar to the biblical narrative of the Tower of Babel exist within Islamic tradition, the central theme of God separating humankind on the basis of language is alien to Islam according to the author Yahiya Emerick. In Islamic belief, he argues, God created nations to know each other and not to be separated.[39]

In the Book of Mormon, a man named Jared and his family ask God that their language not be confounded at the time of the "great tower". Because of their prayers, God preserves their language and leads them to the Valley of Nimrod. From there, they travel across the sea to the Americas.[40]

Despite no mention of the Tower of Babel in the original text of the Book of Mormon, some leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) assert that the "great tower" was indeed the Tower of Babel – as in the 1981 introduction to the Book of Mormon – despite the chronology of the Book of Ether aligning more closely with the 21st century BC Sumerian tower temple myth of Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta to the goddess Innana.[41] Church apologists have also supported this connection and argue the reality of the Tower of Babel: "Although there are many in our day who consider the accounts of the Flood and tower of Babel to be fiction, Latter-day Saints affirm their reality."[42] In either case, the church firmly believes in the factual nature of at least one "great tower" built in the region of ancient Sumeria/Assyria/Babylonia.

In Gnostic tradition recorded in the Paraphrase of Shem, a tower, interpreted as the Tower of Babel, is brought by demons along with the great flood:

The confusion of tongues (confusio linguarum) is the origin myth for the fragmentation of human languages described in Genesis 11:1-9,[44] as a result of the construction of the Tower of Babel. Prior to this event, humanity was stated to speak a single language. The preceding Genesis 10:5[45] states that the descendants of Japheth, Gomer, and Javan dispersed "with their own tongues." Augustine explained this apparent contradiction by arguing that the story 'without mentioning it, goes back to tell how it came about that the one language common to all men was broken up into many tongues'. [46] Modern scholarship has traditionally held that the two chapters were written by different sources, the former by the Priestly source and the latter by the Jahwist. However, that theory has been debated among scholars in recent years.[47]

During the Middle Ages, the Hebrew language was widely considered the language used by God to address Adam in Paradise, and by Adam as lawgiver (the Adamic language) by various Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholastics.

Dante Alighieri addresses the topic in his De vulgari eloquentia (1302–1305). He argues that the Adamic language is of divine origin and therefore unchangeable.[48]

In his Divine Comedy (c. 1308–1320), however, Dante changes his view to another that treats the Adamic language as the product of Adam.[48] This had the consequence that it could no longer be regarded as immutable, and hence Hebrew could not be regarded as identical with the language of Paradise. Dante concludes (Paradiso XXVI) that Hebrew is a derivative of the language of Adam. In particular, the chief Hebrew name for God in scholastic tradition, El, must be derived of a different Adamic name for God, which Dante gives as I.[48]

Before the acceptance of the Indo-European language family, these languages were considered to be "Japhetite" by some authors (e.g., Rasmus Rask in 1815; see Indo-European studies). Beginning in Renaissance Europe, priority over Hebrew was claimed for the alleged Japhetic languages, which were supposedly never corrupted because their speakers had not participated in the construction of the Tower of Babel. Among the candidates for a living descendant of the Adamic language were: Gaelic (see Auraicept na n-Éces); Tuscan (Giovanni Battista Gelli, 1542, Piero Francesco Giambullari, 1564); Dutch (Goropius Becanus, 1569, Abraham Mylius, 1612); Swedish (Olaus Rudbeck, 1675); German (Georg Philipp Harsdörffer, 1641, Schottel, 1641). The Swedish physician Andreas Kempe wrote a satirical tract in 1688, where he made fun of the contest between the European nationalists to claim their native tongue as the Adamic language. Caricaturing the attempts by the Swede Olaus Rudbeck to pronounce Swedish the original language of mankind, Kempe wrote a scathing parody where Adam spoke Danish, God spoke Swedish, and the serpent French.[49]

The primacy of Hebrew was still defended by some authors until the emergence of modern linguistics in the second half of the 18th century, e.g. by Pierre Besnier [fr] (1648–1705) in A philosophicall essay for the reunion of the languages, or, the art of knowing all by the mastery of one (1675) and by Gottfried Hensel (1687–1767) in his Synopsis Universae Philologiae (1741).

