The building of the Tower of Babel and the Confusion of Tongues (languages) in ancient Babylon is mentioned rather briefly in Genesis Chapters 10 and 11. Genesis 10 is the so-called “Table of Nations“–a list of 70 names of Noah’s descendants through Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The list is probably not complete, but we are given a good picture of the division of our race into three branches each having been gifted special giftedness and unique qualities by God, highlighting the spiritual, intellectual and physical sides of man as he was created in the image of God. Genesis 10:6-12 includes a parenthetical section on one of the sons of grandsons Ham, Nimrod the son of Cush.
“The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.’ The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city…(Genesis 10:6-12)
Nimrod’s name is from the verb “let us revolt.” He is said to be a mighty hunter (gibbor tsayidh) in the sight of the Lord, but the language has a dark meaning. He becomes a tyrant or despot leading an organized rebellion against the rule of Yahweh. He hunts not animals, but rather the souls of men. Cain, a condemned murderer had started the first cities before the Flood. Nimrod builds the first post-Flood cities. The region he settles in is now mostly modern Iraq–unusual for Ham–most of the sons of Ham went south to Africa or East to China. The people of Shem stayed close-in to the region where the Ark landed, the Japhethites headed mostly North and West. Genesis 10 continues with a list of the other descendants of Ham, then presents a list of Shem’s lineage. Chapter 11 resumes the account of Nimrod’s Babylon: Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, 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 sons of men had built. And the LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.’ Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 11:1-9)
“Babel” is composed of two words, “bab” meaning “gate” and “el,” “god.” Hence, “the gate of god.” A related word in Hebrew, “balal” means “confusion.”
Nimrod probably began to build his cities within a hundred years of the Flood. The confusion of tongues is usually thought to have occurred during the days of Peleg (Gen. 10:25). The chronology one derives from most English Bibles, which are translated from the Masoretic Hebrew text, places the time of Peleg only about 100 years after the Flood. This is probably incorrect. Barry Setterfield dates Peleg as living 530 years after the Flood, using the Vorlage Text and the Septuagint (LXX). The dates computed by Setterfield seem to be a much better fit to what we know from archaeology and recorded history about the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Fertile Crescent Region. The world population at the time of the Dispersion at Babel may have been of the order of tens of thousands of persons.
Babylon becomes, in history, the fountainhead of false religion in the Post-Flood world. The city Babylon and Iraq figure in Biblical prophecies connected with the end of the age. “Mystery Babylon” is an even more theme in Bible prophecy. Revelation 17-18 depicts God’s final judgment of world religion plus world commerce and trade since these man-made systems have sprung from the source rebellion of Nimrod and Babel.
The Tower of Babel
The appearance of the first city [after the flood, built by Nimrod] goes back in the story of Cain and Abel, when Cain went out and built a city. It illustrated the hunger of humanity to huddle together for companionship, even though they were not really ready to do it (as they still, obviously, are not ready to live together successfully in cities). God’s final intention is to build a city for man. Abraham looked for “a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” But man was not yet ready for that. Now here they are, again ready to build a city to satisfy the desires of body and soul. There is nothing that does this better than for human beings to live together in cities. Cities are centers of commercial and business life where all the needs of the body can best be met. Also, cities are centers of pleasure and culture, where all the hungers of the soul can be satisfied: hunger for beauty, art, and music and all the ingredients of culture.
The tower, on the other hand, is designed to satisfy the spirit of man. Here we see, reflected in these two things, a fundamental understanding of the nature of man as body, soul, and spirit. All are to be satisfied in these two elementary needs, the city and the tower. A number of years ago, digging in the plains of Shinar, archaeologists discovered the remains of certain great towers that these early Babylonians had built. Some archaeologists have felt that they may even have found the foundation of this original tower of Babel. That is very hard to determine. But they did find that the Babylonians built great towers called ziggurats, which were built in a circular fashion with an ascending staircase that terminates in a shrine at the top, around which are written the signs of the zodiac. Obviously, the tower was a religious building, intending to expose man to the mystery of the heavens and the greatness of God. That, perhaps, is what is meant here by the statement that they intended to build a tower with its top in the heavens. They were impressed by its greatness architecturally, that is, it was a colossal thing for the men of that day to build and they may have thus thought of it as reaching into heaven. But they also unquestionably were thinking of it as a means of communication with God, of maintaining contact with him. God is not to be left out, you see, in the city of man. He is there, represented by this tower.
