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Tower of Babel

Presented by Eric Kennedy, Joe Pynchon, and Hunter Hall

  • What is the Tower of Babel?

According to the Book of Genesis, it is a tower built in the plain of Shinar, or Sumer, in Mesopotamia.

Here is the actual text from King James Bible:

"And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children built. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth." -- Genesis 11:1-9

Here is a slightly more modern translation:

"So errybody got together and spoke the same language. They found a sick hangout, and pretty much chilled. They were like, 'Dude, get me some stuff, like, to build with, so we can build this totally epic tower. It's gonna be legit, breh.' So they built a tower that reached the clouds. But the Lord was not down with that, so he rocked their minds into confusion, and nobody could understand each other. Then the Lord said, 'Get lost' and everyone got lost."

Other than the version in the Old Testament, there are stories that appear in the Qur'an that are similar, and even in the Book of Mormon.

  • Significance Of:

The Tower of Babel represents confusion and misunderstanding, a sort of anti-translation. Oddly enough, many allusions or references to Babel are the complete opposite, translation. The Babelfish is a translator of all languages, similar to the Rosetta Stone, instead of a scatterer of languages.

The story of Babel had great significance for the early Israelites, because it provided an explanation for the name of the city of Babylon. In the native Sumerian language, Babel means 'gate of the gods' but in Hebrew was related to the word 'Babil' meaning 'to confuse'. So the Tower itself was a gateway to the Gods, but because it was, resulted in confusing all the people of the world. And in English, the word 'babble' means to chatter incessantly, or to utter words incoherently.

Additionally, you could use the story in everyday speech, as a way to seem edgier or cooler. Give it a try: you could say about a noisy classroom (lots of students talking with nobody listening): "It's a Tower of Babel in here."

It also explains why people of different cultures from around the world speak different languages.

  • As an Archetype:

Towers have been both good and evil archetypes throughout literature. While some depictions of the Tower of Babel are more like a castle or terraced city, some are tall, skinny towers. Castles and cities (Minas Tirith, Hogwarts) are generally good, while towers (Isengard, Barad-Dur, Castle of AAAAaaaarrrrrgghhhh) are generally evil. Thus the Tower of Babel could be either.

Also, there are plenty of allusions to the story described in Genesis 11. The people (most likely people of Nimrod, at his command) built the tower to display their power and to stick together, or simply put, for fame and security. Yet in doing so, the people were disobeying God, a recurring theme in the Bible, and all stories. Attempting to thwart authority figures is perhaps humans favorite pastime. There's nothing better than "stickin' it to the man!'

However, there are very few or no other towers that are places of confusion in literature that are not direct references to the actual Tower of Babel.

  • Allusions / References To:

- www.babel.altavista.com (a translation website)
- www.babelfish.yahoo.com (you guessed, another translator)
- The Babelfish, a small yellow fish that lives in your ear (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, both the books, radio series, and the movie)
- Babel (movie)
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradury
- Paradise Lost by John Milton
- Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
- "In The Land of Shinar" by Denise Levertov

  • In the Odyssey:

In Book Six of Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus stumbles out of the forest on the coast of Phaeacia, completely naked. He is seen by Nausicaa, the King's daughter. She safely escorts him into town and ensures his safe return home, effectively saving his life. When Odysseus leaves, she reminds him of this. He replies, "Nausicaa, flower of your father's garden, i swear to Zeus the thunderer, husband to Hera, that on the desired day that I return to my house that I will offer prayers to you as a goddess all the rest of my days." This prayer to raise her status to that of a goddess is much like how the people of Babylon wanted to ascend into the heavens by building a tower that reached to the Gods, thereby challenging his power.