For a long time, historical linguistics wrestled with the idea of a single original language. In the Middle Ages and down to the 17th century, attempts were made to identify a living descendant of the Adamic language.

The literal belief that the world's linguistic variety originated with the tower of Babel is pseudolinguistics, and is contrary to the known facts about the origin and history of languages.[50]

In the biblical introduction of the Tower of Babel account, in Genesis 11:1,[51] it is said that everyone on Earth spoke the same language, but this is inconsistent with the biblical description of the post-Noahic world described in Genesis 10:5,[52] where it is said that the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth gave rise to different nations, each with their own language.[2]: 26

There have also been a number of traditions around the world that describe a divine confusion of the one original language into several, albeit without any tower. Aside from the Ancient Greek myth that Hermes confused the languages, causing Zeus to give his throne to Phoroneus, Frazer specifically mentions such accounts among the Wasania of Kenya, the Kacha Naga people of Assam, the inhabitants of Encounter Bay in Australia, the Maidu of California, the Tlingit of Alaska, and the K'iche' Maya of Guatemala.[53]

The Estonian myth of "the Cooking of Languages"[54] has also been compared.

There are several mediaeval historiographic accounts that attempt to make an enumeration of the languages scattered at the Tower of Babel. Because a count of all the descendants of Noah listed by name in chapter 10 of Genesis (LXX) provides 15 names for Japheth's descendants, 30 for Ham's, and 27 for Shem's, these figures became established as the 72 languages resulting from the confusion at Babel—although the exact listing of these languages changed over time. (The LXX Bible has two additional names, Elisa and Cainan, not found in the Masoretic text of this chapter, so early rabbinic traditions, such as the Mishna, speak instead of "70 languages".) Some of the earliest sources for 72 (sometimes 73) languages are the 2nd-century Christian writers Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I, 21) and Hippolytus of Rome (On the Psalms 9); it is repeated in the Syriac book Cave of Treasures (c. 350 CE), Epiphanius of Salamis' Panarion (c. 375) and St. Augustine's The City of God 16.6 (c. 410). The chronicles attributed to Hippolytus (c. 234) contain one of the first attempts to list each of the 72 peoples who were believed to have spoken these languages.

Isidore of Seville in his Etymologiae (c. 600) mentions the number of 72; however, his list of names from the Bible drops the sons of Joktan and substitutes the sons of Abraham and Lot, resulting in only about 56 names total; he then appends a list of some of the nations known in his own day, such as the Longobards and the Franks. This listing was to prove quite influential on later accounts that made the Lombards and Franks themselves into descendants of eponymous grandsons of Japheth, e.g. the Historia Brittonum (c. 833), The Meadows of Gold by al Masudi (c. 947) and Book of Roads and Kingdoms by al-Bakri (1068), the 11th-century Lebor Gabála Érenn, and the midrashic compilations Yosippon (c. 950), Chronicles of Jerahmeel, and Sefer haYashar.

Other sources that mention 72 (or 70) languages scattered from Babel are the Old Irish poem Cu cen mathair by Luccreth moccu Chiara (c. 600); the Irish monastic work Auraicept na n-Éces; History of the Prophets and Kings by the Persian historian Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (c. 915); the Anglo-Saxon dialogue Solomon and Saturn; the Russian Primary Chronicle (c. 1113); the Jewish Kabbalistic work Bahir (1174); the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson (c. 1200); the Syriac Book of the Bee (c. 1221); the Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum (c. 1284; mentions 22 for Shem, 31 for Ham and 17 for Japheth for a total of 70); Villani's 1300 account; and the rabbinic Midrash ha-Gadol (14th century). Villani adds that it "was begun 700 years after the Flood, and there were 2,354 years from the beginning of the world to the confusion of the Tower of Babel. And we find that they were 107 years working at it; and men lived long in those times". According to the Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum, however, the project was begun only 200 years following the Deluge.

