1) Gen 11:1–2: The account of the city and tower in Babel brilliantly employs several literary devices, such as alliteration and double meanings.

Just as with Noah’s flood (Gen 6:10–9:19), this story appears as a chiasm, with the emphasis falling upon “The Lord came down” (F):[1]

A      All the earth had one language (Gen 11:1)

B       They settled there (Gen 11:2)

C       They said to each other (Gen 11:3)

D       Come, let us make bricks (Gen 11:3)

E       A city and a tower (Gen 11:4)

F        The Lord came down (Gen 11:5)

É        The city and the tower (Gen 11:5)

D́       Come…let us confuse (Gen 11:7)

Ć        They don’t understand each other (Gen 11:7)

B́        They dispersed from there (Gen 11:8)

Á        The language of the whole earth (Gen 11:9)[2]

This last biblical narrative of primeval history parallels the account of the fall (Gen 3:1–13, 22–24) and the Lord’s judgment upon humanity due to the violence of the sons of the gods (Gen 6:1–7).[3]

Moses began by stating, “And it happened that all the earth [had] one language and one [set of] words. And they journeyed on the side of the East, and they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they remained there.”

“The whole earth” could depict this as the universal experience of humanity.[4] However, several other possibilities exist.[5]

In Hebrew, the same word denotes “earth” and “land” (erets). We cannot ascertain which meaning the author intended apart from the context of the passage.[6]

This event may include only the people of that region.

Except for Gen 10:32, the genealogy of Shem’s descendants occurred just prior to this verse (Gen 10:21–31). Possibly, some of them settled in Sumer, where this narrative took place.[7]

On the other hand, people throughout the region may have utilized a trade language to facilitate communication, much like English serves people in disparate countries today.[8]

In these cases, Gen 11 would follow the Table of Nations (Gen 10) in chronological order.

However, this account may indicate that Noah’s sons had not yet separated into their people-groups.[9]

In this view, Moses returned to a time before the Table of Nations existed.[10] After all, Gen 10 does speak of people-groups divided by clans and languages.[11]

Most commentators view this passage as a flashback depicting the division of the world during Peleg’s lifetime (Gen 10:25). Even after the flood cleansed the land of injustice, the earth’s inhabitants remained tainted by sin (Gen 6:11–14; Gen 7:19–22; Gen 9:20–22).[12]

By traveling “on the side of the East,”[13] these people moved far away from the promised land of Moses’s era.[14]

Similarly, God cast Adam and Eve out of Eden to the east (Gen 3:22–24).[15] After Cain murdered his brother, the Lord banished him to a land east of Eden (Gen 4:8–16).[16]

The Table of Nations depicts some of Shem’s descendants as living in the east (Gen 10:30).[17] However, that appears to be in Arabia.[18]

In general, living in the east connotes that one does not experience God’s blessing (Gen 13:10–13; Gen 25:5–6; Gen 29:1).[19]

That the wanderers “found” (matsa) a place to settle implies they had sought a suitable place to live.[20]

In the middle of the fourth millennium BC, flood waters drained from southern Mesopotamia into the river system over the course of several hundred years.[21]

This resulted in a broad, flat plain,[22] making the land desirable for new habitations.[23]

Over the course of time, the name of this region changed from Sumer to Akkad to Babylonia.[24] Today, it lies near Baghdad in Iraq.[25]

Understanding the culture and history of southern Mesopotamia sheds crucial light upon the events in this chapter.[26]

A Neolithic society called the “Ubaid culture” was the first to dwell in this area (6th–4th millennium BC).[27]

Sumerian literature cites Eridu as the oldest city. It dates to the late 6th millennium BC.[28]

According to a 6th century BC Babylonian creation account, “All the lands were sea…Then Eridu was made.”[29]

Close to 3700 BC, the Ubaid culture disappeared, replaced by an urban civilization.[30]

By 3000 BC, a plethora of small villages, towns, and cities loomed over these plains.[31]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

a) Read Gen 11:1–2. Who do you think was involved in this migration? Why was dwelling in the East significant? How does the archaeological record reflect the biblical account?

