left biblioblography: Toppling The Tower of Tale - Of Babel, Babble, and Burst Bubbles

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Toppling The Tower of Tale - Of Babel, Babble, and Burst Bubbles

And here we have, in that book of wild fables, another strangely compelling tale that comes apart at the seams upon closer inspection.

Genesis 11:1-9

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

2 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.

3 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 mortar.

4 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.

5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built.

6 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.

7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

9 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.

I'll admit: it's a neat story. Simple, straight to the point, not big on details. It is contradicted, however, by examining the book itself, for one thing.

Genesis 10: 5 - By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.
Genesis 10: 31- These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations.

My first issue here, is that Genesis 10:5 and Genesis 10:31 are set BEFORE the infamous monolith, and both verses STIPULATE that there were INDEED other languages.

"Traditionally, the peoples listed in Chapter 10 of Genesis (the Table of Nations) are understood to have been scattered over the face of the earth from Shinar only after the abandonment of The Tower, which follows as an explanation of this cultural diversity. Some, however, see an internal contradiction between the mention already in Genesis 10:5 that "From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with his own language" and the subsequent Babel story, which begins "Now the entire earth was of one language and uniform words" (Genesis 11:1). Others answer this claim with the fact Genesis is listing the descendants of Noah's son Japheth, not stating a time period as much as referring to separate cultures. They claim that there is no reason to presuppose these descendants had gotten their own languages prior to the Tower's construction."

Secondly, the Tower of Babel seems to infer that the world's population was in the Middle East (which we know isn't true).
Thirdly, if we are to assume one king, in one country, decides to blaspheme (Genesis 11 stipulates as much). So God punishes everyone far and wide? How come? If your teenage kid almost burns down the house, and did it on his own, do you punish the rest of the children as well? Is this supposed to set an example? If others aren't doing the same thing, and God is omniscient, what exactly is the point here?

Fourthly, it seems to have been borrowed from Sumerian tradition:

"A large construction project in the ancient world might have used pressed labour from a diverse set of conquered or subject populations, and the domain of the empires covering Babylon would have contained some non-Semitic languages, such as Hurrian, Kassite, Sumerian, and Elamite, among others.

"The Tower of Babel in the background of a depiction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon by Martin Heemskerck.

"There is a Sumerian myth similar to that of the Tower of Babel, called Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, where the two rival gods, Enki and Enlil end up confusing the tongues of all humankind as collateral damage arising from their argument."

Fifthly, it seems to be another one of those myths that span cultures:

"Various traditions similar to that of the tower of Babel are found in Central America. One holds that Xelhua, one of the seven giants rescued from the deluge, built the Great Pyramid of Cholula in order to storm Heaven. The gods destroyed it with fire and confounded the language of the builders. The Dominican Diego Duran (1537-1588) reported hearing this account from a hundred-year-old priest at Cholula, shortly after the conquest of Mexico.

"Another story, attributed by the native historian Don Ferdinand d'Alva Ixtilxochitl (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.

"Still another story, attributed to the Tohono O'odham Indians, 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. (Bancroft, vol. 3, p.76; also in History of Arizona)

"Traces of a somewhat similar story have also been reported among the Tharus of Nepal and northern India (Report of the Census of Bengal, 1872, p. 160); and according to Dr Livingstone, the Africans whom he met living near Lake Ngami in 1879 had such a tradition, but with the builders' heads getting "cracked by the fall of the scaffolding" (Missionary Travels, chap. 26)"

Sixthly, a similar tradition of the area has the same basic story, but with a few twists.

"Though not mentioned by name, the Qur'an has a story with similarities to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, though set in the Egypt of Moses. In Suras 28:38 and 40:36-37 Pharaoh asks Haman to build him a clay tower so that he can mount up to heaven and confront the God of Moses.

Another story in Sura 2:102 mentions the name of Babil, but gives few additional details about it. However, the tale appears more fully in the writings of Yaqut (i, 448 f.) and the Lisan el-'Arab (xiii. 72), but without the tower: mankind were swept together by winds into the plain that was afterwards called "Babil", where they were assigned their separate languages by Allah, and were then scattered again in the same way.

In the History of the Prophets and Kings by the 9th century Muslim historian al-Tabari, a fuller version is given: Nimrod has the tower built in Babil, Allah 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."