The tradition of 72 languages persisted into later times. Both José de Acosta in his 1576 treatise De procuranda indorum salute, and António Vieira a century later in his Sermão da Epifania, expressed amazement at how much this 'number of tongues' could be surpassed, there being hundreds of mutually unintelligible languages indigenous only to Peru and Brazil.

The Book of Genesis does not mention how tall the tower was. The phrase used to describe the tower, "its top in the sky" (v.4), was an idiom for impressive height; rather than implying arrogance, this was simply a cliché for height.[14]: 37

The Book of Jubilees mentions the tower's height as being 5,433 cubits and 2 palms, or 2,484 m (8,150 ft), about three times the height of Burj Khalifa, or roughly 1.6 miles high. The Third Apocalypse of Baruch mentions that the 'tower of strife' reached a height of 463 cubits, or 211.8 m (695 ft), taller than any structure built in human history until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, which is 324 m (1,063 ft) in height.

Gregory of Tours writing c. 594, quotes the earlier historian Orosius (c. 417) as saying the tower was "laid out foursquare on a very level plain. Its wall, made of baked brick cemented with pitch, is fifty cubits (23 m or 75 ft) wide, two hundred (91.5 m or 300 ft) high, and four hundred and seventy stades (82.72 km or 51.4 miles) in circumference. A stade was an ancient Greek unit of length, based on the circumference of a typical sports stadium of the time which was about 176 metres (577 ft).[55] Twenty-five gates are situated on each side, which make in all one hundred. The doors of these gates, which are of wonderful size, are cast in bronze. The same historian tells many other tales of this city, and says: 'Although such was the glory of its building still it was conquered and destroyed.'"[56]

A typical medieval account is given by Giovanni Villani (1300): He relates that "it measured eighty miles [130 km] round, and it was already 4,000 paces high, or 5.92 km (3.68 mi) and 1,000 paces thick, and each pace is three of our feet."[57] The 14th-century traveler John Mandeville also included an account of the tower and reported that its height had been 64 furlongs, or 13 km (8 mi), according to the local inhabitants.

The 17th-century historian Verstegan provides yet another figure – quoting Isidore, he says that the tower was 5,164 paces high, or 7.6 km (4.7 mi), and quoting Josephus that the tower was wider than it was high, more like a mountain than a tower. He also quotes unnamed authors who say that the spiral path was so wide that it contained lodgings for workers and animals, and other authors who claim that the path was wide enough to have fields for growing grain for the animals used in the construction.

In his book, Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down (Pelican 1978–1984), Professor J.E. Gordon considers the height of the Tower of Babel. He wrote, "brick and stone weigh about 120 lb per cubic foot (2,000 kg per cubic metre) and the crushing strength of these materials is generally rather better than 6,000 lbs per square inch or 40 mega-pascals. Elementary arithmetic shows that a tower with parallel walls could have been built to a height of 2.1 km (1.3 mi) before the bricks at the bottom were crushed. However, by making the walls taper towards the top they ... could well have been built to a height where the men of Shinnar would run short of oxygen and had difficulty in breathing before the brick walls crushed beneath their own dead weight."

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According to Genesis , the Babylonians wanted to make a name for themselves by building a mighty city and a tower “with its top in the heavens.” God disrupted the work by so confusing the language of the workers that they could no longer understand one another.

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The Tower of Babel story is an important one when it comes to discussions of the Old Testament. One straightforward interpretation of the story is that it was originally a way for people to explain the linguistic differences they perceived in the world. Today, linguists have a strong understanding of how languages evolve and diverge from one another, but the people who wrote the Old Testament did not have access to that knowledge. The story of the Tower of Babel provides a succinct explanation of linguistic and cultural differences around the world, using a framework that would have been easy to understand at the time.

