God vs. Unity in the Tower of Babel Story

To its credit, the Adult Bible Study Guide debunks some common racist interpretations of Genesis 9:25. Then it moves along and draws some conclusions about the story of the Tower of Babel. Anyone with Sabbath school experience from kindergarten on is probably familiar with the ABSG’s allegorical and textual approach: 

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11770

Doesn’t look like the author read the story very well.

First: The KJV doesn’t say anything about God destroying the tower. It does say that the people’s language was confused, and it stopped the completion of the tower, but it never mentions the destruction of the tower.

Second: The Author must never have read chapter 10 of Genesis. It lists the three male children, because women didn’t count, as all going their separate ways with their separate “tongues”. And most of the later translations use the word “languages”. So, this idea that the whole world spoke one language looks problematic. There are 3 verses in chapter 10 that say the same thing about the “tongues”. And the three male children also went to different parts of the world, so they did not all congregate in Babel.

But other than that,…all is well with the world. And remember, Moses wrote chapter 10, probably just before he wrote chapter 11.

I hate to be the barer of bad news. Sorry, but this story has issues.

After the flood, God blessed Noah and his sons and were told, twice, ch 9,v 1“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth." and vs 7 "be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.”, They were urged to spread out, not gather in one location, speaking their own languages by families…

The story of the Tower of Babel, which is inserted between two accounts of the descendants.of Shem, tells us they decided to do just the opposite by speaking one language and residing in a fortified city they built for themselves.

11 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”

We don’t know when or how it happened but there’s an interesting explanation, reflecting a historical reality, offered by one of the commenters at Walla Walla U.

Archaeological evidence helps us answer this question. Mesopotamia, which included Babel/Babylon and Assyria was the home of the world’s first empires. From the neo-Assyrians we know that they imposed their own language,…

The ancient kings who forced unity of language and culture upon defeated nations was the endeavor of ruthless imperialism. The structure that still testifies to such imperialist power demonstrations is the excavated base of the Etemenanki ziggurat, a 6-floor high staircase pyramid with a temple on top dedicated to the Babylonian deity Marduk. Its name is given in the Esagila tablet as “tower with its head in the heavens,” which almost exactly describes the biblical story of the tower of Babel. When [Genesis 11] is read in the context of such power impositions, it turns out that the diversity of languages is not a result of God’s punishment but about a critique of imperialism, the coercion of a single culture and language on a plural world.

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Really?..all that from about 5 verses.

I do find it interesting that there are several civilizations, the Asyrians, the Mesopotamians Egyptians and the Chinese which all have chronologies of kings and kingdoms that date back several hundred years before the biblical timetable for the flood. There are even some artifacts from some of the very early Chinese dynasties in which there are some pictorials of faces of their culture which show the same variations we see today in that part of the world, so if this holds true, how did that evolutionary transformation take place in what would be, at best, just a few years, possibly a century or two at the most?

As I mentioned, the story of the Tower of Babel is inserted by the biblical author between two traditions about the descendants of Shem.

My guess is use of this tradition of the Tower of Babel simply seeks to explain the origins of the Semitic people residing together in the same region, the world they knew. It explains why they look alike, exhibiting familial similarities, shared customs and speaking almost identical but distinct tribal languages.

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i don’t think this story of the Tower of Babel necessarily has issues when its read on its own terms, which you appear to be discounting, or at least not recognizing, namely that the order of the narrative isn’t reflected in the order of the text…

the geneologies given in Genesis 10 are actually a bit of a diversion from the ebbing narrative found towards the end of Genesis 9, consisting of a reflection of the three named sons of Noah in conjunction with his death…these geneologies aren’t advancing any story line…instead they’re radiating into background detail about the three sons of Noah for their own sake…the fact that these geneologies in Genesis 10 precede the narrative of the Tower of Babel in the first part of Genesis 11 is neither here nor there…it isn’t an indication that everything within their reach transpires before the Tower of Babel event…

the opening of the narrative of the Tower of Babel, in Genesis 11:1, explicitly states that the entire world used a single language…this isn’t a contradiction with the observations in Genesis 10 that each of the sons of Noah were using separate sets of related languages…rather, it’s an indication that the Tower of Babel preceded the dispersion of the sons of Noah into various parts of the earth, and in fact gives some explanation for that dispersion…

notice that the geneology of Shem in the second part of Genesis 11 omits all mention of Joktan, son of Eber, who is listed as the father of 13 sons in Genesis 10…this isn’t a contradiction because the second part of Genesis 11, unlike Genesis 10, is setting up the ancestry of Abraham (Abram), the next central subject in the narrative, and so is focussing on Peleg, the older brother of Joktan, who is the direct ancestor of Abraham…the note in Genesis 10:25 about the division of the earth in Peleg’s lifetime could mean that the post-Babel dispersion came as a 5th generation post-flood event, which seems reasonable…

so the author of Genesis, who is traditionally believed to be Moses, isn’t contradicting himself in this story of the Tower of Babel…as in his accounts of the Creation and Flood stories, his overall narrative contains occasional diversions from that narrative for the purpose of providing detail that momentarily suspends any concern for linear time…were the author of Genesis writing in our time, and our context, no doubt he’d find a way to merge the detail he finds salient seamlessly into a presentation that reflects linear time…but he isn’t, and therefore he doesn’t…i don’t see that this is a problem…