However, the heart of the matter is made clear in these words, “let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” Already a haunting fear had set in. They were conscious already of a disruptive influence in their midst, of a centrifugal force that was pushing them apart so they could not live too closely together and which would ultimately, they feared, scatter them abroad and leave them unknown, unhonored, and unsung, living in isolated communities where they would be exposed to great danger. The fear of this caused them to build a tower and a city. The ultimate motive is expressed in these words, “let us make a name for ourselves.”
From that day on this has been the motto of humanity, “let us make a name for ourselves.” I am always amused to see how many public edifices made a plaque somewhere on which the names of all the public officials who were in power when it was built are inscribed: the mayor, the head of public works, etc. “Let us make a name for ourselves,” is a fundamental urge of a fallen race. It reveals one of the basic philosophies of humanism: “Glory to man in the highest, for man is the master of things.” That is the central thought of humanism, glory to mankind.
The fact that this was a religious tower-and yet built to make a name for man-reveals the master motive behind religion. It is a means by which man attempts to share the glory of God. We must understand this, otherwise we will never understand the power of religion as it has pervaded the earth and permeated our culture ever since. It is a way by which man seeks to share what is rightfully God’s alone. This tower was a grandiose structure, and undoubtedly it was intended to be a means by which man would glorify God. Unquestionably there was a plaque somewhere attached to it that carried the pious words, “Erected in the year ___, to the greater glory of God.” But it was not really for the glory of God; it was a way of controlling God, a way of channeling God by using him for man’s glory. That is what man’s religion has always sought to do. It is a way of making God available to us.
Man does not really want to eliminate God. It is only sporadically and then only for a relatively brief time, that men cry out for the elimination of God. Atheism is too barren, too pessimistic and too morally bankrupt to live with very long. The communists are finding this out. No, we need “dear old God,” but let’s keep him under control. Do not let him get out of his place. “Don’t call us, God; we’ll call you.” This is the fundamental philosophy of society. It is the tower of Babel all over again.
Nimrod the Son of Cush the Son of Ham
The four sons of Ham are relatively easy to trace in history. Cush is associated with the peoples of Southern Arabia and Ethiopia. Ethiopians still trace their ancestry back to Cush. Egypt (or Mizraim, in Hebrew-an ancient name for Egypt) became the father of the Egyptian Empire, settling in the Nile Valley. Put is associated with Lydia, on the west of Egypt in North Africa. Canaan centered largely in and around Palestine, though the Canaanites later became much more widespread.
The account zooms in on an individual named Nimrod, who is called a great hunter. He is a rather mysterious figure of great importance in ancient history. He is the founder of both Babylon and Nineveh, the two great cities of antiquity which became, ultimately, enemies of Israel. The prominent thing that is said about him here is that he was a mighty man, a mighty hunter before the Lord. Now, it was the work of kings in those ancient days to be hunters. This was a time when civilization was sparse and wild animals were a constant threat to the people. Kings, having nothing much else to do, organized hunting parties and acted as the protectors of their people by killing wild animals. Nimrod evidently gained a great reputation as such a hunter, but he was more than a hunter of wild animals. The Jewish Talmud helps us here, for it says that he was “a hunter of the souls of men.” By the founding of Babylon and Nineveh we have a hint given of the nature of this man. We are told here that he was “the first mighty man on earth,” i.e., after the flood. That phrase, “mighty man,” takes us back to Genesis 6 where, in that strange story of the invasion of the “sons of God” into the human race, there resulted a race of giants called Nephilim.
We are told that “these were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.” This demonic invasion of the race, with sexual overtones, brought into being a race of giants that were morally degraded. These also appear later on in the Canaanite tribes. We have found this suggestive line of thought running through the Scriptural account up to this point. Nimrod apparently was one of these “mighty men,” and therefore introduced a perverted, degraded form of religion into the world. It began at Babylon, spread to Nineveh, and can be traced in history as it subsequently spread throughout the whole of the earth. Thus, in this man Nimrod, we have the seed of idolatry and false religion coming in again after the flood.
