09 September 2010
Rereading the Babel story
This one is for those that read and believe the Old Testament.
How can we read Genesis 11:1-9?
"1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." 5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." 8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel – because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth."
Multiple languages are not the creation of the devil, but of God. The Old Testament interprets God’s action as motivated by fear at what humanity can do. Since we know from theology that the all-powerful God would never be threatened by puny humanity, the Biblical writer’s interpretation is wrong. If everything God created (see Genesis 1:31) is good, then multiple languages are good. Those that insist on having only one language (in a poem, in a country, in the world) are going against God’s will.