Tasks

A good way of helping people read and understand Scripture is to present a hyperbolic task for them to solve. For example, in Genesis 11 we have the story of the Tower of Babel.

The task at hand is to explain what is happening in Genesis 11 and how this relates to modern geopolitics.

A good case can be made that the so-called Old Testament Scriptures were written in the wake of (and as a response to) the Hellenistic conquest of the entire ancient Near East by the armies of Alexander of Macedon (i.e., the Great). This is the thesis of Fr. Paul Nadim Tarazi in The Rise of Scripture (OCABS Press, published in 2017). But Alexander would not live long to see his empire survive, as he died young at age thirty three. While scholars are divided as to whether he actually made Babylon his new capital, he was at least on the way to making it so.

In Genesis 11 we have a building being constructed where people would live, speaking the same language. The word language here does not just mean words, syntax, an alphabet so to speak, but also ideas. Speaking the same language, they would have the same ideas.

Instead of migrating throughout the whole earth, to fulfill the command of God to “be fruitful and multiply” over the face of the Earth, the people in Genesis 11 decide to settle and build a capital city (11.4), the visual embodiment of any empire.

God then takes down this construction by sending moisture to wet the brick that is being used to build Babel. Unable to support the weight, Babel collapses (11. 7-8).

Here we can see that original languages are important. As per Fr. Tarazi, modern translations translate בָּלַל as “confuse,” when the word also means “moisten.” Moisten is the antidote to the brick and bitumen of 11.3.

So, what is Genesis 11 and the Tower of Babel all about? Simply, it is a message to all emperors and would be emperors that no empire lasts forever. They all fall.

And it so happens, their fall can be imperceptible, from an unforeseen event, recognized only until after it is too late.

So what is the lesson for modern geopolitics? Simple — nations and groups of people ought to learn to live in concord with one another, to forgo empire of any kind. While people have their grand plans, God still controls the rain.