Noah & Babel

Week 3: Hebrew Bible - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

GENESIS: The Tower of Babel (KJV, 17th century)

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 200 words.

One of the hardest things about translating is what to do with word-play in the original language. There are many instances where the Hebrew Bible gives an etymology of the name of a place or a person which doesn't make sense unless you translate the name itself into English. This is the case with "Babel" - "the name of it is called Babel because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth" only makes sense if you know that the Hebrew word "balal" means "confound".

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.

And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And 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, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; 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.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what did they use to build the tower?
  • how did God stop them from finishing the tower?
  • what finally happened to the people?

Source: King James version. Genesis 6-11. Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM