Genesis 11
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

The Tower of Babel, the Confusion of Languages, and the Dispersion of the Nations

CHAPTER 11:1–9

1And the whole earth was of one language [lip], and of one speech.1 2And it came to pass, as they journeyed2 from the east3, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. 3And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly [literally, to a burning]. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar [cement]. 4And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name [a signal, sign of renown], lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men had builded. 6And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language [on the very spot], that they may not understand one another’s speech. 8So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city. 9Therefore is the name of it called Babel4 [for בַּלְבֶל, division of speech, confusion; other explanations: בָּב בֵּל, gate of Belus, בַּר־בֵּל, castle of Belus], 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.


1. The literature: Bibelwerk, Matthew, p. 19. The present work, p. 119, where the title of Niebuhr’s work should be more correctly given: “History of Assur and Babel.” Berlin, 1858. KURTZ: “History of the Old Testament.” HAUG, on the “Writing and Language of the Second Kind of Cuneiform Inscriptions.” Gottingen, 1855. J. BRANDIS, on the “Historical Results from the Deciphering of the Assyrian Inscriptions.” Berlin, 1856. FABRI: “The Origin of Heathendom and the Problem of its Mission.” Barmen, 1859. The latest: KAULEN: “The Confusion of Languages at Babel.” Mainz, 1861. Explorers of the ruins of Babylon, especially Rich, Ker-Porter, Layard, Rawlinson, Oppert.

2. The history of the building the tower at Babel forms the limit to the history of the primitive time. It may be regarded as the genesis of the history of the human striving after a false outward unity, of the doom of confusion that God therefore imposed upon it, of the dispersion of the nations into all the world, and of the formation of heathendom as directly connected therewith. In the proper treatment of this there comes into consideration: 1. the relation of the historical fact-consistency of the representation to its universal symbolical significance for the history of the world, and to its special symbolical significance for the kingdom of God; 2. the relation of the fact itself to the common historical knowledge, as well as to the history of the kingdom of God; 3. the relation of the confounding, therein represented, to the original unity of the human race in its language, as well as to the multiplicity that originally lay in human speech; 4. the historical and archæological testimonies; 5. the reflection of the historical fact in the mythical stories.

3. Kurtz correctly maintains (History of the Old Testament, p. 95) against H. A. Hahn, that this place forms the boundary between the history of the primitive time and the history of the Old Testament. Evidently is the history of primeval religion distinguished from the general history of the Old Testament by definite monuments, namely, by the characteristic feature of the faith in promise, as presented in the genealogies, through which faith Abraham, as the type of the patriarchal religion, stands in contrast with Melchidezek, the type of the primitive religion,—even as the morning twilight of the new time stands in contrast with the evening twilight of the old. And so, too, according to Gal. 3 and Rom. 4, it is not Moses who is the beginning of the covenant religion, but Abraham. Moreover, in the history of the tower-building there is brought out not only the ground form for the historical configuration the world is to assume, but also the contrast between heathenism and the beginnings of the theocracy. For the sake of this contrast, according to our view, the section may still be regarded as belonging to the first period from the beginnings of the Shemitic patriarchalism; although when regarded in itself alone, and under the historical form of view of the Old Testament, it appears as an introduction to the history of Abraham.

4. The genesis of the human striving after a false outward unity, or uniformity and conformity. As in the history of Cain, the first beginnings of culture in the building of cities, in the discoveries and inventions of the means of living, of art, and of weapons of defence, were buried in their own corruption (since the germs of culture, however lawful in themselves, are overwhelmed in their ungodly worthlessness), and as in the history of Nimrod the post-diluvian beginnings of civilization, and of outward political institutions, were darkened by the indications of despotic violence, so also, in the history of the tower-building, must we distinguish the natural striving of the human race after an essential unity, from their aberration in a bold and violent effort to obtain an outward consistency, an outward uniformity (or conformity rather) to be established at the cost of the inward unity. DELITZSCH says correctly (p. 310): “the unity which had hitherto bound together the human family was the community of one God, and of one divine worship. This unity did not satisfy them; inwardly they had already lost it; and therefore it was that they strove for another. There is, therefore, an ungodly unity, which they sought to reach through such self-invented, sensual, outward means, whilst the very thing they feared they predicted as their punishment. In its essence, therefore, it was a Titanic heaven-defying undertaking.”5 The inward unity of faith ought to have been the centre of gravity, the rule and the measure of their outward unity. The historical form of their true unity was the religion of Shem; its concrete middle point was Shem himself. It sounds, therefore, like a derisive allusion to the despised blessing of Shem, when they say: Go to, let us build a tower for us, and make unto ourselves a name (a Shem). When, therefore, the tower-building, the false outward idea of unity is frustrated, then it is that Abraham must appear upon the stage as the effective middle point of humanity, and the preparer of the way for the unity that was to come. Abraham forms the theocratic contrast to the heathen tower-building. Since that time, however, the striving of human nature has ever taken the other direction, namely, to establish by force the outward unity of humanity at the expense of the inward, and in contradiction to it; this has appeared as well in the history of the world monarchies as in that of the hierarchies. The history of Babel had its presignal in the city of Cain, its symbol in the building of the tower, its beginning in the Babylonian world-monarchy; but its end, according to Rev. 16:17, falls in the “last time.” The contrast to this history of an outward force-unity is formed by Shem, Abraham, Zion, Christ, the Church of believers, the bride of Christ, according to Rev. 21:2, 9.

5. The genesis of the confounding to which it was doomed by God. The germinal multiplicity, as contained in the unity of the human race, is to be regarded as the natural basis of the event. We cannot, as has been attempted by Origen and others, derive an organic division of the nations in their manifold contrasts (and just as little the varied multiplicity of life in the world) from the fall merely, or from human corruption. To this effect it is well observed by Delitzsch, that “even without that divine and miraculous interposition, the one original language, by virtue of the abundance of gifts and powers that belong to humanity, would have run through an advancing process of enrichment, spiritualization, and diversity.” This germinal multiplicity forms, therefore, the other side, or the higher, spiritual side, in the confusion of languages; but this, too, we must distinguish in its genesis and in its world-historical consequences. Since the Babylonian tower-building denotes the genesis of the national separations as the genesis of heathendom (but not the monstrous development of heathendom which goes on through the ages), so, in like manner, does it denote the genesis of the speech-confounding, but not its great development in the course of time. This genesis, however, is to be considered in reference to the following points: 1. With the violent striving after an outward unity there is connected the crushing of the diversity. 2. This violent suppression calls out, by way of reaction, the effort and intensity of the diversifying tendency, or the conflict of spirits. 3. With this conflict of spirits there develops itself, also, the contrast of varying views and modes of expression. 4. The disordered and broken unity becomes dissolved into partial unities, which form themselves around the middle points of tribal affinity, and so form their watchwords. Thus far goes on the process of dissolution, in the sin and guilt of the strife after an outward unity. But here comes in the divine judgment in its miraculous imposition: the spirits, the modes of conception, the modes of expression, the tongues themselves, are all so confounded, that there becomes a perfect breach of unity, and more than this, a hostile springing apart of unfettered elements that had been bound up in a forced unity. So did the divine doom establish a genesis in the confusion of languages—a genesis which afterwards, in the course of time, came to its full development.

