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Tower of Babel
Extrapolations on the Myth

Tower of Babel
  • The Bible 
  • Old Testament History (by )
  • The Tower of Babel: a Literary Examinati... (by )
  • The Tower of Babel, Or, Confusion in Lan... (by )
  • The Tower of Babel, A Poetical Drama (by )
  • The Tower of Babel, A Poetical Drama (by )
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Genesis 11, a book of the Bible, tells the story of the Tower of Babel, the origin myth of language. The people of the great city of Babylon shared a common tongue and a common intention to build a tower that might reflect both their city and its accomplishments. “Come, let us build ourselves a city," they said to one another, "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.”

But would the Old Testament, fire-and-brimstone God allow something like this to happen? “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this," God said, "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.” Thus the people were scattered all over the earth and their tower left in ruins.

Some interpret mankind's everlong quest to build edifices for the sake of themselves as arrogance. Another interpretation shows the tower as a symbol of unity for humankind and the generations that will succeed them. Are cooperative efforts to build things arrogance, or simply humanity at work? The Lord makes no condemnations against their actions. If anything, he compliments them by noting that by all agreeing and speaking the same language "nothing they do will be impossible."

Buildings, symbols, statues, and the stories that bind them—this is humanity at work. We build and derive meaning from it with the help of time. The Tower of Babel is also a story of mankind's quest for higher meaning or purpose through both symbols and symbolic actions. (Read “The Tower of Babel: A Literary Interpretation” by Keating) A people's extra-curricular striving (which is to say, unnecessary) might look like vanity to an insecure God just above them, but think of the immense cooperation of the people. Think of the pride in their work, which was to exercise their own physical strengths and architectural and cooperative power, and not in favor of the hubris of one impermanent king, but a people that represented humanity entirely.
God's actions in this story must also represent the eternal idea of achieving godliness through communication.

Andrew Ferrier cites the story not only as a source of division of languages and thought, but also regressive to one of the goals of Christianity to unite all people under one religion.

[...] ancient Babel was followed by the confounding of language and the scattering of men over the face of the earth, so the civil establishment of religion has ever had a dividing and dispersing influence. Nothing has tended more to separate the people of God from each other than the civil establishment of Christianity, although, it is remarkable enough that, like the Tower of Babel, it was intended by men to have the very opposite effect. (pp. 13-14, The Tower of Babel, or Confusion in Language)

And what if we viewed God as the reason of our differences? What if communication between the varieties of people was godliness itself? Put another way, what if, in our many differences, we might achieve godliness, that by living many different variations of a human life, we should cumulatively achieve godliness? What if we viewed the tower not as destroyed, but as put down horizontally "all across the earth?"

Babel means a confused noise made by a group of people. In the Hebrew Bible, variations of Babel also meant, "Gate to God." Perhaps they were just building that gate in the wrong direction. 

For a poetic rendering of the story, read The Tower of Babel: A Poetical Drama by Alfred Austin.

By Thad Higa

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