 

 

 

 

 

Go to Let Us Bake Bricks

[Related posts include Serpents in the Ancient Near East (Gen 3:1); A World-Altering Conversation (Gen 3:2–5); Succumbing to Temptation (Gen 3:6); Hiding from God (Gen 3:8); A Day of Reckoning (Gen 3:9–13); Access to the Tree of Life (Gen 3:22); Driven Out (Gen 3:23–24); Cain Arose against His Brother (Gen 4:8); Misappropriated Blood (Gen 4:9‒10); Cursed from the Ground (Gen 4:11‒14); Banished from God’s Presence (Gen 4:15‒16); Sons of God or Sons of the Gods? (Gen 6:1–2); Descendants of Seth as the Sons of God (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Fallen Angels as the Sons of God (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Kings as Sons of the Gods (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Taking Wives for Themselves (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Limiting Human Life Spans (Gen 6:3); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); God Grieves (Gen 6:5–6); Wiping Out Everyone (Gen 6:7); Violence Filled the Earth (Gen 6:11–12); The End was Near (Gen 6:13); Specifications for an Ark (Gen 6:14–16); The Waters Prevail (Gen 7:17–20); The Breath of Life Extinguished (Gen 7:21–24); Noah Planted a Vineyard (Gen 9:20–21); Ham Dishonors His Father (Gen 9:22–23); The Descendants of Japheth (Gen 10:2–5); The Descendants of Ham (Gen 10:6–14); The Descendants of Canaan (Gen 10:15–20); The Descendants of Shem (Gen 10:21–31); Seventy Nations (Gen 10:32); Let Us Bake Bricks (Gen 11:3); Ancient Literature; and Author and Date of Genesis]

[Click here to go to Chapter 12: Scattered to the Ends of the Earth (Gen 11:1–9)]

 

[1]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 234.

[2]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 176.

[3]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 242.

[4]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 178.

[5]Walton, Genesis, 371–2.

[6]J. Bergman and M. Ottosson, “אֶרֶץ” (erets) TDOT 1:388–405, 393.

[7]John H. Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Babel Account and Its Implications,” BBR 5, no. 1 (1 September 1991):155–75, 173, https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_1995_09_Walton_TowerBabel.pdf.

[8]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 350.

[9]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 240.

[10]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 350.

[11]Walton, Genesis, 371.

[12]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 175, 177.

[13] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “מִן” (min), BDB, 577–83, 578, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/578.

[14] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 238.

[15]Walton, Genesis, 372.

[16]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 238–9.

[17]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 352.

[18]Gary H. Oller, “Mesha (Place),” ABD 4:708.

[19]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 178.

[20]S. Wagner and H.-J. Fabry, “מָצָא” (matsa), TDOT 8:465–83, 467.

[21]Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Babel Account and Its Implications,” 172, https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_1995_09_Walton_TowerBabel.pdf.

[22] Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 239.

[23]Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Babel Account and Its Implications,” 172, https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_1995_09_Walton_TowerBabel.pdf.

[24]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 351.

[25]James R. Davila, “Shinar (Place),” ABD 5:1220.

[26]Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Babel Account and Its Implications,” 155, https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_1995_09_Walton_TowerBabel.pdf.

[27]Jean-Cleaude Margueron, “Al Ubaid,” Paul Sager (Trans.), ABD 1: 141–2.

[28]Jean-Claude Margueron, “Eridu (Place),” ABD 2:573.

[29]Alexander Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis: The Story of Creation, 2nd Ed. (Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 1:10–12, 62, https://archive.org/stream/TheBabylonianGenesisStoryOfCreation/The%20Babylonian%20Genesis%20Story%20of%20Creation#page/n7.

[30]Margueron, “Al Ubaid,” 1:142.

[31]A. Kirk Grayson, “Mesopotamia, History of: History and Culture of Babylonia,” ABD 4:755–77, 757.