26. BABEL’S TOWER .The deified power

The deified power

1. Several questions arise before the narration of the tower of Babel: For instance, is it a legendary narration?, does it have era limitations?, does it explain languages origin?, does it indicate humanity origin?, why does God distrust the tower and the city built by the humans?, does he dislike the towers?, does he dislike urban civilization?, what does the tower symbolize?. Higher tower fell, says the proverb. Present catechesis pretends to discover the deep sense of the narration and, above all, its present message.

2. In first place, we place the text in its context, it is to say, we see what there is before and what there is afterwards. Before we find a list pf peoples (Gn 10), a map of the world typical of the era in which the narration is written down (between  centuries X and V b. C.); then comes the narration of the city and the tower of Babel (Gn 11); Abraham’s vocation comes later on; Abraham comes out of this environment, embracing the word that says: “Come out of your land”; “all families in the earth shall be blessed in you” (Gn 12, 1 – 3)

3. Let us see the list of peoples. According to the biblical text, humanity has filled the earth (Gn 9, 1); from Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth (9, 18 – 19) come three large families of peoples (10, 1 – 12). Among the Semite peoples are the elamitas, Assyrians, caldeans, aramean. Among the children of Ham are the peoples of Cana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Arabia. The children of Japheth populate Asia Minor, the islands of the Mediterranean and the remote coasts, like Tharshish.

4. Greek historian Herodotus (484 – 425 b. C.) leave us a map of the world that extends from Sudan to central Europe, and from India, in its eastern limit, to Iberia in the western limit. In Psalm 72 we can see a similar map. It is said of the promised king that “he shall dominate from sea to sea, from the Large River to the confines of the earth”, “the kings of Tharshish and the islands will render tribute”, “the kings of Sheba and of Arabia will pay taxes”. It is the ancient version of the world. The modern vision is evolutive.

5. According to Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1995), the man appears in the world “without noise”, so smoothly than, when we begin to be aware in the first carved quartzes, already covers the old world: “from the Good Hope Cape to Peking”, “over a well defined, although immense area, that extends from the southern Africa towards South China and to Malaysia”. From the point of view of the science, that from far away cannot apprehend more that the sets, “the first man is already and he cannot be another thing, that multitude”. This is why the problem of the monogenism, it is to say, the doctrine according which the whole humanity comes from a unique couple, escapes from the science as such: “It is undoubtedly that the presence and the movements of a unique couple are absolutely inapprehensible to our direct look and in any increment” (The human phenomenon, 222 – 225).

6. Each civilization considers itself the navel of the world. “What History essentially records, through the institutions dynamic multiplication of the peoples  and of the empires, is the normal expansion of the Homo sapiens in the bosom of the social atmosphere created by the Neolithic transformation” (towards 7000 – 4000 b. C.). More or less prominent over the past, we discover five focal points of civilization that display over the Neolithic shell: “central America, with the Maya civilization; the seas of the south, with the Polynesian civilization; the basin of the Yellow River, with the Chinese civilization; the valleys of the Ganges and the Indo, with the Indian civilization; the Nile and Mesopotamia, finally, with Egypt and Summer. All of them focal points, which probably appeared (except the two first, much more late ones) almost in the same epoch. However, focal points largely independent among themselves; everyone of them worked in a blind way to extend themselves and irradiate, as if he alone should absorb and transform the whole Earth” (ib., 249 and 252). Life advances in trial and error steps. This is not the luck, but a leaded Luck (ib. 135). The minimum common creed of all evolutionism processes is this: a physical tie exists (a kinship) among all living beings and, by extension, among all real things (The vision of the past, 39 and 181)

7. Let us see the historic bottom of the narration. In the second millennium before Christ, in the environment of the “growing fertile moon” that spread out about the Arabic dessert, several empires appear. At one side  is Egypt. The Hittite empire succeeds, which is born in the heart of the present Turkey and it collapses about the year 1.200 under the pressure of the peoples of the sea, Philistines and Cretans. At the other side is Babylon. Its king Hammurabi (1728 – 1786 b. C.) establishes the famous code that includes the law of the Talion: “If a man damages the eye of a notable man, his eye must be damaged. If he breaks a bone of another man, his bone should be broken”. So it appears in a stela, that is preserved in the museum of the Louver (Paris)

8. The tower of Babel is already known in the second millennium before Christ. With some 90 meters high, it was several times destroyed and rebuilt. In the year 689 b. C. Assyrian king Senaquerib destroys the tower together with the city. An inscription of Nabucodonosor (604 – 562) affirms: “The elevated home of Marduk, my lord, I artistically rebuilt at the summit”. God Marduk ordered him “to ensure its foundations in the bosom of the subterranean world and to level its summit at the sky”. The tower is definitely destroyed by the Persian Jerjes in the year 469 b. C. In the photo, above, we see the reconstruction of a ziggurat, tower of the temple, of Babylon, made in the Museum of Berlin (Babylon Atlas)

9 Herodotus visited Babylon. Here is the description that he makes of the tower: “In the centre of the temple has been built a tower that has the length and the width of an stadium (185 meters); on this tower another one is raised and so successively till a total of eight of them. The stairs to climb to the towers ascends rotating by the outside of all the towers”, “in the highest temple there was a large bed, richly decorated, and a golden table beside the bed”, “over there a woman selected by the god himself spent the night, according to what the Caldeans affirm”, “they also affirm, but they don’t make me believe it, that the god himself visits the temple and he sleeps in the bed, what also happens in Thebes of Egypt, according to what the Egyptians affirm” (I, 181 foll.)

