11Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as they migrated from the east,* they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ 5The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6And the LORD said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ 8So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused* the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
I watched a video of Marcus Borg last week. The conversation centered on the nature of Biblical interpretation. Borg’s approach is to treat the ancient writings as being steeped in mythology. These qualities are expressed in the Biblical text of Genesis 11:1-9. While one might agree that the elements of mythology are fully present in the Biblical text, it is the interpretation of the passage that accentuates the inspired component of Biblical understanding. In the story of the Tower of Babel, God is depicted as not being omniscient, has at least one heavenly compatriot, and is the author of confusion.
James Kugel’s depiction of the ancient “model” of God as not being omniscient is fully realized in the story of the Tower of Babel (Kugel 108). In reading the narrative one clearly sees that God must move to view the city in Genesis 11:5. God had to move down to view the city of Babel which implies he was up somewhere and not present in the city. This ancient description of God as having to move, or not knowing what is fully going on, is in stark contrast to the descriptions of God that are present in the later Biblical texts (Psalm 139).
In Gen. 11:7 there is the implication that God is not alone. God enables the other spirits, or the other spirit with Him, to move down to witness what is happening in the city. This is not the first time in scripture that God implies that there is a dialogue occurring in the heavenly realm. In the creation story God says, “Let us make humankind in our own image” (Gen. 1:26). In the story of The Fall God says, “See, the man has become like one of us” (Gen. 3:22). Who or what else is with God in this story? The three verses that suggest a heavenly court offer no hint as to who else is with God. In following a Trinitarian model of God, the other figures present might include the Son and the Holy Spirit. The concept of the “other” is a part of the story that is left to interpretation. The other participants with God never speak. God does all of the talking. Utilizing reader-response criticism as found in the Post-modern Bible suggests that the interpretation of the “other” is dependent upon “the psychological cluster, interactive cluster, and social or structural models” (Postmodern 27).
Another component of the passage of Genesis 11:1-9 is that God is the author of confusion. Verse 7 indicates that God created confusion on purpose. God created different languages and scattered the people all over the world. There is an implied assumption about this story that humanity was part of one city. Earlier texts seemed to indicate that this was not the case reinforcing Borg’s interpretation of the passages as mythological in nature. There is also the open ended question of why would God create chaos?
While I agree with the idea of many Biblical stories being mythological, there are certain characteristics of God that are present in this text. God is the prime mover and is all powerful so as to create language and scatter the people all over the world. These primitive concepts of God will be developed as society matures.