6. The genesis of the dispersion of the peoples in all the world, and of the formation of heathendom that from thence began. In opposition to the centripetal force of humanity, impaired by its own supertension and the outward alienating tendency, comes now the reaction of the morbid centrifugal power set free by the sentence of God. So commence the national emigrations of antiquity, setting away from the centre of community, forming in this a contrast to the migrations of the Christian time, which maintain their connection with the centre of humanity, the host of the Christian church. In greater and smaller waves of migration do the nations scatter abroad, and grow widely diverse in their separate lands, and in the midst of the views which they awaken; and this to such a degree that everywhere they lose themselves in a peculiarly paganistic autochthonic consciousness, or, as it may be generally styled, a servile life of nature. The line of Shem is least affected by the drawing of this centrifugal power. It extends itself slowly from Babylon, in a small degree to the east, and in great part to the southwest. The main stream of the Hamites takes a southwestern direction towards Canaan and Africa; another stream appears to have turned itself eastwardly over Persia and towards India. The great stream of the Japhethites goes first northward, in order to divide itself into a western and an eastern current; a part, however, in all probability, taking a still more northern direction, until, through upper Asia, it reaches the New World. The most evident division of the Shemites is into three parts, which still reflect themselves in the three main Shemitic languages. The fundamental separation has gone on into wider separations; for example, into the division of the Indian and the Persian Arians. These divisions are, again, in a great degree, effaced by combinations which proceeded from the contrast between earlier and later migrations in the same direction. So, for example, in eastern Asia, the Japhethites appear to have supervened upon the Hamites, in Asia Minor and Persia upon the Shemites; and so, in many ways, have the earlier Japhethite features been overlaid and set aside by the later. In Canaan, on the other hand, the Hamites appear to have supervened upon the original Shemitic inhabitants; and then, again, at a later date, the Israelites supervened upon the Hamitic Canaanites.

The most direct consequence of this dispersion of the nations was the formation of races, in which different factors coöperated: 1. The family type; 2. the spiritual direction; 3. the climate in its strong effect upon the physical ground-forms which were yet in their state of childlike flexibility. A further consequence was the formation of ethnographical contrasts in civilization. In reference to this there must be distinguished:

1) The contrast between the savage nations who had become utterly unhistorical, or perfectly separated from the central humanity, and the historical nations.

2) The contrast of barbarian nations who for a long time preserved a state of negative indifference as compared with the nations that were within the community of culture.

3) The contrast presented by the nations and tribes of isolated culture, as compared with the centralized culture, or that of the world monarchies as it appeared in its latest form, the Græco-Roman-humanitarian sphere of culture.

4) The contrast presented by the nations of this centralized culture, or as it finally appeared in the Græco-Roman-humanitarian culture, as compared with the central theocratic people of cultus or religion.

The last contrasts reveal, as the second consequence, a double counterworking against the paganistic isolization; the first is a tendency to the outer unity (world-monarchy), the other a tendency to the inner unity (theocracy). A third consequence was the war between them.

7. The relation of the historical fact-consistency of the Biblical representation to its symbolical significance for the universal history of the world. It is difficult to determine the chronological order of the tower-building in the Biblical history; it is still more difficult to fix its place in the universal secular history. It is, however, more easy to do this when we assume that the history of the tower-building was that of a gradually elapsing event, which is here all comprehended in its germinal transition-point (as the commencing turning-point), conformably to the representation of the religious historico-symbolical historiography. Following the indications of the Bible itself, we must distinguish two periods: first, the founding of Babel, in consequence of an ungodly centralization fancy of the first human race, and the catastrophe of the commencing dissolution that thereby came in; secondly, the despotic founding of the kingdom of Babel by Nimrod, as connected with it. Add to this a third, which is in like manner attested by the Bible, namely, the further development of Babel as it continued on in spite of the dispersion, and to whose greatness the stories of Ninus and Semiramis, as well as the world-historical ruins of Babylon bear testimony. It is in perfect accordance with the theocratic historiography, that events which occupy periods are comprehended in the germinal points of their peculiar epochs. As this is the case with the tower-building, so does it also hold true of the confusion of languages, and the dispersion of the nations. In regard now to this germinal point especially, it has been wrongly placed in the days of Peleg, in supposed accordance with what was said, Gen 10:25, concerning the meaning of the name Peleg. Keil computes that Peleg was born one hundred years after the flood, and draws from thence the wider conclusion, that “in the course of one hundred and fifty to one hundred and eighty years, and in the rapid succession of births, the descendants of the three sons of Noah, who were already married and a hundred years old at the time of the flood, must have already so greatly multiplied as to render credible their proceeding to build such a tower” (p. 120). In respect to the third designated period of the tower-building, Delitzsch thus remarks in relation to the Biblical interpretation of the name Babel (for Balbel, a pilpel form in which the first Lamed has fallen out): “The name Babel denotes the world city where men became dispersed into nations, as the name Jerusalem denotes the city of God, where they are again brought together as one family. As the name Jerusalem obtains this sense in the light of prophecy, so is the name given to Babel, no matter whether with or without the design of the first namer, a significant hiero-glyph of that judgment of God which was interwoven in the very origin of this world-city, and of that tendency to an ungodly unity which it has ever manifested. That the name, in the sense of the world-city itself, may denote something else, is not opposed to this. The Etymologicum Magnum derives it ἀπὸ τοῦ βήλου, and so, according to Masudi, do the learned Persians and Nabatæans. It has, accordingly, been explained as the gate or the house, or, according to Knobel, the castle of Belus (בָּ equal to בָּב or בֵּית, or בּר for בִּירַת). Schelling’s remark that bab in the sense of gate is peculiar to the Arabian dialect, is without ground; it is just as much Aramaic as Arabic. The verb בָּב, intrare, like בָּם ascendere, is a very old derivative from בּא, inire. But Rawlinson and Oppert have shown, on the authority of the inscriptions, that the name of the god is not בֵּל, but אֵל (the Babylonian Phœnician Kronos), and בָּבֶל, therefore, denotes the gate of El.” If the development of heathenism, in a religious sense, and, therefore, the development of idolatry, is regarded as a gradual process, the heathenish tendency at the time of Nimrod could not have been far advanced. Its more distant beginning is probably to be placed in the very time of the catastrophe; for the confusion of fundamental religious views may, in general, furnish of itself an essential factor in the confusion of languages.

On the situation of the land of Shinar and Babylon this side of the Euphrates, compare the Manuals for the old geography by Forbiger and others. Concerning the ruins of the old Babel, and Babel itself, compare WINER’S “Real Lexicon,” the “Dictionary for Christian People,” and HERZOG’S “Real Encyclopedia,” under the article “Babel.” In like manner DELITZSCH, p. 212; KNOBEL, p. 127, and the catalogue of literature there given.

8. The special symbolic significance of Babel for the kingdom of God. Here there are to be distinguished the following stages: 1. The significance of the tower-building; 2. the Babel of Nimrod, or the despotic form of empire, and its tendency to conquest; 3. the significance of the world-monarchy of Nebuchadnezzar; 4. the Old Testament symbolic interpretation of Babel (Ps. 137; Is. 14; Jer. 50; Dan. 2:37; 7:4; Habakuk); 5. The New-Testament apocalyptic Babylon (Rev. 14, 16, 17). Throughout Holy Scripture, Babel forms a world-historical antithesis to Zion.

9. The relation of the confounding, as presented, to the original unity of the human race, as also to the original multiplicity as lying at the foundation of human speech. The two poles by which the catastrophe of the speech-confounding are limited, are the following: In the first place, even after the confusion of languages, there exists a fundamental unity; there is the logical unity of the ground-forms of language (verb, substantive, etc.), the rhetorical unity of figurative modes of expression, the lexical unity of kindred fundamental sounds, the grammatical unity of kindred linguistic families, such as the Shemitic, the Indo-Germanic, and the historical unity in the blending of different idioms; as, for example, in the κοινή, or common dialect, there are blended the most diverse dialects of the Greek; so in the New-Testament Greek, to a certain extent, the Hebrew and old Greek; in the Roman languages, Latin, German, and Celtic dialects; so, also, in the English; in the Lutheran High German, too, there are different dialects of Germany. Science takes for its reconciling medium an ideal unity from the beginning of the separations; faith supposes a real unity, and so, finally, Christendom and the Bible. In the second place, however, it must be acknowledged that in the original manifoldness of human power and views there was already indicated a manifoldness of different modes of expression. “Indeed,” says Delitzsch, “even if this wonderful divine interposition had not taken place, the one primitive speech would not have remained in stagnant immobility. By reason of the richness of the gifts that are stored in humanity, it would have run through a process of progressive self-enrichment, spiritualization, development, and manifold diversity; but now, when the linguistic unity of humanity was lost, together with its unity in God, and with it, also, the unity of an all-defining consciousness, there came, in the place of this multiplicity in unity, a breaking up, a cleaving asunder, where all connection seems lost, but which, nevertheless, through a thousand indices, points back to the fact of an original oneness. For, as Schelling says, confusion of language only originates wherever discordant elements which cannot attain to unity can just as little come from one another. In every developing speech the original unity works on, even as the affinity partially shows; a taking away of all unity would be the taking away of language itself; and, thereby, of everything human,—a limit to which, according to Schelling’s judgment, the South American Indians are approaching, as tribes that can never become nations, and which are yet a living witness of a complete and inevitable disorganization” (DELITZSCH, p. 114, 115). In accordance with the religious character of Holy Scripture, we must, before all things, regard the confusion of languages as a confusion of the religious understanding. Languages expressive mainly of the subjective, languages of the objective, those of an ingenuous directness, and those of acute or ingenious accommodation, must very soon present great contrasts.

