Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Corroborating Babel

“The whole earth had a common language and a common vocabulary.”
Genesis 11:1, NET Bible

The Biblical record in Genesis presents three events in this order:

  1. Creation
  2. the Noachian Deluge
  3. the lingual dissemination at the Tower of Babel

All three of these events are corroborated in garbled legends outside of Genesis, providing evidence of a historical kernel that is represented in the lucid, non-mythological Genesis accounts.

The following are legends of a mythical and convoluted sort regarding the third event, the lingual dissemination at the Tower of Babel as described at Genesis 11:1-9.

Consider these from various locations around the world, and note which identifying motifs they exhibit:
  • After Noachian Deluge
  • Men spoke one language
  • Construction of a tower to heaven
  • Their language was divided by an irritated deity
  • Resulting in discord
Starting in Babylon itself:

The legend Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (134-155) relates the following:
the whole universe, the well-guarded people— addressed Enlil together in a single language! For at that time, for the ambitious lords, for the ambitious princes, for the ambitious kings, Enki...the lord of abundance and of steadfast decisions, the wise and knowing lord of the Land, the expert of the gods, chosen for wisdom, the lord of Eridu, changed the speech in their mouths, as many as he had placed there, in the speech of mankind which had been one.
  • Men spoke one language
  • Their language was divided by irritated deities
From: Insight on the Scriptures Vol-1 p. 147 Archaeology
One fragment found N of the temple of Marduk in Babylon related the fall of such a ziggurat in these words: “The building of this temple offended the gods. In a night they threw down what had been built. They scattered them abroad, and made strange their speech. The progress they impeded.” (Bible and Spade, by S. L. Caiger, 1938, p. 29)[1]
  • Men spoke one language
  • Construction of a tower, a temple-tower or ziggurat.
  • Their language was divided by irritated deities
  • Resulting in discord
From: Awake! 1989 1/22 p. 21 Part 2—2369-1943 B.C.E.—A Hunter, a Tower, and You!
Legends That Reflect the Bible Account
People in northern Burma believe that everyone originally “lived in one large village and spoke one tongue.” Then they set out to build a tower to the moon, which required that they work on separate levels of the tower, thus losing touch with one another. They “gradually acquired different manners, customs, and ways of speech.”
  • Men spoke one language
  • Construction of a tower to heaven
  • Their language was divided
  • Resulting in discord
The Yenisei-Ostyaks of northern Siberia say that people saved themselves during a flood by floating on logs and rafters. But a strong north wind scattered them so that “they began, after the flood, to speak different languages and to form different peoples.”—“The Mythology of All Races.”
  • Following a Noachian Deluge legend
  • Men spoke one language
  • Their language was divided
  • Resulting in dispersion
The early Aztecs taught that “after the Flood a giant built an artificial hill reaching into the clouds, thereby angering the gods, who cast fire or a stone down from heaven.”
  • Following a Noachian Deluge legend
  • Construction of a tower to heaven
  • Their language was divided by irritated deities
  • Resulting in discord
According to the Maya, Votan, the first human, helped build a huge house reaching into the heavens, which turned out to be “the place where God gave every tribe its particular language.”
  • Men spoke one language
  • Construction of a tower to heaven
  • Their language was divided by a deity
And the Maidu Indians of California claimed that “during a funeral ceremony, [all the people] suddenly began speaking in different languages.”—“Der Turmbau von Babel” (The Building of the Tower of Babel).
  • Men spoke one language
  • Their language was divided
  • Resulting in discord
Legends like these give credence to author Dr. Ernst Böklen’s contention that “the greatest likelihood exists that Genesis 11 and related tales stemming from other peoples are based on actual historical recollections.”

From: Mankind’s Search For God chap. 3 pp. 45-46 par. 8 Common Threads in Mythology
From South America an Inca legend explains how a mythical creator gave speech to each nation. “He gave to each nation the language it was to speak . . . He gave being and soul to each one as well [as] the men and the women and commanded each nation to sink below the earth. Thence each nation passed underground and came up in the places to which he assigned them.” (The Fables and Rites of the Yncas, by Cristóbal de Molina of Cuzco, quoted in South American Mythology) In this case it appears that the Bible’s account of the confusion of languages at Babel is the factual kernel for this Inca myth. (Genesis 11:1-9)
  • Their language was divided by a deity
Lastly, embedded within the mythological histories of Gaius Julius Hyginus (64 BCE-17 CE) is the following account:

Inachus, son of Oceanus, begat Phoroneus by his sister Argia, and he is said to have been the first of mortals to rule. Men for many centuries before lived without town or laws, speaking one tongue under the rule of Jove [Jupiter]. But after Mercury had explained the languages of men (when he is called hermeneutes, “interpreter,” for Mercury in Greek is called Hermes; he too, divided the nations), then discord arose among mortals, which was not pleasing to Jove. And so he gave over the first rule to Phoroneus, because he was first to make offerings to Juno.

