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It’s commonly said that the story of the Tower of Babel is the origin myth for the plethora of human languages that exist on Earth. But I think any myth worth it’s salt from an all-powerful god has multiple layers of meaning. The real question is concerning the lesson that the myth is designed to convey. In the case of the Tower of Babel, beyond it being a sort of lame explanation for why so many human languages, we are left with the vague idea that God don’t want no competition for all the power. Not much in that except an expectation of blind obedience from the rank and file, that I can see.

However, I can see that the myth of the confusion of tongues also has application to difficulties in communication between people who ostensibly are using the same language. We like to think that our words have solid, tangible meaning, and that others should know what we mean when we speak them. Very often, that is an incorrect assumption - in reality there is much groping about in a dark night of fog with language, and we often have no clear and precise definition in our own minds as to what the words we use mean. Yet we wield them as weapons in wars of words all the time. The word “Socialism” happens to be the particular word that stimulated this post. It’s a weighty word that has an impressive variety of meanings, all of them vague to both speaker and hearer, yet many a strong opinion is carried along with it. Strange...

Is the Tower of Babel an origin myth? Maybe, but there is not much use in it as such. I tend to think that its deeper meaning is as a ‘heads up’ myth to warn of possible (probable?) chronic miscommunication between humans.

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1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
2 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.
3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them throughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
4 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.
5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
6 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.
7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 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 11:1–9


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Makes sense if you think the Earth is 6000 and change. A much more rational explanation is that language evolves. We can very clearly see that when we compare Old English with Modern English. Or indeed any old version with the modern version of any language. Human language seems to have started with Homo erectus (1.8 million years ago), so there was ample time for language to evolve as humans spread around the globe. Spoken language has terrific survival value, so there is no reason to think it would decline or remain static. Another great example of language divergence is the migration to the New World: How many different languages walked across the land bridge 14,000 years ago? And yet there are hundreds of different languages spoken by Native North and South American tribes.

The Tower of Babel story probably originated when an isolated group of co-language speakers first encountered some other group of people with a different language. Back then, any unexplained phenomenon was attributed to God.


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Back then, any unexplained phenomenon was attributed to God.

Things haven't changed much.

But there are a lot fewer unexplained phenomena these days and it has kind of robbed religion of a lot of its power.


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Originally Posted by pondering_it_all
A much more rational explanation is that language evolves.
I see my point was not taken, which perversely makes my point - which probably will not resonate, either.

The concept I want to communicate is that people, by and large, do not communicate. We talk at one another incessantly, we talk past each other endlessly, we discuss and debate asymmetrically without the slightest awareness of the fact. We lie, we spin, sometimes we tell the truth (but rarely the whole truth and nothing but the truth, while disingenuously pretending that God will help).

Our tongues are confused, and our minds are confused as well.

The tower of babble is made up of fragile things of our own intellectual creation, and it is only in our feeble imaginations that we think we will reach God (enlightenment) by talking about it.


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there are a lot fewer unexplained phenomena these days and it has kind of robbed religion of a lot of its power.

Why There Is No Way Back For Religion

TEDx talk on that very subject. Why religion has lost so much influence, and why it can never come back.


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