In regard to the original language, which preceded the confusion, and formed its ground, the learned men of the Jewish Synagogue, and after them, the church fathers, as well as many orthodox theologians (among the modems with some limitation, Pareau, Havernik, Von Gerlach, Baumgarten), have expressed the opinion that the Hebrew was the language of the primitive time and of Paradise, and that it was propagated after the flood by the race of Eber. On the contrary, however, it is observed that Abraham himself did not originally speak Hebrew, but Aramaic.6 “On this account,” says Delitzsch, “we must regard as better grounded the position of the Syriac, Aramaic, and Persian writers, that the Syriac, or the Nabatæan, was the primitive speech, and that in the confusion of tongues it was still retained as the language of Babylon. But, moreover, the Shemitic in its general acceptation,” he continues, “cannot lay claim to that perfection which must have belonged to the primitive speech. We find nothing to urge against the supposition that the original language, as such, may have become lost in those that are historically known” (DELITZSCH, p. 316; KEIL, p. 119). Nevertheless, we do not believe that this supposition receives any strength from what is a mere prejudice, namely, that in respect to its structure the paradise language must have been a very perfect one. The speech of holy innocence has no need to prove its claims through forms developed with great exactness. As the Shemitic verbal forms lie in the middle between the monosyllabic character of the Chinese and the polysyllabic character of the Indo-Germanic; as they carry with themselves, also, in a high degree, that impression of immediateness, of the onomatopic, of the sensible presentation of the spiritual, of the spiritualizing of the sensible, so, without doubt, do they lie specially near to the ground-form of different national tongues. In respect to the relation of the different languages, there may be compared the following writings as specially belonging to the subject, namely: DELITZSCH: “Jeschurun;” FÜRST: “Concordance;” “Treatises of Kunic,” ERNEST RENAN; see DELITZSCH, p. 632. Besides these, KAULEN, p. 70 (The Hebrew in its peculiar character stands nearest to the conception of the primitive speech).

Zahn, in his treatise (“The Kingdom of God,” p. 90), presents a clear idea of the similarity of different languages. “The great ‘Language Atlas’ of Balbi is designed on the most carefully considered principles (Paris, 1826). After a keenly investigated division of language and dialect, he designates eight hundred and sixty languages as spoken on the earth, namely, fifty-three in Europe, one hundred and fifty-three in Asia, one hundred and fifteen in Africa, four hundred and twenty-two in America, one hundred and seventeen in the fifth portion of the world; and yet at this day must the whole sum be taken at a greater number, especially in consequence of researches in Africa.” Kaulen. Linguistic investigations that belong here are connected with the names of Herder, Adelung, Vater, Klaproth, Balbi, Remüsat, W. Von Humboldt, Schleicher, Heyse, Bopp, Steinthall, Pott, Schott, Ewald, Fürst, Bunsen, Max Müller, Jones, Oppert, Haug, and others. In favor of the original unity of languages, as against Pott and others who call it in question, see KAULEN, p. 26; “Treatises on the Origin of Languages,” by the same author, p. 106.

10. The historical and archœological testimonies for the fact of the confusion of languages. BUNSEN: “Comparative Philology would have been compelled to set forth as a postulate the supposition of some such division of languages in Asia, especially on the ground of the relation of the Egyptian language to the Shemitic, even if the Bible had not assured us of the truth of this great historical event. It is truly wonderful, it is matter of astonishment, [it is more than a mere astounding fact,] that something so purely historical [and yet divinely fixed], something so conformable to reason, [and yet not to be conceived of as a mere natural development], is here related to us out of the oldest primeval period, and which now, for the first time, through the new science of philology, has become capable of being historically and philosophically explained.” Between this history and the previous chapter must lie the primitive history of the eastern Asiatics, namely, the time of the formation of the Chinese language, that primitive speech that has no formative words, that is, no inflecting forms. The Chinese can hardly take rank as a radical language, but only as a very ancient and strikingly one-sided ramification. To the linguistic testimonies there may be added the fact that Babylon became the oldest world-monarchy; there is also its very ancient fame, and the fact that the influence which went out from Babylon has in the most varied forms pervaded the whole history of the world, to say nothing of its giant ruins and the desolation which has so long rested as a judgment upon them.”

11. The mirroring of the confusion of languages as found in the mythical stories. See DELITZSCH, p. 313; LÜCKEN, p. 278; EUSEBIUS, Prœparatio, ix. 14. ABYDENUS: “Some say that the men who first came forth from the earth, being confident in their greatness and strength, and despising the gods in their fancied, estimation of their own powers, undertook to build a high tower in the place where Babylon now is. They would already have made a near approach to the Heavens, had not the winds come to the help of the gods and overturned their tower. Its ruins have received the name of Babylon. Men had hitherto spoken but one language, but now, in the purpose of the gods, their speech became diverse; to this belongs the war that broke out between Kronos and Titan.


1. Gen 11:1 and 2. The settling in the land of Shinar.—The whole earth, that is, the whole human race.—One language and one speech (Lange more literally, one lip and one kind of words). The form and the material of language were the same for all.—From the East (Lange renders, towards the East. Our margin, Eastward).—From the land of Ararat, southeast (מקדם as one word: the land of, or from the East).—A plane.—For them, as they came from the highlands, the plane was the low country, a valley plane (בקעה).—Shinar, the same as Babylonia, though extending farther northward.—And they dwelt there.—The preference for the hill country does not appear to have belonged to the young humanity. Under the most obvious points of view, convenience, fertility, and easier capability of cultivation, seem to have given to these children of nature a preference for the plain. Even at this day do the uncultivated inhabitants of the hills sometimes manifest the same choice. In this respect Babylon had for them the charm of extraordinary fruitfulness. ZAHN (“Kingdom of God,” p. 86) gives extracts from Hippocrates and Herodotus in proof of the singular productiveness of this land of the palm, where the grain yields from two hundred to three hundred fold. Thence came luxury, which was followed by the cultivation of the paradisaical gardens (Gardens of Semiramis) and a life of sensuality, together with a sensual religious worship.