Another way of understanding the story of the Tower of Babel is as a demonstration of the power of God. The Old Testament is full of stories of God altering the world in extraordinary ways, including the story of Noah's ark and the flood. The Tower of Babel echoes the theme that God is all-powerful. He cares how his people behave, and if he sees something that he does not like, he has the ability to punish people for their infractions. When people get too ambitious or believe that they can be like God, they might find that God takes notice and is displeased. The story suggests that collaboration between people can result in extraordinary achievements, which could be read as a celebration of human cooperation.

The Old Testament is not the only text to feature a story with the events and themes associated with the Tower of Babel. An ancient Sumerian myth called Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta may have partially inspired the story of the Tower of Babel. In the myth, Enmerkar is the king of Uruk and the son of a god. He wants to build an elaborate temple for the god Enki but lacks the resources to do so. His sister, the goddess Inanna, helps him threaten the lord of the nearby city of Aratta to gain the stone and jewels necessary for construction.

The surviving versions of the narrative are incomplete, but the conclusion is that, after some back and forth, Enmerkar is successful in getting Aratta's resources and in building his elaborate temple. This version is something of an inversion of the Tower of Babel since the story's protagonist succeeds in completing his construction. However, because Enmerkar is connected to the gods, it is possible to read the people of Aratta as the humans and Enmerkar as God, thwarting human desires to use their resources if their choices displease him.

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The Tower of Babel story is an important one when it comes to discussions of the Old Testament. One straightforward interpretation of the story is that it was originally a way for people to explain the linguistic differences they perceived in the world. Today, linguists have a strong understanding of how languages evolve and diverge from one another, but the people who wrote the Old Testament did not have access to that knowledge. The story of the Tower of Babel provides a succinct explanation of linguistic and cultural differences around the world, using a framework that would have been easy to understand at the time.

Another way of understanding the story of the Tower of Babel is as a demonstration of the power of God. The Old Testament is full of stories of God altering the world in extraordinary ways, including the story of Noah's ark and the flood. The Tower of Babel echoes the theme that God is all-powerful. He cares how his people behave, and if he sees something that he does not like, he has the ability to punish people for their infractions. When people get too ambitious or believe that they can be like God, they might find that God takes notice and is displeased. The story suggests that collaboration between people can result in extraordinary achievements, which could be read as a celebration of human cooperation.

The Old Testament is not the only text to feature a story with the events and themes associated with the Tower of Babel. An ancient Sumerian myth called Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta may have partially inspired the story of the Tower of Babel. In the myth, Enmerkar is the king of Uruk and the son of a god. He wants to build an elaborate temple for the god Enki but lacks the resources to do so. His sister, the goddess Inanna, helps him threaten the lord of the nearby city of Aratta to gain the stone and jewels necessary for construction.

The surviving versions of the narrative are incomplete, but the conclusion is that, after some back and forth, Enmerkar is successful in getting Aratta's resources and in building his elaborate temple. This version is something of an inversion of the Tower of Babel since the story's protagonist succeeds in completing his construction. However, because Enmerkar is connected to the gods, it is possible to read the people of Aratta as the humans and Enmerkar as God, thwarting human desires to use their resources if their choices displease him.

There are some other myths that echo the story of the Tower of Babel found all around the world. Many myths and stories have these coincidental echoes in various human cultures. In what is now Mexico, there are myths associated with the Great Pyramid of Cholula. Some of these myths say that giants originally built the pyramid in an attempt to gain access to Heaven. The gods then destroyed part of the pyramid and stopped the builders from being able to understand each other. The source for this version of the myth is a Dominican friar who claimed to have heard it from a local man; it is possible that his account emphasized similarities with the story of the Tower of Babel, with which he was already familiar.

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Danford Botko
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Jascha Thorlaksen
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Answer # 6 #

The story of Babel tells us about the origin of many languages. But what really happened at the Tower of Babel? Did God just get mad about people building a tall structure, or was there more to it?

The story of the Tower of Babel is found in Genesis 11:1-9. Prior to Genesis 11, Genesis 9 finishes up the account of the Flood, and Genesis 10 recounts Noah’s offspring, describing which of his sons’ lines would eventually lead to which people groups.

