With genealogies sprinkled throughout, Genesis 1 and 2 cover the Creation story, Genesis 3 covers the Fall of Man, Genesis 4 and 5 cover Cain’s murder of Abel, Genesis 6 through 9 cover Noah’s Ark and the Flood, and now we come to the last of the pre-Abrahamic stories in Genesis 10 and 11: The Tower of Babel.
The word Babel, of Akkadian descent, means “gateway to heaven” and was seen by the author of Genesis as an attempt by humans to, as in the Fall, become like God apart from Him. As the story goes, the people of Babel build a ziggurat to heaven (see Etemenanki) and God steps in to thwart their plans by giving them different languages and spreading them out across the earth so that they can no longer communicate. After the Fall, God moved them out of Eden. After the Tower of Babel, God moved them throughout the earth. The first thing we notice is that these stories, almost as old as language itself, are an attempt to explain why things are the way they are, evidence that the human race has been hungry for the answer to “Why?” from the beginning of written history. In this particular story, this involves explaining why humans live in different groups throughout the earth, with different languages for every group. Interestingly, it acknowledges we all started out together, in one place, and then spread out. This is an aspect of these ancient stories which makes them absolutely beautiful. But many people have raised objections to the “Tower of Babel” explanation.
It is the goal of this article to answer Steve Wells’ objections to the Genesis 10 and 11 account of the Tower of Babel, found in his Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.
Steve’s first objection is with the “boring genealogies…we are told to avoid…in 1 Timothy 1:4 and Titus 3:9.” There are two possible things Paul was warning them to avoid: 1) arguing about the extra-Biblical genealogies kept by the Jews to confirm their Jewish identity, since there is now no distinction between Jew and Greek, 2) mythical stories the early Gnostics based on OT genealogies.
Steve’s second objection (repeated in response to 11:1) is that, according to Genesis 10:5, 20 and 31, there were multiple languages before God dispersed the architects of the Tower of Babel. However, Genesis 11 is chronologically prior to Genesis 10. Genesis 11 is an explanation of how those nations in Genesis 10 became scattered in location and language.
Third, Steve wants to know who Nimrod is. Steve lists a few links, one that equates Nimrod with Gilgamesh, another that considers him the father of mystery religions (but then goes off on this bizarre story which connects him to the Apostle Peter and concludes that Catholics worship Balaam!–this ridiculousness is probably the very sort of thing Paul was warning about in Steve’s first objection). According to the Bible, Nimrod is the grandson of Ham, great-grandson of Noah. Apparently he established Babel, but it is not mentioned whether or not he ordered the construction of the Tower.
Fourth, Steve wants to know who fathered Shelah–Arphaxad or Cainan? Two possible answers are 1) Arphaxad is the biological father of Shelah, while Cainan is more of a ‘forefather’, 2) The insertion of Cainan into the Luke passage (making Cainan the father of Arphaxad, grandfather of Shelah) is a scribal error (accidentally copying Cainan onto verse 36 in addition to where it is in 37, where it belongs). Cainin is not included in the earliest known copy of Luke or the oldest Septuagint (Greek OT) manuscripts.
Fifth, Steve notes that some believers think the “division of the earth” that happened during Peleg’s time (“Peleg” meaning “division”) refers to contintental drift (a recent theory), while other believers think it refers to the division God brought about to deal with the Tower of Babel (but see 10:5). If the ‘continental drift’ theory were accurate, it would mean that the Great Flood happened to Pangaea–but Pangaea started breaking apart 200-250 million years ago. It seems to be referring to neither, or to be another attempt to explain–in this case, the separation of continents (since there were many languages in 10:5).
Sixth, Steve objects to 11:4-6 because it seems to show God thinks humans can overpower Him, which Steve finds absurd. However, humans have free will to reject God–if left unchecked, the kingdom of man can exclude the kingdom of God. This was God “checking” that, because He has other plans. See also my response to Steve’s objection to Genesis 3:22-24.
Seventh, Steve asks “Does God know everything?” in relation to 11:5. See my response to his identical question in objection to 3:8-11.
Eighth, Steve asks if God is the author of confusion, using Genesis 11:7-9 and 1 Corinthians 1:27 to suggest that He is, while pitting them against 1 Corinthians 14:33 to show contradiction in the Bible. He could have also used the example of when King Nebuchadnezzar grazed like a cow, and probably others, though that one comes quickest to mind. Clearly it is a greater good to confuse people who have evil intentions. There was no ‘good’ to be had in the confusion occurring in 1 Corinthians 14:33.
Ninth, Steve asks if God is one or a plurality of gods, since He sometimes refers to Himself with plural pronouns (11:7-9). The answer cannot be that God is referring to the Trinity, because the author of Genesis was not yet aware of the Trinity. The answer cannot be that there are many gods, because the author of Genesis is a monotheist. The answer is the majestic plural.
Tenth, Steve objects that language takes time to develop, rather than many coming into use in one event, when God deals with the architects of the Tower of Babel. Perhaps he is right, as he is right with the rainbow. However, although normally languages take time to develop, these (of Genesis 11) may have been miraculously ‘given’. It would be the first example of people speaking in tongues (although not a ‘gift’ in this context, from their perspective), only, they would continue on in those tongues, completely forgetting the language they grew up with, and needing no interpreter to tell them what they are saying. The “how many languages?” (one or many before the Tower) objection is answered above. The “avoid genealogies” question is answered above. The “who is Shelah’s father?” objection is answered above. The long lifespans are addressed in previous articles.
Eleventh, Steve asks “How old was Terah when he died? How old was Abram when he left Haran? How old was Abram when Ishmael was born?” Abram was 75 and Terah died at 205, just before Abram left Haran. Genesis 11:26 does not mean that Terah was 70 when Abram was born (or Nahor and Haran, for that matter). Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born.
Twelfth, Steve asks whether the Bible is right that Terah is Abraham’s father, or the Qur’an is right that Azar is Abraham’s father. If Terah and Azar are not the same person, then it is best to go with the Bible, since the Qur’an did not exist until after Muhammed’s death in 632.
For more info:
Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.
The Scripture Project which is taking over for Steve.
New Year’s Resolution: Answer the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible in 2010
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