2. Gen 11:3 and 4. The building of the tower.—They said one to another, Go to.—Expressive of an animated, decided undertaking.—Let us make brick.—The plain was deficient in stones, whereas, on the contrary, it abounded in a clayey soil which would serve for making bricks, and asphaltum, which was good for mortar. They burnt them to stone instead of merely hardening them in the sun, which otherwise was the more obvious practice.—And they said (again) Go to.—Their success in preparing bricks for their dwellings encouraged them to go farther. They resolved upon the building of a city, and a tower whose top may reach, etc. At the ground of this there evidently lies the impression of immensity as derived from the Babylonian plane, which actually, in its great extent, as some travellers have described it, gives the conception of the sublime. The visible middle point of the same must have been the tower, standing up as a sign of unity for the whole human race. According to the representation, therefore, the words, “even to the heaven,” would mean that the heaven was regarded as something that could be reached; although at a later period such language occurs in a hyperbolical sense.—And let us make us a name.—The expression עָשָׂה לוֹ שֵׁם denotes the appointing or establishing for one’s self a signal of renown (Is. 63:12, 14; Jer. 32:20). The sign of security shall be for them, at the same time, a sign of their fame, and thus, doubtless, would they give themselves a name as a people.—Lest we be scattered abroad.—Not only as a visible signal, but by the glory of its fame shall the tower hold them together. This is the expression of the political and popular feeling of antiquity; in the pride of the national spirit the individual is lost with his strength and his conscience. Such is the characteristic feature of Babel everywhere, whether upon the Euphrates, the Tiber, or the Seine. The individual with his convictions, his freedom, his personality, must be wholly sacrificed to the name of uniformity, whether it be worldly or ecclesiastical. What is said here relates not merely to an ungodly, arbitrary, ambitious, individually titanic undertaking, but to the first introduction of that atheistical and antichristian principle which would not merely promote the prosperity and authority of the whole in connection with the well-being and the freedom of the individual person, but also make the individual an involuntary sacrifice to a unity, which becomes, in that way, a false unity, as well as a false idol placed on the throne of the living God,—and this whether it be called Babel, Rome, the Church, or “la grande nation.” GÖETHE:

“Be it truth, or be it fable,

That in thousand books is shown,

All is but a tower of Babel,

Unless love shall make them one.”

Or we may adopt as a various reading,

When love of glory makes them one.

The question here relates to the destruction, in their very principles, of the Shemitic call to religion, and the Japhethic tendency to civilization, by a Hamitic confounding of religion and culture, to the obstruction of the true progress of the world and of the state, by resolving the constitution of human history into an immovable Hamitic naturalism. According to Knobel, the whole significance of the fact becomes resolved into one view. “This view (he says) the author imputes to them after the event, since Babylon, that most splendid city, as the Greeks regarded it (HEROD. i. 178), did, indeed, redound to the fame of its builders, but, at the same time, would thereby furnish a proof of their impious pride.” And yet, even in Knobel, the world-historical substratum in the representation very clearly appears, when he says, that “according to Berosus and Eupolemus, there were stories among the Chaldæans that those who were saved in the flood, when they came to Babylonia, again restored the place, and especially built there a high tower. For that purpose there met together in Babylonia diverse masses of people, etc.” He proceeds to say, moreover, that Babylon in later times became the central point of the nations, that it was, besides, a very ancient city, that two thousand years before Semiramis it was built for the son of Belus, and that, by reason of its huge magnitude, its temple of Belus, its high tower, and its dissolute morals giving it the appearance of the very home of sin (CURTIUS, v. 1, 36), as well as on account of its name, it had a peculiar fitness for the Scriptural author’s narration. The symbolical significance, however, of the appearance of Babylon, as matter of fact, is, in this way, wholly effaced.

3. Gen 11:5–8. The intervention of Jehovah, his counsel and his act. Without the thought of any Jehovistic document, it would be readily conceived that the frustration of such an undertaking must proceed from God as Jehovah, the founder and protector of the divine kingdom. The coming down7 of Jehovah forms a grand contrast to the rebellious uprising of the Babylonians with their tower. The higher they build, so much deeper, to speak anthropopathically, must he descend that he may rightly look into the matter. Moreover, the expression go to, as used by God, forms an ironical contrast to the two-fold go to (הָבָה, come on, give way now), as used by the Babylonians. The one nullifies the other and turns it against them.—This they begin to do, and now nothing will be restrained from them.—This reminds us of the declaration: Adam is become like one of us. Under the form of apprehension there lies an ironical expression of the conscious certainty of the divine rule.—And the Lord came down.—Delitzsch here again reminds us that (according to Hoffman) Jehovah, after the judgment of the flood, had transferred his throne to the heaven. Keil, however, correctly finds, at least in this place, only the anthropopathic expression of the divine interposition.—Behold, the people is one.—עַם, connection, community. The people, as a community, physically self-unfolding, is called גּוֹי (from גוה, probably in the sense of mound-like, extending, swelling8); the people, as an ethical community, a State, as constituted by an idea, is called עָם, from עמם (to bind together, to associate).—They begin to do.—An indication of the future Babel in the world’s history:—And now nothing will be restrained from them.—In truth, if God interpose not, the prospect is opened, that the pride and confidence of men will advance with extreme rapidity towards the destruction of freedom, of the personal life, of the divine seed and kingdom.—Let us go down and there confound their language.—Upon the descent of Jehovah in his beholding, there follows his descent in his counsel.—Let us.—And here, again, according to Delitzsch, does Jehovah include with himself his angels, the executors of his penal justice. Here, as elsewhere, an inappropriate idea.—Let us confound.—Knobel would understand by בלל to separate, and accordingly translates Babel as meaning separation. But thereby is the conception of the act carried into the unmeaning. What is said does not refer properly to a separation merely of human speech. The manner in which it is confounded is not described. According to Koppen, the miracle must have consisted wholly in an inward process, that is, a taking away of the old associations of ideas connected with words, and an immediate implanting of new and diverse modes of expression.9 According to Lilienthal, Hoffman (A. Feldhoff and others) it must have been wholly an outward process, a confusion of the lips, of pronunciation, of dialects; whilst Scaliger holds that differing meanings were connected with like words or sounds. The historical symbolical expression, however, may mean, perhaps, that the process of inward alienation and variation, the ground of which lay in the manifoldness of dispositions, and the reciprocity of spiritual tendencies, became fixed in diverse forms of speech and modes of expression, by reason of a sudden catastrophe brought upon them by God. The heathenish Babylonian tendency reflects itself still in the enigmatical, capriciously varying dialects of the same people, which is sometimes to be remarked in different quarters of the same city, or in the different peasantry of the same community, but which must have especially had place in the earlier times, when isolization became predominant. The first germ of the speech confounding must, accordingly, have shown itself as a diseased action which the fall introduced into the original innate germ of speech development. For a long time it remained naturally latent in the family of Noah, but manifested its full power in the time of the tower-building; and then the effect of that epoch prolongs itself through the whole history of the world. In like manner, however, was there a counter influence, too, from the days of Abraham onward. According to KAULEN (p. 220), the miracle consists in this, “that at that time, and in that region, there was introduced a linguistic change which, although it would have naturally come in in the course of things, would nevertheless have required for its full development other conditions of space and time than those presented.” If there is meant by this only a wonderful acceleration of a natural development, the view does not satisfy. Rightly says FABRI (p. 31): “A confounding of languages presupposes a confusion of the consciousness, a separation of the original speech into many, a disorder and a breach in the original common consciousness in respect to God and the world.—The history of the tower-building is the history of the origin of heathenism.”—So the Lord scattered them abroad.—Out of their purpose comes its direct opposite.—And they left off to build.—That is, as a community of the human race with that distinct tendency. The idea, however, is not excluded, that the Babylonians who remained behind kept on building Babel. The success of the enterprise was frustrated, but not analogous and limited undertakings of the same tendency; it appears, for example, in the great world monarchies. This first disappointment, however, was a type of all others, as they successively become apparent in the catastrophes of these world monarchies, and the last fulfilling will be found in the fall of Babylon, as mentioned in the Apocalypse. “That the structure itself was laid in ruins by an exercise of divine power which afterwards took place, is told us, indeed, by the sibyl, but not by the Scripture.” Delitzsch.

