Babel

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For other uses, see Babel (disambiguation).


Babel was the native name of the city called Babylon by the Greeks, the modern Hilla. It means "gate of the god" (not "gods"), corresponding to the Akkadian Bab-ili.

According to Genesis 11:1-9, mankind, after the deluge, travelled from the mountain of the East, where the ark had rested, and settled in 'a plain in the land of Shinar' (or Sennar). Here, they attempted to build a city and a tower whose top might reach unto Heaven - the Tower of Babel - but God miraculously confounded the languages of those who were working at its building so that they could not understand each other, and the project failed. The variety of languages and the dispersion of mankind were regarded as a curse, and in Gen. 11:9, an etymology is found for the name of Babel in the Hebrew verb balal, " to_confuse or confound," regarded as a contraction of *Balbel. In Genesis 10, Babel is said to have formed part of the kingdom of Nimrod.

It is not mentioned in the Genesis account that God directly destroyed the efforts of the builders; presumably, the building fell into disrepair. However, several other ancient versions (eg. Book of Jubilees) do state the tradition that God overturned the tower with a great wind. According to Cornelius Alexander (frag. 10) and Abydenus (frags. 5 and 6), the tower was overthrown by the winds; according to Yaqut (i, 448 f.) and the Lisan el-'Arab (xiii. 72), mankind were swept together by winds into the plain afterwards called "Babil", and were scattered again in the same way (see further D. B. Macdonald in the Jewish Encyclopaedia).

The original tower of the story has not been identified in Babylonia. It may possibly have been suggested by one of the temple towers (or ziggurats of Babylon. W. A. Bennet (Genesis, p. 169; cf. Hommel in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible) suggests E-Saggila, the great temple of Merodach (Marduk). A more recent theory is based on firm evidence that the original city named "Babel" was not Babylon, but rather the far older Eridu south of Ur, where there is a very large and abandoned ziggurat. See Eridu for details.

A tradition similar to that of the tower of Babel is found in Central America. It holds that Xelhua, one of the seven giants rescued from the deluge, built the great pyramid of Cholula in order to storm Heaven. The gods, however, destroyed it with fire and confounded the language of the builders.

Traces of a somewhat similar story have also been reported among the Mongolian Tharus in northern India (Report of the Census of Bengal, 1872, p. 160), and, according to Dr Livingstone, among the Africans of Lake Ngami. The Estonian myth of " the Cooking of Languages " (Kohl, Reisen in die 'Ostseeprovinzen, ii. 251-255) may also be compared, as well as the Australian legend of the origin of the diversity of speech (Gerstacker, Reisen, vol. iv. pp. 381 seq.).

There is also a connection with Pentecost in Acts, inasmuch as there the Holy Spirit reverses the Babel process, and enables people to speak languages they do not know.

The Babel legend has appeared regularly in western literature and art since the middle ages - for a chronology see The Virtual Babel Encyclopedia (http://www.towerofbabel.info)de:Babel et:Paabel hu:Bábel nl:Babel

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