Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Tower of Babel

Random thought.

How insightful was the author of Genesis to make the observation that humans with the ability to communicate and be understood by one and all could be stopped by almost nothing?

In thinking about the story of the Tower of Babel, it occurred to me that the author is not only offering an explanation for how there came to be different languages and cultures, because God made it happen that way, but why there came to be different languages, because God was afraid that nothing would be able to stop humanity.
1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar 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 and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men 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 —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
It's interesting that God is depicted as a character who willfully causes confusion rather than one who brings clarity to humanity. It's almost a back-handed compliment to humans that God would care about what they could achieve.

I am rather enchanted by the idea that whoever wrote this bit of Genesis saw the potential humanity had and the power it could wield if it were able to work together with a common language and culture.

Not too shabby of an insight for an ancient!

***updated miscellaneous thought****

There always seems to be a trace of this "God against Humans" tone in many of the Genesis stories, with the implication that God has something to fear from us. Maybe that's a subtle way for the author/authors to soothe themselves with the image of humanity as God's rival? Maybe that makes living in an imperfect world in which humans have little control a little easier?

Because...if God is actively thwarting us because He's trying to keep us from becoming too powerful, then we are simultaneously validated in our sense of worth, while also being relieved of the ability to make things perfect.

Who can win against God?


JS Allen said...

Yes, this is underscoring Genesis 3:22. After eating from the fruit, the only thing stopping us from being Gods was our mortality.

Common language allows us to achieve a sort of immortality, as we build up our collective knowledge and preserve it generation after generation.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Interesting. I always read that as more the humans interpretation of what God did than God's own description of his actions.

Very unevangelical of me, I know.