The Incident At Babel

The Tower Of Babel is an interesting story. It too is a story straight out of Babylonian/Sumerian myth, and it too was usurped by the Jews when they wrote their Bible.

When mankind began to travel outside of the regions they had occupied for centuries, they found themselves faced with different languages and couldn't explain why that should be so, when all of mankind came from the same lineage. If all of mankind came from Adam and Eve it didn't make much sense at all to them.

Yet this must have happened over 7000 years ago because the Sumerian myth and other African creation myths already have the gods creating man out of many different colours of clay.

Knowing their God, they assumed that somewhere along the line something must have happened to rouse the anger of God so much that he dispersed mankind one more time. He had expelled them from Eden, so it was not all that surprising.

Throughout the Old Testament, the one thing god abhorred more than anything was mankind getting too big for his britches, so they devised a story of a tower that reached to the heavens themselves.

This is obviously a story about the Sumerians who built Ziggurats or towers. Some resembled pyramids like those in Mexico and South America. The famous one found in the city of Ur where Abraham came from is shown on top of this page.

The Sumerians, like the Jews, believed that god had divided the heavens and the earth with pillars. Heaven wasn’t all that far away. They built these towers for two reasons. The first is that they were originally mountain people, so the tower represented the mountains they originated from. They put their god or goddess of choice on top so it would be more comfortable on high, as well as out of respect.

But the main reason they built them was because they believed the gods could use them for easier access either to the underworld from heaven or to heaven from the underworld. This idea of coming down from heaven to check out what is happening on earth is reflected in the bible story of Babel.

As usual, there is no better way to study this than to read what the bible itself has to say about it.

Gen 11.1 And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they said one to another: 'Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4 And they said: 'Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.'

5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the LORD said: 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.' 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore was 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.

This story makes little sense except as a fable. It is a weak explanation of how mankind came to be dispersed around the world. But they had to explain it somehow.

Their crime was to build a tower that reached the heavens. Was god afraid mankind would build it so high he would walk in to heaven on his own two legs? We know now that this is not even a remote possibility. We can't even build a tower that high to this very day, and if we attempted to, we couldn't live in it without space suits. The builders would die of lack of oxygen long before they got out of the atmosphere. But they had no way to know that.

For man of that time not to know this is logical. We didn't know it ourselves until the last few centuries. But for a god not to know it is absurd in the extreme. I wouldn't even go on with this nonsense were it not for the fact that creationists believe that the tower of Babel explains the different races of the world.

As absurd as that notion may sound, it is what I have been told, time and time again. It just goes to show that mankind makes it all up as we go along. We always have in the past, and we still do it today. But there is method in our madness..

There is nothing in the bible that remotely explains the diversity of culture and race on this planet, and certainly, this story comes nowhere close.

As I said: the ancient central Africans had a creation story that at least addressed this problem to a certain extent. They believed that mankind was made from different colors of clay. But because the Jews believed their lineage was the only, and the original lineage, they scraped the many colors theory and simply went with the myth that said that one man was made from the dust of the earth. So this meant they had to find another explanation for our cosmetic differences.

But, back to the letter of the scripture. Let’s take a closer look at what God said.

GEN 11:6 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.

"Behold, the people is one." What else did god think would happen? He had just created a flood which had wiped out all of mankind. Of course the remaining few were going to stick together.

What better way could god have had, then to have them all in one place? That way they would all have been raised in the same way and with the same beliefs. But he goes against his own best interest and spreads them around the world. Why? Now would have been a perfect time for the apocalypse. Every one believed in him. But no, he spreads us all around so we can sin again and more will fill the furnaces of hell.

He is appalled by what they have done. They dared to build a tower that would reach to heaven. Now nothing would restrain them. Nothing would restrain them? Where does he get that idea?

And even if that were so, why would he want to restrain them? I thought he was a loving god who wanted us to get ahead? Apparently not. I hate to think what he would say were he to see our sky scrapers now. Or hear of the fact that we have already set foot on the moon and sent rockets far beyond our own solar system..

What will he do to punish us for that? Send us all to other planets? Some of us wouldn't mind a bit if he did. But I won't hold my breath.

