Friday, October 10, 2008

Babbling Babel

The story of the the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is a why and how story. It answers the questions about why there are different languages and how the different languages came to be. With a cursory look, it may appear to be a plausible explanation of why we have different languages in different geographic locations today. However, look any closer than that and the story becomes laughable at best. As the expression goes, the devil is in the details.

Babbling Babel
With modern knowledge, examination of the story of the Tower of Babel falls flat quicker than a house of cards. Anyone that still believes in the literal truth of the Bible, a literal truth that is endorsed throughout even the New Testament, after reading this story just isn't thinking deeply about what they are reading.

The scene starts with all the men of Earth having one language, and the men settling in Shinar. The man's intent is Behold, Genesis 11:3-4:
They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." NIV
Just so there is no confusion of mankind's intent here, the actual literal translation of “with a tower that reaches to the heavens” from the Hebrew is “and a tower, with its top in Heaven”. In other words, mankind was intending on making a building tall enough to reach God's domain. After sending numerous spacecraft to “Heaven”, we can be reasonably sure that this would be impossible. But let's suspend our disbelief for a moment and say they only wanted a tower reaching the top of the lowest layer of the atmosphere, the troposphere.

The idea of making a tower over 10 miles high to reach the top of the troposphere out of baked bricks with tar for mortar is ludicrous. At this time in 2008, the most advanced engineering and material science is developing what is soon to be the world's tallest building, the Burj Dubai, which will stand a mere 2313 feet tall; not even half of a mile high. The world's tallest mountain, Mt. Everest, is 29035 feet high, or about half of the height of the troposphere. Structurally, there is no practical way a tower made of bricks and tar could reach this height. Instead, you would have to revert to a pyramid-type structure for stability. Such a pyramid would make the Great Pyramid in Egypt look like a pebble.

Perhaps you think that the tower height mentioned was just poetic hyperbole? That's not what God thought. Behold, God's response to this in Genesis 11:5-7:
But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, 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." NIV
Here you see that God's concern is that a mankind with one common language is able to do absolutely anything; nothing will be impossible. This is very strong supporting evidence that the plan for the tower was not just that it would be relatively tall, but that the tower would in fact reach Heaven.

Now, what God should have done was grab a comfortable chair, a bottle of wine, and sit back to enjoy the show. He could have watched the failure as the primitive engineering skills resulted in tower collapses over and over again. Once engineering got to the point of considerably height, He could have watched as the men got skin cancers from the increased intensity of the solar radiation. As it got even higher, He could have laughed as the laboring men gasped for oxygen in the thin air and suffered frostbite from the extreme cold. He could have grinned widely when, after centuries of toil, men decided that their suffering was not worth the continuation of the tower project anymore.

Instead what is relayed is that God was genuinely afraid that a mankind united with one common language would be too powerful. He was afraid that someday the little cretins would show up knocking on Heaven's door. Either this displays a God that is out of touch with the reality of His own universe or this proves the story to be a complete work of fiction.

Wrapping things up here, God scatters the people on the Earth (answering their stated fears) and gives them different languages. A very strange thing about God's distribution of different languages is that God gave his soon-to-be Chosen People such a primitive language; Hebrew. It is a step above hieroglyphics, but not that much of one.

Now, Hebrew has evolved a bit over time, but the Biblical Hebrew was dirt primitive. There were no real vowels. There were rarely spaces to segregate words. There is not much punctuation. All the letters are the same case. To the uninitiated, it may as well be encrypted text. Below is the paragraph under the “Background” heading above rendered in a similar style as Biblical Hebrew.


With a language like this, you could study the Bible for decades and still not come up with 100% accurate translations. You could get close, but there would always be judgment calls in cases where a group of letters could be interpreted in two different ways that would seem to both fit the context. If you have ever used text messages on a cell phone with predictive text, you'll get the idea. Yet, this is the language that God, knowing the future perfectly, supposedly chose for the Old Testament.


  1. Of course it was foolish and impossible. Just as man trying to be God is.

  2. The God of the early Genesis stories sounds like a puny dork, if he's so afraid that humans will become immortal like him by eating magic fruit, AND that they'll build a tower up to his front door. Quite a contrast to later depictions of the supreme being, I must say.

    Oh, and one more thing: mrllynjyngyrblg!

  3. It is a rather humorous portrayal of a deity, huh? If, today, people's first exposure to Christianity started with the Old Testament, I doubt that there would be many new converts.