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Babel and the languages
Language, language, language
A friend of mine once told me that when he got to heaven the people he most wanted to meet were the men who designed and built the tower of Babel.
I was more than a little confused at this as we'd been struggling with the basics of learning Arabic and getting into some hilarious situations with the language, "Why? I asked
"So I can kill them!!!" was the reply.
The fact that they'd been dead for thousands of years and were actually probably not in heaven didn't even occur to him.
Language and our use or misuse of language has caused so many problems and confusion. Wars have been caused by misunderstandings, but how did this all start? If Noah and his sons all spoke the same language then how come we have so many languages in our world today.
The Bible tells us a story of how the languages all began, at first glance it seems to say that God created them to confuse men and cause havoc, but what is the truth behind the story. Is there some truth behind the idea that God caused the confusion?
In this hub I want to take a bit of a look at languages and how it all came about.
Pride goes before the fall
That's what the "Good Book" says. And in this case the story seems to indicate it. Did you know that most of the languages we speak today are only about two to two and a half thousand years old!
Some of the languages of the Indian subcontinent would be about 2,500 years old but most of them have the same 'root language' which was the ancient language of Sanskrit which seems to have been written from around 1200 BC.
Possibly the oldest languages that are still in use today are (according to 'http://linguistlist.org/ask-ling/oldest.cfm') Greek, Chinese (didn't say the dialect) and Sanskrit which all seem to date from around 1,200 to 1,500 BC. Sumerian, Akkadian and Ancient Egyptian (Coptic still used by a small Christian community in Egypt) are considered much older but regarded as being 'dead language
The fact is that if we take any of the 9,000 or so languages in use around the world today we can follow it back through it's history to the time when in began to morph from the language which it came from and basically trace them back to their 'root languages'. For example English in the form that it is today first began to 'come together' around six hundred years ago, if you trace it further back you can go back to Saxon times when old English first began from the root languages of Old German, Latin, Greek and Gaelic. Every language can be traced back until we are left with a handful of languages. Most Asian languages are related Chinese in some form or other. They were fragmented into the languages we have today. The Bible gives us a story that seeks to explain why it happened (the details of how are a little sparse in the account, but enough is there to give us an idea of what happened)
Recently I was reading that language (or communication) misunderstandings and territory have been the cause of more wars than anything else in history. Even some of the wars that Religion regularly gets the blame for is attributable to misunderstanding of language and the want of territory, even the Crusades actually didn't have as much to do with religion as with the wanting of territory and misunderstanding of language.
And you think Language is easy?
From the flood to Babel
When the Ark came to rest Noah came out and started to till the land by planting crops. Farming is believed to have started in or near the Zargos Mountains (Mount Ararat is just north of them) around 6,000 years ago.
Josephus tells us that when men came out of the ark for centuries they were afraid of another flood. They didn't quite trust what God had said (not unlike today) but eventually we did come down from the mountain passes and onto the plains. The story of the Tower of Babel picks up at that point that man coming from 'the east' comes across the plains of 'Shinar' and begins to build a city there.
The oldest city in existence is actually the city of Jericho in the Jordan valley, but it hasn't always been inhabited. First settled around 9,000 years ago the archeological record shows that it's been totally obliterated twice only to be rebuilt a few centuries later. It was totally destroyed during the conquest of Canaan by Joshua and the Israelite forces.
Jericho was first settled at the end of the last ice age (where do you think the water went after the flood) The date given is around 9,000 BC but that's using carbon dating which isn't as reliable as we're told.
The city we're talking about isn't Jericho but traditionally has been associated with ancient Babylon because of the name "Babel" but it's not 100% certain.
"Babylon" in the ancient Sumerian and Akkadian literally means "Gate of God" or "Gate to God" and that's what the people building it intended but the issue is that the ancient city we know as Babylon can only be dated to around 2,500 BC which makes it too young to be the "Babel" of Genesis 11 (Genesis 11 took place around 2,800 BC) but could refer to some of the older ruins found in Iraq. The Hebrew word "Babel" literally means "Gateway of confusion" because of what was about to take place.