Are we to believe that this god just spirited people away to other places? Did he also spirit away their way of life, their children, and their possessions? Imagine being a Jew one moment, and suddenly waking up oriental or native American? That must have been quite a shock. It would have also meant a great deal of suffering unless he also made them forget their previous heritage, but then, that was the last thing he needed. He wanted worshipers. What he accomplished was to create a diversity of people that forgot he ever existed. This does not bode well for the intelligence of this god.

I can understand that people of that time may have believed this. But how could any thinking human being of this time period still hold to this absurdity? Even if we take the most conservative interpretation of this and assume that he didn't actually spirit them away at all, but just "confounded" their language. Why would they then just pack up and leave in groups that spoke the same language? Can we not now, learn the language of others? Were they incapable of learning?

Imagine yourself suddenly thinking and speaking in a different language. That seems no less disconcerting than being spirited away, and it still doesn't explain the diversity of race. Are we to believe that when they wondered off in their little groups with their tails between their legs, that some evolved in to Pigmies and some in to Russians?

The creationists don't like that idea. It uses the E word that slips from their mouths like a curse. But it is an inevitable reality. If mankind was separated at one point, then they evolved in to the races we see today. There is no other explanation is there? Evolution goes hand in hand with the idea that we all originated from a common ancestor. Only according to evolution that ancestor wasn’t quit human.

Then there is the next passage: GEN 11:7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

Who was God talking to? Who over heard all this? He says: "let us go down" Did he need help to do this deed? Did he need angels by his side, or his sons? Did he have to come down to do it? Wasn't he watching? Didn't he know in advance that we were about to do this?

The questions surrounding this story are too numerous. In these few passages, the bible shows this god is petty. It is not omnipotent in any way. It is cruel, and doesn't have any more clue as to how the universe works then the person who thought up this story.

What was god afraid of? That we would come to heaven and take over? It is laughable.

It is now thought by some scholars such as Stephen L. Harris, Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Cal State, that the story actually originates no earlier than 600 to 800 BCE. The ziggurat in question being the Etemenanki. In Sumerian it means: the temple of the foundation of heaven and earth. It is in ruins now in what was the city of Babylon. It was a whopping seven stories high. Not impressive now, but back then it was the biggest thing around and one of the biggest ziggurats ever built. Harris believes the Jews may have been influenced by it during the Babylonian captivity.

But whether they were influenced by that one or another one, and there are plenty to choose from, the point is that it obviously a badly constructed myth containing the most illogical concepts of how mankind evolved ever told. How anyone can believe it to be literal truth is beyond absurd.

But seen properly as a myth, it’s quite a fun little story.

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Onusonus profile image

Onusonus 5 years ago from washington

Slartey, Mormons never owned slaves and most of them were abolitionists. In fact Utah wasn't even close to being a slave state. In fact leaders of the church condemned white people for abusing the Negro race.

As shocking as it may sound to you, Brigham young said this: "For their abuse of that race, the whites will be cursed, unless they repent."

Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author

Well yes I understand that and don't think I implied they were slave owners. However, from what I understand they believe that black people were one of the lost tribes of Israel who were cursed by god for disobedience and made dark skinned as a perpetual sign of his displeasure with them, like tattooing an A on an adulterer's forehead.

While they may never have owned slaves and even advocated better treatment for them, they certainly could not see them as in the same position as whites with respect to god. In fact, are blacks even allowed to be elders? From what I recall they are not. But I could be wrong.

Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author

Forgive me, you are right. I did equate the reason for that attitude to be because of slavery. my only excuse is that I wrote this some years ago and must have believed that at the time. I will now remove it as I will defer to you and my recent memory on the question of whether they held slaves or not.

Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author

Ok. I have clarification now. Thanks for making me look it all up. lol...

So the Book of Mormon outlaws slavery, But while black people could become priests in the early years the practice was outlawed by Brigham young in 1849

He said: "The Lord has cursed Cain's seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood."

In 1852 he said: "Any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot hold the Priesthood and if no other Prophet ever spoke it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it"

Blacks were permitted to join the church but not become priests again until the late 1970s.

Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author

My goodness. So I got even more clarification.In 1852 the state of Utah officially sanctioned slavery. Brigham Young was governor, Of course they never had a lot of slaves and the practice was abolished by the United States a few years later. But census reports of the time do record slaves owned by Mormons.

