Throughout modern history there has been a tendency to view the dispersion or the confusion of language at Babel as a Divine judgment on the whole of humanity for their arrogance at trying to make a name for themselves. Gordon Wenham highlights this perfectly when he writes, ‘The tower of Babylon stands as a monument to man’s importance before his creator, and the multiplicity of human languages is a reminder of divine retribution on human pride’ (Word Biblical Commentary on Genesis 1-15, p244). This understanding seems to shed a negative light on the diversity of language, placing it in the same category of judgement as the ‘Flood’, the ‘killing of Abel’ and the ‘Fall’. However, what if there is a positive understanding of this story rather than its primary function being judgment?
The increased accessibility of travel, and the awareness of becoming ‘multicultural’ in our society, has increased the ease at which we are experiencing multiple cultures in very short spaces of time. It is here that postmodernist studies have helped us grasp the depth of diversity in other cultures. They highlight the layers of cultural lenses found within different peoples and nations, celebrating the vast range of resources, creativities, interpretations and expressions, that can only be gained through experiencing multiple cultures. What if the Babel story found in Genesis 11:1-9 is more about creation and enriching the peoples of the world by gently nudging them to fulfill God’s mandate to ‘be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it’ (ESV), giving them a head start in ‘mixing up their languages’. This enrichment was the creation of a world that is varied in how it lives out its existence, varied in how it understands itself and creation, and varied in how it worships God. The narrative of creation found in Genesis shows explicitly how God loves variety throughout His creation. Further, Revelation 7:9-10 gives us a picture of the variety of people worshiping God (people from every tribe, tongue and nation). Is variety the full realization of the story of Babel, and its thrust, God urging us to explore our creativity in all things, and through this enrichment process giving a greater glory to God?
What do you think?
If you want to read more check out Eddie Arthur’s blog
Babel, Pentecost and the Blessing of Diversity http://www.kouya.net/?p=2734