The Tower Of Babel (The Wanderer Book 1)

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What fundamental truth about the human condition does it seek to impart? What are we to make of this position? Why does the Bible effect the transition from the universal to the particular through this strange tale of the origins of languages? It is here that the biblical text sets forth its ideas of nationhood, ethnicity, and heterogeneity, notions that were revolutionary for their time and went on to play a central role in the political thought of generations to come.

This essay thus offers an in-depth reading of the Tower of Babel narrative with a view toward exposing its political underpinnings. As we shall see, a close literary analysis of the text reveals it to be an eloquent argument in favor of the ethnic-cultural commonwealth—a precursor of sorts to the modern nation-state—as an indispensable condition for human freedom and self-realization.

For if our reading is correct, it demonstrates that the concept of nationhood—of a distinct group identity based on common language, culture, land, and blood ties—was not a modern European innovation, as some scholars proclaim it to be, but rather an integral part of the Jewish tradition from its very beginnings.

L et us start by examining the story, reported in the first few verses of Genesis Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. That is why it was called Babel, because there the Lord confounded the speech of the whole earth, and from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Given their ambiguity, it should come as no surprise that these nine verses have given rise to a multitude of diverse interpretations. Both explanations are certainly sound. The first issue that demands our attention concerns the transgression of which humanity was obviously guilty. I will mount the back of a cloud; I will match the most high.

Yet in spite of this intrabiblical exegesis, and of the plethora of hubris myths in many ancient cultures, the story itself does not seem exhausted by such a reading. Such an interpretation is well-grounded in the text. For this, a fuller explanation is still needed. In what follows, I seek to propose just such an explanation. Examining the literary techniques used to construct this artful tale, the following reading will reveal it to be not only a general call for dispersion and multiplicity, but also a specific endorsement of diverse ethnic-cultural entities—or, as we might call them today, nation-states.

It is precisely the existence of such entities that enables the transition from the universality of the flood to the particularity of the election of Abraham, whose descendants will go on to become the collective protagonist of the Bible and its model of political order. For while the narrative is composed of nine fairly self-sustaining verses, it has already been preceded by several instances of foreshadowing. The first literary clue is the description of humanity in the aftermath of the flood. Genesis is, in many ways, a second creation story.

Disappointed by the failures of mankind, which resulted in the expulsion from Eden and the deluge, God attempts to recreate humanity. The emphasis on nationhood and dissemination is of particular consequence in light of what follows. One may, of course, argue that this is merely a case of biblical anachronism, whereby the human dispersion described in Genesis 10 is actually the result of the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis Such an explanation, however, does not account for the reason the Bible chooses to present the events the way it does.

To understand the dissonance between the last verse of chapter 10 and the first verse of chapter 11, there is one more literary clue that remains to be deciphered. These geographical coordinates ought to sound familiar by now: It is precisely here that the scene of our drama is set. For what is imperialism if not the forceful binding of different peoples under a common regime? Before we have even begun our reading of the story, then, we seem to have amassed sufficient textual evidence to understand what it is about.

Humankind, the Bible has already stated, ought to separate into distinct nations, each with its own land and language. The Tower builders of Babel, we shall presently discover, sought to sustain this uniformity. That was their sin, and that, ultimately, is why they had to be stopped. Man has become an architect of the world, a creature—not only of necessity—but of vision. And in this instance, its vision does not bode well.

The Unity of Unbelief (Genesis ) |

Human beings, we have learned, ought to scatter. Yet the people of Babel reject this ideal, refusing to allow for the territorial, cultural, and linguistic diversity so essential to the new humanity envisioned by God. For, after all, who among us does not seek to leave behind a name of sorts? Who does not hope that his or her legacy—be it large or small—will be remembered for a generation or two? There is nothing terribly sinful about the desire to achieve greatness and recognition.

Let us, then, go down and confound their speech.

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God knows that, united in purpose and in language, humanity can achieve anything it conspires, and may well succeed in its resistance to his plans of dispersion. This is not so much a punishment for a sin as it is a solution to a problem. God confounds the languages, which causes humanity to scatter over the earth—as per his original intention. If by this point the reader still entertains any doubts as to the nature of the problem caused by the Tower, there comes the final verse and resolves any remaining ambiguity. Humanity is back on track. T hus far, we have charted the following progression: After the flood, nationhood is introduced; humanity begins to disperse into distinct peoples, each with its own lineage, land, and language.

Original Article

This natural process is interrupted by a sharp U-turn toward homogeneity, a state of affairs that the Tower of Babel is meant to preserve. Dispersion is then resumed with the confounding of human speech, and linguistic variety leads to geographical diversity. As I write, the Tate Modern has just opened its new and highly acclaimed extension.

In a recent BBC documentary journalist Andrew Marr described it as a splendid cathedral to art with its central spire-like tower and cavernous atrium. The stairs lead up to cloisters of galleries. I choose to walk down into the Tanks, the basement section, once used to store oil when the gallery was a power station. Composed of three concrete, cylindrical galleries and devoid of natural light, it feels like a crypt or a network of catacombs or as an unholy alliance between an underground temple and brutalist car park.

Here an installation by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul is on display. Ambiguous figures occupy dark spaces as lightning strikes the ground.

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The gatherers seem ready for some kind of celestial event that never quite comes to happen. Ascending the stairs to the forth level and over the bridge I am brought to a contemporary tower of Babel, a monumental structure built of second-hand analogue radios that the artist has stacked in layers. I hear different voices representing different languages and competing with one another so as to be utterly incomprehensible.

The tower is bathed in an eerie blue light, suggesting some kind of phenomenological event. This view seems quite at odds with that held by Elkins and Fox five years previously or even with the tentative call for Christian contemporary art by older writers such as Francis Schaeffer and Hans Rookmaaker fifty years before them. Indeed, Rosen states,. When we do so, we discover a tremendous potential for reciprocity. Continuing my walk of faith, I stroll through the city and up to the Slade School of Art.

The Tower of Babel: The Wanderer and the Ruins of History

Here postgraduate students are putting the final touches on their end of year show. Beginning again in the catacombs I see work by Michael Dryden who has created an installation inspired by a recent experience of prayer. Five buoys are covered in clay and hang from a vaulted ceiling. As the buoys gently sway in the breeze they remind me of church bells or prayer flags.

I hear the sound of running water from one, then another offers a voice of prayer. Our Father, I only have to return for all my worries to return also. My concern for my sick brother-in-law and for my unemployed grandson….

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