4. Wherefore is the name of it called Babel.—In deriving the name from bab, gate, gate of Bel, or El, the authority of the religious interpretation is not excluded, as KEIL supposes in his second note, p. 119. “Only we must distinguish between the frustration of the tower-building and the destruction of the later Babel that was still built on, and which, probably, for the first after the dispersion of the nations, came to be the seat of a heathenish worship.” Concerning the significance and the building material of Babylon, the classical writers agree with the Old Testament,—for example: HEROD. i. Gen 178; STRABO, 16; DIODORUS, ii. 7; ARRIAN, Alex. vii. 17; CURT. Alex. 5, 1, 25; EUSTATH. ad Dyonys. Perieg. 1005. According to them the huge walls of Babylon were made of burnt brick, as were also the magnificent structure of the temple of Belus, and the hanging gardens. According to one, the circumference of the city amounted to 480 stadia, or 60,000 paces; according to others, 385 or 360 stadia (furlongs), making, therefore, a journey of from 18 to 24 hours. The building of most importance was the quadrangular temple of Belus, each side of which was two furlongs in length; out of this there arose, by eight terraces, a strong, massive tower, which, according to Herodotus, was one furlong in length and breadth, and, according to Strabo, one stadium (that is 600 feet) high. The accounts of modern travellers amount to a confirmation of the ancient statements. The remains of the temple of Belus that was overthrown by Xerxes, and now called Birs Nimrod, form a huge mound of ruins, consisting of burnt and unburnt bricks, cemented partly with lime and partly with bitumen. The whole plain of Babylon is covered with mounds of rubbish from the same materials (see KER-PORTER: “Travels,” vol. ii. p. 301; BUCKINGHAM: “Travels in Mesopotamia,” p. 472; LAYARD: “Nineveh and Babylon,” p. 374; and RITTER’S “Geography,” xi. p. 876). “The ancients, for the most part, ascribe the building of Babylon to Semiramis, but this can only be true of its extension and fortification. According to the ancient inscriptions, the city was older than this (Knobel on the Genealogical Table, p. 346), and, according to Gen 10:10, it must have been already in existence at the time of Nimrod.” Knobel. In respect to the city, see also HERZOG’SReal-Encyclopœdie, article “Babel.” On the ruins of Babylon, see DELITZSCH, p. 312, with reference to the account of the traveller, James Rich. The Arabians regard the ruins of Birs Nimrod as the Babylonian tower that was destroyed by fire from heaven. Delitzsch, who at first regarded Birs Nimrod as the temple of Belus (as Rawlinson, too, supposes), remarks now, on the contrary, that the temple of Belus stood in the middle of the city, but that Birs Nimrod was situated in the suburb Borsippa, two miles south. But now, according to Oppert’s supposition, Borsippa means tower of languages, and, therefore, the opinion has much in its favor that the Birs Nimrod had been already in the very ancient time, the observatory of the Chaldæan astrologers, with which the tower of the speech-confounding stands in historical connection. It seems difficult to suppose that the tower, which was to denote the centre of the earth, should be placed at a mile’s distance outside of the city which was distinctly regarded as the capital of the earth. Moreover, this tower might, at a later day, have become the tower of Belus. Bunsen, nevertheless, decides for Birs Nimrod (with reference to Rawlinson), and the name supports the conclusion that the tradition speaks for this place. Of special importance, besides, is the inscription of Borsippa, as given by Oppert, which introduces Nebuchadnezzar as speaking, and according to which the first building of Birs Nimrod is carried back, in its antiquity, 42 generations. See FABRI, p. 49.


1. See the preliminary discussion. Analogous to this gigantic undertaking of the young humanity are the later monumental buildings of the Egyptians, of the Indians, of Greece, and of other lands. Like the mythological systems of the civilized nations of antiquity, they present an historical contradiction of a favorite modern view, according to which the whole human race had only gradually worked itself out of an animal or beastly state.

2. The character and the teleology of heathenism. The essence of heathenism is strikingly characterized in our narration as a diseased oscillation between the attraction of humanity to unity, on the one hand, and to multiplicity and unrestrained dismemberment on the other. From the Babylonish striving after an outward unity proceeds the first dispersion of the nations. This afterwards takes the form of a dismemberment of the same in a peculiar sense; it becomes, in other words, a heathenish, national, or local consciousness, an idolatrous, antochthonic consciousness, growing wild with the notions of a national earth and a national heavens, whilst, in its utter disorder, it sinks down to the mere prejudice which regards every stranger as an enemy (hostis), and proceeds, at last, to that absolute exclusiveness which causes the inhabitant of the island to put to death any one from abroad, and the Bushman to threaten every new comer with his poisoned arrows. In the same manner, from a religious striving after a pantheistic world-view, there originates the first declining of the spirit into polytheism. And then, too, the different world-monarchies furnish a proof that the diseased centripetal drawing in the world ever works in interchange with that centrifugal tendency. Upon the downfall of any such world-monarchy, there follows again, in various ways, a dissolution and a dispersion of elements. Even in the history of the Church do we find a shadowy outline of the same process; and yet it is just the task and the daily work of the essential Church to mediate more and more the true development and appearance, both of unity and variety, among the nations; though in truth it does this through the light and law of the Gospel as it goes out from the spiritual Zion, or that true kingdom of God which has its organization in the Church. The true reciprocity between unity and division constitutes the life of humanity. The false, feverish, exaggerated reciprocity, which tends to the overstraining, and, at the same time, the division and dissolution of both these influences, is its disease and its death. The striving of the world-monarchies breaks down against the power of the national individualities. Again, the national isolations are interrupted and broken up by the world-monarchies. But dispersion has the special effect to distribute the evil, to dismember, to send one people as a judgment upon another, until there is awakened in all a feeling of the need of deliverance and unity. Here belong the ethnographic and the mythologic systems. In respect to the first, compare LANGE’S “Miscellaneous Writings,” i. p. 74. On the last, see Lange’s treatise entitled, Die Gesetzlich-Catholische Kirche als Sinnbild.

3. As the myth of the Titans reflects itself in the creative periods, so does it also in the Babylonish tower-building.

4. FABRI, p. 44: “In a manner more or less distinctly marked, since the time of Babel, has every nation, and every group of nations, had spread over it its peculiar veil (Is. 25:7) which has impregnated and penetrated the whole national consciousness. Even in the present age of the world does this remain, not yet broken through, morally and spiritually, by whole nations, but only by individuals out of every nation, who in Christ have attained to the participation of a new and divine birth,—these, however, being the very core and heart of such nations, and forming with one another a people in a people. For in Christ alone does man awake to a universal theanthropic consciousness.” [True indeed, but Christ, according to Matt. 13, works after the manner of leaven; and in fact, as a principle of new life for the whole humanity (Rom. 5:12), and the veils of the nations are gradually lifted up before they are wholly removed or torn away. It is not the individuals and the nations that form the contrast in the present course of the world, but the grain (the elect) and the chaff in the nations,—in other words, the contrast between the believing and the unbelieving—between people and people.]

5. The ironical element in the rule of the divine righteousness (see Gen 3:22) appears again in the history of the tower-building, after its grandest display in the primitive time. It is just from the false striving after the idol of an outward national unity, that God suffers to go forth the dispersing of the nations. Without doubt, too, is there an ironical force in the words: “and now nothing will be restrained from them” (Gen 11:7).

6. In this demonical effort of the Babylonians to build a tower that should reach to heaven, there still remains an element of good. By means of it, in later times, they appeared as the oldest explorers of the stars, who discovered the zodiac and many other astronomical phenomena,—as astronomers, in fact, with their searching gaze raised to heaven, although their science was covered under an astrological veil. The unfinished tower was transformed into an observatory; and how vast the benefit that from thence has come to man!

7. The heathenish yet Titanic energy of the Babylonian spirit proves itself in the fact, that whilst in the one direction their worship went to the extreme of offering human sacrifices, it became, on the other, a service of revolting licentiousness.