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This is why it would be most helpful to be given a contemporary narriative of things from God. Oh…yes you say, we were. But, that revelation was, in large part, “borrowed” Why not something that is untainted, concice and scientifically accurate? Is that too much to hope for?

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The narrative order is not chronological or linear, as you observed. The opening statement of Gen 11 doesn’t tell us whether the Tower of Babel was built before or after the flood though we tend to assume the order of events. Did the Bible writer intended to suggest that “the whole earth” meant all humans who survived the flood (descendants of Noah) … came from the east and settled in one location?

11 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.

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as i see it, most likely…inspiration always seems to be presented through flawed channels, at least in the perception of those on the receiving end of that inspiration…nothing in the entire presentation of truth from ancient times to now suggests this is ever going to change…most likely future prophets will have issues that will cause some to immediately dismiss anything they say…

it seems to be the case that there’s always a test that recipients must navigate before they can benefit from inspiration…some rise to that test, and are incredibly benefitted…but most don’t, and so aren’t…

that’s definitely how i read it…if the ark landed somewhere in mountains to the east of Shinar, it seems plausible that flood survivors, who were all family, would journey west to the foot of those mountains together, essentially following the trajectory of the sun…

notice that the encampment in Shinar is indeterminate in terms of time…it is possible that all five of the generations between the flood and the Tower of Babel were gathered in Shinar, in which case we could be looking at thousands of people…in fact Noah could have been alive at the time of the Tower of Babel…

The problem I have with your version of inspiration is not that it comes through flawed vessels. My issue is that you arbitrarily limit the number of inspired sources to whomever wrote the Bible and EGW.

This amounts to idolatry in my mind as it places the words of those writers on an unassailable pedestal and necessarily discounts the notion that god can inspire anyone open to receiving communication from our creator.

Yes, you’re going to have to sort through their “truths”, as well, given that they are as flawed as any other so-called prophet but the notion that inspiration can only be found in places you accept as being “holy” or “divine” is to impose limitations on what is, in fact, not only unbounded, but is more likely unboundable.

BTW, it seems likely that divine inspiration more often comes in a nonverbal format than in words. That is, I find Moon Light Sonata and a walk in the woods much more enlightening than reading Christian apologetics or arguments over the age of the cosmos.



We see in modern media, a complete breakdown of “truth”. There is so much garbage floating around on the networks and the internet and literally thousands of people who are now dead because they believed some of the lies that have been spread by many of these sources, is simply criminal. One person’s truth is another person’s falsehood. But just like this pandemic, believing the wrong source could be a death sentence or even an eternal death sentence if we are talking about our belief structure.

For something so important as to where we are to spend eternity, simply shouldn’t require us to ferret out what is gospel from what is falsehood, and even the bible itself points out that if there is error from a prophet, then their whole message is of no use. So, how do we deal with this in light of the very devastating consequence of getting it wrong?

One way I cope is to take my grandmother’s advice from about 57 years ago, (I was ten at the time, if you want to do the math and figure my age) and avoid the “news” like a cat shuns water and dogs! :rofl:

I also like what Jesus supposedly said about not leaving us alone and sending the Holy Spirit to help us navigate our way through the tough times ahead.

As I mentioned previously, in my experience that divine guidance doesn’t come across in words, nor do the answers have a KJV/religious ring to them! Yes, scripture (and by that I mean any book) can be helpful but even EGW tacitly admitted that there were more enlightened people in the world than herself by freely borrowing their stuff!

Instead, the important thing for me is to put myself in a place where nature so overwhelms all my senses-as well as all the other voices in my head-that the intent of the nonverbal messages is as unmistakable as the sound of an onshore breeze or the smooth, soothing vibrations of a well struck golf ball.

(And BTW, I hope your question wasn’t rhetorical!!!)


Gen 10:21 Sons were also born to Shem… Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan. 26 Joktan was the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Havilah and Jobab. All these were sons of Joktan. 30 The region where they lived stretched from Mesha toward Sephar, in the eastern hill country.

Gen 11:1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there

.We like to read our Bible narratives the way we understand history should be written. in proper chronological sequence. So we try reorganize the apparent lack of order and discontinuities in our mind though the Bible writer/editor doesn’t seem to mind at all.


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