Genesis 11:1-11:8 Babel
So I’m giving up. After my article was published on Christianity Today, I’ve gotten dozens of emails that seem to need more urgent responses than this series needed to get written. With that in mind, I’m going to simply be collecting quotes from other people, far more brilliant than me, on some of the questions I’m posing. Hopefully you will find my blatant plagiarism helpful and not insulting.
I. Chiastic Structure
A chiasm is a structural arrangement in which ideas (or in poetry, sometimes rhymes) are repeated in an opposite order, in a format like ABCCBA. Tremper Longman explains the chiastic structure of Genesis, as noticed by J. P. Fokkelman, as:
A 11:1 (unity of language)
B 11:2 (unity of place)
C 11:3a (intensive communication)
D 11:3b (plans and inventions)
E 11:4a (building)
F 11:b (city and tower)
X 11:5a (God’s intervention)
F’ 11:5b (city and tower)
E’ 11:5c (building)
D’ 11:6 (counter plans and inventions)
C’ 11:7 (communications disrupted)
B’ 11:8 (disruption of place)
A’ 11:9 (disruption of language)
Longman suggests: “After this literary analysis, we can now see the story from the perspective of the pattern of sin, judgment speech, token of grace, and then the execution of judgment.”
In this case, people sin by trying to reach to the heavens where God resides, trying to be like him. Verses 6-7 serve as the judgment speech. The token of grace, according to Longman, is that God separates people into groups that share languages rather than making it impossible to communicate entirely.
a. Where was Babel?
Most commentators hold that Babel was referring to Babylon. The Jewish Study Bible notes:
Since the narrative serves as an account of how Babylon got its name, the ambition of the builders to erect ‘a tower with its top in the sky’ is properly compared with the prideful boast of the king of Babylon, “I will climb to the sky; / Higher than the stars of God / I will set my throne… I will match the Most High” (Isa. 14:13-14). In our passage, one senses both astonishment at the advanced technological level of Babylonian culture and a keen sense that technology poses grave dangers when it is not accompanied by reverence for God.
b. The Scientific Evidence
There is no indication from linguistic study that people of many languages dispersed from a central location. This suggests that we should interpret Babel as an expression of judgment rather than as a literal explanation of how languages came to be. (As previously discussed in the sections on True Myth and geographical limited knowledge.)
Hopefully, I can expand on some of this later, when I’ve gotten through more responses to my article. Prayers for productivity (and grace in the absence of it) would be appreciated.