8. “Let us build us a tower and make us a name.” The antithetic relation which this watchword of theirs bore to Shem (the name), and the destination that God had given to him that he should be the potential central point of humanity, may also be indicated by the name Nimrod (נִמְרֹד, come on, now let us rebel). And so, according to the view of Roos, may the race of Ham have become engaged with special zeal in this tower-building, for the very purpose of weakening the prophecy. But, then, that would lead to the conclusion of a variance with the Shemites, and an overpowering of them, whereas our history represents it as a universal understanding. Moreover, in Gen 10:10, Nimrod appears, not as the builder of Babel, but as the founder of the kingdom of that name; whereas Gen 11 relates to the building of the city itself. We must, therefore, suppose that in the understanding mentioned, Gen 11, the Shemites were either infatuated, or that they were silenced. The text, however, supposes an understanding of the races. We may, perhaps, assume that, in the designation of the tower, Shem’s priority was symbolically indicated, and that on this account his race would be satisfied. There would result, then, a distinct consequence. Upon this free federal cooperation of the patriarchal races, there followed the despotic exaltation of Nimrod, which contributed, moreover, to hasten the Babylonic dissolution. We make more difficult the view we take of the transaction when we measure the greatness of the tower before the dispersion by the later magnitude of the tower of Belus, or of the Bris Nimrod. “Mesopotamia,” says Bunsen, “is covered from north to south with ruins and localities with which the name of Nimrod is everywhere connected; as in Babylonia so also in Nineveh, lying farther of and eastward from upper Mesopotamia; even the country of the Riphæan mountains, at the source of the Tigris, and so the part of Armenia which lies north from Nineveh, and west of the lake Van, has its Mount Nimrod.”


The tower of Babel in its historical and figurative significance: a gigantic undertaking, an apparent success, a frustrated purpose, an eternal sign of warning. 2. The repeating of the same history in the political and ecclesiastical spheres.—The spiritual history of Babylon to its latest fulfilling according to the Apocalypse. The confusion of languages at Babel, and the scene of the Pentecost at Jerusalem.—Babel and Zion.—Babel, confusion; Jerusalem, peace. Christianity, God’s descent to earth, to unite again the discordant languages. Christianity, in what way it makes the languages one: 1. In that from all spirits it makes one spirit of life; 2. from all peoples one people; 3. from all witnessings, one confession of faith, one doxology, one salutation of love.

STARKE: Supposition, that first after the flood men drew from Armenia towards Persia, then eastward towards Babylon. HEDINGER: Pride aims ever at the highest. Avarice and ambition have no bounds (Jer. 23:23; Luke 1:51).

LISCO: The design of the tower-building is threefold: 1. To gratify the passion for glory which would make itself a name; 2. defiance of God, reaching even to the heaven, his seat of habitation; 3. that the tower might be a point of union and of rendezvous for the whole human race. Selfishness ever separates; so was it here; love and humility alone constitute the true and enduring bond; but this is found only in the kingdom of God, never in the kingdom of the world. As here, so evermore, is Babel the name of pride, of show, of vain glory, of national subjugation, of fraud and tyranny upon the earth. As in this place, so is it always the emblem of insolence towards God, of soaring to heaven, of “making its throne among the stars,” and, at the same time, of confusion, of desolation, of God’s derisive irony in view of the giant projects of men (comp. Is. 14; Rev. 18).—GERLACH: There are now formed the sharply separated families of the nations, each confined to itself alone, and standing to others in an essentially hostile relation; each must now use and develop its own peculiar power. The whole heathen world knows no more any unity of the human race, until finally, through the Gospel, men again recognize the fact that they are all of one blood, that they have all one great common want, and have for their father one God,—until, in short, the languages which the pride of Babel separated become again united in the love and humility of Zion.

CALWER HANDBUCH: It is worthy of remark that the modern researches into language have recognized the original affinity of most known languages to one common original speech. The sundering and parting of the nations is God’s own work. As labor was the penalty for the sin of paradise, so is separation the punishment for this sin of pride. In both cases, however, was the punishment at the same time a blessing.

SCHRÖDER: It is the spirit of Nimrod that inflates humanity in the plane of Babylon. The tower, as historical fact, is to form the apotheosis of humanity.

LUTHER: They have no concern that God’s name be hallowed, but all their care and planning turns to this, that their own name may become great and celebrated on the earth. This city and tower of men is fundamentally nothing else than an outward artificial substitute for the inner union before God, and in God.—ROOS: It is credible that Ham and his son Canaan should have been especially zealous to hinder this counsel of God, according to which a hard destiny was to befall them—that is, that there should be a separation of the nations, so that Canaan should become the servant of Shem and Japheth.—LUTHER: God comes down, that is, he gives special heed to them, he ceases to be forbearing. His coming down denotes his revelation of himself, his appearing in a new and great act, whether taken in the sense of mildness or severity. “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down” (Is. 64).

Gen 11:7. The salvation of men is a matter of deep concern to our Lord; the boundary he would set to them is the barrier of grace and compassion.—G. D. KRUMMACHER: Human plans are confounded that the divine order may proceed from them. Such is the course of the world’s history.


1[Gen 11:1.—שָׂפָה אֶחָת זּדְבָרִים אֲחָדִים, one lip and one words, as near as our English can come to it. LXX., χεῖλος ἓι καὶ φωνὴ μία πᾶσι; Vulg., labii unius et sermonum eorumdem; the Syriac, ܠܝܐܐ ܚܙ̣ ܘܘܠܘܠܠ ܚܙ̣, one tongue and one speech; and so the Targum of Onkelos, לִישַׁן חַד וּמַמְלַל חַד. So Greek writers describe those who speak the same language a ὁμόγλωττοι and ὁμόφωνοι. Rashi interprets דברים as referring to the thoughts and counsels rather than to language, regarding that as expressed by שפה: “They came to an understanding,” or “into one counsel,” באו עצה אחת; in which Vitringa agrees with him. Kaulen makes a labored distinction between שפֹה and דברֹים, the first of which he refers to the subjective element in speech, producing the grammatical form, the other to the objective, or the words as the matter of language. In proof, he cites such passages as Ps. 12:3, שפת חלקות, lip of flatteries; Exod. 6:12, uncircumcised lip; Prov. 12:19, lips of truth, etc.; Is. 33:19, עמקי שפה, deep of lipּ But these examples only show that, when there is no contrast intended, שפה, lip, may be taken generally for language (like lingua, the tongue; see Gen 11:9, below), including not only words and pronunciation, but all of thought and expression that belongs to it. To show that דברים and שפה are not tautological here, he quotes Ps. 59:13, דְּבַר שְׂפָתֵמוֹ, the word of their lips. But this is needless. It is clear that they are not tautological. They express two distinct ideas; and yet we may doubt whether there is intended such a philosophical antithesis as Kaulen would bring out, though most true in itself, and most important to be considered in the science of language. The first thought would be the other way, namely, that דבר (λόγος) denoted the subjective, and שפה lip, the outward or objective in language; since the first is used of a thought, thing, subject, that which is expressed, as well as the word or expression. The terms here are neither tautological, nor antithetical, but supplemental and intensive. It is the unity of language described in the most comprehensive manner: one lip, that is, one pronunciation, and the same words (דברים אחדים, every one of them (the plural taken distributively), that is, one name for each thing, and one way of speaking it. When they are put in direct contrast, then שפה, instead of the subjective element, as Kaulen maintains, would denote mere sound in distinction from sense, as in the phrase דְּבַר שְׂפָתַיִם, Is. 36:5; 2 Kings 18:20; Prov. 14:23—speech of the lips, that is, mere empty boasting, sound without sense.—T. L.]

2[Gen 11:2.—בְּנָסְעָם, literally, in their pulling up. It is used of the taking up the stakes of a tent (see it in its primary sense, Is. 38:12), and is thus pictorially descriptive of a nomadic life, like the Arabic رحل. It is used of the marching in the wilderness, and suggests here the idea of an encampment. The descendants of Noah had hitherto kept together in their rovings.—T. L.]

