Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Tower of Babel

The whole story of the tower of Babel, like that of the flood, is a story emerging out of pre-history and hence full of mythological and legendary elements. Stories of this kind are hard to analyze it seems to me. The excavations at the historic sites show that large temples to pagan gods were erected. The Babylonian god Marduk had a temple, the ziggurat of Marduk, which was 300 feet square at its base. The ziggurat rose to a height of about 300 feet and could be seen from far outside the city.

The story which begins in Genesis 10 is at pains to trace all the nations of the earth to the sons of Noah. The chapter concludes (Genesis 10:32) "These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood."

Genesis chapter 11 takes us from this point to the time of Abram who was a son of Terah and born in Ur of the Chaldees. One source which simply accumulates the time line gives the birth of Abram as 1948 years since Adam. A more secular timeline for the period is shown below.
The motivation for destroying the tower of Babel is a bit muddled in the text. The way it sounds is that God was offended by the construction and confounded their language and scattered them. I've always found the story a bit strange. It would have made more sense to me if there had been a reference to false gods or something like that, but instead it comes across as if God is jealous of their accomplishments and that would make no sense at all. It does have slight echos of the pagan stories of the Titans and also there are stories in Babylonian mythology of the gods trying to destroy man that might also contribute to this story.

One also wonders if the shift from cuneiform script to alphabetic writing on perishable materials may play some role in this story.