We are informed that, at one time, "the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they (the inhabitants of the earth) 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 thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
"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."[33:1]
Such is the "Scripture" account of the origin of languages, which differs somewhat from the ideas of Prof. Max Müller and other philologists.
Bishop Colenso tells us that:
"The story of the dispensation of tongues is connected by the Jehovistic writer with the famous unfinished temple of Belus, of which probably some wonderful reports had reached him. . . . The derivation of the name Babel from the Hebrew word babal (confound) which seems to be the connecting point between the story and the tower of Babel, is altogether incorrect."[33:2]
The literal meaning of the word being house, or court, or gate of Bel, or gate of God.[34:1]
John Fiske confirms this statement by saying:
"The name 'Babel' is really 'Bab-il', or 'The Gate of God'; but the Hebrew writer erroneously derives the word from the root 'babal'—to confuse—and hence arises the mystical explanation, that Babel was a place where human speech became confused."[34:2]
The "wonderful reports" that reached the Jehovistic writer who inserted this tale into the Hebrew Scriptures, were from the Chaldean account of the confusion of tongues. It is related by Berosus as follows:
The first inhabitants of the earth, glorying in their strength and size,[34:3] and despising the gods, undertook to raise a tower whose top should reach the sky, in the place where Babylon now stands. But when it approached the heavens, the winds assisted the gods, and overthrew the work of the contrivers, and also introduced a diversity of tongues among men, who till that time had all spoken the same language. The ruins of this tower are said to be still in Babylon.[34:4]
Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that it was Nimrod who built the tower, that he was a very wicked man, and that the tower was built in case the Lord should have a mind to drown the world again. He continues his account by saying that when Nimrod proposed the building of this tower, the multitude were very ready to follow the proposition, as they could then avenge themselves on God for destroying their forefathers.
"And they built a tower, neither sparing any pains nor being in any degree negligent about the work. And by reason of the multitude of hands employed on it, it grew very high, sooner than any one could expect. . . . . It was built of burnt brick, cemented together, with mortar made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. When God saw that they had acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they were not grown wiser by the destruction of the former sinners, but he caused a tumult among them, by producing in them divers languages, and causing, that through the multitude of those languages they should not be able to understand one another. The place where they built the tower is now called Babylon."[34:5]
The tower in Babylonia, which seems to have been a foundation for the legend of the confusion of tongues to be built upon, was evidently originally built for astronomical purposes.[35:1] This is clearly seen from the fact that it was called the "Stages of the Seven Spheres,"[35:2] and that each one of these stages was consecrated to the Sun, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Mercury.[35:3] Nebuchadnezzar says of it in his cylinders:
"The building named the 'Stages of the Seven Spheres,' which was the tower of Borsippa (Babel), had been built by a former king. He had completed forty-two cubits, but he did not finish its head. From the lapse of time, it had become ruined; they had not taken care of the exits of the waters, so the rain and wet had penetrated into the brick-work; the casing of burnt brick had bulged out, and the terraces of crude brick lay scattered in heaps. Merobach, my great Lord, inclined my heart to repair the building. I did not change its site, nor did I destroy its foundation, but, in a fortunate month, and upon an auspicious day, I undertook the rebuilding of the crude brick terraces and burnt brick casing, &c., &c."[35:4]
There is not a word said here in these cylinders about the confusion of tongues, nor anything pertaining to it. The ruins of this ancient tower being there in Babylonia, and a legend of how the gods confused the speech of mankind also being among them, it was very convenient to point to these ruins as evidence that the story was true, just as the ancient Mexicans pointed to the ruins of the tower of Cholula, as evidence of the truth of the similar story which they had among them, and just as many nations pointed to the remains of aquatic animals on the tops of mountains, as evidence of the truth of the deluge story.
