>The Tower of Babel and the Real Modern Day Babylon

>As expected a few of my readers took exception with the point I made last week that America should become more involved in worldwide government bodies like the UN. In spite of my plea not to confused Orthodoxy with Literalism some claimed that God himself is against such organizations, incorrectly sighting the story of the Tower of Babel as “proof”.

To quote one reader;

It appears that you and many of your commenters here are trying to backtrack to Babel; at present scattered around the earth, confused in language so as to not be able to understand one another, but trying to return to the plain of Shinar to build a city and tower to reach to the heavens and build Utopia on the earth.

This is a complete misunderstanding of the story. The Tower of Babel really doesn’t condemn World Government at all. On the contrary it can more accurately be looked as a warning against becoming too insular.

At just nine verses, the story of The Tower of Babel [Genesis 11:1-9] is a relatively short account, a mere foot note in the broader arc of Genesis. That fact alone should give readers an idea of how much importance the author wanted to give it. It’s as if the he was saying, “yes this happened but it isn’t really that important so let’s move on.”

The Tower of Babel was constructed in the city of Babylon in the Shinar valley near present day Baghdad. Babylon was possibly the first city constructed after the flood by Noah’s grandson, Nimrod. Nimrod is a Hebrew word meaning to rebel and may not be a person’s name at all, more of a moniker given to protect his true identity and the identity of his family. In today’s vernacular it might be more appropriate to refer to him simply as The Rebel.

And rebel he did. At a time when the rest of Noah’s family were spreading out in an attempt to repopulate the earth, Nimrod defied the will of God and Noah’s instructions and stayed close to where it is believe the Ark ran aground. Why do you think he did that?

The key to the whole story lies in verse 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; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”[Genesis 11:4]

Did you catch it?

Nimrod and the people of Babylon were afraid of the very thing that eventually happened. They wanted to remain in close community with one another so they undertook an ambitious capitol project that would focus their collective efforts and hold them together while at the same time drawing more people into their orbit.

Does that sound familiar? How many times have you heard the mayor of a town or city call for the community to rally around a similar project sighting the need for them to attract business or residents? Several years ago the city in which I lived expended a massive effort to build a new convention centre so that they could “make a name for themselves”. In the end the project lost money and cost the mayor his job. Similarly, why do you think the competition to host an event like the Olympics Games is so intense?

God’s reaction to the Tower of Babel is a story of how he wants us to build community. The people of Babel were insular, building great monuments to draw attention and pulling people in but God had commanded Noah and his family to go forth and “fill the earth.” [Genesis 9:1] If you try to entice people to come to you, what you are really doing is projecting a sense of superiority. Everyone you attract will somehow be a second class citizen. They came to your city or country because of some great monument, social or political institution, business or event but they didn’t help build it so they don’t really belong.

And that my friends; was the great sin of Babylon! They built a monument to their own greatness and community based on a concept that was exclusive setting up a hierarchy of belonging and diluted themselves into thinking they were somehow better than anyone else.

By confusing the language and scattering people across the face of the earth God was telling them (and us) that we can’t build community by turning inward. Community is “out there”. Worldwide bodies that promote a form of world community are not the problem. The problem arises only when these organizations become an exclusive hierarchical club or when members of the organization make it difficult for them to function as they were intended.

Don’t get me wrong, the UN and other world bodies have their problems, but they are not Babylon. I can think of a few cities that resemble Babylon much closely than any worldwide goverenment, with a single language, monuments to their own greatest, and irrational fear of outsiders and a hierarchy of belonging that would put even Nimrod to shame.

Any guesses?


  1. Rick Frea says:

    >You could be right. It's fun trying to interpret the Bible. I've always heard it described this way (of course I couldn't possibly word it as nicely as those who study the Bible for a living):"They used brick instead of stone, and slime instead of mortar." Rather, they had their priorities in the wrong order. They put materialism before virtues. Stone represents oneness with God, and they used brick (which represents stuff). To bind the brick they used slime instead of mortar. Slime represents materialism. Thus, they had their priorities in the wrong order. They lacked virtues and values. The tower was representative of an attempt to get to Heaven without God. Those who follow God are virtuous and have their priorities in the right order. Everything will work out right. If you put your stuff before your God, you are doomed to repeat the Tower of Babel; you are thus confused. If you as a person spend all your time on riding your motor cycles and snowmobiles and spending your time and money on more and more material items, and you put all that "stuff" or "slime" before your wife, your marriage won't work. If you put your stuff before God, your life won't work. You will end up losing not only your God but your wife. Your life will be all confounded. I describe it in more detail here

  2. >I once heard a Rabbi (Reform) explain Babel not as a punishment, but as a gift, namely diversity. When all speak the same language and are of the "same things" you get young men in some colored shirt marching the streets of Rome, Madrid and others cities shouting Unidad or Unita behind the rule of a Fascist leader. So let us hear a cheer for the scattering and the freedom to be different!