The oldest cities on Earth
Traditional site of the Tower of Babel
One of the three oldest continuously inhabited cities on Earth. Believed to be 6,500 years old
One of the three oldest continuously inhabited cities on Earth (going back 6,000 years)
Also one of the three oldest continuously inhabited cities on Earth (between 6,000 and 6,500 years old)
The oldest city on the Earth believed to be one of the first ever dating back to 7-9,000 BC (end of the last Ice age)
The Tower of Babel
They came to a plains and decided to build a City, but at the center of the this city would be a structure that celebrated mans greatness. One that would reach right into the heavens itself, that was the dream, but the reality would be very different. The Tower would never be completed, somehow confusion would enter in and and they would end up fighting between themselves and the Tower would never be finished.
We don't really know where the Tower was (we suspect it was in Babylon) but from archeology and what we've discovered we have a good idea of how it would have looked if ever it got finished.
Spot the similarity?
Before Babel there was one language
From the BBC no less!!
This is only the first fifteen minutes of the documentary that runs for nearly an hour, but it gets the message across. Babel was a real event!
Actually I was really surprised to find that video.That was something that i would have expected from a Christian site but not from the good old 'Beeb' better known as the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation. The epitome of the establishment and not one to go 'rocking the boat' by saying that the Bible might actually be right in what it claims, but there it is!!).
It was originally thought that Hebrew was the original language that was the 'mother' of all the languages that we have today.
English is related to the languages of India!!! (watch the video, it's amazing) and are grouped into the family of languages called 'indo European'
Where it really gets strange is the further you go the more you see connections. This video talks of the indo-european languages but there are two of those languages that are related to the Semitic languages!!! Finnish and Hungarian are unusual in that while they are indo-european they are also related to Arabic, Hebrew and Amharic! (the three Semitic languages still spoken widely today).
What was happening?
The Bible doesn't often give a 'blow by blow' account of something. Writing was precious in ancient times and often what was recorded was simply a brief summary of the events to explain the situation but the real purpose of the stories is to explain why somethings happened. The real purpose of the story of the Tower of Babel is to explain why the languages came about. they came about because of mans pride.
That's what the Bible tells us was happening, but it also tells us that man had begun to 'spread out' over the earth. They'd gotten over their 'distrust' of God's promise not to flood the earth and had begun to build cities further afield.
Part of the goal of building the Tower would be to unify men with one religion but that religion would have mans achievements at the center. They would be able to claim a gateway into heaven almost giving man a way into heaven without the need for a 'god'
We may not have a blueprint of what the Tower looked like (a tower maybe?) but if we look at the pictures of the temples from around the world (all of which were built before the western missionaries got to the places although in India the Apostle Thomas got there before the temples were built) we can see the pattern of a tower with a place of worship at the top.
Man had started to grow his own crops and had worked out the seasons so the next thing to do was to give himself a point of reference to tell when the seasons were and when the best time to plant crops was, in this way he becomes the 'Master of his own fate' and with the most ancient temples found that's exactly what you find. Stonehenge was a center of druid worship but it was also a celestial computer to tell man when the seasons would change and when to plant crops.
All this would have been fine, until the arguments started!!! Who would control it? Whoever controls the site has the information they need and an control life not just for themselves but for the rest of Humanity.
This pretty much sounds like today with the earth's resources. Whoever controls the resources controls the planet. But it's not necessarily the one on whose land those resources are located but the one who knows what to do with them (and how to do it) controls it.
Do you think that there's anything to learn from the story?
The story of the Tower can be just a story or can we take it as a commentary on trying to control others by controlling the resources we're given?
God steps in
Didn't God give the earth to all of mankind? Didn't he tell us to tend the earth, does that mean that a few 'elite' people get to decide what's best for the planet? or are we all supposed to play a role?
We may never fully understand why God stepped in so drastically and confused the languages, something seemingly contradictory to his command to tend and are for the earth (surely it's done better when we all speak the same language isn't it?) but maybe it's something to do with preventing an 'elite' from taking over and acting like God deciding what's right for man. who lives, who dies and who gets the wealth
What i do know is that he did step in and because of that we have so many more opportunities to do the right thing than would have been available without the languages
What are your thoughts?
I've laid out a few ideas here and tried to show that the story of the Tower is rooted in reality. But what are your ideas on the subject? put them down in the comments and lets see if we can get a conversation going.
I hope you enjoyed the hub.