Old Testament Survey
The Three Perspectives of Genesis 11:1-9
Perspective One: The World Behind the Text
Genesis 11:1-9 is perhaps one of the best known bible stories, because it is, in many ways – reflective of the diversity of the modern world and its sundry languages. But from what kind of world did this text come from? The Oxford bible states that this passage is generally accepted as having come from the “non-Priestly Yahwistic primeval history” – the ‘J’ of the so-called JDEP Theory; which defined the compositional elements of the Torah as having come from distinct sources and times. This academic position, though popular in the early part of the 20th century, has had to make room for other, more nuanced theories which generally advance an aggregationalist theory.
Perspective Two: The World Inside the Text
The story of Genesis 11:1-9 is essentially one of pride. The events take place after the great flood and are composed of people coming out of Noah’s linage. In the story, the people devise an idea to build a tower that will reach into heaven. It is perhaps, one of the first recorded attempts at a stimulation of the imagination of what might happen, were one able to escape the surface of the earth – at least by virtue of building a tower that was high enough to reach into the area beyond it. An important question is – what is the real meaning of the text in terms of its form? Is it a literal history – or is it a poetic warning; such as the proverbial children’s tale Jack and the Beanstalk: is what it says about the situation more important then the how?
Perspective Three: The World In Front of the Text
Biblical literalists and those who embrace the potential for supernatural events can apply the story as a literal history of how the diversity of languages in the world came to be. Those who seek more subjective interpretations, may see it as a warning against the arrogance and presumptive, abstracted humanism of materialist science. If together we are capable of doing anything – are there things that we ought not be doing? Nuclear weapons research, genetic re-engineering of humanity, and the superstring, quantum mechanics of modern Physics – which is probing at the very foundations of time and space – are just a few of the issues that some argue we have no business playing with. For example: prior to the launch of the Hadron Super Collider, the Internet was abuzz with the hand-wringing of prominent theoretical physicists, who openly worried that the Hadron Collider might inadvertently spawn an earth-devouring black hole. Others assured that such a creation was impossible – or at least highly improbably. For others – ‘highly improbable’ and ‘impossible’ were not rhetorically dissimilar enough – especially when the existence of the whole of humanity is taken together. A google search for “hadron super collider black hole” brings to one’s browser the still-ongoing concerns of many, highly education scientists. Capable of anything – have we outgrown the limitations that differing languages impose upon research and the corresponding creativity of science? The Internet and the explosive growth of technology have worked together to rapidly conflate and to sometimes demote to irrelevance differing languages and even the social dynamics that exist between nations and traditions. Recently, a well-known particle and theoretical physicist claimed that he had discovered within the very math of his quantum theory calculations ‘self-correcting computer-like code’ which seemed to show that the very foundations of Time and Space are themselves seemingly evidentially written by a would-be master programmer. Genesis 11:1-9 speaks to a generation that is once again, seemingly building a tower to heaven once more. The question is – is it actually possible, in either subjective or objective terms – and, if it is – what will that look like? The answers are not given in Genesis, but we are provided with the story of a people who thought, even in a crude, pre-historical way, that they could. The nature of the actions that were dealt against them then, were recorded and provided to us. It is up to our own decision to interpret the hows and the ways and the ifs – for our own time.