Wednesday, 20 March 2013

More Bible Babble

Depiction of the Construction of the Tower of Babel. Unknown German artist c.1370s
Just as with the Adam and Eve, Noah's Flood and the story of the tormenting of Job, the story of the Tower of Babel seems to have been an early folkloric story which was included in the first book of the Bible because it suited the priesthood rather than because it has any real lessons for mankind. There doesn't appear to be any reason an author god would have included these little origin myths and folktales.

If there is a lesson to be found in the Tower of Babel story, then it can only be, "Don't even try looking for the god we are telling you exists, otherwise you'll be for it!" Handy if you're feeling a bit insecure about whether the people are believing the stuff you are telling them or not.

It is obvious from their mutual inconsistencies and contradictions that these tales were slotted in from other sources which were never intended to be bound together into a "book of truth" with no more than a cursory attempt to integrate them into a coherent and consistent whole.

For example, we are told after the Ark story, that Noah's sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, each had several sons who founded in their turn all the nations of Earth, each with their own tongue.

Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood...

By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations...

These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations...

These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations.

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.

Genesis 10

So, that's in about six generations or so... by which time all those nations had been populated from just three men!

And note how these nations had their own tongues (not tongue, singular; tongues, plural). So, that's the Bible's first try at explaining why there are lots of different languages.

Now turn the page, and what do we find?

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

Genesis 11:1

Clearly, whoever wrote that hadn't read the previous story about how everyone is descended from Noah's sons and spoke lots of different languages.

And it came to pass, as they 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 morter. 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.

Genesis 11:2-4

And you thought the tale of how all of Noah's descendants spoke different 'tongues' was incredible...

Now we are asked to believe two more incredible things:
  1. That after a few generations one man can produce enough descendants to build a city and then a tower tall enough the 'reach unto Heaven'.
  2. That Heaven, where Yahweh lives, really is up in the sky above the Middle-East and close enough to Earth for it to be possible for people to build a tower up to it.

But that's not all...

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.

We now have to believe that not only does the creator of the universe really lives just above the surface of Earth over the Middle-East, close enough for a tower to be built up to it (otherwise why would Yahweh be concerned and not just bemused at their naivety?) but that he really would concerned about it.

We also have to believe that a god who is all knowing and from whom nothing can be hidden, has to go 'down' to Earth to find out what was going on - and not for the first time either; he had to do the same with Adam and Eve, apparently, and will do it again a bit later on with the 'Cities of the Plain'.

We also have to believe that an omniscient god wouldn't realise that people can and do learn more than one language and thinks that to cooperate we all need to speak the same language; that, contrary to all the evidence, translation and translators don't exist.

Lastly, we need to believe that an omnibenevolent, omnipotent god would want to prevent humanity from achieving its full potential and that it took steps to ensure division and disharmony because it felt threatened by us and was frightened by our developing abilities. Of course, the thought that an omnipotent, creator god could simply move Heaven to somewhere other than a few hundred feet above the Middle-East was out of the question.

Of course, all this going 'up' and 'down' and building a tower 'up' to Heaven all made perfect sense when Earth was flat and the centre of the Universe. If you wanted to show the ignorant scientific illiteracy of a god, what better way than to claim it would write stuff like this, one of the best pieces of evidence going that the author of the Bible could not possibly have created the Universe and far from knowing everything, saw the Universe exactly the way a technologically primitive, pre-wheel Bronze-age pastoralist would have seen it, with Heaven 'up there, above the sky'.

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.

Genesis 11:8-9

So there we have the whole point of the tale. No moral message for mankind; simply another naive folkloric account of how we all came to speak different languages, in complete contradiction to the first version in the immediately preceding chapter. I have shown in Talking Bible Babble how this latter explanation for language diversification, like so many other Bible claims, simply doesn't equate to the observable evidence.

But the faithful are required to be gullible enough to believe this naive, primitive nonsense without any analytical thought, and without question, and they are expected to be proud of their ability to do so. Indeed, believing this stuff 'by faith' is probably the only test they are required to pass to join the Christian club.

We are expected to believe that their credulous gullibility entitles them to make laws for the rest of us, to be consulted on all matters of ethics and morality, to hector, bully and cajole anyone who disagrees with them and brand them as evil, to have a veto on scientific progress and to be free to tell our children that this is absolute truth and that credulous gullibility and belief without question are good things and personal qualities to be admired and held in high esteem.

And they seriously expect to be taken seriously when they confidently pronounce entire bodies of science to be wrong and react with self-righteous indignation when we don't accept their arguments from ignorant incredulity and ask them for supporting evidence..

The proverbial visitor from outer-space would be right to think many people must be suffering from a form of group madness or to have been infected by a virus which turns people into unthinking automatons.

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1 comment :

  1. Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?-- Douglas Adams, from Last Chance To See --


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