10. Babylon is full of temples dedicates to the idols, gods and goddesses. They have their own worship and the “sacred prostitution” is practised. Herodotus affirms: “The ugliest habit of the Babylonians is this: any woman of the country must go to the temple of Aphrodite (Venus, in latin) and join once in her life with a stranger… and only after she has joined him and lent her service to the goddess may come back to her home; and from there on there is not a gift so great that could entice her; those who are pretty and attractive go out soon from there, but those who are not attractive stay in the temple for a long time not being able to accomplish the law; there are some that have to wait eve three or four years” (I, 199). The “sacred prostitution” also appear in the Cananean worship ( Dt 23, 18), In this context, the temptation is: “You shall be like gods” (Gn 3, 5)

11. The Jewish people perceives like victim the symbolism of the tower. They endure the oppressor force of Babylon in the time of the exile, after the conquest of Jerusalem by Nabucodonosor (586 b. C.) Prophet Jeremiah says it: “The king of Babylon, has consumed and routed me. He has left me as an empty vessel. Like a dragon he has swallowed me, and filled his belly; he cast me out.” (Jr 51, 34). It is recalled in psalm 137: “By the streams of Babylon, we sat and then wept as we remembered Zion.”, “our captors asked for song, our tormentors wanted songs of joy”, “Babylon’s Capital, criminal!”. In the Revelation the judgement of the great city, with which the kings of the earth sin, is proclaimed: “Babylon the Great, mother of prostitutes and of the loathsome idols of the whole world” (Rev 17, 1 – 5).

12. Babel is the Hebrew name of Babylon. It is a city symbol. Like Jerusalem, but the opposite. Somehow, they are the two cities between which the men split up, the city of God and the city of evil. Genesis narration presents in a simple form Babel’s enigma. It is a united people: “All the world was of the same language and identical words” (Gn 11, 1). It is spoken about an emigration that settles in Babylon: “When the humanity displaced from Eastern, they found a meadow in the country of Senaar and they settled there”.  Babel is in the land of Senaar (10, 10). Then they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and bake them in fire.” (11, 3). The technique is good. What is bad is the power made god. The pretension results idolatrous: “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top reaching heaven” (11, 4).

13. “The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that humans had built” (11, 5). In spite of being very high the tower, God has to go down and to put a limit to human pride. The deified power engenders incomprehension, isolation, confusion: “Let´s go down and once there let’s confuse their language, so each one cannot understand his neighbour” (11, 7). Babel, that means “God´s door”, becomes “city of confusion”, the city of the muddle: “That is why it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the world” (11, 9).

14. The dispersion is the final point of the process of Babel: “From there the Lord dispersed them over all the earth surface” (11, 9). It is the judgement, the sentence against the city of evil. Babylon becomes the deserted, abandoned, avoided city. Due to her infidelity, also Jerusalem participates of the inhuman destiny of Babel. Since she forgot her mission, Jerusalem listens from the part of God the communication of her replacement: “I shall call my people to that who is not my people” (Rm 9, 25).

15. Pentecost is the counterpoint of Babel. If the experience of Babel is based in the idolatry, that of Pentecost rests in the faith; “the wonders of God” are perceived (Acts 2, 11). If the experience of Babel drives to incommunication (persons of the same people do not understand between them), the experience of Pentecost drives to communication (persons coming from many places understand between them): “All of us heard them to talk about the wonders of God in our own language” (2, 11). If the experience of Babel drives to dispersion, the experience of Pentecost drives to communion and to the community: “The Lord added every day to the community those who ought to be saved” (2, 47).

16. When Abraham goes out of Ur of the Chaldeans (11, 31), a new story begins. We are at the gate of the biblical experience. In the middle of an environment marked by the idolatry, Abraham embraces the word that God addresses him: “Get out of your land and of your relatives and go to the land I will show you”, “in you all peoples of the earth will be blessed.” (Gn 12, 1 – 3). Abraham breaks ties, he leaves everything, he leaves his land, he escapes from the style of life of the pagans, he places himself in God´s hands. Due to his faith, as an answer to God´s word, nations of the world are blessed.

17. On September the 11th 2001 a brutal attack was carried out against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, symbol of the economic and military power of USA. In its moment, the Twin Towers were the world highest buildings. It was said that they could not be neither demolished nor burnt. They came down. The impressive verses of Raphael Alberti, written in 1980, when the towers had just been built were recalled. By then the poet visited New York and wrote his poem titled N.Y.: “The wind does not come down here,/ it stays there in the towers,/ in the large heights, / that some day will fall, / whipped, devastated in their own boastfulness. / Fall down, city, of terrible shoulders, / fall down from yourself. What lump/ of closed windows, / of  panes, of plastics,/ of defeated, folded structures./ Then it will come in,/ the wind will be able to come down / to the level of the bottom / and from then on it will not exist / neither farther up nor down” (ABC, 24 – 9 – 2001). Well regarded, this poem has biblical inspiration. There is the symbolism of the tower, the city, the arrogance, the descent of the wind, the judgement of the empire. The poesy is prophecy.

* Dialogue: What problems does the narration present? Which is its deep meaning? Is its message present?

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