The Armenian tradition of the "Confusion of Tongues" was to this effect:
The world was formerly inhabited by men "with strong bodies and huge size" (giants). These men being full of pride and envy, "they formed a godless resolve to build a high tower; but whilst they were engaged on the undertaking, a fearful wind overthrew it, which the wrath of God had sent against it. Unknown words were at the same time blown about among men, wherefore arose strife and confusion."[35:5]
The Hindoo legend of the "Confusion of Tongues," is as follows:
There grew in the centre of the earth, the wonderful "World Tree," or the "Knowledge Tree." It was so tall that it reached almost to heaven. "It said in its heart: 'I shall hold my head in heaven, and spread my branches over all the earth, and gather all men together under my shadow, and protect them, and prevent them from separating.' But Brahma, to punish the pride of the tree, cut off its branches and cast them down on the earth, when they sprang up as Wata trees, and made differences of belief, and speech, and customs, to prevail on the earth, to disperse men over its surface."[36:1]
Traces of a somewhat similar story have also been met with among the Mongolian Tharus in the north of India, and, according to Dr. Livingston, among the Africans of Lake Nganu.[36:2] The ancient Esthonians[36:3] had a similar myth which they called "The Cooking of Languages;" so also had the ancient inhabitants of the continent of Australia.[36:4] The story was found among the ancient Mexicans, and was related as follows:
Those, with their descendants, who were saved from the deluge which destroyed all mankind, excepting the few saved in the ark, resolved to build a tower which would reach to the skies. The object of this was to see what was going on in Heaven, and also to have a place of refuge in case of another deluge.[36:5]
The job was superintended by one of the seven who were saved from the flood.[36:6] He was a giant called Xelhua, surnamed "the Architect."[36:7]
Xelhua ordered bricks to be made in the province of Tlamanalco, at the foot of the Sierra of Cocotl, and to be conveyed to Cholula, where the tower was to be built. For this purpose, he placed a file of men reaching from the Sierra to Cholula, who passed the bricks from hand to hand.[36:8] The gods beheld with wrath this edifice,—the top of which was nearing the clouds,—and were much irritated at the daring attempt of Xelhua. They therefore hurled fire from Heaven upon the pyramid, which threw it down, and killed many of the workmen. The work was then discontinued,[36:9] as each family interested in the building of the tower, received a language of their own,[36:10] and the builders could not understand each other.
Dr. Delitzsch must have been astonished upon coming across this legend; for he says:
"Actually the Mexicans had a legend of a tower-building as well as of a flood. Xelhua, one of the seven giants rescued from the flood, built the great pyramid of Cholula, in order to reach heaven, until the gods, angry at his audacity, threw fire upon the building and broke it down, whereupon every separate family received a language of its own."[37:1]
The ancient Mexicans pointed to the ruins of a tower at Cholula as evidence of the truth of their story. This tower was seen by Humboldt and Lord Kingsborough, and described by them.[37:2]
We may say then, with Dr. Kalisch, that:
"Most of the ancient nations possessed myths concerning impious giants who attempted to storm heaven, either to share it with the immortal gods, or to expel them from it. In some of these fables the confusion of tongues is represented as the punishment inflicted by the deities for such wickedness."[37:3]
[33:1]Genesis xi. 1-9.
[33:2]The Pentateuch Examined, vol. iv. p. 268.
[34:1]Ibid. p. 268. See also Bible for Learners, vol. i. p. 90.
[34:2]Myths and Myth-makers, p. 72. See also Encyclopædia Britannica, art. "Babel."
[34:3]"There were giants in the earth in those days." (Genesis vi. 4.)
[34:4]Quoted by Rev. S. Baring-Gould: Legends of the Patriarchs, p. 147. See also Smith: Chaldean Account of Genesis, p. 48, and Volney's Researches in Ancient History, pp. 130, 131.
[34:5]Jewish Antiquities, book 1, ch. iv. p. 30.
[35:1]"Diodorus states that the great tower of the temple of Belus was used by the Chaldeans as an observatory." (Smith's Bible Dictionary, art. "Babel.")
[35:2]The Hindoos had a sacred Mount Meru, the abode of the gods. This mountain was supposed to consist of seven stages, increasing in sanctity as they ascended. Many of the Hindoo temples, or rather altars, were "studied transcripts of the sacred Mount Meru;" that is, they were built, like the tower of Babel, in seven stages. Within the upper dwelt Brahm. (See Squire's Serpent Symbol, p. 107.) Herodotus tells us that the upper stage of the tower of Babel was the abode of the god Belus.
[35:3]The Pentateuch Examined, vol. iv. p. 269. See also Bunsen: The Angel Messiah, p. 106.
[35:4]Rawlinson's Herodotus, vol. ii. p. 484.
[35:5]Legends of the Patriarchs, pp. 148, 149.
[36:1]Ibid. p. 148. The ancient Scandinavians had a legend of a somewhat similar tree. "The Mundane Tree," called Yggdrasill, was in the centre of the earth; its branches covered over the surface of the earth, and its top reached to the highest heaven. (See Mallet's Northern Antiquities.)
[36:2]Encyclopædia Britannica, art. "Babel."
[36:3]Esthonia is one of the three Baltic, or so-called, provinces of Russia.
[36:4]Encyclopædia Britannica, art. "Babel."
[36:5]Higgins: Anacalypsis, vol. ii. p. 27.
[36:6]Brinton: Myths of the New World, p. 204.
[36:7]Humboldt: American Researches, vol. i. p. 96.
[36:9]Ibid., and Brinton: Myths of the New World, p. 204.
[36:10]The Pentateuch Examined, vol. iv. p. 272.
[37:1]Quoted by Bishop Colenso: The Pentateuch Examined, vol. iv. p. 272.
[37:2]Humboldt: American Researches, vol. i. p. 97. Lord Kingsborough: Mexican Antiquities.
[37:3]Com. on Old Test. vol. i. p. 196.