While preparing to discuss the Tower of Babel story with the kids today, Mary mentioned something that got me looking. I Googled it. I see lots of plays with meanings and styles, and none of it convinces me at all. When I see a discontinuity is anything written, I expect to be able to find a reason. If there is a device, I should be able to tell.

If there is an error, well, let’s just admit it. For instance, 1Chron18:4 {7,000 horsemen} vs. 2Sam8:4 {1,700 horsemen} or 1Chron19:18 {the men of 7,000 chariots} vs. 2Sam10:18 {men of 700 chariots}. It is discouraging to see writers contort and rationalize and speculate to avoid simply admitting an error. I mean, when two accounts contradict, one is wrong. It is presumptuous to assume you know which was correct, and ridiculous to rationalize the error with some sort of omitted detail, especially when the detail is ridiculous itself.

I think when we say that God is truth, and that God cannot lie, then we MUST stay committed to truth and facts. We cannot rationalize and make excuses.

Gen10:2The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, […]. 3The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, […]. 4The sons of […]. 5From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations.

 

Note: the sons of Japheth are said to have spread with their own languages.

6The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. 7The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. 8Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man.a 9He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13Egypt fathered Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, 14Pathrusim, Casluhim (from whomb the Philistines came), and Caphtorim.

 

Note that Nimrod is not mentioned in Cush’s initial list. I cannot suppose why Nimrod was pointed out so, but it says he was the first mighty man on earth. Hmm… What about the Nephilim (giants)? It says, they were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, and these were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. What gives?

Who was mighty when?

Different translations of Genesis 6:4 say, heroes, famous warriors, powerful men, legendary. The word there is from gibbor, which is strong or mighty. The word seems to be used commonly in the bible to indicate exceptionally good warriors.

In Genesis 10:8, different translations indicate heroic warrior, fearless leader, and often leave out the “first” part. The Hebrew word there is simply gibbor, which is also used a lot and very similarly to the reference to the giants. Hmm…

However, it does seem to me that “first” is not essential to the translation in our normal sense, which would make the statement false, given that the giants were mighty men. It seems fair to translate this as Nimrod being the first of a line of mighty men. It doesn’t have to mean he was the first ever.

Here, now that I have raised an objection and answered it, one might be tempted to dismiss what I’m saying. Please don’t miss the point. The point is that not all things are clear. The bible often does NOT say what people claim (or assume) it says.

15Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, 16and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, 17the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites dispersed. 19And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. 20These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.

 

So, here we see it asserted that all of Ham’s descendants had multiple languages.

We all know where many of the Canaanites settled, Canaan. Okay, so if they were sticking to the Turkish foothills and the two-rivers valley, then why all the delineation? We know these guys were NOT in Mesopotamia generations later when the Tower of Babel would have had to have been, but they were already at the Mediterranean and all of Palestine, and more as delineated above. I am at a loss why it was mentioned they dispersed afterward. After what? Commentators seem to think it means they spread out as their numbers increased. Hmm… Not satisfying.

21To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born. 22The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. 23The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. 24Arpachshad fathered Shelah; and Shelah fathered Eber. 25To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg,c for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan. 26Joktan fathered Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan. 30The territory in which they lived extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east. 31These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.

 

Again, this third son of Noah, his descendants are stated to have had diverse languages.

So, what to with do with Genesis 11:1?

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.

It seems to me a good translation here is “It came to pass that all the earth used the same speech and the same words.”

Given that these were descendants of Shem (and possibly others of those listed in chapter 10), then why describe them as having separate languages, and then jump to a story of them having only one language?

Consider, right after the descendants of Noah’s sons are described as having migrated and taken separate nations and languages, then we jump to a story that says they were all of one language and migrate out of the mountains of Turkey (essentially stated, with Mt. Ararat et al.), and settling in the Mesopotamian plain, and they say, “Wait a minute, we don’t want to be scattered, so let’s build a large central structure (that presumably reaches unimaginable heights, describable only as touching heaven), and we can make a name for ourselves, which I presume to mean they will make them selves respected and feared.” Then God sees that this just might work for them, so he stops them by confusion the language, which presumably should have already been multiplied manifold, given the statements in chapter 10.

I mentioned that these presumably were the descendants of Shem, because chapter 11 steps instantly to the descendants of Shem again, stepping down to Terah, the father of Abram, and thus ends the portion of the Torah that must be acknowledged as Mesopotamian. (It is written in the style of the other ancient Mesopotamian writings found in the various languages of the area, predating the era where the Hebrews took over and controlled their historic lands.) Since the scripture does not stipulate that Babel was Shemites only, I allow for other possibilities, but it seems a straightforward supposition. The story comes between the Shem listing in 10 and the Shem listing in 11. Note that there are no individuals identified in the Tower story. Regardless, the clear fact is, we are given a story regarding the development of many languages from one, more or less instantly, right after we are told that all the descendants developed languages according to their clans and nations. It doesn’t seem to me that these two items were likely originally one work of one author. Like the first two chapters of Genesis, there are obviously two stories put together in a compilation, with no effort to interleave them. In both places, we are given the two stories, and presumably we are expected to simply accept both, and not try to explain one or the other, and certainly not try to explain away one with the other. I find it much more honest to admit the difficulties and admit that I do not understand all of it. It seems clear to me this is what the original compiler intended as well.

Note, chapter 10, לִלְשֹׁנ֑וֹ (lil·šō·nōw) and לִלְשֹֽׁנֹתָ֑ם (lil·šō·nō·ṯām), and both of these are Strong’s number 3956, which is defined as tongue, and used for speech and language. In chapter 11, שָׂפָ֣ה (śā·p̄āh), which is translated as speech or lip, as in a crimped rim or joint. It is listed as Strong’s 8193, defined as lip (lips), speech, or edge. Also, וּדְבָרִ֖ים (ū·ḏə·ḇā·rîm), which is translated as word or speech, and Strong’s 1697, which is word or speech, and this Strong’s, in several variants, is translated lots of ways that don’t all make sense with the simple definition. I’m not worried about that. I figure translators do a good job in general, and there are lots of translations to compare. To the point, in chapter 10, the original author used a regular word for language to refer to how each of the three groups of people spread out and developed different languages, but in chapter 11, the wording uses two words, neither related at all to the chapter 10 word, and a phrase that double emphasizes that everyone used all the same words. I think the only thing that is certain is that these are two unrelated documents that were compiled together. There I no reasonable explanation for why a single writer would have written the three accounts of the three groups and used the same basic statement and style three times, then switch to a detail of one of the groups and use a completely different style and words to say what amounts to the opposite of what he had just written. I’ll grant that Moses compiled it all, but I think it is self-evident from internal evidence in the text and style that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are a set of diverse documents written near the time as recorded in the style common then and there, and later compiled together.

So, I emphasize to my children, and to Mary and myself for that matter, that we must focus on the truths of the bible and not on trying to make small details line up to be true. I figure God is big enough to handle all the small errors. I figure God is bigger than I can imagine. I figure I can’t even imagine close. It seems to be the important part is summed up in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with your God?”

Bottom line for me, I’m too committed to truth to guess and not point out that it is a guess. I won’t make claims that are not clearly supported. For me, this applies to everything, science, life, and the bible.