Onusonus profile image

Onusonus 5 years ago from washington

Well that's news to me. I'm not into religious debate but I will say that Black people have been allowed to hold the priesthood since 1978.

Though you can look back and see some less than intelligent comments on the subject made by early church leaders I think that it might have caused a big problem to have a slave brought into your religion against the wishes of his or her owner. Some people didn't want them to even learn to read and in fact I believe also that there was a debate in American religious circles as to weather or not black people even possessed a soul.

graceomalley profile image

graceomalley 5 years ago

I am wondering how Brigham Young would think Africans could be descended from Cain, since all Cain's descendents would have died in the flood. Traditionally, most have said that black skinned people are desended from Noah's son Ham, and they were punished with dark skin because of Ham laughing at Noah while he was drunk. That's just a sort of tradition I think, not what you would call a doctrine.

Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author


I think you are right. I do think young had issues within the church itself on that question and his position might have been one he was almost forced to take. He does seem to have done a turn about on the issue. But it is laudable that Smith intended to include everyone in to the religion and as I said there were some notable priests in the beginning who were black.

I don't think the issue of whether they have souls or not was confined to Mormonism. One would almost have to make the slave less than human.

What I find interesting is that Mormons were allowed to own slaves but apparently if they had sex with them they had to set them free. So really they were probably treated somewhat better under Mormonism then they were under other religions. And, the bible itself advocates slavery, so it isn't something out of the blue.

Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author


Yes. I find that funny too. But other church members of the time mention descendants of Ham rather than Cain being cursed with dark skin though that really is not mentioned in the bible. Ut was because Ham saw his father drunk and naked in his tent and told his brothers.

However the curse is on Ham's son Canaan and his descendants."And he said: Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren."

Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author


I didn't finish my thought, sorry. So since the curse is on Canaan, not Cain I assume the reporters of the time or the one who transcribed the version of the quotes I found may have made the mistake, and not Young. The names are so similar and it seems odd that he wouldn't know the difference.

graceomalley profile image

graceomalley 5 years ago

When i was in college I had a good friend who was a Mormon, and she told me the narrative of the book of Mormon. I was shocked at first, because she included as part of the story "There was a race of evil people in North America, and God turned their skin dark to punish them." I asked her if her church believed Native Americans were evil people. She told me that the evil dark skinned people were not Native Americans, or Africans either, they were a race of people who died out long ago. I've never read the Book of Mormon, but this is what my friend told me. Society of the time was very racist, so I personally wouldn't fault Mormons much for just being the same as everyone else.

I have read some people of the time expressing the idea that slavery was a benefit to blacks because they could learn the gospel and be saved, so that supposes they have a soul. It also supposes slavery is giving more to them than it is taking, but I think that idea was out there, that slavery was actually good for blacks, since they couldn't think for themselves, ect. White mans burden and all that.

Slarty O'Brian profile image

Slarty O'Brian 5 years ago from Canada Author

"There was a race of evil people in North America, and God turned their skin dark to punish them."

Right. The lost tribe of Canaan. He moved them too. lol... The book of Mormon is a bit of a mess. I must say I have heard the same story but never read the entire book myself.

Part of the reason I don't take it seriously is due to a story that heard tell about Smith. His golden tablets apparently had Egyptian writing on them. He had taken some impressions of them before they disappeared. Before the impressions themselves disappeared someone copied one and found out it was a section from the Egyptian book of the dead.

I've always found Smith to be a dubious character at best, and not because of that story but because of others. I never thought his books worth the effort. I shall have to remedy that some day and read it all the way through at least once even though I do consider the source no more than a snake oil salesman.

Good point about the times, and I agree with you. The fact that the Mormons had very few slaves indeed (I think one census said there were 29 slaves in Utah)compared to the rest of the slave world in the US is a testament to the religion and the people who practiced it. But racism was rampant.

I'm sure there was the idea floating around that slavery was good for the slaves. Just like torture of witches and heretics was considered good for their souls. Better to confess and ask forgiveness, even by force, than to rot in hell for eternity,

To me that is not a positive about Christianity, and I dare say it would be a hard case to make that it is a positive. Unless of course you are devoutly religious. lol...

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