e) Gen 11:8–9: In this final scene on the Plains of Shinar, the people experienced what they had worked so hard to avoid (Gen 11:1–7).[1]

Moses reported, “Then the Lord caused them to be dispersed from there over the face of all the earth. And they ceased building the city.”

This passage skips directly from God’s plan to the outcome of the cataclysm.[2] No longer able to communicate clearly with each other, the people naturally scattered.[3]

Then, Moses added a final comment.

He wrote, “Therefore, its name was called Babel, because there Yahweh confused (balal) the speech of all the earth, and from there Yahweh caused them to be dispersed over the face of all the earth.”

Those who intended to make a name for themselves succeeded, but not as they had hoped.[4]

It appears that the oldest form of the name of the city was Babila. The Babylonians shifted the name slightly to Babili, a meaning equivalent to “Gate of God.”[5]

The identity of the one who gave the city a name similar in sound for the verb balal remains unclear.[6] Perhaps Nimrod founded it (Gen 10:8–12).[7]

The best evidence places the date for Babel’s construction sometime in the fourth millennium BC.[8]

However, since the original city failed, the confusion of tongues may have occurred centuries earlier.[9]

Shifting water tables in the Euphrates River destroyed the archaeological strata, making a precise date based upon artifacts impossible. If this was indeed where the events of Gen 11 occurred, the city likely remained uninhabited for over a millennium.[10]

According to tradition, Sargon I erected the city of Akkad over the ruins of Babel (ca. 2400 BC).[11]

The earliest written documentation citing the city of Babylon consists of an inscription from the Akkadian ruler Shar-kali-sharri (ca. 2250 BC).[12]

It says, “In the year in which Szarkaliszarri laid the foundations of the temples of the goddess Annunitum and of the god Aba in Babylon.”[13]

During the second and first millennia BC, Babylon reigned as the most famous metropolis in the Ancient Near East (ANE).[14]

Rome during the Middle Ages provides a good parallel in terms of Babylon’s importance.[15] In effect, Babylon signified the ANE culture of that era.[16]

Nebuchadnezzar II (634–532 BC) rebuilt the temple tower in Babylon.[17] His military success and wealth enabled him to pursue grand construction projects (Dan 4:28–30).[18]

He called the ziggurat he built Etemenanki (“The House that is the Foundation of Heaven and Earth”).[19] This structure formed the landing site for the god Marduk.[20]

Vegetation growing at the top of the ziggurat may have constituted the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.[21]

Genesis 11:1–9 ridicules Babylon’s origin,[22] making it synonymous with wickedness.[23]

Hebrew prophets alluded to Babylon’s history when speaking against her kings. These rulers exalted themselves as gods (Isa 14:3–6, 12–17; Jer 51:53).[24]

This stigma continued in the New Testament era, although by that time Babylon no longer functioned as a world power. Instead, the city name appears to cryptically refer to the dominant force of that age: Rome (1 Pet 5:13; Rev 14:6–8; Rev 17:1–6, 9).[25]

Here the primeval history of Genesis reaches its end.[26]

With the exception of a few individuals, Gen 4–11 reveals the deep corruption of humanity. Not until the call of Abraham several millennia later would the world obtain hope for redemption (Gen 12:1–3).[27]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Read Gen 11:8–9. In what sense was “Gate of God” an accurate name for Babylon? Why did the people of Babel scatter? How far did their migration extend? Why was this necessary? What does this text teach us about God’s purposes?

 

 

 

 

 

Go to The Spirit Descends

[Related posts include 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); A Plain in Shinar (Gen 11:1–2); Let Us Bake Bricks (Gen 11:3); A Stairway to Heaven (Gen 11:4); A Deity Descends (Gen 11:5–7); The Spirit Descends (Acts 2:1–3); Speaking Other Tongues (Acts 2:4); A Bewildered Crowd (Acts 2:5–8); Babel Reversed (Acts 2:9–11); 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, 241.

[2]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 356.

[3]Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Babel Account and Its Implications,” 170, https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_1995_09_Walton_TowerBabel.pdf.

[4]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 357.

[5]Helmer Ringgren, “בָּבֶל” (babel), TDOT 1:466–9, 466–7.

[6]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 357.

[7]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 181.

[8]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 11:3.

[9]Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Babel Account and Its Implications,” 171, https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_1995_09_Walton_TowerBabel.pdf.

[10]Walton, Genesis, 378.

[11]D. J. Wiseman, “Babylon in the Old Testament,NBD 110–2, 110.

[12]Paul Delnero, “Babylon: Myth and Truth, an Exhibit at the Pergamon Museum,” Near Eastern Archaeology 71, no. 3 (1 September 2008):181–4, 182.

[13]University of California at Los Angeles, “Agade Szarkaliszarri,” http://cdli.ucla.edu/tools/yearnames/HTML/T2K4.htm.

[14]Margueron, “Babylon (Place),” ABD 1:563.

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

[16]Margueron, “Babylon (Place),” ABD 1:563.

[17]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 237–8.

[18]Grayson, “Mesopotamia, History of: History and Culture of Babylonia,” ABD 4:765.

[19]Robertson, “Temples and Sanctuaries: Mesopotamia,” ABD 6:375.

[20]Kellermann, “מִגְדָּל” (migdal), TDOT 8:72.

[21]Grayson, “Mesopotamia, History of: History and Culture of Babylonia,” ABD 4:765.

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

[23]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 245.

[24]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 353.

[25]Duane F. Watson, “Babylon (Place),” ABD 1:563–6, 565.

[26]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 245.

[27]Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Babel Account and Its Implications,” 170, https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_1995_09_Walton_TowerBabel.pdf.