3 מִקֶדֶם—rendered from the East. Armenia, the supposed landing-place of the ark, was northwest of Shinar. This has led some to suppose, that the early human race made a detour through Persia, and so were travelling east when they came to Shinar. Others have regarded the ark-mountain as situated to the east, a view which can only be maintained by supposing the naming of the Armenian Ararat to belong to a later period, as a transfer from an older and more easterly region (see text, note p. 308). The original Scripture does not, of itself, determine the location as either east or west; so that the Samaritan version, that makes it Serendib (in Ceylon) is not to be rejected, as in itself false or absurd, any more than the Vulgate location in Armenia, or the Targum and Syriac mountains of Kardu, or the Arabian Mount Judi wherever that may have been. Rashi seems thus to have regarded it when he interprets מִקֶּדֶם as a journeying from הַר קֶדֶם (mountain of the East), mentioned just above, ch.10:30. Others would render מִקֶּדֶם eastward, or to the east, referring to such passages as Gen. 13:11; Numb 34:11; Josh. 7:2; Judg. 8:11, etc., in all of which, except the first, the term denotes position instead of moving direction, and may, therefore, be regarded as determined from the standpoint, real or assumed, of the narrator or describer. Bochart regards קֶדֶם as a name given to all the country beyond the Euphrates and Tigris, independent of the position of some parts of it in respect to other parts or to regions on the other side. This would seem the best way, if we must render מִקֶּדֶם from the east. But there is an older sense to the root, which may well be regarded as intended here. This primary sense is ante, before, or in front of. Hence its application to time as well as to space. The old country is afterwards called the East, and so קִדְמָה becomes a word of local direction. This primary sense of anteriority gives the idea here demanded, which is not so much any particular direction (the geography not being the thing chiefly in view), as it is the general idea of progress. As they journeyed onward, מקדם, right ahead, in their nomadic roving—from one before to another, or from the place before them to one still farther on—they found a בִּקְעָה, or plain country. Gen 13:12 seems to be like this, and may be rendered in the same way: Abraham and Lot parted; the former settled (יָשַׁב) in the land where they were; or Abraham stopped, as we say in familiar English, but Lot journeyed on, יַיִּסּע מִקֶּדֶם. Compare 11:2, וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם, and they stopped there (in Shinar), where וַיֵּשֵׁב is in a similar contrast to the nomadic word וַיִּסָּע. Or it may be taken as a word of position: he pitched his tent eastward. In this place the Targum of Onkelos has בְּקַדְמֵיתא, in the East, regarding it as denoting position. So also the Arabic فو البثى ق. The LXX., the Vulgate; and the Syriac render it from the East.—T. L.]

4[Gen 11:9.—קָרָא שְׁמָהּ בָּבֶל called its name Babel, כִי שָׁם בָּלַל, because there he confounded (balel = balbel) the language, etc. There is difficulty, sometimes, in the etymologies given in the Hebrew Bible, but this seems to be a remarkably clear and consistent one. It seems strange that Dr. Lange should show himself inclined to the other far-fetched derivation, which would make it mean either the “gate of Bel,” or “ the gate of El.” Naming cities from the gate is not the most early way, though it came in afterwards, from the gate becoming the important place of commercial, judicial, and political procedure. Schelling is right in saying that באב, دـا ب, for gate, is confined alone to the Arabic, of all the Shemitic tongues. It is entirely unknown to the Hebrew, and if it is ever found in any very late Syriac, it comes from the comparatively modern Arabic use. There is reason, too, to regard בֵּל, notwithstanding a doubt expressed by Rawlinson (RAWLINSON: Herod., i. p. 247), as the same with בַעַל, the deified power, or personage, that appears all over the East,—Baal, Lord, Master, and which becomes a general name for monarchs, like Pharaoh in Egypt. In the Babylonian, it becomes Bel or Belus; and in addition to the Phœnician Baal, or Bal, (appearing in many Phœnician and Carthaginian proper names, such as Hannibal, Adsrubal, etc.), we find a Lybian Belus (see VIRG.: Æn., i. 621), a Lydian Bel, connected also with a Ninus (HEROD., i. 7), besides the common Scriptural appellation of the idol deity so worshipped. In view of these facts, there must be rejected the idea of an early Babylonian monarch, to whom the name was exclusively given. They seem to have used the word in the plural, as the Phœnicians did (בעלים, Baalim), and this accounts for the form it takes, as expressed in Greek, in the Persæ of ÆSCHYLUS, 657, βαλὴν ἀρχαῖος. Though with a singular adjective, it can be nothing less than בַּעַלִין (Baalin), or, as the whole would be expressed in the later Hebrew, בַּעַלִין הַקַּדמֹנִין. To make this very ancient and memorable name בָּבֵל (Babel) equivalent to the Arabic بـاب بل, באב בל or בב בעל, gate of Bel or Baal, would be greatly straining etymology as well as history. Had such a derivation been found in the Bible, it would doubtless have been contemptuously rejected, by some who go so far from the Bible to get it. Nothing can be more direct and consistent than the etymology given in Genesis. The verb בלל is the same with the intensive form בלבל, balbal, from which בבל is softened after becoming a fixed and oft-pronounced name. בלבל, balbel, is an onomatope, exactly like our word babble, and its sense of confusion is probably secondary, coming from this early onomatopic use. The letters L and R are cognate and interchangeable, in the Greek as well as in the Shemitic tongues. Hence balbal and βαρβαρ are the same. Barbarian did not, originally, mean savage, but one who speaks a different language, or who seems to the hearer to babble. It was the place where men first became barbarians to each other (see 1 Cor. 14:11), though the name, as an onomatope, would seem still to belong to them all.—T. L.]

5[The more carefully the peculiar language of this Babel history is considered, and especially its heaven-defying look, the more probable will appear the view supported by Bryant, which regards it as the origin of the heathen fable of the war of the giants against the gods. The war of the Titans was probably the same, though it appears as a duplicate of the event in the Greek mythology. The latter, however, being set forth as the more ancient event, may, with some reason, be referred to the antediluvian rebellion described in Gen. 6th. Both of these myths must have had some historical foundation in actual human history; for nothing can be more wild in itself, or more inconsistent with what we know, or may conceive, of the earliest thinking, than those representations of allegorical wars of which some writers are so fond. In the first period of human life, men were too much occupied with the great actual, and this is shown by the very exaggerations of the form which it assumed in history. Myth-making and allegorizing came in afterwards. The war of ideas, of which some talk, shows a previous philosophizing, however crude. The sight of great physical convulsions may have suggested some of these stories; but the actual occurrence of great events in human history was their more probable source.—T. L.]

6[There could, at this time, have been no great difference between Hebrew and Aramaic. Even in the days of Jacob and Laban, they could not have diverged much; since they appear to have well understood each other in the very beginning of Jacob’s residence. Afterwards, when they parted, they gave two different names (גַּלְעֵד and יְגַר שָׁהֲדוּתָא, Gen. 31:47) to the monumental heap of stones; but in so doing, they probably sought as much diversity as the growing change in their respective dialects would afford.—T. L.]

