Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Tower of Babel

The city and tower of Babel, Genesis 11:1-9

The statement of the builders indicates a twofold reasoning for their purpose:
  • let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven
  • let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth
This statement of purpose does not give any indication of reaching up high above possible flood waters (as some have suggested), but rather of a unifying city with a unifying purpose. The city would be a place to live. A tower in the heavens would be a beacon to all. They wanted to have a name (which may suggest the desire for power and fame, and perhaps putting their name in place of God’s name), and they did not want to scatter across the whole earth – in contrast to God’s command, Genesis 9:1.

God’s judgment broke up their plans. In contrast to the building of the city, the work was abandoned. In contrast to banding together and making a name, God scattered them (Genesis 11:8). So it seems that God’s judgment addressed the two things of their intent, with no hint of anything about a flood.

Acts 17:26-27 provides a succinct commentary on the confusion of Babel. God, not man, determines the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.

The city and tower have spawned various stories, which are not necessarily consonant with the biblical history but might prove an interesting curiosity to readers.
  • The Book of Jubilees 10:18-26 gives when it was built, how long it took, how high the tower was, etc.
  • Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:3 says those who were scattered were excluded from life in the world to come. “The members of the generation of the dispersion have no share in the World-to-Come, as it is stated: ‘And the Lord scattered them from there upon the face of all the earth’ (Genesis 11:8), and it is written: ‘And from there did the Lord scatter them upon the face of all the earth’ (Genesis 11:9). ‘And the Lord scattered them’ indicates in this world; ‘and from there did the Lord scatter them’ indicates for the World-to-Come.”
  • Antiquities of the Jews — Book I, Chapter 4 Josephus suggests that Nimrod was the instigator of the work, and that the people, generally, wanted to dwell higher than the water level of the flood.
  • Mishnah Sanhedrin 109a mentions some Rabbinic teachings about the tower of Babel, including they built “the tower for the sake of idol worship” and that “The uppermost third of the tower was burned, the lowermost third of the tower was swallowed into the earth, and the middle third remained intact.”

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