Right after this long account of lineages and offspring, Genesis 11:1 states, “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” From context clues, we gather that this is only a few generations after Noah and the Flood.

This story takes place after the Flood, but before the events of Abraham’s life.

In the biblical text, the phrase “tower of Babel” never appears. Instead, that heading was added later to help readers. The tower’s name was not Babel; rather, Babel was the name of the city in which the tower was built.

The Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time describing the tower, but it describes the building process in this way in Genesis 11:3-4:

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 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.”

The main focus seemed to be the city of Babel itself, but the tower, presumably, was to be a symbol of the city’s power.

Some scholars believe this tower was a step pyramid or ziggurat. This is a structure often found in the ancient world and was used for worship, with the idea that the steps ascending into the sky would allow the worshippers to get closer to the gods. Of course, with so little information on the specifics (unlike the detailed instructions for Noah’s Ark), we can’t be sure.

Genesis 11:2 records that as people moved eastward after the Flood, they settled in the land of Shinar, which many believe is an old name for the land of Babylon.

Genesis 10:10 states that Nimrod, Noah’s great-grandson, founded Babylon in Shinar (among other cities). Some translations list this city as Babel rather than Babylon, and it is widely believed that Babel and Babylon refer to the same city.

This explanation is accepted in many Jewish writings, such as Josephus’s Antiquities, which states, “[Nimrod] also said he would be revenged on God if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 4)

We don’t know exactly who the “people” of Genesis 11:2 are, but a good guess for at least some of them would be Nimrod’s followers, and/or the descendants of Noah’s grandson Cush.

God didn’t actually destroy Babel—but we’ll get to that later.

Building a city in and of itself wasn’t an offense to God. However, we must look at two specific ways in which the builders of Babel disobeyed the Lord.

Genesis 11:4 records, “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.’”

Let’s first focus on the phrase “so that we may make a name for ourselves.” They wanted everyone to know how great they were. Their pride and arrogance had gotten out of hand.

This is where many explanations of the sin of Babel stop, but this misses a deeper and more fundamental arrogance in the face of God.

God specifically told Noah and his descendants to spread out and “fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). Beyond trying to be better than everyone else, the people of Babel were disobeying God’s command. God told them to disperse, and they built the city for the express purpose of not being “scattered over the face of the earth” (Genesis 11:4).

It is possible that the tower also had something to do with polytheistic worship, or setting themselves up as gods, considering that ziggurats were associated with pagan worship. We don’t have specific concrete evidence for this, though.

God saw what the people were doing in Babel. He saw how they disobeyed Him. At the time, Genesis 11:1 tells us, all the people spoke one language. So, God stopped the building project in a creative way.

The idea of God “destroying” the Tower of Babel isn’t exactly accurate. No fire rained from the sky, and the Bible doesn’t say that God destroyed it. However, He halted all building progress.

Genesis 11:5-9 says, “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 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. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

Archeologists haven’t identified with certainty a particular structure as the Tower of Babel. Since we don’t know how far the builders got in the project before God stopped them, there also might not have been many remains to begin with. Many ancient structures have been lost to time.

A few potential structures have been put forth, including one that a tablet states was built by Nebuchadnezzar II, which wouldn’t fit with the biblical timeline indicated by Nimrod. Others have suggested it to be the Babylonian temple of Marduk. Yet other theories postulate it might have been torn down by Alexander the Great.

Though we don’t have the physical ruins of the Tower of Babel we can go visit (or at least, not yet), the echoes of Babel’s sins still resonate in our human consciousness. Today, do we build monuments and legacies, hoping to make a name for ourselves? Do we focus on what others will think of us, rather than what God desires?

When we focus on making our own name great, our plans will only come to ruin. However, if we focus on magnifying the Name of God, we will store up treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).

Further Resources:

What Can We Learn from the Tower of Babel?

Facts about Nimrod in the Bible

10 Things Christians Should Know about the Tower of Babel

Photo credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/hsiangwent

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Rakesh Burra
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