According to this story, the whole world at this time had one language. Now, we know that the entire world didn’t have the same language, because as the people of the Middle-east were developing their own language, so were the people of China, Egypt, India, and the people of the Americas. So the “whole world” in this passage refers rather to a small portion of the world, the Middle-east. By 1500 BCE, Mesopotamian culture had spread across western Asia. Akkadian was the language of diplomacy and how governments would correspond to each other. In the generations that proceed, Akkadian would be supplanted by Greek, Latin, French, and English as the languages of business and diplomacy, I digress. Many of the nations in this region also adopted the writing system cuneiform. It could be said that the people at this time did in fact speak the same language. It is not because of God that people developed their own language though. Over time, being isolated from other groups of people, populations develop their own dialect and even their own language. Just look at the English language, America specifically. American English began from different dialects of “real English”, British. As time progressed the northern states had a unique dialect, the southern states their own dialect, the Appalachian people had their own, the creole people of Louisiana, the mid-west, and even the west had their own, and some could be incomprehensible even though it is the “same” language. A linguist could explain this better, but I think I’ve made my point. For an example of the language of the Middle-east at this time changing let’s look at the Syrian city-state Ugarit. The people of Ugarit used thirty cuneiform symbols out of hundreds to represent consonant sounds; this is one of the earliest examples of an alphabet system. The Phoenicians would further develop on the alphabet concept by creating two dozen consonant symbols, which the Greeks would later adopt and create the first true alphabet system.
Let’s actually get to the interesting part of the story now. These people, who all shared the same language, moved to a plain in Shinar, it is unclear Shinar’s actual location. When they arrive they decided to build a city and to build a tower that reaches the heavens. They were using mortar and brick to build this city and tower. A structure made of this material could be no larger than five stories. It was not until the advent of steel were humans able to make towers larger than this, yet God hasn’t displaced us. Now these people attempted this construction project so they would “make a name for [them]selves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth”. God decides to come down and see what these people are up to. When he sees the accomplishments of these people, God is not filled with joy by their accomplishments, rather God is fearful. God then says, “‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’” (This is one of those quotes when you wonder who else God is taking to.) God, being the malevolent God the He is, takes the people of this town and scatters them, to halt the progress of man. This is another example of God’s contempt for human progress, a constant theme in the Bible. This repression of progress promoted in this archaic book is detrimental to our society.
Next time, “From Shem to Abram”.
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