It's only natural for more primitive peoples to assume that their tribe and language was the root from whence we all came (monogenesis).

The major problem with the fable, is that if true, would have disrupted civilizations world-wide - archeological evidence shows conclusively that no such event occurred at the time most biblical scholars agree on: 2044 - 2007 B.C.E. One only needs to check the dates of the Egyptian Pharaohs of the Intermediate period. Just like the myth of the Great Deluge, it is a fairy tale best told to small children, not adopted as literal truth by adults.

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remy said...

I don't think... that you truly understand God's work... You don't know...the bible...there could have been other languages...but everybody understood all of them...
All those other stories are just the same one... Who are you to question the miarculus mind...? If you will eccept god as you're savior... you would understand alot...

karen said...

So God punishes everyone far and wide? How come?
Cos that's the way, uh huh, uh huh, he LIKES it, uh huh, uh huh.

Even though he knows everything, it's so much simpler to just spank everybody, y'know?

God was so angryand jealous that he couldn't be the first one to yell "IF YOU KIDS DON'T STOP IT, I'M GONNA PULL THIS CAR OVER RIGHT NOW!" So he pulled the car over in his own way.

You so funny. :)

Krystalline Apostate said...

remy - so everyone understood each other anyways? Hmmm...divinely inspired sign language, I'll guess. Hehehehe.

Even though he knows everything, it's so much simpler to just spank everybody, y'know?
Mass corporal punishment? What an odd method for an omniscient being to employ. & terribly lazy as well, I might add.

remy said...

Ain't it bizarre that god was threatened by man and his ability to communicate. We were able to devise a plan that would reach into Heaven! Man, we were good. Now that He made us "confounded" we will never be able to get organized and challenge the All Knowing, All Seeing, most poerful life form in the universe.

I am begining to see the Light. I think you guys had better watch out. He could reappear at any moment. Am blinga tul walla ding obet fheit wierl.(I'm faking tonges. Do you think I fooled him?)

karen said...

Terribly lazy indeed. But he has so much important matters to focus his attention on, like which team hits the most home runs, don't ya see.

My friend's mother would line all her kids up and slap them all if one did anything wrong. She couldn't be bothered with sorting it out. She had her stories to watch.

It's very odd that something as small and insignificant as we are could be such a threat to the great and powerful oz.
Even more odd that we would have once spoken all the same language until gathered together, and then suddenly become unable to communicate.
Although, there are always certain universal hand signals. ;)

remy said...

I like the universal hand signals. I am holding one up to see if there is a god. Nothing has happened to me yet, but my fingers are getting tired so I will have to try later.

'course He is s'posed to know who's being bad or good and He reads minds so really I don't have to use any digits at all, just think about them. Cool!

Krystalline Apostate said...

remy - no, you'll have to improve your glossalia. ;)
It looks like I'll have to turn moderation on - I insulted some nimbulb on BEAJ's blog, & he's been dropping some really nasty posts in here.
1 more, & on it goes. What a bummer.

beepbeepitsme said...

If the biblical account of the Tower of Babel is referring to UR in southern Babylon, and I think it probably is, it is just a case of the hebrew tribes writing an account of it from their own religious perspective.

Etemenanki "temple of the foundation of heaven and earth") was the name of the ziggurat in UR and traditionally, the tower of Babel resembles a ziggurat rather than typically a tower. The tower certainly had nothing to do with the modern Christian concept as is purported in the bible. The ziggurat was built to honor Nana if I have my history correct. And therefore had nothing to do with the god of the bible.

The Tower of Babel story, to me at least, is just the hebrew interpretation according to their religious beliefs as to what happened. Essentially it is a tale of conquest, but where there was conquest in the ancient world, the god theories went along for the ride. Just as they do now.

What is also interesting are the verses you used to indicate that people spoke different languages before the conquest of Babylon anyway.

I think what many people forget is that the OT is a miss-mash of events, some of which have a foundation in historical events and many which borrow from the religious and cultural traditions of other peoples.

The part they don't get is that the book was written by a specific group of people according to their interpretation of what happened. And that their interpretation of events is always influenced by their religious beliefs.

Reading the bible as a completely factual document is like allowing a traditional tribe from africa, to explain the history, cultural and religious significance of modern australia. They would only be able to interpret events according to their own religious suppositions.

Superstitious people can't explain events without reference to their god belief, so the fall of the Babylonian Empire became grist for their specific religious mill.

Krystalline Apostate said...

BBIM - A ziggurat is by far less likely to be knocked over than a regular tower anyways. Maybe some plates shifted.
I think what many people forget is that the OT is a miss-mash of events
Or they outright deny it.
The ziggurat was built to honor Nana if I have my history correct.
Hee-hee, 'nanna'? That's a german word for grandma. ;)
The Koran says a few different things as well.
I find it interesting that it's 1 of those tales that seems to span cultures.

karen said...

Maybe you contacted the wrong deity?
Nasty posts? Ooh! A poo flinger?
Or are they juicy? Darn, we miss all the fun stuff!

Who built the ziggurat to honor Nana?
I hope they planted lots of flowers; Nana loved flowers! But she'd have said, "Ach, Ich habe kein platz fur das!" about the building.

beepbeepitsme said...

"The site is marked by the ruins of a ziggurat, still largely intact, and by a settlement mound. The ziggurat is a temple of Nanna, the moon deity in Sumerian mythology"


beepbeepitsme said...

Goes without saying that I think the god claims are all primitive mythological crapola. But if you get to write the story, you get to write your religious interpretation of it.

Krystalline Apostate said...

& the moderation's turned on.
For a nemesis, you're pretty pathetic, pal.

Mesoforte said...

We were talking about Babel in archaeology a while ago. One archeological site that was a trading center, with evidence of the Hebrews being there is idenified with Babel. The interesting idea is that the ziggurats(sp?) combined with the multiple languages of the trading center made the Hebrews come up with the explanation of the Tower of Babel.

beepbeepitsme said...

Sounds like a reasonable explanation to me mesoforte. I think what many people don't take onboard is that the OT, or the Hebrew Scriptures are the hebrews version of events according to what they believed. So their version of events is coloured by their cultural or religious beliefs.

Anyway, that's the way I see all the supposed holy books. They are little capsules in time according to quite a narrow perspective of the culture which wrote them.

And extremely difficult to sort the fact from the fiction.

Nemesis said...

I got exactly what I wanted- you hiding.

Krystalline Apostate said...

I got exactly what I wanted- you hiding.
That's what you call it? What are you - 12 or something?
That's not hiding at all.
You post something of worth, not a bunch of cuss words strung together, & we'll lock horns.
Otherwise, go foul someone else's sandbox.

beepbeepitsme said...

Has nemesis been naughty? Smack smack. Now go and play on the white line.

Krystalline Apostate said...

BBIM - yeah, nemmy-boy thinks getting his foul mouth censored is a victory of some sort.
I'm fairly certain I inherited him from BEAJ's blog - nobody's fault, really.
I'll be gone most of this morning, so everyone can comment away - I'll be back in a few hours, to sift through & publish.

Tommy said...

Good post.

I blogged about the Tower of Babel story back in November. Check it out.


Krystalline Apostate said...

Wow, that was...interesting.
Sable came-a clucking, ey? She sure makes a whole lotta shit up as she goes along.
"I think an ice meteor came along, &..."
Widely missing both the forest AND the trees, I think.

Tommy said...

Yeah, it's amusing in a pathetic way the stuff that Sable throws out there. You have to keep pointing out to people like her the absurdity of believing that an all powerful deity behaves in such a Rube Goldberg fashion.

Krystalline Apostate said...

tommy - yeah, the big Kahuna sure moves in ludicrous ways, don't he/she/it? ;)
Sabel & I had a bit of a discussion - she never came back.
Humanity as an extended 'Koko the Clown.'
It'd be laughable, if the cartoonist wasn't so effin' cruel.

Sadie Lou said...

Oh--this explains the comment moderation.
I've heard of this "Sable" person in the blogsphere--it's weird how really small our blogging circles are sometimes...

Krystalline Apostate said...

sadie - yeah, silly Sable watches too much cable, & when she gets it wrong, whoo-boy!
She's a little politer than some I've met, but she's a touch...out in left field.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Oh, sadie, trust you me, you don't want to see the dukeys that nemesis' left here.