If you drop the first consonant of Nimrod’s name and take the others M, R, D you will have the basic root of the god of Babylon, whose name was Marduk, and whom most scholars identify with Nimrod. In the Babylonian religion, Nimrod (or Marduk) held a unique place. His wife was Semiramis. (In Cairo, Egypt, the Semiramis Hotel is named after this woman.) Marduk and Semiramis were the ancient god and goddess of Babylon. They had a son whom Semiramis claimed was virgin-born, and they founded the mother and child cult. This was the central character of the religion of ancient Babylon, the worship of a mother and child, supposedly virgin-born. You can see in this a clever attempt on the part of Satan to anticipate the genuine virgin birth and thus to cast disrepute upon the story when the Lord Jesus would later be born into history.
Map of ancient Babylon (Unger)
This ancient Babylonian cult of the mother and child spread to other parts of the earth. You will find it in the Egyptian religion as Isis and Osiris. In Greece it is Venus and Adonis, and in the Hindu religion it is Ushas and Vishnu. The same cult prevails in various other localities. It appears in the Old Testament in Jeremiah where the Israelites are warned against offering sacrifices to “the Queen of Heaven.” This Queen of Heaven is Semiramis, the wife of Nimrod, the original mother of the Mother and Child cult. The cult has also crept into Christianity and forms the basis for the Mariolatry that has prevailed in the Roman Catholic Church, where the Mother and Child are worshiped as joint redeemers. Alexander Hislop, an authoritative writer in this field, has written a book called “The Two Babylons,” which should be of great interest if you desire to pursue this further. This idolatrous religion culminates at last in the Bible in the book of Revelation. There, a “great harlot” appears, whose name is “Mystery Babylon the Great,” the originator of all the harlotries and false religions of earth. The essence of Babylonianism, as we understand from Scripture, is the attempt to gain earthly honor by means of religious authority. That is Babylonianism, and it has pervaded Christian churches, Hindu temples, Buddhist shrines, and Mohammedan mosques. Everywhere it is the element that marks falseness in religion-the attempt to gain earthly power and prestige by means of religious authority. That is what Nimrod began and what God will ultimately destroy, as we read in the book of Revelation.
The Confusion of Tongues
As far as the great proliferation of different languages among men is concerned, the Biblical account is the only satisfactory explanation. If all men came from one ancestral population, as most evolutionary anthropologists believe today, they originally all spoke the same language. As long as they lived together, or continued to communicate with one another, it would have been impossible for the wide differences in human languages to have evolved.
Therefore, if anthropologists insist on an evolutionary explanation for the different languages, then they must likewise postulate extremely long periods of isolation and inbreeding for the different tribes, practically as long as the history of man himself. This in turn means that each of the major language groups must be identical with a major racial group. Therefore, each “race” must have had a long evolutionary history, and it is natural to assume that some races have evolved more than others. This natural association of racism with evolutionary philosophy is quite significant and has been the pseudoscientific basis of a wide range of racist political and religious philosophies that have wrought untold harm and misery over the years.
On the other hand, it does seem obvious that all the different nations, tribes, and languages among men do have a common origin in the not-too-distant past. People of all nations are all freely interfertile and of essentially equal intelligence and potential educability. Even the “aborigines” of Australia are quite capable of acquiring Ph.D. degrees, and some have done so. Even though their languages are widely different from each other, all can be analyzed in terms of the science of linguistics, and all can be learned by men of other languages, thus demonstrating an original common nature and origin. There is really only one kind of man-namely mankind! In actuality there is only one race among men–the human race.
The source of the different languages cannot be explained in terms of evolution, though the various dialects and similar languages within the basic groups are no doubt attributable to gradual diversification from a common source tongue. But the major groups are so fundamentally different from each other as to defy explanation in any naturalistic framework.
Only the Bible provides an adequate explanation. Originally, after the great Flood, “the whole earth was of one language and one speech” (Gen. 11:1). Because of man’s united rebellion against God, however, refusing to scatter throughout the world as He had commanded, and concentrating instead in the vicinity of the original Babylon, “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” (Gen. 11:9).