7 [Gen 11:5.—וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָֹה, And God came down. The Targum of Onkelos renders this וְאִתְגְּלִי יְיָ, and Jehovah was manifested, or revealed himself. So most of the other Jewish authorities. They derived the idea, probably, from such passages as Hosea 5:15, where the opposite expression seems to represent God as retiring, and leaving the world to itself: אֵלֵךְ וְאָשׁוּבָה אֶל מְקוֹמִי, I will go and return to my place. So in the seventh verse, Onkelos renders it, Come, let us be revealed. The Arabic follows the Targum, and has تعاوا ذـتكاـى. Compare also Micah 1:3, יְהוָֹה יוֹצֵא מִמְּקוֹמוֹ וְיָרַד, “For lo, Jehovah goes forth from his place, and comes down and walks upon the high places of the earth.” There is a spirituality in Rabbi Schelomo’s interpretation of this which is lacking in most Christian commentators. “It represents God,” he says, “as coming down from his throne of mercies, כסא רחמים, to his throne of judgment,” כסא הדין, as though the one were in the serene upper heavens (comp. Ps. 113:6), and the other nearer to the sphere of this turbulent earth,—implying also that the divine mercy is more retired, less visible to the sense, because more general and diffused, though seen by the eye of faith as sending rain upon the just and the unjust, whilst God’s judgments in the world are more manifest, more extraordinary, more palpable to the sense. It is “his strange work,” זָר מַעֲשֵׂהוּ, Is. 28:21; עֲבֹדָתוֹ נָכְרִיָּה, “his extraordinary doing.” The commentary of Aben Ezra on ירד, Gen. 11:5, is very noteworthy: “This is thus said, because every thing that takes place in the world below depends from the powers that are above; as is seen in what is said (1 Sam. 2:3) מְהַשָּׁמַיִם יִתְכְּנוּ עֲלִילוֹת, from the Heavens events are arranged (in our English Version it is given very poorly, actions are weighed). Wherefore God is said to ride upon the heavens (רוֹכֵב הַשָּׁמַיִם, Deut. 33:26); for thus the Scripture speaks with the tongue of men.” With this citation of Aben Ezra, comp. Ps. 68:5, “Praise him that rideth on the Heavens by his name Jah,” although many modern commentators differ from the Jewish in their rendering of עֲרָבוֹת. The riding on the Heavens is explained, by the commentator on Aben Ezra, as referring to the outer sphere (according to the astrological technics), in which there are inherent the higher or ultimate causalities, as Rabbi Tanchum says עֲלִילוֹת should be rendered in the verse above quoted, 1 Sam. 2:3 (see TANCHUM: “Comment.” Lam. 1:12), or סִבּוֹת, deflecting or turning causalities, as it is explained by him (see 1 Kings 12:15). Similar interpretations are given by the Jewish commentaters of such words as הָבָה, Gen 11:7, Go to now, Let us go down. They are used to express the most direct opposition between the ways and thoughts of men and those of God. Says Rabbi Schelomo: “It is מִדָּה כְּנֶגֶד מִדָּה, measure for measure (par pari). Let us build up, say they, and scale the heavens; let us go down, says God, and defeat their impious thought.” Other Rabbins, and Jewish grammarians, have a method of explaining such passages by a very concise yet most significant phrase. This mode of representing things, more humano, they call לְשׁוֹן הַדָּבָר, the language or “tongue of the event,” or the action speaking. Thus Rabbi Tanchum characterizes the words אֲדֹנָי לֹא רָאָה, the Lord not see it, Lam. 3:36, as لساب الكا ل, the tongue or speech of the condition (the supposed language of the wicked actions just before described), whether regarded as actually uttered or not. Thus here, God speaks in what he does, in most direct contrariety to the ways and thoughts of men. The event to be narrated by the sacred historian is the divine intervention in counteraction of human wickedness and folly. To be intelligible, it necessarily includes some statement of the divine thoughts or purposes, as inseparable parts of the res gestæ. This must be done after the manner of men, or it cannot be done at all. These divine purposes and acts are, therefore, represented as speaking. In fact they do speak; and this is what they say most emphatically. It is analogous to the frequent usage in Homeric Greek of φημί, to speak, for οἴομαι, to think; and, in Hebrew, of דבר, word, for thought or thing,—a connection of ideas which is obvious in the English think and thing, as also in the German ding and denken. This language of the event, if it would be expressive, must be characteristic and idiomatic. The הָבָה, go to, of man, is met by a direct response on the part of Deity, and to this end the very same term is used, not ironically, as Lange thinks, but as the most speaking form of the antithesis. This is not like the language of the prophet who hears words spoken in vision. In that case they are truly, though subjectively heard, as the mediate language of the inspiring power, and not alone of the inspired human medium. But in such narrations as these, nothing could better describe the rhetorical peculiarity than this formula of the Jewish critics. It is “the language of the occasion,” not as uttered objectively, or heard subjectively, but still as virtually representing most important parts of the event.

Those who are offended at such a style cannot consistently stop short of a denial of all revelation, as either actual or possible. When we make the objection, we should consider how far it goes. Not only is there shut out the thought of any direct divine intervention in the world’s history, but also every idea whatever of any divine action or personality. Look at the question carefully, and we are compelled to say that thinking, in any such way as we think, and even knowing, in the sense of any particular recognition of anything finite as finite, are as truly anthropopathic exercises as remembering and speaking. It is truly pitiable, therefore, when Rosenmüller, and other commentators like him, indulge in their usual apologizing and patronizing talk about the simple belief of the early ages, deos descendere, atque, ut ex antiqua persuasione credebatur, ad humanum morem consilia agitare, deliberare, rebus ex omni parte perpensis, decernere,—“that the gods actually come down to see, etc.” How far have we got, in these respects, beyond these simple “early people?” What advantage has the most rationalizing commentator over them in the use of any language that will enable him to think of God, or talk of God, without denying the divine personality on the one hand, or bringing in something impliedly and essentially anthropopathic on the other. This language is as much for one age as for another; since here all ages, and all human minds, are very much on a par. But why, it may be asked, could there not have been used terms more general, and which would not have suggested such crude conceptions? It might have been simply said, God intervened to prevent the accomplishment of evil purposes, or he provided means in the course of his general providence, or government of nature and the world, for such an end. This, it may be thought, would have sounded better, and better preserved the dignity of the Scripture. But what is an intervention, but a coming between, and a prevention but a going before, and a, providing, or a providence, but a looking into, a coming down to see what the children of men are doing? We gain nothing by them. Instead of helping the matter, our most philosophical language would only be the substituting of worn-out terms, whose early primary images had faded out, or ceased to affect us conceptually, for other language equally representative of the idea, whilst excelling in that pictorial vividness in which truly dwells that which we most need. This is the suggestive and emotive power, making words something more than arbitrary signs of unknown quantities, like the x y z of the algebraist, where the things signified are mere notions, having no meaning or value except as they preserve the equilibrium of a logical equation. We would have the Bible talk to us philosophically: “the infinite intelligence conditions the finite; the divine power is the conserving principle ever immanent in nature.” But hear how much better the Scripture says this: “the God of old is thy dwelling-place, and underneath are the everlasting arms,” זְרֹעוֹת עוֹלָם, the arms of eternity, the arms that hold up the world. The divine wisdom has adopted this style. It is a mode of diction ever fresh, yet equal to any other as a representative of that which is strictly ineffable, that is, un-utterable in any of those sense-forms in which all human language must terminate, though still belonging to the spiritual intelligence, and known by it as something that truly is. Paul once heard the divine ideas expressed in their own proper words (2 Cor. 12:4), but he could not translate these ἄῤῥητα ῥήματα into the speech of the lower sphere. The language of the Bible is the best that could be given us. It may present stumbling-blocks to the careless reader, or to those who wish to stumble, but still is it true, that the more we study the Holy Scriptures, even in their earliest parts, the more reason do we find to thank God that they are written just as they are.—T. L]

8[The senses of flowing together which Gesenius gives, or of extending, swelling, as here presented, are not found in any use of the root גו or גוה, but are accommodated, as supposed primary senses, to the meaning required. It is better, however, to deduce it from the sense of interiority, inclusion (implying, exclusion, seclusion, separateness), which is common in the Chaldæan and Syriac. Thus regarded, it would be the political, rather than any physical idea—a nation as a political unity by itself, separate from all others—whilst עָם would denote association. A commuuity within itself in its two aspects, of outward exclusion, and inner binding.—T. L.]

9[How easily this is done, whether by a power purely physical or divine, is seen in the cases of paralytics, where, the mind remaining clear, the connection between it and the vocal organs is suddenly changed; so that though speech is not lost, its utterances are misplaced, the name of one thing is given to another, or the connection between the usual word and the usual idea seems almost wholly broken up. The individual derangement is a very mysterious thing, as inexplicable now as in the earliest ages of the world. National and popular derangements are more rare, but history records strange movements, that suggest the thought, as the truest, if not the only possible, explanation. Our knowledge of man, of the immeasurable deep within him, of the infinite unknown around and above him, is too small to warrant any positive denial of such statements, or the possibility of such events, whether regarded as supernatural, or as falling within those natural causalities of which we talk so much, and yet, comparatively, know so little.—T. L.]

Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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