(Source: Fabulae 143 Phoroneus.
  • Men spoke one language
  • Their language was divided by a deity
  • Resulting in discord
In all, the most noteworthy or historically significant and corroborative legends are the two Babylonian ones and this more recent one from Hyginus. The other examples from disparate locations across Asia and the Americas are interesting but not as significant, and should be taken more cautiously due to the possibility of coincidental resemblance. Now we shall look at one more story, from Josephus.

Josephus’s Sybil
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus in his seminal work Antiquities of the Jews recorded an alleged Tower of Babel legend in Book 1, chapter 4, section 3. It reads:
The Sibyl also makes mention of this tower, and of the confusion of the language, when she says thus: “When all men were of one language, some of them built a high tower, as if they would thereby ascend up to heaven, but the gods sent storms of wind and overthrew the tower, and gave every one his peculiar language; and for this reason it was that the city was called Babylon.”
Actually, Josephus’s Sibyl has been identified as deriving from the Third Sibylline Oracle which was the production of “Hellenistic Jews, especially those of Alexandria” who were fond of “cloth[ing] their sayings in Gentile garb, for only thus could they hope to gain an audience.”[2] In other words, they would forge Sibylline sayings of Jewish matters to attract a Gentile audience in their Hellenized world. However, Josephus was apparently duped by this production and thought it was authentic. Otherwise, his use of it would amount to circular reasoning (if he knew it was Jewish then he would be using a Jewish work instead of a Gentile work to corroborate a Jewish work).

Here is the part of the Third Sibylline Oracle that he apparently used as a source, paraphrasing from:

Third Sibylline Oracle:
When in Assyrian land they built a tower;--
120 (And they all spoke one language, and resolved
To mount aloft into the starry heaven;
But on the air the Immortal straightway put
A mighty force; and then winds from above
Cast down the great tower and stirred mortals up
125 To wrangling with each other; therefore men
Gave to that city the name of Babylon);--
Now when the tower fell and the tongues of men
Turned to all sorts of sounds, straightway all earth
Was filled with men and kingdoms were divided;

(Source: p. 60)

Thus, it appears that Josephus did not have a genuine Tower of Babel legend.

An Historical Corroboration?
After considering the above corroborative legends, it is important to note a potential historical match to the Babel lingual discord event in the transition from Sumerian as the only language to other languages in Mesopotamia. First, the importance of Sumerian is introduced as:
The language spoken in Mesopotamia before about 2500 B.C. was Sumerian—a very difficult and obtuse language that has no known relatives, living or dead. Sumerian tablets represent what most scholars believe is the world’s oldest written language, probably predating Egyptian hieroglyphics by several hundred years.
Then a transition occurred:
The Sumerian language flourished for at least 1,500 years, and even after it was eclipsed as a spoken language by other languages, it still continued to be studied and written by Babylonian scribes until the first century B.C. as a scholastic exercise (like Latin is today). … The possibility that before ca. 2500 B.C. all of Mesopotamia spoke one language (Sumerian) may have been the foundation for the statement found in Gen. 11:1: And the whole earth was of one language and one speech. After about 2500 B.C. (or about the time of Peleg and the tower of Babel), other languages such as Old Akkadian and Old Babylonian (Semitic languages), “overtook” the ancient Sumerian, and by 2000 B.C., it had become dead as a spoken language. The oldest historical indications of the Semitic language in Mesopotamia are the names of scribes found in the archives of Fara (Shuruppak) and Tell Abu Salabikh, dated to ca. 2600-2500 B.C.[3]
This effort at a historical match to the Babel lingual discord event is highly significant and certainly worth noting.

[1] See under ‘Babylonia’:
However, this has been revised to read:
One clay fragment found N of the temple of Marduk in Babylon may relate to the fall of such a tower and the confusion of language, though it does not specifically mention a ziggurat. (The Chaldean Account of Genesis, by George Adam Smith, revised and corrected [with additions] by A. H. Sayce, 1880, p. 164)
[2] “Sibyl,” The Jewish Encyclopedia.
Regarding the Third Sibylline Oracle, it states that “Josephus likewise knew it” and referenced his quote of the Sibyl.

[3] Carol A. Hill, A Time and a Place for Noah. Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith 53.1 (March 2001), 33.

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