Babel and the confusion of empire

On Wednesdays I’ve been reading Genesis and posting some reflections here. This week I reassessed my schedule for blogging and made some changes to make it mire sustainable. I think I’m going to post about Genesis on Thursdays now, but I’ll see how I go.

Last time I started looking at the story of Babel. The story describes a group of people who don’t want to be scattered out across the earth like the rest of humanity. They settle in one place and build a great tower in order to make a name for themselves. I said that we might see this as an expression of free enterprise, or we might see it as a description of empire.

Something I didn’t mention last time was that it seems to me that this story describes a people who have a fear of the earth. They don’t want to be scattered across the earth, so they build a city. If you live in the city (especially right in the middle of a big city) it can be quite easy to loose touch with the earth. These people build a tower with it;s head in the heavens, as though they’re wanting to escape the earth and enter the realm of the heavens.

When the god YHWH finds out out this, however, he has to go down to have a look at what they’re doing. (It seems as though the text is suggesting that the people think they’re approaching heaven, but they actually have a very, very long way to go. YHWH confuses their languages so that they can’t work together, and they join the rest of humanity in scattering across the earth.

We might say that YHWH should have minded his own business and let humanity see what they can achieve. (I’ve been in groups where we’ve read the story and people have said that.) However, I think this story may be shaped by the fact that the Jewish people knew what it took to build these kinds of monuments – slave labour. They would have observed this during their exile in Babylon. It seems like the name ‘Babel’ which means, ‘confused’ might actually be pointing back to Babylon. This story might have been told as a way of taking back power from their Babylonian oppressors by making fun of them.

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