Sunday, February 12, 2006

Genesis - Chapter 11:1-26

Babel and the line of Noah

The lesson from the first nine verses is crucial for the time in which we live. The remaining verses are a transition from the Biblical view, the universal prehistory, to a more limited scope, the story of Abram/Abraham and his descendants.

The Babel tale is one of divine displeasure. God has entrusted His Will, His Blessings to all people to be carried out. Man instead becomes self-aggrandizing and arrogant. Man prides himself on his accomplishments. Instead of going forth and filling the earth, we see man concentrates in one small portion of the earth wherein he learns to build brick, use bitumen to construct large structures with the goal of establishing a city. He prides himself on his own achievements and forgets that all he was given was bestowed upon him from God, El Shaddai the almighty creator.

We see that men had a common language or “tongue” as it is called in the Scripture. We are told that men migrated to the east in a valley in the land of Shimar and settled there.

Historically in the land of Mesopotamia the principal language in the third millennium was Sumerian and Akkadian. Of these, Akkadian is more closely related to Hebrew. We know that the other languages spoken during this period were Amorite, Canaanite and Aramaic. Were these to become the “confused” languages?

The writer/storyteller means to explain that the materials used were “brick and bitumen” instead of stone and mortar as was used in Israel.

In the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation myth we read a description to a shrine of Marduk. The people in the first year molded bricks. In the second year they raised high the head of Esaglia, the counterpart of Apsu (the abyss). In other histories we read that the Babylonians dug a moat and the soil that they got from cutting was made into bricks and baked in kilns. When they were completed, they set to building using hot bitumen for cement.

From these myths you wonder if perhaps the inhabitants of Babel not only lost their goal to Cary out God’s Command, but also lost their focus on the One True God.

Perhaps verse four is essential as it exhibits the attitude of the people at this time.

And they said, “Come, let us build us a city and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.”

This was a direct violation of the precept that God decreed, to go forth multiply and fill the earth.

The Lord then says, “If one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach.” Perhaps this goes further to explain not just the one language or tongue, but the one way of thought, the one understanding, the one common life pattern. Man found that he could control his way of life and that of his fellow man instead of listening and trusting in God as Noah did.

So the Lord said, “Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so they shall not understand one another’s speech.” Thus the Lord scattered them from over the face of the whole earth and they stopped building the city.

God intervened. Despite our own agendas, goals, meetings, summits, clashes between world powers and designs for domination, God’s Will shall be done. Man proposed, God disposed. Amen

Not only did God change their language and their common understanding, He scattered them over the world. We are not told how this was accomplished only that it was done. God gave us one simple task, to go forth and fill the earth. Man became caught up in his own accomplishments and lost track of his prime objective.

Historically we know that a distinctive feature of all Babylonian temples was the Zikurat or Zigurat, literally “that which has been raised high.” These may have served as the humanly constructed equivalent of the mythical holy mountain in Babylonian mythology. The zikurat called Etemenanki (house of the foundation of heaven and earth) was reported to have consisted of seven stories receding in pyramid-like fashion toward a flat top and reaching a height of nearly 300 feet. Archeologists have uncovered the foundation of this zikurat and its extent would seem to coincide with the reputed size of the Tower of Babel.

The story teller/writers’ contempt for paganism of Babylon is demonstrated in the overtones and word plays in the Hebrew and its explanation of Babel as a place of confusion.

The sin of Babel was not man’s accomplishment, but the failure to act upon God’s command. God’s action was not so much a punishment, as was the flood, but a way to carry out His Plan and an assurance that the Babel incident would not be repeated

In man’s arrogance there was perhaps not so much a desire to reach the heavens, but a desire to press together on earth. A desire to create extreme centralization, the consequence of which would be on a huge megalopolis that sees its prime goal as bringing all men under One Tower. In my humble opinion this is congruent with the objective today of men that dwell within the same region. Nothing changes. Everything remains the same.

The remaining verses are of the line of Noah’s son Shem. All the names with the exception of Shem appear to reflect the names of cities in upper Mesopotamia. We will see later in Genesis this region referred to as Aram-Naharim and Paddan-Aram. The Israelites consider themselves to be Arameans in origin.

One of the ancient Rabbis used the numbers to arrive at 3760 BCE (Before the Common Era) as the year of creation. This date is not far from the archeologically suggested age for the emergence of civilization in Mesopotamia.

We conclude by noting that Terah lived seventy years and he begot Abram, Nahor and Haran. This will lead us into the story of Abram/Abraham.

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