Presumably about seventy families were involved in this dispersion, as suggested by the enumeration of seventy original national groups and tongues in the so-called Table of Nations in Genesis 10. These were represented originally by perhaps a thousand or so individuals, divided into three main ancestral family bodies, the Japhethetic, Hamitic, and Semitic. “These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood” (Gen. 10:32).
The rebellion at Babel was not some impossible undertaking, such as attempting to reach heaven with a man-made tower, as one might infer from the King James translation of Genesis 11:4. The words “may reach” are not in the original; the correct sense of the passage apparently connotes the erection of a great temple-tower dedicated to the worship of the “host of heaven,” uniting all mankind in worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). The most effective way of halting this blasphemy and of enforcing God’s command to fill the earth was that of confounding their languages.
If people could not communicate with each other, they could hardly cooperate with each other. This primeval confusion of tongues emphasizes what modern man often fails to realize: the real divisions among men are not racial or physical or geographic, but linguistic. When men could no longer understand each other, there was finally no alternative for them but to separate from each other.
If anyone is inclined to question this explanation of the origin of the major differences among languages, then let him offer a naturalistic explanation that better accounts for all the facts. No one has done so yet. Obviously a miracle was involved, but the gravity of the rebellion warranted God’s special intervention.
Although the major language groups are so different from each other as to make it inconceivable that they could have evolved from a common ancestral language group (except, as noted above, by such a long period of racial segregation as to cause the corresponding races to evolve to different levels themselves), the very fact that all the languages can be evaluated by common principles of linguistics, and that people can manage to learn other languages than their own, implies an original common cause for all of them. Noam Chomsky, who is one of the world’s foremost linguists, is convinced that languages, though completely different on the surface, reflect an underlying commonality related to the fundamental uniqueness of man himself.
Dr. Gunther Stent, professor of molecular biology at the University of California (Berkeley), has summarized Chomsky’s concepts as follows:
Chomsky holds that the grammar of a language is a system of transformational rules that determines a certain pairing of sound and meaning. It consists of a syntactic component, a semantic component, and a phonological component. The surface structure contains the information relevant to the phonological component, whereas the deep structure contains the information relevant to the semantic component, and the syntactic component pairs surface and deep structures. Hence, it is merely the phonological component that has become greatly differentiated during the course of human history, or at least since the construction Tower of Babel. (Limits to the Scientific Understanding of Man, Science 187, Mar. 21, 1975:1054.)
No doubt the Tower of Babel is merely a figure of speech to Stent as well as to Chomsky, but the figure is appropriate precisely because the miraculous confusion of tongues at Babel does provide the only meaningful explanation for the phenomena of human languages. Thus the “phonological component” of speech (or its surface form) is the corpus of sounds associated with various meanings, through which people of a particular tribe actually communicate with each other. Each phonology is different from the phonology of another tribe so that one group cannot understand the other group. Nevertheless at the “semantic” level, the deep structure, the “universal grammar” (the inner man!), both groups have fundamentally the same thoughts that need to be expressed in words. It was the phonologies or surface forms of languages, that were supernaturally confused at Babel, so that even though all still had the same basic logic and understanding of experience, they could no longer work together and, thus, finally they could no longer stay together, simply because they could no longer talk together.
It is significant that traditions similar to the Babel story exist in various other ancient nations and even in primitive tribes. Although not as frequently encountered as traditions of the great Flood, many tribes do have a tradition of a former age when all people spoke the same language until the languages were confused as a judgment of the gods.
Thus there is good reason to accept the Biblical record of the confusion of tongues at Babel as the true account of the origin of the different major language groups of the world. Evolutionists certainly have no better answer, and the only reason why modern scientists tend to reject it is because it was miraculous. To say that it would have been impossible, however, is not only to deny God’s omnipotence but also to assert that scientists know much more about the nature of language than they do.
No one yet adequately understands the brain and its control of human speech. Therefore, no one understands what manner of physiologic changes in the brain and central nervous system would be necessary to cause different groups of people to associate different sounds with any given concept. Perhaps future research will throw light on this phenomenon but, in the meantime, there is no better explanation than that it was God who did “there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Gen. 11:7)