  3. Lauren Sheil says:

    >I never thought of it that way Aharon, thanks for the insight. I like the ideal Babel as the gift of diversity. I'll think about that…

  4. >While I like your post, especially as it stands in opposition to the reader's comment, I'm not so sure it's based on a completely accurate interpretation. It seems that you probably have the motivations behind the tower building correct, but behold, God's response to this in Genesis 11:5-7:But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 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. Come, let Us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." NIVThis is not about being insular, or about being materialistic, or about the need for diversity.God thought that a mankind united in one common language could do absolutely anything. In God's words: "nothing they plan to do will be impossible."This might be worth some meditation… 🙂

  5. >Lauren,I think the various stories in the bible can be interpreted in a number of ways (obviously). But there is always a basic truth and lesson involved. I guess I also think there is no harm in sometimes straying from the main point and message in order to attempt to give others some incite and understanding but at the same time we must never lose sight of the main point and message being conveyed by the author; nor should we ever misrepresent it. We must use extreme caution when doing so; so as to not mislead others.That being said…Whatever analogy you or the readers and commenters’ wish to use here in reference to the story of the Tower of Babel; I think we need to understand first and foremost the true message being conveyed. Which is the pride and arrogance of man and the ultimate seventy of the Lord God almighty.Furthermore I think for you to state that Mosses felt this story to be unimportant and to want to move on with his writing is a grave mistake and misrepresentation of the importance of “all scripture”…to say it has little importance merely because it is a short story is a classic example that parallels the arrogance of the those that were attempting to build the Tower of Babel. Your quote below…(At just nine verses, the story of The Tower of Babel [Genesis 11:1-9] is a relatively short account, a mere foot note in the broader arc of Genesis. That fact alone should give readers an idea of how much importance the author wanted to give it. It’s as if the he was saying, “yes this happened but it isn’t really that important so let’s move on.”)You summed up the whole story perfectly with the Hebrew meaning of Nimrods name meaning Rebel but then crashed and burned by stating Nimrod may not have been a real person…. He was!!! His name is in the genealogy thus he was real flesh. I don’t think Moses was attempting to protect his identity or family.At any rate their refusal to disperse throughout the earth and stay in that land was a direct act of disobedience. The motives of the people and their decision to built a city and tower is clearly visible… “Pride” and “arrogance” they placed themselves and their knowledge above God. They wanted recognition as god’s (so to speak). Rick has an interesting spin on his analogy and some very good points.I like to think of this story in term of this…Bricks could represent inflated egos and the slime they used for mortar could represent pride.

  6. Lauren Sheil says:

    >WiredI think you are missing the key motivating factor behind the pride and arrogance here; fear. It is clear to me from my reading of the text that the people knew what was going to happen and tried to delay the inevitable, their pride and arrogance was born of fear. When you strip it all way, fear is often the motivator behind a lot of prideful and arrogant behavior in the world today I didn't mean to belittle the importance of the story but I did seek to put in it's place in the broader arc of Genesis. Genesis follows a pattern; creation, fall, restitution, restoration – over and over again. It starts with Adam and Eve, then Noah and finally Abraham. Nimrod's story fits in as the fall after the restoration/creation of the flood. I did not say that Nimrod may not have been a real person, I said it may not have been his real name. Who names their child, fresh out of the whom Rebel? That would be like my father naming me Shit-head before I took my first breath, he called me that a few times when I did something stupid but it's not my name. The Bible is full of stories that refer to people only in terms of nick-names or titles, "the rich young ruler", the "good Samaritan" etc who's true identity has been masked by their actions. I am merely postulating that this may have been one of those instances, I don't know for sure and I never will.

  7. >Lauren,My apologies, if I misunderstood what you were trying to say. But I’m not so sure I did. I don’t think fear was all that much of a factor here within the story of the tower of Babel. I actually went back and read through the “Letter to America” blog again and all the comments. (I missed many of the comments after the Jimmy Carter comments due to a problematic internet connection the past two weeks)That was interesting…Hmmm..At any rate…I do not see that their pride and arrogance was born of fear. The only thing clear to me in the reading of Genesis 11 is that God will not permit us humans to replace Him as the supreme entity of the universe; or allow us to become as gods, or think we are gods and worship our ourselves or our accomplishments. We have a place and purpose in Gods Creation and sitting on the Almighty’s throne, playing the role of the Almighty himself is not that place, weather it be in our beliefs that we know better or in hearts and minds; Etc. and I’m not so sure they knew or realized the repercussions of their actions of disobedience and or their pride and arrogance. If anything I think their pride and arrogance was born of resentment.I will take you word for it that you did not mean to belittle the importance of the story. I guess I will have we will just have to disagree on that point above. And yes I did misunderstand the point about Nimrod not being a real person vs. not his real name…(that comment was funny as hell “like my father naming me shithead” {still laughing here})..Too funny.In as far as Nimrod not being his real name (again I was wrong. And or misunderstood you) I did a little research since I posted my last comment and found some interesting reading about just who Nimrod may have been and or what his real name may have been. (very fascinating and thought provoking)http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=295&letter=NOne school of thought is that Nimrod may have been the person of Gilgamesh. ( I do not agree with this theory as Gilgamesh was not the fist king nor is he listed in the list of kings…But fascinating reading just the same…) check it out.At any rate all that being said I must admit I am a little confused as to how the story of the tower of Babel fits into the theme of the “letter to America” blog and I did not comment on that blog for a couple reasons; one being I wasn’t sure what to say or where exactly I stand on how much or how little the US should be involved in the movement toward a one world government. That is way out of my league and is a very; very deep (and scary {yep there’s that “F” word…Fear) thought and discussion. (One could fill a library with writings on this topic) but generally speaking I disagree but then again we need to in order to protect our nation, and our rights and values; but any way the other reason was a very temperamental and unreliable internet connection.

  8. Lauren Sheil says:

    >I maintain that pride and arrogance are behaviours that are driven by something else usually emotions like fear.

  9. Toyin O. says:

    >Very insightful, thanks for sharing:)

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